“So Alicia…” Marko felt every eye come to rest on him as he heard the words leave his mouth. “How are you?” Somewhere in the room was a stifled gasp, and an open jaw, but he kept his eyes on Alicia who was processing the weight of the words. Sure the question seemed genuine enough but everyone knew there was something lacking. She responded, trying to ignore the others eying her: “Not great.” Now the room turned back to Marko. He nodded in understanding. Alicia felt a pang of sympathy at a moment’s notice, she softened her expression a bit placing her tea back on the table and taking a deep breath. The sound sent the game of pong everyone was playing with their eyes back to Alicia. “This is hard for me too. Maybe… I’d like to ask you some personal questions. I really don’t know much about you at all. I know Reb… I know she was busy here.” As of late Alicia had trouble sometimes forming her sister’s name. This time the room didn’t turn. “Ask away,” said Marko.
“How did the two of you meet? I know it was in California, but the whole story.”
“It’s a funny story actually. Do you know what a nightmare is?” Now the room did more than turn. Kiara tugged at Nick’s arm but it was Eliot who spoke first. “Maybe now’s not the time--”
“Nonsense. You wanna keep her in the dark on what really happened?” Alicia had no idea what Marko meant by it, but the words already bore into her soul. “You tell me everything.” She didn’t mean to sound so intense but it didn’t matter right now. No one had any right to play games with her, not about this. Kiara tried to intervene with: “Alicia, it’s not what you think. We’re not keeping secrets.”
“But we are.” Again Marko’s interruption stirred the audience. Still he went on. “A nightmare. Do you know what one is?”
“A bad dream. What does this have to do with anything?”
“I thought the same thing you know. But a close friend of mine told me it was actually a horse.” Eliot was standing now, unsure of how far he would go to stop this conversation. Nick eyed Kiara, Kiara eyed the floor, her hands moved to cup her mouth like that would somehow stop the words from leaving Marko’s. “A Horse… Oh. You met at the ranch. She was tending to the horses. God she loved to ride.” Alicia’s eyes were drowning and she lifted her head before turning completely away. No, don’t break down. Not now, not Right Now. Marko continued. “Yes, well as it turns out there was this demon called a Mare. It would come by night to deliver horrible visions, bad dreams and the lot. Meanwhile, the word mare itself refers to a horse and so when they put two and two together they got Night Mare. I think the demon world ran with it because every once in a while they would take the form of a horse while delivering these bad omens.”
Alicia fixed a hard glare in Marko’s direction, completely unsure if he had any idea what he was saying. She searched the others for signs but they were all beside themselves. It was in this moment that she became of the opinion they all believed what he was saying. Worse still, his tone was slowly convincing her now too.
“When my friend told me that story I was intrigued. I had never faced a Mare before, had no idea what they looked like when they weren’t a dark horse pinning you down in your sleep and force feeding you your darkest fears. I was on the road a lot back then. Saw some funny story in the newspaper, some crock about people having shared dreams, a small town plagued with nightmares and I thought to myself, hey self. Wouldn’t it be funny if there was an actual Mare there? Next thing you know I come to this quaint little ranch where the family, your Uncle Drew and kin, were especially dealing with a tough time. All of them except of course your sister.”
Alicia was certainly following him but damnit if she wasn’t lost as hell. Nevertheless his words struck something in her and before she knew it she uttered the words “Dream catcher…” The voice was alien to her but after a moment she realized it was her own and for whatever reason it was speaking out of turn. Oh but wait she did have a dream catcher, but why did I think of that?
Marko nodded his head. “She had a dream catcher, a very effective one. Well I introduced myself as a paranormal investigator and told your uncle that I would do everything I could to figure out what was going on. Rebecca hated me from that moment. She thought I was a charlatan. In a way that was true, you’ll find that I’m not in fact a paranormal investigator. Which brings us to the most important part of the story. Rain came in late one afternoon, there’s a lot that needs to be done up there I guess so everyone was scurrying about, but your sister, well her only job was to tend to the horses. I found her out by the barn sitting in the rain watching them, the horses, do pretty much the same. They were hanging out in the rain. I let her hear me as I walked up to her so I wouldn’t give her a start. She didn’t turn around, she just spoke to me.
Marko was suddenly aware that he was no longer describing the scene at the barn because he was literally standing in it. Rebecca calmly sitting in the rain, her auburn hair falling to ruin at the persistent downpour. “Most guys have the sense to at least try and convince me to come out of the rain by now.” Marko knew her words, as he knew his own. He had read the script for this day, years before. “Are most guys of the opinion you can’t decide that for your own?” He could feel her smile frame her words. “Listen, you better not be full of it. My uncle believes you, but I still don’t.” Just as he did long ago, he stood silent a moment. He admired the cool air, the mixed aroma of manure and what have you, knowing full well she was what made it all bearable right then, and right there. “How come you let the horses out in the rain like that?”
“They don’t seem to mind it. Neither do I really. You lose points for changing the subject.” He faltered here. Originally this was the moment that he had made the connection between the dreams and the ranch but knowing the answer already, this time he spent an extra minute admiring her before returning to the matter at hand. Marko watched for a single horse, dark as night and dry as bone waiting out the rain inside the barn. He had only one thing left to be sure. He managed to face away from her at last. With a calming breath he focused his mind and slowly his hands found a wall. He braced against it and closed his eyes. That should have stopped the rain by now, but he still heard it as steady as before. When he opened his eyes he was in his living room facing Alicia who had turned to look out an arcadia door. “Funny.” She said. “…Supposed to be a clear week. Wasn’t a cloud in the sky all night.” He knew this too. Marko could feel the rain, and this was coerced, not entirely natural. The others recognized it as such and he turned to meet each of them so he could silently acknowledge this was his doing. He silently left out that it was an accident too. Everybody set the rain aside and resumed listening. For a moment though, Marko wondered. He was very logically observing the fact that had he reached out for Rebecca in that memory, events would not have changed. No question about it, in his mind he was most certainly not actually there at the barn seconds before. But wouldn’t it have made sense to reach for her anyway? Oh well.
“So then I realized that the Night Mare itself was mocking your sister. Living in the form of a horse she was taking care of the very thing hurting your family. The rain was the big clue but she told me later there were always signs that this was no ordinary horse. Before confronting it I wanted to do something about its power so I tried to extend that dream catcher to protect everyone but I broke in the process. Crazy thing though, as soon as I screwed up the demon was gone, the nightmares stopped for everyone.”
“Everyone… No, Rebecca did tell me someone broke her dream catcher. But I specifically remember that didn’t help anything.”
“No, it did. The monster was gone. But it was never there for Uncle Drew. Then your sister’s nightmares started.”
Alicia’s face twisted. She was remembering growing up and how for most of her childhood she would not go a single night without waking up to the sound of Rebecca screaming herself hoarse. “You brought her nightmares back?” Alicia had no concept of why this story was remotely believable. Demons, evil horses, what the hell kind of coping mechanism is this? The thought derailed her for a moment and she found herself searching the room for signs of reality. No one seemed to move. They were waiting for her to snap out of shock. Again, Marko continued. “Yeah, I know, I know. I stayed at the ranch two more nights to see if the Mare would return before I caught on that Rebecca was in trouble. The thing was gone, I mean I was sure of it but it didn’t matter the distance. Somehow her mind was in his reach always. The following nights were an experiment. I got worked in like a net, starting from the outskirts of the ranch until one night I was so fed up with not being able to find this guy I snuck into her room to check for him there. It only took a second but she calmed down. Even dead asleep I saw the difference. That’s how I really got to know your sister. From that night on I had to sleep in the same room as her otherwise the nightmares would start again.”
Something about the last sentence sent a mixed vibe through the room. He had heard himself tell this story before. He knew Eliot thought it was a noble gesture albeit a bit forward, Kiara thought it was sweet or borderline romantic, and Nick always thought Marko should have slept in the same bed as Rebecca from the start. You know, to really make sure no bad dreams were getting through. Until that moment Marko was the only person a little creeped out by that facet of the story. He could tell by Alicia’s face they were of the same mind. “So you slept with my sister by using her own childhood torment against her.”
“No, I didn’t sleep with your sister until a little ways after that.” The words may have come out too callously, Marko hadn’t noticed. For that, he was the only one. Before Alicia could muster rage or venom Marko moved on.
“So later we found out the dream catcher broke, but its power rebounded onto a little necklace I used to wear. Then I gave it your sister, the night before our first date.”
Alicia felt her teeth grind. “Yes, I remember that phone call now. She said she had a new way to keep out the bad dreams. Funny thing is I never thought to question whether it came attached to a guy or not.” Her words were sardonic, and she had finally reached the point in the story where she would give up. It was well past time she found a hotel, slept half a day, and hit the road to tell her family that her sister was in love with a crazy person. “Well anyway. I’m glad we started with that story because it gives you an idea of the kind of things we faced on a regular basis.”
“No. Monsters. This way when I tell you about the last time I saw her, it’ll make a little more sense.” This did get Alicia’s attention. So little had been told to her or the family about the accident. Even if it sounded crazy maybe something this jerk said would ring true. But for some reason everyone else in the room was frozen. They hung on every crazy word he said, Alicia found herself wondering if they were in some kind of cult with him as their psycho leader. Later for that. Just one more sentence from him so I can leave here with something. “Go on.” She groaned. “The last time I saw your sister she may have saved me from a demon during the apocalypse.”
“The apocalypse? Well ok then. This has been great, thanks for uh… thanks for the tea.”
“You didn’t actually have any of your tea. But wait there is more. She honestly saved me from a demon, and then I stuck a knife in her gut and looked my fiancé in the eyes while I killed her…”