He couldn’t see, or so I thought.
How wrong I was.
Nothing seemed wrong when I met him. My parents said it was normal for kids to have imaginary friends, but he didn’t seem so imaginary to me. Besides, if he was, then why can I still see him all these years later? Why is he sitting beside me as I write this? He was never imaginary, not in the sense most people think. He seemed so nice, so friendly… He still does and he’s been the only constant friend I have ever had.
Growing up I didn’t have a lot of friends as I was an awkward child. No, before you ask there was nothing wrong with me. No deformities that people would find weird or anything of the sort, I just preferred the world of books and my imagination. As I grew up my friends dwindled away until I had maybe one or two. I didn’t realize what was really going on until many, many years later.
When I was in elementary school, I met the man who couldn’t see. He didn’t seem so unusual to me. I met him one night after my parents had fallen asleep. I had awoken from a nightmare and had started to get up to get my parents when I heard a creak from the chair beside my closet. Looking over, I didn’t see anything at first but as the curtains blew in the soft breeze from my open window I caught the glimmer of silver. I tipped my head slightly though I felt no fear and started towards the chair. “Wh-who are you?” I asked as I looked up at the man in the corner.
The man in black turned to face me with a soft smile. “Hello there little one,” he replied. “I’m nobody special, just someone you can call a friend. My name is Axel.”
I looked up at the man as I sat in front of him, my eyes full of childlike wonder. I was only ten at the time. I couldn’t see what he looked like too well and for some reason I swear he heard my thoughts as he reached over and flipped on my bedside lamp. The first thing I noticed was the dark red color of his hair. It ran half way down his back and was tied off in a low ponytail then I noticed the rest of him. His eyes were covered in white bandaging and his clothing was leather, almost like a biker would wear. But what really shocked me was the collar around his neck. I had been taught early about the slave trades and things of that nature and the collar around his neck was one that a slave being sold would be forced to wear. But it was made of silver as was the chain that was attached to it. I tipped my head slightly and reached out to touch the chain, only to be stopped by the male’s icy hand.
“No dear, please don’t touch that. You have no reason to know about that just yet.”
I nodded slightly and smiled looking up at the male before me. “May I ask a question?”
“Of course,” came the soft reply.
“Why are your eyes covered? Are you blind?” I watched as Axel shifted slightly in his seat as he thought of the best way to answer me.
“In a way, yes I suppose I am,” he replied as he removed the bandages, gently setting them on his lap.
I looked up in pure curiosity and blinked a few times. His eyes were pure silver. “What happened?”
Axel smiled and shook his head. “That’s not something you need to know right now either. I’ll explain someday, just not right now. For now, you need to go back to bed.”
I frowned slightly and looked down. “Will you be here when I wake up?” I heard the male stand, the leather of his jacket crinkling as he bent down and picked me up, moving me to my bed.
“Of course I will be,” he replied as he tucked my blankets around me with a smile. “What kind of friend would I be if I just left when we have so many games and fun things to do together?”
I smiled and snuggled into the blankets as he shut off my light and moved the chair closer to my bed. I heard him sit down and felt his fingers run through my hair. Soon after, I felt myself drifting off to sleep as he hummed softly.
The next morning I tried to get my parents to meet Axel but they said they couldn’t see him. I didn’t understand why as he was standing right beside me. Why couldn’t they see him? I frowned when they said he was imaginary and made my way up to my room to get ready for school. I shut my door as the arguing started again. Always arguing. But at least they never did more than yell at each other, at least not that I knew of. I quickly got dressed and looked up when I felt Axel’s hand on my shoulder.
“Relax Jake, not everyone can see me. Only special people can.”
“Special people? Does that mean I’m one of them?”
“Well of course, but you’re the most special out of them all. You’re my friend.”
I smiled as I hugged the male and picked up my book bag. “Will you come to school with me?” I asked as I opened my door once more.
“Not this time. Maybe some other day. Today I have a few things I have to do.”
I nodded and looked up noticing the bandages were back over the male’s eyes once more and made my way out of the house, careful to avoid my parents in the process. I could still hear them arguing as I shut the door and I swear I heard something hit the counter, though I couldn’t be sure.
When I came home from school, dad was nowhere to be found. I had grown used to this, even at a young age. There had been many times I had gone home and my mom had said that dad would be home late because he was out with his friends, but most of the time we would have dinner and I would go to bed without seeing him at all. I figured this was no different until I saw my mom sitting on the couch. I didn’t think twice about it, I just said hello to her and went up to my room to read. Once my door was shut, I glanced around but didn’t see Axel anywhere. Shrugging it off, I settled myself on my bed and read until my mom called me down for dinner.
She looked like she had been crying and there were dark bruises covering her arms as well as a deep gash on her cheek. I had heard something hit the counter… I asked what had happened, and though I already knew the answer, she told me not to worry and to eat my dinner. I didn’t argue and just did as I was told, and of course, dad hadn’t returned yet.
Nine o’clock rolled around and I was in bed, just about asleep when I heard my door creak open. I jumped and looked over but quickly relaxed when I realized it who it was. “Axel, are you okay? I haven’t seen you all day.”
The male smiled and shut the door, slipping his jacket off before he settled into the chair he had left beside my bed. “I’m fine, I promise. I’m sorry I haven’t been here but I told you this morning I had some things I had to take care of.”
The moonlight coming through my window illuminated the links on the chain hanging from the collar around his neck. Wasn’t there only three links yesterday? I recounted and was surprised when I saw four of them. But I chose not to question it. Instead I settled back again and closed my eyes as the male beside me sang in a language I didn’t recognize until I fell asleep.
Axel came with me to school for the next few weeks. Some of the other kids could see him and we enjoyed the games of tag or hopscotch that we played with him. He even showed us a game with marbles. But not everything was alright at home. My father had started to get worse with his drinking and his abuse towards my mother. I got home from a rather rough day of school and my mother was nowhere to be found. I asked my dad where she was but instead of answering me, he simply pushed me into the stairs and yelled at me to go up to my room. Axel wasn’t happy, though he wouldn’t admit that anything was wrong, I could hear it in his voice. His normally soft tone changed to a much darker one but it didn’t scare me as he was my friend and I knew he would never harm me. A few days passed and the abuse from my dad became worse. I did the best I could to hide the damage, even going as far as borrowing some of my mom’s concealer to hide the bruises, but one of my teachers figured out what was going on and asked me to tell them who was hurting me and what was going on at home. I looked over at Axel then back at the teacher and spilled everything.
By the time I got home, my mom was there with a cast on one arm and plenty of bandages covering her other arm, shoulder and a few on her face. I’m sure even to this day that there were more that were hidden by her clothing. I didn’t question her, instead I hugged her as tightly as I could without causing her more pain and held on like my life depended on it. She told me that the police removed my dad from the house and it would be a very long time before I saw him again. I didn’t care. All I cared was that she was safe. Then she asked me a question that I didn’t ever expect from her. She asked me who the man with the bandages over his eyes was, the one who was always with me. I was so excited that she could see him! I did the best I could to explain who he was then smiled when Axel bowed and kissed my mom’s hand as a greeting. She stood with a smile and apologized for saying he was imaginary and went to start dinner with me close behind, more than happy to help.
The next few weeks came and went without incident until my father decided to break in. I heard the glass shatter but I thought it was a dream until I heard the scream. I jumped up from my bed and slipped quietly towards the door only to be stopped by Axel.
“Please lay back down, Jake.”
I shook my head with a whimper. “Wh-What’s going on?”
“It’s nothing important right now, okay? Do you trust me?” I nodded as I looked up at the male. “Then go lay back down. Please.”
I did as I was told and got back into bed, though I knew I wouldn’t sleep anymore that night. We spent the remainder of the night talking until the sun came up. When Axel finally allowed me to leave my room, there were police cars outside. I looked around for a moment before my mom pulled me to her and explained what had happened. My dad had broken in and killed himself outside of my door. The police had assumed he was coming to kill me but ended his own life instead. It didn’t hit me until later, but Axel had five links on his chain that morning.
The years passed bringing me to my sixteenth year. I had noticed that fewer people could see my friend as the time passed and when I asked Axel about it, he told me that it was because there were less innocent people in the world as I grew. Then I realized what he meant when he told me I was special as a child. I was innocent and only the innocent could see him. I questioned him again one day after some people who were bullying me in school hadn’t shown up for a week, then we received the news that they were dead. Again, he refused to directly answer me, but the chain on his collar grew longer. Enough had become enough.
“Axel, I’m not a child anymore. You can tell me the truth now. What happened to you and, more importantly, what are you? I know you must have something to do with the deaths. It’s only people around me.”
The male flinched slightly. “Jake, I’m only trying to protect you.”
“I don’t need to be protected! I’m sixteen, I think I can handle the truth!”
Axel turned his head towards me with a faint frown before he removed the bandages from his eyes and turned his unusual gaze towards me. “I suppose you’re right. It is time I told you the truth. But promise me something?” I nodded in reply, never once looking away from the male in front of me. “You’ll be honest with me if you think differently after I tell you this. If you do and you so choose, I shall leave and you’ll never be bothered by me again.” I nodded once more and sat on my bed. “I suppose I should start from the beginning. As you know, the majority of slaves were colored, but what isn’t told in most of the history books is there were Irish ones as well. I was one of the unlucky few who were sold, hence the collar around my neck. They never removed it even after I was bought. It was used to keep me from running away I suppose. But I digress. I was sold off to work at a hatter’s establishment and either they didn’t know or they didn’t care but there was a mercury leak and I was caught in it. Due to the primitive medicine they had at that point, they didn’t know what was wrong with me and tried to treat the fevers and other ailments with more mercury, thinking that it would cure the issues but it only made it worse in the end, hence part of the reason my eyes are silver.”
“Part of the reason?”
Axel nodded and looked down. “Yes, part of the reason. The other part is the fact that I had made a deal on my death bed. The mercury poisoning had gotten so bad that the doctors left me to die in a room and a black robed figure approached me with the option of living for eternity or dying a very painful and slow death. I was young and absolutely terrified with no understanding of death or anything else and accepted the deal, being recreated into a creature that most consider a sandman. Instead of the entity from the fairy tales where they help children sleep, I use their dreams to kill them. I use their worst fears against them and use sand to either lock them in their nightmares and kill them there, or I use it to control them and make them end their own lives. That is why the chain on my collar grows. With every life I claim, another link is added to show my choices. I have been trying to keep you as safe as I can over the years by killing those who meant you harm. I was appointed to be your guardian and I have done the best that I could.”
“Which also explains why you said you were partially blind.”
Axel nodded as he looked up and met my gaze. “I have killed many people who meant you harm, including your father. I knew what his intentions were when he came back here after being removed and I was not about to allow him to take your life from you.”
I looked away for a moment then met my guardian’s unusual gaze once more. “Did you kill my father or did you force him to kill himself?” I asked quietly and watched as the ginger male before me lowered his gaze.
“I locked him into a dream state that affected him in his waking life. I had no way to fully put him under at that point and I had no intentions of waiting until he slept again to control his mind. As he approached your door, I made my move. He started to open your door and I made him step away. It was as easy as controlling a puppet on strings,” the male before me said as he touched the chain hanging from the collar around his neck. “I made the suggestion that he went to the garage and got the rope. Like a child obeying his parents’ wishes, your father went and got the rope. He made his own noose and hung it in the rafters by your door. But, just as he had gotten everything in place, I lost my control over him when I realized you were awake. I had to focus on keeping you in your room so you wouldn’t see what was going on, hence why you heard the scream. He tried to back out of what I had caused him to do and slipped off the chair. The rest I’m sure you can figure out from there.”
I wasn’t sure what to think at first. My mind raced over multiple possibilities of what to say, how to feel, but before my mind could settle, I heard myself speak. “I feel no differently towards you. You’re still the best friend I have ever had and I wouldn’t trade any of what you have done for me for the world. I owe you quite a lot and believe me, I appreciate what you have done. Thank you for protecting me over the years. But… I have one question.”
“What would that be?”
“How would I become like you? A sandman?”
I noticed the way the male shifted in his seat, the same way he had so many years before when we first met. “I would have to take your life, but I don’t recommend it. Not yet anyway. You still have your whole life ahead of you and you still have your mother who needs you.” Axel looked up and met my gaze. “When the time is right, I will make you into a creature like me. You will be given your own child to watch over and care for, alright?”
I nodded with a light smile and hugged the male I had come to call my friend.
My twenty fourth birthday came around. Almost a year had passed since I had buried my mother and the weather was horrible. I pulled out of my driveway and was headed towards work. I knew I should have called off, the rain was so harsh, but I needed the hours. There’s an old phrase, ‘what you don’t know won’t kill you.’ I beg to differ, thank you. The roads were flooded and I had no knowledge of how bad it truly was or the fact that there was an accident just past the bend in my road. My car slid in a rather deep puddle and I lost control, adding my car and myself to the list of accident victims.
I awoke in the hospital and couldn’t move. Panic washed over me and I tried to get someone’s attention until I felt a cool hand touch my cheek. I recognized the touch immediately.
“Hello dear friend,” a soft voice said from beside me. I couldn’t turn my head very much due to the brace and I knew I couldn’t speak, so I simply leaned into the male’s touch and listened to his words. “Your time came much earlier than I expected it to. I’m so sorry I couldn’t protect you from this pain and suffering.” I could hear the pain Axel felt as his voice cracked and I felt the tears that hit my face when he leaned down to kiss my cheek and took my hand. “Do you still want to join me? Squeeze my hand as tight as you can if you do, if not pull your hand away from mine.” I didn’t respond for a moment, simply staring up at the ceiling as I tried to figure out what to do then squeezed his hand with what little strength I had left in me. He leaned over me with a smile, pressing a kiss to my forehead. “Then rest.” I closed my eyes and I could hear the nurses run in as the heart monitor I was attached to started to flat line. The last thing I heard was one of the nurses asking where the man in black leather had gone.
When I awoke, I was sitting in a young girl’s room, no older than eight or nine. I could hear the soft sobs coming from under the blanket and quietly made my way over to the side of her bed then knelt down and moved the blanket out of the way, gently running a hand through her long blonde hair. “What has you so upset, child?”
The girl jumped and looked up at me, tears shining bright as they slid from her dark green eyes. “Wh-Who are you?” she asked, wiping away the tears.
I simply smiled as I wiped away the rest of her tears and replied the same way my own guardian had responded to me. “I’m nobody special, just someone you can call a friend. My name is Jacob, but you can call me Jake if that makes you feel any better.”
Credit: Jay Vakarian
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