As the story will appear in my forthcoming collection ‘The Ombudsman’s Ombudsman’, I am just leaving here the first page as a taster.
“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.