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Nieta

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 Welcome to White Space. You have been living here for as long as you can remember.

 The space is quiet. The space is white. A black light bulb hangs overhead. There is a sketchbook on one corner of a spread white blanket. On another is a laptop. Opposite the laptop is a black tissue box. There is a cat soundly sleeping just barely out of reach of the blanket. This is White Space. Plain, stark, hollow, and the home of Nieta. A girl with waist-length black hair and skin as white as paper. Her hair matches her dress, dark and prone to fluttering. If there was any wind here, that is.
 
 Nieta looked at the journal she kept on her laptop. Lately she had been visiting friends. Everything had been okay so far. Today should also be a good day to spend time with her friends. She would need something, though, but she wasn’t sure-

 White Space rumbled. Something fell nearby, she was sure. Ah yes, her jump rope. It was a mighty weapon only she could use. Now it was time to cross the only door in White Space. It was usually a finicky thing, locking and unlocking as it pleased, if it bothered to show up at all. She opened the door easily this time.
 
 This was the Neighbor’s Room. It was a lot more cheerful and certainly more populated. You could see the magnificent violet of space with all of its constellations overhead and through cat-shaped holes in the floor. Watching over it all, seemingly unnoticed by everyone except Nieta, was a bear with a smiling face and a softball jersey. On the counter was an unopened present, a toaster, a pillow shaped like the head of a girl, and a picture of somebody familiar. There was also a table, but the only thing on it was a plate with a single bean. In the center of the room were red playing cards, and around those cards were three people. They all had bluish tones to them. One was a girl with a pink bow in her hair, and a nightgown like a too-long t-shirt. Another was a boy with short hair and a checkered, loose tank top, with shorts underneath. The last boy wore a plain shirt with a pocket on the front, shorts, and plush socks that came up to his knees.

 “Nieta! We were hoping you’d be here today!” The girl with the bow dashed the cards aside without much thought and ran up to greet the new arrival. This was Aubrey. “We were just about to start another game!” She looked back behind her. “Oh... whoops. Never mind.”

 “Aww, man... What the heck, Aubrey!?” The boy in the checkered shirt called out. He was Kel. “You messed up all the cards! I was winning, too!”
 
 “Ah, but it’s only a game... We can just play again!” The final boy, Basil, had a smile on his face. “Besides, Nieta is here now, maybe we can do something else now. The possibilities are endless, after all!”
 
 “You’re just saying that because you were losing, Basil.” Kel pouted.
 
 “Maybe a little... haha.” Basil sheepishly scratched his head. “But remember? Sunny and Hero said they were having a picnic today at the Playground. I bet they would like it if we went to visit, what do you think, Nieta?”
 
 Nieta nodded her assent.
 
 “Then let’s- WAIT!!!! I don’t have Mr. Plantegg!” Aubrey checked all around herself and huffed. “Kel! Did you take him again!?”
 
 “Noooooo~!” Kel said with a cheeky smirk.
 
 “Kel! You jerk! Give him back!”
 
 “N-now now...” Basil said sheepishly. He was practically being talked over. “If Kel really took it then it has to be somewhere hidden here. Let’s-” The argument cut him off. 

 Nieta took the hint and looked around. Ah yes, a conspicuous watermelon with the letters “K-E-L” written on it. She smashed it open. All watermelons had something in them, this was common knowledge. Sure enough, Mr. Plantegg was in there, dry and intact. She walked over and handed Aubrey the stuffed toy.
 
 “Nieta you found him! Was Kel really hiding him somewhere?” Aubrey twirled and hugged her plush.
 
 “...It was in a watermelon that had Kel’s name written on it.” Nieta finally said.
 
 “Well that solves it! Nieta never lies, everyone knows that!” Aubrey exclaimed.
 
 “Curses! Foiled by my own ego!” Kel fell over in dramatic fashion before Basil hurried to pick him up.
 
 “Come on Kel, you’ll do better next time.” The boy with the flower crown said.
 
 “WHAT!? Basil, how could you!? Come on Nieta, let’s leave the boys to it!” Aubrey turned up her nose and followed after Nieta, pushing her a little.
 
 “...Oops. Sorry, I didn’t mean it like that, Aubrey.” Basil joined and was allowed alongside the others.
 
 “Hey wait for me!” Kel zipped along, and the four friends left on the stairs, and out of the stump.
 
 ---Ssssssss? (Going somewhere? Here’s your allowance.) Nieta got 50 clams.---
 
 The Playground was on the more northern end of the Pinwheel Forest. Here and there you could see the giant toys turn in the wind. A host of children of all shapes played. On swings and slides, or with a puzzle. The four friends, instead of playing with any of the games and equipment, walked to a picnic blanket where a boy with the same bluish hair as the other three friends raised a hand in greeting. He was rather cliff-faced and wore something that seemed to be a school uniform. The other was a tall boy who wore an apron, and had messy dark red hair. 
 
 “Hey guys! You’re just in time, Sunny and I made burgers!” Hero gave a winning smile.
 
 “Hero did most of it.” Sunny’s voice was quiet, but came with a small upturn of the mouth.
 
 “What? I couldn’t have possibly done it without you.” He looked over to an overflowing basket. “Maybe we overdid it a little, though.”
 
 “Not with how Aubrey eats!” Kel had a mischievous look as he snatched a burger.
 
 “There’s nothing wrong with what I eat! R-right, Sunny?”
 
 Sunny nodded his head and held up a burger. A vote of confidence from the stoic one.
 
 “So lively, haha...” Basil laughed before grabbing his own and sitting down near Sunny. The six friends all passed a wonderful afternoon, eating their burgers and playing.
 
 “Hey Hero! Hero!!” Van, a large dinosaur man, waddled up to the group. “Boss showed up on the playground and Berly went to go fight him off!”
 
 Hero gave a concerned look. “That sounds serious. Didn’t Berly put up the rules forbidding him?”
 
 “If it’s Boss then we’re all in danger, we all need to go stop him!” Kel popped up and saddled a rubber ball under his arm.
 
 “Let’s protect the Playground, the last time Boss was here he turned hide and seek into a body slamming game...” Aubrey held her bat up.
 
 “Guys, maybe we can solve this without fighting...” Basil said, picking up his camera.
 
 “I agree with Basil, that’s why I’ll go on ahead. Wait here. Keep them safe, okay Nieta?” Hero nodded in her direction with a reassuring look. The remaining friends all traded looks of their own with one another.
 
 “Nieta, are we really going to stand here? What do you want to do?” Kel asked.
 
 “I... Don’t want Hero to be alone.” The words were halting at first. She felt pushed to do it, as if by some outside force for reasons she didn’t quite understand. She picked up her jump rope and looked to Sunny.
 
 “Be safe.”
 
 Nieta, Aubrey, Basil, and Kel all ran for the north side of the park, just in time to hear a deep laughter shake the air. A large violet kid, larger than Van even, was standing with Hero in one arm. He had a teal rhino horn and blue overalls.
 
 “HWEHWEHWEHWEHWE!! You stupidheads! I have Hero now and no one can stop me from playing hide and seek! The real hide and seek!”
 
 Berly, the one with a blue hoodie and a mohawk of a fish fin right down her head, hopped madly in place. Her sidelong hair waved into her eye and her red glasses nearly fell off her nose.
 
 “Hey you good-for-nothing scoundrel! Give us Hero back!”
 
 “Never! As long as I have him, this Playground is mine! Now I’ll finally be the one to make the rules!”
 
 Hero sheepishly waved from the giant's arm. “Hi guys, I guess I got captured.”
 
 Berly turned and looked at the approaching party. “Hey you guys, perfect timing! You’re always with Hero, you must be almost as good as him, right? Go on, use your power of friendship or something and fight!”
 
 “Gimme back my brother, Boss!” Kel stepped up.
 
 “Yeah, quit hurting people!” Aubrey also stepped to a ready position.
 
 “Are we really going to do this?” Basil asked.
 
 Nieta readied her jump rope. “Let Hero go.”
 
 Kel launched his ball with two hands. He hit Boss square in the eye and crouched to retrieve his weapon from the low angle it bounced at. Aubrey flew in next, looking as though she were about to swing Mr. Plantegg. But instead a baseball bat collided with the bully’s knee, causing him to hop around. The perfect opportunity for Nieta to lash out with the jump rope like it was a whip. The handle struck right in the back of his other ankle, and he fell onto his rear. Finally, with more than a little trepidation perhaps, Basil hit the flash on his camera. The light alone landed as effectively as a fist or a bat. Boss recovered from the fourfold strike and kipped up with a hop.
 
 "That kinda hurt! Now I'm ANGRY!" A light reddish glow overtook him at the edges as he growled. Next he made a swipe of his hand and hit Nieta. She reeled back and waved her arms wildly to stop from toppling over.
 
 "Nieta! Be careful, emotions are really strong!" It was Hero, calling from the bully's arm. "If you're not a strong emotion of your own, you'll take a lot of damage! Remember, HAPPY beats ANGRY beats SAD beats HAPPY!"
 
 Nieta froze up for a moment. This wasn't like before. What's this new rule? Battles were simple affairs, she didn't have to feel anything. She watched as Kel made a face at Aubrey after she went through all the effort to cheer on his next attack. Basil looked at a wilted flower and tears gathered in the corners of his eyes. Nieta looked around in a fluster, these were clearly the rules, now, she had to play along. She had to. She looked at Kel and attempted to smile as wide as he did. She would just COPY an emotion, easy! A faint yellow glow overtook her, the same as the boy who was now throwing a ball once again at the great angry rhino. She guessed she was doing it correctly. Even if the act made her even more uneasy.
 
 She had to, though.
 
 Aubry stomped her foot down onto the enemy's, then called out to Nieta, who gave her a friendly wave. Sparkles filled the first girl's eyes and she made another attack, this time with her bat. Nieta snapped her wrist and hit in a uniquely powerful way. She felt the strum of Boss's heart through her rope, it felt devastating. She was noting her own strength when she noticed Basil come up and sprinkle her with a watering can. It didn't feel wet, only the feeling of being refreshed and whole again poured out of the spout. Even through his tears, Basil smiled at the thought of helping something or someone grow healthy.
 
 "Hey, that really, really hurt! Fine then, it's BODY SLAM TIME!!" The friends' assault wasn't enough, Boss ran rampant through them all.
 
 Kel became TOAST...
 
 Aubrey became TOAST...
 
 Basil became TOAST...
 
 ...
 
 ...Nieta did not succumb.
 
 All around the edges of her vision, darkness encroached. Cracks and wisps flew in front of her, and she felt a little crack in her heart. She had to strain a little, but lashed out her whip. It flew too far to the right. Boss cracked his knuckles and took another step forward. This adventure would be over if she couldn't do this one thing. The jump rope whistled through the air one more time...
 
 And struck! Boss was defeated, he released Hero and fell down. The plain TOAST became Kel, the TOAST with the bow became Aubrey, and the TOAST with the flower crown became Basil.
 
 "Wow, we did it! We're the best!" Kel said triumphantly.
 
 "You mean we're lucky Nieta hung on, or we'd all be TOAST right now." Aubrey rubbed her head clean of its grainy feeling.
 
 "Thanks, Nieta. We can always rely on you!" Basil's tears were long gone, replaced by his brighter disposition.
 
 Hero drew up now. "That's right. Thank you for being here, Nieta. Things always turn out well when you're around." He turned back to Boss. "Now about you..."
 
 Boss seized up before Basil went to Hero's side. "Boss must have been really lonely, huh?" He said, half to Hero and half to Boss.
 
 "Lonely? He stole Hero!" Kel shouted.

 "Yeah! He could have been seriously hurt." Aubrey nodded.
 
 "C'mon guys, didn't you notice how he kept me out of reach of your attacks?" Hero asked.
 
 Basil was the one to reply. "Yes! You're actually a very good person, aren't you, Boss?"
 
 "Here, I got just the thing. Take down that poster for me, Basil?" Hero directed Basil and walked away, coming back shortly with the last hamburger, presenting it with a winning smile.
 
 Boss looked from the burger, to Hero, to the rest several times before shaking himself. "Agh! I give up!!" He pulled up a drawing of a tree over himself in a flash. The dropped it to take a burger before hiding again.
 
 "I guess he's shy..." Hero said sheepishly.
 
 "Aw man... Why'd you give him the last burger? I had my name on it!" Kel was pouting.
 
 "I still have all of my cooking stuff ready at home. I can just go and be right back with another burger for you, Kel!"
 
 "Let's all go! It feels like we haven't been to Hero's in forever!" Aubrey seemed excited to go, a contagious mood that quickly spread to Basil and Kel.
 
 "Alright, alright, we can all go. Will you come too, Nieta?"
 
 Nieta answered Hero with a nod, and the set off for Hero's house. Through the Pinwheel Forest a short way away.
 
 ---...Hi Sis. If you wanna save you can use my GameLad in the basket.---

 Hero's house was tall. Not because of how many stories it had, but because it was in a tree. Hero often downplayed the fact that he had built it almost entirely by himself. A modest, blocky home made of planks, with a rope ladder that hung down as an entryway. It was located in a small clearing, by water, but the surrounding forest could be dark. Occasionally, Nieta would see a shadow move or a branch fall just at the corner of her vision. It was a calming place in the shade for the others, but now, that wound in her heart kept nagging her. Something felt ever so slightly wrong.
 
 She found out what when she followed Hero up the ladder.
 
 "I think I still have some patties and buns up here, all I need is a frying pan and we'll be set to-" Hero stopped in his tracks. "What's this?"
 
 A knife lay on the ground. It was clean and shining, like a piece of mirror. Nieta had seen it. In that moment, she wished, even slighty, to scream, or jump for it, or do anything. For all her desire, though, she couldn't put a dire enough feeling into her legs. Feelings were poisonous, after all. So instead she watched as Hero picked it up and looked into the gleaming flat of the blade.
 
 "That's odd... This knife... It looks so familiar." Hero said it like he was completely transfixed. A single drop of red dripped from the tip of the knife. Nieta saw his eyes go wide in the reflection, and his irises went red. "This..." Hero turned to Nieta. "Your back..." Another step forward, his voice became strange. "Sunny... he-!"
 
 Everything stopped. In a tumult everything stopped. Everything had to stop, it had to. Those next words were too much, too loud, too wrong! Everything wiped away in suffocating dark. There's nowhere to go, nowhere else to be. She had to get out of here somehow, this wasn't safe.
 
 All around her was white again. White Space loomed forever outwards. The same as it always was. The same except that this time, there was no door. She walked over to her laptop to check her diary. The screen was glitched out. She slapped it several times before it turned off entirely, and in the black screen, she could see something. A crack in the White Space. long and snakey and, well, more like a tree branch than a crack, when she looked at it. It was too soon for this, wasn't it? Something else has to happen, right? Right?
 
 "Mew?" Nieta knew that sound. It felt like she knew the words Mewo was trying to say to her.
 
 "Waiting for something to happen?"
 
 She knew what she had to do. She kept doing it because she knew she had to. She began working her jump rope. curling and knotting it. Tying one end over the branch, and letting the end she tied into a loop hang free. She placed the makeshift noose around her neck, and took a breath. Her face was as expressionless as ever while she was in here.
 
 Time to do what she knows she should.

 She took one step off the blanket, and there was no floor. She felt her neck snap in the right paces. The rope cut off her few last breaths. She twitched uselessly for her last few seconds, and everything went dark.
 
 ---Would you like to save your game? Y/N---

 A girl laid in her dark room, fitfully turning. Her hair was very long and splayed all over the bed. What was her name again?
 
 Mari. That's right.
 
 Mari woke up, feeling a pain in her stomach. The room was dark, and sparse. Cardboard boxes were pushed up against the wall. The only furniture was a dresser, a nightstand, an old bookshelf, and a desk. On the desk was an old computer and a telephone with a red blinking light on it. Mari sighed a little and walked over to it, pressing the play button.
 
 "Hi Mari, it's Mommy. I'm still in the city setting things up for our new home. I'm sure you already finished packing, but just in case, I left you a list of things to do before the movers get there. They'll be there in a few days. Also sorry! Mommy messed up! I forgot to tell the electric company that we need a few extra days before we're ready to move, so the lights might cut out sometime tonight. Anyway... I know moving to a new place can be a little nerve-wracking, especially having to put back college, but I think a change of scenery will be positive for both of us! I know you've been so busy lately, but it might be a good idea to say goodbye to your old friends before we leave. Kel has been trying really hard to get ahold of you ever since we put up the house for sale, I guess he wants to make sure you see him and Hero before you go. Okay that's it. Mommy loves you!" Bzzt...

 Mari felt hunger clawing at her insides. She felt unsure of the last time she ate. The moonlight was just enough to make out a sticky note on the wall denoting that there was steak in the fridge downstairs. Mari decided that she was not going to to do that in the dark. It was too much, even looking over the banister at night felt like she was going to tip into the endless abyss. There was a much easier way to handle her hunger. Mari went to the bathroom and took a glass of water, looking at herself in the mirror. Her hair was very, very long. Down to the back of her knees and somewhat messy. Not as well kept as she once would have liked, and her bangs were too long as well. She wore a black long-sleeved shirt, and some shorts. She shook off her own appearance and went back to bed.

 She lied down, attempting to sleep. To go back. But water wasn't enough to get there this time. She had to go downstairs. She had guessed it was her third day without food, rather than the second. She attempted to gather herself, the stairwell lie ahead.
 
 The hall was illuminated in red. The stairs yawned under her. They seemed much longer than normal. All down into a black blot at the bottom. Mari tremored, then finally took a step. Then another. Then two more until she was walking down the stairs. Her hand had a vice grip on the banister. She could see dark hands begin to slither up the walls, the blot on the floor ahead widen and extend sickening tendrils outward. She began to feel pain. Not just from her stomach, but her back, and arms. He breathing quickened the darker it got, the more the tendrils at the bottom of the stairs curled and crept up them. They were three steps in front of her now. The tentacles halted there a moment, waiting, then finally struck all at once.
 
 They wrapped around and pulled the blot up to face Mari. Jagged, rotten teeth filled its misshapen mouth, and wild, bulging eyes fixated on Mari. She had to find a weapon now, she had to defend herself. Anything would do. The monster pulled her and she fell a step before catching herself. Her foot nudged something as she did.
 
 A box cutter. It was better than nothing. No, it was perfect. She grabbed it and lashed out to no effect.
 
 "Leave me alone! Go away!" Mari shouted in a craze. She had to fend off this feeling, she was being dragged down again. She swiped out uselessly with the box cutter, each time it flew through the shadow.
 
 "Mari..." A voice called out. She didn't know who's it was or where it came from.
 
 Another swipe, another stair closer to that thing. That... Something.
 
 "Remember what you told me? Take a deep breath..." The voice said again.
 
 She was half listening, swinging wildly now as she was brought closer. Her back felt like it was being stabbed.
 
 "Don't be afraid. It's not as scary as you think."
 
 Those words. She knew them. She was having a panic attack. She needed to collect herself, close her eyes, and calm down. Deep breath. Take stock of what is happening around her.
 
 Mari was standing on the landing of the stairs. There was no eerie red glow, no grasping hands and tendrils. Only her. In her home. Alone. She looked to her hand, no box cutter was there. 
 
 "Again..." Mari shook her head and continued to the kitchen, her skin prickling. It's okay, she would just get some food and be done with this whole night. She halted momentarily before entering the next room, and calmed herself again.  Mari walked to the fridge and found a cold steak on a plate inside. She took it and put it into the microwave. She watched as the meat spun around, being very careful not to look anywhere else. Turning on the lights, especially in here, was a little...
 
 Beeeeep!
 
 At least they wouldn't work soon, and she wouldn't have to worry. Mari took her plate and then wavered over the knife on the counter. She took it and roughly carved the steak, eyes nearly closed. Mari then went to the dining room to eat, leaving the knife behind.
 
 "There's no reason to be afraid. There's no reason to be afraid." She kept repeating. "It wasn't there. It wasn't there."
 
 Halfway through her mantras and entirely through her meal she began to feel sick to her stomach. She raced upstairs, feeling the turning in her stomach get worse with every step. Mari held back her hair as best she could, and let it all come out. The water in the toilet was pinkish, and there were chunks of meat in it.
 
 At least she didn't feel like eating anymore. She washed out her mouth and brushed her teeth without staring in the mirror, removing the acidic taste of bile. Now it was time to leave this nightmare behind.
 
 Or would be, if there wasn't a knock at the door.
 
 "Is that Kel? Now?" Mari mused and followed the knocking sounds. They didn't seem to let up at all. It had to be Kel, no one else was crazy enough to be awake at this hour. Or it could be someone who knew she was home all alone. Mari looked to a pile of boxes aside the door, and picked up the box cutter there. The real one, exactly where her mom had left it.
 
 "Who's there?"
 
 "It's Sunny... I'm back from Basil's."
 
 That just wasn't possible. Was it? But it sounded exactly, perfectly like him. No one else could have a voice that was so quiet and yet carried through the door.
 
 It couldn't hurt to take a peek, right? If this was another dream then it should be fine, right? Sure, she was just dreaming and wanted to see her little brother. She slid the door open a crack. There was a serene nightscape.
 
 Then it slid into view in the space. It wasn't Sunny. It was some grotesque puppet of Sunny that had its chest carved out into a bleeding hole. Its face was dead, and rigid. Red tears dropped from hollow eyes. It hung in the air as if by a string, and rasped in a dry rattle. Mari shut the door in an instant, flicking all the locks shut as the pounding resumed. She ran up the stairs again, but not before looking sidelong into the kitchen. A mistake, seeing something-

 No. Not just something, Something. Something slithered on the floor of the kitchen in the moonlight. She didn't need to look directly at it to know what it looked like, it haunted her everywhere. The sickly red puddle that slithered along the ground, arms and legs jutting out of it at odd angles. And the center of its mass was dark and endless, holding a single crimson eye. It slithered after her in the bathrooms of her old school and dark corners of the street on the way home. She ran from it then, and now it had even gotten inside her house. Mari ran from it all. She was tired of being so afraid. Feeling nothing would be better than this. Feeling nothing was preferable. She needed it to stop. So she wrapped herself in her covers, and went to sleep once again.