Christopher is seven years old. Christopher is the new kid in town. Christopher has an imaginary friend…
Single mother Kate Reese is on the run. Determined to improve life for her and her son, Christopher, she flees an abusive relationship in the middle of the night with her child. Together, they find themselves drawn to the tight-knit community of Mill Grove, Pennsylvania. It’s as far off the beaten track as they can get. Just one highway in, one highway out.
At first, it seems like the perfect place to finally settle down. Then Christopher vanishes. For six awful days, no one can find him. Until Christopher emerges from the woods at the edge of town, unharmed but not unchanged. He returns with a voice in his head only he can hear, with a mission only he can complete: Build a tree house in the woods by Christmas, or his mother and everyone in the town will never be the same again.
Stephen Chbosky, author of The Perks of Being a Wallflower, returns with an epic work of literary horror—look for Imaginary Friend October 1st from Grand Central Publishing (US) and Orion Publishing (UK), and get started with an excerpt below!
50 years before…
Don’t leave the street. They can’t get you if you don’t leave the street.
Little David Olson knew he was in trouble. The minute his mother got back with Dad, he was going to get it. His only hope was the pillow stuffed under his blanket, which made it look like he was still in bed. They did that on TV shows. But none of that mattered now. He had snuck out of his bedroom and climbed down the ivy and slipped and hurt his foot. But it wasn’t too bad. Not like his older brother playing football. This wasn’t too bad.
Little David Olson hobbled down Hays Road. The mist in his face. The fog settling in down the hill. He looked up at the moon. It was full. The second night it had been full in a row. A blue moon. That’s what his big brother told him. Like the song that Mom and Dad danced to sometimes. Back when they were happy. Back before David made them afraid.
Little David Olson heard something in the bushes. For a second, he thought it might be another one of those dreams. But it wasn’t. He knew it wasn’t. He forced himself to stay awake. Even with his headaches. He had to get there tonight.
A car drove past, bathing the fog in headlight. Little David Olson hid behind a mailbox as rock ’n’ roll poured from the old Ford Mustang. A couple of the teenagers laughed. A lot of kids were being drafted into the army, and drunk driving was on the rise. That’s what his dad said anyway.
“David?” a voice whispered. Hisspered. Hisss.
Did someone say it? Or did he just hear it?
“Who’s there?” David said.
It must have been in his head. That was okay. At least it wasn’t the hissing lady. At least he wasn’t dreaming.
Or was he?
David looked down the hill at the street corner with the big streetlight on Monterey Drive. The teenagers passed it, taking all the sound with them. That’s when David saw the shadow of a person. A figure stood in the middle of the pool of streetlight. Waiting and whistling. Whistling and waiting. A song that sounded a little like
The hairs on the back of David’s neck stood up.
Don’t go near that corner.
Stay away from that person.
Little David Olson cut through the yards instead.
He tiptoed over an old fence. Don’t let them hear you. Or see you. You’re off the street. It’s dangerous. He looked up in a window where a babysitter was making out with her boyfriend while the baby cried. But it sounded like a cat. He was still sure he wasn’t dreaming, but it was getting harder and harder to tell anymore. He climbed under the fence and got wet grass stains on his pajama bottoms. He knew he couldn’t hide them from his mom. He would have to wash them himself. Like how he was starting to wet the bed again. He washed the sheets every morning. He couldn’t let his mother know. She would ask questions. Questions he could not answer.
Not out loud.
He moved through the little woods behind the Maruca house. Past the swing set that Mr. Maruca had put up with his boys. After a hard day’s work, there were always two Oreos and a glass of milk waiting. Little David Olson helped them once or twice. He loved those Oreos. Especially when they got a little soft and old.
The whisper was louder now. He looked back. There was no one around. He peeked back past the houses to the streetlight. The shadow person was gone. The figure could be anywhere. It could be right behind him. Oh, please don’t let it be the hissing lady. Please don’t let me be asleep.
The twig snapped behind him. Little David Olson forgot about his hurt foot and ran. He cut through the Pruzans’ lawn down onto Carmell Drive and turned left. He could hear dogs panting. Getting closer. But there were no dogs. It was just sounds. Like the dreams. Like the cat baby crying. They were running after him. So, he ran faster. His little booties hitting the wet pavement. Smack smack smack like a grandma’s kiss.
When he finally got to the corner of Monterey Drive, he turned right. He ran in the middle of the street. Like a raft on a river. Don’t leave the street. They can’t get you if you’re on the street. He could hear the noises on either side. Little hisses. And dogs panting. And licking. And baby cats. And those whispers.
“David? Get out of the street. You’ll get hurt. Come to the lawn where it’s safe.”
The voice was the hissing lady. He knew it. She always had a nice voice at first. Like a substitute teacher trying too hard. But when you looked at her, she wasn’t nice anymore. She turned to teeth and a hissing mouth. Worse than the Wicked Witch. Worse than anything. Four legs like a dog. Or a long neck like a giraffe. Hssss.
“David? Your mother hurt her feet. They’re all cut up. Come and help me.”
The hissing lady was using his mom’s voice now. No fair. But she did that. She could even look like her. The first time, it had worked. He went over to her on the lawn. And she grabbed him. He didn’t sleep for two days after that. When she took him to the house with the basement. And that oven.
“Help your mother, you little shit.”
His grandma’s voice now. But not his grandma. David could feel the hissing lady’s white teeth. Don’t look at them. Just keep looking ahead. Keep running. Get to the cul-de-sac. You can make her go away for ever. Get to the last streetlight.
David Olson looked ahead to the last streetlight in the cul-de-sac. And then, he stopped.
The shadow person was back.
The figure stood in the middle of the pool of streetlight. Waiting and whistling. Whistling and waiting. Dream or no dream, this was bad. But David could not stop now. It was all up to him. He was going to have to walk past the streetlight person to get to the meeting place.
The hissing lady was closer. Behind him. David Olson suddenly felt cold. His pajamas damp. Even with the overcoat. Just keep walking. That’s all he could do. Be brave like his big brother. Be brave like the teenagers being drafted. Be brave and keep walking. One little step. Two little steps.
“Hello?” said Little David Olson.
The figure said nothing. The figure did not move. Just breathed in and out, its breath making
“Hello? Who are you?” David asked.
Silence. The world holding its breath. Little David Olson put a little toe into the pool of light. The figure stirred.
“I’m sorry, but I need to pass. Is that okay?”
Again there was silence. David inched his toe into the light. The figure began to turn. David thought about going back home, but he had to finish. It was the only way to stop her. He put his whole foot into the light. The figure turned again. A statue waking up. His whole leg. Another turn. Finally, David couldn’t take it, and he entered the light. The figure ran at him. Moaning. Its arm reaching out. David ran through the circle. The figure behind him. Licking. Screaming. David felt its long nails reaching, and just as it was going to grab his hair, David slid on the hard pavement like in baseball. He tore up his knee, but it didn’t matter. He was out of the light. The figure stopped moving. David was at the end of the street. The cul-de-sac with the log cabin and the newlywed couple.
Little David Olson looked off the road. The night was silent. Some crickets. A little bit of fog that lit the path to the trees. David was terrified, but he couldn’t stop. It was all up to him. He had to finish or the hissing lady would get out. And his big brother would be the first to die.
Little David Olson left the street and walked.
Past the fence.
Through the field.
And into the Mission Street Woods.
Excerpted from Imaginary Friend, copyright © 2019 by Stephen Chbosky.