1| Garrett

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Silent screams filled Garrett Delko's lungs as he gasped for air

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Silent screams filled Garrett Delko's lungs as he gasped for air. He needed to get out, needed to find his phone.

Help, he cried, but the room filled with lost dreams and unhappy thoughts smothered his voice. He jiggled the door knob, desperate to reach his mother, but it wouldn't budge. Pain sliced through his chest as he looked over his shoulder.

No No No NO—

Garrett woke in a sea of sweat. His body slick with fear, but his mouth dry as a desert after being shoved into a pillow to drown out the screams. Sitting up, he fumbled for the flashlight hidden under his pillow. The brightness jarred his senses, but he welcomed the hurt. Anything to escape the nightmares haunting him.

He thought college would help, time and distance allowing him to heal, but it wasn't working. His dreams were always the same. White, plush carpet soaked in scarlet. His hand, wrapped in bandages, dragged through pools of blood, leaving behind marks that branded his soul.

Garrett could feel the terror reaching for him again, rising to claim its prey. Using a technique his therapist taught him, he took a deep breath and exhaled slowly, counting to ten. He repeated the process till his heart stopped beating like an African drum. He detested being reduced to nothing but a scared little boy. He was nineteen, for god's sake. He should be stronger than the memories, but no matter how hard he fought, they always returned, always won.

Garrett turned off his flashlight, and carefully stowed it back under his pillow not wanting to wake his roommate who slept in the bed bunk above him. Quietly, he eased off the covers and rolled out of bed, shivering as the frigid air clung to his clammy skin. Winter hadn't arrived yet, and already he pulled on his sweatpants and black Eason University hoodie. As Garrett pushed past the door of his dormitory, he popped in his earbuds, and began his favorite playlist, otherwise known as his "Calm the Fuck Down Songs." He let his pulse sync with the beats as he started down the asphalt, slowly picking up speed.

Running had become a compulsion. He got a taste for it the night they silently carted his older brother away. No need for flashing lights, or blaring horns, just a slow and steady roll down Isola Lane. His chest had burned as the neighbors lined the street, watching the police procession like it was a Disney parade. It was no fairytale. It was fucking reality, and at that moment, a vicious need to chase down the ambulance and rip open the doors had surged through him. His bare feet had pounded against the black road, unaware of the rocks cutting into his flesh or the yells of his parents. All he had wanted was his brother. Safe. Warm. Home. That feeling still pushed him, a need so deep it snaked around his heart and held him hostage. So he ran. And ran. And ran. Each time hoping he'd escape, each time hoping he'd gain a different outcome.

Garrett veered west, away from campus, and jogged to the outskirts of town toward Heartache Lake. He liked to run the trails in the mountains surrounding the lake, but he kept away at night because cougars habited the area, not to mention the Heart Lake ghost that haunted the paths. It was rumored at one time the heart-shaped lake used to be whole, but when a young lady learned of her sweetheart's death, she screamed so loud, her grief tore a split down the middle.

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