The Day Before Christmas !

The day before Christmas !

Steve Barnes

The alarm clock on his bedside cabinet burst into life with its soft electronic warble and James awoke easily without bothering to look at the bright digital face and reaching out from under his cosy duvet, hit the stop button.  As he did so his wife stirred and rolled over in the bed, pulling her share of the duvet up over her head without waking.

It was 3.45am in the morning and the usual pattern was being played out as it was every working day of the year.  Today however was Christmas Eve.                                                                                              Whatever the day, James never found it difficult to get up and stepping from the warmth of the marital bed, quickly pulled on several layers of clothing starting with a thermal vest and long johns and finishing off with a chunky hand knitted sweater and heavyweight trousers, necessary kit for the time of year.

Glancing at the digital readout sent wirelessly from his thermometer set far out at the bottom of his garden, James could see that at -9 degrees Centigrade it was yet another very chilly morning in the wilds of North Yorkshire where he had lived since childhood.   The village of Goatlands lay in a fold in the moors, within the shelter of the higher ground stretching away past Fylingdales Moor, all the way over towards the East coast.  The residents living in these parts were accustomed to cold winters and were to a large extent, toughened by it as winter temperatures seldom rose much above freezing for weeks on end.

James boiled the kettle and after filling a large vacuum flask with sweet black coffee, stepped out into the blackness of the still night.  Breakfast would not be taken for several hours yet. Scraping the windscreen of his elderly but reliable Land Rover and clearing the mirrors and side windows, James turned the ignition and the diesel engine burst into life with its accustomed rattle.    He moved off  as quickly as the extra overnight fall of snow would allow, as his wife did not appreciate the noisy engine at that time of the morning and the stench of thick diesel fumes which would invade the house and linger for some time.

James’s ten mile journey to the Postal Sorting office in Pickering was uneventful as the solid old 4×4 made short work of the freshly settled snow and he soon was pulling into the yard, observing that one or two of his closer living colleagues had not yet arrived.  Inside, the building was fairly chilly so James left all but his padded North Face coat on as he set too sorting the mail which had arrived from further afield in the large articulated lorry sitting outside.  This had had the benefit of using the more heavily used and gritted, main roads so arrived with little difficulty.

An hour and two cups of hot coffee later, and James was almost ready to set off on his delivery round.   Just one small parcel remained to be packed on board.  He noticed the delivery address was “The Black Bull”, a very small Public House set high up at the very furthest point of his journey.  This pub was occupied he knew by an elderly, reclusive couple who could probably barely make a living as the only trade was of the passing variety, consisting of walkers and the more serious long distance hikers.   James thought to himself that he probably only delivered there no more than twice a year in the ten years he had been a Postman.  This delivery could become a challenge even to the almost new Range Rover Discovery painted in bright Post Office red which he had the privilege of using for his round.  At least the heater could be relied upon unlike that of his own Land Rover!

Setting off just after 5.30am, James quickly fell into his daily routine and after a couple of hours had already walked several miles as many of the addresses had minimal vehicular access even without the considerable overnight deposit of snow.  By now he was right out into the wilds of the moor and daylight had not yet fully arrived.

As the day wore on, James stopped for a much needed pee,  the result of too much coffee on an otherwise empty stomach. He switched off the engine and stepping some feet away off the track, he urinated luxuriously and at length into the virgin snow and couldn’t avoid the temptation to write his name, a memory of childhood!  As he zipped up, the thought occurred to him as to why he had killed the engine.  In these wintry conditions he never did that as he wasn’t paying for the fuel, and besides keeping the vehicle warm, avoided the possibility that once stopped it may not restart!

Turning around to get back into the Discovery, he thought he heard a sound – a very faint sort of cry.   He stopped and inclined his head to hear better but heard nothing.  Then just as he began to think he had imagined it, the sound came again away over to his left hand side.  Reaching into his vehicle he grabbed the big Magnalite flashlight he always carried and struck out into the snow in the direction from which the sound had come.  Several yards from the track and buried in the deep snow he found a motor cycle which at first glance appeared to be badly damaged.  He then heard another cry, this time much louder.

“Help me please”, a voice came from a nearby snow bank and investigating it James found a young man who was from his dress, obviously the rider of the crashed motorcycle.  The young man said that he had been out trail riding when in the late morning he had lost control on the icy track and veering from the trail had hit a hidden tree trunk which was lying in the deep snow.  Fortunately he was well dressed in leathers and the snow ‘cave’ he was buried in was helping to keep him warm.

He said his left leg was very painful and at a glance James assessed it was badly broken and there was no way he could move the young rider. Obviously something needed to be done and quickly before hyperthermia set in!

James tried his mobile but wasn’t surprised to see that no signal was available. Realising that he was only a mile or so from the Black Bull he told the lad that he was going to drive there and use their landline to get the emergency services, but before he left him he took off his warm top coat and wrapped it around the youngster.

An hour or so later, as James made his way back down from the pub he could see in the distance emergency vehicles blue flashing blue lights in the by now fading afternoon light. After the emergency team had taken control of the situation, James started for home and soon as he found a signal telephoned his wife explaining that he would be later getting home than he anticipated.

During the evening with his wife in front of the log burner, James thought of the events of the day and thanked God that his bladder required him to stop when he did, and if he hadn’t turned off his engine, he had heard the cries for help in the still air possibly saving the young lads life.

He hoped the Post Office wouldn’t question the loss of his coat!