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What I’m about to say is true, or at least that’s what I think. It’s been so long and my parents have done all they could to convince me it didn’t. After that day, I never told a soul about the whole thing. Well, that is until now.

Let me see what I remember. I was about five or six years old at the time. My parents suggested I participate in an after school program that was going on. They said it would be a perfect way for me to socialize with other kids, since I was quite a loner and I kept to myself. Well, that’s what they said; but I knew their true intentions. My parents were both working overtime by the Fall to help make ends meet. They couldn’t afford to pay the usual babysitter I’d have from about 3:15 to about 8PM when I’d usually be in bed and they weren’t sure how they felt about me being around my so-called “sketchy” neighbors.

The program, to my memory, would start once the last bus left and we’d all go off to a classroom to do our homework with a provided snack until we were done and go off to do activities of some sort—like crafts or whatever until about 6PM when our parents would pick us up. But enough of that. I was in a room one day, doing my work with a pack of fruit gummies by me when my eyes landed on a kid sitting across from me. I heard he had a peculiar eating habit, but I never noticed it until then. He would arrange his food by color and made sure nothing was touching.

I’m not sure why I never took notice of him before, especially since he had a unique look if you will which got him the nickname “Sticks”. He was on the tall side, one of the taller kids in our grade, and pretty pale and skinny. He wasn’t so thin to where you could see his ribs, but it looked like he was just skin and bones, not much meat on him at all. He had these dark eyes that hid behind circular glasses and thick dark red hair. All of that aside, I still can’t remember what got me to move to the empty desk next to him. I’ll just say it was his Spiderman backpack to save time. We spent the rest of the day talking about shit 6 year olds did and we were pretty bummed out when we saw our parents out front, but made a note of where to meet at lunch so we pick up where our talk ended. His name was Brian.

Weeks went by and the two of us became attached at the hip. Because we got so close, my parents eventually came around and let me go to his house until my parents go off of work and would pick me up. Some nights would result in me being allowed to stay over his house where we’d try to be quiet enough to play Super Mario Bros. and Contra on his brother’s NES. One night over that was the strongest for me was the same old thing; video games, watching cartoons and taking turns reading stuff from “Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark”. When the morning hours arrived, the two of us were playing in his backyard while his mom was getting breakfast together. What happened next still confuses me today.

We were on a swing and from out of nowhere, Brian started laughing. When I asked him what he what was so funny, he told me he remembered a joke that someone named Kevin had told him. Confused, I asked him who Kevin was and what the joke was; he told me Kevin was a friend he met some time ago. I was taken aback by the joke at first, not understanding of it until I got older. I shrugged the whole thing off and we went about the rest of our day.

Time went onward and Brian and I were growing apart, or he was ignoring me. I’d go over his house to see if he wanted to do something like watch movies or ride our bikes, but he’d just tell me that Kevin was over and he couldn’t make room. He said Kevin had abandonment issues and didn’t like to feel like a third wheel. Whenever we’d run into each other at school and I’d ask if he wanted to do anything—he’d mention Kevin. Kevin would be at lunch and he didn’t like other people around. I got annoyed and went about my day. At lunch that day, I saw Brian alone at his old table and I got really pissed off. I figured he didn’t wan to man up and tell me why he didn’t want to be friends anymore so he resorted to that.

I don’t remember when it was, but I was at recess one day by myself; just playing with a stick in the dirt by the old basketball hoop at the opposite side of the grounds. From out of nowhere, Brian sat down next to me. In a pretty angry tone, I busted his ass saying he shouldn’t talk to me since he might make Kevin jealous.

"I’m sorry, Max." he explained "I never meant for anything to happen."

"Whatever." I sighed "Just go. Clearly we’re not friends if you’re too busy with imaginary ones."

"I never said I didn’t want to not be friends anymore." He said "It’s not my fault. It’s Kevin’s."

"Whatever." I sighed again.

"Listen to me," he pleaded "Kevin hasn’t always been like this. He used to be really nice. He was so fun to be around when my brother was in college. But then he just got mean and he told me he didn’t want me to see you. He didn’t want me to need anyone else but him."

"You’re talking crazy." I said. At this point I wanted the conversation to be done with. Brian had been pissing me off enough as it was and why he even bothered to talk to me made me more pissed off.

"You have to believe me, Max!" he plead again "Nobody else will. I haven’t been able to tell anyone because Kevin has always been over my shoulder."

"Oh yeah?" I inquired, raising a brow "Well where is he now?"

"We were playing a game." He told me "We’re playing hide and seek and I let him hide first."

I started to tune him out and hoped if I ignored him enough that he’d go away. That’s all I wanted. I just wanted him to go away.

"If he knows I told you…" he started "He said if I ever told anyone what he’s done or leave him, he’d do bad things. I’m scared, Max."

"How can something hurt you if it’s not real?" I asked "I mean if you made him, he can’t hurt you."

"I didn’t say he was wasn’t real." he said in an almost whisper, choked up with fear. "I thought he was at first. I was so alone that I guess my mind made him up. But then he got strong and I couldn’t do anything to stop him. He got really mad the day you came over with your bike. So mad that he smashed my TV. I’m afraid, Max. I don’t know how to stop him."

"Sticks, are you okay?" I asked, suddenly concerned. Not so much about him at the time in general, but his mental health.

"Oh no." he said, with the same fearful voice. "He’s over by the door…I have to go!"

"Wait!" I called to him.

He just kept running for the door and he stayed there until the bell rang and we’d go inside. I wish I knew what he was talking about so I could have helped, but I didn’t get to. He must have been so spooked if he was one of the first out of the school. I tried to call him afterwards, but he didn’t want to talk. I let him be and knew I’d try to make things right the next morning.

The day was memorable. The skies were this shade of gray that was common for this time of the year and the air was cool. We just had our first snowfall of the year and my mother made sure I was well bundled before sending me off to the bus stop. I walked over with the usual group of kids in the area and we made our way over to Brian’s to see if he was ready. When we made the corner to his house, there were police cars swarmed around. We got up close before the bright yellow tape blocked us off. I asked an officer what happened, and he told me simply to step back.

Brian’s parents were standing on the porch, hysterical. Brian himself was nowhere in sight. I wasn’t sure how to even process what was going on until a kid pulled on my jacket and pointed to the side of the house where Brian’s window was. It was wide open and there were footsteps trailing away from it. Not like foot prints made with shoes, but…feet. Bare feet. They also didn’t look like normal sized They looked monstrous. Enormous, even from where I was standing. But even then, they didn’t look like prints from a person, but an animal—but none that looked familiar to me from my animal tracking book.

From what I vaguely recall on the news, Brian’s parents tucked him into bed and went to sleep. When they went to wake him up, he was gone. His bed was unmade and the window was wide open. There looked like there was no sign of forced entry, which lead police to have his parents listed as the lead suspects, but they weren’t able to describe the footprints in the snow. He was never seen again.

My parents would reassure me that he would be found and come home safely. I mentioned Kevin to them and they just assumed he was this imaginary friend of mine. A monster I made up as a way to explain why Brian was missing. They did their damnedest to convince me that Kevin wasn’t real, but the more the days went by, the more I became a believer of Brian’s story. My parents eventually put me in therapy, where they told me Kevin is just a coping mechanism on dealing with the trauma of my best friend being gone. The case eventually went cold, despite an incident that we thought would provide answers—but ultimately brought us to another frozen dead end.

By the time I was in the 5th grade, I forgot about Brian and that night…until now. I could have sworn I saw those footprints again, leading to the bedroom window of my childhood home. Someone left the window open.



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