Fiction Friendship Contemporary

Nathan Butler, a sandy haired 26-year-old graduate student, laid alone in his bedroom and stared at the ceiling. He glanced over at the clock, it was three a.m., then, looking up, he whispered, “Five nights in a row without sleep.” Beads of sweat glistened on his forehead, his hands were clammy. His heart beat kicked up a notch, and his pulse thumped at his temples. His insides quivered as his mind raced. 

My grades are slipping. I've lost all my friends. I’m alone in a crowd. Something's just not right. He sat up, and threw back the covers. As he swung his feet to the floor, he reached for a cigarette from the nightstand. Taking a deep draw, a dragon’s puff of smoke glowed a faint red from the clock. I’m just going through a slump, that’s all, I’ll be okay. But what about Charlie, how do I explain him?

When he couldn’t sleep, he’d grown accustom to the occasional visit from Charlie, his imaginary friend. His visits seemed to be happening more and more often. Nathan had never mentioned him to anyone. With no friends, who could he tell?

He lay in his boxers, crossed his legs, and looked up into the darkness. Blowing smoke rings, he glanced at the time. It was almost three forty-five. Time with Charlie had become both reassuring and dreadful at the same time. For some reason, Nathan had a genuine affection for Charlie. He'd grown closer to him over the past several weeks.

They say the greatest trick the devil ever pulled was to convince the world that he doesn't exist. Over the last few months, Nathan was becoming more and more religious. He grew up in rural Illinois, and was raised Catholic. His family always attended Mass and, occasionally, he was an altar server. During his years away from home, he hadn't given much thought to his faith until Charlie started visiting him. 

His deep-rooted beliefs had been stowed away under a mountain of academic suppression. Surrounded by progressive college students and faculty alike, he feared their adverse reactions to such superstitious lunacy. Now he was convinced he must be possessed. How else could he explain Charlie? 

“Hello Nathan.” Charlie growled in multiple voices that echoed through his head.

“Uh, hi Charlie.” Nathan said. “Where have you been? You're later than usual.”

His rasping voice twirling around the room, “I waited until I could sense that you needed to talk.” 

“Charlie, please stop with the voices already, it's not funny!”

In his usual tone, Charlie said, “I suppose I should give up on trying to scare you into what I want. What does it take for you to play along with me?”

Nathan put his feet on the floor and looked around the room for Charlie. Then a dark shadow darted around him. It stopped in front of him. Then it turned into a wisp of smoke and started to move like a ribbon in the wind. It began to drift towards the ceiling. 

Nathan followed it with his eyes. Instantly, Charlie appeared as a hideous beast. A black vapor surrounded him, and the room was filled with a terrible stench. The creature had spikes on its spine and claw-like nails. The dragon stared down at him with glowing red eyes.

“Charlie, cut it out, your shape-shifting antics aren't scaring me tonight.” Nathan waved his hand in front of his face and said, “Come on, clear the air too.”

In the next moment, a straight back chair flipped into the air. It paused just over Nathan, before coming to rest in front of him. The monster began to coil down, shape-shifting into a twenty-something, dark haired young man. He sat straddle the back of the chair and wore a white tee shirt, jeans, and sneakers. His elbows rested on the back of it. He held his face only inches from Nathan's. Peering straight into Nathan’s blue-gray eyes, he said, “I didn’t scare you?” his breath was warm on Nathan's face, sweet with a slight scent of roses.

“No, but, I have to say that was one of your better ones.”

Charlie's brown eyes sparkled from the light of the clock, “So, my friend, what's on your mind?” He snapped his fingers and the light across the room came on. 

Nathan batted his eyes, then dropped his cigarette into a half empty coffee mug on the night-stand. He turned back to Charlie, their noses were almost touching, “Since you came into my life, I think I'm just a shell of my former self. Why is it that you're my only friend?”

Charlie sat back and said, “Nathan, you invited me to be a part of your life.”

“Invited you? I wake up in the middle of the night to find you floating cross-legged above my bed. You looked like some kind of modern-day genie. That’s what you call an invitation?”

“Nathan, what was your prayer that night?” 

Nathan’s eyes welled as he stared intently at Charlie, “I was just alone. I wanted to talk to someone. I was looking for someone who cared about me and wouldn't judge me.”

“Nathan, I'm the answer to that prayer, all you had to do was acknowledge me.” 

“Come on, I had had the better part of a fifth of vodka and a joint that night. I wasn’t convinced you were real.” 

“Well, I'm for sure real, I'm here to help you with your inhibitions, lustful desires, and shine light on your dark thoughts. I was sent to help you, not hurt you.”

“Well, now, you’re the only person in my life, I stay awake every night, just to spend time with you.” 

“As it turns out, I'm not the only one in your life, but I do have a message for you from Him. Once I share it, you won't need me. You'll have a world of loving and close friends. Do you trust me?”

“Yeah, well, I guess I do.”

Charlie stood and reached out to Nathan, “All you have to do is come with me. Please, give me your hands.”

“Come on, Nathan, I’m the answer to your prayer, the friend you always wanted, your best bud, someone you can believe in. I’ve always been here for you, but, you had never called on me for help before.” 

“I’m in terrible shape, one messed up dude. If you're real, please help me. Use those mystical powers you have. Where do they come from anyway?” 

“You know as well as I do where my abilities come from, you've just hidden your faith.” Moving back to straddle the chair, he held out his fist. Nathan glanced up, wiped his eyes and gazed into Charlie's then bumped his fist.

“Yeah, well, I want to be happy. Look at me, I’m a total wreck. I went to bed drunk again, and I’ve not slept or taken a shower for days. You always seem the same with a loving smile, except of course, when you shape-shift to scare me, it's obvious you’re happy.”

Charlie chuckled and tilted his head, “I'm just goofing around when I do those silly things, like shifting and causing a stink. I'm not really supposed to do that, but it's quite fun.”

Nathan grinned, “They never work because I'm always aware of your presence.”

“That makes me happy, Nathan. I've always been with you and always will be. You can be happy too, all you have to do is trust me.” Now come on, let's take a look at the path you're on. 

Nathan rolled out of bed, “This is crazy.” He grabbed a half empty bottle of vodka from his desk, took a big chug, and wiped his mouth with the back of his wrist. “Let’s do this. Standup dude, I want to see what's to come.”

“Okay.” Charlie glanced away and then back at Nathan, he reached down and took him by the hands. Nathan closed his eyes. “No, stare into my eyes,” his voice smooth like silk. 

Nathan peered deep into Charlie’s eyes. At first, he only saw his reflection, then he became immersed in Charlie's gaze. White, fluffy clouds began to form in a blue sky all around him. He was in flight with the wind at his face and his arms extended. He was flying and looking down, the clouds began to part, Nathan whispered,“Where am I, what’s happening?”

“Relax, we’re about to see what's in store for you, I’m right here with you as always.” Charlie rested his hands on Nathan's shoulders.

The shape of something orange appeared as the clouds parted, a metal beam against a deep blue background. He was above the Golden Gate Bridge. “San Francisco?”

“Yes, we're in the future, you’re forty-six, and you’ve been here for over a decade.”

Charlie squeezed Nathan's shoulders as they steadily descended. They began passing over the city. His feet and legs began to come under him. His arms rose over his head and he was spinning. Charlie’s reassuring touch let him know he was okay. Finally, they landed on a sidewalk. It was cool, and moist under his bare feet. A wisp of air, like a feather, brushed across his face and Charlie was beside him. Their eyes met and Charlie smiled, then put his hand on Nathan’s shoulder. 

The fog surrounding them began to clear. They stood on a cluttered sidewalk. There were gray and green camping tents with strips of blue tarp between them. The odor was sickening. A distinct stench of urine and feces. In front of them, hundreds of used syringes were strewn about. Nathan raised a foot in disgust, “What are we doing here?”

“Be still and look into your future.”

An old man on the corner came into clear view. He wore a dirty, ragged, old trench coat. He was bent-over, picking at the toes of his shoes. Tottering and mumbling to himself, a city bus roared past. The blast almost knocked him over. Nathan scowled, “Who is that old bum?”

“I’m afraid, it's you, Nathan, that’s you in twenty years. You see, Nathan, you have choices in life. Every day, mundane choices can lead the way to irrevocable consequences. No matter how insignificant they may seem at the time, they can have repercussions if you make the wrong choice.” 

Charlie grabbed Nathan by the shoulder and spun him around. “In this version of your life, you made several bad decisions. It’s the path you’re on now. Especially with your decision to deny what you know to be true in your heart.”

Nathan glanced back at the old man on the corner. He had grabbed the coat of a passing young man wearing a business suit. “Hey, can you spare some change?” 

The young man shook him off. “Get away from me, you old bum.”

Nathan snapped, “How do I change this? What can I do differently?”

Charlie said, spinning Nathan around, “Most of these people are now mentally ill and addicted.” Nathan looked around at multiple homeless people, either shooting up or smoking crack. Charlie held tight to his shoulder. “This is the consequences of their choices. They are in the midst of addictive entanglements that have permanently altered their lives.” Nathan looked back to the old man on the corner. He now sat on the ground and leaned against a lamp post. Holding a crack pipe with his yellowed jagged teeth, he waved a lighter under it. “Is this what life has in store for me?” tears welled in his eyes.

“Nathan, it's all about choices and consequences.” A second later, a bright flash of white light and Nathan is lying on his bed in his apartment. While looking up at the ceiling, he closed his eyes. A vision of Charlie looked back at him and smiled. Sunshine from the dusty window cast a bright yellow aura around him. He pulled himself up onto his elbows, rubbed his eyes, tossed back the covers, and swung his feet to the floor. Dropping his face into his hands, he began to sob. Looking straight ahead, he paused, wiped the tears from his eyes. I know what I need to do!

Doctor Spenser looked up from his papers, “Nathan, thanks for coming back in. I have the test results right here.” After careful analysis and multiple consultations with my colleagues, he hesitated and then stared directly into Nathan's eyes, “I've concluded that you don't have any psychological disorders.”

“What’s changed? I’m sleeping through the night now. I have plenty of new friends, but where's Charlie? What happened to him? I need to know whether he's real or not?”

“Based on what you've told me, no, he’s not real. He's a figment of your imagination. Maybe left over from your drug and alcohol abuse. There’s nothing physically or psychologically wrong with you.”

“Charlie said he would show me a brighter future, one where I would be okay.” 

“Nathan, Charlie is not real. If you think you're being visited by a person or something that can show you the future, it's time you had a discussion with someone outside the medical profession.”

The next day, Nathan began his confession, “Bless me, Father, for I have sinned. It's been several years since my last confession. Here are my sins. I believe I’m possessed. A man has been coming to me at night, he even showed me my future. He never told me his name. I just call him Charlie.”

Copyright © 2022 by Chandler Wilson

January 06, 2023 23:16

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