Garry took a deep breath, closing his eyes, and reopened them as he exhaled. It was so quiet. His ears picked up a few sets of muffled footsteps on the carpeted floor, but he paid no mind to them. Taking of his coat and throwing it onto the ladder chair next to the aisle, he lazily set his eyes onto the mount of books cradled inside a large plastic basket beside his leg. A transparent feeling of discontentment was feeding his already foul mood, and he silently clicked his tongue. He bent down to grab a few books on top of the pile and brought them up to his eye level, glancing through their titles.
Shifting all of the books onto one arm, he walked along the aisle, his gaze searching the shelf to his right. He ran his fingers across the various spines on the row and stopped at one book. His eyes narrowed in annoyance and he pried it from the line-up. Pushing an appropriate addition into the gap, he moved on to another shelf.
The one time he’d ever been late to class, an uptight old prick just had to stand in for his easygoing professor. As if standing through the four-hour lecture wasn’t enough, he was now stuck with this cumbersome task. To say it was irritating would be an understatement; Garry was downright pissed off. As there was a huge gap between his two classes today, he had hoped to get some rest to make up for last night. There was no chance for that now.
He sullenly returned to the basket after emptying his hands and grabbed some more books. This was nothing hard or complicated – he only needed to place the books back where they belonged; however, the process was far too tedious and time-consuming for his liking. His legs were tired and his lower back was killing him from having stood for so long. Was this middle school or something? Standing through a class was the lamest punishment ever created. How anyone could consider further distracting pupils from the lesson a good idea was beyond him.
Garry frowned as he wordlessly rubbed the back of his neck. He hated being in this state. Although there wasn’t anything on his schedule for the next five hours, he was somehow restless and irked. He wanted to be done with this chore, but if he thought about it, there really was no reason to make haste. Sure, he was worn out, but he wasn’t particularly anticipating the short nap he’d intended to take in the infirmary. A nightmare would just sabotage it anyway. The next class was supposed to be his favorite, yet he didn’t feel the least bit of zeal for it. People looked forward to going home after class, but not him. There was no one – nothing waiting at his home; it wasn’t even his, wasn’t even a home. Tomorrow would only be another unpleasant encore.
Had life always been this dull?
He was brought back to reality by a clattering sound. Realizing he had stopped, Garry hurriedly resumed his task – not without giving a swift glance at the source of the noise. Two guys were taking a seat at a nearby table. Realizing them to be from his department, a sort of reservation sparked in a corner of his mind. They didn’t seem to notice him standing between shelves, so he promptly took the basket and walked further into the aisle to save some useless pleasantries.
Garry cracked his neck, stifling a sigh. Such a dreary job; although there was no use complaining to himself. He suppressed a groan as heaved the next stack of books.
Garry subconsciously tilted his head as he observed the book on top of the pile. A soft pain nudged at his heart.
The maroon jacket wasn’t overly impressive, donned with simple gilded lines along its leather. A sketchy drawing depicting a typical fairytale sat in the middle of the cover; it was the reason for his sudden interest in the book. The faceless, brunette girl was cladded in red and white, carrying a straw basket, watched by a certain dark figure behind the bushes. For whatever reason, it reminded him of Ib. He wanted to see her so bad.
I really have it bad… huh…
He brought his gaze away for a moment. Swapping the book to the bottom of the stack, he resumed his pace. He had to forget.
“But being forgotten is…”
His stomach churned, causing Garry to grimace. Unconsciously, his hold on the books tightened. He had to forget. After he’d forgotten, he could see her again. So, forget. How did one do that? Pretend nothing had ever happened, go back to being like before… How? What was before like?
“Ah damn,” a voice exclaimed softly, gaining his attention. One of the guys from before was getting up from his seat; in his hand a crumpled cigarette pack. “I’m heading out.”
“You barely got half of it done dude,” the other guy said, flipping through his friend’s work. “You’re never gonna finish it.”
“Shut up, that’s my problem.”
Shoving the books onto the nearest shelf, he swallowed.
“Hey~” with a smile, Garry approached the duo.
Two years ago…
Garry sat on the narrow edge of the small windowsill in this rundown apartment that he shared with two others, staring out to the indolent afternoon city – at least, what little glimpse of the city that could be seen from a second-storey room overshadowed by most of the buildings surrounding it. With his knee bent, he rested an arm on it; a lit cigarette held loosely between his long fingers, smoking lazily. The summer air was hot and humid. Even in tank top and shorts, he was still tempted to turn on the rusty fan in the corner; however, neither he nor his roommates had any intention of increasing their bills for this month.
As the doorbell sounded and broke the idle silence, he glanced back inside the room that was cramped from housing three full grown males and their messy tendencies.
“Must be the landlord,” his dark-haired roommate said with a mouthful of food, standing up. “I’ll get it,” the guy quickly slurped down the remaining broth of his ramen and chucked the empty cup into the steadily growing pile of discarded containers in a corner. Normally, Garry would tell that slob off. He wasn’t the most organized person, but he was definitely the most organized one inhabiting this apartment room, and he demanded a certain degree of tidiness. However, he was far too tired for that now; they could turn the place into a pigsty for all he cared.
Garry returned his gaze outside before closing his eyes and taking a long drag of his stick. Eyes still closed, he blew the smoke out through the corner of his mouth so that the wind outside could sweep it away. It had been two weeks since he and Ib had parted at the gallery, since the nightmare inside the gallery had been put to an end – or so he’d thought. The horror had never truly stopped. The next few days, he had been in a state of constant paranoia, jumping at the slightest sound his roommates caused. Darkness did more than just scaring him and the smell of crayons from the brat next door had left him petrified.
However, those were nothing compared to the nightmares plaguing his sleep. Deranged. Detrimental. Relentless. Haunting. More than once, he’d bolted upright under his restricting blanket, frantically ransacking his body for a certain thorny stem. One night, it had even taken a punch from his roommates to fully snap him out of his panic. He was getting better at dealing with the nightmares, but a good night sleep still eluded him. He was tired both physically and mentally.
Suddenly, the concrete that his back was leaning against shifted slightly, almost as if it was a living matter. His eyes shot open just in time to see a plethora of black arms reaching out from behind him. The brusque limbs enclosed around him in a blink of an eye, clamping down his entire torso. Without fully comprehending the situation, he tried bending forward to escape the vice-like grips. Two hands immediately slapped at his face, pulling his head back against the hard surface behind. Heart beating wildly inside his chest and legs flailing uselessly, he raised his unrestrained hands in a puny attempt to pry the inorganic fingers from his mouth and eyes. Through the cracks of the inhuman grip, he could see the wall opposite of him morphed and split.
His eyes went wide.
From within the unsightly crevice came a monstrous blue hand. It slammed down on the floor, wrinkled brown nails clawing at the dull wood beneath. Then another hand burst through the warped cement together with an ugly doll head. Behind an unruly mane of hair, traumatizing red eyes bored at him as the hideous face neared his, hovering over him. Its mouth loosely stitched, the doll grinned down at him, letting dark red liquid ooze through the dirty threads. Heavy beads dripped onto him, slowly coating him in the fetid slime. He wanted to scream in terror, but his voice was stuck inside his throat. The jagged blue lips spread further apart despite the stitches; the gap was just right for his head to pass through-
Garry jerked awake, opening his eyes to the mold-covered wall at his feet. His heartbeats were in chaos as he darted his gaze around in confusion. He was still sitting on the windowsill; the cigarette, which he was sure had been dropped, still in his shaky hold.
“Oi, oi. Garret, di’ ya just doze off there?” the blond roommate, who was lying on the floor with a magazine in hands, commented, “that’s dangerous.”
Garry gave a sort of a grunt and lowered his gaze, puffing shallowly at his cancer stick.
“Still freaked out ’bout whatever ghost shi’ ya saw in the cinema? Ya really no’ cut out for horror heh?”
His brows drew together, but he said nothing about it. Went to a horror movie was what he’d told them as explanation. There was no way he could tell the truth. After all, no one would ever understand. Only her.
Garry stabbed a hand though his knotted lavender mop in frustration. She had given him her contact info on the back of a gallery pamphlet; the crumpled piece of paper hadn’t been read since he’d left it in one of his books. He feared he would want to come running to her. Well, of course he wanted to, he just couldn’t. Not in this miserable state, not when he was so damn pathetic. He wanted to come to her for the sake of their promise, not to whine about how miserable he was.
He kept telling himself that twisted world wasn’t really all that scary, but it wasn’t working. That cursed place was terrifying. A sigh escaped his lips as he snuffed his cigarette on the wall just below him and tossed it into the nearly overflowing trashcan. He wouldn’t be surprised if Ib had already put everything behind her. She was a strong child.
But she wasn’t… Garry swung his legs down from the windowsill and sat up straight.
“W-wha’s wrong?” his roommate asked, gaining no attention from him.
Eyes fixing intensely on the stack of books on his side of the shelf, his hands began to itch. He could just be making up excuses but… she could be needing him right now. Hadn’t he learnt that as unaffected as Ib may act, she was still just a child? Ib might also be suffering from nightmares just as he was. He was barely able to live properly, what about her?
Garry got to his feet and quickly strode up to the shelf. Taking out a book with a worn cover, he quickly surfed through the pages.
His heart stopped as he reached the end of the pages. He blinked, not quite believing it. He went through the pages again, an ugly churn building up in the pit of his stomach. The folds of blue that he’d left somewhere between the pages were nowhere to be seen. He dropped the book to the desk and picked up another, going through it in the same manner as the last. No pamphlet. He swallowed. His movement frantic, he skimmed through his thick notes. No ugly crayfish. Garry slammed the books back into the shelf, eyes dilated. No way to contact- No. He shook his head, trying to calm down.
“Evan, dear?” he turned to the boy lying sprawled on the floor of questionable cleanness.
“Yeah?” the blond dropped the magazine to his chest and craned his neck to look at Garry. “What?”
Keeping a rigid smile on his face, Garry asked with a slightly shaken voice. “Did you see any blue pamphlet on the desk?”
“Eh, pamphlet?” Evan raised an eyebrow as he sat up. “I doona think so…”
“Blue crayfish?” Garry offered.
A look of recognition that flashed through the blond’s face lit a small hope in his mind. “Aah, tha’ wrinkled slip… I think I threw it away last week,” that hope was crushed in the cruelest way imaginable as his roommate gave him an uneasy grin. He crossed the gap between them in less than second and took a handful of Evan’s shirt, yanking the guy to his knees.
“You… did what, dear?” Garry asked with his smile still, but his voice breaking.
Evan meekly raised his hands, stuttering, “i-it fell out when I borrowed your book for a bit and, well, it looked like junk so I-”
His words were interrupted by a strong punch that sent him backward.
Garry sat on the floor, fingers drumming. He rested his other arm on his bent knee, chewing the tip of his thumb in irritation as he kept his eyes on the wall to his right; his cheek swollen and his lower lip cracked. Tasting the salty iron on his tongue, his scowl deepened.
Just next to him was a sullen Evan, whose face was red with newly blooming bruises.
“Have you two calmed down?” his other roommate stood before them both, arms folded, “I don’t care what happened but apologize to each other.”
There was a short moment of silence before a throaty cough could be heard. “… Garret, sorry ‘kay?”
Garry glanced at the blond, trying to keep his anger at bay.
“I dinna know.”
“Yes,” he grated pointedly, “you have no fucking idea.” Not meeting anyone’s gaze, he stood up and headed for their bedroom.
“C’mon bud, it’s just a-”
“It’s not!” Garry shouted over his shoulder, his tone devoid of any femininity – which visibly stunned the other boys. A part of him was shocked at himself, but he was far too worked up to care. Shaking his head once, he gave them a dismissive wave. “Just… leave me alone.”
Closing the door behind his back, he leant against it. Slowly, his knees caved and he slid to the floor. His mind was almost blank. Ib’s contact information was gone. Of course before putting the leaflet away, Garry had looked over it. However, the chain of nightmares had already wiped his memory clean; he couldn’t even remember if the street name started with an M or N. He couldn’t believe this was actually happening. Garry brought his hands to his face, slowly shoving his fingers into his hair. He was so mad at Evan, but ultimately, he was mad at himself. Had he gone to her two weeks ago, this wouldn’t have happened. There was no way to see her now, and he had no one but himself to blame.
A slick black car pulled into the empty street of an expensive neighborhood, gliding pass a lone figure cladded in a tattered black coat – the clothing obviously unbefitting the high class district. However, being out of place didn’t keep the young man from scouring the area the past two months. He knew she was somewhere in this neighborhood, had been thrilled to find out it was closer to his place than he’d anticipated; the only problem was that it was far too large. Just wandering aimlessly around didn’t seem to be working, but he couldn’t do anything more. The first day when he had braved ringing bells from every house in sight, it had nearly earned him a night behind bars for being the suspicious individual that he wasn’t.
He stopped and looked up to the dimming blue sky. Another day was coming to an end, another search turned up fruitless. Garry stifled a sigh and headed down the street leading away from the neighborhood.
It slowly became more crowded as he neared the complex where he lived. He didn’t feel like returning just yet, so he headed into town. In a way, he wanted to prolong his time outside. Summer break was almost over and the new semester was around the corner. Schoolwork would mean less time for him to search, and by God, he already didn’t have enough.
Garry never stopped wondering if Ib was safe and sound, if she was truly home with her parents. A tiny voice in his head kept whispering that their promise of reunion had been nothing more than a dream, and that she was still stuck in the demented gallery. He knew it was a load of bull, but that didn’t help ease his mind. Somewhere in this city was Ib, but where exactly, he hadn’t a clue. It aggravated him to no end.
The evening was considerably dark now, as he walked the familiar pavement. Without himself realizing it, his feet had brought him along the streets he usually took to the university.
He was so tired. He put all his free time into searching, but his efforts weren’t yielding any result; the nightmares weren’t helping. It has already been two months, was it alright for him to keep holding onto this promise? Children were… forgetful little creature, painfully so. He wondered if Ib had already forgotten about him. Even the closest of friends could drift apart after losing touch, what could he expect from a friendship formed within hours? Maybe he should give up, maybe he should’ve given up the moment he had learnt about the pamphlet, or lack thereof. Maybe he was the only one trying to make this volatile connection something special, but somehow he couldn’t bring himself to let go.
Suddenly, he felt a pull at the tail of his coat, a surprisingly strong one that made him stop in his tracks. So rudely yanked from his thoughts, he spun around, determined to give the perpetrator a piece of his nasty mood.
Round, wine-coloured eyes stared back at him.
- Garry failed to escape the doll room -> trauma