However, there is one period of time that remains as clear in my mind, as though it all happened just yesterday. I often wonder whether these memories were simply hallucinations caused by the long sickness I experienced that Spring, but in my heart, I know they are real.
We were living in a large house on the outskirts of the city. As a family of three, we didn’t really need such a big home and there were a number of rooms that we never used during the five months we spent there. In some ways, it was a waste of space, but it was the only house we could find at the time that was close to my father’s place of work.
The day after my fifth birthday, I came down with a terrible fever. The doctor said I had to rest in bed for three weeks and concentrate on getting well. It was a horrible time to be bed-ridden as we were getting ready to move and most of my toys were already packed away in boxes. My bedroom was almost empty and I had very little to keep myself entertained.
My mother brought me some ginger ale and a few books several times a day. Other than that, there was precious little for me to do. I was always bored and grew more miserable by the day.
I don’t exactly recall how I met Mr. Widemouth. I think it was about a week after I was diagnosed with the fever and confined to bed. My first memory of him is when I asked him if he had a name. He told me to call him Mr. Widemouth, because his mouth was large. In fact, everything about him was large in comparison to his body… his head, his eyes, his crooked ears… but his mouth was by far the largest.
“You look kind of like a Furby,” I said as he flipped through one of my books.
Mr. Widemouth stopped and gave me a puzzled look. “Furby? What’s a Furby?” he asked.
I shrugged. “You know… the toys. The little furry robots with the big ears. You can pet them and feed them… almost like they’re real pets.”
“Oh,” replied Mr. Widemouth. “You don’t need one of those. They aren’t the same as having a real friend.”
I remember that Mr. Widemouth seemed to disappear every time my mother stopped by to check in on me.
“I hide under your bed,” he later explained. “I don’t want your parents to see me because I’m afraid they won’t let us play together anymore.”
We didn’t do much during those first few days. Mr. Widemouth just looked at my books, fascinated by the stories and pictures they contained. The third or fourth morning after I met him, he greeted me with a large smile on his face.
“I have a new game we can play,” he said. “We have to wait until after your mother comes to check on you, because she can’t see us play it. It’s a secret game.”
My mother came in with a few more books and some soda at the usual time. After she left, Mr. Widemouth slipped out from under the bed and tugged me by the hand.
“We have to go the the room at the end of the hallway,” he said.
I objected at first, because my parents had forbidden me to leave my bed without their permission. Mr. Widemouth persisted until, finally, I gave in.
The room at the end of the hall had no furniture or wallpaper. Its only distinguishing feature was a window opposite the doorway. Mr. Widemouth darted across the room and gave the window a firm push, flinging it open. Then, he beckoned to me and told me to look out at the ground below.
We were on the second floor of the house, but it was on a hill, and from this angle the drop was more than two floors, due to the incline.
“I like to play pretend up here,” Mr. Widemouth explained. “I pretend that there is a big, soft trampoline below this window, and I jump. If you pretend hard enough you bounce back up like a feather. I want you to try.”
I was a five-year old with a high fever, so I wasn’t thinking very clearly as I looked down and considered the possibility.
“It’s a long drop,” I said.
“But that’s all a part of the fun,” he replied. “It wouldn’t be fun if it was only a short drop. If it were that way you may as well just bounce on a real trampoline.”
I toyed with the idea, picturing myself falling through thin air only to bounce back to the window on something unseen by human eyes. But the realist in me prevailed.
“Maybe some other time,” I said. “I don’t know if I have enough imagination. I could get hurt.”
Mr. Widemouth’s face contorted into a snarl, but only for a moment. Anger gave way to disappointment.
“If you say so,” he sighed. He spent the rest of the day under my bed, quiet as a mouse.
The following morning Mr. Widemouth arrived holding a small box.
“I want to teach you how to juggle,” he said. “Here are some things you can use to practice, before I start giving you lessons.”
I looked in the box. It was full of knives.
“My parents will kill me!” I shouted, horrified that Mr. Widemouth had brought knives into my room. My parents would never allow me to touch them. “I’ll be spanked and grounded for a year!”
Mr. Widemouth frowned. “It’s fun to juggle with these. I want you to try it.”
I pushed the box away. “I can’t. I’ll get in trouble. Knives aren’t safe to just throw around in the air.”
Mr. Widemouth’s frown deepened into a scowl. He took the box of knives and then slid himself under my bed. He remained there for the rest of the day. I began to wonder how often he was under there.
I started having trouble sleeping after that. Mr. Widemouth often woke me up at night, saying he put a real trampoline under the window, a big invisible one. He said that I couldn’t see it in the dark. I always declined and tried to go back to sleep, but Mr. Widemouth persisted. Sometimes he stayed by my side until early in the morning, encouraging me to jump.
He wasn’t so fun to play with anymore.
My mother came to me one morning and told me I was well enough to go outside and walk around for a while. She thought the fresh air would do me some good, especially after being confined to my room for so long. Ecstatic, I put on my sneakers and trotted out to the back porch, yearning to feel the sun on my face.
Mr. Widemouth was outside, waiting for me.
“I have something I want you to see,” he said. I must have given him a weird look, because he added, “It’s safe, I promise.”
I followed him and he led me to a trail that ran through the woods behind the house.
“This is an important path,” he explained. “I’ve had a lot of friends about your age. When they were ready, I took them down this path, to a special place. You aren’t ready yet, but one day, I hope to take you there.”
I returned to the house, wondering what kind of place lay at the end of that trail.
Two weeks after I met Mr. Widemouth, we packed the last of our belongings into a moving truck and were about to set off on the long drive to our new home. I considered telling Mr. Widemouth that I would be leaving, but even at five years old, I was beginning to suspect that perhaps his intentions were not to my benefit, despite what he claimed. For this reason, I decided to keep my departure a secret.
It was 4AM by the time we were ready to leave. My mother helped me into the truck and my father was sitting behind the wheel. I placed my head against the window, hoping to get some sleep before the sun came up.
As we backed out of the driveway, I looked up and saw Mr. Widemouth’s silhouette in my bedroom window. He stood there, motionless, until the truck was about to turn onto the main road. He gave a pitiful little wave goodbye, a steak knife in his other hand. I didn’t wave back.
Years later, I was passing through the area and decided to return and pay a visit to that house. I found that the piece of land our house had stood on was empty, except for the foundation. The house had burned down a few years after we left.
Out of curiosity, I followed the trail that Mr. Widemouth had shown me. Part of me expected him to jump out from behind a tree and scare the living daylights out of me, but I felt that Mr. Widemouth was gone, somehow tied to the house that no longer existed.
The trail ended at a small cemetery.
I noticed that many of the tombstones belonged to children.