Year: 1

Season: Summer

Ib: Age 9

"Come play with us!"

She looked curiously down at the rabbit doll beckoning to her, and without a bit of hesitation, she picked it up. She felt a dull throb in the back of her head, and she knew something was wrong, but she felt so light headed that the pain didn't seem to matter much.

"This way!"

She looked up, and only then realized that she was in a dimly lit hallway, behind and in front of her was a seemingly endless passage – no doors, windows, or distinguishable features anywhere. All she saw was the tiled floor she stood upon, and the darkened walls and ceiling. Sensing again that something was wrong, she felt an intense desire to go somewhere else. A frown formed on her lips as she pushed aside her thoughts, and began to walk forward, the way the rabbit doll told her to go.

"We're almost there!"

The assurance made her smile, an action she had no control over, setting alarm bells off in her head. Her mind began to clear, and she wanted to question what was going on, but it was as if a mystical power had a hold of her body, and she just couldn't move at all by her own will. She wanted to scream, to warn her body that this was wrong, and that she really shouldn't be doing this. However, she just kept walking, unable to change anything.

"In here!"

She noticed a door that she was certain wasn't there before, and her hand automatically reached out and grabbed hold of the handle. She felt fear rush through her, and she didn't want to open it, no matter what. Despite her wishes, her body betrayed her and opened it anyway, and she entered the room, closing the door quickly behind her.

"Oh! Ib! I've been looking forward to seeing you!"

Ib looked up and saw only darkness everywhere, except for a small spot in what she assumed was the middle of the room, where light shown on a small table, with at least eight chairs crammed up nearby. Each chair was occupied except for one, and all of them had a cup of tea in front of them. Of the occupied chairs, all but one had a cute stitched bunny doll seated upon it, and in that one that didn't have a doll sat a blonde haired girl wearing a green dress. She had a wide and friendly smile, and her eyes shined with excitement as she looked upon Ib with her bright blue eyes.

"Mary." Ib felt herself saying. Her danger senses were in full swing now – Mary – the girl that had tried to kill them for entering her room! The girl who wanted hers and Garry's rose! What did she want now? How was she even still alive?

"Please, take a seat." Mary politely pointed out the only unoccupied chair in the room, "Won't you have some tea with us? We were just having a discussion on what we want to do when we grow up!"

Ib, not in control of her body, did as was asked of her. She walked up to the table and pulled the chair out, and took her seat, still unable to control her body, but she was fortunately about to control her voice. That did little to ease her nerves as she scooted her seat closer to the table.

"I was thinking of becoming an artist! Isn't that creative?" Mary asked excitedly, "What about you?" She noticed that one of the dolls cups was low on tea, so she reached over to refill it. Ib said nothing, prompting Mary to ask, "Is something wrong?"

"Where am I?" Ib asked, fearfully looking around the room. If this was the gallery, then surely there was some key around that would help her escape. There had to be something around that would give her full control of her body. She found herself breathing fast, and she repeatedly told herself to stay calm in her mind. Panicking now would do no good.

Mary frowned confused by Ib's question, "You're having a tea party with me and our friends!" She waved her arm out across the table theatrically.

"What about Garry?" Ib asked, concerned about his whereabouts. Her eyes looked left and right, and she wished that she could move her head. What if he was in danger and needed help? She couldn't leave him!

That was evidently the wrong thing to ask, because Mary's frown only deepened as her lips began to tremble, and she lowered her head, shadowing her eyes from Ib. Her whole body shook and she quietly asked, "Why do you care about him more than me?"

"He's our friend." Ib replied, glancing at mary's shivering form. Again, she wished she could move, she felt a very ominous feeling from watching Mary act this way.

"He isn't my friend!" Mary shook her head as she still hid her eyes from Ib's view, "You'd rather he live than me!"

"That's not true!" Ib cried out, "You're my friend too! I don't want either of you to be hurt!"

"You're lying!" Mary screamed, slapping the tea cup away, crashing it into the darkness, "You murdered me! You monster! I just wanted to be a real girl! I wanted to live, I wanted out of the painting! I wanted to be with you!" She paced around now, gasping deep breaths in and out, "But no! You ruined it all! You choose him over me! You killed me to save him!"

"I had no choice!" Ib replied, feeling tears welling up in her eyes, "You were going to kill both of us!" She truly did regret what she did, but it had to be done!

"Only because you entered my room!" Mary yelled. She slammed her fists on the table and glared across at Ib, her blue eyes were so cold that Ib felt like she was being stabbed just by looking at them.

"I'm sorry!" Ib screamed, closing her eyes and looking down, tears forcing their way through. She let out a choked sob, "I didn't want to hurt you! I'm so sorry!"

"Shut up!" Mary shouted as she slammed her fists on the table over and over, like a child having a temper tantrum, "I'll kill you!" Ib suddenly noticed that all the dolls were facing her now, and in their place, instead of the cute bunnies from earlier, were horrific stitched dolls, their bodies were blue, their clothes ragged, and their eyes were red, glaring angrily at her. She wanted so badly to get up and run, but it just wasn't an option, no matter what she tried, she couldn't move.

"Let me go!" She cried, struggling to regain control of her body. Mary didn't say anything else. She slowly walked up to Ib with a palette knife now in her hand. She raised it above her head, tears streaming down her face as she looked down at Ib.

"Please! Mary, stop!" Ib cried one last time to her.

"I hate you!" Mary wailed, slamming the knife down with as much force as her little body could muster.

XxXxXxX

Ib woke up with a start, her eyes frantically searching the darkened room, her heart beating quickly. When she realized that she was safe in her own bedroom, she let out a shaky breath,and allowed her tears to freely flow. There was a short period when she didn't remember the evil world she had visited, she had forgotten Mary, forgot the paintings trying to kill her, and forgot how close to death she was so many times. It was times like this, when she awoke from the nightmares, that she wished that she could forget again, go back to that state of blissful ignorance. The only thing that made her reconsider each time was Garry – the man who had saved her life countless times. She imagined his oddly colored hair, his friendly smile, and his encouraging words, and tried to focus only on that. She found that if she did that, she could usually get back to sleep within an hour or so.

Mary's death was a tragic accident, and one she felt so horribly guilty over that it plagued her nightmares every single night. Being only nine years old made the experience that much worse for her... She acted cool and collected in the gallery, but when she was alone, when she didn't have others to rely on her, she could cry to herself about how horrible the experience was, about how traumatizing it was for her... When she was alone, it was the only time when she felt like she could show her true emotions. She didn't want to disturb anyone else with her problems, because that wasn't what mature people did... She was mature, she had to get over this. Still... She thought that maybe, sometimes she should have been the one to die, instead of Mary.

She turned to her side, and curled up into a ball, trying to keep the horrible memories at bay as she tried fitfully to fall asleep again. She tried not to be too loud as she sniffled and cried to herself, for she didn't want to wake her parents up and have them deal with her problems for her. She was too mature for that! As the tears fell, she slowly began to lose consciousness, and soon, she was asleep once more.

Her final thought before drifting off was how happy she was to be seeing Garry tomorrow.

XxXxXxX

It was only a little pass noon when she got off the bus and looked around the familiar town, holding her arm up to block the sunlight beaming down on her face. Not seeing who she was looking for, she continued down the sidewalk, avoiding various people left and right going on with their own daily lives. Fortunately, she was close enough to the park that they agreed to meet at, so she didn't have to walk far to see him sitting on a bench, leaning back with his eyes closed, enjoying the warmth of the sun. He wasn't wearing the long coat he had on at the art museum, instead opting to just wear a shirt with no sleeves and some jeans, a very casual appearance. The only things that helped her identify him at all was his hair, which was the same as always, and his height. She was also dressed casually for the day however, only wearing a sundress, and carrying around a small bag

"Garry!" She smiled brightly, feeling happy for the first time in over a week. She waved over to him as she ran towards him. He opened his eyes, and heaved himself up to see her. When his eyes fell on her, he couldn't help but let a near face splitting grin cross his face.

"Ib!" He acknowledged with with a curt nod and a friendly smile, "How have you been?"

"Good." She answered, sitting down next to him. She didn't want to needlessly worry him about the nightmares she had been having every night. Garry was the kind of person who'd blame himself for something like that.

"Oh!" He let out, looking away from her for a moment. He looked down towards his pocket and pulled out a now completely clean handkerchief, "Before I forget, here. I washed it for you."

Ib glanced at the laced handkerchief she had given to him only a week ago, and she gave him another bright smile as she accepted it, "Thank you."

"No, I should thank you." He replied with a short laugh, "If it weren't for that, we might have not even remembered each other."

For a split second, she briefly wished that she hadn't remembered, if she didn't she would be able to sleep, be able to go on the rest of her life without having the weight of what she witnessed constantly in her mind. However, she squashed the thought, and she simply nodded, "Yeah." Garry was her best friend now, and she wouldn't trade him for anything.

"Not one of many words, as usual." He chuckled as he watched her in amusement. Ib gave him a half-hearted glare, only causing his chuckles to lead into full blown laughter. She couldn't help but laugh a little herself, while putting away her handkerchief into her bag. After she did that, she looked up at him expectantly.

"So," He spoke up as he stood up and began to stretch, "Ready to go?"

"Yeah, let's go." Ib replied, and she noticed that Garry held out his hand towards her. She faintly smiled, and reached out with her own hand, and watched as his much larger hand clasped hers in its grasp. He led her through the city, keeping a firm grasp on her hand as he did in the other world, a habit formed when he did everything he could to protect her from the horrors there. Ib kept a good grip on his hand, easily able to follow along with his larger steps. It didn't take long for the duo to reach the café they had planned to go to, and once inside, they were quickly seated. After giving their orders, they were left waiting for their drinks and food.

"So how has school been?" Garry asked, as he looked away from the waitress and towards Ib. He gave her a kind smile, hoping that it would ease any tension that the young girl might feel.

"Good." She answered, looking around the café. This was the first time she had ever been to one, and it wasn't quite as fancy as she thought it would be. Sure their chairs and table had some rather intricate designs carved into them, but other than that, the building wasn't too big. It had an outside section, which she wished they had gone out to, but Garry had opted for them to sit near the window, not that she minded too much.

"Did you get all your homework done for tomorrow?" He asked, bringing her attention back to focus.

She nodded, "I finished it before coming here."

"You're pretty diligent. I wouldn't be able to do that, I'd want to sleep in." He admitted, sheepishly scratching his nose.

"Get all your homework done, then you can play." Ib said, though she wished that sleeping in was an option for her. With the nightmares she had been experiencing however, she wanted to avoid sleep as much as possible, since it always inevitably led to her waking up in tears, or covered in sweat. Both were very unpleasant experiences that she'd rather avoid.

"Hmm, your parents raised you well." He replied. She blushed a little at the praise, and looked towards the drinks that were now arriving at their table. They had only ordered a few macarons and some tea, but it would be more than enough. They thanked the woman who had served them, and Garry immediately took a long sip of his tea, "Ah. Green Tea always makes me feel relaxed." He sighed, leaning back into his chair. Ib took a macaron and took a small bite out of it and chewed, testing it out. Her eyes lit up, and she took another large bite, and then she took a sip of her tea, and looked exictedly at the rest of the macarons, and she wondered which colors she should try next.

Garry watched her eat with a smile, and gently asked, "Ib, have you been ok?"

She looked up at that, but quickly stared back down at at her half eaten treat, knowing that if she looked Garry in the eyes, it would be much harder for her to avoid the truth, "I..."

He leaned forward slightly, "Hm?" She wanted to hide it, she wanted to act like nothing was wrong! She was mature! She could handle it on her own! Garry had done so much for her, that she didn't want anymore from him, he may find her to be a burden, and then he'd go away. No, it was better that he didn't know. Her rush of worries and insecurities kept her silent, and Garry rose an eyebrow at the silent girl, "Are you ok?"

"I – I've been fine." Ib lied, keeping her eyes averted from his own, hoping that he would drop the subject.

"Oh?" He mumbled, "I see." He leaned back in his chair, "I wish I was as strong as you."

"What do you mean?" Ib asked in surprise. Looking up at him in wonder. Did that mean that he was having nightmares too?

"Well, to be honest, I haven't had a good nights sleep in who knows how long." He groaned, "I keep seeing..." He paused, "Stuff." She noticed that he looked aside, and she saw an almost haunted look in his eyes. She recognized it so well because she saw it in the mirror every time she woke up in the morning to go to the bathroom. Was... Was he having the same problems she was? Despite the fact that he was an adult?

"You're been having nightmares?" She hesitantly asked, wondering if it was a taboo subject.

Garry noticed how timid Ib was acting, so he gently replied, "Yeah, I have." Ib was silent after his confession. He admitted to it, perhaps it was ok if she too did so? "It was a traumatic experience for me," Garry spoke as he glanced back to her, "I'm surprise that you were unaffected by it at all." He grinned, "Though you were abnormally brave in there, and you did save me so many times, I guess it makes sense that I'd be a wimp in the real world too!"

"No." She shook her head, "I'm not brave..."

"What?" He asked, blinking a few times at the normally quiet girl, "You are brave, whether you think so or not."

"No, I'm not. I've been having bad dreams." She admitted, looking back down, placing both of her hands in her lap as she nervously twitched. She felt tears stinging her eyes as she admitted something she had harbored to herself all this time. It felt scary, and yet very liberating to get it off her chest. When she heard him sigh, she elaborated, "I keep seeing things too."

"Seeing things?" He asked.

"Out of the corner of my eyes." She clarified, blinking rapidly to stop her tears, "I think I see heads, and things crawling at me, but when I turn to look, there's nothing there. I see M - Mary..." She whispered the name, "I - I feel so bad..."

He went silent and took another sip of his tea before he responded, "Yeah, I can't say that I've been handling it any better..."

"I don't like the dark anymore." She felt like she had to admit everything to him now, she couldn't stop herself. She wanted to share this with someone, and Garry was willing to listen and would understand it all.

"Nor do I." He admitted, the images of the horrible dark hallways leading seemingly to nowhere filled his mind, "Ib, I'm sorry."

"For what?" She asked, her red eyes glancing at him curiously. Thankfully she was able to prevent tears from falling, but that did little to improve her mood.

"If I had protected you better, you'd be better off than you are now." He muttered, looking angrily down to the ground, "I was a burden to you the entire time."

She shook her head quickly, "No, that isn't true."

"No, it is." He mumbled, "I was the adult in that place, and I should have acted like it. My foolishness nearly got both of us killed..." He left it hanging, but Ib could clearly see that this was eating him up inside.

"It isn't you fault." She insisted, giving him a real glare for once, "unless if you are the one who made me go into that other world."

"Hm..." He responded, as he looked down to drink some of his tea.

"Did you?" She repeated, still maintaining her glare. She saw him jump a little, and felt a little satisfied for having that effect on him.

"Wha- No! Why would I do that?" He sputtered out, coughing a bit as the tea went down the wrong pipe.

She smiled brightly, "Then it's not your fault, right?"

He blinked owlishly at her a few times, before chuckling a bit, "I can't win against you, can I?"

"Nope." She giggled and exposed a toothy grin. He didn't say anything to that, opting to just eat one of the macarons that was served to him, and looking out over to the park they were at just before. It was a beautiful day outside, and he almost just wanted to leave and lay down in the grass for a few hours.

"Garry, can we go shopping after this? There are some things I need to buy." Ib asked after she had eaten another macaron. She reached for a napkin and wiped away some of the crumbs on her face.

He nodded, "Sure, it's a beautiful day out."

"Yeah." She agreed, looking out across the landscape with him. While she still didn't feel completely at ease, she did feel a lot better. Maybe she would be able to recover after all.

"Here's hoping we get many more days like this for the rest of our lives." Garry spoke as he turned to Ib with a raised tea cup. Ib looked at him oddly, but smiled as she raised her own.

They dinged their cups together, and she couldn't help but add, "They'll make us forget about that place too."

"I really hope they will." He replied, looking wistfully out the window.

XxXxXxX

I actually wrote this story last summer, and I had it completed in a folder just sitting there. I have decided that I will clean it up, add a few new scenes here and there, and post it. For those wondering, Garry is 20 years old in this, about 10 and a half years older than Ib.

CHAPTER 1 REVISED: 6/24/2013 - Added in a lot more detail, combined a lot of sentences, and basically made this up to par with my latest works. All of this totalled to a whopping 1.1k additional words.

I might go ahead and revise the other chapters later, we'll see.