My imaginary friend had a crush on my sister, which frightened me since my sister had been dead for two years. I was eight when she committed suicide by jumping into a nearby rock quarry; she had run away from home a year prior. The bottom of the quarry had dried out and was splintered into jagged stalagmites and fractured bedrock-the results of an earthquake that rocked our town about 10 years before. It was a 50ft fall to the pillar she initially hit, a spot that took the recovery teams no time to locate. The problem was the many crags and fissures that had developed from the quake that surrounded that spot, and that she essentially obliterated on impact. It took them six days to locate MOST of her remains. The school bus driver, Mr. Mackenzie, had jumped the same way about a year later and at the exact same spot. He was kind of a creepy, quiet old man who lived alone, which I guess were all signs of depression. The cliff had been a local legend of bad luck from that time on.
My father became a drunken recluse that preferred the confines of his study. My mother buried her sorrow behind a thick, drug layered wall of denial. I remember crying at the funeral as my sister and I were very close. She took me everywhere with her and constantly told me that she would always come for me when I needed her. The tragedy didn’t really hit home for me until about three years later, right before I began sixth grade.
This is also when I met Doogie.
Doogie first came to me as I was walking back home from the local park. I was sort of a social invert and didn’t have any friends. Since it was summer, I regularly went to the park and played by myself. He was a boy that looked to be similar to me in age, brown hair and a blue-eyed smile. He popped out of the bushes and as I hoisted my backpack off the ground, promptly introducing himself and informing me that he was ‘imaginary’, and that only I could see and hear him. I questioned that if he was ‘imaginary’ did that mean I was crazy or something? He quickly consoled that this wasn’t the case and explained that imaginary friends are actually spirits, the spirits of people who died with unfinished business. Now, I know this sounds like the typical poltergeist origin formula, but I was 11 at the time; I’d believe anything. We laughed and walked home while talking about our favorite cartoons and toys. When I got the front door, I fully expected him to peel off and wave goodbye to go do whatever ghost things occupy his day, but he didn’t. In fact, as I opened the door and turned to say goodbye, he was standing directly on the other end of the doorway with a pouty face.
“Can’t I stay here?” he whined. “I promise not to be a bother.”
“What if my parents see you?” I replied just as my mother popped her head out from behind a corner and told me to shut the damn door, then scurrying off to her fermenting armoire in front of the TV. Doogie shot me a wink and smile as I realized he had been telling the truth. I stepped aside for him to come in, to which he pointedly crossed his arms.
“You have to ask me to come in,” Doogie said.
“Ok… can you come in?”
“You have to use my name,” he added. Remember, I was 11. The part of the brain that governed rationale and judgement hasn’t really developed yet. It didn’t help that I was a generally lonely kid that hated being around his parents.
“Doogie, please come in?” seemed to do the trick. He giggled and hopped over the threshold before dashing up the stairs towards my room, just as my mom returned from her parlor room chair to admonish me for the door again. I shut it and chased after my new imaginary friend.
I spent most of that night asking him questions about who he was and where he was from. He said he used to live in this very town, and that he died about two years ago from cancer. He also said that his type of spirit can change little things about their physical appearance at will. He snapped his fingers and his brown hair suddenly turned white. Another snap and his blue eyes turned green. He could grow taller at will and could alter his voice the same. He used his multitude of tricks to morph into caricature proportions and adopt goofy accents, which made me laugh all night till I fell asleep.
The next morning, I awoke to the sound of raspy coughing coming from my sister’s bedroom. My parents hadn’t touched a single thing of hers, and none of us ever went in there. I tried to turn the doorknob, but it was locked; the coughing immediately stopped.
“Doogie,” I whispered through the crack, “are you in there?” Doogie flung the door open and lunged with a growl that scared the crap out of me.
“HAHA, scaredy-cat!” Doogie ambled around me and down the stairs. “I was just exploring.”
“We don’t go in there,” I was more than a little perturbed.
“Why not; don’t you miss your sister?” he chuckled while mounting the banister to slide down. “She sure was pretty.” I don’t know why, but that REALLY upset me.
“This room is off limits!” I shouted. Doogie’s smile oozed off his face and into a retaliatory scowl. His eyes changed to a dirty yellow and his teeth needled to points. Pock marks erupted from his suddenly saggy skin and his hair grew scraggly. I took a cautionary step back and debated calling for either of my parents, though I doubted they would answer.
“Ok,” Doogie said as all his unnerving features instantaneously snapped back to normal. “You’re the boss!” he bellowed and rocketed down the rail towards the bottom of the stairs. He landed in a tumble, springing back up and calling through cupped hands. “Let’s go outside and play, boss!” I closed the door to my sister’s room and got dressed to go to the park. I was quiet on our walk there and too afraid to ask Doogie what the hell that was.
The next few weeks were typical of youthful summer: playing in the park, spitting off bridges, and telling spooky stories. Something peculiar was that every time we left the house, I had to ‘ask’ him to come in when we returned. There were a few times in the middle of the night that I thought I heard the coughing coming my sister’s room, but Doogie swears it wasn’t him and that he didn’t hear anything. It wasn’t until one day, in the middle of a rubber band fight in woods behind the park, that Doogie asked me to go to the quarry with him. And he freaked out a little again.
“Did your pretty sister really jump into the quarry?” he abruptly asked while emerging from the behind the log he was using as cover. He holstered his finger pistol and skipped right up to me.
“Yes, Doogie,” I sneered, eager to change the subject. “I’ve told you this already.”
“Let’s go see it!” he erupted before tearing off through the trees. I hollered for him to come back, and that I didn’t want to go, but my feet instinctively gave chase. For some reason unknown to me, I felt the only thing worse than returning to the place where my sister killed herself would be to let Doogie go there without me.
I finally caught up with him right as the sun began to set; he was standing on the spot where they said my sister took her dive and swaying back and forth with his arms stretched out to his sides. A sudden urge to cower gnawed at my knees as I approached him.
“I don’t want to be here, Doogie,” I said.
“Just a little while longer, boss.” He was breathing deeply through his nose, almost as if he was wafting for a certain evening scent. “It’s almost time.”
“No! We’re going home. Right. Now!” I stomped a foot directly behind his and the image of me pushing him flashed across my mind. Doogie’s arms slackened, and his shoulders and neck hunched over.
“Go ahead,” he growled. “Do it; push me.” The pox marks returned to his drooping skin, and his hair began sprouting wildly. “In fact, how about we go together? Best friends do everything together.”
“Doogie, what’s wrong with you?” I took a step back, which prompted him to spin on his heels and face me, yellow eyes and sharp teeth having returned. He began stalking towards me.
“I’ll do it if you do, boss.” The rumble returned to Doogie’s throat, and his joints made a sickly clicking sound as they jerked around spastically. I screamed and sprinted back through the woods, crying and repeatedly shouting that I want to go home. Doogie was waiting for me at the edge of the park, the same normal looking boy I’ve been having so much fun with. He was wearing an innocent smile and rocking forward and back on his heels with his hands in his pockets.
“We’re never going back there again!” I screamed into his face. He hung his head down and solemnly kicked at the dirt.
“Ok,” he chirped and winked, turning and whistling as he walked down the path towards home. I fell in behind him and choked back the fear and sadness of visiting the quarry. Doogie was quick to ease the tension. “Hey, who do you think will win in a fight: Megalociraptor or Killer Crocasaurus?”
About a week later, I woke up to the raspy coughing in my sister’s room, followed by what was distinctly her voice whisper my name. I jumped out of my bed and dashed through her bedroom door, but the room was void of movement, save for the curtains of an open window flapping in the wind. Doogie yawned from behind me and asked what was going on while rubbing his eyes, to which I replied ‘nothing.’ I closed the window and door, and we went back to my room, but my window was somehow open as well. I shut it and laid back down on my bed, with Doogie scurrying beneath it; he always preferred to sleep there.
“Did you hear your pretty sister’s voice?” his words muffled from the other side of my bedframe.
“It-it-it sounded just like her,” I replied. “If she was here, wouldn’t you be able to see her? Like, see other ghosts?”
“That’s not how it works, boss. There are different spirit realms, all with their own rules and requirements for admission. Spirits can only interact with spirits in their own realm.”
“Could she have crossed over?” I was suddenly hopeful.
“I’ve never heard of a force powerful enough to break the rules.”
I fell silent. I think he could tell I was a little freaked out, so he dawned a flawless pirate voice and told me jokes until I fell asleep.
It happened again about a week later: the coughing, my sister’s voice calling my name, the open windows. Then again, and again, and again. It was starting to take a mental toll on me, and I found myself wandering her room more and more. The sadness in my heart grew harder and heavier. Some nights I would sit on her bed and cry while clutching a picture of her. Doogie would routinely sit down cross-legged on the other side of the doorway and wait for me to finish missing her. He would sometimes do impressions in an attempt to make me feel better, but he mostly just stared at her pictures from his perch outside the room.
Doogie vanished not too long after without so much as saying goodbye. But the coughing and my sister’s voice woke me time and again. After about a dozen or so times of chasing her phantom call into a room filled with grim reminders of what I had lost, I decided that enough was enough. My father and mother didn’t care about me. The only friend I ever had just abandoned me. Every time I heard her say my name, my heart would tear apart all over again. I wanted it all to stop. I NEEDED the pain to end.
It was time to join her.
I left at around midnight and trekked to the quarry. I stood at the precipice where I would soon join my sister, a wild gust of wind blowing my budding from the corners of my eyes. I was scared, but my sorrow outweighed the fear. I couldn’t see that far into the darkness below, but I knew the rows of jagged earth would be more welcoming than what my life had given me. A voice wisped along the rushing breeze, stilling my foot that hovered above the abyss; it was my sister! It grew louder and louder from the darkness below and was calling my name. The sadness sloughed off my heart as her glowing portrait materialized several feet in front of me; I nearly leapt off in an attempt to embrace her.
“My baby brother,” her kind eyes were just as I remembered, and she was wearing her favorite sundress. I began choking on sobs as I fell to my knees.
“I-I-I mi-miss you s-so much.” My sister smiled, which calmed my nerved.
“I am fine, brother. The place where I am is full of love and warmth, and it’s where you will go when it’s your time, but that time is not now. You must live your life to the fullest for both of us.”
“Why haven’t you come to me before now?” A hint of anger coated my question. “And why did you abandon me for a year?” Guilt washed over her face.
“I… I’m sorry I wasn’t there for that last year. We can only travel to this plane once, and I felt your sadness reach your breaking point. My love for you has allowed me to visit you this one time, in your moment of need. I will not be able to come back again.”
“But I hear you every night, calling my name from your room.”
“That was me, boss!” my sister’s voice called from over my shoulder. I jerked around; Doogie was standing there with his hands in his pockets, rocking back and forth and smiling.
“Doogie?” I muttered as he began his horrid transformation, only this time it was fully realized into a monstrous depiction of a decrepit old man.
It was Mr. Mackenzie, the bus driver that jumped off this clear a year after my sister.
“Spirits like me can alter more than appearances,” Mr. Mackenzie’s impersonation of my sister faltered hallway through the sentence, degrading into a throaty, menacing timbre. His yellow eyes shot towards my sister. “It’s SOOOO good to see you again, sweetheart,” he perversely hissed. “I got so lonely after I threw you; I should’ve kept you a little while longer.” He spat out a cough that I recognized as the one that would wake me at night. My sister seemed frozen in utter fear.
“What the hell are you talking about!?” I demanded from the freakish letch.
“Your sister was my favorite toy. And after the doctors told me that cancer had numbered my remaining days, I decided to join her in death myself. I missed her so much.”
“Oh, god, no-no-no, please!” my sister’s spirit became frantic and disheveled, pleading through trembling fists and rapidly shaking her head. Mr. Mackenzie suddenly appeared behind her, coiling his spindly arms around my writhing sister. He looked over her shoulder and straight into my soul.
“You can imagine how disappointed I was to find out that we both went to different afterlives. I needed someone to draw her out with unfettered love, and that someone was you. Only love can open the door between planes, and I knew she’d come for you if I pushed you enough. And now she’s mine, forever!” I roared in violent misery as he let out an abhorrent laugh and my sister screamed.
Then they were suddenly gone.
It’s been seven years since Mr. Mackenzie took my sister’s soul. Her scream echoes in my head every day, but I have a new purpose in life and a foolproof plan. I’ve finally managed to track down his only living relative; a 16-year-old boy in foster care. No one knew he even had a son or that they were actually pretty close, and he just began his daily walk to the school bus stop. I poured the chloroform onto the dish rag and threw the car into drive.
I’m going to make ‘Doogie’ come to me.