“Wake up, Johnny.”
Johnny jumped out of his computer chair. He reached for his baseball bat. He had kept it in his room as a token to a childhood gone by. He never thought he would actually need it, but a voice calling his name in an empty apartment was the perfect opportunity.
“Violence is so unnecessary, Johnny.”
Johnny flipped on the light. No one was there. The only movement he could see was from the Carrot Crazy video playing on his desktop monitor. He did not remember turning it on, but someone had and it was on loop. The images of an animated bunny chasing after mounds of carrots were tripping him out. He took a moment to catch his breath. “Andrew, I thought I told you to leave.”
The silhouette of Johnny’s imaginary friend, Andrew, appeared on his bed. “Something is changing in me, Johnny. I can feel it inside.”
Johnny sat back down in his computer chair. Every time he had seen Andrew in the past, he had looked like a regular man. “Where is your face?” he asked. He also noticed little electric sparks were popping out of Andrew’s finger tips. “What the Hell is going on?”
Andrew floated a few feet above the bed in Indian style, “I know about the appointment you made, so let’s get down to brass tacks. I am not Santa Claus. I am not the Easter bunny. Hell, I am not the fucking tooth fairy. I am not going to disappear because some shrink tells you to stop believing in me.”
“What are you—”
“This isn’t an open forum.”
Johnny swiveled in his computer chair. He made sure his exits weren’t blocked.
“Thank you, Johnny. I’ll continue by saying that I’m as much a part of you as you are of me. As I am a creature formed completely in your brain, we can’t exist without each other.” Andrew slowly glided his fingers as they plucked the air. Each finger rang the chord of a harp string.
A slight ping in Johnny’s chest formed. He could feel his chest tightening. Breathing was becoming difficult. He placed a hand over his lungs.
“Does anything hurt, Johnny? Why don’t you tell Dr. Andrew where it hurts?”
Johnny fell to his knees, “Why—are—you—doing—this?”
Andrew snapped his fingers, which produced a hologram with a giant red play button. “BORING,” he yelled. “If you ask me another stupid question, I’ll hit play so you can relive Davie’s bath. What do you say, Johnny? Why don’t we give little Davie a rinse?”
Johnny wanted to scream. He wanted to tear Andrew’s head off, but oxygen was running low. He couldn’t help thinking this was the end. He mumbled a weak, “No,” and worked to slow his breathing to no avail.
“Honestly I’m not that cruel.” He waved the screen away. “Good friends don’t trudge up the past and we are better than good friends, aren’t we? I’ll accept mumbles and brief terror-filled gasps as a yes.”
Andrew lowered himself to the ground. He was now eye to eye with Johnny.
“Let go, Johnny,” he said. “Let go and it won’t hurt anymore.”
Johnny lowered his hand. The pain that had felt like a sharp knife moments before was alleviated. He could breathe again. The beating of his heart was slowing.
“Listen to me closely.”
Andrew held Johnny’s attention. The watering of tears formed around Johnny’s eyes.
“You are never going to get rid of me, Johnny,” Andrew continued. “Pills can’t do it. Therapy can’t do it. Killing yourself will only make me more powerful.”
Johnny wiped his eyes. His sadness shifted to anger. “I created you, didn’t I?” he said. “You can’t possibly be that powerful.”
Andrew tipped his head back with laughter, “You didn’t just create me, Johnny. I am you.” He pointed at the mirror that made up Johnny’s closet door.
Johnny couldn’t believe it. It was him hovering a few feet off the ground. He reached out in front to see if he could touch Andrew. When he made contact, he could feel it on his collar bone. “I—I—“
Andrew flicked his wrist, which made both of them stand upright. “Words aren’t necessary,” he said.
Riddled with sarcasm, Johnny said, “Gee, Andrew, then what do you want to do tonight? Buddy ole pal?”
Andrew chuckled, “The same thing we do every night, Johnny – try to take over the world!”
**Winner of Third Place in Mutant 750 #39**
Three weeks prior to the Silhouette incident, my father, Reese Alan Quinn, disappeared from our home. He left behind his wife, Maggie, and a son, Alan. In the time leading up to his disappearance, the lives of my family had taken on several unique changes.
My family moved into an older house in the quaint Town of Ashton, Alabama on my thirteenth birthday. I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but there were some cosmetic disappointments. The second floor windows were boarded up. Our screen door, littered with holes, struggled to stay on its hinges. Weeds and dead flowers covered the front yard. Old dogwood trees blotted out most of our sunlight. The house itself was small, but had just enough room for four people. We filled it with three and the occasional appearance of unwanted visitors. It wasn’t a house I’d brag about, but it was our home.
Home had become a foreign concept to my family. We had lived in several of them in the past five years. The one in Alabama was number five. Its gravel driveway, woodland surrounding, and distant proximity to neighbors was tolerable as long as we weren’t going to move again. My father promised we had moved for the last time. That was becoming one of his common phrases.
Dad tried his hardest to sell the idea of Ashton to my mother. He touched on her love of painting and the curiosity of something new. He said, “Think of the old house as your canvas. Wasn’t it just the other day that you had been talking about picking the hobby back up?”
Mom never lightened up, but she didn’t fight back either. The prospect of calling a place home for longer than a year was good enough for her no matter where we ended up.
See, my father worked in dream studies. A few years back, he was hired by a private contractor with a blank check. The contractor was willing to let Dad conduct research anywhere he wanted. The studies began as extra overtime here and there to help out with bills at the house, but they quickly evolved into a priority. Dad wouldn’t tell us exactly what he found in his studies, but he claimed he made a breakthrough.
But, as Dad made breakthrough after breakthrough, he became increasingly paranoid that someone was coming to destroy his research. Whenever he’d have a freak out, Mom would say, “Dear, your tinfoil hat is showing,” and he would eventually snap out of it. Sometimes it became too much and he would start to throw things and scream like a lunatic, “They are coming. They are all coming.” The next day we would move. I should have gotten used to it after a while. Just at thirteen, I had already moved four times to different sectors of the globe.
It would be difficult to tell with my American accent, but I grew up on Australia’s Gold Cost until my sixth year. While I do have a few fond memories of my time in Australia, Dad’s first freak out is the memory that stands out. He had insisted on having no guests for my party, which was fine by me since I had not made any friends at my school.
Mom had placed a chocolate cake on the table, testing my will power not to shove the whole thing in my mouth. Drool gathered. My pupils widened. Mom, who noticed my face was a few inches from the cake and gaining ground, pulled me back into upright position. She said, “Can we at least get a picture of you blowing the candles out before you eat all of it?” She motioned for my father to light the six candles placed in a straight line on the cake.
Dad reached into his pockets for the matches, “Where are they? I am going to go search for them, eh?” and ran into the other room like he was being chased. I glanced over at Mom, but she was just as puzzled. “I’m sure he will be back soon. Let me go check to see what he is doing, okay?”
Not a minute later, wearing a small belt hooked around his bald head, my Dad returned to the kitchen. The belt made him look like Mr. Clean if he had escaped from a mental hospital. He said I could call him Quailman, but forgave me for missing the reference. Mom had looked down at her feet when he entered the room. It sounded like she was whispering a prayer.
Dad opened his hands, revealing a matchbox, and went about lighting all of my candles. I think he noticed how confused I looked. He said, “Alan, today is an important day. I know it isn’t clear right now or that I look like I am out of my mind, but I am just trying to make sure we are all safe. Mr. Darius told me we need to be careful.”
I didn’t know what to say. I was too young to understand what he was talking about and Mom was getting agitated. Mom had placed a hand to her head, “Don’t worry, Reese, it was my fault for asking. I should have just lit the candles myself.”
Dad looked like he was going to say something in his defense, thought better of it, and stepped away from the cake. Mom took a deep breath, put a smile back on her face, and said, “Make a wish.”
I closed my eyes and thought of a wish, probably something along the lines of all the cake I could ever want, and started to blow out my candles. I heard a crash. I opened my eyes. The cake and my father were on the other side of the table in a big chocolate mess on the floor.
Mom said nothing. Her face turned a pink shade of red. She walked out of the kitchen and locked herself in her bedroom. Dad stood up from the pile of cake looking like Gloppy from Candy Land. He caught his breath. He said, “Tomorrow… we are moving.”
I’m still not sure what happened that night.
The next morning Dad insisted a shadow had blown out my candles. He said the same shadow was behind me the entire time, waiting to strike. Dad had leapt on the cake because he was scared the shadow was about to get me.
Afraid that my dad had lost his mind, I said, “Thank you,” and took a step away from the conversation.
Mom remained silent. She saved all of her emotion for her eyes, which were shooting daggers throughout the whole packing process. Dad took note and dropped the story.
Later in the day, Dad’s employer sent a car to pick us up. As we pulled away, a few men in sharp, black suits packed all of our cases into a truck.
Mom spoke through gritted teeth, “Well, hero, where are we going to live now?”
Dad crossed his arms, still shaken from the night before, “Brazil.”
***SECOND PLACE WINNER MUTANT 750 #38***
Johnny stared at the portrait of the CN Tower that hung over the couch in his living room. He’d picked it out from the thrift store due to the contrast of the tower against the backdrop of a night sky which he rather enjoyed. It was the only thing that could keep his mind off of Andrew who’d been tapping his shoulder for a few hours straight.
“How can you pretend I’m not here when I am pretending that I am? We can’t both play this game,” Andrew said. He thought he might try picking Johnny’s nose if tapping his shoulder didn’t work. He spotted a few stalactites ripe for the picking.
Johnny threw up his arms, scaring Andrew but hitting nothing, “Go away, Andrew. You can’t keep showing up all of the time. Jesus Christ! I’m thirty-two years old. I should have been done with you years ago.”
Andrew balled up into the fetal position on the floor, “You know that hurts my feelings.”
Johnny paced around the room, “Are you even listening to yourself? It’s been non-stop since I was eleven years old. First, no one shows up to my birthday party…here comes Andrew. Then, I’m eighteen and my prom date switches plans on me while I’m at the restaurant …here comes Andrew. Now, I am suffering through my second broken engagement in as many years. What happens then, Andrew?”
Andrew scratches his ear with his back right leg, “But, you looked so lonely. Did you expect me to just leave you here all by yourself?”
Johnny slapped himself on the forehead. The image of Andrew flickered. When he reappeared, he was sprawled out on the couch.
“That wasn’t nice,” he said.
“You were doing that weird cat thing again. I hate the weird cat thing.”
Andrew flickered and reappeared in a white blazer and tight black pants with a black striped shirt underneath, “Okay, I don’t have to do the weird cat thing, but you either need the warm embrace of a sweet feline or I can be your wingman for a night out. You, sir, need to get back on the dating horse.”
Johnny reached into his pocket and pulled out a medicine bottle. His prescription had been running low for weeks. He never thought he’d actually run out on the day his fiancé—now ex-fiancé—would leave him. Grabbing his cellphone off the coffee table, he said, “I—I—needed a friend. That’s when you appeared.”
“I was more than a friend, Johnny. I was your Mom when she didn’t have time for you. I was your Dad when he ran away. I was your brother when he died in infancy. Most importantly, I was your friend when no one else was there.” Andrew flickered and reappeared behind Johnny. He whispered in his ear, “Put down the cellphone, Johnny. What’s the harm in letting me stick around for a few more days?”
Johnny studied his phone. Beth had not texted him all day. It was trivial but receiving hundreds of texts a day was a staple of their relationship. The feeling made his heart grow cold with longing.
He had made a point to not pick up his phone at all, but filling his prescription simply couldn’t wait any longer. Andrew needed to leave.
“You kept me from grieving, Andrew. I just wanted to feel my pain or to at least work through it, but I created you instead. Did you know that Beth caught me talking to you one night? I’m guessing no. I bet you didn’t know that my Dad walked out because he couldn’t deal with my condition. Mom picked up more hours at work so she wouldn’t have to see me and Davie died because I was too busy talking to you to notice that I was holding him under the bath water. You didn’t just replace all of those events. You caused them.”
Johnny hit speed-dial number two and waited for the answering machine to beep, “Yes, this is John Friendly. I need a refill on Clozaril. If you could call me back as soon as possible, I’ll be there to come get it.”
Andrew pointed at the clock on the wall, “So, it looks like we have a few hours together.”
Johnny took a deep breath, “I suppose it does.”
Andrew slowly moved his finger to point at the coffee table. In place of Johnny’s cellphone was a sharp pair of scissors, “You down for arts and crafts?”
Thomas William Shaw is an author and stage actor from Birmingham, AL. He lives with his wife, Lauren, their children, and their cats in a quiet place. Occasionally he will post about it.