Prompt Short Story: Imaginary

It started off so simple. A kid’s imagination begins younger than you might expect, I discovered, but it’s small things. I’d feel the urge to go cuddle her, and wouldn’t be able to resist, but that’s just normal parent stuff, right? Well how about more pudding appearing out of nowhere? More block toys? An extra stuffed toy shaped like no creature on this earth?

I mean, I denied it, of course. The human mind has an almost infinite ability to explain away the inexplicable, and what can’t be explained, it just works around. Rebecca was a normal child, so what if abnormal things sometimes happened around her? That was my mantra, followed by denial.

But eventually something happened that no amount of excuses could ignore. That was the day Jenika appeared.

It started off simple. Rebecca was 2, and she would do something she shouldn’t, or she’d be chatting to thin air while she played. And when I asked, she’d tell us Jenika suggested it, or Jenika was playing with her.

She told me Jenika was an invisible alien, and after a chat to her paediatrician who said it was in line with her development, and should fade as she got older, but in the meantime it was fine to play along, I did just that.

Jenika got a seat at the table, and I ignored how her food would somehow disappear. I ignored the depression in the bed where she lay with Rebecca at bedtime. I even ignored now, when I pretended to kiss her goodnight, it felt like an actual head was there.

One day I was doing some cleaning chores downstairs. Rebecca should have been playing in her room, but instead I found her in my room, playing dress-up with my wardrobe. I didn’t mind the dress-up, though we’d have had a chat about using other people’s stuff without permission.  No. It was the second set of clothes dancing around without anyone in them that stopped me in my tracks.

Rebecca asked Jenika to show themselves to me, and they did. They were about 3 feet tall, bright green, with antennae and a head like an ant, but more rounded.

Rebecca told me that one day she was playing and she wanted someone to play with. I was busy, and we didn’t have any outings scheduled for that day, so she made up a friend. Jenika appeared, and she was real.

I was lost. I couldn’t tell anyone about this without either sounding insane, or risking my child – or, children, at this point, as Jenika was clearly part of my household now – being taken away. But I had to do something to make sure whatever this thing was that Rebecca could do, she kept it secret, and she never used it to hurt anyone.

I had to make her grow up so fast. How do you teach a 2 year old moral and ethical philosophy? Well I had to figure that out, and the answer is: with a lot of trial and error, and examples that make sense to them.

Not that it all went smoothly. She might have learned about how she shouldn’t use her power but that didn’t mean she didn’t misuse it. Have you ever tried convincing a tantruming toddler not to shake the room til everything fell over? Or a teenager that they couldn’t just magic up whatever they wanted? Or take revenge on someone who was mean to them? In case you wonder, that’s hard to do. Sometimes impossible.

And did she hate me at times? So much. I found myself in timeout a lot over the years. She never hurt me, but lock me away? Stop me moving? Take away my voice when she didn’t want to hear me? Sure.

On the other hand she also grew up generous. As far as anyone was concerned we were rich, because she would make the number in the bank accounts go up so I could buy a house, and never need to work. She’d create items to give as gifts, whatever someone wanted, they could have. And she’s never seen someone in need without helping them.

She’s learned limits over the years. Like when to stop, before it becomes too much. Like she can’t buy affection from others by giving them things – that was a hard one, lots of heartbreak.

She’s a good kid. Adult, now. She doesn’t know I’m dying. I’ve kept it from her as best I could, but she’s going to notice soon. We see each other for dinner every week, so it’s been gradual, for her, I think it would have been more obvious if we didn’t, but I’m about to reach a point where I can’t hide it anymore. 

I know she’ll want to take it away. And I know she can. But I don’t want that. I’ve raised a good daughter, who for whatever reason was born with an incredible gift. I’ve taught her to use it well. I’ve taught her to be a good person. What more could a parent ask?

But the universe has decided this is my time, and I’m at peace with that. I did the best I could, and I’m so proud of her. She needs to let me go, and I know she will, even if she hates me for it for a while.

But I raised another child, too, and Jenika – they look human these days, so they can exist in the world – will help her. I raised an imaginary alien and they turned out pretty good, they help people every day.

And what else can a parent ask, than to die knowing how much good their children will give to the world?

Mine might be extra-special in some ways, but they’re also still just my kids, and I’m so proud of them both. I hope they continue to help people, after I’m gone.

I’ve kept these diaries for so many years, ever since the day Jenika showed themselves to me for the first time. They contain all my hopes, my frustrations, my doubts, and my pride.

My dears, if you’re reading this, know that you are everything I could ever have wished for. Comfort each other, and know how much I love you. Keep changing the world for the better. It’s not any kind of power that lets you do that, it’s your hearts.

I love you both, more than you can ever know.

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Writing prompt used

A child is born with an imagination so strong it leaks into reality.

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