Paz

When my son was seven, he developed an imaginary friend named Paz.  It creeped me out at first, but I eventually got used to the idea that he had an active imagination and was expressing it in his own way.  I even did research on the idea of imaginary friends, not having one from my own childhood, and found that almost a third of children between six and seven years old have imaginary friends.

My wife and I decided to play along, and eventually Paz became a part of the family.  He got his own place at the table for meals and had a spot on the couch next to my son during TV time.  Every now and then Paz even got in trouble after being blamed for breaking a window with a rogue baseball or coloring on the walls with crayons.  Instead of arguing with our son about lying, we would let him make a choice between telling the truth for a lesser sentence.  Sometimes he would come clean and say that it wasn’t really Paz that colored on the wall, but for some of the worse offenses like the time the lamp was smashed, he would insist on his own innocence.  We would tell him that if he told us the truth about what happened, he wouldn’t be grounded for as long, but when he stuck to his guns, we stuck to ours.

Ultimately, though, the inclusion of the imaginary Paz became somewhat unsettling.  I can’t exactly pinpoint the moment I became uncomfortable with it, but almost overnight I was done playing along.  It was maybe six months after Paz entered our lives, and that just seemed like long enough. 

I stopped setting a place for him at the table.  My son was distraught at first, throwing fits and saying that Paz was upset, but after a few days and the threat of punishment looming over his head, he began to comply with the idea that Paz needed to be around for playtime only.

Six months later, almost a full year after Paz had first made his appearance, I’d almost completely forgotten about him.  Even during playtime he was nowhere to be seen, having been replaced for imaginary space aliens or robots or whatever little boys can conjure up in their imagination.  One night, thought, after reading my son a bedtime story, he looked up at me and said “Paz says to tell mom goodbye.”

I stared down at my son, not sure how to react.  Paz’s name hadn’t been spoken in months, so why now was he coming up?  “What do you mean?”

“Paz says he’s gonna take mommy somewhere, so you’ve gotta tell her goodbye.”

“When did Paz say that?”  I asked.

“Just barely,” he said.

Playing along as I had a year before, I turned to the side of the bed where Paz would sleep and said “I’ll tell her for you Paz.  Just make sure you keep her safe if you’re gonna take her on an adventure, all right?”

My son frowned.  “He says it’s not an adventure, and he doesn’t sleep next to me anymore.  Couldn’t you see him when you came in dad?  He’s standing in the corner behind you.”

I smiled and tried to maintain my composure, ignoring the thousands of spider legs which were crawling up my spine and into my hair.  With a kiss on the forehead and a tight hug around my neck, I bid my son goodnight and shut the door.

I didn’t want him to know how unnerved I was with what he said, but the way he looked at me with his wide, earnest eyes as he told me Paz’s message made my skin break out into goosebumps.

After fifteen minutes of internal debate, I called my wife – just to make sure she was all right.  I couldn’t get the nagging feeling of unrest to subside without at least talking to her.

She was working the night shift at the hospital and had a few more hours to go before her shift ended, but just hearing her voice would help calm my nerves enough to at least fall asleep.

I told her about what our son had said, and she reassured me that it was just our son’s imagination, but hearing that did surprisingly little to help.  She didn’t see the look in his eyes, didn’t feel the chill in the air, and didn’t feel like someone, even now as we spoke on the phone, was watching her.

I told her I loved her and hung up the phone.

Three hours later as she drove home, she had a brain aneurism – she didn’t even make it to the hospital.  The last words I said to her were the ones spoken during that phone call.

Paz had taken her away.

The next year was hard on my son and me, doing our best to make things as normal as possible.  Paz came back even more prominent than ever, and the psychologist said it wasn’t unusual for a child to seek comfort from an imaginary friend, especially if that friend had been there before my wife died.  But that didn’t help my own apprehension about the mysterious Paz who had told my son that his mother was going to die. 

It was a year later, almost to the day, that I heard my bedroom door creak open and my son’s bare feet pad across the hardwood floor toward my bed.  I opened an eye and saw his face, pale in the dark, peering over the side of the bed.

“Paz says I have to tell you goodbye,” he said.

I was immediately awake.  “What?”

“Paz says I have to tell you goodbye.”

I picked him up and tucked him in next to me.  “Paz isn’t real,” I said, not sure if it was more for him or myself.  “You had a bad dream.  I’m not going anywhere, so you don’t need to tell me anything.”

“Promise?”

“Promise,” I said.

We fell asleep ten minutes later, wrapped in each other’s arms.

When I awoke the next morning, I was alone in my bed.  I sat up and felt the panic creeping into my chest until I remembered blearily that I had felt my son slip out of my bed sometime in the middle of the night and heard him pad back to his own bedroom.

I got out of bed and walked toward his bedroom door.  I just needed to see him to make sure he was okay, then maybe I could go back to sleep for another hour or so.

The first thing I noticed when I opened the bedroom door was the scent of bitter iron.  The next thing I noticed was the blood.  It was dripping in thick strings from my son’s bedsheets onto the floor.

My son’s body lay on the bed, twisted and sunken as if someone had hit him with a car then carried him back and tucked him in.

The coroner said she hadn’t seen anything like it.  It was as if he’d fallen from a two-story window onto concrete, and the forensic team said that the blood spatter told the same story, except there was not a hard-enough surface anywhere in the house to make that reasonable possible, least of all his own bed, but that’s all they could make of it.

For a while I was under investigation, but with no evidence to support the idea that I did anything to my son, the case was dropped and put into the cold-case files where grieving parents spend their time.

That was ten years ago, and although I’ve done my best to move on, it still hurts to write this story.  I’ve done my best to move past all this, and I promised myself I would never even speak of Paz again, but that is a promise I’ve now broken because I’ve been reading The Exorcist by William Peter Blatty, and just recently made a connection which, if I don’t share with someone, will eat me alive.

I never questioned where the name Paz came from, because I just assumed that it was a nonsensical name.  I never once considered that perhaps Paz was short for something.

Something like Pazuzu.

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