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The Lunatic and the Poltergeist

This is the prologue to a series of posts about my little sister’s wedding. After reading the title, feel free to allow your imagination to run wild about where this is going.

My sister is twelve years younger than me. You’re correct in thinking that when she was growing up, this put us about even in the mental age department, but I nonetheless feel that I played a pivotal role in building her character during childhood.

Educational activities I pioneered in her childhood included the role-playing game “She Must Be Restrained”. Laura, who was about 5, would play the part of a deranged monster hellbent on havoc. I, 12 years her senior, would play the role of a well-meaning psychiatric nurse seeking to prevent her from damaging property, or herself (in that order). We would prepare for some hours, as soon as Mum had left for the evening, and begin by taking all valuables, breakables and spillables from around the house, and stacking them up in precarious piles around her bedroom. We were not wealthy, so I will point out many of these valuables were CDs and VHS tapes.

Soon, the outskirts of the bedroom would be a skyline of poorly balanced objects, usually topped with a box of glitter or a piggy bank that was already cracked in several places. Plush toys often made the foundations of these towering accidents-waiting-to-happen. The plot was simple. Laura was to destroy as much as she possibly could, without fear of recrimination, causing as much mess, carnage, havoc as she could physically muster. I was to stop her. Yes there was a significant age gap and you might think that use of force would be unfair against a mere child. But if you’d seen me at that time (and you will in the next post), you’d see it was a fair fight.

The rules were simple, and the motivations equally so. Anything broken would be blamed on me, as the “responsible” “adult” (separate quote marks totally required). I would also have to do most of the clearing up – ultimately if Mum came home and discovered any evidence of this game I’d be for it. Laura had nothing to lose, and nothing to hold her back, except – eventually – me.

“SHE MUST BE RESTRAINED” was the call and Laura would burst from the centre of the room to the easiest target. I would leap from the bed to rugby tackle her. A stack of soft toys would crumble to the ground with her first strike, along with the opened box of playing cards balanced on top. We would crash to the floor, cards raining down on us, every one adding to the amount of time we’d spend tidying up before Mum came home. Game over, you might think? Felon apprehended? No, far from it. Grabbing Laura was only the beginning. Even if she didn’t escape, she had four limbs flailing around and carte blanche to wreck anything she could touch. She would grab a drawer handle, out came the drawers, down came everything in the drawer and everything balanced on top. A foot would make it to the Spice Girls CD, fourth from bottom on a badly stacked tower of 38 – down they would come, cases burst open, discs everywhere. I’d be momentarily distracted wondering if the sleeve with the pictures of Mel C might get damaged. In that split second she’d wrestle free. I’d see her in slow motion throw herself into the wobbly, six-foot tall heap of “every piece of paper we could find in the house”. If she could hit the right spot, the binder on the top would bounce off the adjacent plush gorilla and clear the window sill in one hit.

The game would end only when I managed to drag her, literally kicking and screaming (and reaching and grabbing and wrecking) back to the asylum (bed) or whenever we were both too exhausted to continue, which usually came sooner. We’d then spend the next ten minutes wheezing on the floor, laughing, and looking around at the devastation. As the minutes went by it the thrill of the game would be overtaken by the realisation of how much tidying up had to be done. More often than not this would be interrupted by a sudden burst from Laura who would spring back to her feet screaming SHE MUST BE RESTRAINED. And it would all begin again. Until there was nothing left to topple, until there was no space on the floor left to lie exhausted. Until the asylum (bed) was the only part of the room left safe.

And then the tidying began. Sometimes we’d stack everything up and play again, but the game was so extraordinarily exhausting and violent, we usually didn’t have the strength. The next day eagle-eyed Mum would have her suspicions – she’d notice a hair out of place on a plush rabbit that had been designated by her as ornamental and not to be played with, and me and Laura would have to play dumb. Then she’d notice a crayon sticking out of a box and get really suspicious. Little did she know, all those crayons had been individually pummeling that rabbit’s head after a fingertip had caught her ear and brought her, and them, crashing to the floor.

Important life lessons I taught my sister with this exercise:

  • If you can blame the outcome on someone else, go nuts
  • Violence has a time and a place
  • Material things are not as important as memorable experiences
  • There is no such fucking thing as an ornamental child’s plushie
  • The future of music is not in easily-scratched and -broken Compact Discs but in digital streaming
  • The bigger they are the harder they fall
  • The smaller they are the easier they wriggle free
  • And lastly, what a valuable role architects and construction professionals play in ensuring the structures we inhabit in day-to-day life are built on robust foundations and cannot be toppled or brought crashing down by the elements, natural disasters, or a stray thumb.

As well as the fun times, I was also there to provide support during challenging times in Laura’s childhood.

Such as the time she came home covered in blood and bruises with her face smashed in.

As soon as I saw my baby sister in this state, I started rushing around in panic. Where, what, why, who?

Where is my camera? What have I done with it? Why didn’t I leave it somewhere obvious? Who has moved it?

You might think this is heartless, and I should have been consoling her and asking her if she was OK, and asking what happened, and counting her teeth. But I was in no position to ask anything, such was the uncontrollable laughter. Annoyingly, Mum was trying to interrogate her while I was lining up this amazing photo. Something about going headfirst over the handlebars of her bike. “Mum, leave her alone, she’s bruised and battered and upset, the last thing she needs is the third degree. Right now speaking of degrees, Laura can you just turn about 15 degrees to the left, and try to look really miserable. Lop one of your shoulders down to the side to make it look like you’ve broken your back or something.”

By this time, Laura herself was in such fits of infectious laughter, she had forgotten all about the pain – apart from the pain that was being directly caused by the effect of laughing. And unfortunately this was making it even harder to get a photo taken than her original crying. I don’t think at any point in my sister’s childhood, when I was there, did she ever cry without it eventually being turned from crying, into cry-laughing, into laugh-crying and then into laughing. Usually halfway through the process she’d snarl at me at to stop making her laugh, because she’d decided she was upset and she was trying to stick to it. That attitude didn’t wash. Just like the bloodstains on the white t-shirt in the picture.

Important life lessons I taught my sister with this exercise:

  • Never cry about something when you can laugh about it instead
  • Get good photos when the opportunity strikes (something that has served her well on Instagram)
  • Don’t try to ride a bike upside down
  • Teeth are easier to replace in childhood, when you grow older it gets much more expensive
  • Wear white for maximum sympathy during an accident, but make sure it’s not a garment you’re especially fond of

Now you might have found She Must Be Restrained to be irresponsible and disrespectful to property and ornamental rabbit plushies. You might have thought the bike crash reaction was cruel and uncaring, and my posting of the photo rather gruesome. But this next story is going to make you shit your fucking pants.

I’ll start with the less scary bit. Just as a disclaimer, the least scary bit will make you shit your fucking pants. This is less scary not un-scary.

It was a typical summer day in the urban paradise of Coatbridge, a day like any other, slivers of freshly risen sunlight wove through the gap in my curtains and I woke…. actually never mind this scene-setting nonsense or suspense, I’ll get right to it.

We went into my little sister’s room and some ghoul had written its name in black crayon on the wall above Laura’s cot.

Perhaps what was most shocking though was our reaction. “Who’s Joseph Cappie?” You know, not “WHO THE FUCK WROTE ON THE WALL!”, or frantic praying. In fact, pants were not even shat, despite my guarantees earlier. It was more like “Fuck’s sake we’re going to have to paint over that. Fucking ghouls, they never think about that do they.”

It was written in childish capital letters, in thick black crayon, about a foot above Laura’s cot. It was too high for her to have reached and written herself, and besides which she couldn’t write so that would have been an even bigger surprise. Fucking ghouls, teaching pre-school kids to write. It was also too high for Laura to have reached up and grabbed the crayon out of the ghoul’s hand which I’m sure is what she would have done if she could; after all we needed that crayon for She Must Be Restrained a few days later, it was going to be balanced on top of a particularly non-stationary stationery tower.

We had a few theories about how this happened. Banksy was quickly ruled out. There was suspicion between my brother, Mum and I that it was one of us, but we were all equally freaked out. We settled on the idea that my little sister was haunted or was summoning evil spirits like the demonic kids from so many of our favourite films. It was a sensible solution. She was clearly riddled with satanic forces, what can you do? We didn’t love her any less. We just tried not to piss her off for a little while. If her ghoul-friend was as handy with a fillet knife as he was with a crayon we were in big trouble. What am I saying, we didn’t have fillet knives, we were poor. The sharpest knife in the house was probably the one in Laura’s toy kitchen. Maybe that’s how we managed to sleep at night.

“Joseph” kept a low profile for a while. After all, he’d made a pretty big schoolboy error (even for an pretty small actual schoolboy). He’d written his name on his handiwork, so any more problems we’d send the ghost of one of our relatives round to his mum’s ghost’s house and he’d be grounded. Or something.

It was soon forgotten, there was enough horror in real life in Coatbridge for us to be pre-occupied by some ghostly tom-foolery.

Fast-forward to a Saturday night, Mum was out as usual, just me and Laura at home.

You know what this means. A bone-crunching episode of She Must Be Restrained was planned, closer to Laura’s bedtime of course, to help her drift off to sleep (exhausted unconsciousness).

As part of our pre-fun planning I’d done a quick recce around the house, taking stock of items we’d need to gather and pile up in Laura’s bedroom when it came time for the festivities. Laura had been in Mum’s room drawing with her big folder of papers; her infant portfolio. Pretending to be all artsy while Mum was getting ready to leave, painting the picture that here at home this would be an evening of culture and creativity, rather than wanton, remorseless carnage and violence. I remembered taking note of that big pile of papers she’d left lying on the bed. We were going to need those.

Laura was now playing in the hallway where her big toy kitchen playset was, just outside her bedroom. The doors to my room and mum’s room were opposite, side by side. I was in my room, penning some never-see-the-light-of-day science fiction stories, which was my thing. Laura was cooking in her hall kitchen with the sharpest knife in the house. She was going to need that.

I could hear the clatter outside my bedroom as Laura busied herself making pretend beef wellington. What am I saying, we were poor, it was a pretend pot noodle or at best pretend microwave chips. I was trying to avoid distractions trying to craft a story arc for my latest alien character, and figure out what shape his ears were going to be. While lost in thought I noticed a clean pair of pants sitting on the chest of drawers. I was going to need those.

There was an almighty crash. A crash made up of so many different noises it sounded like a shelf collapsing or a bookcase falling over. I heard Laura scream “Who was that! Who threw that!” I opened up my door, prepared to scold her for a) breaking my concentration and b) starting She Must Be Restrained without me.

Laura was sitting in the hall, covered in paper. Everything had been knocked off her kitchen, there were drawings everywhere, and her folder was on the floor burst open. She hadn’t moved; I’d been listening to her playing the whole time. That folder of about a hundred sheets of paper was lying on Mum’s bed in the other room.

The ghoul had picked up and thrown her papers out into the hallway, covering her and wrecking her kitchen, in what could be said to be a marked escalation in hostilities. I checked to see if the ghoul had written his name on all the pages in crayon; that would have been cool. But nope. Amateur. Laura was not quite comprehending what just happened, but she was starting to piece it together when she saw me come out of my room and realised it wasn’t me who fired a ream of paper across the house at her face. To distract her I quickly set her the task of gathering up the pages ready for the usual game, meanwhile I reached for that fresh pair of pants and slinked off.

Important life lessons the ghoul taught me and my sister with this exercise:

  • There’s no point keeping a tidy house, a ghoul can wreck it on a whim
  • Always use plastic equipment in the kitchen to prevent bloodshed if a ghoul attacks you while cooking

And lastly, from that night, every time we played She Must Be Restrained, as we lay exhausted on the floor, Laura’s bedroom strewn with mess, we wondered … was it all her, or had the ghoul been playing too?

About the author

Alan McCann

1 Comment

Don't just sit there, say something, the silence is freaking me out!