Pretend Friend

by John Jones

To any passer-by who saw him slowly walking along the shoreline, he was alone. With his hands in his pockets, and a downcast gaze, watching the water lap the beach, he was a solitary 37 year-old in a business suit, up to his ankles in water as he walked like the loneliest man on earth, the sea breeze ruffling his thinning hair and flapping his blazer. It was late evening, the time when the last person on a beach would be packing away, as the sun had sank into the ocean, and the wind would be picking up pace. Except this wasn't that type of beach. No tourists came here as it was too far out of the way, and it wasn't very long in comparison to other beaches. It just reached past half a mile, and at its widest, it would just be longer than the widest motorway. Most of it was covered with stones, with the sand being at the shoreline.

Patrick Burnett looked out at the horizon, at the orange, yellow and red sky, pondering whether or not he should walk towards it, let himself be carried by the tide, out to sea, following the sun in its descent into the ocean. He had come down here to see if he could follow it through, see if he could go for a long swim in his suit, diving down for a close-up of the sea bed. He knew he would never do it. His subconscious had been telling him all along, and now, stood here, he discovered it was right. Despite the solitude, and quiet, Patrick had company. Patrick always had company, even in the shower. Ivor was standing in the water also, only he had taken his shoes and socks off and rolled his trousers up to his knees. He was gesturing for Patrick to go further out into the water.

"Go on," he said, "You can't do it can you? You big coward". Ivor would sport a grin most of the time, like he was doing now. More so now, because he knew for sure that Patrick could not commit suicide. He had already known it, but now it was definite, and that was reason for Ivor to be happy, to wade in the water like a big child, mocking Patrick, making him feel even more depressed.

When Patrick was five, he had discovered an old children's book up in the attic, following the adventures of Ivor the farm boy who looked after the talking pigs and horses, where the sun never set and everything seemed so picturesque and wonderful in its illustrated style. Patrick had identified with Ivor, and when he put the book down, Ivor remained in his imagination, becoming entwined in his psyche, and becoming with no hesitation, Patrick's pretend friend. For a five year old boy, this is nothing unusual. Children can get away with talking to themselves, as it is part of the developing mind, an emerging personality. After childhood, it becomes questionable, and there was no exception in Patrick's case. Ivor had never gone away, as with most children's imaginary

friends. He projected forth from Patrick's imagination like a permanent hallucination. Growing with him, developing like Patrick into an adult. Going with him everywhere, talking to him, always in Patrick's company, never leaving his view, except when he closed his eyes, but when he opened them again, he was always there, especially in the mornings when Patrick woke. Ivor would be staring down at him with that grin of his. During his teens and beyond, Ivor would be hovering around. He was there for his first kiss, his wedding, his honeymoon, and his divorce, his interview at the bank, and at work, and at his recent dismissal, always in his field of vision, grating on his mind and sending him spiralling into a depression. He would tell him to go away, but it was exactly the same as telling somebody not to think of a dog, or a chair, the image always comes to mind. So with Ivor, telling him to leave was like trying to forget, sometimes it's impossible. It had become such that Patrick had begun to talk to Ivor openly in public, basically being aggressive towards him. 'Go away', and 'Leave me alone', the most prominent phrases shouted, leading people to believe that he was losing control of his mentality, and causing his superiors at work to agree that it was probably best they let him go. To employ somebody with mental problems looked bad on the bank's image, therefore, they felt they had no choice. It was the same with his marriage. It broke down after 14 months because she couldn't cope with his depression. There were times when she had said it felt like there were three of them in the relationship, and at one point, telling him it was as though he was having affair with himself. Ivor simply stood around and did what he did best. Nothing. Or irritate Patrick. He didn't have much of a personality, only what Patrick had given him, the persona from the children's book having vanished a long time ago, Ivor's companionship becoming something of an impediment and an annoyance. Not a true, or indeed real, friend. Patrick could barely remember the feeling of being absolutely alone, and recently he had had the idea that maybe certain pills or tablets could cure that part of his mind causing the projection of Ivor, so decided he would confide in his doctor so he could give him the correct prescription. Ivor didn't like that. Didn't like the fact that somebody would know about him, so decided to loudly protest down Patrick's ear as he sat in the waiting room. 'What are you doing? You really don't want to be doing this'. This caused Patrick to shout aloud, like an embarrassing drunkard sometimes seen on a bus, or walking down a busy street. Shouting though, was not enough to make Ivor go away, as when the boiling point of anger is reached, there is only one place for it to go, the violent route. Patrick grabbed a teenage girl's mobile phone from her hand and threw it at Ivor with an ear-piercing scream of 'Go away'. Of course, the phone passed through Ivor and smashed into the wall, and Patrick ran from the doctor's, not because of any consequences from the waiting room, but to get away from Ivor. He ran as he had never ran before, and stopped after around two miles in a supermarket car-park to regain his breath. When he looked up, who else should be standing there, smiling down at him?

Ivor either didn't care about the effect he was having on Patrick, or he genuinely couldn't see it, rather like a smiling teddy bear or doll that retains its smile after literally being thrashed and beaten. No longer was he the cheerful little boy, riding a talking horse across the meadow. Now he emulated Patrick in his own way, dressing like him, sometimes behaving like him, and sometimes seeming as though he was nothing like Patrick. No longer could he be called an acquaintance, or confidant. He couldn't truly be called an enemy, either. Irritant was more akin to the effect Ivor was having on him. A brain irritant, or malfunction that caused Ivor's constant projection, his personality perhaps emerging through the subconscious that is responsible for dreams. Patrick often wondered how it was he had never gone away, why he remained constantly around him, sending him slowly in a into a depressed psychosis, unbalancing his state of mind.

Prior to him coming down to the beach, he had attended an interview at a building society for a financial consultant, sat under the gaze of four executives. He found it quite intimidating, and matters were not helped by Ivor pacing around behind the men. When he decided to speak as another question was being asked, Patrick couldn't make out what the interviewer was saying, and told Ivor to be quiet. A split second after he had said it, he realised he had said it aloud, and the man asking the question looked shocked. Obviously he'd never been spoken to like that before, and consequently responded with a shocked silence. After they had looked at each other in surprise, they looked back towards Patrick and saw an empty chair, and the door slowly closing.

"Can't you just leave me alone," Patrick said, looking at Ivor who was still standing further out into the water. Ivor said nothing, but stood looking back at Ivor with his hands on his hips, as though contemplating what to say. He then began to wade towards Patrick and stopped before him.

"I can see I've been quite annoying sometimes. I can understand that. However, I will admit that I am afraid. Well, actually I'm terrified. I don't want you to forget me. I'm fearful that you will. I will die if you forget me. That is why I am always in your vision.

I will risk you forgetting me for a few minutes though. I shall recompense you with something I know you've never forgotten". Ivor then walked past Patrick, towards the sand dunes. He turned to speak, but Ivor had gone, and for the first time since he was five, he felt alone. It seemed as if nobody was around for many miles, and the feeling of isolation on the beach felt good. He looked all around him, and knew then that he truly was alone. He savoured the moment, believing Ivor's return to be imminent, but it wasn't. For around five minutes, he walked along the beach, wallowing in the sensation

he'd missed. As he looked out across the calm ocean, something over to his left caught his eye. The water was being disturbed, and Patrick watched as head and shoulders appeared. Before the whole person emerged, Patrick saw that it was Ivor, and the feeling of isolation simply vanished. Ivor walked to the shore, and Patrick saw that behind him, more of the water was being disturbed, and he watched with incredulity as many horses and pigs emerged, no longer confined to the pages of the children's book, and no longer in cartoon form, but as real as imaginary animals can be. Ten of each came to the shore, followed by two other individuals, dressed in strange garb, as though they were on their way to a fancy dress party.

"Didn't forget me, did you?" said Ivor, stating the obvious as he approached him.

"Remember the book where you first found me? Well here's the other characters in it. We have the author to thank for making this possible, for bringing us off the page and into your mind. I don't know much about her, only that she only wrote one book, was into alchemy and pagan rituals, and disappeared somewhere in South America after the book had been published. You had a rare copy, as I understand that it was soon withdrawn after publication, I'm not sure why". I can guess, thought Patrick. Ivor nodded.

"Yes, I'm sure you can". Ivor gestured to the other men who were standing amongst the animals.

"This is Roland the cave inhabitant,". He wore a distinctive caveman's outfit, and resembled a typical Neanderthal. Exactly as a cartoon caveman should look in the real, physical world. Rather like an actor playing the role.

"And this is Floyd the tree dweller". He wore a green outfit, his posture resembling that of a gibbon, or orang-utan. His skin was pale and tinged green, his eyes and mouth, frog-like, yet distinctly human.

"You remember us from the book don't you?" said Ivor. " Remember our adventures? Well I brought them all back to be your friends. We can all have adventures together". It then hit Patrick, that these were going to be exactly like Ivor. Pretend friends who would never leave his vision, who would be around him constantly, twenty-four-seven.

"Hello Patrick, pleased to meet you". He saw that it was the nearest horse that spoke. It was then that he burst into laughter, and this caused all the others to do the same. Patrick

didn't know what he was laughing for. Was it because of an acceptance by him that he had all these friends? Or because he knew he had finally gone mad. Not even he knew that.

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