Happy Saturday! Enjoy our two stories this week, written in two very different styles.
This week’s prompt was: Write a story that begins and ends with a bicycle
(Prompt courtesy of eadeverell.com)
The sight of the bicycle made Jeremy stop then slump back against the wall of the garage, his legs shaking too hard to support him. He didn’t consider the dust or the spiders that he’d been cursing a moment before. Instead, he felt the hard, implacable wall of anger that had been lodged inside his gut begin to crack.
Jeremy had tried everything he could think of not to be there, dealing with this. His mother had been gone for five years now, and his sister Julie was ready to go into labor any hour; she couldn’t come half-way across the country to take care of it. He’d argued with her, suggesting they just hire someone, but she’d insisted he come. And Matthew, his brother-in-law, had called him the next morning and begged him to go — Julie’s hormones were out of control and she’d been crying ever since their phone call the night before. So here he was, at his father’s house, with orders to clean it out and get it ready to sell. Just him. There was no one Jeremy could ask to help. He’d kept everyone else at arms-length since he was sixteen.
He hated being here. He hadn’t set foot in this house for nearly five years. Not since the fight shortly after his mother died, when his father accused him of contributing to her death with his reckless behavior, making her worry about him all the time. Jeremy had tried to insist that his job – taking people on tandem parachute jumps – was not exactly reckless, but it only made his father angrier. He’d said things to Jeremy that were unforgivable, and Jeremy had responded in kind. Both of them had been too raw to watch their words. By the time the fighting was done, neither of them could bear to even look at the other.
Jeremy had thought a few times that someday they’d make it up to each other, but the one time he’d called his father it became apparent that he wasn’t ready to forgive or forget. Which made Jeremy angry all over again. He’d been angry with his father since he was sixteen, and that anger churned like acid in his gut, poisoning him and his ability to relate to others. After all, he obviously sucked at relationships.
Then last week his father had died of a massive heart attack, and all chances to make it up were gone. And that anger had frozen inside him, into a hard wall. His father was gone, and Jeremy found himself unable to feel sorry about it.
He’d cleared out the house, surprised how much junk there was and how little of substance was left to donate. It appeared his father hadn’t bought himself anything new since Jeremy’s mother died. And his father had merely stuffed things that no longer functioned into the spare room that no one used anymore.
After finishing the house, Jeremy had started on the garage. He’d dragged out boxes of old camping gear, fishing rods, clothes stained with mildew, a rusted barbeque, assorted garden tools that weren’t worth trying to save, and a broken mower. He’d carried them all out, coughing and sneezing as the dust and mold tickled his nose, and tossed them into the dumpster he’d rented.
He’d been sweating and tired, only two thirds of the way through the mass of broken junk. He’d wiped his forehead with his sleeve, no longer caring if he was smearing dirt all over his face. After tossing back a bottle of beer, he’d thought about going into the air-conditioned house, but his desire to get this over with won out. He’d pulled a down a few more old boxes, revealing the back of the garage.
And there was his old bike. It was a Schwinn. Red. With only a bit of rust. The chain was gummy with old oil and dirt, and the seat was patched with peeling duct tape, but it was otherwise in pretty good shape. He’d forgotten about that bike. He’d loved it as a kid, even as a teenager. His parents couldn’t afford a second car, so he’d relied on that bike to get him to school and to meet his friends. And to just get out of the house when his father was in a bad mood.
His father had been in a bad mood for years, from the time he was sixteen until he left at eighteen. He’d forgotten that. The plant where his father worked had closed and his father had worried they’d lose the house. His mother had tried to explain his father’s anger one evening, mentioning something about an anger disorder, but Jeremy had been too frustrated to listen. He’d forgotten that, too.
He and his father had argued a lot during those years. It was his mother who smoothed everything over, again and again. She’d told Jeremy that his father was a good man, he just didn’t handle fear and grief well. Now, standing here in the garage, looking at his old bike, he realized his mother was probably right. Before the plant closed, he and his father had been close. They’d gone camping and fishing, worked on his father’s car and worked on this bike. Those had been good days; the two of them in the garage, talking about sports and school and Boy Scouts.
He reached out and touched the cracked leather seat, and the memory of his father teaching him to ride it washed through him, cleaning out some of that cracked, frozen wall of anger. He rang the bell on the handlebars, and as clearly as if his father was standing next to him, he heard his voice telling him how proud he was that Jeremy was his son.
Jeremy’s face was wet. He raised his hand and touched his cheek, feeling the rest of that cold, dead anger begin to disintegrate; to drain away as he cried, leaving him light and empty of the past. Ready to face his future.
He wasn’t his father. He didn’t have his father’s anger disorder. There was nothing to stop him from making friends. Making a family.
He quickly pulled everything else out of garage, throwing it all in the dumpster. Then he called the airport to find out how to ship a bicycle. That was going home with him. A reminder of the good times.
A reminder of his father’s love.
Cheryl Mahoney: The Witches of Sturm-under-Dragon
Alethea eyed the bicycle with deep suspicion. It was the first bicycle to make an appearance in Sturm-under-Dragon, and was probably not helped in making its case by the little yellow lightning bolts painted on the handlebars.
“They’re the absolutely newest thing,” Gretchen assured her with enthusiasm. “Everyone’s getting one.”
It was a mark of just how enthusiastic Gretchen was that she said either of these things. In a calmer frame of mind, she would have recalled that Alethea hated new things almost as much as she hated doing what “everyone” else did.
“I don’t see the point of it,” Alethea said firmly. “If women were meant to travel about on wheels, we’d all have horses and carriages.”
“But this is so much simpler than keeping up a horse and carriage,” Gretchen argued. “You just hop right on and…” Rather than trying to articulate, Gretchen hopped on, rolled a few feet, wobbled, and quickly hopped off again. “Well, it is a bit of an adjustment. A bit of a learned skill. But they say that once you learn it, you never forget.”
“What about rough roads?” Alethea argued back. “What about steep inclines?”
Gretchen flapped a hand. “We’ll work it out. It’s really so much more comfortable—more versatile—so much less windy.” This last one was a telling point, and gave Alethea pause. She did hate the amount of wind involved in travel.
“Might be all right for the men,” Alethea said, a minor concession, though everything in her tone suggested that it might be something just good enough for the men to settle for, and obviously their standards were much lower than what women would settle for.
Gretchen hesitated, then went for broke. “Why don’t you just try sitting on it? See how it feels.”
It was too daring an attempt, and Alethea actually backed up a pace, folding her arms across her formidable chest. “No, you know I don’t hold with newfangled nonsense like this. If brooms were good enough for our foremothers, they’re good enough for us!”
In the face of Alethea’s injunction, none of the other witches of Sturm-under-Dragon dared to hazard a bicycle. Gretchen’s languished in her back shed, though sometimes she slipped it out for an illicit ride that made her feel quite seditious. And so the matter might have ended, if the dragon hadn’t awoken early.
It had been an unusually mild winter, something generally heralded with approval. Wendmilla, who liked to style herself a weather witch, loudly and proudly took credit for it to anyone who cared to listen (and many who didn’t), though Alethea, Gretchen, and every other witch in the neighborhood rolled their eyes at the claim. Wendmilla rather regretted it too, when a goatherd came running into the village in the last week of April, shrieking that the dragon was waking up.
“Nonsense!” Alethea said, striding out into her front yard and glaring at the babbling youth, who had stopped at her gate. Alethea had been mixing a concoction of her healing elixir, which everyone knew packed a considerable punch and was taken recreationally as much as not, and she did not appreciate being interrupted in this important task. “The dragon wakes the first of May, every year, and that’s not until Tuesday.”
“But the dragon—” The boy dragged in a gasp of air. “—is waking up—now!”
The fact that he held to the story in the face of Alethea’s glare, and seemed to still be more afraid of whatever he’d seen out in the hills than he was of Alethea, gave weight to the claim.
By now half a dozen of the village witches were out of their front doors, all of them looking towards Alethea and the newsbringer.
Alethea nodded briskly. “All right, ladies. Brooms.”
Nods all around, and within moments the witches of Sturm-under-Dragon were in flight.
Sturm-under-Dragon’s dragon was the size of a hill, and treated as such for most of the year. The village was built below a bluff and the dragon slept along the upper ridge. She woke every May first, and every May first the witches put her back to sleep. Quite a ceremony had developed over the years. They always gathered around the sleeping dragon the evening before, spent the night in a combined convention, reunion and party, and were ready at dawn for the first stirrings of the dragon. Everyone was prepared with sleep spells, and it was the rare year when the dragon got more than her head off the ground.
This year, it was clear at once, was going to be different. The witches had a number of disadvantages to contend with. Most had not yet done their annual brushing up on sleep spells. Only the local witches were present, rather than the larger group that usually came to visit for the occasion. And the dragon, as they saw as the stream of brooms crested the hill, was more awake than usual.
The dragon was on her feet, something that hadn’t happened in generations, and though still yawning, she had begun to unfurl her considerable wings.
“No time to waste!” Alethea snapped as soon as she had the dragon in sight. “Wendmilla, Ruby, Merdle, go left! Posy, Gretchen—blast, where’s Gretchen?”
Nowhere in sight, and no one volunteered an explanation.
“Never mind,” Alethea huffed. “Posy and Lillith, circle around to the back. The rest of you, follow me to the right.”
The witches got into their formation, encircling the dragon’s head. The dragon finished her yawn and blinked blearily at these strange figures circling her.
“All together now!” Alethea ordered, and the witches readied their sleep spells.
Some instinct triggered in the sleepy dragon and she ducked her head as the spells fired. If any hit, it was too few to make a significant difference. The dragon reared her head back up faster, yawned again, and this time there was a trickle of flame coming from her mouth.
“Try again!” Alethea shouted.
They tried three more times, and every time the dragon managed to avoid the spell. The task was only getting harder with each attempt, as the dragon awoke more and more fully. Alethea directed the witches into different formations and different attack patterns, and nothing was working.
They were about to circle around for attempt number five, when there was the sound of a tinkling bell.
“If someone let a sheep up here—” Alethea began, then broke off as Gretchen came bicycling up the hill.
For a few seconds, witches and dragon alike stared at this new arrival.
Fortunately for everyone, except possibly the dragon, the witches regained their presence of mind first.
“Now!” Alethea shrieked, and all the witches, Gretchen included as she pedaled toward the dragon, fired off their sleeping spells once again.
This time, the dragon was so bemused staring at this bizarre wheeling creature that she was slow to move. Enough spells hit her full in the face that her eyes rolled back, she gave a bit of a sigh, and slumped over sideways on the hill.
Most of the witches gave a ragged cheer, then brought their brooms down to land near where Gretchen had halted her bicycle.
“I never liked warm weather,” Alethea muttered, as she stumped over to prod the dragon and make sure she was properly asleep. “Unseasonably warm temperatures, confusing magic and dragons—never would have happened when I was young.”
The fact that Alethea was, in fact, no more than thirty-five never stopped her from making this claim about any number of things she disapproved of.
By the time she returned to the group of witches clustered around the bicycle, all of them were talking eagerly about getting their own. They still fell silent as Alethea approached. Most looked wary. Gretchen beamed, proud and unrepentant.
“Might have occasional practical applications,” Alethea allowed after a long pause. “Now—how do we get it to fly?”