James tried on his Halloween outfit for the fourth time. He stood before the full-length mirror in his parent’s room admiring himself. He flexed his fake biceps. Yep, he looked totally cool as superman!
“Seriously? You’re gonna wear that?” Tim’s voice made him jump for more than one reason. Aside from the fact that his friend just snuck up on him, he knew that if his mum found him here she’d go ballistic.
“What are you doing here?” James pulled him into the room and shut the door. “I said I would meet you later.”
“Yeah, yeah, blah blah. You said it but I wasn’t sure you meant it so I decided to come check.”
James frowned, his little five year old face scrunching in a very grown up expression. “Why? Do you think I’m lying?”
It was Tim’s turn to blink in surprise. “No…I just…” He shrugged.
James’ expression softened at the sadness on his friend’s face. Tim didn’t have many friends. In fact, James was pretty sure that James was Tim’s only friend. The other kids tended to ignore him. James wasn’t sure why, Tim was great. He was funny and smart and adventurous, all the things that James wanted to be. When James was with him he felt like he could do anything.
Mum didn’t think so though. Mum would get mad whenever he mentioned Tim. She told him that she didn’t want him playing with Tim anymore, that he was a bad influence. James wasn’t really sure what that meant but he was sure that his mum was cross and he loved his mum enough to try and obey. It was hard though. He’d told Tim he couldn’t play with him anymore and Tim had looked so sad and lonely that he had immediately taken it back. They had started meeting in secret. Tim would slip into James’ garden through the hole in the back fence. The garden was huge, like a forest all of its own. They would play for hours only saying goodbye when mum called him in for tea.
Today was Halloween and he had promised Tim that he would meet him in the garden after he had been trick or treating with his mum. Tim said he had a surprise. James loved surprises.
The sound of heels on the laminate floor had Tim scrambling to hide under the bed.
The door opened and his mum popped her head in. Her eyes widened in pleasure when she saw him. “You look adorable!” she clasped her hands together.
“Mum! I don’t want to look adorable! I’m a superhero!” he pouted, annoyed.
His mum winced. “Sorry. Of course you look very…heroic.” She fake-swooned. “Save me! Oh save me!”
James giggled and then his mum was trying to tickle him through the foamy fabric of the suit and they both ended up in a tangle on the floor in fits of laughter.
The shrill sound of the phone had his mum up and running out of the door. James remembered Tim and quickly rushed to look under the bed.
The space was empty.
Trick or treating was always fun. This year he got twice as many sweets as usual and he couldn’t wait to get home and lay them all out and count them. Mum had bought him a jar especially. He would fill it with the sweets and put it on his bedside table so he could look at it every night before he fell asleep. He would eat some, of course, just not all of it.
Brian and Tiffany, his cousins, had walked round with them, but they were gone now, thank God! Tiffany was so annoying and lately all Brian did was push James around. Ever since he turned seven, Brian had turned into a bully.
“Where’s your friend tonight then, huh?” Brian had taunted. “Doesn’t he want to come treating with us?”
Tiffany had giggled. Stupid girls!
James had ignored them both. They were both stupid anyway and he didn’t know who had told them about Tim or why they were being so silly about it.
Anyway, the night was over…well, almost over. He stripped down to his underwear and then quickly pulled on his Toy Story pyjamas, gown and slippers before slipping from the room and heading down the stairs. He should be brushing his teeth and getting ready for bed but he needed to meet Tim first. He tiptoed past the living room where he could hear his mum and dad talking softly, padded through the kitchen and out the back door.
The moon was high in the night sky and the garden looked all glowy and misty. James blinked in awe as he walked down the path that led to the trees. Everything looked…magical.
Soon he was at the tree line and his feet brought him to a halt. For some reason unwilling to go any further. He looked up into the shadows. “Tim?” he whispered loudly.
There was a rustle and then his friend appeared from the shadows. James frowned in confusion when he looked at his friend. “You’ve got the same pyjamas as me.”
Tim nodded. His eyes were impossibly large and black in his face. James took an involuntary step back.
Tim grinned. But it wasn’t a friendly or reassuring grin. No, it was a scary grin, a grin with too many teeth.
“I-I need to get back.” James took another step back, the deep instinct telling him to turn and run at war with his mind, which told him he was in the company of a friend.
“What’s the rush, James? Don’t you want to play?” Tim’s voice sounded different…hissy and weird and there were other sounds too. High-pitched giggling and a low growl that sounded way too close for comfort. The tiny hairs on the back of James’ neck stood on end. No. He didn’t want to play, never wanted to play with Tim again. James shook his head, his mouth suddenly dry.
Tim took a step forward, breaking away from the shadows completely. As the moonlight hit him his body rippled. James rubbed his eyes, unable to process what he saw. Tim was no longer Tim. Tim was James. Tim, now James, smiled showcasing tiny baby teeth with a gap at the front just like James’.
“What? What’s going on?” James was truly frightened now.
“It’s my turn now.” Tim said pleasantly. “I think I’m gonna enjoy being you.”
Tim’s hand shot out and shoved him hard. James went flying back, swallowed by the darkness onto the other side of the veil. His scream of horror was cut off before it had time to gain volume.
Emily looked up from the washing the dishes as the back door opened. “James! You were supposed to be getting ready for bed!” she scolded.
James’ lip trembled.
She sighed, rinsed and dried her hands on her apron and pulled him in for a hug. “It’s okay. You know I don’t like you out after dark.”
“Sorry,” James mumbled into her apron. “I was saying bye to Tim.”
He felt her stiffen. Her hands gripped his shoulders and she pulled him back so she could look into his face. “I thought I was clear about this. I do not want you playing with Tim anymore. You are way too big for an imaginary friend. Besides, you have lots of real friends.”
James nodded. “I know. I promise. I won’t play with him anymore.”
She regarded him for a long moment, gauging his sincerity and then nodded. “Good. Now go get ready for bed.”
He turned and rushed to the door.
He turned and Emily’s heart stuttered. Large, impossibly black eyes stared at her. She blinked and the image was gone. James was staring at her expectantly with his usual grey eyes.
“Nothing,” she said softly. She stood staring at the door long after James had disappeared upstairs. She should really go check on him. Tuck him in and give him a kiss goodnight. She shuddered and instead drew back the blinds at the kitchen window and stood staring into the moonlit night.