It had been three weeks since the Gray family moved into their new house. It was a typical home in typical middleclass suburbia. It had two floors, the top floor containing four bedrooms and a bathroom while the bottom contained the living room and the kitchen.
The Gray family was comprised of two young children, a boy and a girl aged eight to six named Hunter and Cory respectively, an older boy aged seventeen named David, and their widowed mother, Heather. Following the passing of John,their father and husband, the family chose to move shortly after the funeral.
The youngest of Heather’s children quickly settled down into their new home while it took some time for her and her son David to adapt. While they found the house lovely, it had just been hard for them to cope with their father and husband’s passing. David had started at his new school a week after moving into their new home and he didn’t truly reach out or try to make friends with anyone. At his old school he was very outspoken and open and was well liked by his peers but since then had shut himself off from any outside assistance. His little brother and sister were similar except the two of them had closed themselves off from each other. Hunter and Cory used to love playing together and were as close as a brother and sister could get but, after their father’s death, they slowly drifted apart. They eventually made some friends of their own in their new school but wouldn’t say much to each other at home or at school. Heather didn’t fare much better. She had done her best as a widowed mother to try and keep her family together but it was easier said than done. Raising three kids was a challenge as it was but having to raise them by herself was something else entirely. Not a day went by that she didn’t wish her husband was still alive. Not just to help care for their kids but to be there to support her and to have her be there to support him.
That night, after dinner, Heather sent her youngest children to get ready for bed. David helped her clear the table and set the dishes in the sink. Heather sighed exhaustedly as she leaned slightly against the sink.
“Mom.” David began, putting his hand on his mom’s shoulder. “I know it hasn’t been easy for any of us. But…if you need me, you know I’ll always be here.” David said empathetically, smiling a faint but noticeable smile to his mom.
Heather appreciated her oldest son’s offer. “I know sweetie. Thank you.” She smiled back at him as she hugged David tightly. David returned this with a hug back to her.
Late that night, just as the entire family had drifted off to sleep, they were suddenly awoken by sounds of giggling. Heather, David, and Cory stepped out of their rooms, hearing that the laughter was coming from Hunter’s room. Heather knocked on her son’s door which brought the giggles to a halt. After a moment, the door to Hunter’s room opened and in the doorway stood Hunter who was wearing a big smile on his face, his eyes wide. He didn’t appear the slightest bit sleepy which Heather found to be rather strange. She had tucked Hunter into bed and kissed him goodnight and within minutes, he was sound asleep. She wondered if perhaps Hunter was just faking being asleep so he could secretly stay up to play. This wasn’t the first time Hunter had tried something like this. However, Heather remembered in the past when Hunter would stay up and play without her knowing, he was much more discreet about it, making sure to be real quiet so his mom didn’t find out yet tonight, he was laughing and playing without so much as a care in the world.
“Hunter, what are you doing up? It’s time for bed.” Said Heather tiredly.
“I know mom, but I just want to stay up and play with Paul some more. Please?” Hunter said.
The mere mention of the name Paul sent a chill down Heather’s spine. She hadn’t known anyone by that name. Was there someone in her son’s room and she didn’t know about it? Could someone have been living in their home without their knowledge? She immediately hurried into Hunter’s room but found nothing out of the ordinary. She checked under his bed but found nothing. She inspected the closet, only to once more find nothing there. She then looked over the windows in the room but found no signs that they had been opened nor that there had been someone in Hunter’s room. This made no sense to Heather. If there hadn’t been anybody in her son’s bedroom, then was Paul just an imaginary friend?
“Hunter, who is Paul?” Heather inquired although she figured she already knew the answer she was looking for.
“Paul’s the boy who used to live here. He and I have been playing together the last three nights. He knows some really funny jokes and we play really fun games together.” Hunter explained Paul to his mom.
Heather looked at her son with a hint of surprise in her eyes. Paul used to live in their new home? It may have just been a silly backstory that her son made up for his imaginary friend but even then, it still made Heather uneasy. Hunter always had a very active imagination and Paul wasn’t the first imaginary friend the little boy created but his imaginary friends would always be more out there and range from creatures like dragons, bipedal dogs, to even a kid who was a dinosaur that wore human clothes. Never had Hunter’s pretend friends been as grounded in reality as Paul was.
Hunter and “Paul’s” playing would continue for the next couple of days. One night, the entire family was woken with a startle as they could hear Hunter running throughout the house, his footsteps carrying over into everybody’s room. Eventually, Heather, still playing along with Hunter’s pretending, convinced Hunter to let “Paul” know that he and his family needed to sleep and that they would play together tomorrow.
The following day, Hunter told his mom that he told Paul he couldn’t play with him at night anymore. He said that while Paul was very upset that to hear that, he ultimately understood and promised they wouldn’t play at night from now on.
“Thanks Hunter. And, uh…can you tell Paul I said thanks too?” Asked Heather after kissing her son on the forehead.
Hunter nodded happily. “Sure. He’s in my room right now. I’ll go tell him.” Hunter said, then proceeding to run back to his room.
As Heather prepared to get back to work, suddenly, she heard a feint voice coming from upstairs which was followed shortly after by Hunter’s voice. At first Heather assumed it was just Cory that Hunter was speaking to. However, this changed when she saw Cory walk past her with a juice box held up to her mouth as she drank from it and headed upstairs. She knew that voice couldn’t have been David’s. The voice sounded too young to be his and besides, David was out. He was spending time trying to make friends with some kids from his class. Heather suddenly grew concerned. If the voice didn’t belong to Cory or David, then who was Hunter talking to?
Slowly, Heather crept up the stairs as she listened closely to Hunter and this mysterious voice.
“She’s not mad at me, is she?” The feint voice asked.
“What? No, she’s not mad at you!” Hunter protested.
“Does she hate me? Does she not want me around?” The voice asked once more.
“My mom doesn’t hate you. She’s just been really upset since my dad died.” Hunter assured whoever it was he was speaking to.
Heather spotted Cory standing by Hunter’s open door. She held her juice box close to her as she observed her older brother sitting on his bed, talking to what appeared to be no one.
“Mama, Hunter’s talking to himself again.” Cory said in a concerned yet uneasy tone.
Heather nodded then walked into Hunter’s room.
“Hunter?” She asked her son.
“Hi mom.” Hunter greeted as he turned to his mom and little sister, seemingly sounding as though nothing was going on.
“Hunter, who was that you were talking to just now? I heard someone else’s voice coming from up here.” Heather asked.
“Oh, that was Paul. He was just asking me if you were angry at him.” Paul explained, pointing to a far corner of his room where he was suggesting Paul was.
As Heather looked to where Paul was pointing, she discovered that there was nobody there. Not only was Hunter scaring his little sister but now he was starting to worry his mom too. She swore she heard another kid’s voice coming from her son’s room yet he was the only one there. She did another check to see if the kid whose voice she heard earlier was still around. She looked under Hunter’s bed only to find no one. Then she looked in his closet and just like the first night she learned of Paul, she found nothing. This made no sense to her. Was she going crazy? Were they all going crazy? No. She knew what she had heard. That was definitely a young boy’s voice she heard before.
Two nights later, things became even weirder when she heard the same giggling that she had heard the past couple nights. Waking up, she groaned as she knew what this meant. As she stood up and walked to her bedroom door, she was suddenly met with more laughter. Only this time, the laughter was a little girl’s. Cory? She wondered. It sure sounded like Cory’s laughter. Hunter’s laughter followed right after his sister’s and then after that…another person’s laughter followed behind Hunter’s. Heather rushed out of her room as did David and pounded loudly on Hunter’s closed door. The laughter ceased as the door opened and just like before, Hunter stood in the doorway.
“Hi, mom. Hi, David.” Hunter greeted his mom and big brother as Cory stood behind him.
“What are you two doing in here?” Heather asked furiously. While she was glad that Hunter and Cory were back to playing together, she really wished they could have waited until tomorrow to do so.
“We’re just playing together with Paul mom.” Cory explained, smiling happily.
Heather looked at Cory in bewilderment. It was bad enough that Hunter was doing this but now Cory was too? This house had to be doing something to her and her children. With how much her youngest ones were talking about this “Paul”, she was tempted to call whatever was happening to them “Paul Syndrome”.
Heather brushed past Hunter and seized her daughter by the hand.
“Cory, you go back to your room and go to bed. Hunter, tell “Paul” that you need to stop this! I’m really at my limit now!” Heather said angrily, her eyes looking as though they were about to burst from their sockets.
Hunter looked behind him. The little boy frowned, feeling awful at what he was seeing.
“Mom, why are you being so mean to Paul? He looks like he’s going to cry.” Hunter asked, feeling guilty for the way his mom was treating his friend.
“Hunter, I know you like making up imaginary friends, but Paul is just that: imaginary. Now you need to get into bed pronto.” Heather ordered, her patience almost at its limit.
“But mom, Paul’s not imaginary, he’s standing right there!” Hunter exclaimed, pointing to the end of his bed.
“Now Hunter!” Heather fumed, not wanting to hear anymore of it.
Hunter flinched and quickly scurried over to his bed where he crawled under the covers. Heather shut her son’s door and sighed, holding her head in frustration.
“Mom, if they do this again, I’ll talk with them, ok?” Asked David, feeling concerned and yet a tad worried after seeing his mom go off on Hunter the way she had.
Heather nodded, her hands still clutching her long hair. “Yeah. Okay. Thanks David.” She smiled once at him.
David walked his mom to her bedroom where she proceeded to drop down on her bed. She grabbed her covers and pulled them over herself. David stood at the side of his mom’s bed, looking at her now more concerned for her than ever. He had never seen his mom go off on any of them like that before.
She would scold Hunter, Cory, and even David when he was younger if they were naughty but even then, he never once saw her get like this.
“I’m fine honey, I promise. You don’t need to worry about me.” Said Heather in an exhaustive state.
“No you’re not mom. You’ve never yelled at us like that before.” David protested.
“I know…” Heather said guiltily as she covered her eyes with her arm.
“Mom, please, I’ll look after Hunter and Cory. You just try and relax.” Said David, his concern for his mom’s physical and mental well being growing more and more.
Heather just nodded. “Okay.”
The next day, after David, Hunter, and Cory returned home from school, the younger kids played hide and seek around the house. The two of them hid while they claimed Paul would have to find them. Heather and David found it rather strange. How would only two kids be able to play hide and seek if they were both hiding? Then suddenly, David saw something that unnerved him. Out of the corner of his eye, as he was walking past the living room, he could swear he saw a shadowy figure move into the next room. Seconds later, a startled shriek came from the other room followed by laughter.
David followed the sound of the shriek and found Hunter and Cory together, laughing as Hunter crawled out from under a stand that had a large cloth draped over it. At first this didn’t seem like anything too unusual to David. He began to brush off the figure he thought he saw as Cory searching for Hunter. However, as he observed his younger siblings laughing together, he noticed something strange begin to occur. A shadow had taken form right beside Cory and a shadow like substance began to form right above the shadow. David couldn’t even begin to understand what he was seeing. He knew that whatever this was, it couldn’t be anything good. He rushed to get his mom who was busy preparing dinner. He was unable to properly describe to her what he was seeing, simply telling her that she needed to see this for herself.
Leading his mom to where the black mass was forming, they saw Hunter and Cory in the same spots they were in before. Only this time, a small figure covered in shadow was standing with them. It was about the same size as Hunter was. Wasting no time trying to make sense of things, David and Heather grabbed the younger members of their family by their wrists and pulled them away from the strange shadowy creature. They ran as fast as they could into the living room and hid, only to notice the creature standing in the middle of the room. Taking hold of Hunter and Cory’s arms again, they hurried up to Hunter’s bedroom and hid behind his bed. While their mom and big brother were deeply alarmed, neither Hunter nor Cory were really worried.
David and Heather peaked over the bed a few times. On the fifth glance, they spotted the apparition now standing by David’s door. It had cornered the terrified family. Heather grabbed Hunter and David grabbed Cory, holding the two kids close to them. Slowly, not taking their eyes off the ghost, they backed up to David’s closet door where they slouched down, afraid to think of what this ghastly figure had planned for them. They watched with fear in their eyes as the figure moved just a little closer and stopped. To their surprise, they noticed something off about this specter.
Tears were falling from it, soaking into the carpet.
Hunter and Cory turned around and together with David and Heather, watched as the shadows that covered the figure dissipated. What stood before them now wasn’t a shadowy spirit but a little boy. This boy was no older than Hunter. He had short brown hair and wore a plaid shirt over an orange shirt with what looked to be a superhero logo printed on the front and a pair of dark blue shorts. The boy’s eyes were big and filled with tears. He held his arms out in front of him like he was asking for a hug.
Hunter and Cory broke free from Heather and David and hurried over to the boy as Cory proceeded to wrap her arms around the ghost boy to try and comfort him. Hunter explained to his mom and brother that this boy was Paul. This was the boy who lived in their house before they did. As he was about to explain who Paul was and what happened to him, Paul placed his hand on Hunter’s shoulder and shook his head, telling his friend that he would tell them what happened to him.
When he was alive, Paul was abused by his parents physically and emotionally. His home life was awful. His parents were his biggest bullies. They would hit him for any little thing, tell him he was worthless and call him names like mistake. School was the only place he could get away from it all. There he had friends and teachers who he had begun to look at as something of a surrogate family. Even then, deep down, no matter how badly his parents had treated him, he still loved them even if they had no love to give back to him. One day, as they were driving, Paul’s mom opened his car door and pushed him out, proceeding to speed off afterward. They had left Paul in an unfamiliar neighborhood, hoping that he wouldn’t be able to find them. Despite this, Paul was able to find his way home less than a day later. His parents were out at the time so he was unable to get in the house. Even if he waited until they got home, Paul figured they wouldn’t let him in anyway. They would probably just drop him off even farther away. All he could do was hide under his house and there he stayed until he eventually passed.
Upon hearing the child’s story, David and Heather’s fears faded away, replaced with feelings of pity. They felt horrible for Paul. They just couldn’t fathom how a parent could do such a terrible thing to their own child.
Paul sniffled a little as he wiped away the tears.
“There were only two things I wanted when I was alive: parents that loved me, and a brother or sister. I didn’t care if my brother or sister was older or younger. I just wanted to be protected or to protect them.” Paul said through a new set of tears.
Slowly, Heather began to stand up. She approached Paul and her kids, kneeling beside them as she wrapped her arms around Paul’s neck and hugged him. This was soon followed by a hug from Hunter and shortly after, David. Cory had kept her arms around Paul throughout his story. Even though Paul couldn’t feel or embrace their hugs and they couldn’t feel Paul, he still understood their hug’s intent which helped just as much. He smiled, tears still falling from his eyes as he hugged them back.
Throughout the next couple of weeks, Paul had become one of the family. He would go with Hunter and Cory to school where, on Mondays and Wednesdays, he would be with Hunter and on Tuesdays and Thursdays, he would be with Cory. On Fridays, he would go to school with David which allowed him to get a taste of what high school was like. One Saturday, at the suggestion of Cory, the family took a picture together with Paul included. The following Sunday, Paul showed his new family where his body had been. As David pulled Paul’s remains from when he was alive out from under the house, they had discovered that his tiny body had been reduced to nothing but bones and his clothes were incredibly dirty. After explaining what had happened to Paul to a grave tender who took care of a graveyard several miles away from their house, he helped to give Paul a proper burial and on his tombstone, Paul’s name was given as Paul Gray. They explained that because they didn’t know what Paul’s last name was, they would be fine with their last name being used as his.
A couple days after Paul had finally been buried, he disappeared. He left behind only a message which he left with he asked Hunter to write and then share with the entire family.
I am really happy I was able to be part of your family. However, I have to go now. These last few weeks have been some of the happiest moments of my life and it’s thanks to you, mom, my brother Hunter, my sister Cory, and my big brother David. I love you all and I hope that I’ll be able to meet a nice family on the other side too.
Thank you so much,
Just as quickly as Paul had come into their lives, he was gone. The family sat in the middle of their living room, closely embracing each other as they thanked Paul for everything their brother and son had done for them.
That night, Heather and her children hung the picture they took with Paul in the living room. To Hunter’s surprise, as he observed the picture, he didn’t even notice as tears ran down his face.
He only just realized this as Cory pointed it out to him. As Hunter wiped the tears away, she, along with Heather and David smiled warmly at Hunter.
The family took one final look at the picture before retiring to bed. In their hearts, they knew that John and Paul would always be watching over them, keeping them safe.