Pretending not to notice is the worst part, patiently sitting on the settee, making polite conversation with Steve’s mum, sitting correctly, laughing in all the right places, and not staring at the demons dancing and making faces behind her chair, because apparently they don’t exist.

When I’m on my own I can shout and scream and chase them away until I’m safe again, but to do that in public ends up with me on meds and threats of a lunatic asylum.  So I pretend, and I really am quite good at it… although there was that day in the park…

They had let me out on my own to do a little shopping, a wonderful moment of freedom, of pretending to be normal, of not being watched by caring yet concerned faces.  The demons were there too of course.  They jump out in front of me forcing me to dodge and swerve around them, I don’t like to touch them and they know it, but I’m quicker than they expect and I kept my eyes on the ground refusing to acknowledge them, refusing to show my fear.

I could sense people beginning to notice me.  It’s hard to walk along dodging demons and maintain a normal walking gait at the same time, but there is nothing I can do about that and I was sure I didn’t look that threatening.

The demons were not happy with the lack of attention, they need me to notice them, they like to frighten and they refuse to be ignored, so a group of them started to circle a toddler standing next to his mum as she giggled and chatted to a friend.

Slowly and purposely they herded him towards the busy main road, all the time looking at me with their manic grins fixed in place.  I’m not sure if the kid could see them, but he certainly went where they were leading him with a wide eye oblivious look on his face.  I looked at his mother, surely she would see what was going on and reclaim her child, but no, she chatted on.

With hindsight I probably should have just called out to her to get her attention, but I’m a little impulsive and the child was now at the kerb.  So I ran at the demons shouting and snarling and waving my arms at them and they, as always, ran screeching and chattering away.

I had done it, I’d saved the child, but when I looked up he was back at his mother’s side, and she was giving me worried looks and pulling him away from the “scary lady”.  Everyone was looking and pointing and whispering and I had to run away as quickly as I could before I was recognised and carted away to the sanatorium once more.

Still, Steve didn’t know about that little hiccup and neither did his mother so I get to play the lovely daughter-in-law who is taking her meds like a good girl and clearly over that embarrassing little breakdown she had.

Steve’s mum is fussing with her hair, she can’t see the demons messing with it but she can sense that it’s not right.  They are, of course, trying to get my attention, trying to make me mess up again, but I’m pretending they are not there.  I’m good at pretending.

My demons do not like it when I ignore them so they are plotting something new, I can tell, and it’s making me nervous.  I try not to show it but Steve is looking at me fidgeting and asking me “What’s wrong?” In that, there had better not be anything wrong, tone of voice.  I smile and excuse myself to go to the loo; I need the time to compose myself.

Halfway up the stairs and I can hear the concerned whispers starting already, I start to go down again to defend myself, only to be met with the biggest ugliest demon I have ever seen.  He is huge, and for once I am terrified, not just of him but of the flaming torch in his hand and the fact that I knew precisely what he was going to do with it.

He turns from me and heads into the living room, I have to act fast, there is a fire extinguisher under the stairs and I have just enough time to grab it and head in after him as he reaches over to set the torch at Steve’s mum’s hair.

With a screech I run in with the fire extinguisher dousing everything with its cooling foam, the demon turns and laughs at me, but nobody else is laughing.  Steve has his phone in his hand, he is speed dialling the hospital, and I’ve blown it again.

As the ambulance pulls away, I look back to see Steve in tears. I wave frantically trying to alert him to the demons gathering behind him.  He feebly waves back, lost in his own private misery and turns back towards the house.  There is nothing more I can do to save him, they have won.

Ellen Hiller‘s mind lives in various universes full of adventures and strange but interesting imaginary friends. Occasionally it visits the universe called reality and writes about it.

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