I’m a boy who does stunts
Someone was out to get my dad.
Everyone said it was an accident but I didn’t believe them, not even for a second. How could he have been right on target, landed his motorbike with perfect precision and then lost control? Dad went right over the top of the handlebars, flying through the air before his out-of-control bike slammed into him doing untold damage, including three broken limbs and a serious head injury, even though he was wearing a helmet.
I saw the whole thing with my very own eyes! I’d replayed it in my mind thousands of times, even though the memory made me feel physically sick, and it still didn’t make sense. The police were saying that they couldn’t find anything wrong with the bike and the accident was down to human error. Human error! As if! I know my dad is human but he’d never make an error that stupid on a trick he’d performed thousands and thousands of times. He’d been a professional stunt man his whole entire life!
For the first seven days after the crash, it was touch and go as to whether Dad would live or die as he had to have two operations to stop his brain bleeding. It was beyond scary because I love my dad so much. I don’t have a mum as she died when I was just a baby, so if I didn’t have a dad, it would just be my sister Jem, Blindfold and me. We’d be orphans! I’d be sadder than I’d ever been in my whole life. Now Dad was in what his doctor called ‘a stable condition’ in an induced coma, which meant he was unconscious as the doctors had to wait for his brain to stop being so swollen to see if he’d be okay.
Dad looked like a mutant alien mummy when we visited him in hospital this afternoon. A white bandage was wrapped around the top of his head seven times (I counted). His jaw was all blue from the bruising beneath the ventilator mask that was helping him breathe. The breath that escaped out of the mask was stinky, like garbage bins left out in the sun, but it wasn’t his fault. He couldn’t clean his teeth.
Jem and I spent all afternoon by his bedside, surrounded by all manner of medical equipment keeping him alive. My dog Blindfold was there but no one knew that as he was under the bed, playing dead in a black sports bag because dogs aren’t allowed in hospitals due to some stupid hygiene rule. I snuck him in anyway as he’s part of our family.
Dad’s arms were covered in plaster and then swathed in bright blue tape, the same colour as the sky. His right leg was hoisted in the air by a series of pulleys. I started examining the machine that controlled the hoist. The doctors moved the hoist up and down like they were operating a crane. I like knowing how things work so I looked at it really closely.
‘Stunt Boy!’ said Jem in a bossy sister voice. ‘Don’t touch!’
With Dad in hospital for weeks, Jem had decided she was the boss and that I had to do everything she said because she was sixteen and I was twelve.
Jem acted like I didn’t know how to wipe my own bum. Dad knew she could be bossy as all hell and he’d say to her, ‘Honey, I know you’re only trying to be helpful but can you try to stop saying “don’t” at the start of every sentence you say to Stunt?’ She’d stop for like an hour and then start again. ‘Don’t you have an assignment due?’ or ‘Don’t you have a sense of smell, because your bedroom stinks like you’ve got a dead rat under your bed, Stunt Boy?’
Oh, that’s me – Stunt Boy. My real name is William John Stoked, but I get called Stunt Boy because I’m a boy who does stunts. I’m not bragging, but I do heaps of circus tricks – acrobatics, tightrope walking, escapology (that’s straightjacket escapes), trapeze, pole climbing – but what I’m most famous for is doing tricks, jumps and air gymnastics on my motorbike. That’s why I get called Stunt Boy, or just Stunt. I forget my name is actually William. People say, ‘Hey, Stunt!’ and I just say ‘Hey!’ back. When I sign an autograph or a birthday card I write Stunt Boy. Even my teachers call me Stunt.
I was on a bike before I could walk. I can’t remember it, but Dad tells me I wasn’t even twelve months old. He got me a bike with no peddles, where my feet could touch the ground, and apparently I’d just scoot along. I was riding a proper bike by the time I was eighteen months old. My dad says that I wobbled around for a bit then I was away, and I’ve never stopped since.
Although Blindfold is a stunt dog, he doesn’t get called Stunt Dog like I get called Stunt Boy. He just gets called Blindfold. You couldn’t shorten his name to Blind, otherwise people would think he was a guide dog.
Dad reckons stunts are in our blood. If you’re really old, you might know my granddad, John Stoked? He was a legend. He started Stoked Stunt Circus – that’s us. While stunts are in our blood, they aren’t in my uncles’ blood. They’d decided after a childhood of being blown from cannons, catapulted through the air and set on fire, that the safe life was for them. They’d moved across the country to safe suburbs, got safe jobs and had safe children, who had to stay indoors at all times, unless accompanied by an adult. I met my cousins six years ago. They’d never be allowed to do the stunts that I did, but they are allowed to play computer games and have pretend adventures.
We’re not a regular old-fashioned circus, with elephants, lions, clowns and stuff. Chesterley’s Family Circus on the other side of town is that kind of circus.
Barry Chesterley hates our circus. He calls us ‘the freak show’. Dad says we’re a human circus, because we’ve got stunt riders, sword swallowers, trapeze artists, tightrope walkers, contortionists, fire breathers, jugglers, strong men, bearded ladies, ladder climbers, all kinds of crazy stuff.
‘Stunt, seriously, get away from that hoist!’ said Jem, getting antsy, again. ‘I don’t want to have to tell you –’
‘I’m not doing anything, okay!’ I replied interrupting her. ‘I was just looking to see how it works.’
I moved to the end of the bed to get her off my back. The only thing that wasn’t broken was Dad’s left leg, which looked oddly out of place lying against the blue blanket, a green and black-checked slipper on his foot. Dad always said pain was part of the job of being a stunt man. I know because I’m a stunt kid. I’ve been pretty lucky, the worse I’ve had was a broken arm. Dad has had heaps of injuries in his career.
Every scar told a story. Sometimes in the mornings when I’d jump into bed with him for a cuddle, I’d trace the scars on his body, stopping on my favourite.
‘What about this one, Dad?’ I’d say, tracing my finger along a scar that looked like a train track stretching from beneath his elbow all the way to his armpit, although I knew exactly what had happened.
‘I call that my Hollywood elbow,’ he’d say for the four-hundredth time, before telling me about the time he jumped twenty cars on a Harley-Davidson XR750 for a big Hollywood film. Dad’s back wheel touched the nineteenth car and sent him spiralling into the crash bags, smashing his entire elbow joint.
I loved those mornings cuddled up in his bed hearing stories from the days before I was even born, but now my dad was lying all smashed up in a hospital bed. And it was summer holidays and everything! It’s usually my favourite time of the year, because I don’t have to go to school for a whole two months. Normally, we’d be touring up and down the country. ‘Runs’ Dad called them. We’d head off in a convoy of caravans, a truck following with our big top, ramps, bikes, rigging and the wheel of death. But we weren’t going anywhere while Dad was in a coma.
A nurse in a blue uniform came in and picked up the chart hanging at the end of Dad’s bed. I’d tried to read it once or twice, but the writing was like mine when I was in kindergarten. If doctors are so smart, why do they write like they’re six years old?
‘I’m really sorry, kids, but it’s time to go,’ the nurse said, compassionately. She ruffled my hair, so the tops of her arms wobbled. ‘Visiting hours are over.’
I hated leaving Dad lying there in a hospital bed with no one to keep him company or talk to him.
‘Bye, Dad, I love you,’ I said, bending down to kiss his forehead, my chin quivering. ‘Don’t worry. I’ll find out who did this to you. I promise!’
I knew he’d heard me because I saw the muscle in his left cheek move slightly, as if he was trying to wink at me. That was our special code. Just before I was about to make a big jump, Dad would wink at me. That was how I knew everything was going to be all right. Only this time I wasn’t so sure.
P.S. My dad’s career injuries:
Two lost teeth; cauliflower ear; burnt bum and twisted testicle; four broken arms and three broken legs; a torn right nipple; a spike through his left flank; a cracked skull and lots of bruises, strains and aches.
Excerpted from The Adventures of Stunt Boy and His Amazing Wonder Dog Blindfold by Lollie Barr. Copyright © 2014 by Lollie Barr.
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