I woke to the sound of pebbles tossed against my window. I looked at my clock. It was two in the morning. Who would wake me up this way at this ungodly hour? I got out of bed and opened the window. At first, I didn’t see anyone in the front lawn.
“This isn’t funny,” I said in a suppressed voice. “Your prank worked. You got me out of my bed. Now show yourself! Don’t be a coward!”
“But I’m here, don’t you see me?” a tiny voice whispered back. “Wait, I’ll put my light on.”
Something started to glow in the dark shadows of the boxwood. I blinked my eyes when I saw the creature that was responsible for interrupting my sleep. I felt the urge to pinch my arm.
“This must be a dream,” I said to the creature. “You don’t exist.”
“Everything you can imagine is real,” the creature answered. “You imagined me when you were younger, therefore I’m real. Can I come up to your room?”
“Maybe it’s better if I come downstairs,” I replied.
Carefully not to wake up my parents, I took the stairs down. In the kitchen, I poured a glass of cold water and took a large gulp that made me shiver. I was almost sure I wasn’t dreaming.
“It’s me, Animandrill,” the creature said when I opened the front door.
“I know!” I said, and I took a closer look at the product of my imagination. The animal had the body of a monkey, the beak of a bird, the ears of a rabbit, and the tail of a kangaroo. Its belly could glow like the lower abdomen of a firefly. I was five when I met Animandrill for the first time; but that was twelve years ago.
“How long has it been since we last met?” I asked.
“Six years, five months, three days, and seven hours.”
Clearly, Animandrill had been keeping count.
“That must have been right before we moved here,” I said.
“Actually, right after you moved,” Animandrill answered, “but you immediately made friends in your new school. You no longer needed me.”
Animandrill was right. There was a time when I was happy here. I forgot all about him once I had real friends to play with.
I suddenly felt guilty about ignoring him for so long, but I didn’t want that to show.
I pretended to be tough: “To what do I owe the honor of your visit after such a long time?”
“I’m here for two reasons, but the most important one is to ask you how you feel.”
That was a question I hadn’t expected. It threw me off balance. I wasn't sure what to say.
“I… I feel OK, I guess.”
“Don’t be afraid to tell me how you really feel,” Animandrill assured me. “I won’t tell anyone. I couldn’t, even if I wanted to. I only exist for you.”
I couldn’t remember when I last had to suppress a laugh.
“You’re still as funny as I remember,” I said.
What did I have to lose? Animandrill, if he really existed, had never betrayed me before. And if he didn’t exist, well… than it wouldn’t hurt telling him the truth, would it?
“I’m being bullied at school,” I said. “It started as a prank by one of my former friends, but I didn’t respond well to it.”
“Maybe it was a bad prank,” Animandrill said.
“Everyone else in school thought it was the best of pranks,” I admitted. “They said I overreacted, and then I made it worse by having a fit.”
“I felt betrayed. Now nobody wants to be my friend anymore.”
“You felt hurt, and no one understood your pain.”
“That’s it,” I said, “but I never managed to put it in words.”
“That’s OK. You shouldn’t worry about that. Words come easier if you can talk to someone you can trust.”
I nodded. What a relief to finally be able to tell someone how I felt without having to explain why I felt that way.
“That’s my answer to your question about how I feel,” I said. “What's the other reason why you’re here?”
“I’m here to save my own life.”
“Save your own life? How so?”
“In your darkest thoughts, you’re creating an organism of a new species. Once it’s completed, it will be as real as I am, but it won’t be your friend. It will be a monster, and it will devour everyone in your life who is kind to you; only your demons will remain.”
“But that’s terrible!”
“It is,” Animandrill sighed. “Especially since I will be its first victim.”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t know my dark thoughts could do that.”
“Fortunately, it’s not too late,” my old imaginary friend convinced me. “I’m here to help; you can reverse the process.”
“Please do tell me how.”
“Just let me back into your life for a while,” Animandrill said. “It will be like in the old days. I’ll stay with you as long as needed, not a day longer.”
At first, it felt awkward. I questioned my sanity more than once when Animandrill went from class room to class room with me, making fun of teachers, letting me in on gossip that was going on around me, helping me how to defend myself in a smart and witty way. Little by little the embryonic monster that had been growing inside me, shriveled until there was nothing left.
After a couple of weeks, I no longer understood why I had been so unhappy with my life. When I told Animandrill how I felt, he smiled.
“I’ll let you in on a secret,” he said. “Have you noticed how Peyton is looking at you when you’re talking?”
I hadn’t. Not because I didn’t want to look back at her, but because I didn’t dare to.
“I think she wants you to ask her out on a date,” he confided me.
“Are you sure?” I asked.
The next weekend I took Peyton and Animandrill to the movies.
Halfway through the movie, Peyton grabbed my hand and leaned towards me. We shared our first kiss and missed the rest of the movie. When the lights went back on, Animandrill was gone.
I haven’t seen him ever since, except maybe in the corner of my eye, the times he wasn't fast enough to hide himself while watching over me.