Harry’s bedroom was transformed at night. During the day it was just a room with Lego models, action figures, and soft toys. At night though it was something else. The low light turned it all into shadows. And the shadows made the mundane spooky.
On the wall by the door some combination of something looked like a giant bird skulking across the room. Harry started at it. He tried to remember what was over there. What could have caused a shape like that? He reached for the light pull and tugged. Nothing happened. He tried again. In that moment he wanted to yell for dad. It was always his first reaction to call for help. He was ten now though and needed to start to deal with stuff himself. He scrambled out of the bed and crossed to the window to look out over the city.
He heard the noises of the main road in the distance. He smelt the remnants of charred meat from the BBQ on the balcony from earlier. He saw the tower block across the way through the gap in the curtains. It was dark. Except for the emergency lighting in the stairwell it was dark. He tasted the remnants of his mint toothpaste and felt the hairs on his arms standing on end.
Harry came round the bed. He carefully picked his way out of the room. During the day it was just an obstacle course at night it was much worse. He yelped as he trod on something knobbly on the floor. He reached down and picked it up. It had two legs and arms – definitely an action figure. For some reason he wanted to know which one it was. Perhaps it was just curiosity – or perhaps it was the challenge.
After a moment he found the fabric canopy. It was a parachute – it was great fun to drop the little man in the stairwell and watch as it drifted to the ground. He stopped by the door. Even his crescent-shaped night light wasn’t glowing any more. He reached for the door handle.
The door to his bedroom had always been noisy. The only way to open it without making a noise was with extreme care – which wasn’t exactly something that Harry was the best at. He put his hand on the knob and turned it as slowly and as carefully as he could. The door opened a bit and he didn’t shut it lest it make a noise.
Harry padded past his dad’s bedroom and into the living room. It was eerie. The light had gone out on the VCR and the clock on the coffee table was also dark. The only sound was the ticking of the other clock in the kitchen just off the lounge.
Suddenly there was a flash outside – Harry’s head jerked in the direction of the window. There was a rumble too. And suddenly another flash. This time he had to cover his eyes. And he seemed to hear a voice. ‘Harry, are you with us?’
Harry was on the floor. He wanted to not look out of the window. He didn’t want his eyes to hurt. He seemed to hear the voice again. The carpet was suddenly damp and so was his side. He put his hand there and there was something sticky on it. It was too dark. There was another flash. The voice spoke again.
‘Where?’ was all Harry could say.
He saw a face highlighted in the lightning. The man wore a helmet. ‘Afghanistan.’
Another flash and he was on the carpet again but could somehow still feel the mud and the blood.
‘Corporal,’ the voice said. ‘Stay with me.’
When his eyes were closed he saw the living room. When open he saw the black sky and the man in the helmet.
He stumbled to his feet. He walked to the window. He was soaking wet, standing in the living room and could feel it despite the roof and the glass of the window.
The lightning flashed again and he was now on his back on a stretcher. The voice from before was back. ‘It is going to be okay, Corporal.’
‘Sergeant…’ Harry said.
‘Better than calling me, ‘mum’.’
The stretcher was lifted up into the helicopter and Harry passed out. The medics started working on him.
Harry woke up. He had fallen asleep on the living room floor. ‘Harry?’ his dad said.
His dad looked to the 00:00 flashing on the VCR. ‘Did you see the storm?
‘Yes.’ Harry said. ‘Scary.’
His father helped him to his feet. Harry collapsed into him and felt great comfort in his dad’s arms holding him.
The helicopter was bumping along. Harry opens his eyes. His lips and nose were covered by a breathing mask. The medic rested a hand on his shoulder. ‘We’ll be at the hospital soon.’
‘Hospital,’ Harry said as if the word was new to him.
‘I feel so stupid being scared,’ he told his dad. ‘Just wind and rain.’
His dad smiled and patted the top of his head. ‘It is okay to be scared, son. How about some breakfast?’
Harry awoke. Above him were the white plastic panels of a hospital ceiling. He couldn’t remember the journey – or having the tubes and hissing equipment set up.
The nurse came in. Harry could just read ‘Michael’ on the man’s name badge. ‘Don’t try and sit up. You are not out of the woods yet. There is someone to see you.’
‘Bed up.’ Harry says.
The nurse adjusted the bed and head rest so that he could can see the doorway. A man comes in in a wheelchair. ‘How are you doing, son?’
The turkey bacon sizzles on the stove and Harry sits on the sofa. A cartoon plays on the TV. The colours are bright and the voices are loud and excited.
‘Dad,’ he says, looking at his old man. ‘Where am I?’
‘In a hospital. You were airlifted. You have been unconscious for a few days.’
The bacon was ready and father and son sat to eat breakfast. ‘Thank you, dad.’
‘You’re welcome, son. It may have taken me a year but I can finally do it like your mother used to.’
Little Harry smiles but it comes out as almost more of a grimace. ‘Yeah.’
‘Thank you for coming,’ Harry said – his voice was croaky and his side hurt when he spoke. ‘It is so good to see you.’
‘Good to see you too.’ His father reached out and grabbed his son’s hand.
Harry took it but was unable to grip it very tightly.
‘I’m going to be here a long time, aren’t I?’
His father gulped but was unable to form words.
‘I’ll be okay, dad’
The breakfast was cleared away and Harry’s dad began the washing up. Harry stood next to him, took the plates and pan, and dried them off. Then using a stool he reached for the cupboard to put them away. ‘It took a while to figure out keeping the kitchen clean too, didn’t it dad?’
His father smiled, ‘Your mother always knew how to make the house look perfect. It was probably your grandfather’s influence.’
Tears has started to form in his father’s eyes. ‘When they called I was expecting the worse. When you left for basic training, eight years ago now, I always had this fear in the back of my mind. That…’
‘Dad,‘ Harry said, ‘I am okay.’
They were ready to go to the park. The kitchen was spotless. They put on their coats and headed for the door. Although on the twelfth floor they went for the stairs. Harry ran while his father followed at a sedate pace. ‘It is good training,’ Harry said as he has so many times before.
His father bit his lip. He didn’t want to lose his son to some war with some foe as yet unknown. He wished that Harry’s passion was for something less dangerous. He would say nothing though. Being Harry’s dad did not give him the right to squash a dream.
Harry was drifting in and out of consciousness. When he looked up again his father was still there. He couldn’t say for sure how long it had been – it could even have been a new day. Standing behind his dad was another man. He was a big man and wore the uniform of a Major General. Harry smiled with what strength he had. It was good to see his grandfather.
Harry was seventeen and just out of basic training. He was so proud to be wearing his uniform. Now the real adventure was about to begin.
‘Congratulations, son,’ his father said.
‘Well done, private,’ his grandfather said – he was in his Brigadier’s uniform.
The General took another seat next to the hospital bed. ‘You should get a medal for what you did.’
Harry chocked. ‘Didn’t do it for that.’
‘All the more reason for a medal.’
‘Thank you, sir.’ Even though his grandfather was retired, Harry, was still unsure what he should be calling him.
Harry’s visitors had to leave half an hour later. The nurse insisted upon it. He needed his rest. He laid back in his bed and closed his eyes.
Harry was a child running around the park with his father. They were throwing a Frisbee back and forth.
The recovery took weeks but Harry was finally allowed to go home for the rest of his convalescence. He was just about used to walking on crutches. He stepped into his flat and locked the door. It was good to be home.