Some people have imaginary friends; he didn’t. I didn’t. Some people have a family. He did once. Not anymore. I did once. Not anymore. We were best friends. We were. He had no-one. No-one but his imaginary family.
Aiden and I were best friends; we even had the same name… well, kind of. Each day when we walked into the jail cell called primary school, we always had each other’s backs. Beating up the baddies that came in our way using our heat vision, frosty touch, superpowers only we knew. We loved the same things, especially Pokémon cards! We would battle them as if it was a life or death situation, putting every last bit of breath into shouting out words on the card that we could barely read. We would brag for days about who would be getting pocket money first just so we could get the next Pikachu card. But that all changed. On the 35th of July, a day we said was real, just hidden by aliens, Aiden was diagnosed with a life-draining spell. One that was cast by the evil witch that is fate. Each day he would come into school slightly later than usual. He sat next to me, smiling the broadest smile that anyone has ever seen, but slouching nervously at the corners. I, at that time, didn’t know of his diagnosis.
Over time he disappeared; his smile, his passion, his enthusiasm. It was my quest to bring all that back. Aiden hadn’t been in school but that didn’t stop us from playing together in the different regions of the estate. Area 51 was where the park was. There was a den that we built from which we would gaze for hours and hours up at the multiverse, waiting for a sign that Mrs Blake – our horrible teacher – really was just a ‘strange beast’ in disguise. Other than searching for extra-terrestrial life, Aiden and I would ride our bikes for ages, as if we were Chris Hoy or Michael Murray – that’s my dad, he says he could beat anyone in a race easily – I still have the scars on my left hand, either side of my middle finger at the knuckle, from when we fell off our bikes!
The week after that he was taken for good, captured, locked in a dungeon far away from any of the regions. I wondered where he had gone.
There’s shouting. There’s sirens. Panic rushes to greet paranoia in my mind with open arms. Red light. “Doctor.” Blue light. “Doctor!” Red light. “We’re losing him!” Darkness, I’m not the same. As the miniature glass stars brought me back to a state of consciousness. People. Do I know them? How do they know me? I walked up to the window in the four-walled labyrinth – ‘mint secret’ in colour, just like Aidan’s bedroom. Murmurs. What’s happening?
A note came from the hospital, signed by Aiden. His hand must have been shaking like Scooby Doo as he wrote it.
Letters to me, to you, from you, to me. It’s as if we were the Chuckle Brothers but the irony in saying that is that the letters weren’t full of joy and laughter but the complete opposite. Aiden was telling me of the people who zoomed past him, not noticing his cries for help; the doctors that talked about ‘Alan Pecia’ and how he would be seeing Aiden soon. He was also talking about his loneliness while being kept caged, like a neglected house pet. I reassured him that his family would surely be coming to see him soon. The next letter came. It consisted of four words scribbled onto a piece of paper. “I don’t have one.”
And many messages later I realised that after all this time my best friend – a person about whom I thought I knew everything – was an orphan.
His parents died when he was very young. Unsure of the cause of death, he grew up curious yet saddened living in Rosslyn Children’s Home. “Do what any kid would do. Imagine them. We are pretty awesome at that anyway!” I responded, aiming to get his hopes back up. The doctor, a woman – the parents who he thought were his, in disguise. Two children – in his imagination, his younger brothers that he always wanted yet were never born. And myself. We are Aiden’s family now.
From Pallet Town, to the Rainbow Tulip Fields in the Netherlands, to the Hitachi Seaside Park in Japan. Anywhere which Aiden and I had either seen on TV or read in a book or played in a game, was an adventure. He would write for hours and hours, telling me about the trip that I had experienced. We had experienced. Aiden, myself, and the imaginary family.
More letters came flooding in. ‘Alan Pecia’ had arrived. He was a man of evil, more evil than Mrs Blake. He came in, shaved Aiden’s head and moved on, presumably to his next victim. For this man stole children’s hair and then stuck it on his own head to fulfil the hairless void that he had lived with all his life.
One letter came into school that morning. Just for me, no-one else. It was from Aiden. He thanked me for all the things I’d helped him do; like rob a bank in Central Canada; scale Mount Everest; perform a magic show in which he travelled to the moon and back; run faster than the Flash. All events which I had no memory of, yet he remembered them as if it were yesterday. He told me not to fear or be sad, as he was going off to college to become an author, and his imaginary family and I waved him off.
Before he went off to college, two letters were exchanged. One containing a single Pokémon card – a Pikachu one, the same one which we had always talked about. The other describing how the recipient had beamed with joy as he discovered the card that he always dreamed of, and that same card returned to the original owner with a message on the back. “You and I have had some times together. When I see you again we’ll have some more. I promise!” A smiley face was drawn right next to it; as the swoop of the happy mouth arced back up, it plummeted again in one straight line. One. Straight. Flat line.