Prompt Short Story: Mothball City

Mothball City

It’s always a little quiet here when one of us is fading. We always fade, you see, but we don’t always come back, or sometimes it’s just a long time before we do, and even then the chances of winding up in the same district isn’t super high.

The Agency assigns us based on some complicated algorithms, and if the numbers don’t land on you, well, you stay in the closet, so to speak. At least we’re dormant while we’re not in use, I can’t imagine passing all that time still awake and thinking.

Anyways, when one of us is on their way back to the closet, we gather around whoever it is, and we hear stories of their kid – from the first day they became their Friend, to the day they realised the kid was growing out of them.

That’s when we fade, you see. When our kid grows out of us. Eventually, they don’t want or need us anymore, and then poof – mothball city til the algorithm pulls us out again.

My name’s Uggy, this time around – they tell us don’t get too attached to the name, each kid gets to give you a new one, just like they decide how you look. But I remember every name, just like I remember every kid. Smoosh, Jocky, Mikey – all of the names stick.

Imaginary Friend probably sounds like a silly job, to some. Those people probably got all grown-up and forgot theirs, or maybe they never had one – not every kid does. But we’re important. We can teach a kid all sorts of things, from sharing, to loving, to dealing with bad things happening, to helping them start to figure out who they are. A kid with an Agency approved imaginary Friend grows up a little more equipped to handle the big, scary world.

My current kid is gonna have a tough life. She’s growing a mental illness only I know about yet, and her parents aren’t gonna wanna acknowledge it, and it’s gonna mess her up pretty bad before she finds help. But I’m teaching her to regulate, to spot the triggers and the changes, and that she isn’t a bad person because her brain needs some help. On top of that, she’s already realising she’s not the right gender, and her parents are not gonna enjoy that when it starts to come out, either.

We all have specialities, you see. I get mental illness, but it usually comes with a side of something else – people aren’t usually so simple as to fit in one easy box, you know? But when mental illness is the most major thing they need help with, I’m one of the ones on that list.

The Agency’s algorithms are real good at predicting which specialisations are gonna be needed. If a kid’s gonna be bullied, or abused, or if they’re gonna need help when their parents split up – you name it, we got some Friends who are made specially to help them out.

All of us were people like you, once. People who found our way to the Agency. It varies how, but for me, it was a job listing – travel, helping kids, rewarding role, that sort of thing. I showed up for the interview in this office that’d clearly just been rented for the day, and they offered me the job.

Then they told me what it was and I laughed in their faces – figured it was a prank or something. Reckon they’re used to that though, it didn’t faze them – they brought me to one of these places, like they’ve brought you, showed me around, let me talk to some Friends. If you choose against the job they’ll wipe this bit from your memory – for safety, you understand.

Once I figured it was real, I took the job. They put me to sleep and did whatever it is they do to make me a Friend and give me all the info I need – I was social worker with a degree and all in my other life, so they specialised me the same way, and sent me out to my first kid.

I’ve been to a lot since then. I help all of them as much as I can for as long as I can, and then I just…hope it was enough.

I don’t get to find out how things go, and I’m not allowed to look them up later – instant mothballing for good, if I did that.

Sometimes you do stumble across yours in the wild though and get a few moments to see how they are. And sometimes you’ll be called into an intergenerational job, where you help the kid or grandkid or great-grandkid or whatever of a kid you helped before – usually because the story of their Friend was passed down, and the new kid calls for you. If that happens, and you’re not already on assignment, you’ll get woken up and dropped right in.

My current kid has kept hold of me longer than most do. She knows she’s gonna have it tough, and she’s needed someone on her side. But eventually we all have to go. If the kid doesn’t let go of us, we get taken away. They all gotta stand on their own eventually.

I probably have a few more weeks, yet, maybe even a couple of months. But she’s looking for me less and less, her attention is going where it should be as she grows up – on the solid world.

Soon it’ll be me in that circle, telling my last stories as I fade away, and then…pop. Mothballs, til the next time the algorithm picks me up.

I love all my kids. I wonder who the next one will be.

Anyway, time to join the circle before this Friend fades out. I hope the rest of your tour goes well, maybe I’ll see you around sometime, whoever I am.

I hope you enjoyed the story! If you can share the link, I’d appreciate it. You can also leave a comment or drop me a message, I’d love to hear from you. And if you can, a donation via Paypal or a sub via Patreon would be a great help towards future, and better, endeavours!

Prompt used:

You are a kid's imaginary friend. He's growing up. You're fading away.
You are a kid’s imaginary friend. He’s growing up. You’re fading away.


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