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When I speak to my friends, we often joke and reminisce about the past. One such time we got to speaking about the imaginary friends we used to have as kids and how we would often play or discuss things with them and even argue with them; perhaps it was just an instinctive way of preparing ourselves for growing up.
The general rule of thumb was they would come out on request—when you wanted to play or just not be alone. My imaginary friend was called Hugh. He was two years older than me and an exception to the rule, and I used to think he was a prick.
We were sitting at the dinner table one day, and as my Mum was reaching for the veggies, he slipped under the table and came back up holding his nose and gagging before telling me that my Mum wasn’t wearing any knickers. He also said he caught my Dad playing with himself in the shower earlier and he wasn’t goddamn surprised. I intentionally dropped my fork to prove he was telling tales—that vision still haunts me today.
Some things he told me were truths, and others were just outright lies designed to ruin self-confidence and to push anxiety levels through the roof. Hugh found this taunting to be hilarious. For example, on my seventh birthday, he told me I was adopted, and the papers were in the third drawer down of my Mum’s dresser. All I found was a bunch of knickers and bras and what looked to be a torch that vibrated. He was full of it.
At that point, he also told me that my Mum was sleeping with the postman and that my Dad was a serial killer. Hugh said he could prove it, but I’d had enough. I actually tried to unimagine him from my mind for a good couple of weeks before I realised the stubborn little prick wasn’t going anywhere.
The first day at school, already a hard enough time for a seven-year-old to get their heads around, was something I will never forget. The teacher placed me next to some kid called Robert. He seemed nice enough, but Hugh seemed almost jealous that I had even said hello to him.
In my ear all day, “Jack had a boyfriend. Jack has a boyfriend!” and slightly more inventive, “Jack and Bobby sitting in a tree, Jack blows Bobby, one-two-three.”
That carried on all day until I lost the plot and screamed at the top of my lungs in front of the entire classroom, “I don’t have a fucking boyfriend!”
Some kids laughed, some went white—the teacher did neither, but did escort me from the class.
Mum picked me up early that day—she was very disappointed, to say the least. Hugh, however, was still unbelievably pleased with himself. When we got back to the house, he asked me to follow him as he had something he wanted to show me.
“Where are we going?” I called out to him in pursuit as he sprinted ahead down the hallway and towards the back end of the house.
“You’ll see soon enough,” he replied as he finally made it to the cellar door.
My Dad always said the cellar was a work in progress and too dangerous for us to go in. I always wondered why it didn’t apply to him though.
“Hugh, I am not allowed in there, even Mum isn’t!”
“Do you ever think to yourself why not?” he asked as he pointed to a jar on top of the cupboard. I grabbed the key from it and unlocked the door. The air conditioner was already on, and I still recall the cool blast from the room as I opened the door. I remember a lot about that day. I flicked the light switch on, and nothing happened, “Oh yes, in the cupboard next to the door,” Hugh said. And I went back and grabbed the torch. As I felt my way along the walls, I saw the vast array of jars and bottles of wine spread across various tables.
“What are we doing here, Hugh?” I asked impatiently.
“Keep going, nearly there,” he replied.
I kept edging along the wall and finally came to the end of the room; I flashed the torch around and could see nothing else worth noting.
“Push that last panel, Jack,” he said.
I did, and it moved inwards, not just a little bit. I soon realised it was a makeshift door.
“How do you know all this, Hugh?” I asked inquisitively.
“Go inside, Jack.”
As I stepped inside and swept the torch around, I shrieked and dropped it. I scrambled on the floor in a mix of fear and panic and finally felt the handle and pointed it forwards again. The little boy covered his eyes up, and I moved the torch to the left out of his direct line of sight. As he cowered in the corner, I noticed the chain attached to the bolt in the floor and a plate and glass on the mattress next to him.
“This is Peter,” Hugh replied very casually.
“Why are you in our house, Peter?” I asked very naively.
Peter didn’t say anything. He just sat shaking.
“You need to ask your Dad,” Hugh replied.
As I turned around to shine the torch towards Hugh, I saw the etchings on the wooden interior of the room.
Hugh was here.
Mark has only been writing short stories for eight months now, but his passion and dedication are unparalleled, and this has resulted in pieces in prestigious magazines including Books N' Pieces, Artpost, Gallows Hill, Page & Spine, Montreal Writes, Flash Fiction Magazine, and Antipodean SF. His works have been included in The No Sleep Podcast and he has stories in eight spine-chilling anthologies to be released later this year.
Mark currently works in sales and is ready to sell his soul to the devil for a full-time career as an author. He resides in Melbourne, Australia with his wife and two children.
If you are interested in checking out more of Towse's work, you can find him on twitter at @MarkTowsey12 or on wordpress here.