Continued from Thursday....
"What you say to my friend, freak?" spat Big Ben, his face centimetres away from Tom's. He stank of overflowing ashtray, and old potatoes.
Tom winced. Big Ben often left words out of his sentences, on account of him being terribly dim, but he was big enough and hairy enough that the other kids didn't pick on him for it.
Big Ben actually seemed quite proud of being stupid, and very proud of being violent. Tom imagined his bedroom plastered in carefully framed certificates: "Came bottom of the class, 2002", "Voted child most likely to hit another child, 2003", "Biggest brute, 2001".
The bottle waved in front of Tom. "You starting somefink, Freak?" He held the smashed bottle up close, and Tom felt the tears begin to roll down his cheeks. Little Ben laughed. Grey Arthur was screaming and screaming, but nobody could hear him, and he felt utterly helpless.
In his frustration, Grey Arthur swung at Big Ben, so angry, so wound up, so worried for his friend that he concentrated as hard as he could and swung his invisible fist. To his shock, it connected with a big bang, and Big Ben was flung backwards. The Spitting Kids looked on, astounded to see Big Ben flying backwards through the air for no apparent reason.
Tom was just as amazed, but he had no time to stand and watch Big Ben colliding with the floor. He lifted his heavy legs and ran, faster than the time he ran the 100 metres, faster than he'd ever run before, feet slamming into the ground, faster, faster.
Behind him, he could hear the Spitting Kids shouting and giving chase, but he ran on, the wind whistling in his ears, everything blurring because of the speed at which he was hurtling through the streets back to home.
He ran like an Olympic athlete, like a tiger chasing through the desert, like a scared boy running from his bullies, and to this very day Tom will tell you, if you ask him, that he ran faster than anyone had ever run before in the history of mankind. He probably would have made it home in record breaking time, too.
Had the car not hit him.
Tom, racing across a road, so determined to get home and safe that he that forgot that cars go on roads, and humans go on pavements, and he ran flat out into the road without looking.
Time slowed to a virtual halt then, and the few things Tom remembers are as follows: seeing the car out of the corner of his eye, putting his hands out in front of him, and then lying in the road while the woman who had been driving the car was trying to make sure he was alright.
He felt very distant, slightly faded, and not very awake, and he was sure he saw the strangest looking boy with lopsided ears and mis-shaped hair standing over him, looking very concerned and more than a little see-through. Tom smiled at him, and then everything went to black.
Grey Arthur waited agitatedly at the hospital. Tom had been taken there, and given a bed in a ward very quickly, but he still hadn't woken up. Tom looked quite pale, and smaller than usual. Arthur had heard the doctor telling his parents that Tom had broken a few ribs and his right arm, but that he would be alright.
Tom's parents still looked very upset, and although Woeful William had volunteered to come and keep Arthur company while he waited for Tom to wake up, Arthur had said it was better if he didn't come at all. Tom's parents were sad enough as it was, without having to share a room with a Sadness Summoner.
William understood, and waited outside the hospital, reciting his poetry to the begonia flowers and the pigeons. Eventually, Tom's parents became so tired they couldn't stay awake any longer, and they fell asleep on uncomfortable looking chairs out in the hallway.
Grey Arthur stood alone by Tom's bed, willing him to wake up. Hours passed, which to humans is a long time, and which to ghosts isn't very long at all. To Grey Arthur it felt like the longest stretch of time he had ever been through.
Just when sunlight was beginning to creep around the outskirts of the night, and the sun was about the drag itself up the sky, Tom began to wake up. Slowly at first, his eyes began to flicker, then gradually he began to open them, blinking away the beginnings of morning light. Everything looked foggy at first, like opening your eyes underwater, but soon Tom realised where he was.
He remembered the broken bottle, and the running, and last of all, the car, and he understood why he woke up in hospital. The funny faced boy with the uneven ears and strange hair was here again, and whilst he did look a little blurry, Tom was convinced that was because he must have taken quite a bang on the head, and that would all clear up soon.
"Hello," whispered Tom, his voice a little shaky still.
Grey Arthur nearly jumped a mile. Tom was staring straight at him! Surely this wasn't possible? Arthur concentrated as hard as possible to look as normal as possible, and smiled nervously back at Tom.
"You can see me?" he asked, and Tom nodded gingerly.
"Of course I can see you, I've not gone blind!" Tom grinned, and Arthur grinned back. "So, who are you then? I saw you earlier on today, I'm sure, just after the crash!"
Grey Arthur stood up as tall as he could, and grinned from ear to ear (a little too literally, perhaps, but Tom was still groggy and didn't appear to notice).
"I," said Arthur, with the biggest smile in the world, "am your Invisible Friend!"
Tom smiled back, a little nervously, and wondered just how hard he had hit his head.