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all the people in those old photographs i've seen (are dead)

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Reality is made of such fickle things.

Garry has always known this to some degree; he’s always understood that the world is made of both the material and the abstract, and that blood runs thicker in some veins than others. He’s always known that nothing is truly black and white, that nobody is fully good or bad, and that the things he clings to can be pulled from beneath his feet without so much as a blink.

He knows it better, now that he himself has become the abstract.

That’s not to say that Garry had ever been usual - he took pride in being distinctly unusual. He was tall and lanky and pale, all shades of purples and blues, a soft wispy rasp in the back of his throat, unusual and abnormal and queer. If he was ashamed of his differences, then he was granting them power; if he took them in stride, loved them, pushed them to the forefront, then they were his weapons to bare.

And yet all of that - puffs of smoke through pursed lips, purple hair-dye, blue roses, rainbow lights - was nothing in comparison to the feeling of canvas and paint where he had once been human.


The thing about paintings is that they are objectively perfect, and beautiful in inhuman ways. Mary had been the perfect little girl, with sapphire-blue eyes and golden ringlets, a cheery smile and a melodic voice - and so Garry should, by all logic, be perfect, now that he’s trapped behind glass and frame.

He looks the same as ever, in the darkness of the fake world; but he’s smart enough to snag glances of his own portrait in mirrors whenever it’s moved around the gallery, and the stark difference between himself and the ethereal, angelic man in the portrait causes a deep discomfort to roll in his gut.

The man in the portrait has the same slumped posture, the same messy hair, the same speckles of blackened blood where rose-thorns stick into his skin - and yet his body is devoid of any of Garry’s sparse smattering of freckles, painted milky-white and smooth. His eyes are wrong - too big, too bright, making his blackish-brown irises look dull and average. His clothes don’t quite fold the same way, painted at more flattering angles (as if being slumped half-dead against a wall could ever truly be flattering), and the smudges of eyeliner running down Garry’s cheeks are nowhere to be seen.

He’s uncomfortable, staring at that face that isn’t quite his - but there’s something oddly comforting about the disconnect, as if he has some kind of plausible deniability that it was ever meant to be his.


Ib comes back to the gallery every other week, on a Wednesday. She stands in the middle of the corridor, a good foot or two from his portrait, and stares with those big ruby eyes. There’s something haunting about them, some unreadable mesh of fear and hope that digs under Garry’s skin and turns his blood cold.

The first few times she’d came, he’d tried to talk to her. “Ib!” he’d cried, voice hoarse and low from disuse, cracking and groaning as if he’d never spoken before. “Ib, it’s me, remember? Ib!”

Something almost like recognition had flashed in her eyes, just for a moment - and then somebody had walked between them, oblivious, and it was gone.

He tried to cry once she’d left, but ink runs slower than tears ever had.


The portrait ladies unsettle him. He always finds himself winding his fist tighter around his rose when they arrive, as if it isn’t coiled around him and attached to his very being, as if he has the strength to pull away from the wall and go running. Their eyes always dart quickly to his clenched fist, but they never say a word.

They know he won’t reply, anyway. He only uses his voice to yell for Ib, nowadays, and it isn’t as if that works.

The ladies in red dab at the bigger smudges of blood with little silk handkerchiefs, mumbling gentle assurances whenever he flinches; the ladies in blue run their long, thin fingers through his hair, twisting each curl around their fingers individually; the ladies in green sprinkle the barest droplets of water on his rose, although it is no longer truly alive; and the ladies in yellow will sit and smile and tell him, quietly, that they care for him.

They had lost Mary, their littlest sister, but had welcomed their new brother with open arms regardless, always eager to pretend they’re a real family, even if he flinches when they get too close, and even if none of them can truly call themselves human anymore.

(He wonders, distantly, if they’d still love him so gently if they knew it was his lighter that set Mary ablaze, clutched in Ib’s shaking fist.)