A short story by Edua Erasmus
Published by Edua Erasmus
Copyright 2016 Edua Erasmus
Front Cover Design by Edua Erasmus
This is a work of fiction.
The events and characters described herein are imaginary and are not intended to refer to specific places or persons. Any resemblance to any person or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
All rights reserved.
The rights of Eduard Joseph to be identified as the author of this work has been asserted by him under the South African Copyright Act of 1978 (as Amended)
Shaun and James were best friends ever since they were three years old and were inseparable. Not only did they have everything in common from food likes to dislikes and favourite toys, but they were in-tune with each other’s thoughts to a degree that they could finish each other’s sentences. And the reason for this was because Shaun was James’s imaginary friend.
James was home schooled by his mother and created Shaun out of boredom and boy was Shaun a boredom killer! The two of them would go on imaginary trips in the backyard on a daily basis – from safari, mountain climbing, space exploration and even undersea adventures.
James’s father died when he was six and his mother had to go back to work to pay the bills and he went to school for the first time. At first Shaun came along and kept James company, but as time went by James realized that he was the only kid with an imaginary friend while the others all interacted with each other.
There comes a point in everyone’s life when you should put away childhood things and enter the real world and this happened at the early age of seven when James started to ignore Shaun until he finally vanished.
James went on to high school, became a popular athlete and one of the smartest kids in his class. With college scholarships on the horizon, he had everything he always wanted… but Shaun was left out in the cold.
The thing about imaginary friends is that we breathe life into them; we shape them into what we want – we are them and as we age so do they. Just because we no longer play with them doesn’t mean they no longer exist…
Shaun sat on the toilet seat and listened to the spurting water while James took a shower. Memories of the two of them splashing around in the shower came flooding back to Shaun and he wished he could relive those days – sure he’s tried taking a shower with James now that they were both a month away from eighteen, but it just wasn’t the same. James wasn’t the same.
Shaun glanced up as the shower curtain opened and James stepped out. Maybe he was invisible because James changed so much? Not only was he popular, smart and funny, but he also had a killer body while Shaun was still a bit scrawny. It’s been over a decade since they went on an adventure and he didn’t see the use in exercising when nobody could see him.
James towelled himself dry, put on a pair of pants and walked bare-chested to his bedroom as Shaun followed him like a shadow. He wasn’t bound to him by fate or anything like that and could leave any time he wanted to, but rather he was bound by love. He admired the man James had become and found himself in love with his best friend.
He had tried so many times to tell James that he was still there and how he felt, but he simply couldn’t get through to him. James had grown up and had forgotten about him, but Shaun couldn’t let go. How do you let go of the one you were meant to be with?
James lied down on his bed, picked up a magazine and paged through it while Shaun stood in the doorway with his arms folded across his chest.
“Why can’t I get through to you?” Shaun asked himself.
He watched as James paged through the magazine; oblivious to his presence like every day before it.
If only he get James’s attention for a split second and let him know he still there… would it even be any use if he tried to scream? Shaun tried it a few years back, but it didn’t do anything. James didn’t hear him and it left Shaun with a hoarse voice for a day.
He walked over and sat down on the edge of the bed near James’s feet and stared down at his own thighs – they seemed a little more transparent than they usually were. The transparency thing was something Shaun noticed about a week earlier around the time James stopped hanging out with his friends and spent more time at home.
James seemed lost and lonely the last few days – almost as if longing for something or someone, but Shaun couldn’t tap into his longing to make contact.
James sat upright and their hands touched for a split second as he pushed himself off the bed. Though Shaun felt the spark it was evident that it went unnoticed by James as he walked over to the window and stared out into the distance.
“Why can’t you feel me?” Shaun asked himself as he joined James by the window, “God, I don’t know why I’m doing this to myself.”
He stared at James from the side and wanted to touch his face, but every time he did that it was as if his fingers vanished into James’s skin without him feeling it.
“I’m home!” His mother called out from the living room.
Their eyes met for a split second as James turned to face the bedroom door and just like everyday; hope faded that he might’ve seen Shaun as he picked up a shirt and got dressed. The bedroom door opened and James’s mother peeked in.
“Hey honey.” She said, “How was school?”
“It was alright.” James said a bit bummed, “How was your day?”
“SSDD. Same shit. Different Day. Is something wrong?”
James forced a smile onto his face, “Everything’s fine. I think I’m gonna go to the park for a while.”
“Okay, just be home in time for dinner.”
James nodded and put on his running shoes, though he wasn’t really in the mood for running and rather just wanted some fresh air to clear his mind. He felt a bit down the last couple of days and didn’t know why.
The fresh air did little for the way he felt and he pondered about what to do the upcoming weekend seeing that he wasn’t in the mood for his friends. Maybe go to the mall and watch a movie on his own? Or perhaps go to the beach and surf a bit? He hadn’t gone surfing in a while.
Shaun walked next to him with his hands in his pockets and stared down at his feet as they walked in silence. They used to talk nonstop when they were children, but Shaun had grown fond of the silent walks to the park – almost as if they were a couple who didn’t need words.
There were a handful of children playing in the park and an old man who sat on a bench talking to himself. James decided to walk over to a vacant bench as he was in no mood for the ramblings of a crazy old man. The old man chuckled as they walked on by and Shaun glanced up at the elderly couple who sat on the bench and he made eye contact with the old lady who stood up and gestured for him to come closer.
At first Shaun was confused as to why she could see him, but once James sat down on a bench a few feet away he stepped closer to the old woman.
“What’s your name, son?” She asked.
“Shaun… you can see me?”
“Of course.” She chuckled, “You and I… we’re the same.”
Shaun noticed that the old man was smiling at him – he too could see him.
“I don’t understand.” Shaun was baffled.
The old woman took his hand, “You’re becoming transparent… you’re starting to disappear forever.”
He jerked back his hands and stared at her in disbelief – she had it wrong. He was just… changing like James changed over the years. He’d know if he was disappearing, right?
“I’m Annabelle.” She said, “I used to be Frank’s imaginary friend until he grew up and forgot all about me. When we were both seventeen someone told me what I’m about to tell you: you have until his eighteenth birthday to make him see you again or you’ll disappear forever.”
Shaun didn’t know how to respond and simply stared at her in disbelief.
“If you want to stay in his life, you need to fight for it.” She said, “It will cost you all your energy, but once he sees you he’ll always be able to see you.”
“Listen to her.” The old man said, “We humans might learn not to see our imaginary friends, but we can be taught to do so again.”
“Trust me.” Annabelle said, “I started to disappear the closer we got to Frank’s eighteenth birthday so I did what I had to do to be seen.
Shaun glanced over at James who sat on the bench and stared up at the clouds and he longed to play the game they used to play as children where they’d spot animals in the clouds.
He turned back to the old woman, “Did it work?”
“We’ve been together ever since.”
“Once he sees you again he’ll always see you.” The old man assured him.
Shaun stared at James again; he seemed so sad as he sat on the bench and Shaun so desperately wanted to tell him that everything would be alright, but would it? He glanced down at his transparent hand and could see the gravel footpath on the other side.
“You’d better hurry.” Annabelle said, “It’ll only get worse.”
Shaun woke up screaming the next morning – not that James could hear it despite the two of them sharing the same bed. He sat upright and stared at his hand while James lay sleeping with his back to him; not only was his right and a bit more transparent, but an entire section of his arm had vanished.
“This can’t be happening.” Shaun uttered; almost crying.
It had to be a dream. The old woman was crazy. He wouldn’t disappear into nothing… but Shaun knew it wasn’t a dream. He and James shared the same dreams – except that Shaun stood on the side-line in the dreams just like he did in real life.
“This can’t be happening.”
James turned onto his side and his hand fell right through Shaun’s thigh; sending a bolt of electricity through his body. It was at that moment that he realized that he was indeed disappearing forever and that James was his only salvation. If he wanted to be with the man he loved, he’d have to find a way to make himself be seen… but how?
Terrified at his bleak future, Shaun stared at his mutilated arm for a moment longer and then lay down next to James and stared at him. Though their faces were mere inches apart, he couldn’t feel any farther away from James than he did at that moment. He was slipping away and couldn’t even get James’s attention long enough to be rescued.
His whisper was met by rapid eye movements while James slept.
“Can you hear me?”
James didn’t respond – not that he expected otherwise.
“James… I need you… I’m disappearing and I can’t stop it.”
He snuggled closer to James and his body heat flowed into Shaun’s cold body as if they were one being.
He felt something poke him and that’s when Shaun realized James had an erection. Though he was a bit startled, he always wanted to feel James’s erection pressed up against his body, but before he could savour the moment, the alarm clock chimed. James opened his eyes, rolled onto his back and hit the snooze button.
They both lay on their backs and stared up at the ceiling; James was going over his math homework in his head while Shaun lay motionlessly snug between the wall and the man he loved with the feeling of James’s erection still firmly in his head. He knew it was only a morning woody, but still – it made him feel noticed, almost as if it was meant for him.
“I gotta tell you something.” Shaun said; keeping his sights on the ceiling.
James glanced over at the alarm clock – it was just after six. He didn’t have to get up until six thirty, but always liked waking up early and planning his day or reading a book or something. While his mother needed coffee to kick-start her day, all he needed was to stare at the ceiling. He wasn’t sure why, but he didn’t feel as alone when he stared up at the ceiling in the mornings.
“We’ve been sleeping side by side now for almost twelve years.” Shaun said, “And that’s the first time that we kinda cuddled. It was nice.”
Shaun turned to James; he was staring up at the ceiling with his head resting in his hands. He pretended that James heard what he said and stared up at the ceiling. He knew that pretending would get him nowhere and that time was running out.
“I like our ceiling-staring moments,” Shaun said, “But I need you to see me… or I will die.”
James rolled onto his side and reached for something underneath the bed while Shaun sat upright to get a better look. James rolled onto his back again and opened up a porno magazine causing Shaun to roll his eyes.
“You can imagine doing stuff to them, but you can’t imagine me anymore?”
We are bound to our imaginary friends by our isolation and longing for acceptance. That’s why they are perfectly suited for and by the one who created them. We create a friend who is perfect in every way and who knows us inside out because they are us. But when the bonds are broken, they are forced to live side by side with the one who created them while they develop their own personality, hopes and dreams.
Shaun became the reclusive nerdish boy he felt like as he lived in James’s shadow every day; hoping that the boy he loved would love him back, but that never happened. No matter how lonely James was at home, he seemed a bit more relaxed when he was amongst friends at school.
Shaun tried everything he could possibly think of to get James to pay attention to him. He screamed at him all the way to school, picked James’s nose on the bus, dressing like the boys in his porno magazines with sagging shorts and boxers sticking out and even danced naked in front of the blackboard in maths. Despite knowing that this was one of James’s worst nightmares, not even dancing naked in a classroom filled with students was able to draw his attention.
“Why is it so difficult for you to imagine me?”
Shaun sat in Jenny’s seat right next to James. She was James’s best friend and was off sick the whole week. He rested his chin in his upturned palm; staring at James who listened thoughtfully to what the teacher said.
“What do I have to do to get your attention? I’m still here, but I won’t be for much longer. “
Part of Shaun’s left shoulder had disappeared completely along with the front part of the baseball cap he usually wore. It might’ve been an imaginary cap that James gave to him when they were kids, but it became a real cap to him… and now it too was vanishing.
“You’re birthday is less than two weeks away.”
James jotted down some notes while the teacher spoke and then started drawing something in the margin of the page. Shaun leaned in closer to get a better look and recognized the sketch of a boy in a baseball cap to be him. Was he somehow getting through to James on a subconscious level?
“That’s it. You’re thinking of me.”
James was no longer paying attention to the teacher and drew more detail into the sketch of somebody he didn’t recognize, but felt he knew somehow.
“Write my name.” Shaun insisted, “Write my name, James… Shaun… write it.”
James wavered, put his pencil down and stared at the sketch for a moment before turning his attention to the teacher again.
“NO!” Shaun exclaimed infuriated.
He was almost certain he was getting through to James. Why was it so difficult to get James to think of him again? They used to be best friends and in-tune with each other’s thoughts. The frustration was getting too much for him and he slapped James – not that he felt anything.
“I need some fresh air.”
Shaun got up and did something he’s never done before; he left James’s side for the first time since he was imagined into existence and went outside for some fresh air. He was running out of time and ideas on how to get James’s attention and it was frustrating him
When he tried to kick a can he noticed his left foot was gone as well. The closer they got to James’s eighteenth birthday, the more parts of his body started to disappear. He wished he knew what to do and decided to go back to the park in hopes of finding the elderly couple again.
There was nobody in the park when he got there except for a bum who lay sleeping two benches over. He didn’t want to accept his fate, but what choice did he have? He stared up at the clouds as he sat on the uncomfortable park bench and wished James was there next to him – able to see him and talk to him.
Annabelle sat down next to him and there was a hint of sadness in her smile.
“I’m losing him.” Shaun uttered.
“You haven’t lost him yet.”
“I’ve tried everything to get his attention, but nothing works. I can feel myself slipping away.”
“You’ve tried everything you think would work.” She said, “But what about what him? Think of it from his point of view.”
“What do you mean?”
“When he let go of you, you started to develop into your own person. You’re no longer connected to him, despite what your mind might tell you. You need to think back and find that connection again. Only then will he see you.”
“How did you do it?”
“Frank lost his marbles.” She said.
She smiled, “I don’t mean that he became senile or anything. That’s how he imagined me into existence… he lost his marbles as a child and as he picked them up he imagined what it would be like to have someone help him. Years later when he was grown up and I was disappearing, I recreated that day – it somehow sparked something in his memory that made him remember me. You just need to find the same spark for you and your human.”
“I’m not sure if I’ll be able to do it.”
“You used to be inseparable once… don’t let yourself become separated for good.”
She patted him on his remaining shoulder and got up. Shaun watched as the only person who understood what he was going through walked away. She left him with little hope of success, but if she could do it then so could he. He just had to try harder and find that link that would spark James’s imagination to life again.
James took a bubble bath that evening in hopes of easing some of the tension he was feeling. For some unknown reason his approaching birthday felt foreboding – as if something dreaded might happen, but he didn’t know what it was or what Shaun has done up to that moment to stay in his life.
He lay with his head tilted backwards while Shaun sat in between his legs; staring at the boy he longed to keep by his side. Shaun played with the foam; toying with it between his remaining eight fingers as he tried to remember what made bath time so much fun when they were younger. Perhaps if he could recreate a fun bath time from their childhood it might work.
He tried to splash James with water, but it didn’t work – the water was untouched as if he was already gone.
“This is frustrating…”
Shaun remembered that they used to play scuba-diver “Boo” in the bath as kids… maybe it’ll work? He took a deep breath and submerged his head, stayed under for a moment and then jumped out yelling ‘boo!’
James seemed unrattled, but flinched a bit when bubbles drifted from his butt to the surface.
“Well, that wasn’t it. How am I supposed to recreate a connection if I can’t even interact with the damned water?”
It was over. He’d never get James to notice him again and simply had to accept the fact that he was utterly alone and would disappear for good. He let out a sigh of frustration and as he leaned back, his foot grazed James’s thigh; making him flinch a bit and glance at his seemingly empty bath. James decided to dismiss it as his imagination and tilted his head back, but it was what Shaun had been trying to achieve for so long.
He sat upright and stared at James, “You felt me…”
James didn’t respond.
“What did I do differently this time?”
He touched James’s arm, but nothing. Shaun reached for his thigh, but still nothing. It wasn’t a coincidence… he did something differently and he just had to figure out what he did before it was too late.
He followed James back to the bedroom and stared down at the towel wrapped firmly around his bubble butt and wondered what happened that made James feel him. He had to move quickly; James’s birthday was a week away and most of his body had already disappeared. Though both his lower legs were gone, Shaun could still walk around like normal – he just tried not to look down at the strange sight.
James draped the towel over the foot of the bed, walked over to the closet and put on some boxer shorts before staring out the window again. He could not only see the sadness and longing in James’s eyes, but he could almost feel it as well. He wished he could do or say something to make James feel less alone and sad, but no matter how hard he tried he—
“Wait…” Shaun had an epiphany, “That’s it… That’s the link I need… loneliness. You imagined me into existence because you were lonely.”
He knew he had a breakthrough and just had to figure out how to get James to see him again. His remaining hand tingled and then disappeared before his own eyes as a grim reminder that his time was almost up.
Shaun took a deep breath and tried to calm himself down and focus on getting James’s attention.
What is the one thing a person lacks when they’re alone? What is the one thing that can save someone from depression and bring them back from the edge? What was the one thing he wished he could give James? The human touch.
Shaun stood behind him and tried to ignore the feeling of his life force disappearing and slowly wrapped his mutilated arms around James. His arms disappeared into James’s body, but he kept his embrace and closed his eyes; concentrating on James and giving him the reassurance that he wasn’t alone.
“Just imagine…” Shaun whispered as a tear ran down his disappearing cheek.
He held onto James as tightly as he could as the rest of his body disappeared. He reminded himself of the days they spent together as kids and apart as teens and told himself that if he just tried to hang on for a little bit longer, James would finally feel him again and rescue him from oblivion.
“Please…” Shaun whimpered as his lips disappeared, “Just imagine me…”
He could feel himself slipping away no matter how tightly he clung to the love of his life and there wasn’t a single thing he could do to stop it. What he wouldn’t give to hear James speak his name once more. He had so many plans for the future for the two of them and now everything was disappearing forever.
“Just imagine.” was the last words Shaun said as the last part of him started to disappear.
As James stood staring out through the window he longed for someone who understood him – not only a friend, but a soul-mate that knew him inside out like… like Shaun used to. It was at that precise moment that he remembered his imaginary friend from his childhood – the friend who was always there for him no matter what and he wished he had such a friend again.
James felt arms around his torso that moved along to his breathing – arms that clung tightly to him as if he had just saved them from death.
They could feel each other for the first time in over a decade and when Shaun realized that he was whole again, he knew that James was able to see him again. He loosened his embrace and stepped back while his heart beat furiously in his chest. The boy of his dreams was finally able to see him again.
James turned around and though he was a bit confused as to who the smiling boy with the tear-stained face was, he felt as if he knew him all his life – as if he was looking at himself in a mirror and he knew he was looking at the impossible; he was staring at his imaginary friend, Shaun. Memories of all the good times they had together came flooding back as well as Shaun’s own private memories that presented themselves as visions – visions of how he stood on the side-line for years loving a boy he couldn’t have and everything he tried to be noticed again.
“You can see me.” Shaun said relieved.
“Shaun? Is that really you?”
“As real as you want me to be.”