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The air in Rick's room was a suffocating weight, every breath a struggle against the unseen force pressing down on him. The harsh morning light sliced through the gaps in the dusty blinds, painting the room with shadows that reflected the chaos twisting inside him.

He struggled with his shirt, the fabric coarse and unforgiving against his shrunken skin. Every inch felt like a mountain to climb, a monument to his diminished size, a constant reminder of the life he'd lost.

"Damn it!" The word escaped his lips, a choked sound that faded into the vastness of the room. A grown man trapped in a child's world, at the mercy of forces he couldn't control, he was drowning in a sea of helplessness.

Janet hovered nearby, her eyes reflecting exhaustion, lines etched deep into her face - a testament to the weight she'd carried for so long. "Let me help you, darling," she whispered, her voice hoarse from years of worry.

He winced at her touch, a searing reminder of his dependence. Even her familiar perfume was suffocating now, mixing with the sharp, metallic scent of his own stale sweat. It was the smell of defeat, a constant reminder of everything he'd lost, everything he might never get back.

"This is madness! I'm not a child!" he snapped, his voice a harsh rasp, though the defiance tasted like ash in his mouth.

Janet's eyes glistened with unshed tears, her forced smile a fragile mask over a well of weariness. "I know, darling," she breathed. But the responsibility, the overwhelming fear for his well-being, was too heavy to bear alone. "I just want you to be safe, protected."

Her words, meant to soothe, only fueled his frustration. That tone - the same soft, condescending one she'd used when he was a boy - stoked the fire of his anger.

"And Candice is the answer?" he spat, a bitter edge to his voice. "The girl I used to torment? Is this some cosmic joke, some twisted form of retribution?" The idea was absurd, yet a terrifying possibility flickered in the darkness of his mind.

"She's different now, Rick," Janet insisted, her voice cracking, her carefully constructed facade crumbling. The unspoken plea hung between them: Don't make this any harder than it already is.

"Different?" He scoffed, the word sharp and cutting. But a seed of doubt took root, unsettling and unwelcome. Could she really have changed? The thought was a punch to the gut, another layer of humiliation added to his already diminished state.

Janet, ever attuned to his moods, seized the opportunity. "She's agreed to take you in," she said quickly, her words tumbling out. "Just while I'm away, just for a little while."

The room swayed, the monstrous furniture pressing against him. Candice. Panic gripped him, a cold wave that left him gasping for air, trapped in the suffocating confines of his miniature world.

Chapter End Notes:

The first chapter of Sliding Reality is now available!

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