For a long time I was too frightened to speak about the incident. I was frightened that the dreams would return and that my soul would submit to consumption. It pained my companion to see me thus afflicted and it pained me to impose an even greater burden than the one I inherently posed (not that Arius ever referred to me as such).
I was 18 when I finally went to Arius in search of answers.
“We need to talk.” I said gravely. Arius was in the yard fixing the front wheel of his penny farthing. He sat down his tools and stood up. We were both adults now and although I was 6′ he towered over me. Though it can hardly be said that he was menacing. If were to describe him as he stood there then I would say that he looked like a willow ethereal, long-limbed, and placid.
“The creature in the forest how did you…” I didn’t know what I wanted to say because I had been unconscious through the whole ordeal and had no memories on which to tether my thoughts. “What happened? How did you rescue me?” I asked guilty for having accosted him without a pacifying prelude. If there was a way of defeating or warding off the beast why was he keeping it from me? “How did you even know where to find me?” I asked doing my best to curtail my suspicions which were rising with each inquiry.
“Opposites can repeal or attract…” He offered and what seemed so obvious to him left my head reeling. He read my confusion at once but seemed momentarily at a loss himself. “I am light…the creature is darkness…” To illustrate his point his body began to glow, white as sunlight spilling through an open door. I passed my fingers through the radiant aura cautiously and felt my flesh warm and tingle on contact. For a moment my other questions were forgotten. I had not seen the sun in years and could not but marvel at the miraculous luminescence.
“Are you an angel?” I asked not knowing what other being could emit such a celestial light. It was a childish question but it was only afterwards that I felt the sting of embarrassment.
“I doubt it.” He answered eyes widening. He was obviously bewildered by my suggestion and I felt my cheeks burn. For a moment I couldn’t even continue with my interview but I knew if I did not collect myself he’d mistake my red face for a fever. Arius was impossible to embarrass and rather oblivious when it came to the ways of man. Pushing my astonishment to the side I continued.
“You doubt it? Are you telling me that you don’t know what you are?” How was that even possible? Even I remembered that I was or had been human.
“So it would seem…I suppose I could ask my brother Zagan if you’d like…” He suggested though the idea did not seem to appeal to him in the slightest. His eyes seemed to beg for pity and ordinarily I would have given in rather than see my solitary companion suffer but there was too much at stake.
“You have a brother?!”I took him by the shoulders and shook him a little too enthusiastically.
“I have…” He answered blinking in surprise at my vigor. “But we don’t get along…” He continued as if that reason were enough to explain away years of omission.
“Why not? Is there something wrong with him?” I asked hesitantly. Arius had never so much as raised his voice in all our time together, unless in laughter, so I had to assume it was the brother who was the bad guy.
“I don’t know which of us is right or wrong only that our objectives are in opposition to one another.” He said and I thought it just like him that even his grievances were considerate.
“What are your objectives?” I asked wondering if objectives were like dreams. I had my own dreams though they had morphed considerably over the years. Now that I knew I could never leave I had to think of ways to be happy in this world.
“To save the children…to starve the beast…” He answered looking at me closely afraid perhaps that he’d miss some nuance of expression if he were not careful.
“Are there other people living here?” I asked pointing to the house behind us, our house.
“Yes of course…” He answered as if it had been obvious all along.
“Then why haven’t I ever seen them!” I was angry and hurt now for as much as I loved Arius it seemed an unspeakably cruel thing to keep me from my own kind.
“The house creates a life for each child according to their innermost wishes…most of them exist in illusions of their former home. You chose the truth.” It was all too much. I shook myself free when he moved to comfort me and ran into the house searching each room I came upon with violent fervor. Why couldn’t I find the others? Why had I chosen to live in this wasteland with Arius when I could have been living in paradise (false though it might have been)? Was my imagination that stunted that I had simply been unable to come up with anything on my own? I thought of Arius as he had appeared to me all those years ago, of the sadness I had perceived in his averted gaze. Had I stayed for him? Had I sensed his loneliness? His isolation? Was I bound here by empathy? By love? Or by my own cynical, rational mind?
I spent days wallowing in my self-pity and doubts. And everyday without fail Arius brought me food and water. Sometimes he even left me puzzle boxes with little items inside, items that he thought were treasures but I recognized as pebbles, feathers, and shells. Once he even brought me a cow bell on a silver platter and I was sure it was the best thing he could think of and I couldn’t help but laugh despite my frustration. Arius didn’t quite understand what it was that made humans tick. In the end I concluded that he had nothing to do with my choice to remain. In the end I concluded that he had everything to do with my choice to remain.
It was only after the veil of self-pity had lifted that I remembered Arius’ words “Our objectives are in opposition to one another.” Arius’ had confided his dream to me. He wanted to save the children and starve the beast. Did that mean that Zagan was doing the opposite? Was Zagan responsible for Oz’s death?