I can still remember my first year of preschool. I went in blue denim overalls, brand new tennis shoes that Mom still had to tie for me, and my hair combed nice and neat with a backpack full of crayons and a Sesame Street lunchbox. It was less than an hour before the teacher noticed me talking to myself, or at least that was what it seemed like. I had been sitting on the floor, playing with the little toy cars, but my eyes were looking up at the wall or the ceiling and talking to somebody that apparently nobody else could see. Of course my mother was concerned when the teacher told her about it when she came to pick me up at the end of the school day.
"It's perfectly normal for a child his age to have an imaginary friend. Many kids that come through here do," the teacher, Mrs. Wied, told her, "He'll make some new friends, real friends, and he'll grow out of it. Just wait and see."Naturally I became pretty upset and threw quite the tantrum when Mrs. Wied, my mom, and my dad tried to say that my friend was only my imagination.
That's when I told them something that really worried them. "Friends," I said, correcting them, emphasizing on the plural, "Not friend. I have friends."
"How many friends do you have exactly son?" my dad asked me.
"Ummm." I looked down at my hands and started counting down my fingers, then held both up, palms facing out. I closed my hands into fists and opened them back up, again and again. "This many." I answer.
The very next day, I was playing with my "friend". I had the crayons and was drawing a crude scribbling of one of my "friends", a black figure with long arms and long fingers, when Mrs. Wied told me coloring time was over. When I ignored her, she tried to snatch the crayon and paper right out of my hand. I snapped and grabbed at her arm with my little hands, shrieking at her to "give it back!" A minor struggle ensued between us, then was ended when one of the fluorescent right above us fell right out of the ceiling. If she hadn't scooped me up and dove back out of the way, the bulb would've crashed right on her head. She was so frightened by what happened she didn't even notice me looking up at one of my "friends" hanging on the ceiling and whispering at it, chastising, "Why did you do something so mean?"
From that point on, Mrs. Wied acted slightly more nervous around me, always careful when telling me whenever we were done coloring, or playing tag, or any other thing. The other tots in class were frightened by me as well, me and my "invisible friends". Whenever we would play games, nobody would ever pick me to be on their team, leaving me all alone. I would sit back against the brick wall on the outside of the preschool building while all the other children were playing together before my eyes. My "friends" tried their best to comfort me, but they didn't help; watching have others have so much fun and not including me felt like such a black sheep.
I continued to play with these "friends" of mine from then on. Talking to them, playing hide and seek with them, innocent enough stuff. My parents were still kind of worried about it, but they didn't pay it too much attention. They took Mrs. Wied's advice and just waited for this "phase" mine to pass.
When I started kindergarten, things got even worse. See, there was this new kid in the class, Charlie. He had a growth spurt that allowed him to practically tower over all the other little kids and already got his first grown-up teeth in, which flashed whenever he gave that ugly little sneer of his, so he was automatically the biggest and toughest of all, and it was only a matter of minutes before he was officially the class bully. He loved to knock kids' books down, jab them with pens, pinch them, tease and mock them mercilessly. He was a regular little hellion. When he first came to the class, the other kids immediately warned him about me. "Stay away from Luke," they would whisper to him, "He's a jinx. He has unvisible friends that'll hurt you." But this only peaked his interest in me even more. He made it a habit of pushing me, poking me, jabbing me, doing everything he could to push my buttons, all while the teacher wasn't looking of course. My "friends" asked me again and again if I wanted them to do anything about him, but every time I answered no; I didn't want people to fear me any more than they already did. One day, the teacher stepped out to collect more construction paper. As soon as she was gone, Charlie shoved me back in my chair, knocking me down to the floor, chair and all. Charlie stood powerfully over as I got up on my hands and knees.
"You better leave me alone Charlie," I warned, glaring up at him, "If you know what's good for you."
"And what're you gonna do if I don't, huh?" he teased, pushing me down on my back with his foot, "Why don't sick your little friends on me, huh? Where are your "friends" now, huh? Huh?" Each "huh" was accentuated by a jab in the chest with his foot. All the other little kids stared at us, waiting to see what would happen between the bully and the "jinx".
My "friends" then began whispering in my ears again, pleading with me. Please Lukas, let us help you. Tell us what to do and we will do it. Anything you ask of us, anything at all.
I decided, if this Charlie kid wanted a fight, a fight was what he was going to get. "Make him sick," I told them with a smile on my face, my voice merely a low mumble, "Make him puke his guts out."
Charlie cocked his head and raised his foot again. "What did you just-?" His question was cut off halfway through as he stared at the space between him and me, at something that now he could see as well. Apparently no one else saw it, because they just stared at Charlie's paled face curiously.
"What is he staring at?" they asked amongst themselves.
What they could not see, but Charlie and I could, was one of my "friends" standing before him. An almost solid slender black figure standing almost ten feet tall, a giant compared to Charlie's four-foot stature. The shadowy-looking figure was glowering down at him, though it was hard to tell with its smooth blank black face. Charlie stared back up at it, his face white as a sheet and his knees quaking in terror. As much as I'm sure he would have loved to run away, screaming, he was too scared to even move from his spot, like his feet were nailed right to the floor. He didn't even move when the figure leaned down closer, meeting him face to face. Instead, a dark stain formed in the front of his khakis that ran down the leg. A thin stream of yellow liquid trickled down his calf and formed a puddle under his shoe.
"Oh my gosh!" the other children squealed, "He's peeing his pants!" A couple of them laughed, while the others screamed and wept, "What's going on? What's happening? What is he seeing? There's nothing even there!"
The black figure then raised what looked to be its arm, with a hand with a set of long fingers at the end, and it actually reached inside the boy's stomach, the hand passing through the shirt and through the flesh and muscles underneath, like a ghost. It twisted its arm, and Charlie's spine hunched up, his body practically curling in on itself, and a thick flow of vomit spilled out from the boy's mouth.
The teacher returned at that moment, opening the door with a stack of construction paper under her arm, to the sight of Charlie doubling over and collapsing to the floor, curling up on his side and continuously spewing bile while I and all the other children watch helplessly. "What happened?" she almost screams as she drops the paper and rushes over to check on Charlie. She, like all the other children in the room, didn't see the ten foot tall shadow as he retracted his claw from the boy's gut and slunk away into the corner of the room. As soon as it retreated, Charlie's health instantly returned. His vomiting ceased and the color returned to his face. His bugged eyes stared at me like I was the Devil himself, to petrified to say a single world. He just stared at me as the teacher scooped his up in her arms and carried him to the nurse's office.
Charlie was taken to the hospital that day. They said he had some kind of stress-induced seizure. When the teacher asked me what happened, I kept my head down and stared at my lap. I couldn't tell her what really happened, no way. She asked all the other little kids on the scene and they told her: "Charlie pushed Luke down, then he peed himself and puked his guts out." A shiver went up my spine when they said that. "Puked his guts out." Exactly what I had requested. That scared me.
From that point, I vowed never to play with my "friends" ever again. They would come to me at all times, hovering over my shoulder, asking me relentlessly to "play with them some more". At first I tried to ignore them, but it became to much for me. I would hide in my room, in my closet, under the table, under the bed, but they would always find me wherever I went. My parents would see me throw fits, curling up on the floor in a fetal position, crying and screaming at my "imaginary friends", "Go away! Leave me alone!" When I demanded this, the shadows were never seen, but I could still hear their hideous voices whispering to me, growing more and more desperate as time went on. I started having these "night terrors". I would see these things crawl in my room through the walls and surround me, and I would get hysterical.
After about three months of this, my parents finally sent me to see the shrink. That's where I was diagnosed with schizophrenia. They had me taking pills the size of my thumb that made my head cloudy, and my "friends" finally went away, the whispers were silenced, the night terrors stopped; I was normal. Only when I missed a pill did I ever see or hear from my "friends" again.
I had always remembered this, but I had never given these things any thought before. At least, not until now, when one of those old "friends" is standing right in front of me.
It has the shape of a person, with a head, neck, shoulders, arms, legs, and a torso, but is entirely solid black. At first I think it's just my shadow, but for one: there's no light behind me to create a shadow that prominent, and two: I can clearly see it's feet planted in the carpet. It is a solid figure, not some two-dimensional silhouette. Just like those I had seen in my dream, and the same as the ones I saw all the time when I was little.
It stands at about ten feet tall, two and a half feet taller than me. It's just standing there on the opposite side of the room. Even though it doesn't have any eyes, or even a face, just blackness, I can still feel the thing staring at me.
We both just stand there, facing each other, neither of us moving or making a sound, until I finally speak. "Who are you?"
The thing answers, "A friend" it's voice a wispy hissing, like a dry autumn breeze.
What am I doing? I ask myself, shaking my head. I'm talking to my hallucinations.
"Me? A hallucination?" the thing asks, its tone flat and devoid of emotion. It can read my mind. Of course it can. The thing is in my mind after all.
It then begins walking across the room towards me. Instead of going around the coffee table, it walks through it, its black legs passing right through the wood. As it moves through the table, its legs push aside the objects that are laying on top of the table. Magazines, the newspaper, and a couple empty glasses slide across the table's surface and topple over the edge and fall onto the carpet. My god!
The thing continues moving closer and closer towards me. As it does, I step further back until my back is pressed against the door. This isn't real. This is a delusion, a dream. This can't be happening.
"It is happening Lukas." the thing says. I then begin to notice that with each step it takes, it's body is actually shrinking shorter and shorter, until it matches my own hten. It stops and stands a half a foot before me. I can feel its cold gaze boring into my eyeballs. My breath comes and goes in deep quaking gasps.
"You remember me, don't you?" it says, "I know you do Lukas. No one can ever forget a good friend." Its arm raises and the thing's hand runs down the left side of my face. Its touch is gentle, like a wispy stroke of a feather, and cold like ice. It sends goosebumps all across my skin.
"Do not be afraid," it tells me, "You have no reason to fear us."
Is this thing serious? I have every reason to fear whatever this thing was.
"U-us?" My voice stammers from my fear, something abnormal for me.
"You haven't forgotten us all now, have you?" As it says this, a whole line of transparent shadows just like it appear along the far wall, and even more come into view, an endless number of shadows appearing one after the other.
Panic sets in and I run past the shadow standing in front of me and dash down the hallway and into the sanctuary of my bedroom, slamming the door shut.
Wait, what am I doing? Running and hiding from hallucinations? No freaking way. I am not going to be one of those loonies like in the hospitals, shrieking and spitting at things that only existed in their minds. I will not let that happen. No way am I going to end up like Martin.
I reach into my pocket and fish out my pill bottle. Just as my fingers work on prying off the lid, a long black tail comes out of nowhere and snaps the bottle like a whip, sending the bottle flying across the room, hitting the wall before landing on my bed. Pills scatter all across the bedsheets. I look up and see the tail is actually an arm, attached to the body of that shadow-thing, standing right there in the nearby corner. I step further back away from it, until my calves hit the frame of my bed. I hear myself murmuring, "No, no, it's not real, it's not real..."
I hear the thing speak again, in that icy hissing whisper, "We need to talk Lukas."
I turn my back towards it, squeeze my eyes shut and whisper under my breath to myself, continuing my previous mantra, "...it's not real, it's not real, it's not real..."
I still hear it whispering to me, its voice taking on an echo, as if its voice is actually multiple voices combined, speaking together unanimously at once, "Don't say you do not remember Lukas. All the fun we had together. You remember, don't you?"
"...not real, not real, not real..."
"Don't you want to have that fun again?"
"No, no, no..." I continuously mutter words of denial under my breath, keeping my eyelids closed and my palms over my ears. But I am interrupted when I feel something grab a firm hold on my shoulder and pulls me back.
Next thing I know, my back is pressed against the wall. I look down to see my feet dangling a foot above the floor. That shadow, now back to it's original size, has me pinned up against the wall, it's claw-like hands gripping my shoulders so hard I feel like my bones are about to snap.
"Does this feel real enough for you?" the thing growls in my face, it's voices sounding enraged. It is definitely not pleased by my attempts to ignore it.
"Okay, okay! What do you want?"
The thing then softens it's hold on me and lowers me back down so that my feet are back on the ground where they belong. It's hands stay on my shoulders as it answers me, "To talk."
"A-about what?" I gulp.
"About us," it says, "About all that we could do together."
I can't listen to anymore of this. This is crazy. Literally. I'm not going to let myself slip into this.
I shake my head and close my eyes back shut. "No. I won't."
"No?" the thing hisses, "You won't? Oh yes you will!"
I feel its hands squeezing my shoulders again. It feels like my clavicles are about to be crushed into a powder. Its claws are digging painfully into my shoulder blades. The pain becomes too intense and I howl at the top of my lungs, "Let go of me! And GO AWAY!"
Almost instantly, the pressure on my shoulder is lifted. I allow my eyes to open, and the shadow is gone. All I see is the sunlight pouring through my window and the pills scattered all over my bed. No sight of any ten-foot tall shadows anywhere. I reach for the door. My hand is shaking so bad, like I'm all hopped up on caffeine. Or adrenaline. I ball my hand into a tight fist in an attempt to stifle the quakes rushing through my hand, then grip the knob. I give it a sudden twist and almost rip the door off its hinges as I open it with a powerful jerk. Nothing in the hallway either. I cautiously step out of my room and walk back into the living room. No shadows out here either. Not even any whispering voices or anything.
My eyes drift towards the coffee table that the shadow had walked through before. All the contents that had been pushed off was back on top of the table exactly as it was before, like it had never happened. The only thing still remaining is the apple on the floor.
A light, humorless chuckle bursts from my mouth. Of course, because it didn't happen. It was all just in my head, the delusions of a schizophrenic who missed his medication.
At that thought, I return to my bedroom. My bed is suddenly cleared of any of the pills that were littered all over the surface just a moment ago. The bottle is laying right on the floor, capped and full of pills. Man, I really am messed up. I scoop the bottle up off the floor, pop off the cap, and dump one of the capsules in my mouth, swallowing it dry.
I sigh, feeling that pill being pushed down my esophagus into my stomach, rubbing my forehead with my thumb and index finger as I walk back into the living room. I pick the apple up off the floor and wipe it off with my shirt before setting it on the countertop.
"That wasn't real," I tell myself with a sigh, "You know that. Those things were not real. They never were, and they never will be."