Project: Phantasma

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XI. I Don't Want to Kiss That Thing

Kim jumped through the acid-weathered iron bars nimbly, Lloyd was a bit slower but Gab was having a hard time. The door of 309 opened and the civilians came rushing in. One tried to grab Gab’s foot but he accidentally kicked the man, giving him a boost as he landed on the overhang of 209. He followed Lloyd and Kim as they jumped down on other overhangs. Lloyd and Gab were impressed by Kim’s acrobatic movements. Lloyd jumped down with a bit of trouble and he awkwardly caught Gab in a lover’s carry. They ran away from the building and found themselves cornered in a crossroads by running creatures.

“Manwhore!” Kim shouted, looking down.

Lloyd looked surprised and tense. “What!?”

“Manhole!” Gab clarified, prying open a manhole. They descended quickly and Lloyd closed it before the creatures could get them. Thankfully, the creatures didn’t seem to know how to go down with the cover blocking the way.

Almost every horror game has something like the sewers, Gab thought.

The darkness made Gab risk turning his flashlight on. The brick walls were surprisingly not covered in moss or any grime, as if someone was maintaining it. “You guys okay?”

“Barely,” Kim panted.

Lloyd raised his thumb.

Gab looked at Lloyd’s raised thumb. “Like? What do you like?”

He looked at his raised thumb and sighed. “Ha-ha, Gab.”

A cone of light controlled by Gab was the only thing giving them a chance to see inside the dark sewers. “Where do you guys think this will lead?”

“I don’t know,” Kim replied.

“Well, do you think there are monsters here?” Gab asked.

“I don’t know either,” Kim replied once again. They could hear friction of something.

“What about you, Lloyd?” Gab stopped walking. “Lloyd?” Gab and Kim turned around and saw a glimpse of Lloyd being dragged away by a large, fast creature, vanishing out of view. Lloyd left a trail of blood. “Oh shit!”

They both ran after Lloyd but they heard a heavy, fast rhythm against water getting louder. Gab’s eyes widened as he grabbed Kim’s wrist. “Run!”

They were guided by the unstable flashlight beam, turning when they got the chance as splashes of water in different rhythms echoed through the dark passageways. Gab felt Kim’s clammy hand shaking against his equally moist hand. Upon reaching a forked path, he took the right (directional right, not correct right) path and hid themselves in a deep niche in a wall.

He pulled Kim closer inside, maximizing the depth and dropping the flashlight in such a way that it accidentally lighted the opposite wall. Gab’s back was leaning on the cold wall. He held Kim so close that her breath that smelled like potato and mint was blowing continuously toward his neck. He could feel her fast heartbeat and vice versa. One meter away from the path, they heard the heavy rhythm slowing down.

Gab saw a giant shadow produced on the opposite wall. He was happy that the shadow was manageably that big, thinking that it must be a lot smaller than them, but the creature stepped on plain sight, revealing a long-limbed creature insignificantly smaller than the shadow. It seemed to be in a worse condition than the others, having lots of scars.

Still big. Just go away. Go away. Go away, Gab thought.

Worried that Kim’s breathing might be audible, he guided her face gently toward his shoulder, muffling her a little bit. To his surprise, Kim hugged him tightly and began to tremble as if she was holding her tears for a long time. The creature turned around and looked at the space where they hid, resulting in Gab skipping a beat.

Go away. Go away. Go away.

Its face was grotesquely deformed and what Gab thought was saliva dripped down its mouth filled with jagged teeth. It stuck its head inside the space, signaling Gab to whisper “Hold your breath,” and him doing it as well.

Thankfully, the creature proceeded to walk by. It stomped on the flashlight, breaking it and left with a steady rhythm that sounded softer and softer until it was gone. A sigh of relief for them.

Gab motioned Kim to move but she still hugged him tight. “C-Can we stay like this… A little longer?” She whispered.

He let her cry for a moment, enjoying the warmth he never felt all his life. He tried to think of something like this in the past, but it seems that he couldn’t remember anything in the past, as if he lived only in this moment. Literally. Gab tried to recall anything that happened before he left. Anything.

Nothing.

He returned the favor and hugged her tightly. “Oh!” Kim involuntarily said. Gab felt very strange. He couldn’t remember what any of his family members looked like. He could only remember a CRT monitor serving as the new monitor for a laptop with a broken LCD and a dysfunctional family; an always drunk or working dad and a nagging mom with siblings who always fought each other and syringes and technology. Everything seemed so fuzzy. Everything seemed so… Artificial.

He dropped his hug and looked away. Kim was startled and her hug loosened. “Do I smell bad?”

Gab felt like an asshole. The moment was there but he was overcame by paranoia.

Why can’t I remember anything?!

He felt the gap between them though her thin arms were still around him. it was cold and he didn’t like it. It felt like his memories. Gab realized he left Kim’s question left unanswered. “What? Of course not… It’s just that… It seems that I can’t remember anything starting from an event before I left my school….”

Kim retracted her arms. Gab wanted it to last but he knew he blew it. Kim held his arm as she realized that they couldn’t see anything.

They were only certain about their presence in a gap on the wall.

Toph’s gone. Jane’s gone. Now Lloyd’s gone, he thought.

He was the only one who could protect her. “Let’s go. We’ll walk by the walls. It would take as forever if we waited for light.”

They got out of the space silently and slowly, both still holding hands, afraid to get lost. Nothing else could be heard, just the deafening sound of silence and their breathing.

“Kim,” Gab said in a soft voice. “Let’s avoid the puddle splashing by stepping gently. We wouldn’t want any unwanted attention. Also, speak softly. If I bump on something hostile, run.”

“No! We both run!” Kim shouted lightly.

“If it gets me-“

“No! Try to stay alive! I wouldn’t know what to do alone in this darkness!”

“Just in case.”

Kim understood. She saluted him playfully but he couldn’t see it for sure. “Yes sir.” They were starting to walk when Gab stopped.

“Oh, and Kim,” She shifted her attention back to him again. “Thanks.”

“Sure… I won’t be dying without my first hug, after all.”

Gab thought of other firsts he could offer to Kim, but remembered to focus.

Uncertain about their surroundings and blinded by darkness, their grip went tighter and they started to tread by the walls, with Gab on the lead, dreading that what they might bump into might be their last.

One’s hearing and feeling senses are heightened when one is terrified. Gab could only feel his beating heart and could only hear the pulsing of blood on his temples. Kim’s clammy hand responded with a slight tightening upon every hushed step they took. No one has been talking in the darkness. He didn’t know what she was thinking about, but he, the paranoid dude that he is, dreaded the possibility of a point-blank encounter, with his face straight through the gaping mouth of that hideous creature that got Lloyd, his hand letting go as he imagined Kim lost in the darkness. He could only shudder by the thought.

But I hugged her. Gab thought at the very least. That seemed to be the redeeming factor of this struggle for him, but what kind of bastard was he to find a replacement so early? He looked at Danielle’s disposition and convinced himself that he’s not that bad, considering he believed it wasn’t ever his fault.

Gab grabbed something that made him gasp, and what made Kim pull him back a little. She almost ran but he offered a little resistance. Their sudden footsteps echoed through the uncertain and dark passageway.

“W-what is it?” Kim asked, tensed.

He reached for whatever it was again. It was cold and was leading up. A sigh of relief was let out. “It’s a ladder.” He led the climb (not the ballad by an artist who once didn’t ride naked on giant balls) and managed to push what was actually a manhole. He peeked like a submarine scope and identified it as a dark alley, and there were street lights. It’s all too quiet.

Glad to see light, he pulled Kim out, relieved to see a cute face emerge than a monster. He imagined the horror and the humor if he actually pulled out that jagged-teethed creature, implying he was holding and leading a blood-thirsty killing machine all the while in the darkness.

Then they heard running. Gab peeked at the streets, hidden in the dimly lit alleyway and saw a Japanese competitor with a wooden plank, a pony-tailed blonde with loose bandages tied on her hands and a black-haired girl with free-flowing hair armed with a gun. They were being chased by a creature that seemed to be the same one in the sewers. The creature pounced towards the black-haired girl but the Japanese guy intercepted the creature’s mouth with the wooden plank, but he gets pushed down as the guy struggled to resist.

The girl fumbled for her gun. Gab thought she was too slow. He didn’t want to see someone die again if he could help it. He ran towards the creature. The girls were startled but they knew Gab’s intentions… But halfway from running, he realized he didn’t know what exactly to do and slowed down a little, losing his running stance. The girls thought it was awkward to see Gab look slow down along the way, but he figured out a kick would work. He used the distance left to gather momentum as the Japanese guy shouted incomprehensible stuff, probably meaning “What are you doing, assface? I can’t die a virgin!”

He planted a kick on the creature’s side, toppling it over as the Japanese guy stood quickly. They all ran towards where the other girls were leading them. Kim met them along the way and they were lead into another alleyway. They had to squeeze themselves a little. Gab looked at Kim, assuming she remembered what happened when they squeezed themselves inside a space, when they were being pursued by probably the same hostile. She looked rather agitated to squeeze inside than feeling like reminiscing.

The creature growled, seeing it couldn’t fit there. All it could do was shove its face and arms inside. The alleyway provided them space to breathe after a couple of moments striding. They rested on what seems to be a porch of a distinct building hidden from the streets. Panting, they all looked at each other.

The Japanese guy kept on saying something as he bowed down repeatedly. It made Gab rub the back of his head and smile humbly, assuming the dude was saying thanks. “Uhhh. Sure bro, no problem.”

The blonde complimented Gab. “Thanks for saving the Asian guy.”

Racists. Gab thought. “No problem. What was her problem with the gun?”

The black-haired girl bowed apologetically. “Sorry. I guess I panicked. Sorry Hiro.”

“Hiro is his name?” Kim asked skeptically.

“We think so. Aren’t all Japanese people named Hiro Nakamura?” The blonde girl said, sounding offending rather than dumb. She seemed to know what she was saying. “My name is Rose. She is Christy. That guy is Hiro. What about you guys?”

“I’m Gab and she’s Kim.”

“Let’s resume the talking and gratitude inside,” Christy said, motioning towards the distinct-looking building. She turned her flashlight on and guided them inside.

“What is this place?” Kim asked.

Rose sat down on a chair. “We don’t know either. It’s like a corridor of doors. We already inspected the place. It has been empty ever since we discovered this. There are loads of food and weapons, as if the people residing here already expected something like this.”

The Japanese guy showed them the rooms. All looked comfy with a bed and a set of couches and had a rack of weapons and food inside.

“There are only two exits,” Rose continued. “The door we entered and the trap door leading to the sewers.”

“We recently had a struggle in the sewers. A creature who looked like the one who just pursued us gave us a bad time there, catching a friend of mine and crushing our sole flashlight. We had to stumble in the darkness for about half an hour… Thankfully, we found a ladder,” Kim narrated.

Gab stared at the Japanese guy who was tinkering with his cellphone. He looked dismayed, probably hoping for a signal or because of the unchanging 3:09am, March 09, 2009. “Don’t you guys think there’s a reason why there aren’t any people here, anymore?” He said, still staring at Hiro.

Christy pondered for a moment. “What could have been a good reason to leave functional weapons and lots of food behind?”

“They evacuated the city, perhaps?” Rose said.

Gab dreaded the reason, whatever it was. He just looked away and tried to shrug it off. Whatever the reason was, his paranoia was getting the best of him.

Christy could see the change in Gab. She thought she should lighten the mood up. “I know, why won’t we just call this place the CorriDoor?” She said, making face.

Gab pointed his index fingers toward Christy like guns, his shoulder shrugged and his face similar to that of Christy. “Niiiiiice one.”

The two high five as Rose shook her head, slightly amused. “Weirdoes.”

They called it a day, with Hiro barricading the door. Rose decided to take watch for a while. Christy took the bed.

Kim saw Gab spaced out as he sat on a couch. She wanted to sit beside Gab but remembered the time Gab loosened his hug. She hesitated and sat on another couch, staring at him with concern.

We couldn’t do anything about Toph… But Jane and Lloyd… If only I was watching them the whole time, Gab thought, still down mainly because the one he thinks as the leader is now gone. I could have done something… Maybe if I risked and followed where Lloyd was being dragged to… I have to protect Kim… And my new people.

Gab shot a look at Kim. She looked away and pushed the bridge of her glasses. His heart was suddenly beating fast. He remembered the warmth of their hug. He reminisced her breath that smelled of potato and mint near his mouth. He tried to recall her cute face against his shoulder. And he let her go just as things were starting to settle down.

A random thought suddenly crossed his mind. Does she like me or was she just caught in the moment of weakness? His couch suddenly felt cold. He imagined Kim’s warm hug would solve his problem, but he didn’t want to be a creep to her. He stood up and sat beside her.

Kim seemed to be nervous. She felt the little dent that Gab made on the once lonely couch she sat on. She gulped as she glanced at Gab who looked rather nervous than relaxed in the relatively safe place they were in.

“Uhm. Excuse me,” Gab said.

She knew it was the signal to look at him like nothing happened.

“Uhhh. Are you busy or something?” He realized what he said was stupid.

Kim smiled but crinkled her forehead. “I was busy being alone in the couch, ’til you came along.”

“And fucked everything up?” Gab replied.

Kim sighed with a smile she couldn’t contain. It wasn’t because of affection. It was because of the eased tension.

“Look, I’m sorry if I’m incapable of doing things right. I just wanted to be friends with all of you and be with each other ’til this thing ends. I know. I fucked up.”

“That’s not your fault, Gab,” Kim replied. “It’s everyone’s fault.” She frowned a little.

Gab held Kim’s hand. To his surprise, Kim retracted her hand.

Kim looked shocked. Each grain seemed to exhibit a unique characteristic from the rest.

“I-I’m sorry for freaking you out,” Gab said. He knew he did something wrong.

Kim looked at another area on the floor. “I… I appreciate you liking me and all but… I hope you’ll just stop whatever you’re doing. I’m not into this for some reasons. Sorry if I’m assuming but. I’m thankful, though. For you liking me… A-and stop blaming yourself. It’s not always about you.”

Gab felt the couch got colder. He has been ambiguously rejected. “I… I just wanted to know you more that’s all. I’m not trying to take it further… I mean, we just met. Why would I-”

Kim stared at the foot of the wall. She thought he sounded like he was saving himself from humiliation.

Gab looked away. “I forgot about the boundary of getting to know someone and… That other thing, I… I don’t-”

Kim looked at the hand Gab touched. She didn’t feel anything. “You need to rest Gab. So do I.” She stood up and laid on the bed Christy was on. Her back was turned from Gab.

He knew things won’t be the same. Don’t worry. I won’t bother you anymore, he thought.

Gab looked at the dusty floor. The grains seemed to look distinct from each other.

And the couch never felt colder.

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