by Graham B.
Two riders race for glory, and destiny.
In early hours before the dawn even began to heat the skies to red-hot incandescence, Eric rolled his Suzuki to the line – that beginning and terrible final line. The darkness was cut by crisscrossing headlights for a hundred yards, the unblinking scrutiny of a hundred glaring eyes.
While Santa Monica still slumbered, confederates had already fanned out through the city to watch for five-oh. The rest of the young revelers were out among their cars, cheering for their favorite. For most of them, their favorite was the Eric himself, the Lord of the Streets. He revved his mill in response, feeling burble of the engine rise to a roar he felt through the handlebars. He thrust his gloved fist into the air, feeding the crowd his energy through pure octane. Standing among them like a statue was Alana, her jet-black hair fluttering in the wind, her dark eyes as unreadable as glass. Alone among her friends, she did not smile or cheer.
The bark of rubber on asphalt shattered Eric’s thoughts as the aspiring usurper, Darius blipped the throttle on his BMW and sent a tiny puff of smoke from his rear tire into the air like an escaping spirit. Eric looked at Darius, an image of blue neon leather and plastic helmet printed with lurid, grinning skulls. Darius looked like a machine on top of his machine, but his mirror-like face shield was still up, and his eyes betrayed his humanity. He winked at Eric and blipped his throttle again, and the bike’s engine shouted at the night, chasing Alana’s eyes away. Eric twisted his throttle and the Suzuki howled in defiance. Two men, two machines, one line.
Darius’s girlfriend, Stacey walked out to the line taking a position in the center in front of the bikes. As Eric was the current king, Alana should have been the one to start the race, but she had already bowed out. The headlights illuminated Stacey’s white, nearly translucent skin in alabaster glory, encased in a miniskirt and bright pink halter top despite the morning chill. She carried a single green handkerchief which she held high over her head, and the crowd quieted. Eric cast a glance over at Alana and saw only her eyes, glowing faintly, unblinking. He took his position and began revving. Darius flipped his face shield closed becoming completely machine, and revved his own mill, and the voices of the two machines rose in a duet in the quiet morning, screaming to the paling skies overhead, shouting at the gods.
Then the Stacey’s hand dropped in a green blur. Two clutch levers popped, two tires chirped, and two beasts roared away from the line, their snarls drowning out the screams of the onlookers as they blew past Stacey, ruffling her platinum-blonde hair.
Eric was out front, but barely. He found second gear, then smacked into third – no clutch. Behind, he heard the BMW, howling in anger as it inched forward. The BMW clawed its way level with the Suzuki, and inched ahead, but a turn was coming. Both riders blipped and downshifted – clack! – engines screaming as the bikes dumped speed, then leaned like a pair of ballroom dancers, scrabbling their way into the turn, tires screeching in protest.
The Suzuki leapt ahead, and Eric grinned behind his helmet. He was the Lord of these streets and the two riders were in his kingdom.
Alana’s eyes flashed before him and he nearly missed a shift. It was a bus stop advertisement for some cosmetic company, but the model looked like her. Eric muttered a curse into his helmet over the distraction, but his last conversation with Alana floated through his mind even as Darius pulled even again.
“You don’t need to do this.”
Eric hunched over his laptop which was plugged into the bike’s ECU as he adjusted fuel injection maps. He ignored her as his eyes darted over the glowing screen.
“Did you hear what I said?”
Alana’s voice was grating in her frustration.
“You know I have to, babe,” said Eric. “I gotta defend my crown.”
“Why? What’s it going to prove?”
Eric stood up and faced Alana, and saw her beautiful dark eyes, like the night sky, moist with tears held back.
“He challenged me, and he insulted you! What would they think if I let that slide, babe? Besides, they’re saying I’ve lost it. I gotta let them know, I’m back, baby!”
“I don’t care what he said! And I don’t care what they think! I have a bad feeling…”
Eric threw up his hands and turned back to the bike, still squatting patiently in his garage, open like a surgery patient.
“Stop with this! You’re gonna jinx me…”
“What happened before, I won’t go through that again, Eric. Not again.”
“It won’t happen again, babe. That was one in a million. Trust me.”
He dove back into the surgery, and Alana stomped away.
“I’m doing it for you, babe!” he called over his shoulder.
Alana didn’t answer. She ended up riding to the race with her friends.
Eric shook his head, banishing the memory, and the road snapped into focus. Streetlights and building whipped by, an unending chromatic blur accompanied by a seamless rush of wind. Then the neon donut shop sign loomed, a glowing red “O.” Another turn coming, another chance to take the lead. Two engines screamed again, and the two riders leaned far over, sparks flying as the footpegs dragged the concrete. Pain in Eric’s hip made his leg twitch. Right turns were the hardest, had been since the accident. He powered through it and once more shot ahead as the turn ended.
The memory of the accident prodded its way into his head the way it always did when he made a right turn. The rush of wind, the clattering from between his legs as something went catastrophically wrong, the engine seizing before he could react, the flight from the seat over the handlebars as if he had been launched from a catapult and into the fence. A year in recovery with Alana next to him, nursing him back to health. Enduring the pain with him as he yelled in frustration over the pain meds that didn’t work, then later shivering of withdrawal from pain meds that did. All the while, Eric was learning to walk again, with Alana helping him to stay on his feet.
“I won’t go through that again.”
Eric blinked, and the road was there, gliding beneath his boots. He was in the lead again, a straight shot into the final turn. Darius was using his bike’s bigger horsepower to pull even, but there wasn’t time. Two sets of transmissions clacked down three gears, and tires bit. The world tilted, and the bikes clawed their way into a new direction. Eric heard a chirp from Darius’s BMW as its rear tire spun, losing its grip for an instant. Eric’s Suzuki stayed true through the turn and he exited the turn three lengths ahead of Darius. He had an advantage. The Lord of the Streets continued to dominate.
In the distance, the glow of headlights illuminating the line swam into view. Eric wrenched on the throttle, dashing for it, for the win, for the himself and the year he spent in recovery, for Alana somewhere hidden in the darkness. Behind him, even above the sound of engines, Eric heard the telltale click then whoosh. Suddenly the skulls atop neon blue leathers dashed by, blue flames shooting from his exhaust.
We agreed not to use juice, thought Eric. You want to play it like that? I’m ready.
Eric’s thumb felt for and found the hidden switch on his left bar. He was prepared. He would trigger his own nitrous, and push his engine past its limit, uncaging the gods of fire and horsepower to grasp the victory that was rightly his, Lord of the Streets, king of his domain.
Darius was far ahead now, and victory was slipping away. But memories of a year of pain and seeing the same pain in Alana’s eyes as she stood by him day after day as his insides tore at themselves and twisted his words invaded his thoughts. Words shouted at Alana as if it had been her fault. Words screamed at the world. Words whispered to himself during what passed for sleep. Alana had been there for it all. He took his thumb away from the switch and eased off the throttle.
The victory was gone, the crown would pass to another.
Ahead, Darius raced on toward his victory, blue flame still sputtering in his wake. Dawn spilled across the sky, glinting off something on the road, and Eric adjusted his course to avoid it.
It sounded like a gunshot when it happened. A black cloud erupted from the BMW’s crankcase, just two hundred yards short of the line. Eric heard the metallic sound of Darius’s rear wheel locking up, instantly losing traction on his own oil slick, and the rear of the bike tried to swap position with the front. Déjà vu overwhelmed Eric as he saw his rival launched into the air, even as his bike erupted in a ball of fire and continued to slide toward the panicking crowd at over a hundred miles per hour. The wreckage of the BMW slammed into the side of a tricked-out Honda Civic, and Darius vanished somewhere in the mass of cars.
Eric slowed, and carefully approached the carnage. The onlookers had scattered but were already returning to assess the damage. As he pulled up, Eric saw blue neon leather protruding from the windshield of a Mustang, just across the line.
The BMW continued to burn in orange hues, competing with the rising sun even in death, the blue flame extinguished forever. Alana appeared, the light from the fire leaping in her terrified eyes. Those eyes found Eric, and she dashed forward into his arms, rocking the bike. Eric dismounted and with arms wrapped around Alana, he walked away, leaving the Suzuki to stand vigil alone next to the funeral pyre.
Word count: 1685