Sleeping Phoebe – Charlie Chitty

Phoebe Agro had, oddly enough, spent most of her childhood unafraid of going outside. In fact, from the ages of five to seven, she had enjoyed nothing more.

If there was a chance to camp out in her garden, come rain or shine, she would take it. Any trip out, at all, she would take it.

But one day, just before her eleventh birthday, everything changed.

The black tabby howled from the top of an oak tree, just at the end of her road. Phoebe had taken her brand new skates, an early birthday present from her great aunt, out for a spin.

She heard the cat, up the tree. It looked stuck.

She took off her skates, and her socks (Pink, with Disney Princesses on them if you must know.) and clambered up the tree like a little monkey.

Phoebe was an excellent climber, having conquered living room chairs, big tables and, most recently, the small willow tree over at the local park. 

She was halfway up the tree when she realised that, actually, the tree was a bit taller than she’d first imagined when all she was focusing on were the cries of an animal in distress.

And she still had half of the tree to go!

She gripped the sturdy bough above her and heaved herself up. 

It was a windy day and the tree branch shook, the leaves whispering against each other as if plotting something.

Phoebe suddenly felt anxious. The cat had stopped howling, and the wind was picking up. 

The bark was hard and scratchy and, as she wrapped her hand around the branch above her, it creaked uneasily. She put her full weight on it to pull herself up and the creaking intensified until-


Phoebe almost lost her balance and fell, but managed to grab on to the branch below and hung there. She tried to pull herself up, but it was no use. She was looking down at the pavement far below her. Terrified, and alone.

She tried to pull up, tried to wrap herself around the branch, but her body was petrified.

“Help!” Phoebe cried. But nobody in the streets could hear her. It was late in the evening, and they were likely watching television or getting themselves ready for bed.

Something soft and furry touched Phoebe’s hand and she squirmed. A horrible caterpillar! 

She looked up and saw the black tabby, his furry paws sauntering across the branch she clung to.

He’d jumped down from the branch above! In fact, he was walking so carelessly, so cool and relaxed, it was as if he’d never been in trouble to begin with!

The cat climbed down the tree trunk, its sharp claws easily making purchase in the grooves of the soft bark. It climbed gracefully down to street level, and then wandered off down the road.

Phoebe hung on the branch. She kept yelling for help but her voice was becoming hoarse. 

A wet droplet hit her hand. Followed by another, and then another.

The rain clattered down and she hung on the branch that was slowly becoming drenched with rainwater.

She was losing her grip.

As one hand slipped off and she cried out, Mr Naunton had been taking his recycling bins out. 

He heard her cry and looked up, spotting Phoebe losing her grip on the tree branch!

He sprinted to the shed in his back garden, splashing through the growing puddles.

He wrenched the door open and pulled out his trusty wooden ladder.

Her rushed back to the tree and propped the ladder against the tree. He clambered up the rickety ladder, two rungs at a time.

Careful, Mr Naunton!

Phoebe was slipping and her fingers were loosening their grip by the second as Mr Naunton clambered up to her.

And then she lost her grip! She fell, just as Mr Naunton reached the top of the tree and caught her in his arms. He climbed back down the ladder with Phoebe, sopping wet with rain, and carried her home to her Mum and Dad.

She went straight to her room and didn’t come out. 

For Twelve. Whole. Years.

Phoebe Agro had, strangely enough, spent her entire teenage life in her bedroom.

It was, by all accounts, a lovely bedroom. She had many ferns and plants she watered daily, lots of interesting cupboards and cubbyholes lit up by LED strip lights she could control with a little remote. She could have her bedroom filled with any bright colour she wanted. Morning, noon or night, whenever she wanted! 

And what were in the cubbyholes? 

Videogame consoles, hobby kits, rows upon rows of books, a mini kettle and teabags of every flavour, a cabinet of snacks of every variety ordered from sweet to salty. A mini fridge filled with many different varieties of fizzy drinks including Coca-Cola, Fanta Lemon and Mountain Dew. 

If there was something you’d want to have in your own tiny dwelling, Phoebe Agro had it.

The windows were covered. By heavy-duty curtains.

She spent her day at her computer, where she worked for the government. At home, answering the phone and dealing with complicated problems that people were having, sometimes involving their computer, other times other issues.

She spent her nights playing video games, chatting on her mobile or making little things to sell out of clay or metal or wool and leaving them outside of her room for her parents to ship out to The Post Office with the name and address attached on a little slip of paper.

Phoebe Agro was twenty-three years old.

And she hadn’t left her room in thirteen years.

Can you imagine that?

Her mother and father, Carol and Ed, were worried. But it was a difficult sort of worry. Their daughter was happy most of the time, although sometimes she seemed a little lonely during the few talks between the bedroom door or through the glowing blue screen of Facebook Messenger.

She wanted to go outside, but she was scared.

Ever since she was eleven she was scared of bumping into a vicious cat, or falling from a great height, or falling down a giant pothole, or being hit by a truck or getting wet or sunburned or anything. It was all reducible to one thing. Phoebe was scared of going outside.

But one day, just before her twenty-fourth birthday, everything changed.

Her mother was walking back from posting a few things that Phoebe had made and saw the tree that her daughter had once climbed.

And Carol climbed up the tree. There was no cat, no real reason, her mother simply lifted her skirts and climbed up the tree.

She sat on the branch with her shopping. A bird landed next to her hand, bobbing merrily along the branch.

Ed was watching the sports but noticed his wife hadn’t come home. He looked out of the window, looked down to the end of the road, and saw his wife perched on the tree. He pulled himself out of his recliner with some difficulty and wandered down the road.

“Carol, I really think you should come down from there.” said Ed.

Carol shook her head, stubbornly.

Ed considered his options and then heaved his prodigious body up the tree. He sat next to his wife and his shopping. Then he picked up a block of cheese from the canvas shopping bag and began to chew, thoughtfully.

Phoebe didn’t realise her parents were outside. If you remember, her curtains were always drawn, weren’t they?

After some time she opened her curtains a fraction and saw her parents sitting in the tree, waving at her. She harrumphed and closed the curtains. She decided she didn’t need them anyway.

There was a boy that Phoebe liked, Max. She sent him messages through the internet as she was too anxious to venture outside.

But she had an idea.

She asked Max to come over to her house! That way she could quickly run downstairs and talk to him, then go back to her room. It was all she needed.

Max cycled over on his bike, and soon reached her house.

But before he could rap on the door, he heard someone calling from a nearby tree.

Phoebe waited. And waited.

She snuck a peep out of the window and saw Max sitting in between her parents. He was eating a mango from the shopping bag. Ed was doing the crossword and Carol was attempting to finish her knitting.

She grimaced. She didn’t need boys either. Boys were stupid.

She opened up her computer and thought she’d order some videogames to cheer herself up. And she did. She waited for the postman, Old reliable Winston, with a twinkle in his eyes and a satchel full of packages.

Phoebe waited. And waited. And waited some more.

She glimpsed out of the curtain and saw the postman in the tree, reading a Sylvia Plath novel. Max was taking a nap as Ed observed a nest of birds higher up in the tree. Carol had finished knitting a hat and had moved on to knitting a small jumper.

Phoebe felt a lump in her throat. She wanted to cry.

She phoned up Mr Naunton from the landline and he said he’d be round and then phoned up all the people in the address book her parents owned.

And then… You know what she did? She waited for a long time.

When she opened the curtains a fraction, she couldn’t believe her eyes!

Everyone, from all over town had climbed the tree. Ladders were strewn all over the road, with an uncountable number in so many different colours leaning against the giant tree. They sat in their droves, chatting and laughing. The shopping bag her parents had brought home was quite depleted as they’d shared the food out from amongst them.

Phoebe had never felt more alone.

But she could…

No, it was unthinkable.

And yet she did think about it.

Opening the bedroom door was easier than she’d imagined. She stood on the landing for a short while, collecting herself, and then headed downstairs.

Her heart was beating as she pulled opened the front door and walked into bright daylight.

And then she heard the applause coming from the tree.

The entire community, sitting in a tree, clapping for her.

Phoebe smiled.

And from that day forwards, she never had anymore problems going outside.

And even got a job working outside.

A job as a tree surgeon.

No longer nervous, and always surrounded by her friends, she lived happily ever after.