My family inherited a lot of money when my Grandmother died.
Basically, my Mom was the only one who looked after Grandma in her later years. My Aunts, Uncles, and Cousins couldn't be bothered to visit even when they were passing through town, mere miles away. I've always kind of wondered how much of the decision to leave everything to us was really Grandma's choice... but in the end I really think she would've done it that way if she could.
After the money came in and our extended family was done sneering and moaning about it, we moved to a bigger house in a nicer neighborhood. My Mom, Dad, and little sister Joey seemed like everyone in the world up until that point. When I was exposed to neighbors I could actually talk to and a street full of children who didn't spit at each other, it was like I had stepped into a much friendlier alternate reality. One where the good guys won all the wars, and being a parent meant actually caring where your kids ran off to.
This was around the same time my sister started talking to herself. It wasn't much at first, and Mom said she was doing it because I didn't spend enough time with her anymore. Joey would sit by the windows and silently mouth words to herself. Sometimes she'd start swaying, or "dancing" as Dad put it.
In the early days of this behavior, I mostly ignored her. I felt like she was getting weird on purpose, or something. I resented her for it.
Eventually, Joey got worse. At that point, I was forced to spend several hours a day alone with her. Sundays were all-day Joey days. The fact that she was acting so strange made it impossible for her to hold onto any friends, so I was the only tool that could be used to 'fix' her increasingly antisocial, detached behavior.
Mom and Dad asked who she was talking to, if it was an imaginary friend or just to herself. The question rolled right off her back, and she answered them as if it was patently obvious. "Clomstace".
It made me laugh out loud the first time, and my parents shot me a cold glare for it. It sounded like random gibberish and I thought she was making fun of them. Then, in following conversations, the name reappeared again and again.
Who are you holding the door for?
What's so interesting in the garden?
Who took the icing off the side of your sister's birthday cake?
Obviously, this was the imaginary friend thing. Nothing new, and something easily understood by Mom and Dad even though I never had one. They didn't really try to get her to admit Clomstace wasn't real... but I took a few tries. I went all the way up to shaking her by the dress once before dropping the subject altogether after realizing just how far I had crossed the line. Getting rid of a fictional character wasn't worth getting in trouble, or worse, actually hurting Joey.
Despite every attempt to get her to socialize more and to stop pantomiming things to empty space, it got worse yet again. Someone new came into the picture.
By then, Joey had taken to drawing Clomstace and showing him his own pictures for approval or rejection. At first glance, he appeared to be an angular scribble of bright green with a single protruding line that seemed like it could have been an arm. If you watched closely, though, she always drew the "arm" first, which made little sense. The only reason any of us knew about the new guy at all was that she'd started pairing the green scribble with a purposeful purple speck with stink lines above it.
When she was asked what the new recurring thing was, she replied just as simply as she had before. Garmabob.
Apparently, where Clomstace enjoyed wandering around though the house and outside windows, Garmabob enjoyed hiding. Joey would wheel around the house madly, toppling things including herself. She'd throw open cabinets, turn over chairs, and empty drawers. All the while, she mouthed the silent conversation to herself.
She would "find" him, too. Suddenly and without warning, her outbursts would come to a stop as she'd scoop a small dot of nothing in her palms.
"I fooouund him!" she'd call out in a sing-song voice, before skipping back to her bedroom.
One night, I snuck into Joey's room. I had the stupid, stupid idea I could fix everything by leaving a goodbye note for her. One I had signed in Garmabob and Clomstace's names, careful to hide my handwriting as if she'd notice.
When I cracked her door, though, I found her still awake. She was standing in front of her window in her night gown, staring out at the full moon and swaying from side to side. I was a little angry, feeling my perfect plan had been ruined.
"Joey!" I whispered, "What are you doing awake?"
She didn't turn around. Didn't stop swaying.
"Clomstace is dancing in front of the moon!" she cooed.
I urged her to go to bed, but she didn't answer again and she didn't leave the spot. I nearly told our parents about it, but I couldn't bring myself to turn their doorknob and wake them up. It seemed like a bad thing to do... to wake them up in the middle of the night and give them something new to worry about.
As it turned out, they weren't spared the angst for very long. Days later, a third character emerged from the ether. The rapid succession of new imaginary characters barely gave the family time to get used to things before the next shoe dropped.
Joey was already talking to a therapist at this point. One that was giving us homework, which I didn't appreciate in the least. We tried ignoring her behavior, then we tried actively talking to her friends... it was inconsistent and frustrating to say the least.
The third friend was the most troublesome.
The names were getting more complex as they went, and for a while we were calling him Doormanure. That sent Joey into tantrums until we figured out what we were doing wrong. Apparently, this particular visitor to her hallucinations was very insistent on things being just right.
Dorbenmueller was a black spiral with five lines coming out of him. He made sure all the pictures were straight, all the books were in order, and every last toy was put away correctly. It seemed like a relief, but only until he noticed the furniture was all placed in the wrong fashion.
Dad cracked. I could see it in his eyes, one night. Even at that young age, I instantly felt a sense of dread and knew to be afraid of him in that moment. He got cold, distant, almost like Joey had been, and he started walking so heavily that things around him shook.
Joey had no idea, mostly because she was still enthralled by her very busy imaginary world. She was rocking Garmabob in her hands and talking with Clomstace (I think) when Dorbenmueller must've noticed one of Dad's boots was on its side.
"Don't touch it." Dad snapped from the sofa as Joey made her way to the front door.
She stopped, looked back at him, and continued on.
"I said not to do it." Dad snapped again, louder this time.
Joey knelt down, straightened the boot, and chattered in agreement with Dorbenmueller.
I don't even remember Dad getting up from his seat. In an instant, his TV dinner was on the floor, upside down, and Mom was screaming bloody murder as he swept Joey up by the arms. Joey shrieked as if she were being kidnapped.
With one swift kick, Dad rocketed the boot across the living room and shattered a mirror.
Joey was seated on the couch where Dad had been, again within a blink of an eye. Mom was holding her back, now, trying to protect her from herself as she struggled to get up. Dad stormed out of the room, and I guess he knew... like I did... that he was crossing a line he shouldn't have.
Joey continued to shriek as she fought Mom's grip. She insisted that she needed to put the boot back where it belonged. After everything that had just happened, she was still only concerned with putting the house in order.
Dad came back through the room. Car keys in hand. He blew past the lot of us without so much as a sideways glance. He only stopped when Joey's scream raised in pitch.
She screamed that she was sorry.
Not to Dad, but to Dorbenmueller.
She screamed apologies and begged forgiveness through tears and snot as she stared into a blank corner of the ceiling. Mom was still holding her. She was acting out so violently, now, that letting go would have sent her flying head-first into the coffee table.
Dad dropped the keys on the floor. We all stared at Joey.
"I'm sorry!" she shrieked. Her eyelids peeled back, exposing the red beneath. Her nostrils pulled open at odd angles, and her tongue began to protrude as if it was being forcibly pulled from her screaming mouth. "Dorbenmueller, no! Stop it!"
I ran to the boot and put it back where it belonged as quickly as I could. All at once, Joey collapsed into a sobbing, listless heap. It wasn't until after the fact that I noticed my feet were bleeding from the broken glass.
We sought a specialist after that. Our parents were convinced she had suffered an extreme "spasm" brought on by the stress, but I knew different. Joey knew different, as well. The adults could convince themselves that everything had a logical, scientific answer, but ironically children are a bit more mature when it comes to being open-minded, I guess.
The specialist in question lived across the country. Someone who was so highly regarded that it took most of the money we'd been given just to hire them for a few sessions. The rest of the cash went to yet another house closer to where Joey could get her therapy time.
Thankfully, it seemed to work almost immediately. The only issue that remained was Joey's slight obsession with order, and a healthy fear of our Dad which lasted for a couple years.
We didn't really have enough time to get truly "used to" the home we had to abandon, but the time spent there still left quite an impression. I didn't really think about the house itself very much until recently, when another death in the family brought Joey and I back to the general area.
Dad was too busy to come, and we lost Mom to colon cancer on my sixteenth birthday, so the two of us would have to be enough of a showing at the funeral.
I left Joey at the hotel when I drove out to look at that house. I didn't tell her I was going, naturally.
Over time, the whole ordeal... house included... had taken on a sort of mythological stature in my mind. When I was feeling particularly bogged down at work, for example, the dread in my stomach would instantly bring be back to the night Joey had been attacked by her invisible friend. In my imagination, the place itself looked deformed and uncanny.
Seeing the real thing once more put my mind at ease. It had aged well. Plenty of renovations had kept the thing up to code. As I passed, it actually looked newer than when I'd last seen it.
A single porch light shone on the front steps, and overall it looked... inviting.
Content with myself, assured that I had made the right decision, I smiled wide at the place that had become a mainstay in my nightmares. I was sure it wouldn't show up in my subconscious again.
My eyes moved up the house, to the second floor window.
Lit by the porch light, I saw the face of a little boy inside.
Mouthing words to himself. Swaying. Staring toward the full moon.