Wednesday, 19 June 2013

The Naughty Step.



“So Martin, how do you feel today?”

I wasn’t going to say “fine,” like I always did, fold my arms and say nothing more, no, this time it would be different. Justin, a new boy on the ward had called it “clamming up,” you know, only answering the questions quickly. Justin told me to make them believe I was in control, that I was better. I wasn’t.

“I feel much better now Dr Thorn,” I answered, it sounded convincing.

“And you don’t think that the stair got your mum and dad anymore?”

“Of course not, it was all in my imagination sir.” I was doing well, or at least I thought I was.

“Can you tell me what you really think happened to them?” he asked, looking like he feared to ask me the question.

“I don’t know…..” I really did though, it was still in my mind, always, it never left; how could he think that something like that would? I liked Dr Thorn, when he walked around the ward he made jokes, he made us laugh and he was a nice man. Except when we had these little meetings, as he called them, then he was very serious, scary almost.

I have been here for seven long years, you think I would have gotten used to it, but I never have. I am 10 now and remember little about when I was three; it was a long time ago. Perhaps my memory of the events back then have been shrouded by time and sitting here in this hospital, imagining the worst. I knew what I thought had happened in my mind was the product of my bizarre imagination but I could figure out no other explanation.

I was a naughty boy; that was the basic outcome. My father would send me to the naughty step whenever I was bad. It was the third step up from the bottom. The first step was too low, the second means that I could slip my bum back down to the first and gradually leave the stairs altogether. So he placed me on that third step, it became the standard, when I was old enough to move there myself without him picking me up and putting me on it I naturally went to it. Besides at first I did not fear it, it was a funny step, it kept me amused while I sat their seemingly for eons.

The first and second step were just normal steps, the fourth and fifth too. The rest of the way up to the bedrooms and bathroom the steps were all normal. However one day as I sat on that step, it began to talk to me. Yes, that is weird, that is why I am here. It said funny things to me, kept me amused, it became my only friend, and I trusted it, not at first though.

I could not see where it was talking to me from, it had no mouth, and it just looked like a normal step. I was scared at first, when it said a simple “Hello!” in a deep voice. I knew this was unusual even at three years old. I jumped up off the step, shouted out “who is that?”

It did not speak again; I left the step and was on the floor, looking around me, that much I remember. Then I was spotted by my dad, he pointed his finger back at that third step and bellowed out “get back on that naughty step until I tell you to get off!” I did as I was told. The voice started up again as soon as he had left to go into the kitchen. It told me it was the step, told me that it was my friend, said it had come to keep me company, and then it laughed.

At three years old you begin to believe this was possible, you don’t doubt the impossible because you don’t know exactly what is possible and what is impossible, and so I began to talk back to it, it was friendly, funny and after a few times we began to get along well. It seemed sad when I was allowed to get down and so it told me so, it said we should be together more often, it wanted to play with me more and more. That is why, when I was rude to my mum and she sent me to the naughty step for just one minute the stair seemed furious with me, I had never heard it angry before, “Stay!” it said.

“I have to go now,” I told the stair, “sorry.”

“I tell you what Martin, you could stay here if you wanted; you just have to be naughty.” It sounded like an idea, it suggested I took the milk from the fridge and pour it all over the floor, “Go on, it will be funny!” it said.

So I did, I walked into the kitchen, dragged a chair across the floor and positioned it next to the fridge. Standing on the chair I opened the fridge door, the light hit me and dazzled me, I pulled the heavy carton of milk out then bent down and placed it on the base of the chair. I got down and the fridge door slammed shut. I took the carton of milk and walked to the centre of the kitchen. I poured it all on the floor. Mum came in just as the last droplet hit the lino, she screamed at me “Martin! What are you doing?” I shrugged. “Go to the stair you naughty boy!” she demanded and I did.

“Hey!” said the stair, “We are back together again, well done kid!” I sat there; I knew I had done wrong. “What’s with the sad face?” it asked.

“Mummy was cross!” I told it.

“Do not worry about her, she’ll be fine,” it told me and then went on to make some silly noises and I laughed. The stair was right, I liked the stair.

Going to get Dad’s tools from his toolbox and throwing one at my older brother when he shouted at me was taking it too far, even at three years old I knew this. However the stair told me it was okay, so long as we could play together. So I sat there again, listening to his jokes and silly noises. I told him though that it was wrong, it was naughty and that dad would shout at me. That is when it became annoyed I guess, it said that it didn’t care, “You like playing with me don’t you Martin?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“Then, just keep being naughty, it is nothing really bad after all.”

“But Daddy will shout!” I told it.

“Oh, so Daddy is more important than us having some fun is he?”

“No!” I shouted, and I believed it.

My Dad began to listen in on our conversations and one day he passed me when I sat there and said, “Who you talking to Martin?”

I didn’t want to tell him, I remember that much but I did, I guess you do at that age, you don’t think there is anything wrong with it, “The naughty step!” I said.

My dad looked at me and laughed, “Oh, talk back to you does it?”

“Yes, not laugh daddy, my friend!”

“Oh, I see, the naughty step is your friend!” He laughed even louder. However after many months of this he began to look worried. I recall him talking to mum about it. He was saying it was getting beyond a joke, that I should see whatever it was that he called a shrink. Mum told him that it was not unusual for kids this age to have imaginary friends. I was outraged, it was not imaginary; it was real.

I ran around the house, pulling over the coffee table and everything on it went smashing to the floor. They sent me to the step. My dad said to my mum that maybe they should find a new naughty space. My mum told him not to be so silly, I would talk to my imaginary friend anywhere I was put.

My big brother pushed his way past me on the step, watching me talking to my stair. He laughed and asked me who I was talking to, “not your stupid stair again!” he laughed.

“He not stupid, he friend!” I told him angry.

He stamped his foot on the step, shouting “Silly Step, Silly Step!”

I cried but no one came to help me. The stair was the only thing that did help, it told me not to worry, and that we could get him back.

I know it seems crazy looking at it through the eyes of a ten year old, I know it is crazy now and I have to live with that. Sometimes though I doubt myself, I think I’m just pretending it was all in my head just to please the doctors. When Justin came on the ward he was the only kid to ever listen to what I had to say, I mean really listen and he said it may be true but that I should not tell them I think like that, he said I should tell them that it was in my imagination and that I am better now. This is what I tried to do today but I’m not sure if the doctor believes me. Justin says to say whatever they want to hear just to get out of here, but I have spent so long here I don’t know if I want to get out, I only really want to get out of here to find my mum and dad.

I don’t understand what happened to them or my brother and when I was three I understood even less, I blamed it on the naughty step; what other explanation is there? Now, I simply don’t know; of course it wasn’t the step, I know that now but inside, deep inside, it still makes me scared. So scared I cannot sleep, my dreams merge with reality they say, I am unable to remember which is which; of course they use a lot of long words that I don’t understand, but I know the basics of it.

It all seems so real, the first time that I knew the step could take someone away was after it told me it would get my brother and the next morning I got up and saw some police cars outside. A policeman was inside our house, talking to my mum and dad. I crept down the stairs, my mum was crying and my dad was furious, arguing with the policeman. He was telling him how he must do something to find him; the policeman was asking him to go over what had happened. That is when I heard them saying that my brother was missing, they woke up and he was not in his bed.

I screamed, I knew what had taken him, “It was the step, the naughty step did it!” I shouted, tugging my mum’s dress and repeating it over and over again. The policeman looked down at me but did not say a word. My Dad grabbed me, said to the policeman that I did this sometimes, an overactive imagination he called it, or something like that. Then Dad addressed me, looking down he said, “Now is not the time for this Martin, please go and play.”

“I don’t want to play, listen, it was the step!”

Dad got angry and told me to if I did not stop he would put me in a naughty place. He pointed to the backdoor step and pushed me over to it, “sit there! That is the new naughty space!”

I cried when I realised that he had changed the naughty space to the backdoor step. However while they were talking to the policemen and women I found I could creep over to the step, I wanted to ask it why it took my brother.

“Why are you on the doorstep?” asked the step in his harsh and deep tone.

“Daddy sent me there, it is new naughty space,” I told it.

“They are trying to break us up, they do not want us to play together, you want us to play together don’t you Martin, we have fun playing together don’t we?”

“Yes,” I said, I was not sure if I wanted to play with it but I was scared of it so I had to say yes.

“Very well, I make sure that your Mum and Dad do not get in the way of that again!” it bellowed.

My Mum and Dad spent the whole day talking to police; they searched my brother’s room and went to the police station. I was taken to my Aunts to play, I like playing there. When night time came my Mum and Dad came to collect me. They told me it would be alright, that my brother had to go away, but looking at their eyes I could see they were very tired and unhappy, you cannot fool a three year old that easy.

When I woke up the next morning the house was quiet, I crept down the stairs after looking in my mummy and daddy’s bedroom to see that they were not there. I thought they would be downstairs in the kitchen making some breakfast but when I got down there I could not find them, I searched the house, they were gone, the house was empty and quiet. The fear flushed through my body and I was frozen on the spot looking at that naughty step.

After a few minutes I spoke up, “What done with my Mummy?” I asked.

“They will not bother us again, we can play now, what would you like to play?” the voice thundered and I began to cry. I cannot remember what happened next, I was so overcome with unhappy feelings. I think I ran outside and a neighbour came to help, I think that is what happened. I was uncontrollable, shouting and screaming. The next thing I know is that I was here, in this hospital and I have been here ever since. They told me my mum and dad had to go away to find my brother and of course I did not believe them. At three I could not understand why they did not believe my story but as I grew up I understood of course that steps are not alive and do not talk.

Still they said I was crazy, I have to prove that I am not but by offering them the only story I know of what happened to my mum and dad means they keep me here, they think I am still crazy, perhaps I am. I mean I must be.



 Dr Thorn leaned in towards me and lowered his tone, “you know Martin I am trying to help you don’t you?”

I nodded.

“Well,” he said, “I think you are old enough for the truth, we do not know what happened to your parents, we have never found them. I am sorry.”

I did not cry, I did not even react, “I know, I guessed that.”

“You don’t think it is the stairs anymore do you?”

“No,” I quivered when I said it and he looked at me then wrote something down.

“Listen, I have an idea. The house that you used to live in Martin is still there, no one lives there. The hospital pays to keep it so that when you are better and all grown up you have somewhere to live. We could visit the house, just you and me, we could have a look at this step, if you wanted and you feel well enough to do it. Then we could make sure that it is not alive….” He paused, “what do you think?”

I was not sure what I thought and so Doctor Thorn gave me some time to think about it. After about a week I wanted to do it, just, if nothing more, to get out of here for a while. So I told him I would go with him.

One morning he woke me up and we went outside, not in the garden like we used to do but really outside, out of the hospital and we got into a green car that the doctor told me was his. He reassured me that everything would be alright and then he began to drive. It had been so long since I was out of the hospital let alone in a car going somewhere and so I was too excited to be scared, until we turned down a driveway and I recognised it from when I was little.

Lots of memoires came back to me as we walked to the front door. They were nice ones at first; I remember playing football on the front garden with my big brother. I remember my mum leaning out of the kitchen window and telling us that our tea was ready. We ran into the house, shouting “hooray!” Happy days, I had some but I was so little. Since then my life has been a confused, horrible one and no one understood why.

The bad memoires overtook the good ones, I recall crying at the door, wondering why the step had taken my mum and dad, I remember fearing the step so much that when the Doctor opened the door with the key it all came flooding back, and I stood still as a post. So scared I could not move, I would not enter the house. The Doctor looked back, kicked the piles of letters that swamped the mat and sighing, “the neighbour is supposed to clear these up for us, seems like he hasn’t done it for some time…. Come on in.”

I did not say anything, I just stood there. It was not the piles of letters that I was worried about it was the fact that behind the doctor I could see it, the stairs, climbing up to the rooms on the first floor. “It’s ok,” reassured the doctor and he held out his hand to beckon me inside. After a few moments I came one step closer, but still did not enter the house.

“Come on, it is fine, you are with me,” he said. I like the Doctor, I trust him and so I stepped inside the house very nervously.

The Doctor closed the door and I was locked in fear, moving to the side wall of the hallway furthest away from the stairs, so that my back touched it. “You see,” said the Doctor, stamping his foot on the step, “It is just a step, same as the others.” He looked down a bit concerned, the tufts of carpet on the step seemed to be swarming up the soul of his shoe. He took another look in disbelief and quickly snatched his foot back from the step. Thinking his eyes were playing tricks on him he put his foot slowly back onto the step, again he observed the tufts of carpet creeping up his shoe. He gave it a little longer, trying to focus on what he was witnessing as they began to envelope the soul of his shoe. When he was certain that something very strange was happening and he should move his foot from the step he tried to but failed. His foot was stuck, he could not budge it.

He pulled harder, getting more frightened as the tufts locked in on his shoe and began to drag him closer to the step. I stood in fright, watching him, too scared to move. He yelped out and began to pull with all his might as his leg was sinking into the stair carpet. Like quicksand the more he resisted the more it pulled him in. Caught off balance he fell, his other knee given way he was now helpless and he gave a cry of horror.  

He held out a hand to me and desperation in his eyes told me I should do something but I could not move, still frozen by fear. His lower body was completely sucked into the stair and it had managed to take an arm with it too when he held onto his torso. Now he could do no more, I saw him become quiet and start to pray. I cried out loud as the full horror of what was happening came to light, his jaw began to disappear, his screams muffled by the approaching carpet and then his whole head disappeared.

All fell deadly silent and then I heard that voice, the one I had only heard in my nightmares for the past seven years, it bellowed out, “Hi kiddo, boy am I glad you’re back!” It all came flooding back to me, my tears erupting from my eyes as it continued on unabated, “so, who does that bloke think he is, trying to separate us? That will not do Martin; that will simply not do.” 


“Nice place you have here,” she slurred her words, seductively and also intoxicated.

“Thanks,” I replied, I was pretty drunk myself. I handed her a glass, the sparkles fizzed in the light yellow liquid.

“No thank you,” she purred, moving closer towards me and flinging her arm loosely around my waist and pulling me even closer still, “for a lovely evening……”

“The pleasure was all mine,” I complimented, she was charmed I could tell and she planted her lips on mine, moving them slowly I felt her tongue wisp around the front of my mouth and I took my own and danced it around hers.

A few moments of fondling and she started to baby kiss my neck, “let’s go to bed,” she slyly suggested, I was on heat, virtually at boiling point. Something suddenly struck me though; I did not want her to go up the stairs. I pulled her over playfully and we landed with a giggle on the sofa, “let’s do it here!” I suggested.

“Ah, kinky!” she joked and rested her head back on the armrest of the sofa.

“Hold that thought,” I said as I raised myself off her, moving up.

“Hey where you off to in such a hurry?” she asked.

“Just to the loo,” I replied and off I stumbled. I never wanted her to go upstairs because it must be filthy up there. I guess anyway, I never go up there. I have some irrational fear of going up the stairs, I’m fine anywhere else but here, in my home I simply don’t like too. Strange I know but I guess it harks back to my childhood, I had some pretty crazy ideas as a kid but that is about all I remember of it. I blanked most of it from my mind; life in the hospital did that to the children there.

Yeah, I was in a mental home, hardly surprising really, you see my mum and dad left me, took my brother and just left. I was pretty hard to handle, a naughty boy you could say. One day, when I was just three they just left and I have never heard from them again. So I made up some crazy story, a bit weird looking back on it.

Then some nutcase of a doctor tried to trick me, he took me back to the house when I was ten and performed some nasty trick on me. The police found he had some pretty big debts and was down for tax fraud so he faked his death and left the country, he must have done. Although before he went he made sure that I would get the blame, pulling off some illusion which involved him melting into my staircase. You will believe anything told to you by an adult when you are that young and he sent me spinning back to a mental state for many years.

Now however it was all so long ago, I’m 25 now. I got out just six years ago and started to get my life back on track. I have my mother and father’s house, the least they could do for me under the circumstances. I mean the whole putrid affair really affected my mental health, I’m over it now, got a fair job and now I have found a nice girl, one I really like. It is a bit late to start learning the old game of love but provided she is willing to listen I will tell her all about it. I’m a good man, I believe I should tell her about any skeletons in my closet and I will, all in good time.

Now though is not the time, we’ve both had a bit to drink and she is definitely up for it. All I need to do is convince her to stay downstairs, irrational I know, but it is just a fear that I hold that would ruin my confidence and that would fail when it came the time for us to make love. I sat on the toilet, trying to convince myself not to worry, she seemed happy to relax on the sofa.

Suddenly I heard her voice call, she wrapped her finger on the toilet door, “hurry up,” she purred, “that sofa is too lumpy, I’m going upstairs; I’ll meet you in your bed sexy, so hurry, before I lose all my clothes and I think you might want to help me!”

Suddenly all hell broke loose, “no,” I shouted don’t go upstairs!”

“I’m used to a bit of mess, don’t worry,” she joked and I could hear her ascending the first step. I jumped up, I don’t know why I was in such a panic but I was flushed with fear, struggling through the drunken stagger to pull my jeans on and straighten myself up.

By the time I went to open the toilet door she was screaming with a horrific whine, I bust open the door and ran to the bottom of the stairs. Her legs and up to her waist was sunken into the stairs, like quicksand she was sinking deeper. I grabbed her arms and pulled but I was so horrified, the whole childhood nightmare that I had spent so many years trying to forget, trying to convince myself was just the product of a deranged immature imagination was fast becoming real. The fear struck me down, I tried to pull but it was useless, slowly I cried as I saw the little clumps of carpet swarming her up to her neck.

I saw her horrified and confused expression slowly fade into the stair, the carpet swallowed her and once it was done I was alone, totally, she was gone and all was quiet. Standing in total shock I heard a voice, a voice I recognised, a voice I feared more than anything, “I wanted to play with you,” it said, “I wanted to play and she wouldn’t let me, she wanted to play with you; that’s not fair is it Martin, we can’t have that.”

In a rage it all came back to me, my brother, my mum and dad, Doctor Thorn. It was true, the naughty step, it took them all. I ran to the shed, fury in my eyes, unaware of my own actions I picked up an axe and ran back into the house, up to the step and I hacked it away. Bits of carpet and wood sprayed up everywhere as my fury knew no bounds, I cursed it and smashed it with all my might. The bannister came crashing down and dust blew up in my face, littering my eyes so that I could not see.

I ran off, dropping the axe and found my way into the front room. She was there, my wonderful date, standing with a glass in her hand, “what’s up darling?” she asked.

The dust had gone from my eyes, from my clothes too. I looked at her, she was safe, whatever just happened was obviously just a hallucination, I’m having a psychotic episode but I was pleased that was and my thoughts that it was true was but a fleeting moment.

“Errm….. Fine, I’m fine,” I said, hardly believing it myself, “just give me a minute,” and I stepped outside into the hallway, it was dark. I held up my hand to turn on the light, it was not there. Strange I thought, and I moved my hand up the wall to find it. It was much further up, like someone had moved it up, am I hallucinating again?

I switched it on and shock hit me like a tsunami, there was wallpaper all over the hallway walls, the same wallpaper that my father put up decades ago and the same wallpaper that I stripped off when I took over the house. Not only this but the knuckles on my hand was gone, the veins too, my hand looked chubby and immature, like that hand was ten years old again. I put it to my face, it felt different, no stubble, and my skin so soft. I looked down to see that I was wearing the hospital issue clothes I came to house with that fateful day.

I had to question what happened to the girl, what girl? I seem to have forgotten her name, like a dream that floats in the memory seconds after you wake but slowly slips away from you and leaves you in state of confusion. Confused I was; it seems that the past decade or so had deteriorated from my memory and for all intents and purposes I was now, nothing but a ten year old boy. What was I talking about? I did not understand my own thoughts, I looked around for help and there he was, Doctor Thorn, standing at the bottom of the steps.

“See,” he said, stamping his foot on the third step, “nothing to worry about, it’s just a step.” The fear gripped me, he was in danger; I could feel it though I knew not why. I had to leave, turn away; I backed off and turned through the open kitchen door.

As I entered the kitchen I felt smaller again, my concern for the Doctor melted away into confusion and just as the last decade of my life and more had vanished I started to ask myself who the doctor was, the hospital where I had spent seven long years was fading fast from my memory. Immediately discovering that simple mental tasks were beyond me, modest mathematics, words of over two syllables, just what mathematics and syllables were became more clouded as the seconds past. I looked down; I was wearing my favourite Scooby-Doo pyjamas.

My mum was in the kitchen, I thought nothing of it, why should I? I was three years old; mum was often in the kitchen doing what she was doing, preparing my dinner. My Dad was fixing something on the table; I don’t know what it was. He looked up at me, “Did I tell you that you could leave the naughty step?”

I shook my head. Something about what he said bought certain things back to me; that step, it had something to do with it all, it wasn’t me that was naughty; it was the step. I don’t know why, I don’t how, but I knew going back to that step was bad and so I realised that if I wasn’t naughty then Daddy would not send me there. “I won’t be naughty again Daddy,” I said with my face down and lip curled.

He looked at me, quiet for a while then he gave me a hug, “that would be good,” he whispered in my ear. I felt strange in my tummy, not sick, just happy; happy to see my mummy and daddy, but I saw them only a few minutes ago….didn’t I?

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