It was too warm in the classroom. Jamie fidgeted in his seat on the back row, yawned and stretched as Mr Cole droned on about heroes from Greek mythology. The stories themselves were alright, but it was just that man's voice; honestly, he could make the most exciting and dramatic page-turner of a book sound like a dirge. Besides, Jamie was more interested in real history, not this made up stuff with monsters and gods.
"Who can tell me the name," Mr Cole turned with a flourish, brandishing a large cardboard disc, "of this young lady?"
Hang on a minute, did he just try and do something interesting? Jamie had been drifting off into a little reverie about what he might be getting for dinner that night when he locked eyes with the face on the shield. Gross. It was the severed head of a woman, whose knotted brows carved deep lines into her forehead and whose eyes were shining, bulging, looking down at the blood gushing from her throat. Medusa. The look of surprise and outrage on her face caught Jamie's attention and he even raised his hand to answer Mr Cole's question.
"It's Medusa, sir, after she's had her head cut off by Perseus," gloated Charlie, folding his arms and grinning smugly at his answer. Creep.
That night, Jamie had strange, nightmarish dreams and woke several times. On waking, he couldn't remember exactly what they were about, but had visions of snakes writhing and twisting in his mind, could hear the hiss and spit of them and the swish-thwack of sword meeting flesh.
The fourth time he awoke, he'd had enough. Jamie rolled over and glanced at the clock on his bedside table; it read 6.47am. The alarm would be going off in an hour anyway, so might as well just get up now. He went to the bathroom, splashed water on his face and hair, then trudged down the stairs to the kitchen.
It was as he was peering in the cupboard, trying to decide which cereal to have, that he became aware of someone standing behind him. He picked up the box of Crunchy Nut and turned round to say 'morning' to his dad. Except it wasn't his dad. It was another boy, a bit older than him, maybe eighteen or nineteen, with long dark hair and the beginnings of a beard.
"Uh... Who are you and what are you doing in here?" Jamie asked, incredulous.
"Looking for some food and some coffee. Man, I feel like shit!" the boy replied, not really looking at Jamie, just trying to see through him into the cupboard. "I could probably use a couple of paracetamol as well, my head is fucking killing me".
Oh no. It's happened. He's one of them. People used to call them ‘friends’ and said how they were good for your brain. And then the day came when all that changed... when they became the enemy. He's not really here - how could he be? It was just Jamie, his mum, dad and baby brother. They lived in a nice part of town, and locked the doors at night, so how else could he be here? I brought him in, Jamie thought, or rather, my imagination did.
The world's governments were forced to crack down on imaginary friends when the rise of new technologies blurred the boundaries of what was real what was not: figments grew substance, ideas became actions and suddenly, these friends were less than imaginary and less than friendly. After a series of international incidents where these fictitious people were accused of committing terrible crimes, of going 'rogue' and leaping from imagination to imagination, the UN introduced the RIP Treaty - the Removal of Imaginary Persons. They were officially declared a danger to society, and anyone found harbouring and IP was in for The Cosh, a clinical breakthrough that removed all traces of imagination from the patient's neocortex, more or less precisely. In all honesty, it was almost always less - the surgeons were just as frightened of the IPs as the rest of us, so better to remove a bit extra, just to be certain, and if the patient is a little less 'sparky' after the operation, then they'll be in no position to complain anyway. The families rarely complained, as they too were just relieved that they could sleep in their beds at night, safe in the knowledge that there were no IPs under their roof, thank you very much!
Jamie wondered if his parents would stand up for him? Protest against having the surgery? Challenge the hospital in court when their precious son was returned to them passive and vacant? He couldn't put them through that; he'd have to find a way to get rid of this boy, or at least a way of hiding him. His mum would definitely notice that something was wrong with him if he was still around when she got up, so Jamie decided he should get ready and head on to school as quickly as he could, and use the anonymity of the bus journey to come up with a plan.