Wanda liked to dance.
Nobody quite understood this. There was never any music, or reason anyone could see. She just… danced.
Danced as if she had to, danced as if she might drown if she stopped. As if that’s what it took to be free. As if everything was easy, as long as she closed her eyes… and dance.
“I’ll be your warm-up act!” her little brother, Balthazar, said.
“Warm up?” Wanda said.
“Yes, your obviously dancing to an audience people can’t see,” her sibling replied. “I’ll do some stand-up comedy, to get them in a good mood. Here: Why did the chicken cross the road…?”
Wanda was cross. Her brother wasn’t meant to put all this thought into her dancing. No-one was. Life was complicated enough, what, with all it’s noise and rules and trouble.
But there he was, staring, wide-eyed.
“Okay,” Wanda moaned. “Why did the chicken cross the road?”
But Balthazar just smirked.
At first Wanda didn’t get the joke. But she gradually noticed a horrible, horrible stink!
“Puuuugh!” she groaned, fighting through his fart and trying to hit him at the same time.
“Get out of my room! Get out! Out!”
Once he was gone, Wanda’s friend, The Monster, chuckled.
“As far as comedians go, he’s pretty good,” Monster said, as though admitting something.
“Most people would have explained the joke.”
“Yeah, well, I’d cross the road, too, to escape that!” Wanda huffed.
“That’s my point,” Monster insisted. “You had to say it. He just waited. That’s smart. Now, where were we?”
“Dancing, like always,” Wanda said.
“Yes,” Monster smiled, waving away the smell. “Let’s dance…”
Pain stomped towards Wanda at great pace. Julia Scree was its name. The girl with the nice hair and pretty, yet scrunched-up face.
Wanda braced herself. She never had any idea which shape Julie’s pain would take.
Humiliation, bruises, wedgies, fear… so many options.
“What’s with all that loco stuff, anyways?” Julia barked.
“My dancing?” Wanda mumbled.
Julia’s laughter pushed all over Wanda, as if thrown like mud pies.
“You call that dancing?”
Humiliation it was.
“Sure. I don’t like to do learned moves. I just like to, I dunno, flip and flop… and dance.”
Julia’s laughter became a weapon. It stabbed and slapped and hurt. All her friends laughed with her.
“Freak,” she squawked, knocking Wanda over.
Balthazar watched his sister being bullied while crouched behind a fence. He was just little, and not brave. He noticed Monster was watching with him.
“Why didn’t you help,” Wanda’s brother asked.
“I’m imaginary,” Monster said. Besides, just listen to them! I bet they taste terrible, all sour. Bleh. I’m a dancer, not a fighter. A romper! A stomper and flomper! A jiggerty jitterbug, boogaloo freeform twister!”
“Wow…” gasped Balthazar.
Then there was that awkward silence between strangers, before…
“I liked your joke…” Monster said.
“Big fan,” Monster added.
Balthazar’s heart went into overdrive. Somebody likes my comedy? he thought.
“Somebody likes MY comedy?” he said.
“Some-thing… likes your comedy,” said Monster.
“The biscuits are being put in the oven. The first biscuit says: “Well, looks like this is the end for us…” And the other biscuit says; “NO WAY! A TALKING BISCUIT!”
“See?” Monster smiled, all easy, as if it knew things. “Timing, delivery, funny.”
Wanda was in a panic. She had been down every since being bullied. The walk home was long and slow and full of the silence of shame. The sort of quiet that shouts at you!
“FILL ME WITH NOISE, OR I’LL DRIVE YOU INSANE!”
But there was no noise, no silly, obscure, made-up, flowing, jolting, rompy-pompy music. No dancing. Wanda’s imaginary monster was nowhere to be found.
“Where have you been!?” Wanda shouted as Monster climbed sheepishly through her window.
“I… well…” said Monster. “Around?”
“I needed to dance so bad! To escape and be free! Around? I don’t even know what that means,” Wanda flopped onto the end of her bed and pouted.
“I’m imaginary,” Monster said. “Maybe on some hidden level you wanted me to get out and explore the world a little… Maybe… y’know… make a new friend…?”
“A new…?” Wanda started. “WHO!?”
Then, coming through the wall, she heard the same muffled sound she did every night. Bad comedy.
“So, two wombats walked into a milk bar, and said: ‘Sorry, we’re not cats…’” followed by giggling.
Then, Wanda turned and saw Monster giggling, too. Which broke her heart.
Monster was running down the street after Wanda, pleading.
“Look… It’s just that… Can I…?”
Monster kept hopping and tip-toeing and dancing around Wanda, acting interrupted when it spoke, because it had no defence. Wanda had imagined Monster. Yet Balthazar had seen his sister dancing, and figured out she wasn’t alone. Now he was imagining Monster, too.
And imagining that Monster liked comedy. His comedy, damn it!
“It’s just that? It’s just that what?” Wanda raged.
“Well, his jokes are…”
“Two wombats aren’t cats?”
“Milk bar. Milk. Cat’s like milk. Even if I didn’t get it, it’s the way he doesn’t care if I get it or not. I like the way he giggles at his own jokes. The first rule of comedy is to amuse yourself!”
“Oh!” Wanda huffed and marched off, straight towards Julia Cree and her gang.
Balthazar was scared.
“Quick! Do something!” he pleaded, pointing to his sister as she marched toward the older, bigger bullies.
“I… what… me…?” said Monster.
“Imagine other friends for her! Anything!”
Monster concentrated, tucked all its imagination into the palm of it’s claw, and squeeeeeeezed it into a ball, then threw it to Wanda’s left. Then another to her right.
A dragon appeared, all silver and beyond beautiful, sliding into and out of the footpath as if it was moon dust.
A human kookaburra laughed and laughed, beckoning Wanda to join in.
A giant knocked its knees and offered her a life in the clouds.
A cat asked her to ride in its teapot with it, spinning, like a picnic, through the stars.
“I don’t want ANY of that!” Wanda turned and raged.
She stood there, little girl fists clenched, face red with anger, as tea saucers span, and dragons and magic kites circled.
“I imagined you, Monster!” she pleaded. “Because you’re hairy and hopeless and love dancing and perfect.”
Then, she turned and pushed Julie over.
Real fights were nothing like imaginary ones! They hurt. And, losing hers so badly, they also filled Wanda with shame.
For fighting at all.
For losing so badly.
For being wedgied.
For losing Monster. To her kid brother!
She swung from the tree branch, held up by her undies, battered, bruised, glaring at Monster.
Monster knew it had broken her heart. There was nothing to say. They just waited, for nothing… not dancing.
Meanwhile, Balthazar was drowning in guilt! He just wanted to have fun! Maybe tease his sister a little. And her idea; that Monster who loved anything you loved, seemed perfect! Nobody understood his comedy.
He watched the bullies as they strolled off, victorious. As they left, he was imagining moon dragons and elephants, and flying whales attacking them. But it was, indeed, just his imagination. The bullies didn’t even notice.
“Sorry, boss, nothing we can do. They’re too real for us,” said the gorilla astronaut.
That was when it hit Balthazar… like a punch-line!
“If Monster was real… it would eat those bullies!”
Balthazar was learning that auditioning magicians wasn’t easy. Some were kids in suits and top hats, some were old, friendly gypsies, some were men with silly twirly moustaches. One was a midget, one tall and pale and skinny. None of them, though, could make Monster real.
Wanda and Monster had spent a lot of time gradually getting closer. Monster has simply refused to fade away. Life could be hard, life needed to be more fun, free! As free as dancing! Dancing as if crazy! Wanda needed Monster. They needed each other.
The two of them sat on a wall, under a tree, watching Balthazar through the branches.
Rabbits appeared out of hats, cards flew everywhere. It was hilarious!
“Sorry,” Monster mumbled, with much embarrassment.
Wanda leaning into his woolly chest and said nothing. Just felt safe and comforted.
“Wait! Wait!” the kid in the top hat pleaded with Balthazar, as trick after trick tumbled against his wishes out of his sleeves and pockets.
“Oh, oh my, oh dear…” the kid flubbered.
Then, in panic, he accidentally reached for the chicken claws of the witch doctor who was really a dentist, but learnt about voodoo on-line. When he touched them there was a big spark. A window opened.
Or, at least that’s what Balthazar imagined. Or was it real? Being around Monster was like that. Suddenly, you could picture anything.
All the other magicians stood back in awe.
“A Wish window…” they gasped.
“Top hats and voodoo. Cross magic…” they all noted to each other.
And Balthazar loved his sister.
And Balthazar wanted her to be happy.
And Balthazar wanted her to be not picked on.
So he wished.
He wished in to the Wishing Window, with enough power and love of family and need to make wishes possible. A one in a billion moment, and he ran towards it, never once doubting, heart and mind open.
“Oh, no…” Monster paused, feeling its chest. “Oh… Oh no!”
Wanda looked at the sheer panic on Monster’s face.
“This can’t be good…” she said.
“Help!” Monster pleaded, clutching at Wanda. “They’re making me real!”
“What? Where? Who are?” Wanda stammered. Yet she could feel Monster getting more solid, its features warping, as if left out in the sun.
“Please, please, please… I can’t be real!” he begged.
Real seemed like Heaven to Wanda. Her own real life monster, as a friend – and dancing partner? She would rule! In a friendly way, of course.
“Nothing but bad can come of this…” Monster wailed.
Poor monster was really gasping now, its chest heaving in and out with oxygen pumping into fleshy formed lungs.
“Have you seen a REAL monster? We’re terrible! Do you know what we do? I’ll grind you and eat you and suck the marrow from your…”
“Hey, ease up, Monster,” Balthazar complained.
“YOU!” Monster raged. “You’re doing this!”
Balthazar ran. He even did a little scared-fart – with no chickens crossing any roads.
But Monster kept growing, turning into something mean.
“Even if I end up nice, I won’t be your monster, Wanda. We won’t dance the same. Laugh the same. I wont feel free by making you feel free. By helping you roam…”
“Oh…” Wanda gasped.
“They will hunt me, or hide me and deny me,” he pointed to Julia Scree and her parents. “How many of us have you seen? Ever? For real? We just aren’t allowed.”
Wanda had tears pouring down her face. Poor Monster! Poor friend!
“We’re innocent,” she whispered to herself, without even knowing why, and realised what she had to do.
Meanwhile, Balthazar’s wish grew, and grew, into something that couldn’t dance, or boogaloo, or twist or disco. Something mean, that only spoke in growls.
“I’m sorry!” the little boy pleaded. “Maybe a joke will help? What’s BIG and BLUE and likes to Boog-a-poo?” he asked, raising his eyebrows.
“Of all the…” Wanda grunted, running to save her little brother.
The monster grunted, too, but with the effort to strike!
As Wanda weaved in and under to pull her brother away, she shouted; “Balthazar! I wish you had an imaginary monster of your own?”
“I do,” he protested. “But yours seemed like much more fun.”
Then it hit him. What his sister must do.
“Out-wish my wish,” he whispered to her, as she swooped, saving him from harm.
Monster was now a monster, eating bullies, wrecking things. “Wow,” Balthazar gasped. Then, ever the comedian, he added; “What a win/lose.”
But the pain the monster was causing was real.
“I wish everybody admitted they had their own imaginary friend,” Wanda shouted to the crowd that had gathered. “With all my heart, I wish you’d turn and face them, now. Eyes opened or closed. Just face them…” she pleaded. “As if you knew they were real.”
She went on.
“Care about them. Your little aliens, your giants, your living rag dolls, your swooners and crooners and mermaids and ghosts and dragons and monsters all of your own.
“Bring them out! Dance with them. Just dance! Dance because! Dance for fun! If we all just closed our eyes and danced, our imaginary friends might meet each other’s imaginary friends.
“Dance!” she pleaded. “Imagine if, just once, we were all that brave? Dance while alone, as if not alone.”
And her wish was so strong, so true, Balthazar’s wish was replaced. People danced, everywhere! Monster became Monster again, Wanda hugging it so much neither of them could breath.
She just hugged and hugged her imaginary friend for all time! While, around them, everybody, and their imaginary friends, danced and had a ball!
“What’s invisible, yet not?” Balthazar said. “You! You, you, and you…!” he pointed to the empty space beside each person watching.
Monster and Wanda sat in the branch of the tree, watching Balthazar telling jokes to a laughing crowd. And their imaginary friends.
“Your brother is making them happy,” Monster said.
“I don’t care, I just had to get you out of there,” Wanda replied.
“I don’t believe you,” Monster chuckled.
“It’s true, I tell you. I do not care,” Wanda insisted.
“Imagination inspires imagination,” Monster told her. “By keeping people’s imaginary friends out in the open, and happy, your brother is creating new worlds.”
“But tomorrow?” Wanda insisted. “Who cares or knows?”
“You care. But you’re right, too,” Monster said, as he started to boogaloo. “I like it much better when we clown and dance on our own.”