“i traveled into deep space to see what i could find
a purple angel led me to the universe inside.
welcome to the real world not the dream you left behind.
that was all a figment of your mind.”
When Roman left his room, the stars in the sky were only still forming.
It was late at night. Thomas (and by extension, Patton) had already gone to bed in tears. They have been doing that all week.
Logan had confided in him a few days back, confessing that he wasn’t sure why Patton was crying. Patton had nothing to lose with the verdict Roman made. In fact, he still won in some ways. He had theorized to empty, static-filled ears that perhaps Patton’s tears were just a reflection of Thomas’ emotions; a normal reaction everyone dramaticized to illogical extents.
Then he theorized idly that maybe Patton was crying
because he felt like he was wrong the whole time.
(Roman didn’t leave his room for two days straight after hearing that.)
They didn’t have much left for Roman nowadays, and neither did Thomas. The days crept closer to dreaded April 13th and no one made a sound. Nothing was being done, nothing was being made. It was as if everyone was haunted by Roman’s decision; as if the sound of the gavel was echoing everywhere he stepped.
And then, as April 12th ended–
when Roman finally thought it was all over–
he realized that neutrality in a war was the enemy.
(In a moment of hypocrisy, Patton yelled at him,
So that was why he was here, sneaking out through the hidden door of his room and into the Imagination. He moved swiftly across the fields of nighttime fog and dew-covered grass to the giant, steel gates guarding The Dark Side.
Or, the other side.
(It hurt less to think of himself like an ‘other’ rather than...well, that.)
He stood before the towering gates. It made sense that he felt like he was crossing paths into the dark forest Disney movies warned him about. A streak of lightning cracked across the sky like splintering glass, and every three minutes, a maniacal cackle shook the ground at beneath feet.
Leave it to Remus to be so dramatic.
It’s been a while since you’ve seen him, he thought wearily, gripping the hilt of his sword just in case. Would he even let you near him?
And then, a bitter thought: There has to be some family who will.
Suddenly, a cold hand grabbed his shoulder. Lightening screamed with him as he turned on his heel and whipped his sword tall in front of him.
“Show yourself, vil–”
Then, his vision cleared.
It was suddenly raining in the Imagination,
and Virgil stood in it, drenched.
“Virgil,” he hissed, slowly lowering his sword. “I could have killed you.”
“Can’t die.” The words came out as a low rumble, one that shook the earth beneath them in a different way. “Not real, remember?”
“But you– but we’re–”
Virgil shook his head, waving a hand in front of him with a smug smile.
“Relax, Princey.” The old nickname pressed itself into Roman’s arm like a curse crawling on doomed lands. “Just some dark, 3 am humour.”
It wasn’t much reassurance, but Roman didn’t care. He was already clinging onto it tightly, never wanting to let it go.
“What are you doing here, J.D-lightful?”
“Trying to figure out what the fuck you’re up to.” Virgil leaned forward, almost cockily. “What are you doing here?”
A pause. Roman forced his stare down at the rotten dirt below him.
“I’m going to fix everything,” he muttered.
Virgil skipped the first obvious question. “And you think Remus is going to help with that?”
“I think something there will.” Roman pressed his feet into the ground with a snarl. He gripped onto the hilt of his sword even tighter. “If I go now, Remus will never even need to know.”
Roman noticed how Virgil grit his teeth and clutched the sleeves of his gridded hoodie as if it’d swallow him whole and make him disappear completely.
“What do you even need in there?”
Roman turned his back on him as another crack of lightning shattered the glassy sky above them.
“Remus controls intrusive and destructive thoughts,” he said, choosing his words carefully. “And what is the only destructive thought plaguing all of us right now?”
The answer hung between them, dead as the grass impaled by the ends of the metal gates.
“What if Thomas had gone?”
“So you made a decision then.” Virgil’s voice, despite its venom, held an edge of worry. “A bit too late to figure out what the right choice was, no?”
Roman huffed, standing tall despite the fact that his words made him shrivel.
“If you’re just going to stand there and be completely unhelpful,” Roman growled, walking towards the gate and grabbing the handle, “I’m just going to take my leave now–”
Roman stiffened at the layered tone of Virgil’s voice. He spun around to face him against his will, being forced to look at the hooded side.
Virgil suddenly stuck his hand out, and Roman saw a glimpse of dark eyeshadow painted in thick layers over itself under his eyes.
“If you cross, you know what’s going to happen, don’t you?”
Roman blinked. “What?”
“You– do you even know what you’re getting yourself into?”
“Not the point of an adventure, is it, Marilyn Morose?”
Virgil groaned. “I should let the damn thing eat you alive, Jesus Christ…”
“Seriously, what are you talking about?”
Virgil waved his hand, still outstretched.
“Let me take you.” Another bolt of lightning pierced the sky. Roman felt as if it was going to fall on him at any second. “If you can survive with me, you’ll probably leave with what you really wanted.”
Roman stared at his hand, as if the offer in it grew legs and was crawling up that inky checkered sleeve. Virgil’s words seemed to swarm in his head, and he didn’t quite understand what he was saying, but something told him that he needed to listen.
Virgil’s hand floated between them like a paranoid ghost.
And so, with a deep breath,
Roman took it.
“we flew amongst the patterns, impossible designs
they’d been there the whole time hidden by my eyes
if i’d had a body it surely would've cried
but tears were a figment of my mind”
Roman felt himself fall apart when he touched Virgil; as if Virgil was passing sharp sparks between their palms, and those sparks were finding cracks in skin Roman didn’t even know existed.
It felt as if his entire world flipped vertically, the ground defying the laws of reality and throwing him, somehow, onto the floor at the other side of the gate.
Roman couldn’t even feel Virgil’s hand anymore. Instead, he just felt lightning stab his chest and blur his vision, a swirl of purple, yellow, and green swimming in front of him.
Then, it all stopped in an audition room.
Virgil was nowhere to be seen, but Roman could feel him everywhere. He made himself believe that it was just because Thomas always felt this way before an audition.
Maybe it was the monotone filter of it all. Everything in the room—the camera, the table, two chairs, the walls—were various shades of black and white.
And he was standing, stuck, in front of the empty chair. He still felt dizzy from whatever hellish trip Virgil had sent him on. He wanted to stumble on his feet just to make it feel more real, but he was rooted on the ground, completely still.
Then, lightning struck the two chairs and when the smoke cleared,
Deceit and Patton were staring at him,
their eyes crossed out in yellow, drawn-on dashes.
Roman felt himself reel back at Patton’s voice, and a piano– out of sight, out of mind– began to play. The moral side had leaned over the table and slammed his fists into its surface, dark cracks in the wood blossoming from the contact. The noise was so loud, yet useless in muffling the haunted ivory keys, which played a hollow echo of Roman’s favourite audition song.
Deceit said nothing, but he did smile at Roman in that kind– no, deceitful way he always did.
Did Deceit always have that line near his lip?
Roman shook his head. Forget Deceit. This audition wasn’t what he wanted. This was Thomas’ dream. This is what they had to choose. Mary Lee and Lee would surely understand, and so would Patton. He was selfless all the time, he deserved this. Deceit was right.
In fact, Patton, in a fabricated moment of clarity, could possibly understand that now. Perhaps his command was actually encouragement; encouragement Roman missed oh-so much.
Roman cleared his throat, straightening himself up. He could suddenly feel the ghost of Thomas mirror his movement in a lag.
The role didn’t even need Thomas to sing, but Roman did as he was told anyway. Maybe he had to play along to hold this decision in his hands and save everyone.
He smiled bravely.
“When you come home to me, I’ll wear a sweeter smile, and hope that for a while you’ll–”
Roman blinked. But he was perfectly in tune with–
“FAIL!” Patton screamed at him again, lunging forward over the table, which split in two. The sound of the piano above them began to eerily croak.
“YOU FAILED!” Patton pointed at him as the accusation slipped his lips. Yellow poison leaked from the corners of his snarl and the piano went out of tune into a mess of sharps and flats.
Deceit sat still.
The words suddenly began to layer over each other in what felt like an infinite descending tone.
“YOU SIDED WITH THE VILLAIN AND–”
“HOW COULD YOU LET HIM GET AWAY WITH–”
“WHAT KIND OF HERO–”
Roman finally tore his feet from the ground in shock. When he looked down at what initially bounded him, he saw yellow snapdragons coated with blood from his ankles, which was now pierced with thorns. The red and the yellow was so sharp– too sharp– in the midst of the black and white of the audition room.
On the broken piles of flowers he stepped away from laid the ghost of Thomas; on his knees and shaking.
He felt tears slip down his cheeks and freeze into sharp crystals digging into his skin. In front of him was a broken dream, a broken man, the wrong choice–
And in the corner of his eye, Roman watched as Deceit grinned;
the line extending his smile cracking.
Out through the cracks leaked blood.
“i was shown a few things I'd been getting wrong
she told me i’m a good man and have been all along
by the way I heard her say, ‘there’s no such thing as time
it’s all a figment of your mind’."
Roman’s scream ended when he was flipped upside down,
now standing at an altar with a bouquet of yellow carnations.
The tears from the audition room were no longer piercing his skin, but they lingered as static in the form of a sticky residue. He was very certain that he was going to kill Virgil once he got home. This black and white world was somehow too bright, too daunting.
And he left him alone in it.
Roman focused his vision on the new sight in front of him, holding his bouquet tightly like some kind of chilling reminder.
A bride and a groom were walking away from the altar, their backs facing him. People were in the crowd, throwing the same yellow carnations into the air. It was a happy sight, despite the monochrome tinge. Violins sang brightly in what felt like the perfect photograph.
Perhaps this was the choice Virgil was talking about; the one he’d leave with; the one he really wanted. Yes, he could want this. Maybe he even needed this.
Because at the end of the aisle was Patton,
black and white with a sharp grin.
Another layer of violins was placed on top of the pre-existing ones.
“kiddo, i’m so proud of you!”
Roman’s breath hitched, holding the bouquet tighter. Mary Lee and Lee were already gone, yet everyone kept throwing their flowers.
“you’re so good.
Roman broke into a wide grin. This decision felt so close. Patton’s voice felt like a rush of summer air in the midst of a cold, winter night. The words felt like they were close– so close– to carrying Roman on his back closer towards this decision; like they were already spinning the hands of the clock back and–
Patton suddenly became blurry in his vision,
and a green figure appeared beside him,
holding a dead Thomas by the neck.
A familiar cackle cut through the illusionary Shepard tone created by the violins, which once played a sickly sweet melody in his ears. Roman looked at Remus, horrified, and then at Thomas.
Thomas was wearing his wedding outfit — Roman recognized it because he helped choose it, of course. And it was beautiful.
But at its seams were falling ashes; crispy burnt ends to such a beautiful suit.
And Thomas was white as a sheet,
slowly crackling away in embers where he hung.
Remus’ grin was made of bloodied pearls, his white streak cracking and spreading in patches to other parts of his hair. He threw the Thomas corpse– was he really dead?– onto the ground and pulled back his morning star by both hands, ready to strike–
Then Patton stepped between Remus and Thomas, holding his hands over his face to catch the spikes of the morning star before it could finish its swing down. The violins shrieked with Patton and Roman watched as his hands began to bleed upon contact. The flowers were still being thrown, as if to celebrate this horrible victory.
Patton, struggling against Remus' persistent force, let out a heartbreaking sob.
“...how are we still being hurt?”
“why is he getting worse?”
“he shouldn’t be here, thomas is good–”
“–because you chose this –”
Roman’s heart broke when Patton stiffly met his eyes.
“what more are you going to do to stop this?”
Roman started to run towards the horrid sight, almost against his will. The violins hung above him, the chords pulling him back by his wrists, still attached to the bouquet of yellow carnations.
And he was screaming; screaming Patton’s name and crying as the petals of all the flying flowers slashed sharply at his face. The aisle seemed to make itself infinite, as of stringing Roman along on a treadmill moving too fast.
He could see the outline of Remus amidst the slowly-paling flower flurry; bright green with a thick red puddle pooling around his feet. He saw the outline of his grin, blood dripping from each tooth.
Patton’s voice was barely a whisper, yet was loud enough for it to echo all around Roman’s head.
“you’re not doing enough.”
“he has to be stopped.”
“stop this, hero, stop–”
And when Roman finally reached the end of the aisle,
Thomas was nothing but ashes on the floor.
Patton stepped towards Roman, who slowly backed away. No no no no no–
Then, Patton grabbed the bouquet he was holding.
Roman gasped and looked down. Patton was bleeding red, palms cracked with scars and holes from Remus’ weapon.
He at least tried to save Thomas, Roman suddenly realized. What did I do?
Patton’s hand pierced the thorny stems of the carnations and his blood mixed with dripping green venom.
His tearful eyes met Roman’s.
“...what did you do?”
The air around Roman thinned. He looked over Patton’s shoulders and saw Remus, grinning and holding up his bloodied morning star.
It was on fire, and it caught onto the white cracks in his hair.
“waking with eyes closed from technicolor dreams
crystal kaleidoscopes were singing blue and green
realer than real in front of me
if only you could see what i could see”
Roman was fa(i/l)ling.
He was stuck in a spinning kaleidoscope; and circling him were shattered fragments of the horrible decision he made– the decisions he could make.
The memory of Deceit’s blood-soaked smile in the audition room.
The sight of Remus grinning with fire crackling embers in his hair.
The thought of Patton, glitching into two with his hands holding his head, being torn apart.
The view from below the towering gate
(the lightning shattering the glassy sky)
and Virgil, standing in front of him with white cracks in his eyeshadow,
pulling his hand back from Roman
to wrap himself in his old hoodie.
The violins had stopped and the piano had paused. What did this mean? Roman tried to hold himself around his feeble body — if he even had one right now.
No. He shuddered
if he even could– no he was real. He was here, he was real,
and he was failing.
Anxiety crawled through the cracks in his vision. He was straining his eyes trying to look at each fragment of his mistake. What did he need to do, what did he want to do, what was right, what was–
“This is what you wanted,
NO! Anything but this, he wanted to plead. This wasn’t it, he was supposed to be good– he couldn’t fail– what has he done?!
Suddenly, each fragment snapped and cracked in front of him, the kaleidoscope shattering piece by piece.
And reflected in each broken shard was Roman.
Paranoia’s voice echoed in his ears:
“Then why did you leave with this?”
“i slowly found my body, color began to fade
i heard a piano playing a knowing serenade
this world feels backwards to my open eyes
‘cause it's all a figment of my mind.”
“–atton, if you touch him, you run the risk of–”
“–ET ME GO! ROMAN! ROMAN, WAKE UP, PLE–”
“–fucking stupid, how could he be so–”
Roman gasped, feeling himself seize up and face darkness. His head suddenly ached and he rubbed the spot he hit as he heard a low grumble from his left.
“Roman!” Patton. Roman shuddered. Patton’s sobs made him want to keep his eyes closed even more. “Roman, open your eyes, you’re home.”
“Patton, you mustn’t alarm him.” That was Logan. “And Virgil, are you okay? See, this is why I told you not to stand so close...”
A part of him was reassured to hear logic return to him. The nightmare must be over then, right?
He blindly grabbed to his left, as if to apologize to the side he hit, and felt stitches crossing in small x’s on fabric. A sigh of relief; there was Virgil.
“What the hell were you thinking?” Virgil’s voice sounded so distant, yet so clear. “You could’ve gotten hurt, going there alone–”
“Now what did we say about alarming him.”
“Roman.” Patton’s voice stung the most, an echo of the hell he just fell through. “Roman, open your eyes. It’s me– it’s us.”
And so Roman obliged, like he always did with Patton.
When Roman opened his eyes, he saw that he was back in his room, lying on his bed, staring at a blurry, white ceiling. As he sat up, Patton’s sobs grew louder and Logan’s breath hitched.
Virgil stayed quiet.
“What is it?” he asked groggily. Patton dissolved into more tears. Roman watched as Logan, sliced in half by navy blue and grey shards, held Patton close.
“Guys?” he asked again. He looked at Virgil and frowned. Some patches were grey, why were they–
Roman gasped, pushing past his family and turning his back on their grief. He made his way to the mirror in the corner of his room, tearing the hair in front of his eyes aside.
And staring back at him in his cracked mirror were irises split in half.
Black and amber.