25. My Life, Your Death (Pre-series)
Friday December 19th, 1997
Year of Fire; Winter of the Fading Candles
Looking back on it, it was kinda funky how he always smiled for Dad's video camera when he was just going to be cut from the final project anyway. When he was younger, he thought being removed from the family photo album was out of spite- Okay, so Dad didn't like him, no biggie, right, I mean, it's cool. He still got to play in the snow either way. He could make some pretty impressive snowballs for a five-year old.
Actually, looking back on it, a lot of things he did during that time of his life were funky. Heck, their entire family was funky. As the months passed and the photos that didn't include him were piling up in the garage, Mom didn't look at him the way she used to. She grew a new face. A worried face. A frantic face. She stopped setting out a plate for him at dinner, a bowl at breakfast.
He met Dr. Roper. Well, David, anyway. They played a few games at first, the cards spread across the soft powder-blue carpet, until one time they visited his office and the games stayed in their boxes on the highest shelf, and from then on they started gathering dust. They read cool poems aloud. Your hand, your name, so glad, just fine. More and more, they sat together on the couch, and took their turns complaining. He got interrupted a lot.
David was the one who told Mom to stop offering him the bowls and plates. It was to teach him independence, make him pull his weight, help him learn for himself. Sure. Whatever. He told himself it would stop hurting, and then it did, when he stopped caring. If Mom didn't want to be a part of his life, he certainly wasn't going to be a part of hers. They stopped speaking altogether. And after her, it was Dad. He didn't need them. All he needed was Timmy.
Timmy liked and respected him. They were best friends- something like brothers, even. After all, they took their baths together, they ate together, and they talked and laughed and got along like a treehouse on fire. Foster brothers, maybe, or cousins; they were close enough that the details of the thing didn't really matter. Gary carried a very special status that no one else did. A status better than a brother. An imaginary friend.
The word 'imaginary' wasn't entirely clear to Gary, but he knew that imaginary friends had special privileges. Although they might get hungry sometimes (if their real-life friends said so), they couldn't starve. They didn't usually have to go home to their parents (Timmy's parents were all Gary needed). They got all the coolest toys that could be thought up, as fast as possible. Sometimes they got cool powers, like shapeshifting or making copies of themselves, although Gary didn't have anything like those. He could just teleport himself and other people around him by holding onto their shoulder and willing himself away. But mostly he only did it if Timmy told him to. Timmy was the only one who knew good places to go.
He was pretty much guaranteed not to die from old age or some obscure disease. He was a jack of all trades by nature. If Timmy said so, he could eat an endless supply of ice cream and candy. And calories didn't count! Oh, and also, imaginary friends could never be hurt for long- nothing really bothered them. Physical or mental.
Gary reflected on that last one as their new playmate crunched with them down the street through the thin layer of snow to their house. Although Gary's hair was the image someone would see if they opened the dictionary to 'cool', the blond kid's hair was pretty nifty too, with that way it parted and fell to one side of his face, all short on the left and long on the right. It was just… different. Gary didn't believe in popular trends and stuff, so different was cool. And he had a nice smile, with his teeth so close together that not even one gap showed between them. Well, Gary liked his buck teeth well enough, and Timmy did too.
They'd met him at the park, on the swings. Timmy had brought his backpack. He kept his coloring books in it, and crayons. Timmy liked the green one. Gary liked red.
But Timmy had put his backpack down in the frost-coated grass by the cement flat and basketball hoop where Francis and Elmer liked to play. He forgot. Even Gary had been so excited to be at the park that he'd forgotten it was there too. It was his biggest regret.
So as they swung, Timmy started to worry. Gary could always sense when he was worrying. When that happened, he started to flicker around the edges. He thought about jumping off the swing to fetch the bag himself, but Timmy didn't tell him to. And he couldn't pick up the real bag anyway- just a semi-transparent, semi-rainbow one like a ghost. As Timmy grew sad and yelled to Dad's camera that he wanted help getting off the swing, Chester McBadbat had shown up pulling the big blue backpack across the snow behind him. That had made Timmy happy. And Gary liked it when Timmy was happy, so Chester, in his mind, was pretty cool. Chester would be pretty cool forever.
"Do you live far away?" Timmy asked Chester when they turned the corner. A deep puddle lay in a big dip where the sidewalk became the street. Gary skirted the edges, but it didn't keep him from getting splashed when the other two boys plowed straight through it. They didn't notice.
"S'okay," Gary laughed it off, flapping at the collar of his shiny jacket. "All the cool kids have to look a little world-weary to be cool, I mean, am I right, or am I right?"
"I live over there," Chester said, turning his finger close to the setting sun. "Across the train tracks, in the trailer park. I live at number 19."
"Right," Timmy said. "Nineteen is a good number."
Dad (Well, Gary usually called him Mr. Turner now) tailed them, of course, running his camera and sometimes saying cheerful things about what was going on. Gary hopped out of his way. When Mr. Turner came closer, Timmy turned his head.
"Can you take me to Chester's house tomorrow so I can play?"
Mr. Turner chuckled. "And this is the day Timmy asked if he could play with his new friend Chester tomorrow."
"… So, yes?"
They'd walked on. Gary hurried after them, still shaking droplets from the long sleeve of his slick jacket. "Hey, hey Tim-Tim. Are we still up for catching snails by the creek tomorrow? I just thought, y'know, I'm making sure because the creek is all the way on the other side of town by the cemetery and the volcano, but whatever."
"Yeah, Gary," Timmy called over his shoulder. "Of course, duh."
Chester turned around, his blue eyes wide. He looked up and down and sideways. "Who's Gary?"
A look of shock crossed Timmy's face. "Oh no! I forgot to introduce you!" So saying, he took Gary's elbow and pulled him closer. "Chester, Gary. Gary, Chester. See, Gary's my imaginary friend."
"Nice 'do, haystack hair," Gary said, pointing a finger gun with his free hand.
"Okay." Chester cocked his head, sending his hair fluttering against his freckled cheeks. "Well, hi there, Gary. Thanks for being friends with my new pal Timmy. I'll bet you take good care of him. I think you're cool, so I hope we can play together too."
"He likes you," Timmy said happily, so Gary of course put on his patient smile and said, "You're not so bad yourself, hamdog."
"Hey, and I have an imaginary friend of my own. Uh, somewhere around here." Chester looked around, then pointed up into a nearby tree on the other side of a white picket fence. "That's Tracy the opossum." (It was always opossums with this guy, wasn't it?) "Say hi, Tracy."
Over the last eight months, Gary had gotten good at recognizing imaginary friends floating about Dimmsdale. It wasn't like it was hard- all of them carried a rainbow glow around their edges, and all of them knew how to use it. When night fell and their real-life friends slept, it wasn't uncommon to check out the window and see teams of four or five hurling multi-colored globs at one another, scrambling reality (Well, imaginality) when they burst on impact, and messing around with each other's designs. Temporarily, of course.
Gary watched often, but rarely joined them. Timmy might wake up from nightmares at any time. Mr. Turner's camera was always left on the side table near his bed and running, but while it did, Mr. Turner slept. He and Mrs. T. didn't always come running if their son screamed in the night. It was Gary's job to be there on the windowsill to offer him comfort at any time. Besides, how could he keep up his image as the coolest being in Imaginal Dimmsdale if he lost a Glob Ball game, I mean, come on. Unless it was with Timmy, Gary never played any game he wasn't 90% confident he could win, or at least strut off the field with his head held high.
The opossum in the tree was pink in color, with a long purple tail and purple ears. White patches blotted her chest. She blinked down at Gary in warning. It dawned on him a second after he raised his hand to say hello.
"Oh!" Gary stuffed his hands in his jacket, sucking at his gums. "This is your friend, Trace. Oh, so, we're cool, right? No hard feelings about me scaring you off the roof a couple weeks ago?"
Trace stood and raced up into the snowy branches of the elm. Although the brown real-world leaves stayed in place, the Imaginal ones rustled. Two of them dropped, spiraling downwards. Bright colors flickered at their edges. Next thing Gary knew, she had jumped to the tree further down the sidewalk. Timmy, Chester, and Mr. Turner had started walking again without waiting for him, heading for the place where the road curved, next to the orange Please Watch For Children sign that Mr. Dinkleberg had set out last month.
Cobbler Street was up there around the bend. Timmy pointed up the slight rise to the second-highest house- the white one with the two layers of red roof, the shingles shiny with melting slush. "I live there."
Chester's eyes popped. He stopped walking, and Tracy, who had just made a leap to his shoulder, missed him by a few inches and plowed into a snowdrift. Gary stifled a snort when her head popped up again. "You live here?" the blond kid asked.
"Yeah. I have a good front yard, see. My backyard is okay too, except it would be cooler if there was water back there. Like a pool, or a river."
"You might drown in a pool," Mr. Turner said cheerfully, focusing the camera on Timmy's flushed cheeks. "You need swimming lessons first, son."
"Oh, okay. Dad, Dad can you sign me and Chester up for swimming lessons together?"
"Put my name on that list too, Mr. T."
Chester smiled hugely. "Would you really, Timmy's Dad? That would be so cool! You'll have to talk to my dad first. Hey, maybe he can walk me up here, and we can play at your house."
Gary took a step forward, casually bumping Chester's elbow with a hand that passed straight through it. "Count me in, Tim-Tim. That's not a problem, is it, Haystack? Where Pink Hat goes, I always follow."
Chester kept smiling. Apparently it wasn't. He really was a pretty cool kid. Tracy, who had wound herself around his legs, flattened her ears and shot Gary a warning hiss, like she thought he might try to steal her kid when he already had a friend like Timmy.
Timmy shook his head. "But I'm always at my house. I want to play at yours. Can you show me, please, where you find all those opposites?"
"Okay, those will work too."
Chester smiled yet again while Gary shot a snide sideways look towards the camera. "That sounds neat. I'll ask my dad. He can call you. And I'll make sure you meet my other really cool friend, A.J. He's super smart. Maybe even a genius! So I'll try to see you tomorrow, Timmy."
Gary watched Timmy's shoulders lift as Chester skipped away down the sidewalk, Tracy trotting at his heels. He let his breath out through his happy, buck-toothed smile. Then he turned and rang the doorbell.
"And this is our son forgetting that his dad has the key to our house tucked safely in his pocket."
"Oops," Timmy said sheepishly.
Technically, Gary could have teleported to the other side of the door. But Timmy didn't really like being left alone that way, so he just waited instead. They went inside when the door was open. Timmy dropped his backpack on the couch with a soft shh-rattle noise as his crayons and coloring books bounced around. Gary jumped onto the kitchen table, an arm on his propped knee and the other foot swinging over the side.
"It's getting late, Tim. We oughta start a Go-Fish game before your parents try to send us to bed. They think we're cute when we're playing, y'know."
But Timmy's mom swept her son off his feet with an "Off to night-night, sweetie" and carted him upstairs anyway. It took Gary a startled several seconds to react. It made sense, of course- they'd already had dinner, and the sun had just about set beneath the hill. Once it sunk in that his night was fading on him, he sprang off and, with a muttered word, raced up the tall steps after them. Timmy was in the middle of a yawn, already rubbing his eyes. When they came into his room, Gary checked the clock next to the video camera that Mr. Turner was carefully plugging into place. It wasn't even 7:00 yet.
"We'll Fish tomorrow," Gary decided. He reached for a discarded sock puppet from the floor. When he lifted his hand, an Imaginal duplicate appeared clenched in his fist, glinting rainbow at its borders. "Hey Tim-Tim, what say I put on a show for you?"
"Mm… Y'okay." But his attention was mostly on his mother and his bedtime routine. As Gary lingered on the opposite side of the room, trying to decide how exactly he wanted to set up his puppet stage, Timmy changed into his red pajamas, silly goldfish slippers, and oversized pink sleeping cap. Then he used the bathroom and brushed his teeth. His two front ones especially- most people didn't focus on the others. Abandoning the puppet, Gary came close to watch.
Timmy rubbed one of the buttons on his pajama shirt. "Mommy, can you please read me a nice story tonight?"
"Why sure, honey." She lay his toothbrush back on the counter. "I'll read you the one about the man by the sea who went out and caught a fish that could grant his every wish in return for being set free."
"Mrs. T.," Gary called after them as they moved back into Timmy's bedroom, "you forgot to brush my teeth again. Uh. Not cool. Timbo, could you tell your mom-"
Gary wrapped his arms around his stomach and nodded. He hopped up from the lid of the toilet where he had sat himself. So, this was how it was going to be. Yet again, he was the last one to arrive in Timmy's room. He lingered crossly in the doorway there as Timmy's mom tucked him in.
"I made a new friend today, Mommy," said Timmy through his yawn.
"Oh, did you?" Mrs. Turner sat on the edge of the bed and smoothed the sheets. "Tell me all about him. Was it a him or a her?"
"He's a boy," Timmy laughed. "Being friends with a girl would be weird. His name's Chester. He lives in a car park with his dad. They go- they go hunting for like big animals and fish and things all the time. A-and tomorrow! Oh, tomorrow, he- he's going to take me to fly kites and dig for worms with him, and we're going to climb this big strong tree and jump into a huge pile of leaves, and look for, um, opposidioms. And he's going to invite his friend A.J. over to play too!"
Gary's heart lifted. Okay, maybe today hadn't been the best he'd ever had, but he couldn't deny that Chester had seemed like a pretty fun kid to play with. Any child who could catch a rat with his dirty and yet totally snazzy bare hands had to be. And Gary missed climbing trees. Mr. Turner had forbidden it after that time he and Timmy had fallen over the fence and into Mr. Dinkleberg's backyard. At least the guy had been nice and let them make juice out of the apples they'd managed to pick before their crash.
"Well, that sounds like fun. I'm so glad that you're making real friends." Mrs. Turner pushed her son's hair back from his face and kissed his forehead. "Good night, Timmy."
Gary waited, but in all the excitement, Timmy forgot to ask her to give him a kiss too. It wasn't the first time it had happened. Ah, well. He'd never missed two nights in a row. Tomorrow would be better. Tomorrows typically were.
Anyway, Timmy had even forgotten about his fishing story, and the sock puppet show. So yeah, he was excited. And Gary wasn't going to complain when his best friend was happy.
So no biggie then. He took up his usual place guarding the window. As an imaginary friend he really had no need for sleep, except for those times he woke up screaming about nightmares (or so Timmy insisted). As Timmy drifted off, Gary did his utmost not to disturb him. He just watched, being quiet.
Once Timmy was under, Gary put himself to work. He leaned his forehead against the cold windowsill, running all his memories through his head. He was Gary. He was five years old. He was a cool kid. He didn't have a last or a middle name. Timmy Turner was his best friend. That was who he was. He couldn't forget that. Gary didn't really know exactly what would happen if he forgot himself, but rumors spread on the lips of nervous imaginary friends in the town, and they all agreed that no matter what, if you forgot yourself, it would not be a good thing.
Plus, he had a broken pinky to regenerate, and he hadn't wanted to do it in front of Timmy. It might hurt his feelings, or scare him. With a flick of his hand and a swirl of rainbow magic, it was back to normal. Imagination powers had their perks.
His reflection didn't show in the glass, but Gary had been brought into existence as an expert at managing his looks. His shiny black pompadour was his greatest pride. He reached into his jacket pocket and began flicking his comb through his hair. Little bit by little bit.
And really, there wasn't much else to do but that. Gary would've liked to read some of the books on Timmy's shelf, but they were physical things and he was not. Although he could pick up the books, they wouldn't open without the word of a real-life kid. Sometimes, fellow imaginaries insisted, you could pry an Imaginal book open. But the pages inside would be blank. Anyway, Gary could read very little. Mostly he just liked the pictures.
Other options? He could hold his shades, his jacket, and his comb only because Timmy had thought them up. Usually, Timmy did think up a stack of picture books for Gary before bed. Maybe a game, or a set of colored pencils. Just not tonight. He'd been too exhausted, too excited. So tonight, for one winter night in 1997, Gary drew a rubber ball from his pocket to bounce against the wall and passed his time with murmured songs and stargazing.
A few hours in, his attention slipped, and Gary bonked his head against the window. The rubber ball bounced away into the remains of the sock puppet stage. He blinked and straightened up. His eyes had been closed for too long. The world beyond the window had long moved on without him. A world of gentle cold.
The snow out there was thicker now than he'd ever seen it before. The breeze spun swirls of flakes across the black night. A light across the street in the castle-like home of the Chamberlains, who had just put their place up for sale, switched white lawns into warm yellow fields, all smooth and rounded at their tops. Footprints filled in with snow. Gary rubbed at the smudges on the window pane, which didn't seem to have much effect - probably because he was inside - before he pressed his nose against the frozen glass.
Gray clouds slipped across a gray sky. Icicles clung to the undersides of everything. The whole universe was embraced in white.
Gary watched it for minutes more - hours more? - before he groped behind him in search of a blanket heap. "Hey, Tim-Tim. Wake up. Wake up, you gotta see this."
"Mm, what is it, Gary?" Timmy was supposed to mutter. Except that he didn't. He didn't even move.
He wasn't waking up… Why wasn't he waking up…?
Worrying wasn't in Gary's nature. He sat on his knees on the windowsill, his toes resting against the bed, his hands on his thighs. He softly breathed.
"Timmy," he called, keeping his voice low. There was no answer. Gary crawled across the covers and placed two hands on Timmy's shoulder. He shook it. Hard. "Mornin', Captain Canines. Emperor Incisors. Major Molars. Wake up…"
Nothing. Timmy didn't even roll over. Gary reached out and cupped his hand around his friend's mouth.
He felt nothing. No expelled breath at all. No cold at the window. And no warmth inside.
… Now things were getting concerning. Spitting a word he wouldn't have dared to if Timmy were awake to hear it, Gary threw himself off the bed. His feet twisted beneath him. One hand plowed through the camera on the nightstand. It passed through, meeting no resistance. He didn't even hit an Imaginal version of the camera, which wasn't right, but Gary really didn't have time to pay attention to that. He scrambled up. Arms pumping, he raced down the hall, tripping once, and slammed against the door that led to Timmy's parents' room.
"Mrs. T.! Mr. T.!" His fists came up, pounding like sheets of hail on aluminum, except in total silence. "He- he won't wake up! Timmy won't wake up! I can't hear him breathing. He doesn't have a pulsing thing. Turners! Can you- can you hear me? Hey, we've had our differences, but we're cool now. This is serious. I need your help! Timmy needs you!"
Briefly he stopped to press his ear to the door. No sounds came from the other side. Gary withdrew, clenching his hair in two hands as he fought to keep himself together. Flecks of his skin and jacket were peeling away, vaporizing in mid-air. A second later, he willed himself inside their room. Running across the floor- reached the bed- climbing- blankets- their hands, their names, not glad, not fine- no breath, no breath, no breath…
"No. No, no… Please. Mom, please get up. Mommy? I know you don't like me, and you try to pretend I don't exist, but it's really important that you get up. Dad? Father? Hello?" Gary crawled over the blankets and reached for Mr. Turner's shoulder. "Howzit, chief. You need to get to the doctor right now, okay big boy? Mom- Mom and Timmy might be- they might already have- Hello? Hey, hey! Th-this isn't cool. Mr. T.? … Pops?"
Gary withdrew his hands. He sat there on his knees in the lumpy blankets between them, turning his head back and forth between the two adults. Were they hibernating? Timmy had read him a story about bears sleeping all through the winter, and waking up in spring. Maybe they'd just eaten too much for dinner. Yeah, they'd had like a whole turkey, because Mr. Turner didn't have the patience to wait until Christmas in a week. Maybe they'd wake up soon.
He shouldn't be here. Gary knew that. He was Timmy's imaginary friend first, and always would be.
But imaginary friends weren't supposed to be left behind when their real-life friends died. Wasn't something supposed to happen to him? Wasn't he supposed to be sucked away, locked up in a kind of freaky prison? They said that happened to imaginary friends whose kids decided they weren't going to play with them anymore. They either stopped existing, or dwelt forever in limbo, drowning in old memories. It was a known and common fate- imaginary friends normally didn't last for long. Gary had only existed for thirteen and a half months, and he'd seen a lot of good, kindly people come and go.
The Turners needed help. That much was obvious. Gary teleported himself out to the front yard in a burst of rainbow sparkles and swept his eyes up and down Cobbler Street. Somewhere off to his right, down the hill and maybe around the corner where the road branched off into a cul-de-sac, he could hear cheers and shouts. A ball of electric energy slammed into a tree and left a splash of multicolored goo that oozed down the bark. Invisible to real-worlders, of course, but Gary knew better than to touch it. The tree had promptly turned into a palm. Coconuts rained like snowflakes before bouncing off into the drifts of snow.
He took off running, pushing his shades closer to his eyes. "Hey buckarinos," he shouted. "My kiddo needs serious work done on him! Can one of you tell me what to do to help a guy and his parents who won't wake up?"
The real world may be sleeping, but imaginary friends of all shapes and colors and species were out and about down at the bottom of the hill. One of the usual Glob Ball games was going on, with teams of scales and feathers versus those with fur or skin. Rainbows arched back and forth over both sides of the street. Gary narrowly dove beneath one, jarring his teeth when he crashed against the icy road and sliding forward on his belly.
He jumped up, spinning in a frantic circle. There, behind the yellow bush. A girl with pink pigtails made the universal rainbow sign for 'imagination' and summoned double swirls of magic in her pale palms. "Maryann! Hey, it's you. Look, it's G here. Hey, is it cool with you if I call a time-out for a sec, li'l dogs? Imaginary Gary's got a request to make."
Maryann stuck her tongue between her teeth. She reared back her hand, looking directly at him. Gary flinched away.
"H-hey! Don't be like that, I'm not part of the game." He took a small step back. Then a second one, keeping his arm slightly raised in front of him. "Remember last week? We played human-based versus animal-based in Glob, and I took that blow to my leg so you could get away? I limped on a crocodile foot for hours. Remember how you kissed my scraped knee, and we held hands? I leant you my unbreakable comb for your hair since your kid never gave you one? Yipe!" Gary threw his hands up to defend his face, knowing he was about to lose at least one of them. Of course he could regenerate it with his magic, but that could take ages. There were worse fates than merely losing a limb, after all. Depending on who threw the glob, there was no telling what might happen- In a blink, Gary could have anything from a hawk's leg for an arm to a clarinet to a tentacle.
The blast shot straight through him. It didn't even ricochet off his rib cage. It missed his heart.
But it shouldn't have missed his heart.
Gary stumbled back instinctively, grabbing for the exact center of his chest, where Timmy had placed the very heart-shaped little heart that pumped his blood full of light and rainbows. He patted up and down his shirt. Had he been hit? Had his form shifted at all? He hadn't fallen down. Maryann was right there beside the bush- How could she miss?
When Gary raised his head again, he found himself panting. O-okay. So, they were all busy playing their game. Too busy for even a cool kid like him. That was fine. After fighting to snag the attention of an otter and a mermaid and getting blanked both times, Gary had to call it quits. He had left the Turners alone for long enough. Not that he could fix anything.
There was nothing more he could do but sit vigil. Wiping at his nose with a fist, Gary teleported himself into Timmy's bedroom again. His best friend hadn't moved. He just lay there with his head on his pillow, a small smile frozen on his lips. The white pom pom on his sleeping cap dangled in front of his face.
"Tim-Tim…" Gary's throat closed over. He shook. Even when he stepped forward, he still shook, with every stupid broken step. "Timmy, please… I-I tried. Oh, Pink Hat. I don't say this enough, but… I can't do this. I can't lose you, okay? That's not cool one lick."
When no answer came, Gary heaved himself up onto Timmy's bed. Hopeless, he turned three circles before flopping down. And so he stayed there, sprawled, with one foot dangling from the edge. He sniffed once with a shudder, trying to be stronger than his five-year-old body allowed.
His foot rested against the frosty window. But he wasn't cold. He held his hand in front of Timmy's mouth. But he wasn't warm.
Morning awoke, painting streaks of bright light through the window and across Timmy's back. Gary watched them dully, moving his hand in the hopes of creating a shadow that would never come.
The blankets shifted beneath him.
Gary bolted upright as they surged like sand dunes. "Mom!" Timmy hollered. He threw off his covers and hit the floor running. Clothes flew from his drawers. Like lightning, he stripped himself down and covered himself up again. Still fitting his hat over the enormous cowlick in the back of his hair, Timmy ran through his room and slammed the door behind him. "Mom, can you please take me to Chester's place? I want to go right now!"
Gary teleported himself to the bottom of the stairs as Timmy careened down the steps. "That was so not cool, Tim-Tim! I thought you were dead!"
Timmy, cheeks flushed, didn't even glance at him- just swung himself around the banister and kept going. One gobbled breakfast and a slurp of grape juice later, he was on the move again. Like he hadn't even heard. At the door, Mr. Turner - awake and alive too! - was just pulling on his coat. One of his other faithful video cameras still clung to his hand by its worn strap.
Gary barred the door that led outside from the kitchen. His breath huffed in his chest. Saliva bubbled in his mouth. He took off his shades and blinked. "Tim-Tim, Pink Hat, I serious gotta talk to you-"
And Timmy ran straight through him. As if he wasn't there.
That was a cold feeling, of oil and migrating birds. Gary didn't stumble this time, like he had during Glob Ball. Of course not. He hadn't been hit. But he did blink in bewilderment, twice.
Then he turned and took off flying yet again into the falling snow, just as Mr. T. pulled the house door shut. Gary jumped off the two front steps, but his feet didn't sink into the thick powder below. He slipped hard. Then he slipped again as he tried to get his feet back. He was… weightless, standing there - almost floating - with the snow below him. Untouched. Both in the real world, and in imaginality.
Mr. Turner, who actually could crunch through the snow, reached his car and began to fiddle with the locks. Gary shouted and fumbled after him. Fighting to walk in this sliding way of his, never sinking into the drifts, never leaving footprints. That was hard, but he made it. And he was almost fast enough. Timmy climbed into the back of the old station wagon and pulled the door shut behind him. It clicked.
"Timmy!" Shaking off flakes that weren't there, Gary grabbed the door handle and yanked with all his might. Didn't open; must be locked already. "Hello? Best friend for all of forever in need of some assistance here!"
The car rumbled to life. Caught off guard, Gary dropped the handle.
Timmy propped his chin in one palm. Gary began to bang on the side of the car with a fist that made no noise and sometimes slipped straight through the physical form as though he were punching milk. His hand flickered around the edges each time. "Timmy? What's your dealio, Pink Hat?"
The Turners' car rumbled backwards down the driveway and turned to its left. Imaginary friends, if there were any left at this time, scattered to the sidelines as it plowed down Cobbler Street. Spitting, gasping, Gary took after them. He sure had been doing a lot of that over the last two days, following.
It- they- he- just… just disappeared around the corner. Gary chased them for a few streets, until they left the neighborhood altogether and broke into a bigger road, heading for, more likely than not, Chester and Tracy's trailer park. Then he slowed his pace, because sweating wasn't cool, and leaned over with hands on knees to nurse a stitch and catch his breath.
He couldn't see his knees anymore.
He couldn't even see his hands.
Gary raised his face, still sucking at frozen air he couldn't actually feel. "He was never dead," he realized then. His vision blurred away from falling snowflakes into unfriendly walls of sickly pale brown. When he dropped limply to his knees, barely bracing himself by his hands, his shoulders shaking, the floor was cardboard. The same chirpy yellow as the shoe box beneath Timmy's bed, wherein lay the very first drawing Timmy had ever made of him, and where he had been born.
"… I am."