The Nightmare World

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Chapter 14

Curling up like a ball in the backseat. I wake up.

I mutter the code as I wake up. committing it to memory.

(L0129...)

(No matter what, I can't afford to forget it. It's our clue to finding Licht.)

I sit down. noticing the sun quickly rising for a new day. Another day without Licht in the real world.

(I promise...)

(I’ll find you.)

Ray: Nnngg...

Subaru:

Subaru stays quiet, yawning without a sound.

The past few mornings have had us waking up in a panic.

However, this time, we all sit motionless for several minutes. But the silence isn't awkward.

Everyone:...

(We're Just all tired.)

The rays of the sun come shining through the windows, bathing us in warm light.

Ray: I need a stretch.

He opens his door and steps out. Subaru does the same. opening the door on the other side.

I opt to open the car window, letting some fresh air in.

The boys do their thing, flexing their limbs as I view them from where I sit inside the car.

For a moment, it looks like we're friends on a road trip.

(But in reality...)

Subaru: Isn't it stuffy in there?

Subaru pops his head into the window, letting his elbow rest on the frame.

Me: Nah. I'm okay.

I break into a smile when I see him staring at me through the window like a cute little animal with

those almond-shaped eyes.

Me: I got this space all to myself, so I'm not too stiff.

Subaru smiles sweetly back at me. as if comforted by my smile.

Subaru: It feels nice out here, come on.

Me: Isn't it too cold?

I say, leaning to the side.

My sight is thrown askew, and I can see Subaru’s face from below.

(Oh...)

(When he looks at me from this angle...)

(...his eyes are just so stunning.)

Just then, a car approaches.

(Hmm?)

Ray gets back into our lane, minding the car as it slows down.

(It's stopping.)

(What could someone else be doing here deep in the mountains?)

(There's nothing here except an abandoned orphanage.)

Their windows roll down, revealing two men inside.

Man: Hey!

Man: What are y'all doin’ out here?

Me: Uhh, we're just doing some research on...

Ray: Just a little exploration. We were kind of dared to go explore the old orphanage.

Me: Huh?

Subaru: If the reason why Father was assassinated was supposed to be kept a secret. it’s best we don't mention that we're here to search around the orphanage.

Subaru quietly tells me.

Me: You mean these men could be involved in trying to cover up the human experiments...?

Subaru nods.

Just as I'm casually thinking about how cool Ray is for quickly picking up on the fact that these guys are here to keep the truth about

here to keep the truth about Bluebells a secret, Ray questions them back.

Ray: By the way, what are you gentlemen doing out here? With those work clothes on, you don’t look like you're here for a silly teenage dare.

Ray's probing question instantly puts me on edge, my joints locking up.

The countenances of both men suddenly change.

Man: Oh, um...nah. we're just...uh... Man 2: Nah. we were just hired to look after this building.

He looks stumped as he signals to the other man.

Man 2: We were just asking because y'all looked like you were in a pickle. We thought your car might have broken down.

Man: If your car needs some fixing. we got some tools back here.

Ray: Thank you for the gesture, but we're fine.

Man 2: Well. that’s good then. It's not safe 'round here. so y'all best get going.

Ray: We'll stay here a little longer. We came all this way, you see.

Man 2: Can't let you do that. It may be abandoned. but this here is private property. y'hear? We could have y'all prosecuted for trespassin'.

Me: Ray, we should probably get out of here for now.

Ray: Oh no, we don't intend on going inside. We're just going to look at the outside. There's nothing illegal about that, right? If you gentlemen have work to do. by all means head inside.

Ray: Rest assured. we won't get in your way.

Ray gives the men his winning smile.

The men grind their teeth with a hint of frustration.

Ray: Is something the matter? It's your job. correct?

Man 2: We, uh...got some other business to take care of. C‘mon, let's go.

Man: Y-Yeah, right...

With that the two men leave.

Subaru: Very suspicious. They definitely have something to do with the orphanage.

Ray: Right? They can't do their work just because we're around? They're either here to cover up Silas's murder or take care of the body.

Me: Take care of the body.-?

Ray:

Ray raises his arms over the roof

and yawns.

Ray: Anyone up for breakfast?

(He must have suspected that we are hungry.)

We get in the car and leave the orphanage for now.

We pull into a diner on the road for a meal.

(I've been so out of it, I actually forgot about eating!)

I watch as Subaru takes the seat beside me while Ray settles down with his food across from us.

Ray: Is that all you're gonna eat?

Ray points to my plate with his spoon.

Me: Hmm?

I stare down at my food choices. Apple slices, French toast, and a carton of milk.

Me: I don't want to feel too full. Especially not with what we're doing.

I take a bite out of my food and swallow it as they wait for me to conunue.

Me: I just don't feel like eating a lot these days. With everything that's happening, I feel like my stomach’s been turned inside out.

Ray: Stress.

I nod, looking at Ray as he sips on his orange juice.

Me: I'm relieved you seem better than you were yesterday, Ray.

Ray:

He nods a bit hesitantly.

(I guess I just put my foot in my mouth, huh?)

(Maybe I shouldn't have said that.)

Ray devours his first pancake,looking at Subaru with a confused expression.

Ray: Look at the amount of sugar you're dumping in that.

Subaru: What?

Ray: Keep at it, and you're going to get diabetes.

Subaru: What, are you worried about me?

Ray swallows his food, then points his spoon at Subaru across the table.

Ray:Coffee and sugar are good in healthy amounts.But honestly,if you want energy and a stronger immune system,you better drink your vitamin C.

He swipes his glass and drinks his fruit juice.

Ray: Ahh!

He exclaims with a sharp breath, his throat vibrating.

Ray: Like this! Caffeine keeps you alert, but it doesn't help your body repair itself. Wait, are you even listening to me?

I watch Subaru down half of his coffee in just one gulp.

(Whoa...)

Then he sets the cup down, licking his lips.

Subaru: You were saying?

Ray shakes his head.

(Ah, these two.)

(I feel like somehow, they've gotten closer.)

I bite into my French toast, letting the flavor settle on my tongue.

Despite my appetite, the flavor is richer because we're eating together.

We go back to where it all began. I stand before the stairs leading to the basement.

I peer into the pitch black abyss. The eerie. screeching howl of the wind gives me the creeps.

The steps are covered in dust and moss, but the staircase still seems intact.

Subaru: I'll go first.

Ray: No. let me.

Subaru:

Subaru looks surprised for a moment, but immediately forces out a smile and hands Ray the flashlight.

Subaru: You don't need to worry about me. I'm perfectly fine.

Ray: I'm... I'm not worried. Shut up and get moving.

(He is concerned about us.)

Ray: You should stay between us. Jessica.

Me: Gotcha.

(Alright. I can do this.)

I encourage myself as we slowly descend down the stairs. Feeling tense,we carefully make our way down the steps.

Some steps have water pooling in them, making them slippery.

The stains on the walls are also creeping me out. I try my best to avoid touching them.

Each of the stains are starting to look like the bloodstains we found Iast time. The air is thick with the familiar smell of blood. Resisting the rising urge to puke,I swallow hard and trudge forward. In an effort to take my mind off my putrid surroundings, I try thinking about the past.

We were forbidden to wander too far, and there were parts of the building that we weren't supposed to be in.

(Ray got scolded several times for trying to sneak into the basement. I wonder if he remembers that?)

And finally, one day, Father invited us to the basement, the place we were most curious about.

(It was scary!)

Despite my curiosity. I remember how terrified I was.

But at least Licht was there.

(Yes... He held my hand all the way down.)

Young Licht: It's okay. Don't be scared. I’ll protect you. I'm gonna rescue you from the darkness.

And that eventually became the day we lost our memories. When I think about it now, the darkness he was talking about wasn't the dark basement. It was my dark past.

(Licht is okay. right? I'm sure I'll be able to see him again...)

I clench my fists as if to try and push back my worries.

Me: Licht...

Subaru: I've been thinking.

Subaru says out of the blue, pushing my daydream away from my

mind.

Subaru: The monster should have showed up last night.

Me: But it didn't. Yeah. I’ve been wondering about that too.

Subaru: He’s been trapped in his own head for thirteen years.And with what Silas Ackerman said about him, he had a lot of happy memories.

Me: Does that mean Licht doesn't have any traumatic memories?

Ray: No bad memories means no monster coming after you, it seems.

(Our awful memories were erased, but Licht's was wiped out entirely.)

(Wait a second...)

(Why haven't I ever really thought about how that monster looks and behaves until now?)

Me: Did you guys notice the

monster?We've all had demons inside us, but they didn't come in any specific forms.

Ray: What do you mean?

Me: I mean, think about it. Maybe I've watched too many TV shows, but... ...a lot of times, fears take shape into something distinct.Because we're not afraid of the same things, the monster should be different for each of us.

Subaru: But the nightmare chasing us is one and the same.

Me: Yes. it's that big blob with too many limbs and multiple faces...

Ray: Then maybe it's a combination of all our trauma lumped together. Subaru:

I nod firmly.

Ray: The places from the nightmare are all woven from our past.

Ray: It makes sense that the monster would be the same way.

Subaru: That's true. It could be an amalgamation of all the things we fear. And maybe it’s so heavy with burden that it's shaped irregularly.

Me: If so. then that would explain why it gets weaker every time we deal with our memories.The monster gets smaller and smaller when a part of it, that is the trauma of the test subjects, is restored back to their memories. If we can face our trauma and overcome it, the monster will go away.

(We went through a lot as kids.)

(Putting that together can be hell for anyone.)

(But...)

We reach the door to where Licht

We reach the door to where Licht was kept in the nightmare.

(As long as we carry that weight together......we can find a way to make it through.)

We arrive in front of the same room where we first found Licht in the nightmare world.

(Yesterday the door was Iocked, and we couldn't get it open.)

(But now...)

I slowly close my eyes. Just before I reopen them, I recall what Licht told me.

(Even if we're in separate worlds, we’ll always be connected.)

(I will find you, Licht.)

I exhale. sIowy open my eyes and approach the door.

Me: The code is... L0129.

I cautiously enter the code.

The sound of the buttons echoes

through the gloomy hallway.

Everyone:

(Please work...)

We wait a moment.

CLICK!

The door clicks open.

We smile at one another. breathing a sigh of relief.

Ray: Good job. Jessica.

Ray gives me a firm pat on the head.

Ray: Alright. let’s go in. Let's put an end to this and get free from this nightmare world.

Subaru: Let’s do it.

We nod at each other and step into the room.

The records room is cold. Subaru flicks the switch on and the fluorescent sputters for a moment before casting a dim light.

Subaru: That's better than nothing.

A vast space of paperwork welcomes us.

(How are we ever going to read through all of this?)

Ray: Let's split up. Start with the oldest ones.

Both: Roger that.

I make my way along the bookcases. The hardbound books are arranged by year, so at least it's easy to know where to start.

(I guess I’ll start looking at records from thirteen years before the orphanage closed down.)

(Oh.)

My eyes look up to the top shelf where the earliest records are. They're pretty high up. I can't reach them.

I recall when Subaru helped me get a book down from a shelf in the library.

I consider getting him to help me. but I can't bother him now.

We don’t have any time to waste.

I find a ladder beside the shelf.

(Is this safe?)

But I have no time to think things through, so I take a chance and step up the wooden ladder.

It creaks, but it gets the job done.

(As long as I distribute my weight right, I should be able to keep it from breaking.)

I run my hand along the books.

(Oh, this one?)

???: Found anything. Jessica?

Me: WhaOhh!

Ray: !

Me: Aaah!

I feel the pull of gravity plunging me down.

(I'm falling!)

Ray: Whoa, hey!

Anticipating the pain, I squeeze my eyes shut.

I brace for impact. but...

Instead of the cold hard floor, I land on something warm. I slowly open my eyes.

(Warm?)

(What in the world?!)

I find myself on top of Ray.

I lift my upper body and see Ray's handsome face.

(He caught me...)

Ray: You okay?

Me: Y-Yeah...

Not knowing how to move away from him. I stay put, eyes darting nervously.

But then, Ray just laughs, his hand reaching towards the small of my back.

Ray: You’ve gotten awfully bold, haven’t you?

(!!!)

Me: It's not like I did this on purpose!

I try to get up, but Ray holds me firmly in place.

Me: Wh-What are you doing? Let me go.

Ray: What? You aren't even going to thank me?

Me: Thank you...

I go through several books, starting from the lower shelf this time.

(I can't risk falling again...)

Me: I hope there's something here.

But after a while. I leave the area without finding anything useful.

(Ugh. Even if we narrowed it down, there's still so much left.)

(I wonder how Subaru and Ray are doing.)

I walk over to the boxes stacked along the way, looking for my friends.

Me: Subaru? Ray?

But neither of them answer.

(Hmm...)

I decide to go next.

Time passes as we go through each file we find.

(There's still so many.)

(I'm not sure how much we've covered, but it seems never-ending.)

Subaru: Jessica, come here for a second.

Subaru pops up from the other side, waving his hand.

Subaru: Look at these files.

He takes out a folder filled with paperwork.

We scan through it together.

Me: This one's a check.

Subaru: That's the governor's seal.This amount is insane and they used it to fund Silas Ackerman’s experiment?

We flip another page and find even more specifics.

Me: Bluebells Orphanage, founded by Silas Ackerman...He really is Father.

Subaru: Look at this. This is a picture of all of us. The caption says "subjects."

Me: "Classified: Bluebells orphans to undergo trauma cleansing in new research."

Me: "The purpose of the experiment was to erase the traumatic memories from young children...

Subaru: ...and implant positive ones to help them live better lives. This will allow them to create a better world.“

Subaru and I look at each other.

Subaru: This is all the info we've been looking for, Jessica.

Me : Wait, there's more! "Trauma cleansing fails, Silas Ackerman in hot water.The subjects of the experiment lost their traumatic memories, but the experiment failed to create positive ones.Licht Ackerman, Silas Ackerman's own son, is said to be in a coma."

My jaw drops at what i just read.

(Licht is in a coma?!)

If he’s in a coma, then that means

he didn’t die after the experiment. Then, is he still...?

(Is it safe for me to assume that he's still in the real world?)

(It can’t hurt to hope, right?)

I clutch the paper in my hands.

(Licht l will find you.)

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