The Nightmare World

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Chapter 16

I wake up under a red. starless sky.

(Hmm?)

Something soft twitches against my fingers, and I look down to see my hands clasped against Subaru's.

(Ah...)

(We were talking about his past last night.)

He seems to take his time waking up. and I take a moment to watch him sleeping.

He looks so peaceful.

(Like an angel.)

Subaru's kind, thoughtful. and has incredible perseverance.

How can anyone despise him just because of his eyes?

(And his eyes...)

(They're not frightening at all.)

Subaru:

(Subaru...)

(I'm a little worried.)

I give his hand a gentle squeeze,

and his fingers start to relax.

Out of the corner of my eye. I see Ray jog toward us. Clearly, he’s been up for longer than we have.

Ray: What's wrong?Is he still asleep?

Me : No

Subaru: I'm up.

Subaru yawns. unperturbed.

(I guess after waking up here so many times, the scenery isn't that shocking anymore.)

Ray: You two took longer to wake up than usual. It's kind of concerning.

Me: Why?

Ray clicks his tongue, looking around.

Ray: I don't know exactly. But I think we're getting used to being here.

Subaru: What if... What if. one day, we don't

ever wake up in here?

Me: Is that possible?

Ray: Who knows. The faster we get rid of that monster, the better.

(Sleep forever in the nightmare world?)

(I didn't even think of that...)

(But all we have to do is regain Subaru's memories, right? Surely it won't come to that...)

If the nightmare world continues to exist even after Subaru regains his memories, then I'm not sure what we're going to do.

When we die here, we die in real life.

But if we just fall into a deep sleep?

What will our real lives be like?

(Wait... A coma?)

Suddenly, it hits me.

Me: Licht!

Where is he?

I turn to find the swing empty, swaying gently in the breeze.

Ray: I've looked around the courtyard and found nothing.

(Where could he be? I'm getting worried...)

Ray: I waited for you guys to wake up so we could search together.

Subaru: Let's go, then. At least there's a bit of good news we can tell him.

We find ourselves walking through the underground passage with no clue as to where Licht might be.

(Nightmare or not, this place still gives me the creeps.)

The sounds of our footsteps are the only thing that breaks the silence.

(What will we do if Licht isn’t here?)

(What if we never see him again?)

(If we wake up tomorrow morning to find Licht lying there, cold...)

We switched out his IV. I know I can trust that Ray knows what he's doing.

I try to convince myself, but the monotony of this dark hallway and the sounds of our footsteps only make me more anxious.

I feel something warm touch my back and jump.

Subaru: Sorry, did I scare you?It'll be okay. Licht is here somewhere. I'm sure.

Subaru gently strokes my back.

Me: Thanks for worrying about me, Subaru:I know you must be anxious too.

Me: I’ll be okay. I was just overthinking things.

I can see concern in Subaru's eyes. His eyes have a wonderful quality to them. Looking at them calms my nerves.

Subaru: Something wrong?

Me: No, just thinking how much I like your eyes.

Subaru's eyes go wide. and his cheeks redden.

Me: But it's strange. You’ve got color contacts in the real world, so why don't they show up here in the nightmare?

Subaru: Punishment would be my guess.Maybe it's trying to remind me that I can never hide the true nature of my hideous eye.

Me: Don't say that! It's not hideous. it's

Ray: Hey, we're here.

Ray interrupts me.

(There’s nothing wrong with his eye. Why can't Subaru realize that?)

(I like his eye.)

(Every time he rejects it, I feel like he's rejecting my feelings along with it.)

(Is it selfish of me to think that way?)

We make our way through the records room to the room where we first met Licht.

We slowly open the door.

But Licht is nowhere to be seen.

Me: Where else could he be?

I feel like I'm about to fall to my knees. but we all freeze as we hear a rustling sound from behind us.

Me: Licht...?

I turn to see the apparition of a child.

The glow of its red eye in the darkness sends a chill down my spine.

It doesn't smile, nor does it appear angry. It just stares at us with blank eyes.

Me: Subaru...

Young Subaru: This way.

The apparition beckons us over. But as I step forward, the

apparition runs out of the room. Subaru: Let's go.

Subaru and Ray run after the apparition.

I'm about to join them in their chase, when suddenly...

Me: Ah!

I catch a glimpse of a silhouette in the shadow of a bookcase and let out a scream.

My heart feels like it's taken a punch. and I fall on the floor.

???: Jessica, are you alright?

I fearfully look up to the source of the voice.

I see Licht reaching out to me with a concerned expression on his face. My fear turns to relief, and I feel my eyes well up.

Me: Licht!

(I finally found you!)

I take his hand and slowly stand

up.

Licht: Jessica. You're finally back.

I let go of his hand.

Me: I was so worried! Why did you disappear like that?

Licht: Well...

Just then, Subaru and Ray return from their chase.

Ray: Hey, Jessica. we gotta get...Wait, Licht? Where the hell were you?!

Licht: Sorry for worrying you like that.

Me: Subaru, what happened to the apparition?

Subaru shakes his head.

Subaru: We realized that you weren't with us and came back.

Subaru: Splitting up is too dangerous.

Me: I see.

Subaru: But we're finally all together now.

Subaru eyes Licht.

Ray: Yeah. Yo, Licht.

Ray gives Licht a displeased glare.

Ray: What the hell were you doing up until now? Do you know how worried Jessica was? You better have a good reason for worrying her so much.

Me: Ray, you don’t have to be mad for my sake...

Licht plops his hand on my head.

Licht: I'm sorry for worrying you all. I felt like I needed to do my part in learning more about the nightmare, so I was looking through the documents here.

Ray: Well, anything useful?

Licht shakes his head.

Licht: Sadly, nothing. All the books here are blank. This place was probably recreated from my memories. I never looked at any of the documents as a child.

Licht's shoulders slump in

disappointment.

Me: Licht. don't beat yourself up about it. We managed to make a lot of progress on our end.

I try to keep my tone as cheerful as possible to make Licht feel beneL

Me: Well, the best news is that you're still alive, Licht.

Licht lifts his head up, a hopeful smile on his face. But that only makes the next piece of news harder to share.

Me: But you're in a coma. so we have to find a way to wake you up.

Licht:

Licht's smile shrinks.

Me: Licht...

I'm not sure what to tell him and decide to place my hand on his shoulder instead.

Licht: Well. my body in the real world is still alive. That means we

might have found our ticket out of here.

Ray: Exactly.

Licht: I see. That’s good to hear. That means there’s still hope for me. I can hope to one day see the light of day in the real world. right?

Me: Don't worry. We'll find a way to take you with us. I promise.

Licht nods with a smile.

Ray: We found your father's diary.

Ray takes the journal from his bag and hands it to Licht.

Ray: It's better if you hold onto it.

Licht: Thank you.

Ray: There's so much to explain, but as you know, the experiment failed.

Me: But Silas Ackerman. he... He didn't abandon you.He was taking care of you

all this time.

Licht: Did you meet him?

Ray and I look at each other, worried.

He elbows me, urging me to tell Licht what happened.

Me: I'm sorry, Licht...We didn’t make it in time for him, unfortunately.

Licht: I see.

Licht closes his eyes. taking a deep breath.

He hugs the diary that Ray gave him tightly.

Licht: I wouldn't know how to face him anyway. He was my father, and he may have taken responsibility for what happened, but......he was also the one who started all of this.

(Licht...)

He won't give himself time to grieve. Something about that makes

me sad.

I don't say anything, even though I want to comfort him.

But I don't know what Licht is thinking. so I can't tell him the right thing to do.

Licht flips through his father's diary. scanning the pages without really focusing on the words. He's been carrying our burdens alone. all this time.

Licht: So what should we be working on now?

Ray: The theory is that once all the tragic memories have been accepted by their original owners, you'll find your way back to your body.

Ray looks at Subaru and speaks with a little bit of hesitation.

Ray: All that’s left are Subaru's memories.

Subaru: Right. We lost him earlier, but my apparition did appear.

Tonight's about my memories for sure. If we can just get through tonight...

Subaru clenches his fist, speaking as if trying to convince himself.

Subaru: It'll all be over.

Licht will wake up, and we’ll all see the light of day.

Me: Don't let yourself get too anxious. We'll be by your side every step of the way.

Subaru smiles in response.

Ray: Let's head back above ground.

As we reach the top of the staircase, we all gasp at the sight in front of us.

Subaru's apparition is standing there, staring at us blankly.

Young Subaru: This way.

The apparition runs off again. Subaru runs after it without saying a word. I can't help but think back to what happened with Monica.

I do my best to forget about this bad omen and try to catch up with him.

My anxiety peaks when Subaru turns a corner, and I can no longer see him.

Me: Subaru. wait!

I turn the corner. but stop in my tracks. Smoke gathers under our feet, crawling to pool right in front of Subaru. Subaru is standing there amidst the smoke. staring at the apparition. The apparition is glaring back at him, and the sight gives me the shivers. I hurry to his side.

(This is Subaru's memory.)

The little boy looks up at us, his long hair hiding a part of his face.

Subaru clenches his fist, finding the strength to take the step.

Subaru: I already recognize this.

Me: Subaru. wait!

But he doesn’t listen. Instead, he steps into the vision.

CRASH!

The scene opens with a violent sound of something breaking. The young Subaru stirs in bed and climbs out of his sheets.

He rubs his eyes as he makes his way down the stairs, and he hears it again.

CRASH!

(What's happening?)

The lights are on in the living room despite it being late at night.

Subaru's Mom: I can't take it anymore!

Subaru's Dad: Get ahold of yourself!

(Are his parents fighting?)

The little boy hides by the entrance, watching the scene unfold in front of him in terror.

Young Subaru: Mom... Are you crying again?

He whispers. only for him to hear.

Subaru's Mom: That red eye of his...It's so unnerving. I can‘t... I can't stand to look at him!

(Why?)

(What did he do? Why can't his own mother accept his red eye as something that makes him unique?)

Subaru's mother's words make my blood boil.

Subaru's Dad: Darling, please.You need to rest. Please calm down.

Subaru's Mom: Do you see how he looks at me?

Subaru's mother struggles to get away from his father's arms.

I can't believe what I’m hearing. Subaru has mentioned this before.

(But I still can't believe how they treated him.)

(He was only a kid!)

Young Subaru:

The little boy lowers his head and walks lifelessly back to his room.

(No...)

The vision slowly fades, and Subaru walks over to us. looking towards like nothing happened.

Subaru: I knew it.

He manages a self-deprecating chuckle.

Me: But Subaru...

Subaru: It's no big deal. Don't go feeling sad for me, because I'm not.

(What?)

Me: Why would you say that?

(Do you really mean that?)

His words are like a dagger piercing my heart.

Subaru: What do you want me to do. then?Deny the truth and cry my eyes out?

Doing that won't change anything!

Subaru regains his composure and goes quiet again.

Me: Subaru...

I feel like I'm hearing his true feelings for the first time. I feel like I finally understand the burden he's been bearing all alone.

(Subaru, you're not accepting your memories. You're pretending to and turning your back on reality.)

(Crying isn't a bad thing. nor is it a sign of weakness.)

Watching him go through this is so unbearable. I feel a tear making its way down my cheek.

Subaru: Sorry about that outburst...

Subaru awkwardly averts his gaze.

Me:No. I'm just so sad...I know that it's not even my own sadness. but I... I just can't stop crying.

Subaru pulls me into a tight hug.

He seems to be shivering ever so slightly.

(There's nothing wrong with crying. You don't have to put up a front.)

(You can express your true feelings like you just did. You've endured enough hardship on your own already.)

He could really use some kind words right now.

(What can I do to console him?) (Would my words really change anything?)

Subaru quietly pulls away from me.I look away. biting my lip.

(I can't blame him for being stubborn.)

(It’s just so sad to think about him going on like this...)

Subaru: That's the fastest way to deal with things.And it’s something that I've done since the beginning.

(I can't stop him.)

(All I can do is put my faith in Subaru.)

He'll get through this. We all will!

As if to test our resolve. another apparition appears in the hallway.

Ray: Stay alert. everyone. The monster could come at any moment.

We all steel ourselves, facing the vision with heightened focus.

We see young Subaru bringing flowers, walking down the hallway of what seems to be a hospital.

Young Subaru: Is it okay for me to see Mommy?

Subaru's Dad: Yes. and she‘ll be happy to see you're bringing her flowers.

The smile on the little boy's face is precious. like the sun shining on a new day.

For some reason, seeing that smile

makes me want to cry.

(It's bad enough that his mother hates him. What could be next?)

The thought that it's only going to get worse is horribly depressing. They reach the room and young Subaru is so excited that he quickly opens the door.

But the voices inside cause the smile on young Subaru's face to disappear.

Subaru's mom: Let me go!

Nurse: Ma'am, please calm down.

The bouquet of flowers fall to the ground as Subaru sees his mother being restrained by several people.

Subaru's Dad: What happened?

Nurse: She started screaming when

Subaru's mother:aaah!

The nurse's words are cut off as Subaru's hysterical mother scratches her face.

Then, she tilts her head towards the door and sees her little boy

Subaru's mom: Y-You...Don't come near me. you monster!

Subaru's mother starts screaming again, and the little boy runs away.

(Subaru?)

I take a glimpse at Subaru. His face is no longer the usual expression he wears. He looks anxious and horrified, but tries to manage it the best he can.

Then, as if that weren't enough torture, the scene changes again. Subaru is by his desk drawing when his dad comes into his room.

Subaru‘s Dad: Your mom's home now. Don't you want to say hi?

Subaru shakes his head.

His father sighs,Ieaving Subaru on his own.

The young boy grips his pencil hard, marking a straight line from the top of the page to the bottom.

The line is thick and dark. and he does it back and forth, almost tearing the paper.

Young Subaru: Nobody needs me.Everyone would be happier if I didn't exist. If I didn't exist, Dad wouldn't have to suffer

(No. that’s not true.)

I want to tell him that. but my words won’t reach the apparition. There’s nothing I can do but shake my head. Subaru's insecurities run deep because of what happened to him.

(And he's lived like this all his life.)

(My heart aches for him.)

Subaru: Don't worry, Jessica.We can do this.

Subaru smiles, but my chest feels tight.

(I didn't understand how much pain he has undergone.)

The scene morphs from day to night. and the young child is asleep.

The door creaks open, and Subaru is awoken, half-asleep as he blinks his eyes.

Young Subaru: Who's there?

Subaru's mother stumbles in.

Young Subaru: Mom?

Young Subaru cautiously sits up.

Young Subaru: !

All I can do is stare in horror at

the unbelievable scene playing out in front of me.

There's a sharp knife in his mom's hand.

Subaru's Mom: You red-eyed demon...You... You're not my child. My child can’t be such a hideous demon.

Young Subaru:

Young Subaru just stares at his mother.

Subaru's Mom: No! You're going to

kill me. aren't you?

Subaru's Mom: Don't look at me, you freak!

Subaru's Mom: I'll kill you. I'll kill you! I'll kill you before you can curse me with that hideous eye of yours!

(What?!)

Subaru's Mom: Yaaaah!

Subaru's mother raises the knife. Subaru: ...!!

Subaru averts his gaze from the horror.

Monster: Graaarrrghhh!

The vision disappears, and the monster takes the place of his mom, ready to devour him.

(Oh no!)

Subaru looks at the monster towering over him.

Licht: Run away. quick!

But Subaru falls to his knees and looks up at the monster.

Subaru: Heh. Heh. heh...

Subaru: I'm a red-eyed demon. I'm the one that drove Mom crazy. Hehehe...

Monster: Must...kill...demon. Monster: Red eye...

Me: Subaru!

Subaru: Mom... I’m sorry. It's all my fault.

(Mom? He sees the monster as his mom?)

Subaru: Mom. please.

Subaru squeezes his eyes shut, tears streaming down his face.

The monster growls reaching the ceiling.

Ray: It's growing!

(No. it can't be...)

Subaru: Mom... I'm sorry for being born with this eye.

He can barely manage to speak. and it makes my heart ache.

Subaru: You were in so much pain, and it was all my fault. right? You just want to be free, right?

Me: Subaru. snap out of it! That thing isn't your mother!

Subaru: If it'll make you feel better. then I don’t mind. Just kill me...

Me: !!!

It feels like everything is in slow motion as I watch the monster inch towards Subaru.

Me: Subaru!!

Before I realize it. I'm already running towards the monster.

(Please. Subaru, wake up!)

The monster raises its hand and swings.

All I can see is blood.

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