Who killed Marv?
Someone is murdering imaginary friends and Chicago PD Investigator Fitzwater Artemis Hughes aims to find out who.
“Fitzy… Fitzy… Fitzwater Artemis Hughes… if I call for you one more time, you’ll regret it, young man!” shouted my Mom.
I could tell by the tone in her voice, she wasn’t fooling around this time. I was almost 8 years old, but I was old enough to know that when my Mom used my full name, I was already in trouble, it was just the degree of trouble at this point. I grabbed a book and closed the lid on my Papaw’s trunk, and ran for the attic door. I stopped and looked behind me for just a second and yelled,
“C’mon Spongy! Mom is mad and she’ll be really mad if she finds out we’re in the attic again.” I slung open the attic door to find Mom standing there with both arms akimbo and with a frustrated look on her face.
“How many times have I told you to stay out of the attic Fitzy? You’re gonna get sick!”
“Yes ma’am,” I said, “But Mom, Spongy wanted me to get this book to read. It’s about Papaw when he fought in the war.”
“Fitzwater Artemis Hughes… how many times have I told you there’s no such thing as Spongy! He’s imaginary. He doesn’t exist. Stop using him for excuses when you do something wrong.”
It’s been thirty years since I’ve been in Mom’s attic. I’m now married with kids of my own. I’m an investigator with the Chicago Police Department and have been for almost twenty years. Mom recently passed away and left me the old house. She had spent the last several weeks in an assisted living home, and the house had been vacant since. I had some time off coming up, so I planned to take that time and go through the house and get it ready to sell.
It was a Saturday morning when I arrived at the house. It was much smaller than I remembered. I walked around to the back of the house and found the ceramic frog she always kept next to the back door. I picked it up and removed the plastic stopper in the bottom and out fell a house key. That was my Mom! Always planning ahead. I used the key to open the back door and I stepped inside for the first time since I left home at 18 years old when I joined the Marines.
Mom always kept a clean house, so I wasn't surprised to see everything in order. To my regret, I opened the refrigerator and realized that most anything in there with an expiration date, was now rotten and smelly. I made my way through the house, stopping occasionally to look at old pictures and mementos that brought back memories, some good and some not so good.
Finally, it was time to go upstairs where the bedrooms were located. I walked past my old bedroom and my sister’s bedroom, toward the door at the end of the hallway. That door led to the attic. The one place I had always been forbidden to go. Now that Mom was gone and I owned the house, I could go inside the attic as much as I wanted. But it didn’t feel right. It didn’t feel the same without Mom here to tell me not to.
I stopped in front of the attic door and just stood there. The rebellious side of me was celebrating that I could now go inside the attic and explore to my heart’s content. The obedient son side of me was telling me not to break the vow to my Mom that I would never go inside the attic again without her permission. Now that she was gone, how was I to get the permission? Besides, I’m a grown man now. I’m a police investigator, damn it. It’s my house! With that, I reached for the doorknob, turned it, and swung it open.
It was dark inside the door opening, but I knew exactly where the light switch was. I reached out with my left hand and with a slap, I turned the light on. Facing me was a very old and weathered spiral oak staircase much like you would find in the quarters of 17th-century homes that allowed servants to move from room, sight unseen, by the residents and guests. These staircases were small in size and usually hidden in a closet. Servants would use these stairs to move from floor to floor and room to room, through a network of hidden passageways that prevented a servant from ever bumping into a homeowner or their guests.
I climbed the stairs remembering to duck as I neared the top because of a large beam that crossed over. When I got to the top of the stairs, I opened another door and stepped out into a large attic, filled with old trunks, mirrors, paintings, and chests. The attic contained the belongings of four generations of our family. Dad had stored everything in the attic with the intent of selling everything when he had time. The problem is he never had time. Then he was called away to war and never came home again. So the stuff just sat and sat until now, and now, the responsibility was mine.
I walked around looking at all the stuff that had been collected over the years and there was a lot of stuff. The lights started to flicker and I figured they needed changing. I turned around to walk back downstairs before the room went completely dark. When I did, I found myself face-to-face with Spongy. He was so close to me our toes were nearly touching. I yelped out loud and took a step backward, drawing my handgun and pointing it at him.
“Don’t you move! I mean it. Stay right where you are! Get your hands up where I can see them!”, I shouted.
“You don’t remember me Fitzy? It’s me, Spongy! I can’t believe you’ve forgotten me.”, Spongy yelled back.
To be clear, I was confused. I was afraid. Imaginary friends are just that…imaginary. They’re not real. Yet here was a man or something standing right in front of me claiming to be my old imaginary friend, Spongy. He looked just like him too. He was still taller than me. He wore a mismatched red and green tartan plaid suit with a bright yellow shirt and a green bowtie. His patent leather shoes were also bright yellow. His oversized eyeglasses were brilliantly white and he looked like he hadn’t shaved in 2–3 days. And the accent… was all Spongy. When he spoke, he sounded like a New Yorker trying to sound Irish with a Southern drawl. And unless someone had figured out how to tap the recesses of my brain, there was no way anyone could have duplicated Spongy with such accuracy since I had never ever told anyone what he looked like.
I was still standing there, pointing my handgun at him when he assured me again he was the real Spongy. I lowered my weapon and reholstered it when the lights flickered again.
Spongy said, “Darn it Fitzy, we don’t have much time. I’m sorry I surprised you like this. Once a person reaches a certain age, we aren’t ever supposed to reveal ourselves to them again. It doesn’t mean we stop caring or that we stop watching over you.”
“Why are you here now?” I asked.
“I need your help. There’s been a murder. Marv has been murdered.” replied Spongy.
“Who the heck is Marv?” I asked.
Spongy said, “Marv is Shiloh’s imaginary friend. She found him dead in her bedroom this morning. Go to work tomorrow morning and she will be waiting on you to explain.”
Then Spongy reached out and touched me on the forehead with his pointer finger. There was a bright light that nearly blinded me followed by complete darkness. When my vision returned, I looked around the attic and saw several other people standing in the room. Actually, they were all imaginary friends. They were invisible to me until Spongy touched me giving me the power to see their world. I also saw doors and windows that I couldn’t see before.
Spongy explained to me he had gifted me with the same powers of an imaginary friend. I could use the same powers they use to travel to investigate the murder of Marv with only one condition. I had 48 hours to find the killer. After that, the entire imaginary world would disappear to me forever.
This is Act One of a new novella I’ve written. I will post the remainder of the book depending on the reception and feedback this gets. Please don’t hesitate to leave me comments and criticism. Thank you!