“I got to talk to her today.”
“Yeah! Really. Good for you. Well, what did you say?”
His face reddened with embarrassment and he became coy.
“Nothing much, you know. Just what homework we had. But she smiled at me.”
Tommy speaks freely with Shelly as if, and it would be almost correct for him to think this, she wasn’t even there. Most of their chats have been almost confessional in nature; Tommy spilling his little heart over whatever minor crisis is happening in his life. Shelly learned a lot through these discourses, more than she could from just observing him in his room. A bond formed between them, one distant from what Shelly imagined she wanted but somehow greater than that, deeper. The physical and geographical differences between them bearing no disharmony in what was said and secrets were shared as if being spoken into a box which was sealed up for good.
Through time and patience, Tommy and Shelly came to rely on each other as confidants and this only strengthened Shelly’s link to the poster world, her previous life almost being completely erased from her memory or at least placed in a part of her mind distant from the normal recourses of her day, so that they may never encroach her when she is enjoying her time with Tommy. In a strange way, Shelly thought, it happened almost too easily, without any effort at all. The memories and emotions attached just faded away willingly without any battle and she slipped into her role as a guardian angel to Tommy with ease, like a well fitting glove. The whole adventure just happened without any extra energy being expended on her part, giving the events an aura of naturalness that it should not have given the complete irrationality of it. An out of body experience, living life through her own image, in another part of the world, separate from her physical body. But, even when she tried, her mind refused to regard it as anything less than real and so she continued without further thought.
Being able to spend time with Tommy fulfilled her in ways that her old life never did, giving her insight into a childhood she never possessed and couldn’t even imagine without these conversations. Simple occurrences, such as the youthful desire for the opposite sex, Shelly had never experienced and could only grasp a vicarious understanding now but coming from Tommy sweet voice at least made it more real than she could have hoped. And the more they talked, the more she learned about him, secrets he has never told his own mother, he shared with her. For instance, he has no close friends his age, spending his lunch breaks reading or looking Megan, the girl he likes. According to Tommy, she is a cute little girl with short brown hair. One day he spent ten minutes explaining in detail to Shelly a simple gesture Megan made while answering a question in class and the importance of it. Tommy is also a voracious reader with a preference to science fiction and horror novels as is natural a boy of his age. When it was getting late on some visits, Tommy would read stories to Shelly about kids with special powers, saving the day. Those were his favourites and it amused Shelly because in his ordinariness, she found him to be the most special boy she had ever met and she wished he could only know how lucky he was.
Things stayed like this for a while, a perfect harmony, and emotions never veering to extremes that could buckle the ride they were on. There was a genuine camaraderie that could not just be the by product of the uniqueness of the situation, resembling the stories Tommy liked so much, but a real connection that crossed the boundaries of the physical world, existing in a ethereal plain. It was such that when Shelly wasn’t in the poster world, she spent time thinking about God and heaven and whether this was an earthly version of that and if her happiness was just a speck of what was waiting for her after death.
But this ride couldn’t last forever and the screeching of the brakes could be heard when Tommy’s mood changed jarringly during a conversation they had almost every night.
Shelly feels the familiar, warm glow of a smitten eleven year old.
“She has a nice smile, doesn’t she?”
“Hmmm” and he lets loose a giggle.
“Why don’t you tell her how you feel someday?”
“I dunno. I mean, she is so pretty.”
“But it’s hard to talk to her…”
“I’m pretty, aren’t I?”
“You can talk to me, can’t you?”
“Well, there you go. No problem. You should just walk up to her tomorrow, smile, and say, “hi, my name is Tommy. How are you?””
“No, it can’t be that easy. Can it?
“Yeah, definitely. As easy as pie. See, I’ll let you in on a little secret. Girls like to talk to nice, handsome young boys like you. She’s nothing to be afraid of. In fact, she’ll probably be as nervous as you.”
To reassure him, as he seems nervous still, she says:
“I am a girl after all. I know these things.”
So, he smiles and relaxes a little.
“Are you going to do it?”
“Yeah, I might.”
“Good, you should.”
Shelly is deeply satisfied by their resolution, which calms her like a drug coursing through her veins.
“That’s a good secret to know… about girls,” continues Tommy.
"Do you want to know some more?" she asks with allure, unsure whether Tommy thinks of her that way, like an older, wiser cousin.
"Well, no… I have some secrets too."
Shelly is taken aback slightly at this. She understands that their relationship is one of total confidence, where they can share all of their secrets and had in fact done just that, so what Tommy just said took her a moment to digest fully before replying.
"I don't know if I should tell you… it's a big secret."
He isn’t looking at Shelly's poster anymore but at the picture of his sister.
"I thought we could tell each other anything like best friends. We're friends, aren’t we?"
"Yeah, yeah", he replies defensively. "Definitely. Always. But this is serious… I'm afraid."
"What are you afraid of?"
Tommy's sudden seriousness catches Shelly off guard. So much so, that for the first time with Tommy, has her mind has become flustered with the possibilities of what he might say and she can’t prepare herself for whatever it was.
"I'm afraid I might hurt someone… that I might hurt someone else."
"Who have you hurt, Tommy?"
Tears flood his eyes and he wipes them with the sleeve of his T-Shirt.
And crying he says "My sister… I hurt my sister."
"She was killed by your dog, wasn't she? That wasn't your fault, Tommy. You had nothing to do with that."
"No, you don't understand. I told the dog to do it. I told him to kill her."
No, I wished it, like how I wished you to appear in the posters. I wished the dog would grab her around the neck.”
Her vision becomes blurry; she is unable to focus on what is in the room.
“You are my friend, aren’t you? You understand.”
“No, Tommy. I don’t understand… How can you… How can you do that?”
“I THOUGHT YOU WOULD UNDERSTAND.”
Tommy’s body becomes visibly tense and Shelly’s normal spiritual calm is replaced with a sharp pain that wholly contains her. Her vision changes from blurry and faded into a hyper sharp clarity, where things in the room become visible that never were before. Objects waver and shake before her eyes, growing bigger and smaller, enveloping her entire vision before disappearing to nothing. White smoky trails slither through the air around Tommy, flowing through him, into him. His teeth seem to become pointed and sharp and his eyes blaze with fire, his tongue slips from his mouth, lapping at the air and his beautiful, blonde hair turns wirey and alive, stretching out from his head, growing long down to his shoulders. And a deep voice, one that Shelly doesn’t recognise, emanates from Tommy’s mouth.
“We’re still friends, aren’t we?”
The pain continues and in her bedroom, Shelly’s body convulses, physically mirroring the internal pain her spiritual self is enduring.
“Wha’s happening to me?” she slurs slowly, as she looses control and slides back into her body, into her room, with a violent snap.
She sits up and gasps for air, clutching her throat, her whole body shot with a pain that was foreign to her. It seems to be alive, stretching itself out to wherever her mind focuses on or wherever her fingers rest. And looking into the mirror, she receives a shock that is greater than the pain she suffers. Dark bruises trail around her neck as if someone had tried to choke her to death.