By Brian Robinson.
It was seven thirty on a Monday morning and William had decided he was definitely not going to go to school that day. It wasn’t because of the weather; he wasn’t ill; and he certainly wasn’t lazy: he was being bullied. William didn’t know why this was happening, but more to the point, he didn’t know why it was happening to him. Sometimes, bullies pick on boys who are a bit different.
William was a somewhat serious boy it’s true, but the only peculiarity you could point to with regard to his appearance was that his brow was deeply furrowed for a boy of his age. Perhaps that was why he was being bullied? Or perhaps he had worry lines on his forehead because he was being bullied?
One boy in particular was responsible for William’s state of mind and his name was Steven Southgate. Steven was by far the tallest and toughest boy in William’s year. He was a gang leader of sorts and he always had several of his followers in orbit around him. Strangely enough, bullies are quite often different too. Steven wasn’t very bright and he often missed lessons. Perhaps that was why he looked to his brute strength to speak about who he was? Bullying doesn’t always involve as much violence as you might think. It can sometimes be more about intimidation and the threat of violence, but even so, it’s very difficult not to be afraid of bullies.
William had kept his problem to himself. He hadn’t told the teachers at his primary school and his parents were completely unaware that anything was wrong. Perhaps that was a mistake on William’s part. Things had got out of hand and it had reached the stage where the constant bullying was making William’s life a misery.
“Will, if you don’t hurry up and come for down for your breakfast you’ll be late for school,” his mum shouted with some degree of urgency. His decision not to go to school, however, was already fixed in his mind. As that weekend had ebbed away and Monday morning got ever closer, so William had got more and more worried. He didn’t know exactly what staying away from school would achieve; he only knew he couldn’t face the bully that day.
“I’m not feeling very well,” he shouted down to his mum.
She soon appeared in the bedroom doorway quizzing him about his symptoms. He made out he had a terrible headache. William didn’t usually tell lies, especially to his mum, and he had never made an excuse to skip school before. His mum was sympathetic though and she told him to stay in bed. She would ring the school to let them know and she would bring him up a cup of warm milk and a headache pill shortly. William felt a wave of relief come over him and he curled up in bed again to await the milk.
Even though he had solved the problem of going to school that day, the worry about Steven and his gang soon returned to haunt him. He knew that his relief would be short lived and he had to find a way to solve this problem once and for all. He couldn’t take Steven on, he was far too big and strong for that, and then there were the other gang members; he couldn’t take them all on because there were far too many of them. If he told his teachers about the bullying he feared this might make things worse and lead to repercussions. Steven would surely come after him. In the end, he began to think the best idea would be to tell his mum and dad and the teachers in the hope that they would somehow be able to sort this mess out for him. However, even this was a bit of a worry. His school world was very different to the world his parents and even his teachers inhabited.
After about an hour of non stop worrying, and with a cup of warm milk inside him, William decided he would switch on his computer and play his favourite game. This was the only thing that he knew would be sure to stop him worrying about school. As it happened, the game involved quite a bit of worry too. It was a virtual reality farm game where he became a pretend farmer. To be a pretend farmer he had to round up his sheep and feed them; he had to milk his cows; he had to feed the chickens; collect the eggs and all the while his trusty dog Jet would be at his side helping him. If he did not tend to his animals they would begin to fade and die; if he looked after them well, then they would flourish and he could go on to the next level.
The game had five levels in all and they involved doing different things for his animals. In level one you had to do all the dirty jobs like mucking out the sheds and keeping the place clean. Level two involved collecting and packing the produce. Level three involved looking after the animal’s health and so on. At level five the animals gave birth to their offspring and so William’s farm grew and prospered.
He had often reached level five and this was because he was a good pretend farmer. He worried about his animals when he wasn’t with them and he always tended to their needs and never left them alone for long. Because of this, his animals were happy and content and this was particularly true of his dog Jet. Jet followed William everywhere he went and he obeyed his every command. Jet loved William: and William loved Jet.
After about and hour or so of playing his game on what otherwise was a miserable Monday morning, William reached the end of level five once more. Then, the strangest thing happened. The screen suddenly went blank. First of all he thought his computer had crashed. Then the screen went blue followed by some interference. The interference cleared to reveal a shadowy shape of a man’s head. A voice spoke, “Congratulations, you have completed level five for the hundredth time. Do you wish to enter level six? If so then please press any key to continue.”
Now this was very strange because as far as William knew there was no level six. He had read the book that came with the game from cover to cover and there had never been a mention of a level six. William pressed a key and the voice spoke again. “As you probably know, there are only five levels of reality. Level six is where reality and fantasy become one. Do you still wish to continue, if so please press any key?”
William hesitated. What can this mean he thought to himself? Then he thought, what harm can it do, after all it’s only a game! William pressed another key and the voice returned. “I ought to tell you that you are the only boy who has ever been invited to enter the game at this level. You have earned this privilege because of the kindness you have shown your animals. However, please be warned, if you decide to proceed you will no longer be playing the game as you know it. Fantasy will become reality and reality will become fantasy. You will not come to any harm, but you are about to enter a very different world. Press ENTER if you wish to proceed.”
William drew in a deep breath, his mind raced and an excitement began to grow within him. He kept repeating the words, ‘you will not come to any harm’ over and over again. William was not the sort of boy who just leapt into things; he was the sort of boy who thought things through and through. Then he thought ‘I’ve done enough worrying for one day; what have I got to lose’ and he pressed the key ENTER.
The reaction was immediate. His room gradually grew darker and darker until all that was visible was his computer screen. Then the screen began to give out the most wonderful coloured lights that filled and swirled around the whole room. Soon he began to hear the sounds of animals all around him and then at his side he felt something brush up against his leg. It was his dog Jet coming to greet him in real life. Then, as he looked around, he found that he was actually on the farm he knew so well. He could feel his mood lift as all his worries seemed to drift and vanish in the coloured lights. It was no longer a miserable Monday morning; it was now a lovely warm summer’s day.
The next few hours were the happiest William had ever known. He was with the animals he loved and he played and played with them, enjoying their company, enjoying the farm and enjoying the day. He had never felt so relaxed and he began to realise just how tense and worried he had become. He hadn’t realised just how good life could be away from the real life worries and the bullies.
As the day drew to a close William began to wonder what was going to happen next. Would his visit come to an end soon? Was he going to be here forever? Where was all this taking him? Jet seemed to be able to read his mind and began to bark next to him as if he wanted to be followed. William followed Jet for a while until they came to what he assumed was the house that belonged to the farm. The door had been left ajar and William and Jet went inside. The house held everything a young boy could possibly wish for. There was food aplenty, T V, music, games and all his personal possessions from his bedroom had somehow been transported there. Even the laptop that had led him into this world sat on a table.
William explored the house, had some food and played with Jet. Finally, he sat down at his laptop and booted it up. The normal screen did not appear but instead there appeared the shadowy face he had seen before. “How have you enjoyed spending some real fantasy time on your farm?” the voice asked.
“It has been great,” William said. “I can’t tell you how happy I am and how much I needed this. “
“I’m well aware of that,” said the voice. “What I have to tell you now is that you have entered a new phase in your life. This farm is yours and yours alone. This is your safe place. You can come here whenever you wish and you can stay here for as long as you wish. When you are here nothing can harm you, no one can hurt you.”
William didn’t really believe what he had just heard. “Do I have to leave soon?” he asked.
“You’re not listening William. I’ve just told you, this is your secret place and you can come and go as you wish. And that’s not all, you now have the power to take some of this world back with you, if that is what you want,” the voice added as an afterthought.
“What do you mean? I don’t understand?” said a puzzled William.
“Well, for example, would you like Jet to be able to join you in your world sometimes?”
“Would I like it? I would love it. Do you really mean it? Can I really take Jet with me?” said William getting more and more excited.
“Of course you can. This is just one of the many privileges you now have and I’m sure Jet would love being with you. There is one thing I should warn you about though: Jet can be a bit of a Jekyll and Hyde.”
William didn’t understand what ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ meant. Anyway, he was so excited at the prospect of having his own dog in real life that he soon left all thoughts about Jekyll and Hyde behind.
“How’s that going to work? I’m not sure if I’ll be able to have a dog back in my world?” asked William.
“You have nothing to worry about. Jet will only appear whenever you wish. Simply call out his name and he’ll be at your side. If you wish him to leave just say so and he’ll disappear,” the voice explained.
William was bursting with excitement and he couldn’t wait to bring Jet with him. He asked the shadowy face how he could return home? “That’s easy, when you are ready to go just press ‘exit’ on your laptop and to return back here press ‘enter’, in fact, you only have to say ‘exit’ or ‘enter’. You don’t have to do it through your computer at all.” Then the shadowy voice said ‘goodbye’ and the screen went blank.
William still felt a bit confused, but nonetheless he pressed ‘exit’ on his laptop and in a flash the room began to swirl again and he soon found himself back in bedroom. For some reason the first thing he did was to look in the mirror on the back of his wardrobe door. When he did so he noticed that the furrows in his brow had almost disappeared. He took off his pyjama top to get dressed. The bruises were still there on the tops of his arms and on his chest. Steven was quite careful about where he hit people.
The clock on his bedroom wall told William that time had stood still while he had been away. He must have been on the farm for several hours yet the clock still only read ten thirty. Just then his mum returned to his room to see how he was feeling. William quickly finished putting his top on as he didn’t want his mum to see where he had been hurt. She would only worry.
“How are you now dear? Is your headache any better?” she asked.
“Yes mum it’s a lot better thanks,” he replied.
“I must say you look a lot better. In fact you look different somehow?” said his mum looking at him quizzically.
“Can I ask you a question mum?”
“Yes dear, of course.”
“Have you ever heard of Jekyll or Hyde?”
“Yes dear. Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde are characters in a story, or perhaps I should say they are the same character. In the story Dr Jekyll was a man who understood that we all have a darker side. He invented a potion which when drunk would bring out this darker side of his nature. When he drank the potion he became Mr Hyde. Mr Hyde was a dark and dangerous character who caused murder and mayhem whenever he prowled the streets. Dr Jekyll could never control Mr Hyde and that was his fatal mistake. We have to control our darker side even though sometimes we have to show it,” she explained.
“I see,” said William. His mum left the bedroom leaving him deep in thought.
When William returned to school the next day he was in a much brighter mood. It was as if a great weight had been lifted from his shoulders; he felt he was walking on air and this was very much a new feeling for him. He smiled at everyone, chatted with his friends. This was the first time for a long time that he actually felt normal and it was a good feeling. It wasn’t long, however, before Steven came back into his world. He must have been having a bad day because he was in a foul mood. Steven confronted William during the dinner break. He made out that William had spilt his drink over him and he then spat out a whole string of threats against him. “I’ll make you pay for that you moron,” he yelled.
William looked at him but said nothing.
“Did you hear me you moron. I’m going to make you pay for that.”
William began to walk away but Steven ran after him and spun him around. “Are you deaf?”
“No I’m not deaf. I heard you perfectly well, but I’m not interested, anyway, I don’t want any trouble,” said William.
“I’ll deal with you after school. You’ll pay for this,” came the final threat.
William wasn’t scared anymore. He was past that. Anyway, he now knew that worrying doesn’t really solve any problems; it just makes you feel worse. He simply shrugged his shoulders and said, “Whatever!”
After school Steven and three of his gang members were waiting for him as he made his way home. They confronted him and blocked his path not two hundred metres from the school gate. “Now you’re going to pay,” said Steven as his mates laughed and giggled behind him.
William still felt no fear and although he wasn’t sure exactly what would happen; he knew exactly what he had to do. He stood his ground and said, “Would you like to meet my dog Mr Hyde?”
Steven replied, “Dogs don’t scare me.”
William called out for his dog Jet and when he did so a huge dog came bounding out of nowhere and then set himself at William’s side. This dog now looked nothing like Jet; he was black as coal and he looked more like a wild wolf than any domestic animal. He was almost twice his normal size, the hairs on his back were stood on end, his lips were curled back and his teeth were bared. From somewhere deep inside came most horrible snarling, growling noises as if daring Steven to come forward.
At the first sight of Jet Steven’s three friends fled and were soon just dots in the distance. Steven now stood alone and was simply rooted to the spot. When he managed to speak all he could say was, “I hope you can control that dog.”
William said, “It’s funny you should say that, because whenever my dog feels threatened he becomes very difficult to control.”
“Please don’t set him on me,” Steve pleaded.
“Well, perhaps you had better get out of our way then,” William suggested.
“I’m sorry,” said Steven. “I really am sorry and I swear I’ll never bother you again. Can I go now?”
“Of course you can,” said William.
Steven edged himself away very slowly fearing he might spook Jet if he moved too quickly. When there was some distance between them he turned and ran as fast as he could. William looked down at his dog and said, “It’s all right Jet, we’re safe now.” As soon as the dog heard these words he began to turn back into his normal form and was once again the friendly dog William knew and loved.
When William arrived home from school that day he had become a different boy. He knew he would never be bullied again, and what’s more, he knew there would be no more bullying at his school. He would make sure of that. There was something else he learnt: no matter how big or strong a bully is, there will always be someone or some thing he will be afraid of. That’s always worth knowing when you’re dealing with bullies!