The Broken Spoke

Dead of Winter ~ Third Place
Lindsay Vaughan


Winter in Dublin is a grim affair. Not since my childhood have snowflakes fallen so sticky and voluminous as to spread a great white blanket across the ground, birthing snowfamilies and forts overnight. Instead we are treated to months of rain and cold wind, but if I glance out the window at the Dublin Mountains nearby, I can sometimes see fogwrapped white peaks, and the urge to become a mountainman swells within my chest.

At the end of my road is a condemned house, previously converted into the neighbourhood pub and before that nobody knows anymore. Well, nobody except me, but I’m not sure if the stories are true. There were rumors akin to Boo Radley, that a ghostly figure roamed the halls at night and wakened the inhabitants from terrible dreams. This was why it was sold to Mr Kennedy at such a bargain price; apparently the family who lived there were so eager to leave that they practically gave it away.

*

I never knew why the pub was given its name. The Broken Spoke sounded more like a bicycle repair shop than a place for middle-aged men to gather round and hurl abuse at each other over pints of Guinness. My father had been going there every night for ten years before I joined him; I was eighteen and had only a few friends, whose parents disapproved of my company. This puzzled me at first because I was never one to get into much trouble, but I was a quiet kid and folks always seem to be suspicious of the quiet ones.

The Chinese girl arrived on my seventh night. She sat in a dark corner sipping pint after pint, none of which seemed to have any effect on her at all, and glanced at me curiously. Finally she rose and approached my stool; when she was standing at my side, she leant towards my face and stared directly into my eyes. “There’s a tree out back.”

“The old oak?”

“Yes.”

“What about it?”

“It whispers sometimes…”

“It’s a tree.”

“Come and I’ll show you.”

As she took my right hand I relieved my left of its pint, and followed her through various corridors to the back garden. It was small and overgrown; in all the pub’s years of operation a gardener had never been hired, and an ominous oak took up almost the entire space. Its old cracked roots were only partly submerged in earth, so it was a precarious activity to walk anywhere other than the patio nearest the door. Nevertheless, she pulled me along those roots until we were standing at the base of the trunk, beneath a thick canopy of swaying leaves and branches.

“If you wait patiently, eventually you will hear it.” She closed her eyes, pivoting slightly as if she were an antenna trying to tune into the correct station.

Turning my gaze away from her for a moment, I glanced back towards the pub and noticed two men in black suits seated on the patio, watching us attentively. It struck me then that she might be in cahoots with them, hired as a lovely siren to lure young boys into seclusion for the purpose of abduction. Just as I was about to apologize, make up some excuse about work that needed doing, and do a runner back to the Spoke, I heard something that clenched my guts so tightly with nerves that I was unable to move from my spot.

“Do you hear that?” Her eyes were open now, searching mine for validation.

“Yes.”

Relief washed over her face. “Nobody believes me. Listen.”

As ridiculous as it undoubtedly sounds, the noise seemed to be emanating from within the trunk of the tree. I considered the possibility that the tree was hollow and that this was another aspect of some trick she was playing on me, but the voice I was hearing sounded too sincerely desperate to be contrived, although I was unable to understand a word.

“It’s Mandarin,” she said, as if reading my mind. “I showed some other people, but they thought I was doing it, that I have some sort of strange ventriloquist skill.”

“What is the voice saying?”

“It’s a boy. He’s saying ‘They broke my legs; they broke my arms; they broke my neck; they broke me all over.'”

“Oh my God,” was all I could muster to mutter; I felt as though my insides were sliding out of my body, and I wanted to be home, asleep in my bed, away from this girl. I no longer cared whether she was trying to trick me or not.

Suddenly I heard the unmistakeable sound of heavy boots plodding towards me, snapping twigs and stumbling over roots along the way. The two men were approaching, and one glance at the girl’s face told me she was just as surprised as I was. I grabbed her arm and skirted around them towards the back entrance of the pub, but the corridor within was crowded and the more I pushed against the door the more the drunken men inside seemed to push back. There was only one other way out of the garden, and that was over the hedges at the side of the patio. There was a hole at the bottom of a bush just big enough for her to crawl through, but I had to scramble over the top of it like some escaped prisoner. I almost landed on her but she sprinted around the side of the building and I followed, not stopping to glance behind me. When I’d made it safely inside the Broken Spoke again, she was nowhere to be found, and a quick glance out the window showed the two men walking slowly and quietly away down the path. Just before disappearing around the corner one of them turned and made eye contact with me through the glass, with an expression devoid of life or interest.

*

At my present age, and with all of my history spread out before the neighbourhood like so much freshly-washed linen for airing, and with the fate of the Broken Spoke being what it was, my stories are not welcome in the realms of sanity and non-fiction. It is long past the time when vague interest was expressed; when I received a sympathetic smile or nod of the head; when I was actively searching for an answer to this riddle. Nobody but I saw the girl or the black suits that night, and the madness that eventually drove Mr Kennedy to cut down the giant oak and split for the west was in no way related to my own experience. At least, that is what they told me.
pencil

E-mail: lindsaymv[at]gmail.com.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email