Fear Her

March 16, 2013

Hi. My name is Logan. I’m seven years old.
My best friend Nancy’s also seven years old. I always sit on her porch at three o’clock to see her get off the bus and skip her way across the street. She always gives me a hug. She’s a great hugger.
Today, after she dropped off her school stuff in her room, we went to the park. Lots of other kids were there, but Nancy wasn’t the best at making new friends. So we claimed a small corner of the jungle gym and started climbing. She could snake her way around really well, twisting her body this way and that. I couldn’t manage that even if I were made of rubber. She watched me struggle, trying to fit myself through an opening and trying to grab the next metal rung. My hand was an inch short and I ended up doubling over and falling all the down to the ground. Nancy laughed good-naturedly and expertly made her way down to me. She was kind and helped me up. She gave me another hug and joked, “You could be in the Olympics.” But the others weren’t as nice. They stared at us like we were awful, idiotic criminals with whom they should never, ever be friends with. They shook their heads in disgust and all moved away from the jungle gym, away from us.
Nancy sensed my sadness. She said, “At least we have the entire jungle to ourselves now.”
“Yeah,” I replied quietly.
She clapped her hand on my back. She was strong and made me lose my balance. She giggled as I staggered forward, trying to regain my balance. “C’mon, Logan, cheer up. We’re better off without them.”
I agreed. We raced each other to the top of the metal jungle. She won, of course.
We walked back to her house, holding hands and swinging it together to the rhythm of our favourite song, “Rainbow Connection.” This was all part of a much-loved tradition of course. As we belted out the lyrics of the song, we could forget about anything that went wrong, anything that upset us during the day, and remember that we were still friends, no matter what happened.
Other people of the town didn’t understand. They would give us strange looks as we walked past them. Some of the meaner kids would shout something like, “WEIRDO ALERT!” at us and laugh. Most of the adults would shake their heads disapprovingly. But that was all fine. The song made us forget them.
Today went a little differently, however. As we were passing the garden that the owner of the bakery kept, a man tumbled out of the bushes in front of us. He was tall, wearing a long overcoat with a nice button-down shirt and slacks underneath, which was weird, because it was spring and the weather was warm. In his outfit and confused eyes, he looked very out of place.
We stopped as he regained his balance right in our way. He straightened and looked around him, as if trying to understand where he was. The weirdest part though, was when he turned towards us. It took him a moment, but as he looked at us closely, his eyes widened, a big realisation dawning upon him.
But I made the mistake of blinking, because when I opened my eyes again, the man was gone.

* * * * *


After a day or two of heated discussions about who the strange man could’ve been, the subject was dropped and forgotten. The new subject became this boy named Patrick, who wanted to meet me.
Patrick was a kid in Nancy’s English class. A nice enough kid, but he was chubby and ginger, two of the things that other kids in the school tended to make fun of. He was also not the brightest kid, but he was funny as hell, so Nancy didn’t mind being friends with him. Naturally, she talked about me a lot with him, about all the adventures we’ve had. And naturally, Patrick wanted to meet her best friend.
When Nancy first told me this in her backyard, swinging on a tire swing, I shifted uncomfortably. “What did you tell him?”
“I said it would be great for you two to meet. I think you guys would be good friends together, and we could be the town’s golden trio,” she replied. “But I also said I would ask you first, because I know you don’t like meeting new people even more than me.”
Okay, I admit it, I’m really, really shy. I hate social interactions of any sort. I even avoid eye contact with others as much as possible. Nancy’s brave and have gotten over this fear of others. Now she can talk to strangers for directions and whatnot without being too scared. Me, I can’t even go shopping because I would have to talk to the person behind the cash register. So of course, when it comes to making new friends, I’m even worse at it than Nancy, who was already much of a loner.
But with Nancy’s recommendation, it wasn’t quite as scary. I trusted Nancy to know what she was saying, and she almost always did, so if she says we would make good friends, maybe meeting him wouldn’t be such a bad idea. I was just about to tell her this when my instincts overpowered. “Ehhhhh” was what I ended up saying.
Nancy laughed. “Maybe some other time, then.”
The next day, Patrick came up again. Nancy cocked her head to the side and looked at me funnily. I blinked at her. She’s never looked at me like that before.
“Hey, Logan?” she said tentatively. “Why aren’t you ever in school?”
“What?” I asked, startled.
“Patrick asked me today, why he never sees you in school. I said because you don’t go to school, which is true. He asked, well, why not.”
I thought about this. I just shrugged.
Nancy smiled. “I guess you’re just too special to go to school. Too cool for school.”
I laughed. “Must be.”

* * * * *


The appearance of the strange newcomer in town was not limited to us, apparently. Rumours spread through the entire community like wildfire, and within a couple days, everyone knew of the strange man in the overcoat. People said that he must be a hardcore private-eye, trying to solve the mystery of the haunted mansion. Some said he was a murderer, looking for a place to hide. Some said he was just lost.
Nancy and I could do a little more than speculating, however. Nancy had a strange encounter with the man one day. Some mean twelve-year-old had shoved her in a locker that day. She was smart though, and she figured out how to unlock and open the locker from the inside. But by the time she did, the buses were long gone, and she was forced to walk.
On her way home, the newcomer appeared out of nowhere and made his way straight for her. Nancy froze with fear as he grabbed her shoulders and leaned his face very close to hers. “What can you tell me about the murders?” he said. “Please, tell me. What do you know? What did you see?”
Nancy said his breath smelled like a dentist office and it disgusted her. She wiggled herself out of his grip and ran as fast as she could, away from the scary man. But her encounter confirmed one of the rumours—he was here about a murder.
After telling me her story, she looked at me with excited eyes. “Let’s solve it.”
“The murder! The mystery! The haunted mansion!”
“No buts, Logan! C’mon, it’ll be an adventure!” Nancy didn’t wait for an answer. She jumped to her feet and started to pace back and forth. “They say that there was a murder in the mansion on Kelly’s Hill a long time ago. They say a crazy maniac had taken an axe and killed his wife. They never found the killer, though, nor the body of the murdered wife. But ever since then, the place has been empty. Sometimes, people say they can hear screaming—the wife as she sees the axe come down on her.”
I shuddered. “Now I really don’t want to go,” I whimpered. But soon enough, I found myself being half-dragged along by the hand up Kelly’s Hill. It was a long walk to the haunted mansion, long enough to drive me insane.
Usually, waiting for something you’re nervous about gets your imagination working. Your head imagines up the worst case scenarios, sometimes even downright ridiculous ones too, but when the wait is finally over, you realise you’ve been acting nervous for no reason. But not this time. When I saw the haunted mansion in all its putrefying glory, I felt my heart pump even faster. The entire place looked like a ghost of a house, complete with broken windows, splintered wooden supports, ripped curtains, and the smell of rotting wood.
“Can we go back now?” I hissed at her. She shushed me.
Then suddenly, we heard a high-pitched scream. I jumped, both my feet leaving the ground for a moment. “Oh no! It’s the ghost of the wife!”
“It’s coming from inside!” Nancy exclaimed and ran for the door. I tried to stop her, but she was already halfway up the porch stairs and I didn’t want to be left alone. I followed after her.
I don’t know what I was expecting when we kicked open that door, but it was definitely not this. There they were, the two married couple. The wife was on the floor with a streak of blood on her head and a hand thrown up defensively, and the husband was towering over her, raising a heavy axe over his head with both hands.
“NO!” Nancy screamed. “Don’t hurt her!” The murderer was startled. He paused in his swing. Taking advantage of this second-long pause, the wife turned and ran. When the axe came down, she was already running out of the room.
Now he turned on us. He was growling like a monster, his hand still wrapped around the axe. I threw myself defensively between him and Nancy, but he swept an arm in front of him and knocked me off to the side, where I hit a wall.
Nancy was frozen with fear. She simply watched with wide eyes as the man raised the axe once more. This time, I screamed an echo of her words, “NO! Don’t hurt her!” Closing my eyes, I sprinted in full speed right into the man. My entire body crashed against his side and we both went down. Even better, he dropped his axe in the process.
As he got up, I was scrambling to my feet. He began to advance towards me on one knee as he worked his way up to his full height. But out of nowhere, Nancy jumped and brought down a heavy lamp with all her strength against the back of the killer’s neck. He crashed to the floor and stayed, unconscious.
But he wasn’t dead. He would wake up soon. I took Nancy’s hand in mine and we ran.

* * * * *


As soon as we were back in town, we ran to the sheriff’s, and shouted breathlessly, “MURDERER! Up in Kelly’s Hill, come on!” and quickly ran back, with three cops in uniform dispatched to come with us. We stopped at the haunted mansion to catch our breaths.
“So? Where’s the murderer? What happened?” a cop asked us.
“In there,” Nancy said, pointing at the ghost house. “He was about to kill his wife with an axe. We opened the door and distracted him. She got away but he tried to kill us! We got away but he’s still in there!”
“Hold on.” The cops, with guns drawn, went into the house to check it out. In a minute, they came back out with empty hands and disappointed faces.
“Well?” Nancy and I chorused.
“There’s no one in there, kid,” they replied. “There hasn’t been anyone in there for years. Dust on the floor, blood on the walls, all at least ten years old. The only footprints in the dust is yours, honey.”
“What?” she breathed. I couldn’t believe it either. “But… no, that’s not possible! I saw them! I saw him take the axe and try to kill her! I saw it, I swear!”
“It must’ve been your imagination. It wasn’t real, kid.”
“No!” she screamed. I watched her face get red, heard her voice get shrill, as I stood back and mulled this over. My head couldn’t wrap around this, however hard I tried.
“No! This isn’t possible,” Nancy kept on saying. “I almost got killed by that maniac! Please, you have to believe me. It wasn’t my imagination! It was real! As real as you! I swear! Please, Logan, tell them!”
I mumbled something, but the cops just shook their heads. They didn’t even look at me. They only looked at the little girl in pity, listening to her rant, but nothing she said could change their mind. They saw the house for themselves and the truth was clear: she had imagined the whole thing.
“No, no…” Nancy was distraught. She looked at her hands and saw the grooves from when she gripped the heavy lamp. She went into the house and saw the man, still unconscious, clearly lying on the dusty floor. Why couldn’t they see it? He was there. Right there. How could they have missed it?
Nancy was at the verge of tears when she saw around the corner of the house the newcomer. The strange man in the overcoat. She made towards him, shouting after her, “Logan, come on!”
The officers now looked at her like she was crazy. Before I left them to follow after my friend, I gave an unsure wave at them, but they didn’t wave back. They simply turned to leave. With a strange pang in my chest, I realised they couldn’t see me either.
Nancy and I joined the man behind the house. As soon as they stopped walking, she exploded with questions, “What’s going? Why can’t they see him? Why won’t they believe me? Who are you?”
“My name is Detective James Finnegan,” the man replied. “And I am very, very sorry.”
“Your world, this world, isn’t real. None of it. None of this is real.”
“This is a dream. You dreamed this world because the truth was too painful to handle,” he explained. “You couldn’t cope with the truth so you put yourself into a coma to dream of a better world. You created yourself a perfect little town, created yourself a new identity, a new name. Nancy. A character from a story you’ve always admired. A little girl, who was just as strange, just as bright as you were, but unlike you, were loved by everyone. You wanted to become that popular girl detective. You escaped the real world into your dreams, where you could do just that.”
“No, no…” Nancy moaned. She clutched her head. She couldn’t understand what was happening.
“Nancy Drew. That’s you wanted to be, that’s who you wanted to become. But dreams cannot escape too far from the real world. It caught up with you. You couldn’t become that beloved character, and your past came to haunt you.”
“No, shut up,” she whispered.
“You couldn’t become a sleuth. Your old self came back, didn’t it? Parts of it. Your imaginary friends, your isolated life at school—the life of the outcast, Susie.”
I spoke up, for the first time. “They can’t see me, can they?”
To my surprise, he turned to me. He could see me! “No, no they can’t. You’re only a dream of a dream. Her dreams couldn’t escape her reality of schizophrenia. You don’t exist, not even in this dream world.”
“No, shut up, he’s real, he’s real,” she hissed, squeezing her eyes shut.
“No, he’s not. He’s not real. This world isn’t real. None of it,” he said, more forcefully this time. “The mystery, Susie. The mystery of the haunted mansion. That happened a decade ago.”
“Shut up!” she squealed, clapping her hands over her ears. She took a step back.
The man, his eyes filled with sympathy, took a step forward. “Please, Susie. I came to your dream world to ask for your help. You saw it, didn’t you? Your parents.”
She took another step back and shook her head vigorously.
“You did, didn’t you? You witnessed your parents’ murder.”

* * * * *


Suddenly, her eyes snapped open. She remembered. She remembered everything.
She remembered a nightmare of a childhood. She remembered the countless marbles and pencils thrown at the helpless little girl. She remembered the insults, the graffiti on her locker that never failed to make her cry. “FREAK! YOU’RE A FREAK!” they would shout after her as she walked home from school to avoid taking the bus, where everyone wouldn’t bother lowering their voices as they laughed about how crazy she was. They pelted the back of her head with spit balls, acorns, and half-eaten crackers. She would bite her lips until she got home, where she finally let the overdue tears out.
She closed her eyes again. The memories were too overwhelming.
“Susie, I need your help,” said Detective Finnegan. “You saw your parents die, you saw who killed them. I need your help finding that person. I can’t bring justice to your parents without you. I can’t help your parents without your help. Please, help me help them.”
The memories came back. She couldn’t keep them out.
She remembered that day. When she sat around her little tea set with her friends. They said they were imaginary, that they didn’t exist, but she saw them clearly now. She provided them with little plastic plates and cups. The four friends raised their cups and drank to their friendship.
Her parents always thought having imaginary friends was just a part of being a kid. But as they peered into her room that day, to check on her after her hour-long isolation in her room, they saw her sitting at her little tea table with three empty chairs on the other sides of the square table. They watched as she served them fake tea from what was surely an empty plastic pot. They watched in shock as the cups, however fake the tea was, fill with a warm, brown liquid. They watched in horror as the cups raised themselves in the air and tipped, as if an invisible man was drinking it. The liquid was gone when the cups had returned to their saucers.
They realised, her imaginary friends were becoming powerfully real. And it was all her doing.
She remembered, watching her parents from the stairs one day, listening as they spoke of her future.
“We have to give her up. We can’t handle this.”
“You’re right, she can’t stay here.”
She felt herself being torn apart. This made her feel a hundred times worse than the worst bully. Her heart was breaking. Her parents, her own parents, were about to kick her out and leave her in the dust. She couldn’t it take it anymore. She let out a scream.
They jumped in surprise when she jumped down into the living room from the stairs. Her face was wet with tears, and her eyes were burning with a passionate anger. “How could you? How could you?”
“You were about to leave me! You said you’re going to abandon me to rot and die!” she shrieked.
“No, honey—”
“Don’t lie to me,” she shrieked, the pitch reaching ear-piercingly high. “How could you do this? How could you do this to me? Your own daughter…” She buried her face in her hands and broke down in fresh tears.
She felt her mother’s hand on her shoulder and the anger and hate returned, replacing the heart-wrenching sadness. She turned her face up to the ceiling and screamed. Her mother scrambled back away from her, her eyes wide with terror of her own child.
“You’re all horrible! You’re evil, mean, terrible bullies who just can’t understand!” she shouted at the world. All her frustration, one she felt all her life, finally came out. In the explosive fury, her face contorted beyond recognition, all her innocence lost in the intense glare. “I’ll make you sorry for hurting me, I’ll make you all sorry!”
And the world had gone white. Next thing she knew, she standing in middle of a wrecked house, looking at two dead bodies who used to be her parent.
She opened her eyes. She saw the detective, the stranger in the town, staring at her with nothing but pity and desperation in his eyes.
“It’s time to wake up, Susie,” he said. “Please. I need your help. They need you.”
She looked at me. I stared at my own hands, unable to believe that they weren’t real, but at the same time, knowing that they could’ve never been real. I looked up at her and gave her a nod, reassuring her that everything will be okay. I felt myself disappearing, for I needed her to exist, and her faith was diminishing. Soon, I was nothing more than an imprint, a ripple in the air.
“No,” she shook her head. “No, you’re real, and I know, you’re more real than any of this will ever be, please, no don’t leave! You’re real! PLEASE!”
And this world exploded, unravelled and broken down by the truth, and it ceased to exist.

* * * * *


She bolted up in the bed. Her scream exploded across the room. The windows cracked and webbed, and the detective was blown backwards, away from her.
Finnegan slid across the hospital floor. He fought to regain his balance. Once he did, however, he found that it was impossible to take a single step forward. “Susie, it’s okay, everything’s going to be okay.”
“NO! GET AWAY FROM ME!” she shrieked. She squeezed her eyes shut and clutched her head. Floor tiles were wrenched open and blue-white flames erupted from the cracks. Debris of broken and burnt tiles flew around the room, hitting the detective and keeping him from moving any closer.
Finnegan shielded his eyes from the bright flames as they widened in realisation. “You don’t have to do this. I understand now. It was you. It was you all along.”
“They were going to abandon me,” she wept. “They were going to leave me to die, just because I was different. And you’re just like them!” A powerful wave of fire ripped through the air and knocked Finnegan backwards. He slammed into the wall opposite to her bed. The impact left a web-like crater.
“No, I’m not,” he gasped, trying to regain his breath.
“Yes, you are! You are right to fear me. I’ll make you sorry. I’ll make you all sorry!” Her voice climbed to another high-pitched scream. The fire grew even more intense, its bright light burning his retina. A wind like a hurricane tore all the curtains from its place. The lights in the ceiling bursted and sizzled, and the air was filled with a loud thunder and an ugly metallic taste as lightning struck.
“I’m not going to say I’m not afraid,” Finnegan shouted over the noise of thunder and fire. “But I do understand. I know what it feels to be different. I know what it feels like, to find out I’m not someone who I thought I was. I know what that feels like. I didn’t enter your dreams by being normal.”
He knew he had said the right thing. The fires died down, the lightning stopped. She was listening.
“I know it hurts right now. I know how much it hurts to be left behind, but trust me, they were never going to abandon you. They were going to give you up so you could have a better life. They knew they couldn’t be the best parents that you could have. They gave you up so you could have the best life possible.”
She was weeping. Finnegan could move again. He wrapped his arms around the little girl. “And trust me, it hurts to be left behind, but it hurts them infinitely more to give you up. They loved you, Susie. Understand that.”
She clung to him, the first person who understood, the first person who made her understand. She buried her face in his chest and cried.
“Everything’s going to be okay.”
And I hung onto her in my half-existence. It would be the last and best hug we ever shared.

The End

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