His parents got him this clubhouse years ago, so he would have somewhere to play that was out of their way. He had decorated it with dap pictures; boxes for furniture, a bookshelf for his Dr. Seuss, and of course his friends.
His only friends consisted of dead animals he found around town. He had birds, squirrels, little dogs, and cats. When they started to smell or fall apart he would say his goodbyes, and gave them a proper burial.
He sat in the middle of the room and told his friends of his day. They agreed the students were jerks, and Chi, the dog, vowed one day they would get their due. He was always threatening to bite the mean people but he never did. Ricky smiled as he shook his head.
He knew his friends loved him. He wished he could take them to school. But since no one else had their special connection only he could hear them speak.
His friends watched as he played his imaginary games. This time he was a great wizard. Nutty, the squirrel, jumped up to help him fight the dragon. Ricky laughed as Nutty knocked Chi off his feet. The dragon had once again been defeated.
“Yay,” he exclaimed as he spun in spot. “No one can beat the Great Lord Ricky.”
“Or Nutty the Dragon Slayer,” Nutty added as he crossed his arms.
He bent over to meet his eyes. “Oh yes, Nutty the Dragon Slayer as yet to be defeated as well.” The squirrel nodded with approval.
“One day I will win,” Chi said. He sadly bowed his head.
Ricky dropped his stick wand as he scooped the dog into his arms. His fur was rough against his flesh. “I’m sure you will.” He gave him a hug. He was used to the feel of bugs crawling on his arms. Every time he picked up one of his friends the creepy crawlies would come out of their body to visit him as well. He was a true animal lover so he refused to kill them.
“Ricky!” his mother called.
His shoulders drooped with disappointment. It was time for him to go in. “I’ll come by later,” he promised before he ran to the house.
Inside, the house was bright and warm unlike his beloved clubhouse. His mother removed the cobwebs from his hair. “Ricky, one day I am going to go in that clubhouse and clean it,” she told him.
“No!” he cried out as he stepped away from her. Fear wrapped its cold grip around him. He knew his mother would get rid of his friends and then he’d have no one. He swallowed the pleas he wanted to make and went to the restroom. Dinner was done and he had to wash his hands. All good boys kept their hands clean.
At the table they ate dinner as a family. His mother and father talked of re-doing the house. Ricky didn’t care for change, life was good the way it was.
“How do you feel about a play date with the boy down the street?” his mother suddenly asked him.
He stared at his fork. “What is a play date?” he asked, quietly.
“You know,” she beamed at him. “Its where you meet up with a kid your own age, and play games.”
“Sounds fun,” his father crimped in.
“Sounds horrible.” He dropped his forks, no longer feeling hungry.
His mother sighed as she looked at her husband. Her blue eyes pleaded with him to help. He wiped his mouth before he set his cloth napkin aside. “Hey bud,” he gently grabbed his arm. “Having friends is a good thing.”
“It teaches you how to fit in,” his mother added.
He sulked in his seat. “I don’t want to fit in.” His lips pinched together in a small pout. “Beside, I have friends.”
“Really?” she perked up. “Bring them over some time so we can meet them.”
“Yeah buddy, we want to see who these awesome friends are.” His father picked up his fork to continue eating.
Ricky licked his dry lips. He wanted to be in his clubhouse, his friends never made him explain himself. “You wouldn’t like them.”
“Why not? Are they troublemakers?”
“No it’s just…” How could he explain it so his parents would understand? “The living do not understand me dad, but the dead do.”
His thick brows frowned at him. “What does that mean?”
“If you speak in riddles no one will understand you dear,” his mother pointed out.
“It’s not a riddle mom; it’s the truth.”
“Its silly, that’s what that is,” his father corrected. “You are going on that play date, and you will learn how to be normal.”
“Or at least learn to pretend to be normal,” his mother added as she shook her head. “Where did we go wrong Shawn?”
Uncertainty darkened his handsome features. “I don’t know hun; I just don’t know.”
Ricky bowed his head with shame. Why couldn’t he make his parents happy? “May I be excused? I wish to take a bath.”
“Go ahead,” his mother dismissed him.
That night, while his parents were asleep Ricky snuck out of the house to be with his friends. He had to tell them of dinner and his play date.
“This is not good,” Chewy, the cat, said. Its eyes were milky. “Not good at all.”
“Why do you need to go on a play date when you have us?” Nutty asked. If he had eyes Ricky knew there would be sadness in them.
He shrugged. “I don’t know. My parents are making me go.”
“Parents,” Chi huffed. “My dad was never around and my mother lost interest in me the moment I could walk.”
He eyed the dried blood on his fur as he thought about what he had said. “But I’m a human.”
“Humans are animals,” Chewy pointed out.
He let out a heavy sigh as he stared at his hands. They were so small and delicate. “They just don’t understand me.”
“But we do,” Chi replied.
“The dead always understands you,” Nutty purred.
“Always,” Chewy said with a smile. Its thin fangs hung over its lower lip.
“The dead,” he whispered. The dead understood him. “But they are alive.”
“That can be changed,” Chi said. Ricky stared at him. The mutt’s black hollowed eyes stared into his. “They can join us here.”
He licked his lips as he rose to his feet. They could join us here, repeated in his head as he walked back to the house.
That night, while his parent slept, Ricky set their room on fire. He heard their screams of pain as they lost their life’s. The flames consumed their flesh so Ricky was not able to add them to his clubhouse, but he knew their spirits finally understood him.
He hid in his beloved clubhouse when the fire truck came. The officers found him speaking to his friends, and sharing stories of the fire he had caused. They took him to the mental hospital so he could receive the help he needed, and be taught not to play with the dead.