Author: Evelyn Ransom
Characters: Stan Shunpike
Here's a quick bit about little Stan that I wrote for the Christmas Challenge over at FA.org. It is slightly modified from its original form. Some might find it disturbing, but it is really rather tame. I offer it as a brief respite from the 'Gangland' storyline (Chapter 3 to be up soon).
''Appy Christmas, Ern.'
'And you, Stan. Plans?'
'Nuffink drastic. A little drink. Few presents. Close friends only, yeah.'
'Stuffin' ta Christmas burd.' Ernie Prang tapped his nose and laughed hoarsely.
''Tis the season, Ern. 'Tis the season.'
Stan Shunpike hurries home eager to be out of the cold. He opens the door to his flat and is hit by the musky animal scent of bachelor life. Once inside, he locks the door, starting from the deadbolt at the top. Lock. Lock. Lock. He shrugs away his tie and takes a few fumbling twists at his shirt buttons.
''Ome, sweet 'ome,' he remarks to himself with all the magic of ritual. He sits down and has a drink. Snow tonight.
''Appy Christmas.' He toasts himself, spilling a little on his trousers. Holiday tomorrow. Maybe he'll go to the park. Enjoy the fresh air. Watch the kids play in the snow. He takes a long taste.
Stan doesn't remember snow so much from when he was young. He gets up and rechecks the locks. Then he makes sure the blinds are drawn. As a child, Stan had other things to concern himself. He climbs up on the counter in the kitchen, steadying himself with a hand on the cupboard. He tugs at the vent of the broken ceiling fan 'til it shifts loose. He places it atop the cupboard.
His parents had died when he was young. Oh, he had a few years to know them. Build memories. Maybe that made the loss all the crueller.
He stops as he slides his hand into the dark hole in the ceiling, lost in thought.
'Wonder if it's like this for poor ol' Neville, too.' He shakes his head. Not like this.
Dust falls as he pulls the bundle down from its hiding place. He climbs down and has another drink before unwrapping the heavy brown paper. He holds his breath. Ritual.
He bought them from a bloke in Amsterdam. Fellow sussed him right off. Three glossy magazines. Two in colour. His hand trembles a little as he opens the first one. The boys were obviously foreign, Dutch probably. About the same age he had been. He tried never to look at their eyes. Tried not to see the fear. The confusion. The pain. The betrayal. He wasn't a bad person. He takes off his shirt. He hangs his belt over the back of a chair.
No one had protected him, had they? He tried to run away once, but where could he go? Just an orphan. No family. When he was found, he was sent right back and it would be worse.
He looks at the bad lighting in the shots. It's all done hastily. Like it could be packed up in a flash. So quick really, but it felt like forever. Stan's breathing was heavy. His skin felt raw.
He remembered being in front of the camera:
You love it! Don't you? Look at you!
Come on, boy. Yeah. Good boy.
Only little girls cry. Are you a little girl? Come here.
He looks into their eyes. So lost. Is he someone's son? Is this one? Brothers? Don't you have anyone? Won't someone protect them?
If you tell, I'll kill you. Understand? No one will ever look for you. I'll kill you.
Stan pushes away the tears with the back of his hand. Little lost boys and men who don't let their faces be shown. Why?
He smashes his fist on the table and scatters the skin mags to the floor. He wasn't going to do it again. He didn't want to hurt them. He didn't mean them any harm. But what could he do? He felt like a tightly-wound watch. Forced to tick, a slave to its mechanism. He didn't want those boys to feel what he did. Oh, but he needed them. Only they could make things right. He would never hurt them. He crawled over the floor to the magazine. Some of the loose photos had slipped out. Photos he had taken. He knelt above it all, propped on one arm.
'I never meant to 'urt you,' he told the little images. The shadow boys, who flitted across the pages and sheets.
His tears splashed a picture. A boy he knew. A boy he watched on occasion for a friend. He never touched him. Hadn't. Wouldn't. Picture of the boy sleeping -- so peaceful. Against his will his eyes flicked back and forth between the little cherub face and the silent painful contortions of a boy in the magazine. His jeans were on the floor. Don't hurt him. He looked closely at the soft white skin and his breathing became hoarse again. Yes. That's it.
Stan kicks himself to his feet and wipes away the snot and tears with his free hand. He wasn't going to do it. No. Not him. He runs to the kitchen and finds a sharp knife. No more little boys are ever going to be hurt. Not if he can help it. No matter what it takes. The flame on the stove shoots up and he runs the blade through the blue-yellow heat. Back and forth. Over and over. The metal begins to redden. He skin is rough and red. He feels so close. He takes a good grip on himself and brings the knife to his abdomen. He can feel its heat. Just a few hacks and it will be over. He crushes his flesh beneath his fingers. No more pain.
'Oh, God! 'Elp me!' The knife metal is pressed against the side of his chest and the skin sizzles. Stan screams and collapses on the floor, and tries to squirm away from the agony. The knife lies on the kitchen tile.
'Someone 'elp me,' he begs. The pictures, the boys, shift on the ground in violated confusion. Unable to help him. Unable to help themselves.
An hour later the pictures are gone. Stan sits with a cold wet towel over his burn. He opens a piece of aged parchment and closes his eyes. A voice, fading now, speaks to him.
''Ello, Stanny. It's Mummy! I'm sorry I can't be with you for Christmas, but I am thinking of you all the time. The doctors think I'll be out of 'ospital soon. Won't that be grand, Stanny? 'Til then, you just take care of your da', my little wee man. I love you so much. Happy Christmas, love!'
Stan doesn't breathe. He waits for her to sing. As he does every year. Their little ritual...together. She'll sing. Just wait.
He's the little boy that Santa Claus forgot,
And goodness knows, he didn't want a lot.
He sent a note to Santa
For some soldiers and a drum,
It broke his little heart
When he found Santa hadn't come.
In the street he envies all those lucky boys,
Then wanders home to last year's broken toys.
I'm so sorry for that laddie,
He hasn't got a daddy,
The little boy that Santa Claus forgot.
Tomorrow is Christmas. And tonight a single unique snowflake dances through God's creation and lands on the windshield of the Knight Bus. Locked in the lot. Waiting to provide help to the witch or wizard in need.
''Appy Christmas, Mum.'