“Hey, sweet-pea, comin’ on that bike trip after exams? Four-five days from Duluth to Lake Geneva, then par-tee all weekend at Gertie’s parents’ mansion by the lake. She invite you?”
"Her parents are outfitting everybody with new bikes, 10-speeds! sweet-pea, that’s 9 speeds mor’n that wreck o’ yours”
“My grandfather’s bike runs just fine — I told Gertie I had my own bike, an’ I’d get it to Duluth myself.”
“Jes—” he broke off, seeing her glare.
* * *
Having left the campground near Columbus before dawn on the fourth day, Jim, Eula, and three others who had opted not to be driven to their destination, were headed down Tri-County Rd., brashly boasting how they’d make it by suppertime. After Eula came to a slow halt on a flat tire, only a few scattered cows bemusedly watched them walk to the nearest farmhouse. Sitting down to a late breakfast, the family invited them in to ham and eggs, all washed down with cold milk.
Promising to follow the route they had mapped out, and catch up with them, Eula went off to the barn where the compressor was housed, while the others, thanking their hosts, took their leave — Jim rather reluctantly. Eula’s tire proving to be torn, a trip to a nearby General Store left her a good hour behind and some of miles off course.
* * *
Barring a few pit-stops, Eula had ridden hard all morning. By two that afternoon, she still hadn’t caught up. Emerging from the State Forest south of Palmyra, she stopped, dejected. From the hilltop she could see County Rd. H extending far across a rolling landscape. No one in sight — but on a second look — someone ... someone on a bicycle? maybe, or walking? just one — perhaps the others were hidden behind a ridge. She sped down the hill.
Her exhausted legs propelled her from crest to crest; sometimes the cyclist —yes it was a cyclist — appeared closer, then seemingly farther, and sometimes not at all. Fatigue drove away the sights and sounds around her, leaving the road’s white edge and the cyclist her sole, narrow focus. Only two short ridges ahead now — it was Jim, it had to be — it just had to be. Closer still, he topped the crest as she reached its base, she pressed on harder.
A car whizzed dangerously past, inches from her, frightened her and clearing her head. Reaching the crest, she saw the speeding car topping the next crest, but no sign of a cyclist — none whatsoever. She coasted down the slope doubting her sanity — nobody — but wait — amongst the reeds of a gravelly-banked ditch! Dropping her bicycle, she ran.
“Hey, sweet-pea, took the shoulder a bit hard,” Jim grinned through a wince. “Holy Mother of God!” she cried, ignoring the blood and holding him tightly. Under the now glaring sun it took a moment for her to take in the gash that ran from his eyebrow down to his cheek, and the bloody rawness, filthy with debris, down his left side to the knee. “Hey! nuthin’s broke.” “Hush,” she whispered, tearing a pair of T-shirts and beer cans from her backpack. Turning she found him standing unsteadily. “Sit the hell down!” she almost screamed, and more softly, “this is going to hurt.” Washing the muck and duckweed from his wounds with the frothing beer, she wrapped his wounds with torn up cloth. “It’ll have to do for now.”
No bikes or traffic — she managed to sit him on the crossbar, and ride awkwardly into Elkhorn. Quiet and drowsy, he only managed to whisper, “I’ll love you forever, sweet-pea,” when she left him outside the pharmacy. Witchhazel, tape and gauze served to clean and bandage him, and Coke to quench his thirst. Returning the bottle, she emerged to find him jauntily climbing the steps to a burger joint across the road. Running across, into the low, late afternoon sun, she couldn’t see him, but heard him at a distance: “I’m feelin’ much better, let’s have a bite.”
Three hamburgers, fries and a malted later, Eula, warm and sleepy, briefly dozed off. The waitress woke her, asking, “finished all that by yourself, did you?” Distractedly handing her a $10, Eula ran to door — Jim was outside with her bike and another. “Lookey-here Sweet-pea, borrowed this — gotta move, its late and a storm’s coming in.”
Rumbling, darkening skies first chased them, heavy rain and swirling winds then drenched them, and finally the lightning-streaked skies drove them to shelter in a barn which stood intact beside a farmhouse long ago wind-battered and lain open like a doll-house. Flashlight between her teeth, Eula helped Jim climb up to the hayloft. Some old feed bags atop a layer of disintegrating hay bales made for a place to lay out her sleeping-bag and Jim’s bed-roll. Turning, it took a moment to find him standing stock still in the gloom. Stripping him down as best she could, she wrapped him up in his blankets.
Peeling off her wet clothes, she sat listening to the rain, going over the day’s events in her mind — what he’d said outside the pharmacy. “Com’ere, sweet-pea,” she heard in the darkness. Bringing her sleeping bag, she curled up close to him. He touched her shoulder softly, and his hand slipped down to cup her breast. Eula whispered, “I love you too.” They drew closer...
A bar of sunlight woke her, and a moment’s glance confirmed Jim wasn’t there. She quickly climbed down; his bike was gone. Had her avowal and its consummation scared him off? — probably — who knew with guys?
The trooper pulled up in front of her by the “Welcome to Lake Geneva” sign, — he would take her into town, reunite her with her concerned friends. Climbing in the back seat, she heard him say, “Damn,” and stopped midway through tossing the morning edition of the Madison Capital-Times across the seat — “Cyclist victim of fatal hit-and-run.”
Copyright: © 2011 Georges Dodds
Published in strong competitors to The New Flesh like International Agrophysics and Estudos de Literatura Oral, Georges Dodds has until recently kept his weird writing under mouldy cerements. His recent genre activities include textual resurrection for a publisher of Gothic novels, unearthing and presenting in an e-library some thematic precursors of Edgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, translating early French science-fiction to English, and preparing a collection of American dime-novelist William Murray Graydon's earliest adventure stories. Georges and his 3-species family (4 with the goldfish), lives in a former bus garage, on the now relocated site of an 18th century cemetery -- so far tilling the garden hasn't revealed its past.