“I wanted to scream, to tell someone what this felt like. But I could not be caught talking to James here. Not now, not ever. No one could ever know.
Rovald still held on to my collar, grasping it in his rough Lupe paws. “This is our side of the academy,” he growled in my ear. “Now go home.” With these words, he threw me to the ground. As I plopped into the mud, I heard them snicker at my foolishness. I have to talk to James, I thought to myself, but I just can’t risk it here.
I lay there, face down in the mire, while I listened to them cackle. “Oh, that was a good one, Rov!” squawked the spotted Pteri. I think I once caught his name, Jack I think, but I can’t remember now. I mean, it was about a month ago, and I’ve been bullied so many times that they sometimes blur together.
“Yeah!” scoffed Hiloy, Rovald’s right hand man. Or should I say girl. “That one is really gonna stick!” They all guffawed at her horrible joke, and left me to blow bubbles in the muck. After a minute or so, they seemed to get rather bored with me just lying there, and wandered away, still laughing their heads off.
James walked over very calmly. He never got excited or agitated, always as calm as could be. He didn’t even attempt to help me up, just stood there, glancing down at me. As I struggled to get up, he looked me straight in the eyes, and asked, “What have you got to say for yourself.” Simple. Calm. Just like that. It hardly seemed to be a question, more like a rhetorical statement.
I stared straight back into his eyes amber angrily. “I have nothing to say,” I told him. I could not see him, but I could picture him perfectly, his calm yellow face, calmly looking into mine. I’m never calm. “This isn’t new at all anyways! It’s the same as before.”
“But don’t you think you could do something to change it?” he asked, still so calm. He was always so unruffled that it infuriated me at times.
“No!” I shouted at him. “I will not change who I am to fit everyone else’s beliefs of what I should be!”
“Ah, but this is where you are wrong,” he told me, and began to pace back and forth in front of the mud puddle. It was all too familiar to me, him pacing back and forth, as he contemplated a situation. But he never acted upon his decisions. That was always me. “Perhaps there is someway that you could change something else?” he asked, spinning around on his heels to face me, “like the way you try to make friends?’
“I already have a friend!” I shot back at him.
“I hardly count,” he responded, a little twinge of annoyance in his voice.
“Yes, you count!” I pleaded to him. “You’re the only one who I know will always be there for me!”
He sighed at this. “I’m only here when you want me to be. And I am not a real friend.”
“Ooh!” I shouted, “You are so frustrating at times!”
“It is your own fault.”
“No it isn’t-” but I stopped myself, for I knew he was right. James was always right. I sighed, and tried to calm myself down. “I know it’s my fault,” I said, “But I cannot understand how a figment of my own imagination can be so annoying!”
I sat sadly down at my desk, eying the piece of paper. James’s idea. I guess it was really my own idea, but I guess I wouldn’t have done anything if James hadn’t been there. I still remember the poster. Stuck there sadly in the rain as we got off the boat.
The Annual Krawk Island Art Contest! I read, as I pulled my gray rain jacket around me. To enter, please contact Brigit Fotore.
I guess I also remember that day pretty well since it was the first day when we had moved to Krawk Island. All four of us, well, three, I guess, since I probably shouldn’t count James.
I remember my mother saying: “Now, Melisma, we want this time to be worry free. No more fights, no more getting in trouble, and especially no more complaining.” I would have protested, but that last part shut me up. I don’t get into fights; it’s always someone else’s fault. I never strike the first blow. And I don’t want to get into trouble either. And I don’t complain, I just tell the truth of what happens. But nobody ever believes me. I guess they don’t really want to.
“And remember,” my father told me, “Don’t bother your mother, for she’ll be too busy with her excavation.” My mom was always too busy with her work, so I never had much of a maternal figure in my life. I know that it’s usually opposite, but our family is just so strange. Like how my dad likes to cook and how my mom loves bugs.
Every few months we moved. We had been at Terror Mountain before, my mom working on some other random archaeological dig there. When she had finished, we had to move again. I must say that I was kind of happy; I got bullied there a lot. This really annoying Halloween Poogle just wouldn’t leave me alone.
So I guess I don’t have a very steady life, and that was why I needed James. He was the one constant thing in my life, the one thing that never changed.
James. He was like my brother and my best friend and my father and my other side and me all compiled into one. I couldn’t say that he didn’t exist. He was there alright; most people just couldn’t see him. Well, that’s what I thought of it. I couldn’t really see him with my eyes either. He wasn’t one of those things you see with your eyes; you had to see him with your heart.
He leaned over me, scrutinizing my picture. I expected a horribly critical remark, like about how atrocious it was, just what I was thinking.
“I hope you don’t give up on it,” he told me, and I looked up at him in surprise. “I would love to see it finished.”
“But it’s horrible!” I exclaimed, “I mean, look at that nose! It looks practically flat! And I have no idea how to draw feet! They look like blobs of clay!”
“Well, so you know what you need to work on,” he said, so calmly. He was always very calm, Ma’am. “There is no point in criticizing things that you’ve worked so hard to perfect, only to say that they are horrible.”
“Argh!” I steamed. “You are so frustrating!”
“Melisma?” my father asked from downstairs. “Is everything okay up there?”
“Yeah, Dad,” I said, his voice bringing me back to reality, “I’m fine.”
“Alright, dinner will be ready in a few minutes,” he said, and the discussion was over that fast. I was never too close to my father.
I turned around, but James was no longer there. Typical of him to vanish. He came and went as he pleased. I looked back at my drawing.
The nose lacked shading. That was exactly what it was. And the feet had to be less blocky and more oval like. That was it. James always knew what was wrong, and somehow, he managed to tell me what without actually saying anything to me.
I focused on those areas, watching my large Eyrie paws flying across the page, their purple tone conflicting with the white of the paper. It conflicted just as much with my stark white hair that I tried to hide by putting it up.
A few minutes later, I pinned my sketch up on the wall in my room, and backed up about four feet, until I hit the wall. It was such a tiny room, but better then the ship’s cabin I once had to stay in. I squinted at it, but still, something was wrong with the drawing. I hoped that it was only the fact that I hadn’t added colour yet; I was rather hesitant to do that. I planned to paint it, and I thought I might be able to save up enough money for a canvas.
The next day at the training academy, I whacked dummy after dummy, bored of the whole thing. I had gotten much better training at Mystery Island, but I didn’t complain. I sort of almost fit in at Mystery Island, but we only stayed there for a few weeks.
“Hey,” I heard a gruff voice say behind me, and I whirled around to face Rovald, “It’s sticky, you know, since she got stuck in the mud?” He and his friends chuckled loudly, and I resisted the urge to smack him in the face. But instead, I stood my ground, but I balled up my paws into fists, just in case.
“Alright, ye lubbers, we have ourselves a new sprog, a 'student' fer all of ye mainlanders,” Mr. Threelegs announced. We all looked across the room towards the door, and I saw some random blue Ogrin. He wasn’t exactly in the doorway, but neither was anyone else. Looking across the room, I spotted Hiloy, James, Marshal, and the Ogrin, but no one else.
So maybe I was just a little bit alarmed when Mr. Threelegs slapped James on the back. Just a teensy weensy bit.
I watched him wince, his familiar face, those same eyes, that same grey T-shirt I always pictured him wearing. I watched his every movement, to make sure that it was James. That it really was him.
It couldn’t be, I thought. James isn’t real.
He smiled weakly at Mr. Threelegs, and looked around the room. And our eyes met. He didn’t seem to be very startled, but I stared at him, alarm flooding me. He walked calmly over, and said to Rovald, “Hi, I’m James. Nice to meet you,” sticking out his yellow Bori paw, one I had seen so many times before.
“The name’s Rov,” Rovald told James. “My group and I are in charge of the west side of the Academy. Come over there, and we’ll see how good of a pirate you could be.” It looked like James got the hint, and stepped away.
“Sheesh,” he muttered under his breath, and I realized he was talking to me, “I was just trying to be friendly.”
I just stared at him.
“You okay?” he asked, and I didn’t know what to do. I’m dreaming, I thought. I know that I’m dreaming. This is all some kind of crazy dream.
Quivering a bit, I reached out and poked him. My finger met the solid surface of his shoulder and he exclaimed “Hey!” before comprehending what had happened.
“You’re real,” I whispered. “You exist.”
“You exist!” he practically shouted. “They thought that I was crazy, having an imaginary friend, but you’re real!”
“Shh!” I whispered. “You want to seem like a crazy person?”
We stopped talking about the whole imaginary friend concept for a while. We simply pretended to just have met, even though we knew almost everything about each other. I gave James my Neocrackers during lunch, because I knew he loved them, and he made sure not to eat his bagguss, since I’m allergic.
There were so many questions burning up inside me. How was this possible? Had we really met before? Was I his imaginary friend? But I saved them inside me, even though it felt like I might blurt them out at any moment.
There were things I learned about James that I had never known before. It seemed that he lived on Mystery Island, but was on vacation. Since he was missing class, he was just making them up here on Krawk Island.
That afternoon, right before class ended, we made a deal to meet at Wrenchford’s Square, a small shopping district filled with stores selling various wares from all over Neopia. Like most places on Krawk Island, almost all of these items were smuggled.
I ran home, dropped my bags and rushed up to my room to grab my sketch. I almost felt that I needed proof, to prove that he was really both someone real and someone I had created. I grabbed it off of my minuscule desk, and hurried back downstairs.
“Wait, Melisma, where are you headed?” asked my dad, pointing a batter covered spatula in my direction.
“I made a friend!” I told him, as I hurried my way out the door. “His name is James!” Maybe he rolled his eyes, or maybe his large brown Eyrie jaw dropped. I remembered the day I tried to introduce James to my parents. It was also the day I realised that he wasn’t real.
I felt a shuddering breath fill me at that memory. I had been, what, six maybe? I had told my parents, “This is my best friend James,” gesturing to thin air. I remember James putting out his paw, and saying, “Nice to meet you, Mr. and Mrs. Brown,” and them laughing. I remember reaching out to touch James. My paw fell through thin air.
I must say that that was the second worst day of my life. The worst was the day James disappeared, Ma’am.
I hurried through the streets, as I could tell that they were dangerous and I scarcely knew my way. Nevertheless, I managed to make it to Wrenchford’s Square in one piece.
And there, sitting on a bench near the centre sat Rovald. Hiloy and Jack held James with his arms pinned behind his back to the ground.
James’s face brightened as soon as he saw me. He mouthed the words, “Help me,” but what could I do? Walk up to Hiloy and smack the red Acara in the face?
“Well, Sticky,” said Rovald to me, “do you know who this is?”
I nodded. “This is James E. Darkglade,” I told him. “He lives on Mystery Island with his parents and little sister, Molly, and he’s on vacation here. He likes Neocrackers, Grapples, and Tyrannian petpets. And,” I paused, “as far as I’m concerned, he’s my imaginary friend come to life.”
“You hear that?” Rovald asked his two friends, and they laughed. “Looks like she has the same story as this fellow here,” and he gestured towards James.
“So,” he asked me, “how did you make him come to life?”
“I-I don’t think I did,” I stuttered. “I-at least, I mean, I don’t think I did.”
“Wrong answer,” he said, and snapped his fingers. Hiloy and Jim, or whatever his name was, each kicked James in the side.
“James!” I shouted, and rushed towards him, but Rovald quickly stepped into my way.
“Now I’ll give you one more chance,” he growled at me. “How did you do it?”
“I don’t know!” I said, and began to cry.
“Melisma!” James shouted, and I sprinted around Rovald to James. I was only a few feet away, when Rovald grabbed me by the sleeve, and turned me to face him.
“All I want to know,” he said, and this time his voice sounded desperate, “is how to bring my sister back to life.”
I stared at him, and he began to sob. It didn’t seem like he was faking it, and I really wanted to help him, but I didn’t know what to do.
“I’m sorry,” I whispered, “but I honestly don’t know what happened to James.”
At that second, I heard a scream from behind me. I twisted around, and gasped as Hiloy caught on fire.
“Ah! Get it off, get it off, get it off!” she shouted, spinning in a circle. Jack quickly ran to help her, telling her, “They told us roll, stamp and drop in school once, so try that!”
“Let's go!” shouted James, running down an alley, trying to get away from them as fast as he could.
“What happened?” I asked, coming up behind him.
“I’m not really sure,” he said, but I was almost certain he was lying.
“Tell me the truth! What happened?” but at that second, we ran straight through something. Or at least James did, anyway.
Right in front of me was a large wooden fence, and somehow or another, James ran right through it. And he just kept running and running, and he never looked back. I watched him run through bushes, through trees, through people, through buildings, and right off a dock. And I never saw him again.
“And, well, Mrs. Fotore, that’s the Bori you see in the painting I made for your contest. I wanted to enter it into the competition, since maybe it may make him come back. I don’t know. Maybe you don’t believe me, but that’s okay, because it has a story, and that’s what counts for me.”