The Blue Rose

It was early in the afternoon, and the gallery wouldn't close until late that evening. Garry had plenty of time to explore the works of featured artist Weiss Guertena. Nonetheless, he moved quickly along the sidewalk. It had just begun to drizzle when he reached the gallery. Although it wasn't supposed to pour, he knew better than to trust the ramblings of anchormen. The tang of orange lingered on his tongue as he made his way to the reception desk and examined the covers of the pile of pamphlets thereupon.

"Just one?" the man behind the counter asked.

"Yes, sir."

The receptionist reached behind the desk and withdrew a gallery pass. Garry reached into his pockets and dug about. His fingers grazed the cold metal of his lighter and crinkled candy wrappers before grasping the coins buried beneath. He set them on the counter, and the receptionist relinquished the gallery pass.

"Enjoy the display."

"Thank you."

Garry wandered around the first floor. There were people standing all around the focal point of the exhibit, the one pictured in all of the flyers, Guertena's Abyss of the Deep. Even for his height he could not quite see it around the crowd. He stuffed his hands in his pockets and fingered their content, strolling around the main floor and pausing only to examine works where the crowds were thin. If he had to wait all day to keep from brushing shoulders with the other visitors, so be it. In the meantime, he made his way upstairs.

Garry smiled, just a little, when he found the second floor much less populated than below. He stepped around the first painting and the man staring at it, and paused to get a look at the second. The Hanged Man. He glanced over his shoulder to the man standing beside him, who seemed fixated on the first painting. Garry fished through the wrappers in his pocket and pulled out a yellow one with the candy still inside. Lemon, he thought, I'll save that one for later. He moved it to the other pocket, and dug again in the first for another sweet. This one had a red wrapper. He untwisted the ends and discreetly thumbed the strawberry-flavored candy between his lips.

Oh, right. Food and drinks weren't allowed in the gallery.

He looked again to the man on his left, and then reflexively to his right. There was a small girl, maybe half his age, standing beside him. Before their eyes could meet, he fixed them back upon The Hanged Man. She said nothing to him and her footfalls trailed farther about the second floor. Even so, Garry kept his attention glued to the painting until he was sure she paid him no mind.

He shuffled towards the next painting, his attention drifting down the hall. The girl's long hair and ruffled skirt disappeared around the bend at the far end of the gallery. Having hardly looked at painting before him, he moved on to the next. The fourth was a close-up of a face, of an eye. It's staring at me... The title embossed on a plaque beneath the painting read Worry. He stepped away from the canvas—and into another visitor.

He spun about. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean—"

"It's all right," the man assured.

Garry flinched regardless as the woman accompanying that man stood forward. "You haven't seen our daughter, have you?" the woman asked. "She's about this tall, long brown hair, wearing white and red?"

Gary ducked into the ragged collar of his coat, but nodded. "She was heading that way." He withdrew one of his hands from his pockets and pointed down the hall.

"Thank you," the man replied. He slid an arm around the woman's waist, and together they continued onward.

Garry considered this. If he went the other way around the second floor, surely it would all connect, and he would see the girl again to tell her that her parents were looking for her. He spun on his heel, but when he set his toes back down he heard a crunch underfoot. He pressed his lips together, and glanced around to see if anyone had noticed. The man who had been examining the first painting was looking his way. Garry dipped and picked up the wrappers that had fallen from his pocket, stuffed them back into it, and strode onward. Whether or not the man continued to watch him, he dared not confirm. He neither looked back nor slackened his pace until he rounded the bend.

There was no one here. The girl must have stopped with her parents on the far side of the gallery. There was, however, a mural spanning nearly the entire corridor. Garry shuffled towards the center. The plaque read Fabricated World. The lights above flickered, pulling his attention away from the painted land. He glanced to the ends of the hall. He was sure if the girl hadn't been found, she would come around soon, but she didn't. Garry dismissed the thought of her and examined instead the detail of the mural. As his eyes grazed the canvas, movement caught his eye beneath the picture's frame. Paint dribbled down the wall.

He quickly turned to look again down the hall, and snapped back to look in the other direction, the strawberry candy lodging in his throat. Before it would choke him, he swallowed it whole. Still, no one had come. He turned back to the paint. "That's not my fault," he said. "I didn't touch it."

As if in response, letters formed in the trails of blue. Come down below, it read, I'll show you some place secret.

Garry wasted no time. He went running around the bend, to the end of the hall, and nearly tumbled down the stairs on his way to the reception desk. But he wasn't after secrets.

The receptionist wasn't there. He hadn't seen the man who had watched him, or the little girl and her parents, or any of the other visitors on his way around. He still couldn't see them. He rushed for the exit instead. It was locked. He pulled the lapels of his coat together, backing carefully into the center of the room. The lights went out again, and this time they failed to come back on.

"H-Hello?" he called. "S-Someone? Anyone?"

A shadow passed by one of the backroom windows. Garry inched farther from it. Fists slammed against the other window. When he saw the rest of the silhouette peering at him through it, Garry turned and ran. He saw the Abyss of the Deep splayed before him too late. He couldn't stop. He couldn't turn in time, and doubled over the velvet rope. His hands curled around his head, braced to fall smack against the display, and was met instead with a splash.

Any semblance of the museum or the work into which he had fallen disappeared above him. He cupped his hands over his mouth, his breath bubbling between his fingers. Before long, however, he felt solid ground beneath his feet. He looked down and found stairs. He ducked out of the suspended water and dashed to the bottom of the stairwell. Gasping for breath in the hall below, he glanced back. The pool, the stairs, none of it was there anymore. There was a wall where it should have been—and he wasn't even wet. There was a nook with a couple end tables, a log book on one and a vase full of water on the other, and a painting between them that he hadn't seen in the gallery.

"The power went out." He nodded. "I took a wrong turn. I didn't fall into the maw of a giant anglerfish. And this is just another part of the gallery." Garry stepped towards the painting, Eternal Blessing. "Right?"

He turned away from the image and looked to the ends of the hall. There were doors to his left and right, and one just across the hall. He tried this door first. The knob was loose and rattled in his grasp, but did not turn. He sighed. "It's probably a staff room anyway."

With a final look at the painting across the hall, Garry made his way to one of the hall's ends. In this room, there was a smaller room ahead, and some half-steps to his right. There were bulletins on the wall up those steps, and a bright blue rose sitting in a vase. He made his way to this. There was no water in the vase, but the rose couldn't just be another display. It looked as real as the few petals scattered around the tabletop. He would have to tell the staff to water the poor thing. But that could wait. He turned his attention to the posted writings instead.

You and the rose are unified. Know the weight of your own life. When the rose rots, so, too, will you rot away.

"That's about as unsettling as The Hanged Man," Garry muttered. He stepped away from the pages, and towards the smaller room. But he couldn't do it without another glance at that blue rose. Taking a deep breath, he pulled his eyes away. And then he darted back to the rose and plucked it from the vase. "I must be going crazy," he said, tucking the stem into one of his coat's inside pockets.

Garry tread onward, patting the pocket with the rose, and tried the door to the smaller room. It was unlocked, but a quick inspection revealed little in the room. A table and a key. It was too late to wallow in misgivings. He took the key, and crammed it in the same pocket as his lighter and the empty candy wrappers. There didn't seem to be much more to the space outside, but he turned the corner to explore the dead end anyway.

"That's a weird place to hang a painting," he said to the woman staring back at him from within her frame. He stepped near enough to read her plaque, The Lady in Blue. "Why would they do that?"

The woman's arms thrust from the canvas. Garry yelped and staggered out of reach. His hands shaking, knees knocking against one another, he stared as The Lady in Blue fought with her frame and shoved herself off the hooks. The frame crashed to the ground. She propped herself on her arms, looking up at him before clawing her way towards him. Garry stood frozen. Not until she grasped one of his shoes could he move, and by then her other hand had grabbed hold of his leg.

"L-Let me go!"

He kicked and stumbled his way to the entrance of the smaller room. Not sure if he could get around her, he ducked into the room instead. He slammed the door on her frame. While it cracked further, the Lady in Blue remained undaunted. Garry pulled himself onto the table. As she grabbed after his ankles, he knew her reach was too much. The table just wasn't high enough.

He wasted no time diving over her. He stumbled and crashed into the door, but he was still afoot. Grabbing hold of the knob, he yanked it shut. The Lady in Blue pounded at the door from the other side. He couldn't feel her grasping for the knob, however. He held onto it with one hand, and dug about his pockets for the key he had found with the other. It fit the lock. His eyes lit up at the faint click.

The pounding continued for a moment more, and Garry wasn't going to stick around and see if she could very well break down that door. He ran not only from the room, but past the small display in the hallway, and for the other corridor.

He stood against the door, waiting, listening, but between his gasps of breath he heard nothing. "What was that thing?"

He couldn't just stand there. He had to put as much distance between himself and that canvas monster as possible. With his hand to the right side wall, a wall void of decal as far as he could see, he strode onward. There were still paintings on the other side of the hall. There was no telling what they might do if they also came alive. He bit down on his lower lip and pushed onwards. Nothing jumped at him here, but when he reached the door to the next room he stopped again.

"C'mon, Garry," he whispered. "You can do this. You just gotta find the gallery."

He turned the knob and cracked open the door. His peeking revealed nothing of consequence, so he opened the door fully. As far as he could see, the room was altogether without paintings. There was, however, a headless statue standing in front of another door in the center of the wall to his left.

"You better not come to life," he muttered.

Garry inched forward. At any moment it would lunge at him. And this one had legs, so it would be faster, too, wouldn't it? But even when he came near enough to the statue that he could reach out and touch it, it remained still. Of course it won't move, Garry, it's a statue.

But he felt a stab in his chest. He staggered forward at the sensation, leaning against the statue for support. The deep, steady pain ebbed, and he stood upright again. Well, if the statue even could to come to life, it had lost its most opportune moment.

Garry stood back and groped at his chest for some sign of wound. He felt nothing serious, and lifted the hem of his shirt to get a better look. There were slight scratches, like a cat's claws, that hadn't bled. There were a few bruises, too, that might have come from fending off the Lady in Blue. He doubled over as the pain cut into him again. The bruises darkened. The scratches began to bleed. It was as if something else had come to danger, something to which he was inextricably connected.

"The rose!" Garry ran his hands up the front of his coat, and then pulled it open. "Where—?"

His eyes widened. His jaw dropped. He glanced back to the hall from which he had come, and the room from which he had fled.

Garry did the last thing he wanted to do in this foreign place and turned back. It hurt to run. It hurt just to breathe. He reached into his pocket for the key to have it ready when he got there. Before he had even made it back to the hall with the Eternal Blessing, his legs gave out from under him, and he came crashing to the ground.

Author's Note

When I wrote this, I didn't know he tells you a little about it in the kinda safe room. He never wants to tell me when I play, but I saw it in someone's LiveStream and panicked. It still kinda correlates, though. xD Apologies for anyone hoping for more. I don't want to write a complete retelling of the game, so this stands alone. Thank you for reading!