Karl yawned, turned off the living room lights, and started up the stairs to bed. Halfway up the stairs he thought he heard something. He paused, waiting for it to happen again. Had it been something outside? Just as he lifted his foot to continue on his way the doorbell rang.
It was almost midnight! Who the hell would be ringing the doorbell at this hour? No sounds came from upstairs, so at least it hadn’t woken Sandy. Moving as quickly as he dared without making a sound Karl rushed down the stairs and across the room to the front door. He looked through the peephole at the fish-eye view of his front yard and the street beyond, yellow under the streetlights.
Nothing seemed out of place at first, then something moved along the bottom edge of his vision, reaching for the doorbell. Was there a kid out there? Karl flicked the switch beside the door and the front steps were bathed in light. The hand quickly withdrew.
“Karl? Is that you?” It was low, nasal voice. Not the voice of any child.
“Who’s out there?” Karl hissed the question through the door, not wanting his voice to carry through the house.
“Karl, come on. Open up.”
Without thinking Karl unlocked the door and pulled it open. A small figure pushed into the room, and Karl turned off the outside light and shut the door. He shook his head, clearing it. Why had he just done that? He turned to address whoever had just come in.
“Karl, buddy, it’s so good to see you!”
Karl squinted into the darkness, just able to make out the shape of a rather stout person of about three and half feet in height. “Do I know you? Let me turn no the light.” Karl turned away.
“No.” The command was spoken calmly, with no sense of urgency or concern.
Karl stopped what he was doing, and turned back. That voice. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on end as he whispered, “Mr. Krithnik?”
“Yeah, buddy! It’s been a long time, huh?”
Karl made his way to the nearby sofa and sat. “I don’t understand. How can you be here?”
“I came for you, pal.”
“But…” This wasn’t possible. Mr. Krithnik had been Karl’s imaginary friend from about ages six to nine. He wasn’t real. “Am I dreaming?”
“Nope. I’m really here, pal. Come on, give old Mr. K. a big hug!”
Mr. Krithnik came closer and Karl felt the warmth from his body and thick furry arms as they enveloped his legs. Although he couldn’t see it, he knew the fur was a deep purple, and it covered the creature’s body from dome shaped head to black clawed toes.
Cautiously, he reached out a hand, brushing the top of the creature’s head. It felt so familiar. He leaned forward and pulled his old friend close, his nose filling with the warm musty aroma he remembered so well. “I can’t believe this. I can’t believe you’re real.”
“You used to know it, but I’ve been away a long time. I guess you forgot, huh? That’s OK, though. That’s just how it works.”
Karl nodded, his head filling with memories. “I remember playing hide and seek in the woods.”
“Behind Grandma’s house.” Mr. Krithnik finished his thought as they released each other. “And you read me all those great books.”
“Up all night, with the flashlight under the covers. Oh, wow. Remember that April Fool’s?”
Mr. Krithnik laughed his familiar, throaty laugh. “Yeah, we got Dad really good that time. It all happened, buddy. We did all those things. So many great times together. I’ve missed you so much.”
“I’ve missed you, too.”
“Well, I’m back now. Back to stay!”
Karl smiled. He’d forgotten so much. So many good memories he’d convinced himself were just imagined. How could he have forgotten it all? Why had he let himself. “Mr. K?”
“Why did you leave?”
Mr. Krithnik said nothing for a moment. Karl could just make out his eyes in the darkness, two dark shiny pools. “I had to, buddy. I… I took care of you when you needed me. Remember? I told you I would.”
Karl struggled to make order of the memories. Mr. K.’s words stirred something in his mind. “It was the first day back at school… The last time we talked. I was upset, and…”
“I fixed it for you. You don’t have to worry about it anymore.”
Why had he been so upset? What had happened? Something after school…
“Sorry I was gone so long. Sometimes, my kind, when we do… we can change, buddy. Change into… I didn’t want you to see me like that.”
Karl had been walking home from school, with his new backpack, ready to tell everyone about his new teacher, and his new friends, and…
“But I’m me again, now, you understand? I’m good old Mr. K.”
Mark Reno. Now Karl remembered. Mark Reno, a sixth grader, had jumped out of the bushes and pushed him to the ground. He’d ripped off Karl’s new backpack and thrown it into the street. A truck had run over it, a big sixteen wheeler. Karl had lied about it later, saying he’d dropped it when he was running across the street. He’d been too embarrassed to tell anyone the truth. Anyone except… “Mr. Krithnik?”
Karl swallowed hard. “Mom drove me to school for months, after…”
“I know, buddy…”
“I never saw Mark Reno again.”
“No, buddy. No one ever did.”
Karl closed his eyes, forcing the tears to run down his cheeks. Maybe this was a dream. Please let it be a dream. The insides of Karl’s eyelids turned red.
“Daddy? Who are you talking to?”
Sandy! Karl opened his eyes, turned to the stairs. Sandy stood beside the light switch on the bottom steps rubbing her eyes against the glaring light. He blinked, glancing around the room, but saw no sign of Mr. K. He got up, walked over to her, and kissed her on top of her head. “No one, honey. Daddy fell asleep on the couch and was having a dream. Go on back to bed.”
Karl watched her go up, and disappear around the corner. He looked around the room again. “Mr. Krithnik?”
There was no reply. Karl turned the lights out again, and started up the stairs to his own bed. He paused in the hall outside Sandy’s room and listened.
“Hey, sweetie, who are you? I’m Mr. Krithnik. Let’s be friends.”