It was eighteen years ago that I first met my best friend. I was 7 years old and was spending the afternoon playing with my pile of Legos.

  It was a sunny day in summer, and I busied myself constructing large flamboyant Lego villages and commencing an imaginary war between the Lego men factions. During my adventures, I noticed something out of my peripherals. Dangling in the corner of the room from unseen strings was a small black dot, hovering silently. I rubbed my eyes, sure that the sight was a simple trick of the mind or result of weary eyes. But still the little black speck remained.

  I looked away from the image terrified that some damage to my retina had caused my eyes to develop a void in my vision. But the speck did not move with my eyes. It stayed planted firmly where it was, unwavering. It was a small dark orb, which possessed an almost shimmering to its coating. Like a shadow tinted even darker with a fresh coat of shiny polish. The edges of it were distinct, yet ill-defined like the shimmering of gasoline in water.

  I stared at the thing for a moment, dumbfounded by my discovery. Both of us seemed to analyze one another for a moment. I was about ready to scream and run away terrified, thinking some malevolent apparition had invaded my room. But then it began to move, slowly up and down. It seemed to stop and reverse directions at predetermined intervals, giving it the appearance of a bouncing ball.

  The phenomenon confused me, but soon I found myself, laughing. I giggled away at the image of the strange object, no longer feeling as though it represented any danger. The speck came closer to me and slowly circled around, like a planet orbiting a sun. It amused me, and I chuckled as the silly speck continued its mischievous antics. Suddenly it broke free from the orbit and sped off back into the corner. I followed it, and found it hiding behind a box of my action figures. As soon as my eyes fell upon it, the speck flew upwards and bounced around excitedly zipping and zooming through the air like a firefly that produced shadow instead of light.

  The speck stopped in front of me and seemed to wait for something. Something in my mind clicked, it was a game! I outstretched my little arm and gestured towards the same corner. The Speck followed my indication and slumped down behind the same box. I quickly scampered away and hid underneath my bed.

  “Go!” I shouted while nestling myself behind some stuffed animals. The speck then zoomed out from behind the box and began drifting around the room. It looked behind the bookcase, in the open closet door, behind the armchair, and in a pile of pillows and stuffed animals. Finally, it closed in on the bed. When it got close I jumped out and giggled away at its success. The Speck flew and bounced excitedly around the room. I was no longer scared of the Speck, for in that moment I had found a new friend.

  The Speck and I continued to play for the rest of that afternoon, until a call from my mom downstairs indicated dinner was ready. Begrudgingly I followed her request and descended the stairs. I looked back, but my new friend had not followed. For a moment I was sad, but a young mind is quickly distracted by other things. For me that distraction came in the form of a bowl of mac and cheese and a Capri sun, along with some goldfish crackers.

  I finished my dinner a little while later after meager conversations with my mother and returned to my room soon after. To my dismay, the Speck was no longer there. Slightly disappointed, I continued playing for a bit until eventually falling asleep.

  It would be several years until I saw my friend again. It was Autumn, and I had just begun attending middle school. Butterflies circulated within my stomach, and my knees wobbled with apprehension for my new environment.

  Stepping into that new school was like stepping onto another planet. I found myself spiraling within a world I did not understand, and which wanted nothing to do with me. I was alone, and shy, and as such was soon ostracized by my peers. I stumbled into loneliness, and soon dreaded the very act of going to school altogether. I wasn’t bullied or picked on, just ignored, as if I were a phantom passing through the halls. The world forgot me.

  One day in science class was especially tough. Mrs. Gunderson had instructed the class to break into pairs to begin a class project. The children began to do as instructed, pairing into duos with their friends. They all continued to group up, until everyone had a partner. Only a single person remained without a group, me.

  I had hoped no one would notice, but Mrs. Gunderson soon did. She asked if I would mind doing the project alone, and I slunk back into my chair. The eyes of my fellow students burned into the sides of my head, and the silence was quiet enough to hear a pin drop.

  I swallowed hard and simply nodded to her. The normal classroom ambience soon returned as the students began to discuss plans and research for their respective projects. I sat back in my chair, a feeling of embarrassment deep within me. A familiar sight then came into focus. Once again it appeared in the corner, a small black orb which hovered silently. It took me a few confused seconds to recognize it for what it was; The Speck! It was my old friend returning to my life. It had grown slightly since our first encounter, and now appeared about the size of a softball.

  I followed it with my eyes as it drifted around, not wanting to draw attention to myself. To my confusion, no one else seemed to be aware of its presence. It soared slowly through the air, until coming to a halt just in front of my desk. I realized in that moment, the Speck was not here for anyone else. It was here for me. It was here to be my friend, my best friend.

  From that moment on, the Speck never left my side. It would follow me home, silently trailing behind, and watch over me as I slept. When I awoke, it would be there to greet me. The feeling of it’s presence was one of comfort, one of familiarity. I grew accustomed to having it with me, and soon the world seemed a little less hostile of a place.

  That was until sometime later. I ended up having a bit of a confrontation with another boy at school. He pushed me into the lockers and called me mean names. I tried to just walk away, but next thing I knew he was on top of me, driving his fists into my face. Several teachers rushed in to separate us and restrain the boy who had attacked me. I felt the warm trickle of blood running from my nose to my upper lip as I rose to my feet. My parents were called, and my mom arrived soon after to pick me up.

  Mom arrived shortly after, a look of worry on her face. She hugged me tight, and repeatedly asked if I was ok. I didn’t say much and wanted only to go home. The car ride home was silent. Mom tried to not let me notice, but I saw tears forming in her eyes as she silently drove.

  That night I lay in my bed, staring out the window at the night sky. From downstairs the audible voice of my parents could be heard. They were yelling at each other, as they sometimes did. It must’ve been tough for them, having such an estranged and quiet child like myself. Dad was always at work, and when I did see him, he seemed too tired to want to hang out. He would choose a six pack and a football game over company with me most nights, and I can’t say I blame him. I’m not much in the way of company.

  The confrontational voices from below finally concluded with the abrupt slamming of the front door. Silence descended upon the home like a fog. The Speck rose from beside my bed seemed to drift towards the door. I wanted to ignore it, but friends don’t ignore each other. Whatever the Speck wanted to show me was probably important, and so I rose from my bed and followed.   

  Upon entering the hallway, I heard the sound of stifled weeping emanating from below. I followed the noise to find mom perched on a chair with her head in her hands. She perked up as I approached, and quickly wiped the tears from her eyes. Her mascara had run down her cheeks, and long auburn hair had been disheveled into a tangled nest. Her lips smiled at me, but her eyes did not. She walked up to me and wrapped her arms tightly around me. I returned the gesture, and quietly she sobbed. I could think of only one thing to say.

  “I’m sorry…”

  I wondered why it was that my mother was so sad, and why my dad was so angry. What was it that could make them so upset with one another? Or maybe, it wasn’t each other they were upset with. Maybe it was me. I tried to be a good son to them, I really did. I did my homework, went to school, and did my chores and brushed my teeth every day. But I was not a normal kid. I had never been invited to sleep overs, or to birthday parties. Heck, I didn’t even have any friends apart from the Speck. I should be more like the other kids.

  I woke up the next day to a strange sight. The Speck had grown since the night before, now measuring almost the size of a basketball in circumference. Little tendrils of vapid black dripped from it and evaporated before hitting the ground. The shimmering of its edges had also increased, with it now appearing almost as a solid black flame. I talked with the Speck as I got ready for school, and mom drove me in soon after. We didn’t say much on the ride, and I could tell by the look on her face that she was tired from shouting the night before. I wanted to say something, anything to make her feel better, but I didn’t. The Speck told me I shouldn’t.

  Days and weeks went by, and the Speck and I continued our meager existence much in the same manner as we always had. Some weeks later, I arrived back home after school and found my mother sitting at the kitchen table. She looked worn out, and exhausted. Her eyes met mine as I walked in the door, and she walked up to embrace me for a hug. She guided me over to the table and the two of us sat down to talk.

  Mom took a deep breath and stared into my eyes. She told me then, that dad was not coming back. It was then that I first realized, I hadn’t seen him in quite some time. She told me that sometimes parents decide to split up because they can’t stop fighting or because they need to do what’s best for the family. I didn’t know what to say. I tried my best to come up with something to help mom feel better, but I couldn’t. The Speck told me not to.

  The only thing I managed to say, was a simple “I’m sorry.” Mom hugged me again, and told me that it was not my fault, but I knew better. I just wish I could’ve said goodbye to dad, and told him that I loved him.

  I didn’t see dad much after that. He had already taken all his belongings and apparently moved out of the state not too long after. I didn’t really get to see mom a whole lot either. We ended up moving from our house into an apartment downtown. Mom had taken up a second job to better afford the rent, and when I turned 16, I managed to acquire a job at the local supermarket. I had been forced to change to a different school as well, as my old high school was now much too far away.

  It wasn’t a big deal for me, as I really had no attachment to my previous school. I did hope that the new school would bring new opportunities though. Meanwhile of course the Speck came with us, and by that point it had stretched out and elongated to a lengthy oval shape. Its overall shape was less defined now, appearing more as an ink blot then an orb. Its size had also increased as well, now appearing as almost the same size as me.

  Mom and I continued to work, and I continued my schooling, neither of us really seeing each other much. I grew closer to the Speck in that time as well, who had now begun to audibly speak back to me. His voice was almost robotic in nature, like a mix of a text-to-speak voice and a low hum. He was very helpful.

  I would sometimes consider sneaking out of the house to attend a party or something, but the Speck would kindly remind me that it was not a good idea. I didn’t know any of the people at the party, and they probably wouldn’t let me in. Plus, they probably wouldn’t like me anyways, so I’d be better off with my movies and my music. At least then I’d know I wasn’t wasting anyone’s time.

  I managed to graduate from high school a few years later, passing every class with a 4.0 GPA. I’m not normally one for bragging, but mom said I should be proud of my achievement. My graduation day was the first time in a very long time that I had seen mom smile like that. We took pictures and thanked all the teachers for their wonderful lessons. I made special note to thank Mr. Everett; the history teacher who was always my favorite. We then attended a nice steak restaurant afterwards, just the three of us: mom, me and the Speck.

  Mom and I talked over my future plans, and she was insistent that I should attend university. I wanted to as well, but I knew that the cost was far too great for either of us to afford. Plus, the Speck; in his abundant wisdom kindly reminded me that it would probably be a waste of time. He said that universities were for people to go to with their friends, and since I didn’t have any it would not be worth the effort. I decided later that I would attend a trade school since I could pursue the electrical engineering degree for a fraction of the price.

  The program was a lot tougher than I had imagined it to be. I studied my heart out each and every day and managed to just barely scrape by each exam. What time I didn’t spend at school, I spent working to help mom pay the bills as well as pay my own. The stress was really starting to eat away at me over time, but thankfully the Speck was there at my back every step of the way.

  “You have to do this. No one will ever care about you if you don’t. Get out of bed you useless prick. Make something of yourself. No wonder your father never loved you. He is ashamed of you. You are worthless.”

  The words from the Speck were harsh but held an element of truth to them. I had to be something great for my mother and my father. Maybe he would even want to hang out someday if I did well enough. I pushed myself like I never had before, determined now more than ever to get the degree I desired and build the life I wanted.

  For a time, everything was going relatively well, and I was on my third semester of study when I got a most unwelcome phone call. It was from mom, and she sounded concerned. She requested me to meet her for dinner, and I of course complied.

  I drove down to a local diner when I was off work, the Speck riding shotgun beside me. His head nearly draped along the car ceiling by now. His form was now humanoid. Long-spindly fingers had formed on either one of his hands, with large gnarled feet on the bottom of his legs. His face was still devoid of features, but wrinkles and valleys would twist and convey the feelings as he spoke. He was silent on the way down, and his silence made me nervous. He was normally always talking, always saying things to me.

  I arrived at the diner and walked inside. Mom sat alone in a booth on the far side, a cup of coffee gripped between both hands. She wiped her eyes as I approached, and smiled, but it was not a smile of happiness. She held my hands as I sat. She took a deep breath and informed me that she had just came from a doctor’s appointment and received some troubling news. She was sick. The doctor had diagnosed her with pancreatic cancer. It had gone on untreated for a long time, and she was informed that she was already in the third stage.

  I sat back in the seat, heart pounding in a way it never had before. My world had come crashing down in an instant, like a statue crumbling before my eyes. I once again didn’t know what to say. I rose from the chair and held her as her tears began to flow. I had seen mom cry before, but never like that. It was a cry of fear, and it altogether broke me. The only thing I managed to say was three simple words.

  “I’m so sorry.” From behind where the two of us sat something stood outside the window. It was the Speck, with a newly formed elongated grin etched upon it’s midnight face.

  Mom passed away about 4 months later, as the cancer consumed her from within. I left school straight away in the hopes of being able to say goodbye, but I was too late. She was already gone.

  I stepped inside the room and clutched her hand, feeling the cold rigid lifelessness of her empty touch. I wanted to cry, I wanted to poor my soul into that room and release the weight of years of pent up sorrow as the only person who ever cared for me, was now gone. But the Speck wouldn’t allow it.

  He loomed over me now by at least two feet. Slimy ooze and odious vapors trailed from his body like a leaking engine. Dozens of small sprouts had emerged from the crown of his head and his arms had begun to grow to mismatched lengths. For the first time ever, he placed a hand on my shoulder. His grip was cold as ice and ached like that of a hornet’s sting. I felt a cold chill slither down my spine, and yet despite the discomfort, I was glad for it. For so long everything had been grey and somber, and to feel anything at all, even pain, was a welcome sensation.

  Mom was buried a couple days later. A few of her coworkers, friends and long unseen relatives attended the service. Within the midst of the funeral attendees, a familiar face appeared. One which I had not seen nor spoken to for several years. It was dad. He looked older than last I had seen him. Grey hairs swirled in his once dark hair, and his face was wrinkled from the mix of years of stress and the course of time.

  The funeral was concluded in typical fashion, and mom was lowered into her final resting place. One by one the attendees filed out, until only three of us remained. My dad, myself and the Speck. Dad and I locked eyes for a moment, and I almost allowed myself to speak to him. But dad’s expression turned to one of disdain. I felt the searing vision of years of loathing and unsaid hatred burn into me. It was a gaze which told me I was nothing to him, and now that my mother had passed, he and I no longer had any connection.

  I wanted to ask him why, why he held such disgust for me. But he didn’t have to say it, for I already knew. The Speck had told me the truth. I was a failure, a disappointment and an unwanted presence. I had been that way for my entire life. No one deserved to have to deal with me. Dad had been forced to interact with me for years, and its not his fault that he was pushed past his limit. No one should be burdened with me, and no one should have to care. For he and I both knew that. Dad averted his gaze from mine, and as the snow began to fall, I watched him walk away for the final time.

  I was alone then, no longer with anyone to talk to. No one except for the Speck. He had grown tall over the years, and now had to crouch while indoors. His arms and legs were twisted, and thick black oily residue dripped from all his extremities. His head was gnarled and dozens of twisting horns protruded from his head. His mouth had formed into a comforting open-mouthed grin, and white featureless eyes sat in pools of dark, contrasted by the pitch-black appearance of him. His presence was almost nauseating, and yet comforting, because he was all I had, and all I ever needed.

  He talks to me always, whispering bittersweet truths into my ears. Telling me things I ought not to do, and why it is that I have become all alone. His breath is cold on my face, and words like nails on a chalkboard in my ears. But despite that, I welcome him. For I do not feel at all anymore, unless I am in his presence.

  I never managed to graduate college. I was distracted and found it impossible to find the motivation to continue. The Speck says it’s because I’m unintelligent and should just accept my place at the bottom of the totem. I suppose he’s right. I never should’ve tried to be something that I’m not. It goes against my very nature. I got a job at a telecommunications firm, and I have been working there ever since. That is until today.

  It was a tough day today. My employment was terminated after 7 years. The only reason I was given, was a downsizing in my department, but I know better. For the Speck has told me the true reason. I am useless, and my existence itself is a detriment to the world. I shouldn’t be here anymore.

  I see him now. He is floating just outside my apartment window on the sixth floor. He is beckoning to me. He waves me forward to join him and promises everything will be okay once I step out. He tells me I can be free. I do want to be free. I don’t want to be a burden anymore, and now I know how to ensure that I am never a burden again. He waits for me just outside the window. I think I’m going to follow him. The Speck would never lead me astray.