Today I have a special treat for you. A guest post in the form of a spooky short story from author, Martin Treanor. So why not wrap up warm, with a nice cuppa tea, and read Martin’s Christmas Chiller.
Not a Scratch – A Story for Christmas
by Martin Treanor
When I was younger, I ran around like a headless chicken. Life was sweet and concerns few, but then it came, adulthood. I didn’t long for it, nor did I embrace it with open arms, like all the other kids, eager to legally drink a beer, or wear men’s socks. Quite frankly I was happy where I was, lolling around in a carefree world, where shirts were folded in my drawer and food miraculously appeared on the table, without any effort from me.
There was always school, of course, that put a damper on everything, but I never let it affect me because of the high points: summer holidays, birthdays, and the unsurpassable Christmas. school became a necessary evil, an endurance that would inevitably end at some stage and I could wallow in the serious business of enjoying myself.
When I was eleven, however, Christmas caught me quite by shock. Here was I, enduring my little heart out through a usually never-ending Autumn, then BLAMO, there it came, all tinselly and sparkly. Cartoons on the telly, lights down Main Street and my mother, during the breaks from her job as a home help, darting in and out of the house with bags full of stuff we couldn’t look at.
I still had school, but bearable school, not real school. It had morphed into ‘Christmas school’. Sure, we had exams coming in January, but who gave a shite about those. Christmas school was about reaming off lists of wants and desires with your mates, and trying to outdo each other in size, complexity and quantity.
That year, when I was eleven, top of my list, and I suppose just about anybody who had the brains to know what was good for them, was a ‘Chopper’.
Paddy Kennedy had one, but his dad worked loading boats at the docks and rich, relatively speaking. The rest of us ‘hadn’t a pot to piss in’, Mam said, but that didn’t matter. You made your wish, made sure that it fell on the most influential ears and sat back in the secure knowledge that, on the morning itself, there it would be, beside the tree, all shiny and yours.
Sure, I’d been let down before. Until I found out differently, Santa had been a right bastard, never brought me anything I’d asked for. Well, that’s not totally true, he sometimes brought something way down at the bottom of the list, one of the insignificant afterthoughts. Then, when the revelation came that it was in fact my parents who were responsible for all the dashed hopes, I let him off the hook and redirected my efforts straight to the source.
It still didn’t work but, then again, you gotta love a try-er.
So, when the big day came, I rushed down the stairs, filled with buoyant enthusiasm, yet suffering that gnawing, old expectation of an oncoming disappointment. Although I’d fooled myself for months, it always turned out the same, so I walked into the living room with my attitude ready for a ‘well, I suppose it’s better than nothing.’
At first, I didn’t look over at the tree. Mam and Dad tended to set the presents on the sofa, the toys constructed and all put together, annuals open at a page and … ‘well, I suppose it’s better than nothing’.
I don’t know what made me look round, but I did, and there it was. Purple, the long ‘L’ shaped saddle (with roll-bar), the high, chromed handlebars, small wheel at the front, big one at the back, and the gear stick (like a car) in the middle of the crossbar. It took a few seconds for it all to register in my befuddled brain, I had to check the tag and make sure it was for me; it was. Maybe in some kind of telepathic way they could feel my plunge into paradise, maybe they were just getting up anyway, but my parents arrived at the door with a proud look on their faces saying, ‘There you go Son.’
My father said that it wasn’t new, that they’d bought it second hand from Mrs. Taylor, who they said, ‘tragically lost their son last year.’ But what did I care… new, second hand, it was a ‘Chopper’ and anyway it was immaculate, and as Dad said, ‘not a scratch on it.’
It took but a few seconds to rip off the tags, bows and accoutrements, and I was out the front-door, belting up the hill to the top of the street, spinning a turn and lashing back down again, freewheeling past Mam and Dad stood at the front-door, the wind blowing my hair like that bloke in the motorbike movie. I felt as if the world could hold no disappointments.
It was the last time I felt that way.
I couldn’t take the bike out for the rest of the day; we were going to Auntie Mary’s for dinner, which meant coming back late, after Dad had got himself ‘Merry enough to kill a horse,’ Mam said.
The next morning, I took the stairs two at a time, said nothing to no-one and dashed straight out the door, jumping onto my bike as I went. As it was only seven o’clock, the street was empty, no kids, and no grown-ups, probably because of ‘merry enough to kill a horse’.
I slipped into gear and took the corner into Limesmount Street, slid the back wheel, clicked her down one gear, and began to make my way back again. Then, just as I got to the corner, that was when the bike took on a mind of its own. I can’t explain why; it just sped me away.
I tried to turn.
The handlebars were locked, and I drove headlong into the side wall of Maggies Odds’n Sods.
I woke up on our couch, my mother cleaning cuts on my forehead with stingy disinfectant.
‘Are you okay, Son?’ she asked.
I nodded, but my body told me different. Everything ached, and a subsequent visit to the hospital confirmed a broken leg; we were well over the January tests when the cast came off.
It was three weeks later, one night after school, that I thought I’d better bite the bullet and give the bike another go. Dad had been laying the pressure on, heavy, and I had exhausted every possible excuse; my leg still hurt, homework, anything but if truth be told there was just something about that bike that unnerved me.
When I got back onto the saddle, I felt terrified – but contrary to all my fears, for the first twenty minutes or so, I felt great, and forgot all my reservations. I took her up to the top of the street, raced her down to the corner, wind through my hair, round into the side street, up, down again, my feet a blur as punched at the pedals, soaring in seventh heaven.
Then I pulled the brakes.
I tried again, tried turning the handlebars, but they locked, and the bike ran away with me. I had become prisoner of my joyous Christmas surprise. The last thing I remember was raising my hands up to my face, a snapshot of brickwork, of red and searing pain.
I woke up in hospital, this time the doctor said I was lucky to be alive. Dad said, ‘My thick head must’ve saved me.’
It took fifty-five stitches to seal the holes in my head and face. Both legs needed pins to knit the bones back together. I had a fractured collarbone, four broken ribs and damage to my spine that, along with my legs, meant that I never walked straight again. The road to recovery was painful and embarrassing, I missed so much school I had to repeat first year, but I put that all behind me and went, dragged kicking and screaming, through puberty into adulthood.
Needless to say, I never rode that bike again, on orders from Mam, but mostly because I was shit scared of going anywhere near it. Five months later, Dad sold it to a boy from Hawthorne Street. Two days after that, that boy slapped into the side of the number twenty-nine bus. The firemen had to cut his body from where he’d been wrapped round the axle. Mam took me to the funeral, I didn’t really know him, but she said I should go anyway. His mam was crying and they all comforted her, said it had been a tragic accident but deep down I knew different. Because, when the firemen pulled the bike out from under the bus, they’d all said the same thing,
‘There was not a scratch on it.’
Martin is a vegan author and illustrator, with a passion for all things fantastical and surreal. He is particularly fascinated by alternative realities, science fiction, magical realism, the metaphysical, and dark fantasy. You can find out more about Martin’s books via his website.
Thank you to Martin for sharing this story with us, and to you all for reading.
See you tomorrow!