Imaginary Friends by Catherine Cavendish
When you were growing up, did you have an imaginary friend? Did they seem real to you? Maybe sort-of-real. You could talk to them, imagine their responses, play with them – but you probably kept the ‘relationship’ within certain boundaries, however young you were. In my case, I invented an entire family of siblings – three sisters (two older, one a few years younger) and an older brother who looked out for us girls. Being an only child, I found them comforting, and fun, but I never imagined them to be real. They, in turn, kept themselves firmly lodged in my own mind and never attempted to cross any boundary into the real world.
In my new novel, The Devil’s Serenade, my central character also had an imaginary family when she was a child. Scarily for her, they now start to appear in her real adult world.
Of course, my story is fiction, but there have been a number of accounts of small children making ‘friends’ with most unsuitable imaginary friends – who then cross the line.
One such story concerns a woman called Layla who lived with her four year old son, Ryan and her partner in a suburb of Stoke-on-Trent in England called Trentham. Although an only child, Ryan was a good mixer, socialising well with other children and enjoying a normal childhood. He had no history of talking to himself so his mother was surprised to hear him doing just that – quit loudly – as she passed his room one January evening.
On entering his room, she found her son sitting cross-legged on the floor. She asked him who he was talking to and he replied that he had a new friend, “Fred.” They had been talking. Ryan described his new friend as, “silly.”
Layla decided there was no harm in this new imaginary friend and left him to it. For the next few weeks, Ryan could often be heard chatting and laughing and his parents thought nothing more of it, putting it down to his lively imagination.
Then, one unforgettable night, Layla and her husband were woken by an earsplitting scream. It was Ryan.
They dashed into his room and found him curled up in the corner, white-faced, his hands over his face. Layla tried to comfort him, asking him what was wrong.
Ryan sobbed. He said Fred had got angry with him and shouted at him when Ryan said it was too late to play. Then Fred had screamed at him and scared him.
It took some minutes to calm the terrified little boy down.
The next day, Layla was cleaning out Ryan’s room while he was out with his father. She had a sudden urge to warn the imaginary friend and told him to keep away from her son. “If you ever scare my child again I shall have you removed. I will take Ryan to the doctor’s if I have to.”
She felt rather silly issuing such a warning to nobody, but a strange sense of satisfaction spread over her.
Ryan came home and went immediately to his room. Shortly after, he emerged and asked his mother why he had to go to the doctor’s. “Fred says you are taking me.”
Layla stared at her son, uncomprehendingly. How could Ryan have known about her tirade in his room? She had been alone in the house at the time and told no one else about it.
Ryan continued, each word chilling Layla’s blood. “He says you told him off today when you were alone. He says he’s sorry for shouting at me and he won’t do it again.”
Layla didn’t take Ryan to the doctor and, although Ryan continued to play with ‘Fred’ for some months, nothing further happened to make her concerned. Then, Ryan stopped playing with his imaginary friend altogether.
Forever afterwards, Layla was never able to explain how Ryan could have known about her warning to Fred. Ryan could throw no light on the matter either. It remained an unsolved, intriguing mystery.
Now, to give you a taste of The Devil’s Serenade, here’s the blurb:
Maddie had forgotten that cursed summer. Now she’s about to remember…
“Madeleine Chambers of Hargest House” has a certain grandeur to it. But as Maddie enters the Gothic mansion she inherited from her aunt, she wonders if its walls remember what she’s blocked out of the summer she turned sixteen.
She’s barely settled in before a series of bizarre events drive her to question her sanity. Aunt Charlotte’s favorite song shouldn’t echo down the halls. The roots of a faraway willow shouldn’t reach into the cellar. And there definitely shouldn’t be a child skipping from room to room.
As the barriers in her mind begin to crumble, Maddie recalls the long-ago summer she looked into the face of evil. Now, she faces something worse. The mansion’s long-dead builder, who has unfinished business—and a demon that hungers for her very soul.
Here’s an extract:
A large flashlight rested on the bottom stair and I switched it on, shining it into the dark corners. There wasn’t a lot to see. A few broken bits of furniture, old fashioned kitchen chairs, some of which looked vaguely familiar, jam jars, crates that may once have held bottles of beer.
The beam caught the clump of gnarled and twisted roots that intertwined with each other, like Medusa’s snakes. I edged closer to it, my heart thumping more than it should. It was only a tree, for heaven’s sake! The nearest one was probably the willow. Surely, that was too far away? I knew little about trees, but I was pretty certain their roots couldn’t extend that far.
I examined the growth from every angle in that silent cellar. The roots were definitely spreading along the floor and, judging by the thickness and appearance of them, had been there for many years. Gray, like thick woody tendrils, they reached around six feet along and possibly four feet across at their widest point. I bent down. Close up, the smell that arose from them was cloyingly sweet. Sickeningly so. I put one hand over my nose, rested the flashlight on the steps and reached out with the fingers of my free hand to touch the nearest root. It wriggled against my palm.
I cried out, staggered backward and fell against the stairs. The flashlight clattered to the floor and went out. Only the overhead bulb provided any light, and it didn’t reach this darkest corner. Something rustled. I struggled to my feet, grabbed the torch and ran up the stairs. I slammed the door shut and locked it, leaned against it and tried to slow down my breathing. A marathon runner couldn’t have panted more.
I tapped the flashlight and it flickered into life, seemingly none the worse for its accident. I switched it off and set it on the floor by the cellar door. Whoever came to fix those roots was going to need it.
You can find The Devil’s Serenade here:
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About the author:
Following a varied career in sales, advertising and career guidance, Cat is now the full-time author of a number of paranormal, ghostly and Gothic horror novels, novellas and short stories. She was the 2013 joint winner of the Samhain Gothic Horror Anthology Competition, with Linden Manor, which features in the anthology What Waits in the Shadows. Other titles include: The Pendle Curse, Saving Grace Devine, Dark Avenging Angel, The Second Wife, Miss Abigail’s Room, The Demons of Cambian Street, The Devil Inside Her, Cold Revenge and In My Lady’s Chamber.
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