Okay. Let’s get this straight. I never wanted any of this to happen. I’m not who you all think I am. I promise that all those things he did – that was never intentional. Not on my part, anyway. He’s just… just a coward. A damn coward. He thinks of the worst possible things he can do to people, and then he follows them, and then he does the most terrible things to them. All with that same stupid mask.
I’ve never hated anyone more than I hate that guy. It was all his fault this happened.
So you probably have no idea who this is, or what I’m talking about. Alright, I was thinking it’d be easier to tell my story if none of you knew what my name was, but you deserve to know the truth. Everyone needs to be warned before this sick bastard gets to your families, too. (He already got rid of mine.)
I don’t know why he does these things, and he won’t ever tell. In fact, he doesn’t really say much. And when he does, it doesn’t make a lick of sense. And I need you all to understand something very important, right off the bat. Because unless you understand this, you won’t understand the rest of what I’m about to tell you.
HE AND I ARE NOT THE SAME PERSON. We may (unfortunately) share a likeness to the other, but trust you me, we are nothing alike. I don’t even think he knows what family means, or love. Or protect. Another thing?
I’m a talker. I talk a lot. I’ve always been found guilty of being a ‘chatty Kathy’, and I got in a lot of trouble for it when I was younger. But this guy? I think his mouth must be broken or something, because he rarely opens his mouth. I hate him so much. I know I keep repeating that, but you just don’t understand the seriousness of it.
None of you will ever hate anyone as much as I hate Eli Foster. And I’ve always hated that people called me that. Especially since I’m not Eli, and he isn’t me. Okay, so now you probably REALLY have no idea what I’m talking about. Allow me to clear up the confusion.
My name is Julianna Foster. No, Eli is not my fucking brother. Please, don’t ever suggest that. He killed my real brother, right in my face, and I couldn’t do a single damned thing to stop him. So don’t you ever suggest to me that we might be related.
Eli is actually just what I call him because no one ever actually gave the fucker a name. Figures. I mean, he was my “imaginary” friend. Why the hell would anyone else call him anything? His name was Julien Foster. I wanted him to feel like he was welcome, like he was a part of the family.
Drat bit of good that did anyone. In fact, it was probably because of my stupid urge to have an imaginary friend that all this happened. I should have just contented myself with the friends I already had. The flesh-and-blood ones. Why do we, as humans, always have to take what we have for granted and fuck everything up in the process?
Let me tell you what happened from the beginning.
I was six years old when I first heard of imaginary friends. My friend Sara had one, and so did Janelle.
They were the first friends I ever had, so I didn’t want to be left out. I asked them how to make one, since mom was always telling me that imaginary things were made up by the people who talked about them. They looked at me with a funny face and told me that their friends weren’t made. They were found.
So, I tried finding one. I looked everywhere, but I never found what I wanted. Every time my mother took me to the park, I spent hours searching for an imaginary friend, instead of playing with the other kids. And I didn’t find anything. You can imagine the crushing disappointment I felt.
I was the odd one out. I was the only one with no stories to tell at snack time about something ‘Arthur’ did, or something that ‘Maria’ said. I felt so stupid, slow, like I was doing something wrong.
So, one day, I took my mom’s advice, and I just made one up. Or, I tried to. But when I was little, not much stood out to me. I wasn’t very creative. I was a girl who always colored in the lines, who never said anything weird, who always smiled pretty for the pictures and never snuck a single cookie before dinner.
My mom always said I was her “little angel”, and my big brother had to hide his snorts of laughter behind his hand.
As all things stood, I had no idea what to make my new friend look like. Since I couldn’t decide what his face should look like, because I couldn’t “imagine” anything cool or new or cute, I just decided that he liked to wear a mask, like the one I saw in the scary movie my mom and dad were watching late one night. I had been trying to get a cup of water, and I had heard my mother screaming, so I dropped the glass and, like any frightened child, ran to find her.
She was sitting, laughing, on the couch with my dad. He saw me and apologized with a slight grin, explaining to me that mommy was just scared because of the mean man in the movie. I looked to the TV, confused, and saw the paused screen that was zoomed in on the eerie, blank mask of the man.
I initially mistook it for his face, and asked what happened to it. My dad explained it was a ‘hockey’ mask, that it wasn’t actually his face. He just wore it to cover how ugly he looked underneath it.
So, I decided my new friend would wear a mask to hide how ugly he looked underneath it. I had no idea what “ugly” even meant, since my mom hated when my brother called people names, so she made him swear not to do it in front of me, and none of my friends had any idea what it was, either. I learned later what it was in the third grade, and felt bad for calling my friend ugly.
(He didn’t actually mind. It took a lot to grind on his nerves – coming from me, anyway.)
I made him wear a mask, for lack of creativity, and decided that he liked to wear plaid, button-up blouses and jeans, like normal little boys. I decided that he would have the same kind of hair as my dad, so he could really feel like the brother I always wanted, one who didn’t ignore me or try to make me cry just because it was funny.
So, in my mind, I was “imagining” a boy with black hair and my cousin Anthony’s blue eyes.
(I always liked Anthony. He was nice and he let me play with his toys while he watched TV with my brother.)
And then, I waited. I waited for days, weeks, but Julien never showed up.
I was very quiet those days, because I didn’t know how to feel about it. One day, I told my brother about it, and he laughed at me. “Why do you want one, anyway? Maybe Julien’s older than you and doesn’t feel like hanging out with a stupid little girl. Did you ever think of that?”
I cried when he said that, and even though my mom scolded him, I felt embarrassed. Maybe he was right.
And what if he was? What if I was being stupid for thinking anyone wanted to play with me?
I went outside, then, thinking maybe it was time I moved on and played with the neighbors’ kids.
I remember wiping my tears and being angry, angrier than I’d ever been at that age, because I was sick of my brother always treating me like an idiot. (I remember thinking, “Who does he think he is?”)
And then I looked up, and there he was, as if he’d always been there.
Julien Foster. Blue eyes that shone behind his mask, jeans, a red plaid long-sleeve. The heavy coat he wore over it wasn’t part of what I had created, but I shrugged it off. It was winter. Maybe imaginary people got cold like the rest of us. Though I doubted it was warming him up at all, since he had the zipper opened.
(My mom had always told me that wearing an open coat was like wearing no coat at all.)
His mask didn’t really freak me out because I was just so GLAD that my brother was wrong, that everyone was wrong. I had actually made up my own imaginary friend. I was pretty stoked.
And despite his unnerving appearance, Julien was really nice to me. He was a little quiet, but I didn’t mind. Because I had a lot to tell him. I took him to the park to meet my friends, but they all thought he was creepy and didn’t want to play with him.
I remember getting really mad at them for just ignoring the hard-earned product of all my tears, but Julien just shook his head and took my hand, leading me to the swings where I sat and cried in a fit of anger for a little while. The whole time, he just patted my hand and soothingly pressed his other hand against my back, like my dad and Anthony did when I was upset or hurt.
In that moment, I remember thanking him tearfully and telling him he was a better brother than my own. He stiffened a bit, but then he was laughing and that was the first time I’d heard such a sad sound.
After that, most of my childhood is kind of a blur. But no matter what happened, Julien was always there. When I was nine, my mom called me down to dinner. I was playing with Julien in my bedroom, and he looked up when he heard her footsteps. She knocked once on the door, accompanied by, “Anna, come down for dinner.”
He looked at me, with that same seriousness he always had. He was pretty serious for a fourth grader, I remembered thinking. He acted a lot like Anthony, in that way. He asked me who “Anna” was.
I laughed and told him that’s what my mom called me. I also told him that when you loved someone, you usually called them something cute because that was how you showed you cared about them. (I was too young to understand it, myself, and that was how my dad had explained it.)
“Oh,” Julien said, in that same, hesitant way he always did. Julien had a habit of always sounding sad, even when he was happy. He asked me if he could call me Anna, too, and I told him that he could. (Because he was my friend. My friends called me Anna, too.)
After that, I decided it was only fair for him to get a cute name, too. So I started calling him Eli.
Then, I went down for dinner, ate half of it, and snuck the rest of the plate to my room, with the usual, “I’m going to eat the rest in my room!” My mom said the usual:
“Clean up when you’re done!”
And that was that. I gave my friend his share of dinner, and that was the first time I think he ever sounded happy.
“Thank you, Anna.”
“You’re welcome, Eli.”
I was twelve when I finally told one of my friends about Julien. She looked at me weirdly, and said, “You have a what?”
“An imaginary friend. I mean, he used to be imaginary. But he’s so real, much more real than the food we’re eating right now,” I told her, oblivious to what she might say next.
I don’t really know what I was expecting. It was weird for a seventh grader to still have imaginary friends. I should have known that, at the very least, she probably wasn’t going to take it like she took her pie. The revelation didn’t go as smoothly as I would’ve hoped. (Had I thought there was something to hope for, anyway.)
I hadn’t expected to fall into the bottom rung so quickly. All because I’d admitted to having an imaginary friend.
(Looking back, I probably needed professional help if I was seeing something that “didn’t exist”.)
(Children’s imaginary friends are usually imaginary because even they don’t see them, but I didn’t know that at the time.)
Seventh grade became a waste of time, pretty quickly – I felt like I wasn’t learning anything that I couldn’t learn from Eli, and what was the point of making friends who weren’t really my friends? So, I started to skip school.
At first, just a few periods. At one point, though, I found myself leaving home to go straight to McDonald’s or the mall. Or just a local playground Eli and I liked spending time in.
I know it was stupid. I don’t need you to point it out. It’s too late for opinions, anyway.
Way too late.
It was also during this time that Eli started to get angry. At least, I don’t remember him ever being angry, before.
I’d never seen him be so scary until then, either. But one day, when I was walking to McDonald’s (skipping class – again), Sara, the person who’d ruined my life by treating my childhood innocence like it was a joke, spotted me crossing the street, swinging my bag and laughing at something Eli had said.
I can’t even remember what he had said. But then she came walking over, marching,actually, and put her hand on her hip, imitating the older girls in movies, and started to laugh. It wasn’t the usual laugh I used to hear her giving to her other friends, either. It was a vicious laugh. The type that means nothing but trouble.
Eli didn’t say anything at first. He just watched her, quiet as usual, waiting to see what she would do.
I, on the other hand, was more scared than curious. I had always thought Sara was nice, but after everything she’d put me through, all the rumors she’d started about how “crazy” I supposedly was, I realized people sometimes didn’t care about you, even when they said they did. That you shouldn’t believe everything everyone said to you. Eli had told me that when I came home crying one day because of something she’d said about me.
I suppose the only reason it got worse is because I never told my mom about it. Sure, I talked to her about everyday things we had in common, and things we did together, like movies and going to the Farmer’s Market for a slice of cake. But I only told the important stuff, the stuff that bothered me, to Eli.
He read everything I did, played every game I had, and saw everything I had seen. So it was only natural to feel like I had more in common with Eli. I trusted him with my life, which is the worst possible thing you can ever do.
(With anyone, in general, though Eli is the worst possible example of a “true” friend.)
Anyway, Sara just laughed at me for a few more minutes before seeing that I was staring at her without having much of a physical reaction. (The truth was that I didn’t actually understand why she was laughing. I still don’t.) I did that a lot – or so I was told. That was kind of the reason my mom was always so worried about me. I didn’t show much of a reaction to things. I was either smiling or wearing a blank expression.
I refused to cry or scream unless Eli was around to comfort me.
I should have known what kind of effect it would have on him. I was a mentally ill child, I know that, now, and in the end, I can’t help feeling like I dragged him down with me. Only, Eli was strong where I wasn’t. That’s what the problem was.
When she did speak, she asked me what I thought I was doing. I told her, like it was obvious, “Walking with Eli. Duh.” I don’t know why I got so sassy. I think it was quickly becoming my default reaction.
It was actually no wonder I was becoming so aggressive. Eli had told me once that there was nothing wrong with being mad, and that if someone bothered me, I had the right to defend myself. He was waiting to see if I could do it, I guess.
Boy, did that make her angry. She held up her hand, fingers splayed, but I never found out what she was going to do. Because then she was screaming. I looked at her, putting my hands down from my sorry attempt to protect my face, and saw that she was laying on the hard floor, hand bent at an odd angle.
Eli hadn’t moved an inch. That’s what it looked like. He was breathing heavily beside me, fingers twitching, wringing the helm of his coat. Almost like he was nervous, like he’d done something bad and was afraid he’d be punished for it. As it turned out, Eli rarely took that coat off, no matter how hot it was outside. It was kind of dirty, sometimes, and even though I asked him if he wanted to wash it, he only let me wash it when it was beyond the point of filthy.
(My mom once caught me and asked me where I got it from. I told her, “I found it,” because I was afraid she would get mad at me for lying (she always thought I was lying when I talked about Eli, even when he was right there in front of her. She would always say, “I didn’t raise a liar.”).)
(She told me it belonged to my dad. And then she told me to be careful with it so it didn’t break. She never told my dad. Either that, or he never asked for it. I guess I’ll never know, now.)
Sara kept screaming that awful scream, and I just looked at Eli, bewildered.
“We should go,” he said, without letting me ask anything, and then he was grabbing my hand and leading me away to McDonald’s. I never asked afterwards what had happened. I didn’t need to.
Eli had hurt Sara because she was trying to hurt me.
I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that. He was defending me, right? Friends did that all the time.
But, this wasn’t the last time it happened. Ever since then, Sara told everyone I was crazy, dangerous and violent, and some people tried to “do something about it”, but every time they rose a hand against me, Eli took care of it.
He was ruthless and quick enough that I never saw him move. Sometimes the kid would get in a good beating, and when I was laying in bed that night, nursing a sore arm or a swollen eye, crying because I was such a baby for letting them hit me and not saying a word when the teachers asked, Eli would come into my room, coat mysteriously gone, and give me pills for the pain. He would stay by my side until I felt better, until the bruises were gone, and then he would go out, in a clean coat, as soon as he was relatively certain that I was alright on my own.
I asked him once where he was going, and he gave me an unexpected answer: “Hunting.”
I left it at that, thinking he meant the same thing my dad did on the weekends with with his brother.
And I never asked where the liquid had come from, why it was so red, because I “knew” it was animal blood.
And it continued like this. It was a pattern. He’d defend me, and when it got too tough, or we were outnumbered, he’d go out “hunting” when I recovered, always with a clean coat, and the machete that my dad brought with him outside to take care of the weeds around the cabin he stayed in for hunting season.
My dad wound up getting another machete, because his original went missing one day and never showed up, afterward.
Eli kept going hunting. And then, suddenly, everything stopped. The beatings just stopped.
One day, the kids just left me alone. It seemed like the hallways were emptier, but I had no idea where the other kids had gone. And most of the people who stayed didn’t say a word to me for years to come. Not that I cared.
I was just glad that I could walk down the hallways alone without fear of being followed by whispers and laughs.
Eli sounded very happy when I told him that. He laughed that weird laugh that always creeped out my brother when he heard it. (My brother used to barge into my room and accuse me of making that noise, telling me to “cut it out”.)
It didn’t sound weird to me (it was just Eli), so I never bothered feeling worried that his laugh didn’t sound like it used to, anymore.
And he never told me what he did to make them stop, but now, I know.
Eli hurt people, and the rest who disappeared were too scared to come back to school, to stay in town.
The peace came and stayed for a few years, and when I was fifteen, a boy asked me out to the movies. It was a boy I’d liked for a few months, a boy named Ray. I didn’t think he knew about my reputation. He couldn’t have – or else he wouldn’t have wanted to turn the corner with me, much less go out, alone, with me. He was really smart. I’d always liked them smart. I could never be attracted to a boy who was dumber than Eli.
Some of them pretended, to impress me, that they knew what I was talking about whenever I went on a tangent about stuff I was interested in (like my favorite movies and what I thought about the theories of alien life), but Eli always laughed and told me not to waste my time with those “liars”.
And I always listened. I’d never not listened to Eli.
So when Ray asked me to see a new movie about alien invasions (“The Arrival”) with that nervous look on his face, expecting me to say “no” because I didn’t spend much time with other kids my age, he was surprised when I accepted his invitation.
I told Eli as soon as I got home. Eli was interested (anyone who liked alien invasion movies was “pretty cool” to him), and wanted to meet him.
So we did. I took him to Ray’s house. And turned the corner just in time to see Janelle, probably my only friend left (besides my acquaintances, who I could never be sure saw me as their “friend”), came out of his house, holding his hand. At first, I wasn’t sure what I was seeing. I was confused, and beginning to feel stupid. Because of my prolonged confusion, I wasn’t ready when Ray laughed and told me that I was “stupid” if I’d really thought he’d be into the Town Psycho. Janelle didn’t say anything, to me or to him. She just had this look of fear in her pretty little face.
I left. Without another word. And I didn’t turn my head a single time to look back. Eli was quiet the whole time we walked back.
And I know how bad this sounds, but I never felt sad at all when I found out that Ray went missing that night and was found a few allies down, dead, haphazardly tossed into a dumpster. They said the cause of death was asphyxiation. He had died choking on his own blood.
Now, look, I know you’re thinking I’m making this all up to excuse what happened later. But I’m really not. I never hurt anyone. Never. I’ve always been “mommy’s angel”. Why would I hurt anyone?
It was when I was seventeen that the aggression got worse. I was always arguing with everyone. My dad, my mom, the teachers, the other kids. Nobody knew what was wrong. And then one night, I got into a fight with my brother, for the first time in my whole life, and broke his nose. Without even thinking.
Dad sent me away to my room while they took him to the clinic, and mom?
Mom looked so disappointed. That was what hurt the most.
Eli’s posture was kind of stiff.
“You hurt your brother?” he asked quietly. “Did he do something to deserve it?”
It sounded like he was accusing me, and even though I knew he was just worried, that I was being stupid, I felt hurt. Annoyed and sad that he would even think I was the one at fault. It was me who had always told him that family was more important than pride, that family doesn’t hurt family.
I told him to go away, for the first time since I’d met him.
He didn’t say anything, then, and for the first time in years, I slept soundly.
The next morning is when it started.
When I woke up, Eli was gone. No matter where I looked, I couldn’t find him. It was like the first grade all over again. I cried and begged, saying I hadn’t meant it, that I wasn’t thinking clearly. I even told him I loved him, like I did sometimes, because I knew he liked it when I said it aloud.
But he wouldn’t show up. Not for weeks. Not even for a year.
I never gave up on hoping that he’d come back. I was right on the cusp of graduation when he finally did. I was in my room, hanging up the graduation robes for the following Sunday, which is when I would finally graduate out of this hell and move somewhere better than the town I hated the most.
I remember feeling so relieved. I’d fallen apart right around the time Eli had left me for good, because I had no idea what to do what all the negative emotions I was so used to hashing out with him. It was decided that I’d been depressed because of everything that had happened in my earlier years, and had lashed out for that reason. They wrote me a prescription for medication (Celexa, if I remember this right), and my grades rose again once I got some semblance of a grip on myself. Though I had to study more now than ever before, considering that Eli, my personal tutor, was gone, I really felt like I was doing better, now. And though my grades weren’t perfect, anymore, they were still better than they had been for months.
I was relieved because I had finally let myself grow up. Part of growing up, I remember telling myself, was admitting that Eli had never existed. That he had just been my way of coping with the stress. That’s what Doctor Henderson had told me. That I had been the one to hurt those kids, and the ones that were missing? Not related to me.
(And I admitted – I was angry, but I never hurt anyone besides my brother.)
It was kind of depressing, to think I’d wasted so much time by myself, rejecting all my friends and the childhood I could have had because of someone who’d never been there. I looked at the mirror, studying the new lipstick I’d brought, when suddenly, the image distorted. The glass shattered right in my face. I screamed and fell back, holding my face, but when I drew my hand back, dizzily, there was no blood or pain. Just smeared lipstick.
I shot up and looked at the mirror, again, cautious and afraid. But I wasn’t seeing myself, anymore.
Eli was back. Everything I did, he mimicked. As if I were looking at him, instead.
But then, when I was thinking maybe I should just forget about it and go down to dinner, when I was beginning to wonder if I was seeing things again, he stepped forward. And I couldn’t move. He rose a single, gloved hand. Eli had always worn winter clothes, even in summer. Those were the gloves I’d brought him when I was thirteen, because his hands had been freezing.
Clenched in that hand was the handle of my dad’s missing machete. Stained red, like the blade. Dripping.
Blood, I realized, strangely calm in the face of such implications.
(I guess I still believed I was seeing things.) But then he smiled. I don’t know how I knew. That damned mask, the one he never took off, it wasn’t letting me see his face. And for once, this was something I didn’t like, something that worried me.
He smiled, a terrible smile I was half-glad I couldn’t see, and then I was seeing black.
When I came to, you have to believe me, I was dizzy and confused, and my nose caught whiff of the most horrible stench that you couldn’t even begin to imagine.
I got to my feet, and felt a wave of pain in my face. I screamed and fell back, clutching my face, feeling nothing but normal skin, wondering if I’d finally lost it. There was a loud clattering.
I got up. And in the mirror, I could see what had happened.
There was blood running down the length of my face, mostly from various open wounds that would soon scar something terrible. I was terrified.
Had Eli, my closest friend, my only friend – someone who never existed – done this to me? Then, I turned around, and saw just what had fallen from my hands. My dad’s machete. It was just… just covered in blood. The once shiny metal was no longer reflective, but only gave off a dull glow of red. “Jesus,” I muttered, and backed away, right into the mirror of the living room. I turned, quickly, and saw him dart from the corner of the mirror. I spun, thinking I’d see him, but Eli was nowhere to be seen.
I turned back to the mirror, slowly, and saw him dart into the bathroom. I followed him, screaming for him to stop, asking for explanations, half-hoping I was only imagining things, that I’d fallen asleep in class or in my bed or in the car – something to indicate that this wasn’t real. That’s when I froze in the doorway. There, in the near-brown water, was Lock. Fur bristled and clumped. Floating, motionless.
Eli had drowned my brother’s cat. But why was I the one with the scratches!?
I made my way to go and tell my parents, shakily, wondering how on Earth I was going to explain this without implicating myself, wondering why everything had to fall apart when I was finally getting my life together, but then I screamed, again, and had to stop myself from swaying, violently, on the spot. My parents were dead, gutted like fish and strewn across their large bed. No, no no, Eli, no, you’re not supposed to hurt the people who loved me!
I was so messed-up about this that I almost didn’t hear my brother screaming. But then I spun around and darted into his room, upstairs, across from mine. The blood on my face was beginning to feel sticky, and I was having a hard time keeping my eyes open once it started to dry.
I almost shuddered when I saw Eli, for the first time in months. He was holding my brother by the top of his head, grasping his hair painfully, that death grip he always had on his beloved machete. The same, infernal mask covered his expression, like always, but I could feel the anger coming from him.
“Do you love me, Anna?”
“Let him go!” I screamed. He sighed, heavily, before holding up his other hand, the one holding the machete.
I was startled. Had he somehow gotten back downstairs and retrieved it without my noticing it?
“Remember what you made me do, Anna. Remember what you made me do.” He stroked my brother’s throat, almost lovingly, before bringing the blade down and slicing through skin, flesh, and bone. He tore my brother’s head clean off before my eyes. I couldn’t even scream. I just watched. I nearly couldn’t believe it was really happening.
It never occurred to me to try and stop him.
Then, the realization hit home, and I swayed, falling to my knees.
There were heavy footsteps as he approached me. Then, he was lifting me up to look into his eyes, those cold blue eyes I would never again be able to love or trust. He had killed my whole family. I couldn’t understand why.
Didn’t he love me? Why would he do something like this? Something that would only hurt me?
He started to laugh that same laugh my brother hated, and then he held up his blood-stained glove to wipe the blood from my face, like he used to wipe my tears when I was still a little girl who believed in him and hated the world around us.
“Anna, you hurt your brother.” He paused, and then tilted his head. Just slightly. Not enough for me to notice if he hadn’t been right in my face. He used to do it all the time. But now, it wasn’t cute. Now, it was – it was creepy.
“Did he deserve it?”
“I didn’t hurt him, Eli, and you know it!” I was angry, now, and upset, too, on the verge of a breakdown that had been coming for years. One the likes of which Doctor Henderson and my parents could never imagine as possible. He clicked his tongue, something my mom used to do when she knew I was lying.
“Liars don’t go to heaven,” he told me, very matter-of-fact, sounding like my mom when she said it.
“I’m not lying!”
He stared at me, quiet for a few seconds, then a minute, and I was afraid I’d made him angry.
“What a mess,” he said, right when I was beginning to feel like I was on the verge of passing out, almost casually. He took a few steps and kicked my brother’s severed head so that it rolled away from us, out into the hallway. “Clean up after yourself when you make a mess, Anna. Messy children grow up to be messy people.”
“Stop doing that,” I wanted to hit him, but I was too scared to dare it.
“Doing what, Anna?”
“Stop mocking my mother, please.” I didn’t want to cry in front of him, for the first time since we’d met. So I shoved my face into my hands, and I tried desperately to control how my shoulders shook. But he knew. He had seen all the signs, before. This time, he didn’t comfort me. This time, he dropped me, and I fell, and he laughed.
Like this was all just a joke to him.
“I’ll do what I want, you crazy bitch.”
“Why are you mocking them?” I didn’t understand. What was he trying to do? And why?
(Was he angry that I had rejected him?)
“I’m not mocking them, Anna,” he said, crouching down before me as he thumbed his machete. “I’m mocking you.”
“What?” My voice was a whisper.
“You’ve always been so scared, Anna. So scared of your parents. So scared of your friends. So scared of them.” He sounded like he couldn’t quite believe it, like he was disappointed. “It was kind of funny. A little pathetic, really. But mostly just very funny.” His words were cold and cut deeper than any knife. “I expected better from my sister.”
“You’re not my brother! You killed my brother!”
“No,” he corrected me, placing the tip of the blade against my chest. “You killed your brother.”
I fell silent, not quite certain where he was going with this blame-game, and then he plunged the blade into my chest. I took a deep breath, quite possibly my last one, but felt no pain.
I looked down, afraid of what I would see, and saw that his blade had not cut me because there was nothing to cut. It had struck through the wooden floor, and he pulled it out, almost as if he’d expected this to happen.
“Now who’s imaginary?”
When the cops finally arrived to my house, Eli was long gone. I only knew they came because he hid in a large bush outside my home and waited for them, only because I couldn’t bear to leave until I knew for certain they found my family.
He just crouched low, grasping my hand tightly, mocking me with his silence.
“Imaginary Anna,” he finally said, mirth twisting what I thought must be a beautiful and cruel face. “Anna is imaginary.” I was the only one with an ugly face to hide, now. But he wouldn’t let me hide it. He said it didn’t matter because no one would see my ugly face.
I cried when he said that, and for a moment, he was the Eli from the past. He wiped my tears, and then he cleaned my face from all the blood, before he began to laugh again.
“Where are we going?” I asked, afraid of his answer. I had nowhere to go, nowhere I could go. It was as if suddenly, Eli were the center of my universe. I could never stray too far.
(He had told me it was the same for him when he was the one who “didn’t exist”, and taunted me, saying it wasn’t safe to wander too far, because then it might be difficult to come back.)
“Hunting,” he said, with that same anger in his voice from my childhood years.
So, do you believe me, yet? He – it – doesn’t know I’m writing this. Eli is “asleep” – he does this rarely, but these are the only hours when I’m able to escape all the screams and the blood. God, the blood. His coat is always spotless, and his weapons change, depending on its “object of interest”, so there’s no “murder weapon” to speak of, not ever for very long – but that doesn’t stop the blood from soaking into his boots. They are permanently stained red.
What happened to my once-beloved friend? Why did he become this monster?
Now that I think about it, this could be all my fault.
If only I had sought help, if only I hadn’t kept all my problems to myself, “Eli” might never had any reason to keep coming back. This wouldn’t have happened if I had just let him go when I should have.
But now, my part in this is done. It’s too late for me, but not for you – you still have time.
Please. Protect your family like I couldn’t protect mine. Protect everyone you love. Because if you don’t, Eli will get them. He’ll get them, and he’ll make you watch yourself kill them all – and then, he’ll erase you. I have nothing left. I am nothing. Don’t let that happen to you.
I don’t want Eli to have any more prey. Please. I try to stop him, but I can’t. He’s too fast and too strong, and in the end, he only laughs at me as everyone just bleeds out on the floor, all over his boots.
The only way it can’t hurt you is if you don’t trust it, not even for a second.
Be wary of strangers. Especially if you can’t see their ugly face.
And whatever you do, if you see something in the corner of your eye darting about, don’t look in the mirror.
That’s where he’s strongest. Where he waits. He waits very patiently, until you trust him, until you trust yourself, until you think you are safe and happy, and then he uses you, eats up everything you care about and discards the rest.
He waits in every single one of us. He already used me. Don’t let him use you, too.
He’s not you, and you’re not him. And if you let your guard down?
Don’t trust Eli Foster. Don’t trust yourself.