Muckilly Gog

Luke and his younger brother Josh have lived in fear of their father ever since he moved back in. Their father is an alcoholic with a raging temper, which often leads him to physical violence, particularly when he is hungover.

Luke used to be worried for himself, but now it's Josh he is afraid for. His five-year-old brother is at home most days with their Mum while Dad recovers from the night before.

But Josh seems to have a friend to escape to, an imaginary creature called Muckilly Gog. At first it seems harmless, and then Josh starts to do lots of strange and badly behaved things, and blames his imaginary friend...


1. Living in Fear

Muckilly Gog first came into our lives the summer Dad came back to live with us. I didn’t pay a lot of attention or worry much at first. I was too busy being really worried about Dad.

A lot of people later on tried to blame Mum for letting him move back in. I was sort-of angry with her too, but mostly I was angry with the government and the economy and all the people who wouldn’t give her a proper job. Because I understood what it was like to be poor all the time. It was my life, too. Never being able to have the clothes or the shoes everyone else had, or to have sweets or takeaways after school.  

I also know it was worse for Mum than it was for us. By the time I was fourteen, just before Dad came back, I understood the tight look on her face when a bill or a bank statement came through the door, and how she would put it aside for later because she was terrified. Sometimes, if she wasn’t working that day, it’d still be there when I got back from school, and she’d be rushing round the kitchen trying to ignore it with the panic bigger and bigger.

So even though Dad drank half of what he earned, and even though sometimes a monster seemed to borrow his face, and came at us wild-eyed and frothing and awful, I couldn’t blame her. She’d just given in, really, after all his begging and pleading, wanting to believe he’d changed so she could let him smile and pick up the bills and tell her not to worry.

But I was still afraid of him. When I was little, it used to be all fear for myself. I used to actually want my mum to make him angry, because then at least he would only hurt her. That’s the horrible thing about being frightened all the time. It makes you selfish and heartless.

But after he moved out, we had four years of peace and quiet. I was one of the bigger ones in my year and played a lot of football. When he came back, I wasn’t so frightened for me. I mean, I still shook when I realised something I’d done had annoyed him. There was this slow turn of the head he’d do which made me feel sick. But at least I knew I could outrun him if I really needed to. I was more frightened for Mum, and I frightened for Joshua most of all.

Being nearly five is not good when your Dad sometimes goes on benders which last days, not caring if he turns up to work drunk and in yesterday’s clothes. At nearly five, Joshua was helpless, and worse, he wasn’t at school all day. Josh only had a childminder half-days when Mum worked cleaning. She wouldn’t have been able to afford that if it hadn’t been for a new childcare scheme which was the only thing she thought the government had done right.

But the rest of the time, when Mum wasn’t at work, Josh was at home with her. In the mornings, she tried to get him out of the house, out of Dad’s way. Dad worked as evening shift manager at one of the city-centre pubs and he’d usually have drunk six or seven pints in that time, then stayed out for a few more before rolling in at 3 or 4. That time was dangerous, but so was the morning after, when he’d have a fierce hangover and be simmering away with anger.

Mum couldn’t always take Josh out, though. Sometimes she was too exhausted, or the weather was too much for Josh, or she’d need to do laundry and mend clothes and clean the house.

Every day I would feel a squeeze in my stomach as I left the house. Josh would usually give me a hug, but he wouldn’t screech and ask for a tickle any more. He’d learned to keep quiet in the morning, even if later, when Dad had a few drinks in him and had eaten enough, he’d play in the garden with him like a proper Dad or set up his Scalextrix on the living room floor.

Dad moved back in at the beginning of May, and by June Josh had changed. He wasn’t the little monster he’d been. He was quieter, more watchful. It was then that he first mentioned Muckilly Gog.

It was an afternoon when Mum hadn’t worked, and I came back from school to find Dad all apologetic and Mum looking like she was trying not to cry. I could tell something had happened, but Dad just slung an arm round my shoulder and asked how school was, then promised to take me to a Premier League game over summer.

I tried to pretend I was keen, like I normally would have been, and then asked, “Where’s Josh?”

“He’s in the garden,” Mum said quickly, tightly. “Your Dad bought him a new model plane and he’s been whizzing it around.”

I nodded, looking at Dad’s smiling face, and then went out to go and find my little brother.

I caught him just sneaking back into the garden through the gate, and the sight of his face was enough to stop me having a go at him for having run off. His lip was strawberry red and and there was dried blood all up his nose. My heart started pounding when I saw that, and it wasn’t just fear. I wanted to go back in there and smack Dad one. But I knew he was stronger than me, and would take it out on Mum and Josh after he did me.

I picked Josh up for a hug. “All right, mate?”

“Luke Luke Luke!” he shouted, and tried to blow a raspberry on my neck.

He was happier than I thought he’d be. I guessed the violence had happened that morning and he’d almost forgotten. Sometimes being four can have its good points.

“Where’ve you been?” I asked him.

“In the woods with Muckilly Gog,” he told me. “We played soldiers, but then he said I’d better go home.”

“Who’s Muckilly Gog?” I asked him. I wondered if it was a nickname. Or maybe a cartoon character he’d seen.

“You know,” he said.

“Ummm... Off TV?”

He wriggled until I let him down, and went to pick up his plane.

“Josh? Is he off TV?”

“No,” he said, and started zooming around. “The one who lives in the woods.”

I felt a bit sick then. Someone who lived in the woods? Was Josh playing with a homeless stranger?

We were lucky with our house, Mum said, and I always agreed. It was just a council house, but it was at the edge of the town and had a long stretch of narrow garden with a small stream. The stream separated the house from Waddersham Woods, and the woods had been my favourite playground until I’d started hanging around with the kids from school instead. I’ve never found anywhere as good for hiding and den-building as Waddersham Woods. They’re old, and overgrown, and on chalk, so there are hollows and pits and bushes to hide in. When Dad first started to get bad, back when I was seven, they were the place I went to hide until he calmed down.

Josh wasn’t supposed to go in the woods, and Mum had put a fence up next to the stream to stop him falling in. But there was still a gate, which wasn’t too difficult to unbolt, and sometimes Josh would sneak through. Mum once spent half an hour looking for him, getting more and more frightened, and then it turned out he was crouched just inside the woods in a hole, giggling to himself. She gave him a rocket when she caught him.

“Is Muckilly a man?” I asked Josh.

Josh stopped to give me a look.

“He’s a Gog.”

“Oh, right.”

Josh gave a look towards the house windows. I could see Dad inside, looking out, checking that Josh was playing like he should be, and Josh saw him too. He suddenly started running again, with a big, pretend smile on his face.

I felt really sick then, but I still wasn’t sure about this Gog thing.

“I can’t remember what a Gog is,” I said. “Is it like a dog?”

“No,” Josh answered, and rolled his eyes. “You know. It’s tall like a tree. And black and soft. Big loud whispers. A Gog.”

All that made me feel a bit better. I was pretty sure this thing wasn’t real, which meant Josh had just been playing by himself.

“Oh, one of them,” I said. “Well, make sure you’re polite to it. And Josh – you aren’t supposed to go into the woods. Do you think Mucky Gog could play with you here?”

“Muckilly,” he corrected. “Yeah, he said he’d come and play this evening. He can come inside if I ask him. But he can’t leave the woods until it’s dark.”

That all sounded ok to me. Playing inside after dark was safe enough, and I reckoned Mum would have a pretty good eye on Josh the rest of the time.

“OK. Just be careful of strangers, all right?”

Josh went on playing until Dad stopped watching, and then he very quietly went inside, where Mum folded him up in a hug. She caught my eye, and looked guilty, like I should be angry with her. I gave her a small smile and an awkward pat on the arm. It wasn’t her I was angry with.


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