This episode was originally released on October 30, 2019.
In celebration of Halloween, we're airing spooky tales from our archives. First up: When Kellie's 3 year-old daughter told her about her new imaginary friend, Kellum, she didn't think too much of it. But gradually, Kellum started to feel less and less... imaginary. Kellie and her daughter, Madison, tell us everything.
Thanks to u/terrykolbart for this week's artwork, "Imaginary Friend."
This content was originally created for audio. The transcript has been edited from our original script for clarity. Heads up that some elements (i.e. music, sound effects, tone) are harder to translate to text.
Amory Sivertson: Boo!
Ben Brock Johnson: Did we scare you? All jumping into your feed on a not-Friday? Sorry about that. But also not sorry. I love a good jump scare.
Amory: I don't love a good jump scare. But I do love a scary story. And I love doing live events! We have an event this Friday in Boston At WBUR’s CitySpace. Candy, scary robot films, real discussion of artificial intelligence. You should come!
Ben: You should. If you’re in the area come say hello. We’d love it. You can register for free at wbur.org/events. You can watch the event online as well. And if you come in person, we will personally hand you candy.
Amory: Yes, come and play with us. Seriously, it’s gonna be fun. You like my creepy voice?
Ben: Yeah, it's pretty good.
Amory: Thank you. Also every year, people ask us about our scary series, Endless Dread, Screamtime. And at this point we’ve got a pretty long list of scary stories we’ve told that still hold up, they still slap. So this week, like your favorite cable channel or streaming service, we’re rolling out the fake blood red carpet. And giving you a back-to-back, three part replay, of some of our favorites.
Ben: Today, an oldie but a goodie from our extensive back catalog: Imaginary Friend.
Amory: Do you remember the first time you saw Kellum?
Madison: I don't remember seeing him for the first time. All I can remember is just him being there.
Amory: This is Madison. She’s from Macon, Georgia. She is 15 years old now, but when she was little, she had imaginary friends.
Madison: I had Dana and Steve, Froga and Kinga, and Boyfriend and Girlfriend.
Amory: Always in pairs.
Madison: Always in pairs.
Ben: One day, along came a new imaginary friend…not part of a pair. Kellum first started visiting Madison when she was 3 years old.
Kellie: I thought, well that's new. This one's, you know, there's only one of this one. He's kind of flying solo.
Amory: This is Madison’s mom, Kellie.
Kellie: My Reddit handle is “Who Farted” and it's spelled h-o-o-f underscore h-a-r-d-e-d.
Ben: That is genius!
Amory: I did not pick up on that. I confess.
Ben: And Kellie didn’t pick up on any weird vibes around her daughter’s new imaginary friend...at first.
Kellie: He’s not disturbing anything at the house. He seems to be a good playmate. She played with him when she was small, she enjoyed his company.
Madison: I remember one time, I had a little table and chair sitting in my room and I would make playdough sandwiches for me and him or I would build towers and knock them down because he thought it was funny. I remember him being tall. He kind of felt like a father figure to me. Kinda, he felt like my dad. He had like a beard.
Amory: How old was he?
Madison: He wasn't that old. He was like in his forties. He was always wearing work clothes, like outside clothes.
Amory: Ben, you have young children. If one of them told you that they had an imaginary friend, who was a middle-aged man, would that ring any alarm bells?
Ben: I mean, if he’s teaching them how to skateboard or something I’d be in favor of that.
Ben: But yeah no, in general I think it would ring some alarm bells. But Kellie was still trying to play it cool.
Kellie: So I just kind of let it be. And then we found out about the song.
Ben: I’m Ben Brock Johnson.
Amory: I’m Amory Sivertson, and you’re listening to Endless Thread.
Ben: The show featuring stories found in the vast ecosystem of online communities called Reddit. Yes, this month, we’re featuring scary stories in a series we’re calling…
Ben and Amory: Endless Dread!
Amory: And we’re coming to you from WBUR, Boston’s NPR station. Today’s episode, Imaginary Friend.
Ben: So this three year old, Madison, has a new imaginary friend named Kellum. And her mother, Kellie, is intrigued. Especially since Madison is spending a lot of time with Kellum.
Madison: He had taught me a song. It was an older song. I can't remember it now, but it was an older song, and I would sing it all the time.
Kellie: Oh I remember it.
Amory: Kellie, what was the song?
Kellie: It's called Daisy Bell and I found it, years and years later, when a coworker told me about it.
Amory: So I know it by the title, and this might be a more modern title, “A Bicycle Built For Two.”
Madison: Oh...that's it.
("On A Bicycle Built For Two" plays)
Kellie: Oh there it is.
Kellie: I wish you could see her face right now.
Amory: What's your face, what's her face doing?
Kellie: Her mouth is hanging wide open and she's like, “Oh my God.” I think that really triggered something for her.
Amory: Maddie, what does this song trigger for you?
Madison: I don't know! It just brings back a lot. Like I just remembered, I remember knowing this song.
Kellie: I had never heard the song before. This thing apparently dates back to the turn of the century. And one day she just started to sing it. And she was so little that I couldn't make out like a melody to it. It was just words.
A little girl singing: Daisy, daisy, give me your answer do. I’m half crazy, all for the love of you. It won’t be a stylish marriage. I can’t afford a carriage. But you’d look sweet upon the seat of a bicycle built for two.
Kellie: And so as she would sing it I tried to catch on to what she was saying but she really couldn't talk all that well, she was barely three years old. And so she had a babysitter. And I asked the babysitter one day I was like, “Hey can you give me the words to the song?” You know, “Is it on a C.D. or how is she hearing this so that I can help her sing it? And we can sing it together.” She's like, “No, I thought you guys taught her that song. I've never taught her that song. I don't know what she's saying either.” And so I went home later on that night and she started it again and I said, “Maddie, you know, where are you hearing that song from? Where did you hear it?” She's like, “Oh, Kellum taught it to me. He sings it to his baby.”
A little girl’s voice: Kellum taught it to me. He sings it to his baby.
Ben: Kellum would sing it to his baby.
Amory: An imaginary friend teaching your child a song that he taught to his imaginary baby...a song that Madison had no way of learning otherwise. This is where this story gets a big nope from me.
Ben: Nope nope nope. Kellie was a little surprised by her daughter’s new imaginary friend and the fact that he had apparently taught Madison a whole song. But she wasn’t spooked yet. Maybe because Kellie has her own stories about growing up around some paranormal activity.
Kellie: Knowing what I went through as a child I didn't want to project anything onto her when it could have been an imaginary friend.
Amory: Kellie had some experiences as a little girl that were feeling hauntingly familiar to her daughter’s. But she wanted to approach things differently with Madison than her mother had with her.
Kellie: My mother just did not believe in anything at all paranormal. So when I would try to tell her about these things I would pretty much get in trouble.
Amory: It started when Kellie was 8 years old. She’d be trying to fall asleep, when she’d hear something brush up against her backpack on the floor of her bedroom.
Ben: But when she turned on the light, there was nothing there. She started sleeping with the light on, which caused the light to burn out.
Kellie: So my mom took the globe off of my light to change the light and she didn't put it back up. And that was when I started noticing the tapping — I could hear something tapping on the light bulb at night in the room, just tap tap tap tap tap. Just over and over and over and over again.
Amory: And then there was the TV. One of the old-school ones that had a button you had to pull out to turn on.
Ben: Kellie had one of these in her bedroom.
Kellie: And the TV would literally turn on in the middle of the night. The power button would be pulled out. It would be engaged.
Ben: What was on TV when the TV would turn on?
Kellie: It was either static or it was the star spangled banner.
Ben: This is very Poltergeist-y.
Amory: Yeah it is.
Kellie: It really really is. It really is. It wasn't until I was older and saw that movie that I was like, “Oh gosh, I know what's about to happen.”
Poltergeist: They’re here!
Amory: Kellie did not get pulled into the TV by a ghost, like Carol Anne in the movie Poltergeist. But she was thoroughly freaked out.
Kellie: I remember trying to explain it to my mom and she she just kept dismissing it. She was like you're just you're sleepwalking, you don't know what you're talking about. Stop making up stories, you're scaring your cousins. Nobody's gonna wanna come play with you because you're weird.
Ben: Clearly, talking to creepy imaginary friends runs in the family. Meanwhile, back to Madison and her imaginary friend, Kellum.
Amory: Was he kind of a comforting presence to you or was there anything ever unsettling about him?
Madison: No he was always really comforting to me. He was always nice. I mean at first at least. As time passed he wasn't so nice anymore. He would start to yell at me and keep me up all night. He would tap on my windows.
Kellie: I started to notice that she was really really irritable all day. And I finally asked her one day. I was like, “What’s the matter? What's wrong?” I mean, it was just throwing temper tantrums, just tired all the time. And she said that Kellum was keeping her up at night when she wanted to sleep.
Madison: He would always want to play. He would always want to talk. He just never wanted me to go to bed.
Little girl’s voice: No Kellum, I want to go to bed.
Kellie: I still had her baby monitor and I decided I would get it out and put it in her room just so I could hear when she was up so I could make sure that she went back to bed. And I could hear her having conversations. And they were definite conversations. She would speak for a while and then she'd be quiet. And then she'd speak again, she would answer somebody. Somebody was talking to her. But you could only hear her voice.
Little girl's voice: Leave me along Kellum. I don’t want to play with you anymore.
Kellie: The longer it went on the the more afraid she got of him. She just really got to a point where she didn't like him. And the thing that really unsettled me was she kept telling me his face doesn't look the same. He doesn't look the same as he used to look.
Madison: I just remember his face would just get dirty like he had been working and he looked sick. His eyes would be really sunken in and his face looked skinnier. It was just, for me as a child, really scary.
Kellie: And it stayed that way until Kellum was no longer in our lives.
Amory: This is where the story ends. At least, this is how Kellie’s Reddit post ends. “Eventually, Kellum faded away,” she wrote.
Ben: But here on Endless Dread, there is so much more!
Kellie: I guess I don't make this part of the story well known just because of the connotation that it could have. But I will tell you guys the full story.
Amory: We’ll get that full story in a minute.
Amory: There’s a reason Kellie didn’t post the full story about Kellum on Reddit. The story of where he went.
Kellie: We we live in the Deep South. We live in the Bible Belt. You start talking about this kind of stuff and the wrong people overhear you, “Oh my gosh, you’re a pagan and you’re full of witchcraft and you're living in sin and if you didn't invite sin into your house none of this would happen.” And it's just, I've been through it.
Ben: Madison’s imaginary friend, Kellum, turns into a little bit of a creeper, tapping on her window, yelling at her, making her stay up all night to talk to him and play with him around the house. Which, if your daughter is wandering around the house in the dark with an imaginary friend...yikes.
Amory: But one night, things really escalate to a new level. Kellie’s home alone with Madison, and she wakes up to the sound of her daughter screaming.
Kellie: And not like a bad dream scream or I need you to come here scream. This was a terrified scream.
(little girl scream)
Madison: I can remember him getting very upset with me that night. He was being really aggressive. He walked up to me and grabbed me by my wrist. And then that's when I tried to get away and tried to make it over the baby gate.
Kellie: I heard her screaming. I jumped up. I opened my bedroom door. She is hanging over the baby gate trying to get over it as fast as she could, screaming for me, “Mommy help me. Mommy come help me!”
Little girl’s voice: Mommy help me. Mommy come help me!
Kellie: I run through the house. I go to pick her up. I pick her up over the baby gate and she's just, she's inconsolable, she's screaming. I'm scared. I look and the curtains in her room are blowing. And when I say blowing I don't mean like they're just kind of like drifting in the breeze from maybe the heater or the A/C. They were blowing as if the window were open and a big gust of wind were blowing through the window.
Amory: But the window in Madison’s room wasn’t open!
Kellie: She was scared. I was scared. This is not okay. This is wrong. We need to get out of here. So I grabbed her, I'm in my pajamas. I have bare feet. She's in a nightgown. We leave the house. It was freezing cold outside and we had no coats. We had no shoes. It was just that scary.
Ben: Kellie hightailed it out to her best friend’s house. But she wasn’t sure what to do from there. She needed someone who could confront Kellum.
Amory: Who ya gonna call? Your father-in-law! Who is not a believer in ghosts.
Ben: Unless you count the Holy Ghost.
Kellie: My father-in-law at the time was a pastor of the church. This goes back to me not really wanting to say very much because I was in the Pentecostal church, my father-in-law was the pastor. He didn't agree with any of that kind of stuff. They preached against it at church. It was just one of those things. So I finally just broke down and called him and I said I don't know what to do. I need your help.
Ben: Kellie’s then father-in-law told her he was on his way to her house. "Don’t go back there," he said. "Not until you hear from me."
Kellie: So it’s probably about an hour, maybe two hours later. He calls me he says, “You can go home now. You don’t have to worry about anything else. It’s taken care of. But we need to talk tomorrow.” And I was like, “Oh man I'm in trouble.” You know he's probably going to read me the Riot Act tomorrow. Well, I get home and over the front door, he was very big into anointing things with oil. Down here in the South, they will actually make crosses with oil: they'll anoint people's foreheads, they'll anoint cars if you get a new car, anything. They love to anoint things with oil down here. So I come home and over my front door is a cross in oil. He's oiled a cross over my front door. And then we go inside and over the windows, the walls, bathroom mirrors, all through the house, are these crosses in oil, which is a little freaky. It kind of unnerved me still coming home but it almost felt peaceful. When I walked back in, I could tell that the house was, it felt peaceful, the way it always felt before things went crazy with “Bad Kellum,” I guess you could call him. We never had another issue with Kellum. As a matter of fact, after that happened, I don't recall her ever telling me that Kellum came to play with her again.
Amory: But the loss of Kellum, also meant a loss of innocence, in a way, for Madison.
Madison: I never had another imaginary friend again. It was just kind of all over from there.
Kellie: Of course, I got a good preaching to the next day about how, you know, I watched trash television and listened to secular music and I'd invited the devil into the home and all this kind of stuff. So it really made me feel like crap because it was, “Well you did it. You brought this thing into your house. But I got rid of it for you.”
Amory: Do you actually believe that, Kellie? Do you believe that you somehow invited a spirit into your house?
Kellie: I don't know. I can't imagine that the things that I'd gone through as a kid, the things that I knew, would deter a spirit from coming around us. But I also don't believe that it was my fault that something was absolutely terrifying my child that night. I don't believe that, no.
Ben: But Kellie has also never stopped wondering about who Kellum was. And why he came to her house to play with her 3 year-old, Madison.
Amory: She’s told the story to friends over the years. And it turns out that the coworker, the one who finally identified the song “Daisy Bell,” this co-worker had something else to offer Kellie: access to her Ancestry.com account.
Kellie: I only thought you could look up like family names on Ancestry.com but you can actually do property searches on that thing too. And so we put in my property and we also put in property around, probably within I would say a good half a mile of my home. And what we found out was that the property that was adjacent to ours in 1941, it was bought by the Beasley family. And the thing that just absolutely made my blood run cold was when we pulled up the property history and we found out that the man who bought the property in 1941, his name was Callum Beasley, C-A-L-L-U-M. I just got chill bumps. His name was Callum Beasley.
Ben: Callum... sounds a lot like Kellum. Probably even more so to a 3 year-old.
Ben: Is Kellum a common name in that region?
Kellie: No! Because when she first said Kellum I was thinking, “Okay, this is another weird imaginary friend name.”
Amory: Yeah, like Froga.
Kellie: And Kinga. Boyfriend and Girlfriend. I just thought it was an odd name. So then when I saw that actual name come up on the search for the property, I'd swear I felt every bit of the blood drain out of my face.
Ben: It also sounds a little bit like kill him.
Amory: Kill them. Kill him.
Kellie: Oh oh oh.
Madison: I never thought about that.
Kellie: I didn’t either. Well thanks for giving me a nightmare.
Madison: Oh my God!
Ben: But there’s something even more chilling about Callum Beasley. Kellie says the records she found on Ancestry.com showed that he had 5 children. The youngest was named Madeline. She died when she was 3 years old. The same age Madison was when Kellum showed up.
Kellie: And it almost makes me wonder, was this his way of connecting to something? Did he think this was his kid? It just, there was just too much of a coincidence for us to not sit up and take notice as like, OK, this is this is a little more than a coincidence at this point.
Ben: Kellie and Madison moved out almost 3 years ago. But they remember the Beasley property. It was behind their house.
Ben: What did it look like?
Kellie: Just a big open field. Just literally a big open field. There were no buildings, there were no houses, not at the time that I knew it.
Ben: Do you guys ever go over there?
Madison: I can recall one night — or I think it was after school one day — I had walked to the back of the property where that area was and I saw dairy cows. Black and white cows with tags on their ears. They were healthy. But after that day, I’d never seen them again.
Amory: Madison never saw them again because… according to her mom… there weren’t cows on that property. Maybe they were imaginary?
Ben: Imaginary cows. But here’s the thing: decades ago, Callum Beasley’s family had run a dairy farm.
Kellie: I did reach out to one of the women in the family. At the time she was a little older than I was. And she just seemed really hesitant about wanting to give me any information. And I would try to explain to her, you know, my daughter had this imaginary friend and he seemed to be about the same age as your uncle was. I understand that he might have had a daughter. And she was like you know, "You guys are crazy, you make up stories." And it almost made me feel almost ashamed of even asking the question like that like why are you talking such nonsense that that doesn't happen you're crazy.
Amory: The only member of the Beasley family that Kellie could find, didn’t want to hear the story. Just like her mother had never wanted to hear the story. Her ex-husband, Madison’s father, didn’t want to hear the story. And her Pentecostal church definitely didn’t want to hear the story.
Kellie: I was like, okay, alright, if nobody wants to talk about it if nobody wants to acknowledge it we won't. We'll just act like it didn't happen. Okay, we'll just we'll just pretend it didn't happen and I'll go about my business knowing that it did. You know you can't make believers out of skeptics you just absolutely can't.
Amory: So the question is are you a believer?
Ben: Kellie, Madison, thank you very much for telling us your story.
Kellie and Maddie: Thank you.
Amory: Thanks for creeping us out, but also making us laugh.
Kellie: Oh well...
Kellie and Maddison (in unison): We try. Oh!
Ben: That wasn’t creepy at all!