The Tiger, The Wizard & The Cupboard: A short story about camp

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It was darker than he expected in here, but there was no way Brendon was going to come out of his hiding place to return to the others. He was alone in here, in this cupboard, and that meant he didn’t have to do what everyone else was doing. What were the others doing anyway? He wasn’t sure. He wasn’t even certain of where he was, having been dropped off by Nana at lunchtime, along with so many more kids – most of them older and taller than he was too. They’d been stuck in traffic all day, but when they arrived, Nana had said this place was called ‘camp’ and that now he was eight he could come here and have a really good time playing with the other kids. But Brendon didn’t know the other kids. All he knew was he wanted to be back at home so he could see Mam when she got back from the hospital, where she always went, to see his brother Jack. He missed Jack when he was in hospital (he had to go there as the factory that makes all the bits of blood in his body was broken and needed fixing). They never got to play Cowboys and Indians anymore. He missed being tucked in every night by Mam too. Now he just went up to bed when he was told by the babysitter, or by Nana. But he still longed for Nana to come and take him back home. He had enough of being told what to do and where to go at school, there was no point coming to camp and hearing the usual calls of “Brendon, come here!” all over again. It was supposed to be the easter holidays! Where would he get his chocolate eggs from now? He figured they’d sent him here so they could take his eggs to Jack instead. Jack always got nice things. Jack even got visited in hospital by Brendon’s favourite band! Brendon had got used to not getting any attention. So that was that. He would stay in the cupboard until Nana came to collect him, even if it was a little too dark for his liking. A tear rolled down Brendon’s cheek. In the cupboard, he could be alone, but he could also get scared. He didn’t know what to do.

Brendon? Are you alright in there, pal?

Brendon could hear Harry, the man in charge, calling to him from the hallway outside. Harry had met him and Nana when they arrived, and said he was his ‘Team Leader’. Harry told Brendon he was going to be an ‘Orange Boy’ and was looking forward to introducing Brendon to the rest of the gang. They’d gone inside and there were some more boys, about the same age as Brendon, and some were wearing orange t-shirts that said ‘Over The Wall’ on them. Some of the boys were with adults, also in orange t-shirts, who were helping them unpack their suitcases. Two of the adults had facepaint on, one of the men (the MEN!) even had orange nail varnish on! Harry had shown Brendon to a room where a man dressed as Tigger took Brendon’s suitcase and helped to unpack it. The door to the room (the room with the cupboard he was hiding in now) had big letters spelling ‘BRENDON’ on it, along with two other boy’s names. The other kids were busy playing in the hallway with the adults and must have arrived earlier than Brendon. The man dressed as Tigger went to get something for one of the other boys, but then Harry called to Brendon twice from the hallway. Harry sounded a little like Brendon’s school teacher. At school, when Brendon’s name was called, it usually meant trouble. He was always being told to do things he didn’t want to do, and being sent to the headteacher’s office. So Brendon had climbed into the cupboard and there was no way he was going to come out again.

The boys want to meet you Brendon! Are you going to come join us?

If he stayed quiet, he wouldn’t have to answer any questions. Harry would give up and go back to the other boys who all seemed to be having fun in the hallway. There was some shuffling on the other side of the cupboard door, then Brendon heard Harry’s voice again. He must have sat down by the cupboard because he voice was closer and quieter now.

I guess it’s pretty noisy out here, hey?

He kept quiet.

I’m sorry there was traffic getting here, buddy. I had a chat with your Nan and she said you haven’t been to camp before. Has anyone told you about what we do here?

They hadn’t. Or at least Brendon hadn’t been listening if they had. People were always telling him things he didn’t want to know, or asking him to do things he didn’t want to do. He should be at home on the playstation now, not in this strange place with people he didn’t know.

Well this is a place called camp. Over The Wall camp to be precise. We’ve got loads of really cool activities to do this week! I think we’re even going abseiling and maybe horse-riding too.

Brendon had gone away with his school class before, and his friends did those activities already, but he’d been made to sit out by his teacher for being naughty at bedtime the night before. Now he was hiding in the cupboard, that was probably just going to happen again so he might as well just stay here.

It can’t be much fun in there, can it? Some of the other boys have got the face paints out. They’re wondering if you wanted to have your face painted too? You don’t have to of course.

He’d never had his face painted before. His brother Jack had been done as a tiger in hospital before, but the lady who did it had left by the time Brendon visited him after school. Jack had even got to paint the play lady’s face too! It wasn’t fair.

Tell you what, how about you paint my face too? You can do whatever you want, make me look as silly as possible!

He was just thinking that! How did Harry guess?!

You know, pal, this place is pretty special. It’s unlike anywhere else in the world, did you know that? I’ve heard it might even be a place where magic happens. I know it must be pretty tricky at home sometimes. It’s always difficult when you have a brother who’s sick. I bet you have to go to Nan’s a lot right? Whilst your Mam’s at the hospital yeh?

Nan must have told Harry about Jack. How else could he have known? Brendon didn’t know anybody else with a sick brother like he had. He’d tried telling his friends at school that Jack’s blood factory didn’t work properly, and that’s why Jack didn’t have any hair, but they didn’t really listen and just wanted to talk about football and stuff. Just like what the boys in the hallway were probably doing right now.

That’s what makes this place so special Brendon. All the others kids here have a sick brother or sister at home too. Some of them might even have the same kinds of conditions I reckon!

Then Brendon realised how Harry knew all this stuff. He wasn’t a mind-reading wizard, he just got it. He got what Brendon was feeling like. And if the other boys had sick brothers and sisters too, they’d get it too. They’d be just like Brendon. They’d get it if Brendon was a little anxious about going abseiling, or getting on a horse. They might even be worried too!

Oh, and I’ve got an easter egg out here for you too.

Slowly, Brendon opened the cupboard door. Sure enough, there was Harry, sat crossed-legged on the floor. He was wearing a wizard’s hat on his head, and Brendon thought he might just be magic after all. Harry told Brendon that at camp, he could do whatever he’d always dreamed of doing. All he had to do was ask, and the adults would somehow make it happen. Together, they painted each others’ faces. Brendon drew round glasses and a lightning scar on Harry, and then Harry asked Brendon what he wanted to be. Without hesitating, Brendon replied: “A tiger!”

That week, Brendon went wall-climbing (high-fiving Harry at the top of the wall), horse-riding (up to a canter!) and Harry even taught him how to swim – something that Brendon had never been able to do before because Jack couldn’t go to the public pool whilst he was sick. When they weren’t out abseiling off walls, shooting laser rifles across the sky or making a mess with porridge-and-cucumber-facial-make-overs for the adults, the Orange Boys would sit playing with toys, eating sweets, and telling each other all about what was up with their brother or sister. They even had competitions to see which sibling’s hospital had the best play room! Each night, whilst drinking hot chocolate with squirty cream AND marshmallows, the boys would sit round with the adults (called ‘Team Mates’) and say what the best bits of the day were. On the last night, each Orange team mate, including the adults, got to tell everyone their favourite bit of the whole week. Brendon wanted to say everything, but the very best bit was definitely the Talent Night, where all the campers go on stage and do something in front of the whole camp. He had brought his set of magic tricks with him (he could practice for hours in his room at home), but he was a bit nervous about showing everyone at camp! But just as Brendon was about to go on stage, Harry had produced the wizard hat from behind his back and placed it on Brendon’s head.

Now you’re a real wizard, Brendon. Go show them your magic!

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This story was created using a mix of real-life tales from mine and other volunteers’ experiences with Over The Wall Camp, a charity for children affected by serious illness. It’s a story told from the perspective of a fictional young camper at a siblings camp, where children with sick brothers or sisters come to gain back some of the much needed attention they so often miss. The photos are taken from the charity’s public Facebook page and are used just to illustrate the story. Names used are purely fictional.

Please consider donating to the charity, by sponsoring my abseil down The Spinnaker Tower in Portsmouth. Visit justgiving.com/fakethom

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