Author’s note: I was down with the flu and went on another trip and then had some freelance editing work, so I missed weeks 2-10(!) of my 52 writing prompts challenge. I can only make up for it post hoc, alas. New rules: only one pass editing allowed, must be written all in one go, at least 100 words. Maybe even half an hour limit? Just to get the words down and out there, even if it’s terrible and trashy. I’ve always been more editor than writer.
Warning: contains horror
As my blood throbbed in my ears, I felt myself dissolving from the vein of ordinary life. I tried to scream, but only felt the start of a moan in the back of my throat, choked off and weak. I watched, colors fading, as the worst stains of my soul slipped me a secret smile and turned back towards the crying children.
See, everyone thinks an imaginary friend is your secret buddy. Psychiatrists say they’re scapegoats for when kids need to stretch their boundaries. Nobody pictures an imaginary friend as the demented, deformed reflection of every bad desire you’ve ever suppressed. Have you ever wondered what that greedy little impulse would create, before your internal parent pulled you back from the brink? Whenever I’m pulled from the brink, my imaginary friend jumps. No appel du vide there. Just pure Id and the wind rushing past you as your only companion on the journey to the end of a bad decision.
It wasn’t that I heard voices growing up, or the Devil speaking to me. I am a man of particular faith. I just had this twin, this doppelgänger who voiced all the things I shouldn’t be thinking. It’d been fantastic, a best friend who really knew me, who paid attention but never judged. My imaginary friend loves kids, and I was a lonely child. It kept my secrets and it played with me.
But as I learned how to behave like a responsible adult, it only magnified the secret sins I wanted to commit. I’d be in church and it would make the most awful sounds from the confessional, stuff that would make your ears turn blue. I tried to keep to myself, to not bother anyone. I was a good neighbor, and it would always try to open the windows whenever I turned on loud music, or throw my trash bags everywhere the night before pickup day. When I went to sleep it would be at my computer, blue glow on its pale, shrunken face as it downloaded the filthiest pornography that would turn even my stomach. (Though I was as aroused as I was disgusted. I’d delete it in the morning and wonder about imaginary stains on my keyboard and hope the FBI couldn’t track it.)
I started volunteering and even joined a gym to build some muscle and work out all that tension. I deleted Facebook and tried to read a book a month. But the more I tried to be a moral citizen, the angrier its attacks become. My imaginary friend loves kids. It’d been nice to me when I refused to play along as a child. But now that I was an adult, he had no patience for me, and he started to make threatening growls and spine-chilling shrieks even when I tried to share my favorite activities with him. We’d grown apart, he and I, with our own moral codes and our own favorite things. I couldn’t reason with him anymore. I knew I had to do something when that laundromat burned down and I couldn’t remember anything about the night. It wasn’t dryer lint, and it wasn’t imaginary anymore.
I couldn’t have made a bigger mistake than ignoring it. It tried crazier and more twisted things to get my attention. It would scream obscenities at me while I volunteered at the children’s hospital. At the company barbecue, it pantomimed evil acts behind my boss as she showed me her infant daughter, while guiltily, I turned red and tried not to burst out laughing, unable to string even two coherent thoughts together, let alone sentences. As I walked down the street, a note from my doctor prescribing a week’s rest and a psychiatric referral, I knew I was doomed as it made me see the heads exploding off of people I passed, each a spectacle of fire and carnage. I couldn’t handle it any longer, but who would even believe me?
The psychiatrist wasn’t much help. He kept talking about his own conversion to Eastern meditation, and asked me stupid questions about my childhood (normal) and my work (uneventful). I didn’t want to get into some Jungian debate with him about my imaginary friend. I wasn’t sick, I wasn’t. And as far as I know, nobody had died in the fires. He said that like many young men, working nonstop and living alone was getting to me. Humans are social people, didn’t I know? Why didn’t I try a online dating service or a matchmaking app? A lot of them were free.
In desperation, because now they were looking for the serial arsonist who had burned down a bowling alley and a pub in the same month, I signed up and agreed to meet a sporty brunette named Andrea. We were going to the local park, and she joked that this way I could be reassured she wasn’t some axe murderer. She was going to bring her kids, Tommy and Julie, since she didn’t get a lot of time with them as a single mom. Perfect. My imaginary friend loves kids. Maybe he’d behave.
Stunted and deformed like some kind of reverse Dorian Gray, today he crouched on a park bench next to me, pale with large black eyes and clammy hands. I had leaned against my constant companion as we sat and waited for my blind date. He could have been my shadow, that strange reflection you catch out of the corner of your eye that turns out to be a trick of the light, or a bird’s wing passing over a sunbeam.
I stuck my hands in my pockets and turned a little away from the patrolman circling the lake. He was only imaginary, right? But I felt the growl against my back, intimate and familiar as always, and strangely comforting, like the purr of a kitten in a baby crib. Its growl rose as we spotted a brunette towing two skipping kids along the path.
“Please. Please don’t do anything,” I whispered, the first words I had spoken to it in a long, long time. I felt a sharp burst of pain against my hand and winced. I was so tense I had squeezed my hand too hard. Keeping my eye on the patrolman, who had stopped to chat with a clown making balloon animals, I jogged lightly up to Andrea and the kids. I don’t really understand what happened next. We went into a romantic little alcove with a stone bench, and Andrea went to get the kids some ice cream, you know, just to keep them busy so we could talk. We could see her buying some cones from the vendor and the kids and I both waved at her. I turned to the kids as she was paying and knelt down to talk to Tommy.
Cute kids. My imaginary friend loves kids. And suddenly the world shifted and I felt like I’d been turned inside out, a scream blossoming from my imaginary friend after a lifetime of subvocal grunts. We passed each other, like two spirits finally blending, and the scream twisted and sat in my throat instead. I blinked and it was like the colors were bleeding from the world and suddenly I was standing next to my imaginary friend wearing my skin, looking on as he suddenly stopped the blade of my gleaming dagger in its gentle slice against Tommy’s pristine, beautiful skin.
Some say you can only indulge in an imaginary friend for so long.
My imaginary friend was tired of indulging me.
“It okay now, Tommy,” he said in a voice I had never heard before, while I screamed and my now clammy paws passed through his. He tossed the knife into the bushes and never stopped smiling at the crying kids. “I sorry we–I’m sorry I scared you.” He was getting better and better at talking. “We tell your Andrea-mom if you no feel nice, don’t feel good, but I buy you an extra ice cream and promise never to do it again. I’ve been practicing for a skit and I got excited. It was a mistake. I would never hurt you.”
Tommy was sniffling while I screamed for anyone to hear me, for anyone to see me. I put my invisible hands around Julie’s neck and tugged, I tried to grab at my precious knife, now tossed under a bush and stabbing deep into the dirt, but it wouldn’t budge. It had seen three throats and now it would never taste another.
“Don’t worry Tommy. You too, Julie. You tell me if you don’t feel safe. I’ll keep you safe, just like your mom, okay?” my imaginary friend was saying as I crouched on the ground and howled at my loss. “Look, here she comes!”
“Did they give you any trouble?” Andrea asked as she handed the ice cream cones to the two children, now eager, their near-participation in a sacred act now forgotten for sweets. Greedy little shits. I hate children. I tried to swipe at a mound of ice cream, but my hand went right through them. Was this what my double had felt all these years?
“Not at all,” my imaginary friend replied, and smiled charmingly as he brushed the top of Tommy’s hair, making him laugh. Julie hugged his leg and Andrea smiled back, relieved to finally find someone.
I never thought that even at his worst, my imaginary friend would be a better man than I was. I kept to myself. I volunteered. I was a hard worker. But now that the world is clearer to me, in black and white and grey, I finally understand. I lived alone. My garbage was always meticulously sorted because I never wanted anyone to look inside my bags. I played loud music because I couldn’t stand it when my young sacrifices screamed. I donated every year to the policeman’s and fireman’s unions. My imaginary friend set a laundromat, a pub, and a bowling alley on fire. He might be an arsonist, but at least he never had to live alone just because nobody wants to room with a serial killer.
“After all,” he added, looking past her at my furious expression, my need denied, possibly forever, “I love kids.”
Word count: 1660