By: Mark J. Hadley
The foyer of Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends was typically quiet during the late morning after breakfast due to the lack of traffic. Currently, nobody was present, and the only sound was the rhythmic ticking of the foyer's clock. It usually stayed this way until around lunch, save for the occasional passerby. The only exception seemed to be whenever one of the house residents, Blooregard Q. Kazoo, was up to his usual antics.
This morning was one such day. A large red ball bounced down the steps leading down to the foyer, with Bloo in close pursuit, swinging wildly at it with a tennis racquet. "I've got it, I've got it!" he exclaimed, missing the ball entirely with each swing even though it was almost as big as he was. It bounced against one of the steps and over the railing; Bloo, determined not to lose it, hopped onto the railing and slid the rest of the way down, still swinging the racquet around. The ball took a big bounce when it hit the ground and soared across the foyer towards a door on the right-hand side.
The office that door led to belonged to Mr. Herriman, the imaginary friend responsible for running Foster's. The rabbit in question opened the door and emerged from his office, unaware at first that the ball Bloo was chasing was on a collision course with him. As soon as he saw it, he threw himself to one side against the door frame, fur standing on end. The ball whooshed past him and into the office, bouncing twice before striking his desk on the far end. The collision knocked over a lamp and scattered some papers around. Furious, Mr. Herriman turned and shouted, "Master Blooregard!"
"What?" Bloo retorted. "Don't look at me, I wasn't the one who opened the door. It would've just bounced off and come to a stop if it weren't for you!"
"Be that as it may, you know the rules for playing in the foyer," Mr. Herriman told him. "Specifically: 'Do not play in the foyer.' Yet you proceed to violate this rule at least once daily."
Bloo leaned against his racquet smugly and said, "And if you didn't have that rule in the first place, then I wouldn't have broken any rules. So really, it's your fault that a rule was broken at all."
Giving a frustrated sigh, Mr. Herriman said, "Believe it or not, I don't have time for your shenanigans today, Master Blooregard, for I have an urgent matter to attend to, once the..." He was interrupted by the sound of the front doorbell ringing. "Ah, they're here," he said, and began hopping across the foyer towards the front door.
Bloo waited until Mr. Herriman's back was turned and edged toward his office and, as soon as he was sure the rabbit wasn't looking, darted inside to retrieve his ball. He came out almost as quickly as he had entered, rolling the ball in front of him as he headed for one of the side halls. He hesitated before leaving when he heard Mr. Herriman say, "Hello. You must be officer Edwards..."
Officer? Bloo thought. Did Herriman call the police? Wh-what did I do? He didn't find out about the toothpaste already, did he? Or the septic tank? Maybe it was the library... He stayed out of sight but watched the door cautiously.
There was indeed a pair of police officers at the door... and someone else. One of the officers was holding a tiny imaginary friend, no more than six inches tall. He had a small, round head with a single hair sticking out and hanging down behind him. He was a deep blue color, a few shades darker than Bloo was, and a pair of large, gray eyes that were staring down sadly at the ground. He looked so small and fragile the way he was being held.
After introducing himself, Mr. Herriman said, "Thank you for calling ahead of time so that I could make all the necessary preparations. And this must be our fine friend here." He leaned in and addressed him, "Welcome to Foster's Home for Imaginary Friends. What is your name?"
The tiny friend barely lifted his eyes, and said quietly, "R... Rainbow..." His voice was fairly high pitched, yet soft.
"Well, Master Rainbow," Mr. Herriman declared, "Foster's welcomes you. Ms. Francis has prepared your room; please let her know if there is anything we can do to make your stay more comfortable." He turned and shouted towards the staircase, "Ms. Francis!"
"Coming!" came the reply. Frankie appeared at the top of the steps, wearing her usual t-shirt, green jacket, short skirt and sneakers. She descended the steps and said, "The room's all set, Mr. H."
"Splendid," Mr. Herriman said, and turned back to the officers. "Now then, if you two would please follow me, we can get all the necessary paperwork completed."
"You got it," one of the officers said, while the other handed Rainbow over to Frankie. Bloo watched as Herriman and the cops disappeared into the office while Frankie carried the tiny friend up the stairs. Rainbow glanced over at Bloo for a moment, his eyes filled with a deep sadness. Bloo stared back until they disappeared from sight.
Poor guy, Bloo thought... Probably abandoned. Well, once he gets to know everyone, he'll cheer up. He'd better, anyway... The last thing I want is for us blue friends to get a reputation for being... well, blue. He suddenly remembered what he was doing before, and gave the ball next to him a smack with his tennis racquet, sending it bounding into the next room. He chased after it, waving the racquet around and shouting in crazed glee.
"Yes!" Wilt shouted, rising up from the couch and holding his game controller up victoriously. "Three points!"
Eduardo stared at the screen in disbelief, "Ay carumba, he good at TV basketball too!" He gripped his own controller tighter and tried to concentrate, but he was already sixty points behind. Bloo and Coco were both watching from opposite sides of the couch, and both shook their head sadly at Eduardo's performance on the basketball videogame.
Coco pointed at the TV and asked, " Coco cococo coco?"
"No, I not going to give up! I can still wi--" Eduardo started, but then the end of game buzzer sounded. He dropped his controller and frowned, "Okay. I give up."
"Sorry, Eduardo," Wilt apologized. "I'll let someone else play next..." As he said this, he noticed someone out of the corner of his eye; Rainbow came into the game room, his dark blue body looking even darker in the dim light, and still looking pretty sad. "Maybe the new guy?" Wilt suggested.
"Si, he look like he could use some cheering up," Eduardo agreed.
"Hey, Rainbow, over here!" Bloo called out. Rainbow looked up, then started walking over, though his gloom seemed to follow him. He trudged in front of the couch and slumped down in front of the controller Eduardo had been using, which looked huge compared to the tiny friend.
Rainbow looked up at Wilt and said softly, "P... play...?"
"Sure thing, pal," Wilt said happily. He extended a hand and said, "I'm Wilt, and that's Eduardo, Coco, and Bloo. Nice to meet you!"
Due to his size, Rainbow obviously couldn't shake Wilt's hand, so he grasped a finger and shook it meekly, "I-it's... it's nice... to... m-meet you... too."
Wilt reached over and reset the game console, saying, "All right, let's get this show started, if that's okay!" Rainbow nodded, and the game started on the screen. As Wilt started playing, he thought, I have to be careful... The little guy's pretty upset, and I don't want to see him get more depressed because of me. Maybe I should just let him win, and...
He was snapped out of his thoughts when Rainbow's team slipped past Wilt's defenses and scored. Wilt looked shocked, and for the first time since Bloo saw him arrive, Rainbow seemed to smile. Bloo also wasn't sure, but he could swear Rainbow's blue color became more of a greenish-blue instead of the dark blue it was before. He said, "Hey... I... I did it...!"
Wilt congratulated him, "Good job!" They resumed playing, and Rainbow seemed to get more into the game; even though he was small, he still managed to hit the controller buttons firmly with his hands, and was doing so with much more fervor now.
It wasn't long before Rainbow scored again; Wilt bit his lip, but then said, "Uh, heh heh... nice, nice shot..." Rainbow beamed happily, and there was no mistaking it this time: his color had shifted to a solid green. So he can change colors, huh? Bloo thought. It wasn't all that unusual, but still interesting...
Another two points went to Rainbow, and Wilt hunched forward, working the controls furiously, "Oh that's it, it's on now!" His team quickly crossed the basketball court and blew through Rainbow's team, making a 3-point shot. Rainbow was shocked, and then gritted his teeth, his color shifting to a rather orange hue.
The game went on from there; the two were neck-and-neck the whole way, conversation at a minimum. Both of them were intensely focused the game, and even the onlookers remained silent only cheering when points were scored. As the game neared its end, they were tied, and the intensity was unbearable. Eduardo was biting his fingernails nervously, just as Coco was with her toenails.
In the last moments of the game, Rainbow's team took a shot, but Wilt's team blocked it, and he quickly threw a full-court shot just before time ran out. Everyone held their breath as the shot flew towards the net... and through it successfully.
The spectators let out a cheer, and Wilt nearly jumped out of his seat with excitement, though he didn't since he would have hit his head on the ceiling. "Yeah, that's what I'm talking about!" Wilt exclaimed, and was about to do a celebratory dance, until he noticed Rainbow. He had slumped down into a sitting position and stared at the ground sadly; his body had changed back to a blue shade again. The others noticed this as well, and they stopped their cheering, looking at the tiny friend with concern.
"Hey there, little guy," Wilt said, crouching down and laying a comforting hand on Rainbow's back. "Don't be sad, you did great! I haven't played a game that fun in a while... you're easily one of the best players in the house." Rainbow brightened up a little, his color going back to green some more. Wilt smiled back and added, "I'm sure you'll beat me next time."
"How'd you get so good?" Bloo asked. "I know! It was your kid, wasn't it? You two probably played this game all the time and..." He trailed off, because Rainbow's eyes suddenly filled with tears, his color becoming a vibrant blue, and without saying another word he got up and bolted from the room.
Everyone stared at the door he ran out of, and then looked at Bloo, who said, "What? What'd I say?"
"So he just ran out of the room crying?" Mac asked. Once he had arrived at Foster's and had come up to Bloo's room, Bloo had filled him in on the new arrival. Mac was concerned about Rainbow's reaction and said, "Bloo, you gotta be more careful what you say."
"Pshhh," Bloo said, brushing it off. "He probably got dumped by his kid and he's sad about it. I see it all the time. He should just get over it; I mean, kids aren't all that great anyway." Mac glared at him, and Bloo added, "Present company excluded."
"Still," Mac said, "Don't you think it's a little weird that the cops brought him?"
Bloo shrugged, "No, why would I? They probably found him on the street."
"If that were true, then he'd be happier to have a new home," Mac said. "Something about this doesn't make sense, and I'm going to find out. I'll bet Mr. Herriman or Frankie knows..." He headed for the door.
"Suit yourself," Bloo said, following him out. "But I'm telling you, it's probably nothing."
Mac started to say, "But it might be someth--" and was cut off in surprise; when he emerged from the room, he nearly stepped on Rainbow coming from the other direction. The tiny friend jumped back in fright, and his previous blue color was only visible for a moment before it changed to a sharp yellow. Mac was startled as well, but once he realized what happened, he said, "Sorry! I-I didn't mean to scare you..."
Rainbow was still yellow, but after a few moments he seemed to calm down, his color turning back to blue. "S... sorry..." he said, still speaking softly.
Mac crouched down and said, "I'm Mac. You must be Rainbow... how are you?"
"I... I... o-okay, I guess..." Rainbow said. He looked a little more relieved, and at the same time, his color began to shift to green. "You're... a friend of Bloo...?"
"I'm his creator," Mac said, carefully trying to avoid saying anything that might upset him. "All the friends here are great. You'll fit right in after a while. I heard you almost beat Wilt at basketball?"
"Welllll..." Rainbow said, shuffling his feet, "just a videogame..." His color had now turned almost completely green, and he was looking a lot more at ease. I get it, Mac thought. His color matches his mood... so blue is sad, yellow must be scared... and green is happy! His name sure is fitting... As Mac was pondering this, Rainbow asked, "Do you play videogames?"
Nodding, Mac said, "Well, I'm not that great..."
"You can say that again," Bloo remarked. "In fact, I'll say that again. Mac's not that great at videogames..."
Narrowing his eyes, Mac said, "Thanks. Anyway, you're one to talk. You're worse than I am."
"Hey!" Bloo retorted. "Who got the highest score on Super Ninja Robo-Aliens 12? Who, I ask you?"
" Coco," Mac reminded him.
Bloo frowned, "I meant between us."
Rolling his eyes and sighing, "You. All right? You got the higher score. Are you happy now? Do you gotta be a jerk about it?"
"You know it!" Blo said, doing a little victory dance and singing, "Who got the higher score? Bloo got the higher score? Who got the higher score? Bloo got the..."
"Bloo!" Mac yelled. "Stop it!"
He was about to say something else, but it was Rainbow who spoke up first, "HEY!" Mac and Bloo both looked over at him... Rainbow had changed to a fiery orange color and was clenching his tiny fists. He exclaimed, "How can you two act like that? Mac, you created Bloo! It's like he's part of you, he should be your closest friend! And Bloo, Mac is your creator! You're lucky to have him, you should be appreciative that he spends time with you!"
Mac and Bloo both dropped their eyes guiltily as Rainbow continued, furious, "You both should cherish your friendship, not fight with each other! Imaginary friends should be there for their creators, no matter what! Kids should always be there for their friend, too! They should never go away! They stick with each other through thick and thin! You don't know... you don't know how good you have it... how... how lucky you are..." As he trailed off at the end, tears were welling up in his eyes and his color became blue again... it was hard to tell, but there seemed to be a shade of purple mixed in. Without another word, he turned and ran away down the hall and out of sight.
The two stared at each other silently... Mac felt guilty, and of course, Rainbow was absolutely right about them. Still, Mac wondered what had happened with Rainbow, why he seemed so sad, and why he felt so strongly about the bond between imaginary friend and creator...
"Master Rainbow, you say?" Mr. Herriman said.
"Yeah," Mac nodded. He and Bloo had stopped by in his office to find out any details he knew. "He's been really depressed, and we've been trying to cheer him up, but it hasn't been working very well. He seems like he wants to fit in, but any talk of creators gets him depressed again. So I was wondering... what happened to him?"
"I'm telling you, he was probably abandoned," Bloo said, folding his arms. "He'll totally get over it."
"I don't think that's true," Mac said, shaking his head. "It seems right, but why the cops? Why isn't he happy to have a new home?"
"Well..." Mr. Herriman replied, scratching the back of his head. "It's... a long story. And well, not one I feel I should be the one to say. Suffice to say, it is an... unusual situation, to say the least."
"But...!" Mac started.
"Ah-ah-ah," Mr. Herriman interrupted. "Please, I'd rather not. I'm afraid I'm... quite uncomfortable talking about it myself." He swiveled around in his chair so that his back was facing them. "Perhaps Ms. Frances will tell you, but I will not."
Bloo huffed and said, "Fine, Herriman. We'll do it your way. C'mon, Mac." He stormed out of the office, with Mac following close behind.
"Bloo, I think this is serious," Mac said. "Something's really wrong..." The two of them started upstairs to head for Frankie's room as Mac continued, "Maybe we're better off not knowing."
"Well, what fun is that?" Bloo replied. "Why would anyone even have a secret except to tell someone?"
Sighing, Mac reached Frankie's door and knocked on it. "Come in!" came a shout from inside, so the two of them entered. Frankie was seated at her computer; she turned around in her chair and said, "Hey, guys. What's up?"
"We came to talk to you about Rainbow," Mac said. "Mr. Herriman said you could tell us about him. Like why he's so depressed."
"Well..." Frankie said cringing a little and looking mildly uncomfortable. "I suppose I could tell you, but... it's pretty disturbing."
"Please," Mac told her. "I want to know."
Taking a deep breath, Frankie said, "All right... this is how I understand it..."
Officer Edwards moved up silently toward the front door of the suburban home, gun drawn. The door was ajar, and it was dark inside, no lights showing through the windows. Officer McMullen was beside him, while their backup was out in a circle of police cars that lined the street, watching the house for any sudden movement. "All right," Edwards whispered into his radio, "We're going in..."
They entered the house pointing their guns into the darkness and shining their flashlights. It was a mess inside... a struggle had definitely taken place. There were chairs knocked over, papers scattered around, and lamps knocked over and broken. They made sure to shine the light into every corner of the room. If the call they received was correct...
"Here!" McMullen said. Edwards moved over to view whatever he had seen, and spotted him on the ground... it was Fredericks, all right. Mr. Fredericks was a serial killer the police had been tracking for some time, wanted for the murder of almost a dozen people over the last two years. They had finally caught him, but...
McMullen examined the body; he appeared to have died due to a gunshot wound to the head. A gun was still clenched tightly in his hand, missing one bullet. Edwards remembered Mr. Fredericks' history; according to state records, he had been committed once for attempted suicide, before he eventually moved on to the murder of others. He must have heard the approaching sirens and knew he was going to be arrested. "Looks like he did himself in," Edwards remarked. "We need to see if the family that lives here is safe."
It didn't take long to find them. They were all in the kitchen, tied up and lying on the kitchen table. Each of them had numerous stab wounds, undoubtedly from the bloody kitchen knife on the counter, covered with what the forensics team would surely discover are Fredericks' fingerprints. All of them were clearly dead already, but they checked vitals just in case, confirming the worst. There was a husband and wife... and a son, who looked no more than five. The sicko, Edwards thought... I'm glad he's dead too, though I wish he could have been brought to justice...
"All right," Edwards said, putting his gun away, "It's all over. Let's get the investigators in here and..."
"Shhh!" McMullen hissed. "Hear that?" Edwards listened carefully, and then he heard it too: a very faint sound, coming from upstairs. It sounded like crying... Edwards drew his gun again, and both he and McMullen carefully moved over by the steps. They cautiously climbed upstairs, keeping an eye out for whatever was causing the sound, which sounded even louder now. They entered one of the bedrooms, obviously belonging to the son. As they tried to pinpoint the sound, it eventually led them to a rather small pile of stuffed animals. Carefully moving them aside, they found the source...
Curled up underneath them was a tiny blue imaginary friend. He was crying softly, tears falling around him in a puddle on the carpet. McMullen and Edwards looked at each other, then back at the friend, who sobbed, "...M... my b-boy... W-where's my... boy..."
"Oh man..." Mac breathed. "That... that's awful..." He had to sit down, as if some great weight had been placed on him. "Poor little guy. No wonder he's so sad..." Even Bloo's eyes were teary after hearing the story.
"So then they brought him here," Frankie finished sadly. "He had nowhere else to go."
Bloo pounded a fist onto his palm, "We gotta do something for him!"
"Really?" Mac said. "You never want to do anything for anybody..."
"No, for real!" Bloo insisted. "We need to cheer him up. We need to make him feel better, even if it's only a little better. Let's throw him a big welcome party or something!"
Frankie thought about it, "Hey, you know... that's not a bad idea! That should make him feel welcome. I'll go talk to Herriman about it right away." She got up and left the room, the other two going with her. "I'm sure, given the circumstances, he would allow it."
"Thanks, Frankie!" Mac said. They headed the opposite way down the hallway, and once they were alone, Mac said, "I'm proud of you, Bloo. That was a thoughtful thing to do."
"Yeah," Bloo replied, staring at the ground while they walked and still looking a bit shaken. "I just had to do something. That was horrible..."
Mac nodded, "I can't even imagine what it must be like, what something like that could do to someone..."
Rainbow closed the door to his room, body still blue, and trudged over to the little bed they had set up for him. The room was empty except for him; Mr. Herriman had decided to allow him a single for now until he got settled in. He slumped down on the bed with his eyes closed, lost in his own thoughts. Tears fell on the pillow, and he whispered to himself, "Kevin…"
To be continued…