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3.02.2012

You Pedal, I'll Steer (part The End)


A bike crash, a missed race, and Halloween night on the rise...
Now the exciting, long awaited conclusion of our story.


CHAPTER 21

I woke up. I was in bed. Bright lights. A hose stuffed up my nose.
I tried to look around. A small white room with a big wide wooden door, bed with rails on the sides and a bunch of machines blipping away. Beside me was a bag of water hanging from a hook with a hose leading over to me. What? This is a hospital bed!
I scrambled to sit up. Wow, did that make me dizzy. I fell back on the pillow.
“Mom?”
Dad’s face appeared. I remember: the bike, traffic lights, a car crash. We went out when we weren’t supposed to. Dad came here to kill me.
“Sorry.” I coughed. My throat hurt like crazy.
He put a warm hand on my forehead. “Shh. Don’t talk. It’s going to be okay.” He didn’t look mad at all. He looked scared to death.
I tried to sit up again. I think I fell asleep. When I opened my eyes the whole family was crammed around staring at me like I was dead. Alec had a hangdog look like he’d pulled the trigger and the big boys looked relieved. I must be bad off. Dad had a broken smile on his face.
“It’s going to be okay, Johnnie,” he said. “It’s going to be okay.”
Jeff said, “This stuff looks cool. Wish I was hooked up to all these machines.” It sounded more like he’d rather be dipped in cod liver oil.
“Here, I brought you your favourite comic book,” Kate handed me a new Spiderman adventure, still crisp and unopened. “I hope you can still read.”
“Thanks.”
Kate said, “You have a broken leg and concussion.”
“They’re going to keep you here overnight and if everything is fine you can come home tomorrow,” Dad explained.
My heart froze. Overnight? I looked down at my legs. They were covered in a blanket. I couldn’t feel a thing and wondered if they’d amputated me.
“Check this out,” Eric said. He peeled back the blanket and there was a thick white plaster cast wrapped around my left leg. “You got a cast from your thigh down to your ankle.” He rapped on it. I didn’t feel a thing. I couldn’t even lift it up it was so heavy.
That was scary. But not half as much as being left alone that night. “Will you stay with me?”
Dad said, “It’s not allowed.”
“But...” I glanced towards the door and thought of a thousand terrible things that could happen. “Can I please come home? I promise I’ll be good. We can go to Gramma’s.”
“We’ll go another time,” Dad said.
I looked at Alec. “What happened?”
“We got picked off by a van crossing Coxwell. The guy didn’t even see us we came up so fast. I got thrown clear but you got tangled in the bike and run over.”
Dad smiled like he was in a good mood. But I knew he was steamed by the way Alec was so quiet.
“How’s the bike?”
He looked at Dad and gulped.
A nurse came in and announced, “Visiting hours are over.” She said it like a movie just ended and it was time to leave the theatre. She started shooing everyone out while straightening out my blankets and checking my tubes. I tried to blink away the tears in my eyes.
“Can’t at least you stay, Dad?” I asked. The nurse looked like a nice lady, all starched out in white with curly brown hair. But who knows what happens around here at night.
Dad shook his head. “Even if I was allowed I can’t leave the others at home alone.”
“I could be in charge,” Eric offered real fast.
“Not on your life. One disaster per day is enough.”
“You’ll be fine, John,” the nurse insisted. “I’ll be here all night to look after you. My name is Jenny, in case you forgot.”
They all trouped out and the place got dead quiet. I wanted Mom to be there so bad.
All I could hear was squeaky shoes and hushed voices in the hall. There was a drawn curtain dividing my room in half. I couldn’t imagine who, or what, was on the other side. Jenny brought some kind of stew with watery peas and mashed potatoes for dinner. As bad as it tasted it wasn’t corned beef and eggs.
I spent the evening looking at the comic book and dreading the night. Finally, Jenny turned out the lights. I lay awake listening to the absolute silence wondering who would creep in and finish me off. Sometimes I heard wispy voices down the hallway like wind whistling in through a crack in the door. It was horrible. When I did manage to drift off, Jenny woke me up to give me pills or check my head. Then I’d lay there all over again waiting for some zombie to come get me.
Finally, I saw daylight poke through the blinds and I fell asleep for real.
CHAPTER 22

Dad and Kate were there when I woke up. I got to go home on crutches. They’re real easy to learn once you get the hang of them. Kate said Alec didn’t come because he was steering clear of Dad. I could understand that. I would have done the same thing.
Back home, everyone was really nice. Alec and I switched bunks so I could have the bottom.
“Mom’ll be back on Thursday,” he told me. “Everything will go back to normal after that.” He also said that Seymour’s leg healed real fast so mine probably would, too.
I didn’t go back to school right away. Dad stayed home with me. I thought he would be real tough on account of us running off to the race. But he was nice. We played cards and checkers. He watched TV with me and made lunch. I didn’t even have to eat the horrible suppers he cooked. I got hot dogs and frozen dinners.
Halloween was Wednesday night. All our plans went down the drain. Alec had finished the Fantam outfit and even cut holes in a sheet for the ghost costume. But Dad wouldn’t let me go out, even just around our street.
“Could I go as a car accident ghoul? All I need is a shirt with ketchup on it. Please, please, please?”
He said no way.
“You’ll be lucky and maybe that’ll be the only punishment you get,” Kate said.
You mean, besides a broken, itchy leg and crutches, and staying in that hospital alone, I thought. But I didn’t complain.
Kate went out with her friends. She dressed as Raggedy Ann with painted freckles and pig tails. Alec stayed with me to hand out candy to the kids that came by.
Mom usually made popcorn balls or caramel corn but Dad bought real loot. Mixed mini chocolate bars just like the ones we hoped to get on Glen Manor. We ate as much as we gave away to all the Mummies and Zorros and Robin Hoods and Tinkerbells that rang the bell. There were even a couple of Charlie Browns.
We were almost out when three go-go girls about my age showed up in tin foil boots, leotards and mini skirts. The tons of make up and sparkly wigs made it hard to guess who they really were.
“Aren’t you Debbie Bell?” Alec asked the one in the middle.
I looked up and went bright red. Her face was covered in silver and green glitter so I couldn’t tell who she was.
She nodded and smiled when our eyes met. They were the same blue as mine. “Hi, John. We miss you at school. Everybody is still talking about how much fun your dog was at the pet show.”
I loved the way she said my name. Or that she said it at all. I looked to Alec for help. He just winked and went to the kitchen.
I looked at the table. “Really? I thought I messed everything up.”
They all giggled and came in so I could put candy in their bags. One of the other girls was Mary Bedford. She sat in the front row. I couldn’t tell who the third girl was. She was taller than both the others. I gave them the rest of our chocolate bars.
“Hello, Gulliver!” she said and she kneeled down to let him kiss her and thump his tail. “Didn’t you hear? After you went home, the class gave Gully the prize for most fun pet. You should have seen Pratt turn all purple. Like he drank poison. Donald’s dog won the talent show. John Payson’s bird came in second. ”
“Did 99 win anything?” I asked.
“Naw, she’s just a cat,” Debbie said. “She didn’t stand a chance.”
“How did you break your leg?” Mary asked. “We heard you were in an accident?”
I told them about the bike and the race and how we got hit. Debbie looked really concerned and sat down beside me in Alec’s chair. I could hardly breathe.
“Can I sign your cast?” she asked.
No way! She wanted to sign my cast? That was like...that was like getting hit by a car was worth it. I tried to keep my jaw from snapping open and falling on the floor. “Yeah, sure.” I pointed to a pen on the mail table beside the door. “There.”
She ran her hand over the smooth plaster. She was so close I could smell her hair.
‘To John, Get Well Soon. Debbie.’ she wrote above my knee. As if that wasn’t enough her signature had a heart dotting the ‘I’ in Debbie. Wearing her signature was going to be sweet. I didn’t care about anything else.
The other girls wrote their names, too. I hardly noticed.
“You want me to bring your homework home for you while your out of school? So you don’t fall behind?” She looked really concerned. It made my heart thump something crazy.
I didn’t know what to say. “If it...okay,” I mumbled.
She shrugged. “It’s on my way home anyway.”
“Thanks. I’d appreciate that.” There was an understatement. Imagine Debbie Bell stopping by every day after school! I didn’t care if she was going to drop off a liver sandwich as long as she came with it.
After they left Alec came back and asked, “What’s with the goofy expression?”
I told him what she said and showed him what she wrote. It didn’t seem to have the same effect on him.
“I’m sorry you couldn’t go out tonight,” he said for the hundredth time. “I promise I’ll make it up to you.”
He had no idea that what just happened was ten times better than trick or treating. Suddenly, a thought popped into my head. “You want to make it up to me? Really? Go trick or treat at Miss Hatten’s.”
“Hee. Hee. Ha. Ha.” He laughed mechanically. Then his eyes scrunched up into his schemer face. “That sounds like a challenge.” Long pause. “I’ll need a good costume.” Another pause. He went out on the porch and looked across the street. “It’s pitch black over there. I might never come back. You want me to risk that?”
“Yes.” The suggestion started as a joke but since he was taking it seriously...
“Give me a couple of minutes to think it over.”
Kate came back with a bunch of other girls. They all cooed about my cast and signed it and then traipsed into the livingroom to paw through their haul. I limped in, green with envy looking at those huge piles of candy on the floor.
“I’m going to go over and ring the old witch’s bell,” Alec announced.
The room hushed up like somebody died.
“No! Really?” Pam said. She was dressed as a witch. “We didn’t go there.”
“Some boys already gave her house an egg bath,” Kate said. “Sure you want to do that?”
As soon as he saw the attention he was getting for even thinking such a thing, Alec puffed up like a sponge full of water. “Yup. I’ll go and I’ll live to tell the tale.”
The girls all looked at him with awe.
That was enough for him. He borrowed Pam’s red wig, put on one of Mom’s dresses that almost fit. The girls dolled him up with red lipstick and eye liner. He even stuffed a towel in his shirt for a chest. When they were done, under that phony wig and all that red lipstick painted over a grin full of braces he was the ugliest girl I’d ever seen. He stood in the middle of the room with an orange Unicef box and trick or treat bag in one hand and wagging the other one in the air.
“Rumour is that she’s nice to girls,” he said in a high voice.
“That’s because we taste the best!” Eva said.
“We cook up slowwwww and eevvven to get all crispy,” said Brenda. She lived in the house next to Miss Hatten’s.
Everyone laughed and cheered him on while he swung his hips and danced out the door. Kate turned out the lights so we could watch him cross the street and go up her driveway.
I wasn’t so sure it was that funny. What if he didn’t come back? Maybe he did make up some stuff but everyone knew she was still a witch. There was no telling what might happen.
“You think she’ll kill him?” a girl dressed like Mary Poppins asked.
All eyes stared across the street.
“He’s the bravest boy I ever knew,” said someone else.
“Maybe the stupidest, too,” said Kate.
We waited forever in total silence. Only older kids were still walking up the street. Even they were quiet when they passed her house. It was the wrong night to stir up real evil. It’s all fine to make believe, but you gotta show some respect for the real thing.
Not Alec. He was walking straight into the horse’s mouth.
Finally, we couldn’t stand it anymore. Someone suggested we call the police. Someone else said we should get an adult. Some idiot suggested we all go over there in a clump and rescue him.
It might have been me.
“That’ll only fill her freezer with food for a year,” Eva cackled.
“Right,” everyone agreed and killed that idea.
All eyes stayed focused at the bent up trash can under the street light. This was too much. He’d had enough time to get in and out by now. We didn’t hear any screams. Finally, a shadow appeared and a collective gasp went out. The shadow turned into a the shape of our very ugly girl. A flurry of hands pulled him up on the porch like yanking him out of the sea off a life raft.
Kate hugged him like he’d been lost for years. “What happened? You were gone a long time.” Her voice was shaky.
“She invited me in,” he said, like it was natural. “and in I went.”
Collective gasp.
“You went?”
“No way.”
“You lie like a rug.”
He led the crowd back inside and stood in the middle in that stupid getup telling his story. No one breathed.
“The house was pitch black, even at the side door, but I rang the bell anyway. I heard scratching - and shuffling feet. A dim porch light blinked on and I saw her face through the stained glass side window. I raised up my Unicef box and smiled. She cracked opened the door a peep.”
He made a creaking noise and twisted his head like he was peeking through a narrow slot. “What do you want, little girl?” she asked.
“What did she look like?” asked a Cinderella.
 His eyes swept around the room. “She was wrinkly and old with blow away grey hair, wearing a dirty old bathrobe, and she had only one tooth in her head.”
“What did you say to her?” Mary Poppins asked.
“Can you spare a donation for Unicef?” Alec squeaked in a girl’s voice.
“What did she do?” asked Pam.
He grinned all sly through the red lipstick and rubbed his hands like he was washing. “Come in, dear, while I get you a penny.”
“No!”
“Yup. She called me a pretty girl and said she’d go for her purse.”
“No way.”
“Don’t believe me?” He rattled his Unicef box until a single bright penny fell out. “See?”
Heaps of fingers reached out for that penny and it got passed around from hand to hand. One girl even bit it.
On my turn, I saw it was a real penny alright. Queen on one side, maple leaf on the back. It wasn’t even old.
The girls all peppered him with questions. He hammed it up while he described her and her house. How it was all run down and dusty inside. About how she had watery eyes and her voice wasn’t a screech like a witch, but actually kind of nice.
I was in awe. Alec had gone inside the dragon’s lair and come back out alive. I wondered where the one tooth in her head was located. I imagined an old yellow one stuck right in the middle of her forehead. Maybe even with a filling still in it.
After all the girls went home, Dad came out of the library and herded us upstairs to bed. I lay there thinking how Alec always looked out for me. He showed me it was possible to face anything. Wearing only girl’s clothes for armour he went over there to prove there was no curse. Sure, he made most of it up. But inside all the adventures he invented there was always a bit of true.
If he could face her, I could face Mr. Pratt and John Payson. Even evil spells. Who knows. I just needed a little of his courage. So what if I missed trick or treats and got in a crash, and all that other stuff. I learned how to ride a bike, Gulliver won a prize, and Debbie signed my cast. I bet I could even get everyone safely off Peanut Island.
Best of all, Mom was coming home tomorrow.
It had been a good night. Maybe the best night of my life. I set the alarm for five thirty.
“Good night, Soc.”
“Sleep well, little brother.”

THE END