The Stuck Home Syndrome

“Go to your bedroom!” I said it in that voice I know he hates, the mocking one, he hates it because he thinks it doesn’t sound like him. I love it for just the opposite reason. When you’re 8, and there are enemies everywhere, victories like this can mean the world.


I throw a tennis ball against the wall for a bit, knowing that that will cause him to sprint up the stairs to extend my punishment. That’s what he thinks. That’s what they both think. An extension of my punishment. Here, in my palace. Twelve square metres filled with all the dreams in a child’s head. Outside the door are simply all the nightmares that dreams cannot vanquish. (I got that word from a comic.)


I thought about escape a while back. Escape where, though? Could I make it to Leeds and my Aunt Mabel? Would she take me in if I got there? If she did, some snooping neighbour would blow the whistle on us and turn me in. Back here. I used to fear the blows. Not now. The blows are honest. That expression of hatred for my existence is as honest as you will find. Now, it’s the caresses that I fear. Hatred dressed in lies. She hits, he caresses. Then they both hit. Then my older brother hits.


At least when he is angry his mind never wanders to that facet of his persona. I wonder if there is anyone in today? It’s a right stinker, so I doubt that they will be out. Just a quick peak under the bed.


“Hey guys!” I whisper. I don’t want them downstairs catching my secret friends.


“Those downstairs.” A voice replies. It’s Gruffle! “I have a message for you from the others. They want you to meet them at the end of the garden. Take a coat and your gloves.”. And with that he was off through the crack in the wall. Today was no day for sneaking out into the garden but then I thought, I can’t actually get in any more trouble than I am in. They can’t give me any more pain than this, so what will happen if I meet the guys? You might think they are monsters and ghouls, but to me they are a brilliant new world.


I try the door and it’s locked. Boo, that’s not sporting. The drainpipe it would be then. The last time I had to shimmy, Gruffle, Snuffle, Trushle and Mushle were all waiting below to catch me if I lost my footing. This time I would be alone. I stuffed my gloves into my pocket and climbed out onto the ledge. Looking down, I reminded myself not to look down. I got half way down and lost my grip, I’m only slight (they see to that) yet the drainpipe feels like it is coming away with me. Down we go. That hurts.


I’m not knocked out. I know that, but it hurts. There is no sign of Gruffle or anyone else. But a voice does ring out. “You alright, lad?” I can’t place the voice, but it sounds local. Then again, I have never been anywhere so maybe it’s hard to tell. “That needs looking at.” He continues. “Mike here is a doctor, come with us.” My parents always told me not to go with strangers, despite being the strangest people I had ever met. I could make out the figure of my brother in the kitchen, if he saw me, it would be much worse. I decided to go with Mike, the doctor.


We got into a car that was waiting just a few doors down and drove off. This could be quite an adventure. I thought it was odd when we got to their house that Mike had still not spoken. Nor had either of them taken off their hats, what were they called again, the ones that cover everything except the eyes? Despite the central heating being on full blast. It was nice inside. Not like my house. It smelt clean. The man who helped me up brought me a glass of milk and some biscuits, chocolate digestives! The last time I had one of those, my brother licked off the chocolate on mine and made me eat the soggy biscuit remains. This was better than Christmas.


Mike looked at my leg and put a bandage on. He had such soft hands. His head looked strange inside that balaclava, that’s the word, like there was an extra bit at the top. I reached out to touch his head and it was just hair. This made him drop the needle and let out a whimper. It was not the sort of whimper that a guy called Mike would make. I needed to get a message to Gruffle and the guys.


“Well done, Petra. You may as well tell him the truth now.” The man who found me said.


Mike removed his hat and revealed flowing locks of blonde hair. That’s why he called him Petra, I thought. Petra was beautiful. I wish my mum looked like Petra.


“How’s the leg?” She asked.


“It’s sore, but I’ll be fine.” I wanted to look brave.


“We are members of an association called ‘Infancia Sagrada’. “We monitor kids in situations like yours and then we get them out to show them what a real loving family can be like. We know you have had a hard time, but now that is over. We hope you will be happy here. More biscuits?” She smiled at me.


How could I be anything other than happy in a house that had chocolate digestives? I nodded to her and she gave me three more. I was now on seven, a personal best.


“We have compiled a dossier on your parents so that when the time is right, they will sign the adoption papers and you will be free of them. When you see your new room, we are sure you’ll be happy to stay with us. We can’t have children but have taken it upon ourselves to save kids like you. Do you understand, Jamie?” She asked, and I nodded.


“Well, let’s go and see that room of yours!” She led me upstairs and there was a room that I had seen before. It was one of my drawings. Everything was there, it was my dream room. Everything except the guys.


“It’s great.” I said. How could I tell them about Gruffle and the guys? Nobody knew about that, that was my secret.


The days passed, and I got settled into the new place. Every night looking under the bed and in the wardrobe for Gruffle and the guys, but they never showed. Then Petra saw me crying. She asked me if I wanted a brother, or a sister. They said they could get me one however I wanted. I told her it wasn’t that, I missed the guys.


“Oh! That’s no problem.” She assured me. I went to my room with a glass of Ribena (this house is like a private supermarket) and a wagon wheel. After about an hour of PlayStation, Petra knocked on my door again.


“Can I come in?” She asked. I had never been asked that before.


“I’ve got a little surprise for you.” She opened the door wide and there were the guys! All four of them. We got under the bed and played until it was dark. That night Gruffle stayed in my bed with me but the next day they all took their places in the wardrobe or under the bed. It was just like the old times, expect without the old times. Petra taught me to read and play the piano. I had a new surname now and changed school. I was the new kid for a while, but it was soon cool. Mr Jones lent me a chess set and Petra’s husband showed me how to set up the pieces. It sort of came from nowhere but when I thanked him I called him “Dad”.


I can’t believe I have just found that in my old bedroom. Tomorrow is a celebration for their 25th wedding anniversary, so I have taken some time off from my studies to be there for them. I never heard anything from my real parents. When I was 18, Petra, I mean Mum, showed me the documents that they had signed giving me up for adoption, but I never felt the need to go looking for them. After that, I got my A-Level results and went to study at Cambridge, moving into halls with enough space under the bed and in the wardrobe for Gruffle, Snuffle, Trushle and Mushle.


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