Written by Erin Nust – Instagram: erin_nust

Young Tristan Jade had his eyes squeezed shut as he turned restlessly around in his bed. He wished desperately for a tsunami of sleep to drown him so that he could stop these dreadful thoughts. What time was it? He couldn’t exactly calculate, but he was sure it was long past his bedtime. The thought made his guilt worse; he should have been sleeping by now. Instead, he created horrifying stories with his mind. 

He sighed and turned with his back on the bed. A deep line appeared between his eyebrows and his irises wriggled restlessly, as if he was having a bad dream. Nope, not gonna happen.  

Tristan Jade suffered from “extremely vivid imagination,” as his grandmother told him the first time he ran to her bed after a nightmare about a monster without arms or legs that floated to harm him. It was five years ago, and he was only six then. 

He opened his eyes and looked at the ceiling. He wanted to sit up, take a walk in the bedroom, or even go downstairs and have a glass of cold water to bring him back to reality, but it was impossible. Fear, panic maybe, glued him to his blue sheets.  

A squeak echoed from the wooden closet. It was opposite to his bed, the first thing he faced if he sat up. His face wrinkled like a crumpled piece of paper before being thrown into a basket. He squeezed his eyes shut. He grabbed his covers and veiled his head under it. The warmth made him feel safer, but not enough to put himself back to sleep. Damn you, Nick.  

When George suggested sharing creepy stories for their “pajama party” at Herb’s house, Tristan knew it would be a terrible idea for his “extremely vivid imagination.” Unfortunately, he didn’t have the courage to be the only one to reject the suggestion. Excitement buzzed in the air and he wanted to be part of it.  

Everyone had a version of the typical haunted house or forest story; these couldn’t get the grasp of Tristan’s imagination, not that easily, but Nick had a real story and that was enough to keep him restless for nights. 

The strange thing was that he already had grasps and glimpses of the Atkinson story, even before Nick narrated with such vigor. Tristan heard his grandmother talking on the phone with her best friend, Lisa, about Benjamin Atkinson who—in an outburst of absolute raging madness—killed his wife and his five-year-old daughter. He didn’t learn these details from his grandmother of course, but everyone in Astus talked about the tragedy for a month or so.  

Nick’s version wasn’t just about a crazy man that came home and killed his family. Nick’s story included more hair-raising details, like the fact that Atkinson believed his daughter’s teddy bear made him murder them (and then kill himself), that he was an alcoholic, and that he had decided he would live with their rotting corpses in his house. Nick said that everything was true. He knew these details first-hand because his father was a cop and he was involved in the case.  

He was even more terrified by the fact that Tristan knew where the Atkinson house was located. He and the gang could go and visit it, breathe some of its air or touch its decaying bricks. He was very much afraid that, in an explosion of excitement, someone might suggest a visit and Tristan would have to share their feelings and follow them. 

There were sounds in the house that he would’ve recognized as normal if his mind wasn’t captured by the Atkinson story. He was afraid that, at any moment, the door would open and an angry man—followed by the smell of alcohol and tobacco—would burst into his bedroom with a belt in his hand to beat him until his breath would stop.  

So he closed his eyes and concentrated on a happier place, as his granny taught him that first night. He closed his eyes and remembered; he remembered the smell of peach perfume and the silk touch of long brown hair; he remembered the soft texture of his mother’s sweater and the strong hug of his father’s arms. A faint smile eradicated the strong line between his eyebrows, and it floated on his sweet, young face. The sounds in the background went away, the image of Atkinson just a shadow now, and he stood in a shiny spot with a female and a male figure, who held him and protected him from his “extremely vivid imagination.”

Sleep, sweet and soft, took him away without Tristan realizing it. It would be morning soon. 

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