It’s fun to share the first chapter of a book around. It’s a nice way of getting to know whether the writing style is working, whether the initial few pages are enticing, and most importantly- whether people want to read more.
I’d probably even upload a whole book on here a chapter at a time if it got noticed, so if you do stumble across this and want to read more- spread the word!
Back to Ernest though. I came up with the idea for this story and almost all the major twists and turns in a bizarre twenty minutes, one where all I could think of was this one idea. This was that first chapter I wrote just after that, although it’s been amended a little since then. The book is currently 20,000 words in and I’m currently in the middle of a little writer’s block with chapter 11- hence the procrastination here.
Nothing has been edited yet, so mistakes are bound to be found. This is just a first draft after all. If you do read this, do comment and let me know what you think. Maybe even direct others to it- I’d love to hear people’s thoughts on it.
1. Emily and Ernest
‘There’s nothing wrong with having an imaginary friend’ Emily’s mother used to say to her, whenever she would tell her of the strange encounters she had as a child. Mary never used to believe her daughter when she told her of Ernest. She pretended she did of course, as any parent would with a child of such a young age, but she assumed that he would stop paying her visits the older she got. He did, for a while at least. Ernest didn’t always behave in the way that imaginary friends tended to from time to time. As a rule, they are normally there to play games and keep a child company whenever they are feeling lonely. According to Emily, he wouldn’t usually do those things. He mostly sat there staring at her and avoided attempts she made to interact with him. She didn’t mind though. It was a nice to have a friend that visited lots. But other times, Emily would tell her mother of moments with him that left her feeling afraid. There were moments when she would feel as though there was something off about him; times when he didn’t seem to be the friend she wanted him to be.
A particularly bad experience came one cold December night. Emily was around eight-years-old at the time and had been having trouble sleeping thanks to a nasty cold. She recalled struggling to get to sleep and seeing Ernest standing at the foot of her bed. He always wore the same thing; a large hat, a double-breasted waist coat with a large coat that almost stretched down to his feet. He was a tall man and very thin. His face was long and gaunt with bushy eye brows standing out prominently. He had looked angry to her for some time by that point, but Emily just assumed he was grumpy. She would often tell him to cheer up. He never did.
‘You’re not supposed to be here at night’ she said to him. It was her one rule. She didn’t mind him showing up to play during the day but at night time, when he could scare her, that was a different matter altogether. He didn’t reply, but then he never said anything. He would sometimes gesture or try to mouth words- but she was never able to hear him; at least at first. This time he raised a finger to his mouth, gesturing at her to be quiet. Her drawers, to the left of her bed, opened violently just after he appeared- her clothes spilling out onto the floor. Emily still to this day remembers the fright it gave her. She didn’t scream out for help on that occasion. Instead, she chose to hide under her bed covers until he left. Eventually, she peered out to see if he was there- he was gone. In the morning, Mary came in and gave her a telling off for how messy her room was. Her explanation that it was Ernest didn’t work and she was forced to clean it all up before she was allowed breakfast. She hated Ernest that day.
Moments like this continued to happen until she was ten; albeit sporadically. It seemed that the older Emily was getting, the less she would see Ernest during the day. But his night time visits still occurred at least once every few months. Sometimes she wasn’t sure if he she had seen him. She would catch a glimpse out of the corner of her eye of what looked like his shadow quickly walking past her. It was the shape of the hat that made her think it was him; it was so distinguishable. There was never any warning as to when he might appear- it just happened unexpectedly. She began to become frightened of the man that she had for so long considered to be a friend. There was a week, another time she was ill, where he let her know he was there ever single night. A couple of the nights he would appear once again at the end of her bed and she would hide until he left. But two nights in particular proved to be terrifying for her. The first, just as she was about to drift off to sleep, she felt his hand brush against her cheek. She remembered the moment so vividly. She had never been able to touch him before and he had never shown he could touch her. This was the first time and it’s something she was never able to forget long into adulthood; even if she would never speak of it to anyone. The main thing she recalled was how cold his hand felt against her fevered skin. It sent a shiver straight through her body and she immediately jumped out of bed and ran into her mum’s room. As she ran out of her room, she didn’t look back; but she could feel that he was following her. It was as if he was trying to tell her that she couldn’t run from him.
Emily’s father had died when she was just five. It was a car accident that wasn’t anybody’s fault. He just lost control of the car; a freak accident. Mary had assumed that his death was the reason Emily had conjured up Ernest. It was around that time he was first mentioned. She had kept him around for far longer than most children ever do. What was also strange was that Ernest never changed. Children tend to cycle through different personas for these friends as the years go on but with Emily, it was always the same person. It made sense to Mary though. Emily having a consistent male in her life was logical, even if he was fictitious. In the past, she had often tried to help her daughter by pretending that she could see this man too. When Emily would be trying to get him to drink fake tea out of her fake tea set, she would actually try to engage in conversations with him. They were one sided of course.
‘He only speaks to me, you know that’ Emily would say. The whole thing seemed so innocent back then.
The final time Emily saw Ernest was also the worst. Whereas the previous night he had gently brushed her face- this time things turned a lot more violent. She was once again struggling to sleep, so she just lay on her back with her eyes closed- hoping that she would drift off. She often had trouble sleeping, but this was the most difficulty she had in quite some time. Every time she looked at the clock, she would get more and more frustrated. It seemed like time was running slower than it ever had done. That hour between 1am and 2am felt like three. The clock was just about to turn to mark the turning of the hour when she heard a noise; the creak of a floor board.
Being an old house, she and her mum often heard creaking when the other was walking about. Sometimes even when they weren’t they would still hear it; albeit much more softly. This was most certainly the sound of a creak that had been caused by someone walking. Emily slowly opened her eyes after hearing it, afraid of what she might see. She scanned the room- there was nobody there. She nervously tried to sleep again, the thought of that sound running around in her head. Then she heard the voice. It was a whisper and it sounded like it was coming from right in front of her. All it said was ‘Emily.’ Even at a whisper, she could tell that this was the voice of a well-spoken male. It was slightly gruff, as if he had a sore throat. She kept her eyes firmly closed for a moment, opening them was a difficult thing for her to muster the courage to do. When she eventually did, she saw Ernest’s face staring down at her. It was so close that his nose was almost touching hers. He was smiling the most menacing smile she had ever seen.
He had always looked a bit off colour to her, but this close up she could tell how pale and grey his skin was. She even felt his ice-cold breath blowing down onto her. As she screamed out for her mum, he grabbed her by the throat and pinned her to the bed so she was unable to move. She was also unable to scream anymore. Thankfully, Mary had heard her and came running in. When she burst through the door, she just saw Emily alone, laying on the bed looking terrified. She had never seen her so hysterical and she barely stopped crying for the rest of the night. She even had a red mark around her throat, right where she said Ernest had grabbed her. He didn’t appear to her again. At least not until she was much older.
The incident that night caused Mary to seek help. She should have done it sooner, but she kept hoping her daughter would grow out of the problems. This was something she couldn’t avoid though and so she booked them both an appointment with a child psychologist to see if there was anything that could be done. She was told that having an imaginary friend whilst at her age was rare in general, but it had been known with children who had experienced trauma. Losing a parent at such a young age certainly counted as trauma.
As for the marks on her neck, this was thought to be something she had just done to herself; a cry for attention perhaps. This is what Mary chose to believe. In fact, over time, Emily herself would come to think the same thing. It’s easy as the years go by to forget how scary something was. You can even end up believing that nothing ever happened at all. In fact, whenever conversations began amongst friends about childhood, she would always recount the story of Ernest. She would say that he was a recurring nightmare that she had, someone who used to appear to her in dreams. That was what her mum would tell her. According to her, this man was never real and it was just her over active imagination that created him in the first place. He didn’t seem so scary to Emily once she started believing that. There were still things she couldn’t explain though. The marks around her neck that night being the most problematic for her to rationalise. It was easier for her to just never mention it.
After that night, she slept in the same room as Mary for a while; far too scared to be on her own. Mary too was insistent that this became the sleeping arrangement for a while. She was deeply concerned about her daughter and a little unnerved by the whole thing herself. This continued for a couple of weeks before Emily made the decision to go back to her own room. That first night was certainly tense for her. Every little sound she heard made her jump. Whether it was the wind outside, somebody shutting their car door loudly or even something as common as her mum getting up to use the toilet in the night- these noises would unnerve her more than she would like to admit. What were just common noises to most became something altogether different for this young girl.
But this was a long time ago. Emily’s life went a lot smoother in the years that followed. She left school with respectable grades and went to university. She ended up doing well there too. It landed her the job in journalism that she had always wanted and on the whole, she didn’t really have much to complain about. She was so different from that girl with the imaginary friend now. She may still have that same shoulder length mousy brown hair, but she was now at a point in her life where she was happy. Her life was exactly where she wanted it to be. She was planning a wedding with her fiancé Robert and they were discussing children. She was also doing better than she ever thought she could at her job. As far as she was concerned, things couldn’t get any better. She was right. A figure from her childhood was about to make a return.