I was six and Jenny was five. It was our first year in different schools, and I hated being apart from her every day. So we spent our weekends together. One night, she informed me she had met a ghost. His name was Herb, and he lived in my house. Herb communicated with us via the First McGuffey Reader. Yes, that McGuffey Reader. My mother had scads of old books, and Jenny and I were precocious.
I’ll never forget the hard brown cover or the black ink picture of children sitting under a leafy bower. Paging through the text, we would recognize words that felt out of kilter and interpret Herb’s instructions to us. I remember one sentence precisely: “The sun has set, and the pond is still.” We were to go down to Jenny’s pond at sunset. I don’t remember if we actually went then (though we often did go), but I remember the feeling of grave portent that hung over the whole affair.
In my memory, it went on for months, but it was probably only a few weeks. Then, one day, while we were sitting in Jenny’s living room, probably watching Voltron, she said, “Herb was never real, you know. I made him up. I used my Dad’s boss’s name.”
And I might have been outraged, because I truly believed in him the whole time, but instead, I was fascinated. She made this up and stretched it along, and yet I also found things that fit perfectly with the fantasy and advanced the story. McGuffey outlined an entire world, made us realize that where mysticism was involved, you could prove anything with any text, given the right amount of credulity. It was far from my first step towards agnosticism, but it was certainly a large one. More than that, playing Jenny’s game of Herb taught me what it meant to tell a story, to wield the power of words. And it cemented our friendship.
She was my first friend. She is my best friend. I still hate being so far apart from her.
I’m hooking up with RemembeRed‘s Pranks and Punchlines linky. This was surely a prank that spiralled into something more. It started out as a silly little thing, but it ended up epic. Love you, Jenny.
Jessie Powell is the Jester Queen. She likes to tell you about her dog, her kids, her fiction, and her blog, but not necessarily in that order.