The edges of the world were blurry. Fuzzy, almost, and tinted with over-saturated red and black fog.

He didn't notice.

"Come on," said *. "Keep up with me!"

Brian grunted and tried picking up the pace. The desert they ran through wasn't particularly hot, despite the sun blazing steadily above. It wasn't particularly anything, really. Except flat. He looked up from his feet. There was a lot of flat.

"Hurry!" said *

He tried. He really did, but everything here was so slow. No matter how hard he ran, he was still going the exact same speed: a crawling pace that turtles would've scoffed at. He could've walked faster.

Why are we running? he thought suddenly. He didn't know. Where they running from something? Towards something? If so, what?

He stopped running to think about it. * stopped as well.

"Hey," he said, coming back for him. "You're lagging." He grabbed Brian's wrist and tried pulling him forward.

"Why are we running?" said Brian, allowing himself to be dragged along. "Where are we going? How did we even get here?"

"Not important," said *. "Here, look!" He pointed up ahead.

The desert was gone. All around them, it was suddenly gone. Now they were on a lush mountainside, at the edge of a sheer drop overlooking the forest below. Beside them was a river that steadily tumbled over the edge of the cliff.

* grinned at him, his eyes changing from brown to blue, his hair subtly shifting from blond to black.

Brian frowned. Was that supposed to happen? Or had his friend's hair always been black?

"You ready?" said *.

"I don't-"

* grabbed his arm with both hands and swung him forward, laughing.

* * * * *

Brian fell.

This isn't right.

He felt the wind rushing past. Felt the spray of the waterfall behind? Below? Near him, at any rate. He knew * wasn't far behind him, despite not being able to turn around and look.

The fall lasted ages.

This isn't right.

Oddly enough, he didn't really see much of anything. He could only see himself, and the mountainside passing beside him, like he wasn't really himself. Like he was a spectator on the outside.

The rocks at the bottom were sharp. If he tried- really, really tried- he could see them. They poked out of the churning water, waiting. * shouted something behind him- above him- but Brian didn't catch it.

He didn't close his eyes when he hit the rocks, but the world went black anyways.

* * * * *

He shot up with a start, and found that he'd drooled on his desk. Mrs. Brinkerhoff scowled and waved the ruler she'd just slapped the desk with disapprovingly.

"Really, Brian, I expect you to sleep on your own time, not mine." She strode forward to the front of the class, back to the green chalkboard. "I hope I don't have to talk to your parents about ensuring you get a good night's sleep at home."

Brian blinked and rubbed the sleep out of his eyes. He was in a familiar, over crowded classroom, just one more out of thirty. The walls were plastered with art projects and colorful posters. The chairs were attached to the desks at the bottom, and all the desks were flip-top.

* sat in the desk next to his, crumbling up eraser bits to throw at people later. He caught Brian watching him and sneered.

"What are you looking at?"

"Nothing," he said.

"Excuse me," said Mrs. Brinkerhoff, still writing on the board, her back to the class. "Eyes up front."

A white board. She was writing with dry-erase markers. There was no chalk.

This isn't right.

"Why am I in elementary school?" he said suddenly. "I haven't been here in years."

Brinkerhoff dropped the marker. It hit the floor as a piece of chalk. The board flickered.Green- white- green- white. All the students in class, as one, turned to look at him. All with the same, nondescript faces. All with wide, dead eyes.

All except for *, who scowled. The blue in his eyes drained away to grey. The black in his hair curled until it was red.

The edges of the world were blurry.

* snapped his fingers.

* * * * *

Brian woke up in his bed with a gasp, heart pounding, ears deafened by the sound of his own blood.

"Brian?" mumbled someone in the dark. "You okay?"

His heart caught in his throat. Slowly, he reached out and turned on the bedside lamp.

His cousin * was on the floor, looking up blearily from his sleeping bag.

"What?" he said, a yawn breaking through mid-word. "What's wrong?"

"I think. . . nothing. Nevermind. Go back to sleep."

* nodded sleepily and tucked his head beneath his pillow. Brian eased back into his spot without turning off the light. He stared at the cracks in the ceiling for a long while.

Something was nagging him. There was something important. Just at the tip of his mind, just out of reach. Something he needed to remember. Something. . .

He sat up.

"Hey?" he said.

"Yeah?" came the muffled response.

"What's your name?"

The air in the room seemed to drop a few degrees. * sat up. For a brief second, Brian was sure he'd seen a flicker of shock, maybe even anger pass over his face. If they had been there, though, they were gone almost instantly, replaced with amusement.

"Whaddaya mean what's my name?"

"I mean," said Brian, "that I'm drawing a blank. I'm trying to remember it, but all there is is an empty space where it should be." He looked at *, trying to work though the mental haze.

The edges of the world were blurry.

"Why are you here? Did I invite you? I don't remember. You're my cousin, but I don't remember you. What side of the family are you from?"

* glared at him, upper lip curled back in a silent snarl.

"Who are you?"

"I think," said *, "this isn't working. I think we need a new angle."

Brian was just about to ask what he meant when the world went dark.

* * * * *

They were after him.

Monstrous creatures made of shadow and fire and teeth and unspeakable things all screamed behind him, howling for his blood. He ran through the jungle, fighting his way though brambles and over roots and past large, leafy plants that popped out of previously clear paths intentionally to hinder him.

"Brian!" someone shouted.

He ran towards the voice.

"Brian! In here!"

Up ahead. It was a house. A story-book house on a hill in the middle of the rain forest. The door was open, the lights were on. Smoke billowed lazily out of the chimney.

The edges of the world were blurry.

* stood at the door, holding it open for him. "It's safe in here!" he said. "Come on, hurry!"

Brian stopped running.

"What are you doing?" said *, voice getting shrill. "They'll catch you."

Brian turned around and ran, towards the darkness, towards the monsters.

"Brian! Wait!"

Their teeth and claws were sharp, but he didn't feel it when they tore him apart. He watched passively as chunks of himself went flying. Somewhere above the growls and snarls, he heard * cursing.

* * * * *

He woke up in a small, white room void completely of furniture, doors, or windows. He sat cross-legged, his back resting against the wall he knew instinctively as the one on the left, despite there being no way to tell which was which.

* sat across from him, legs drawn up so his chin was resting on his knees and his arms were wrapped around his legs. His eyes, he noticed, were red rimmed and flicking constantly between colors.

"What's going on?" said Brian.

* snorted. "You're waking up," he said.


* ran his sleeve under his nose, sniffing. "I guess it was bound to happen. Happens to everyone. But was just hoping for a little more time. Just a little more. Is that too much to ask?"

"I don't get it."

* started to chuckle. It was the thick, choking sound of someone trying very hard not to cry. "No, I guess you wouldn't. You're waking up. Right now." He ran an hand through hair that changed from gray to black and from straight to curly, then back again. "I tried to hold it off, but it's all going to end soon. No matter what I try, you keep tying to wake up. Little flashes of memory. Of logic" He spat the word like a curse. "I mean, do you know how hard it is keeping a whole world together? how can you expect me to keep track of little details, huh? I- I did my best. But you kept picking!Did the chalkboard really matter? really?"

Brian felt his head go swimmy. "So I'm asleep, right this second?"

"Not for long. Which is why you're here." * drew himself up and took a deep, shuddering breath. "I'm here to ask you nicely not to wake up."

"Uh." said Brian. "Okay. Why not?"

"Because I'll die if you do. I- I really don't want to die. You can't let me die."

"Well, I mean I kind of have to, you know? It's just what happens. It's not something I really have much control over-"

"No, you're not listening. You can't wake up. You can't let me die. I won't let you."

"Look, I'm sorry, I know you think that, but you're actually not really real. You can't die. You don't exist."

Suddenly * was in front of him, holding him up by the front of his shirt and pinning him against the wall.

"You can't let me die!" he said. "You can't, you hear? You'll kill me. Please, you can't!"

Brian kicked out and tried shaking him off, only to find that he was still in his elementary school body. * was back in the adult body from the waterfall.

"Let go of me!"

He kicked and squirmed and finally managed to get a good hold on *'s arm. He bit down hard. There was the jarring feeling of tearing, followed by the coppery taste of blood filling his mouth.

Even when he released * and tried to spit, his mouth was full of black colored blood. It bubbled up from his own throat and poured out of his mouth, onto the floor, soaking the front of his shirt on the way down. He looked up at * with wild eyes.

* stared back, half horrified, half. . . happy?

The walls began to melt, the whiteness revealing dark red nothingness on the outside. The pooled on the floor, mixing with the black coming up to of his throat until everything flooded, and he found himself sinking deeper into the dark.

* * * * *

They ran through the desert, Brian leading the way.

"Come on," he said. "Keep up with me!"

* lagged behind. He was so darn slow! Brian groaned and went back to grab him, to help him forward.


The edges of the world were blurry, but he didn't notice.

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