“Miss, Jess!” a reporter from the back row shouted as I was in the middle of presenting, “can you please explain a little more about what you’re alluding to? I must confess that other audience members and I are starting to get anxious.”
I wanted to tell him no and move on, but I felt obligated to answer his question. “Imagination is infinite. There is nothing the brain cannot imagine or think about. Imagine you won the lottery. What would you do with it? Surely, you don’t have to think too hard because you’ve already thought about that question before, right? When you were a child in elementary or middle school, you probably had a very vivid imagination as well. Did you plan how you would kiss your crush behind the ball-wall wall? Or were you thinking that you were going to be the next Bill Gates?
Imagination is a wonderful thing. Any good dream was a product of imagination and likewise any night terror. Now, what if these things you imagine actually happened? Not in the logistical sense that as if by magic you won the lottery, but in the sense that your imagination was so vivid that you practically teleported into your head and swam around in thought? This may seem scary at first. To swim around in your mind, something so ambiguous and unknown, but it doesn’t need to be. Introducing the—”
How did I get here? What led me to this very moment? I guess it started in elementary school.
In elementary school, I was a fairly normal girl. I lived alone with my grandmother in a small home. My grandmother didn’t believe in driving to school. So my morning routine always included the morning 15 to 20-minute walk to school. I liked that walk because we’d have to walk through lots of trees and it reminded me of the woods. I enjoyed what many girls did; my stuffed animals, dolls, books, and Grandmother’s makeup—very normal.
There were a few abnormal things I did, however. The strangest was leaving out a bowl of milk on the kitchen table every night. Most kids leave out a cup with cookies for Santa, but I had to every night. And every day that I woke up, it was partially drunken. It was the only thing that Walter would drink.
Walter has been around me for as long as I can remember. He was a small boy with an elephant’s head, a wolf’s tail, and a human body, arms, and legs. He used to say that he preferred to have a snout than our normal human heads because everything tasted and smelt ten times better.
I once asked Walter why he would only drink part of the milk. He told me he was never too hungry. He only ate what he needed to have a fun day the next day. We did everything together: play, sleep, go to school. It’s almost impossible to remember a time he was not around me. Even in school, my teacher’s lessons were mostly a means to an end because I lived for recess, and when I started playing tetherball, I may never stop. I remember one day, in particular, in fifth grade:
We were all standing in line in the morning waiting for our teacher to come to take us to class.
“Hey, Walter,” I said. “Why am I the only one who ever talks to you?”
“That’s easy,” he said. “Only people with enough magic can see me and that’s just you.”
“Makes sense,” I said as Olivia and her sassy girl group walked over.
“Hey, Jess,” Olivia was being her usual sassy, fifth-grade self. “Who are you talking to?” She and a few other girls started laughing.
“Nobody,” I whimpered. I learned a long time ago that whenever I was with anyone they couldn’t see him so there was no use explaining.
“So you were talking to yourself?” She said holding a small kid’s hot cocoa. “You’re so weird. Here, Kate. You know what to do.” Kate was one of the other girls with her.
“Imagine talking to yourself because you have no friends,” and with a laugh, Kate dumped the hot cocoa all over me. They all walked away laughing, while I was left crying.
“Hey, Jess,” said my favorite soothing, familiar voice, “are you ok?”
“Walter.” I wiped a mix of hot cocoa and tears from my eyes. “They did this to me.”
“Yeah, I know.” He hugged me. “But I’m still here. You’ll be OK.”
“I don’t want to be here anymore.”
“That’s fine. Let’s leave then.” He helped me up to my feet. “Come on. Follow me.”
I followed him. “Where are we going?”
“The safest place in the world.” He smiled. I smiled too. I knew that meant the pillow fort we made in my room back home, through the woods. I was so excited. I don’t remember much once we started walking. We were walking through the woods and we heard some growling from behind a tree. We quickly darted behind a bush. It was a very long time ago, so I don’t remember how, but we eventually made it home.
That’s just how Walter was. He cared for me. I never needed anyone else. Over time, he stopped coming around, though. It started when I was prescribed my pills by a psychiatrist. I was 13:
“Rebecca, your granddaughter needs help,” he said to my grandmother. “she suffers from a rare disorder called delusional disorder. The only reason she was in the woods and attacked by that bear was because of her friend, Walter. That may have been three years ago, but frankly, you should’ve come to my office sooner. Something worse may have happened. This wolf is ingrained into her head. She needs help.
“She loves Walter,” my grandmother rebutted. “They’ve been friends forever. I am not taking that from her.” My grandmother was crying now.
“And what if he’s the reason she gets hurt next time because she isn’t lucky enough that hunters are in the woods at the same time?”
“Listen, I know this is hard. I’m not asking you to make a simple decision. Here’s the prescription, along with weekly meetings with me.” He handed her some papers. “I’m sorry.”
I was tired of sitting there as if I was mute. “Are you going to hurt him?” I pointed to Walter who was standing in the corner.
My grandmother cried harder.
“No, sweetie,” the man in the coat said. “We are trying to help you.”
“They couldn’t hurt me if they tried!” Walter laughed while he threw some air punches. I laughed with him. My grandmother was sobbing. Needless to say, we left that office with a bottle of pills and a “same time next week.” I don’t remember exactly when, but I began to see less of Walter. My grandmother told me he moved away, but I didn’t buy it.
“—Introducing the WLTR!” The screen behind me showed the helmet-like device I had been dedicating my life to. Applause from the crowd. “This is the Wherever Life Takes you, Relive it. It can be both an immersive game console, a new metaverse, or anything you want. It is designed to be your world and make you happy.” I was saying all of this, but I wonder about the bowl of milk sitting on my kitchen table in my studio apartment. How much did I believe this was really going to make people happy? I don’t think I made this for the good of the people.
I think I just miss my friend.
This is a short story that I have been working on for a long time and am planning on making into a novel. I figure that this will be the last time I edit this short story manuscript and wanted to share it here. The idea with this novel is that any parent that likes to read to their kids can enjoy reading a deep and emotional journey of a grandmother and adult looking back on her life; while their child can have fun with the adventures of Walter and Jess as a child. I am hoping to be able to focus a lot on Jess and her classmates, like Olivia and Kate, while adding the feature of Walter.