(Trailer trash deluxe’s warning: this is a work of fiction, a short story. I would actually call it a short, short story, but still, it’s a story. If you don’t usually read anything longer than a text message or facebook entry, you may want to warm up with a newspaper article first).
(Author’s note: I first wrote this in 2000; it is the “fleshing-out” of a fragment of a dream I had in the mid-90s; I apologize for any inaccuracies or out-of-date material about South Dakota State University, which is where this “takes place”)
It all started innocently enough. I first saw it when the damn snow had about half-melted. It had been one of those evil killer winters, one of those when you felt like you were just ready to disregard any embarrassment you might give to your family and just go ahead and write that letter to the editor. “This is just a quick note to inform anyone who is happy about our record snowfall this winter, the skiers, the snowmobilers, and the rest of you, that you can come over and shovel all this crap off my driveway every other day for 4 months, OK?,” or some such ranting.
Anyway, after about 2 weeks of snowmelt, I first noticed part of the bike sticking up out of the snow, up at school by the library parking lot. Just about half of the front wheel was showing. Funny thing was, I didn’t really notice it at first, there were no tires on the wheels, just the rims and the spokes, no rubber at all. Later, as more snow disappeared, I could see that there weren’t any pads on the pedals, no grips on the handlebars, no plastic or vinyl or foam of any kind. Just a shell of a bike.
In about mid-April, the whole thing was showing, since the snow was finally gone. I walked by it day after day and wondered why the college didn’t pick it up and haul it away, or why none of the college kids had stolen it. When I was in college the first time, kids would take anything that wasn’t nailed down, and a lot that was, either to use or else just because they thought it would look cool in the dorm room or apartment, or above somebody’s bar in one of those houses shared by 6 guys. Now that I was approaching middle age, and going back to school part-time while working full-time, I had no time for such fun, but I couldn’t see why the real college kids wouldn’t take the thing. Or if they already stole part of it, why just take parts of it and not the whole thing? I’d heard of stripping a car, but a bicycle?
I worked with a lot of college kids at the factory; some just worked in the shop part-time, and some interned as junior engineers or as future salesmen or technicians. I asked a couple of them about the bike; they just looked at me kind of funny. “You know, the one that’s been buried in the snow pile by the library parking lot all winter,” I’d say, but they didn’t seem to get it. I even asked one of them one time when I saw him by the parking lot, “Don’t you see the thing over there,” and he just started laughing in a friendly way, “Oh yeah, you and the bike–what is it you said you’ve been smoking?” I just figured he wasn’t paying attention; after all, he had senior design projects and tests to worry about, as well as some pretty girls his age walking by right then.
Then that funny day came. It was the third Friday in April, the day after the kids had what they call “Spring Fling,” when they all throw frisbees around and have some bands and try to act like it’s a day at the beach, even though it’s usually cold and rainy. I had just gotten done with my last test before finals and for a change wasn’t feeling like I had bombed it. It was a really blustery day, kind of a hot wind almost, even though it was only 75 degrees out (still a lot nicer than the day of the party the day before, of course).
I was walking back to my car; I was parked halfway to North Dakota, it seemed, in the far lot across North Campus Drive from the library where I usually parked. I don’t know where everyone came from that day, but I had to walk so far I almost didn’t make it to class on time for the test. “45 bucks for a parking decal and I have to walk this far–I can’t believe it,” I was muttering as I stomped across the campus.
It all happened just like they say it does and yet like no one has ever said it does. I saw two things that really caught my attention at the same time. One was a college pickup with some wooden sides built up on it to make it hold more crap, which didn’t really help because some goofy contraption was hanging out the back almost to the ground, some old machine some professor and his grad students had invented years ago, I supposed.
The other thing, though, is what really caught my eye. It was the bicycle, still bare as ever, in the middle of the street now, which is where I was, on my way back to my car, only the bike was about 30 yards up the street. I got this feeling like someone punched me lightly in the gut, and looked to see if the bike was still by the parking lot. Sure enough, it was gone. When I looked back at the street, I saw (all at the same time) that there was a rider on the bike, a grinning skeleton about 6 foot tall, and the truck was still coming, the one I should easily have beaten across the street, and the driver and his sidekick were neither one of them looking at me. They were both looking at a friend of theirs, a college workman doing some work on an electrical box, who had stopped work to laugh at their load and wave hi to them.
They waved back and smiled at their buddy, while I looked at them but mostly at the bike and its rider, who was waving at me (or so it seemed). I didn’t have time to get out of the driver’s way, and he didn’t have time to see me and stop, so I ended up right down behind the pickup, with that rusting machine thing bouncing crazily up and down and cutting up what was left of my face. As I lay there wondering why all my insides didn’t feel like they belonged to me, I thought to myself “It really does happen in slow motion, and everything in your life really does flash before your eyes, and, oh great, you really do remember every rude or mean thing you ever said or did.”
I tried to tell the guys it wasn’t their fault, that I should have easily made it, tell everyone I love them, really it was my fault, mine and that asshole on the bicycle, but all that came out was some gibberish about a bike.
So now I spend my days riding on that same damn street, on my own bare bike, forever trying to chase that grinning idiot. He’d better watch out. I wonder if he’d still think he looked so cool with a kickstand crammed up his bony ass? When I catch up to him, I swear, he’d better look out. There’s gonna be bones and spokes everywhere.