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Hannah had terrible dreams. A pale man with impossibly long limbs and a terrifying pointy grin, crawling across the bedroom floor in the moonlight, leering at her from the dark.

Her brother talked about a pale man, too. Hannah assumed that he’d heard her telling their mother about her dreams, and for some reason picked up on it. He used the pale man as an excuse for every bit of misbehaviour now. Whenever he was naughty and got caught, he’d open his big blue eyes as big as he could and say “Wasn’t me, mummy. The man did it. The pale man.”

Sometimes he’d turn to Hannah and appeal to her to back him up. “You saw him, Hanny, didn’t you?”

Hannah was too old for invisible friends, especially creepy ones that were just an excuse for bad behaviour. She would just roll her eyes and say “Whatever,” and let their mother get on with telling him off.

She dreamt of the pale man again that night. Dreamt of him crawling through a room full of flames and laughing at her through that horrible pointy smile.

She woke to find her little brother in her bedroom, the can he’d used to douse the carpet in petrol discarded in a corner, and a match in his hand.

“Wasn’t me, Hanny,” he said in a quiet and terrified whisper as he struck the match. “The pale man made me do it.”

© Kari Fay

(Author’s Note: The Three Word Wednesday prompts this week are Douse, Naughty and Pale.)