Ghost Riders / a short story by Tom Evans

It’s so stifling hot and I can’t escape. Even if I could there’s nowhere to go in this godforsaken place. No houses for miles around, at least I’ve never seen one and I’ve been here for a while. It’s flat you see, there’s no perspective in this barren land, no sound all day long (not even a bird or stray dog) unless it’s a solitary car or truck hauling ass through here.

That is until a few days ago when I heard a rumble in the distance and waited until it got closer, growing louder as it approached, and then nothing until all of a sudden a gang of motorcycle riders flashed by in a blur accompanied by a deafening roar.

I found out not too much later there was a nearby canyon and the motorcycle gang was supposedly holed up there. One of the other foster kids had heard the adults talking and I immediately knew I just had to see it for myself. I didn’t say a thing to anyone, just bided my time and began planning my escape, hoping nobody would find out in the meantime.

Lying in the crowded fetid bedroom one night I pretended I was asleep, as usual paying no attention to the nightly ruckus going on around me. Trying to be as still as possible I imagined I was camped out under the stars, a lonesome cowboy hoping to be part of my own hole-in-the-wall gang some day. I lay rigid, my hands straight by my side under the sheet like I was in a coffin, hoping the adults wouldn’t hear the commotion and come charging up the stairs to see what was going on.

I must have fallen asleep and been dreaming because next thing I knew I was looking over a ledge into a very deep canyon with a stream at the bottom so far away you couldn’t even tell it was moving, and what looked like ants crawling along its banks. Then all of a sudden I saw something hurtling through the sky so quickly it was upon me before I could even duck. I managed to catch a glimpse of a grungy biker with greasy hair, matted beard, and behind him a red-haired Bonnie Raitt lookalike who glanced back and beckoned me to follow with her crooked finger, her wild hair streaming behind her.

The roar of the bike in the dream was so real it must have woken me up. It took a while to get my bearings, but once I did remembered the dream I’d just had as clear as day, which was unusual because I never remembered my dreams or even if I had been dreaming in the first place.

I said nothing to anyone, but when the new girl came the next day, unannounced and unwelcome, it changed everything. You could tell there was something odd about her right away. Her face was fixed in a lopsided grin or sneer, it was hard to tell which. She looked to be about ten, which put her in the middle of all of us age wise, but that and it being only her first day there didn’t stop her from taking charge immediately after she was settled in.

First she went off on a wild tangent in the back yard about how her parents were movie stars and she had five or six siblings and they were a very loving tight-knit family, and this was just a temporary vacation for her, she wouldn’t be there long. Unlike most of you, she added, all prim and proper like.

When she finished no one quite knew how to respond. Then one of the smaller kids piped up that she was full of it and that’s when the trouble started. Somehow she immediately knew who had said it and she began chasing him around the picnic table screaming “I’ll get you! I’ll get you!”

The unfortunate miscreant went round and round it screaming bloody murder and then let out a painful yelp and held his hand up, a flap of skin hanging off his wrist, bleeding profusely, courtesy of a rusty nail sticking out from it. She went all white when she saw the blood and ran in the opposite direction as fast as she could.

The foster mother finally came out of the house at a leisurely pace considering the situation and walked up to the new girl and said, “Why did you do that?”

The new girl didn’t deny it, instead she immediately launched into her spiel again but didn’t get very far when the woman interrupted her.

“I’m gonna have to report this to county agency,” she said.

The new girl blanched and said, “No, please don’t. I have nowhere else to go.”

The woman was having none of it. “I’m sorry, but this has to be reported. Besides, I don’t want you here, I have enough on my hands with these others as it is. The county’ll send you somewhere else”

“Yes,” the new girl said, “you just do that. I don’t like it here anyway.”

Someone from The County came to take her back later that day. She seemed pretty calm about it all, when I halfway expected she’d have to be dragged off kicking and screaming. I had a feeling I hadn’t seen the last of her

Later that night I heard something bounce off the window by my bed, then again, and once more before I got out of bed as quietly as possible and looked out. I couldn’t make out who it was at first but when I cracked the window slightly I heard a voice say, “It’s me,” the girl from this afternoon. “Come outside. I have nowhere to go but maybe we can think of something fun to do.”

She didn’t have to ask twice, I was raring to go. No one else seemed to have heard it, everyone looked to still be asleep, so I put my clothes on, climbed out the window, and we were off.

I asked her how she had gotten away from the county people and back to here, and if she knew it’d be me who would come to the window.

“Never mind how I got here,” she said, “I just did. And, yes, I knew it would be you. I saw where your bed was when I put my things away. Boy, do you ask a lot of questions.”

I’d never done anything like this before but it turned out she had so I felt like I was in good hands. Seems she had run away from her idyllic home many times because they just didn’t understand her.

It was a beautiful evening, very warm but tolerable as there was a light breeze. All was quiet as we stuck close to the road, walking west, the house receding in the distance. Suddenly I remembered the motorcycle gang and my dream and mentioned it to the new girl.

She grabbed my wrist and I stopped in my tracks.

“There’s a motorcycle gang nearby?” she asked.

“That’s what I heard,” I said. “And I saw them  ride by the other day.”

She grew very quiet when I said that, her eyes opened wide. I could see she was very interested.

We continued on down the road for a bit, not saying anything, though I couldn’t help but wonder what she was thinking.

“Are we going to try and find them?” I finally asked her.

“Don’t see why not,” she replied. “It’ll be hard to avoid them if we keep walking this way. Probably run right into them.”

“Aren’t you scared?” I asked.

“Scared? Hardly,” she said. “My father was in a motorcycle gang. Besides, anything’s better than being where we are, isn’t it?”

She did make a lot of sense, I had to admit, even if she did act and look weird. I was going to tell her about my hole-in-the-wall gang fantasy but decided against it.

“OK,” she said, “let’s go.”

Almost before we knew it we were getting close, close enough to see hazy smoke and hear muted sounds. Then we were at the lip of a canyon looking down just as in my dream except that things were much closer this time. There were several dots of campfires and I could make out clearly the bikers and their “hogs”, but I didn’t see the red-haired woman, or any women, at least not yet, though it was probably too far away to tell.

At this point there seemed to be some hesitation on the new girl’s part. We sat there for a bit, so long the campfires below began to dwindle into faint flares.

“I thought you said there was a red-haired woman in the gang,” she said suddenly, startling me. “My mother has red hair, and if she’s there I’m not going down.”

She seemed to be growing angry now, more so by the minute. I didn’t dare remind her the Bonnie Raitt figure had been in my dream, but when I looked down again into the steep gorge, it didn’t seem to matter, there was no way we were going to get down there anyway.

“You go first,” she said, “see if she is.”

“I can’t go by myself!” I wailed, speaking up for the first time, “you have to come with me. There aren’t any women down there, look for yourself, and even if there were, why would your mother be?”

This must have somehow convinced her, because she seemed calmer.

“Shhhhh,” she said, “of course I’m going with you. Don’t blow our cover. I want to surprise them.”

Between her mercurial nature and my trepidation, our prospects for success didn’t look too favorable, but be that as it may, she said next, “Let’s look for a path so we can get closer.”

“Yes, let’s,” I said somewhat doubtfully, then, in spite of myself, immediately spotted an opening in the underbrush. “Over here!”

Feeling good that I was seemingly in command of the situation I motioned her to follow when she suddenly rushed up behind me and pushed me face first to the ground.

“Don’t you dare!” she said. “I’m first!”

She continued on as if I wasn’t there but I got up, dusted myself off, picked the small pieces of gravel out of my bleeding elbow and set out after her. It was a steep winding narrow trail faintly outlined through the underbrush and I soon caught up with her.

Just then she stumbled over a stone the size of a baseball that went tumbling down the rocky canyon slope, echoing, or so it seemed, like a monolith. The new girl looked at me with wide challenging eyes as if to say what are you going to do about it? I was surprised she didn’t try to blame it on me. It was difficult to tell if anyone had noticed it but we lay low for a while until things calmed down.

Soon all was quiet and totally dark, as the campfires spent and no discernible movement down below. We decided to make our way boulder by boulder until we were close enough to see the layout. After what seemed like several arduously painful hours we were final close enough to see. There appeared to be either five men or four men and one woman, whichever way you wanted to look at it, and the new girl and I looked at it in different ways, I assure you. What with it being dark and the scraggly nature of the five sleepers it was impossible to say, but the new girl wasn’t going anywhere until she was dead certain they were all men, or that the woman wasn’t her mother.

Again with the mother, I thought but not knowing what to say, didn’t say anything.

“Well, seems to me we’d be better off if they weren’t all men,” I finally said, “and besides, how are we going to figure that out before it’s too late?”

“You don’t know my mother if you think that,” the new girl replied. “Now get closer until you’re sure what’s what.”

Why me? I thought. Are you sure you trust me? I’m already satisfied one of them is a woman, I told you I saw her a couple of days ago, I said.

My conjecture hit the bullseye. The new girl’s eyes were bulging, she was fit to be tied. After a long moment she visibly contained herself and merely said, slowly and quietly, And I know its five men, so you just have to do is point out the woman to me and I’ll take care of the rest.

It seemed we were at an impasse, but regardless I had no intention of doing it.

“Why don’t we just wait until they’re asleep and then go look see? I suggested.

Before she could answer we saw someone stirring, and heard one of them call out in a man’s voice, “Who’s there?”

We both looked at each other in silence. Neither of us moved.

“Who’s there?” A grey figure said once more and got up to rouse the others.

Just then I heard some faint music and the sky grew lighter. Was it the music of the spheres I’d heard tell about? The music became more intelligible and I realized it was the theme song for “Sky King”, one of my favorite TV shows. All of sudden a vaguely familiar roar obliterated everything. I looked up in the sky and saw the bearded man and red-headed woman on their motorcycle blasting through the sky and yelled, “There she is, there she is!”

The new girl rushed up behind me and began pummeling me with her fists, screaming and crying, “NO NO NO! NO NO NO!” crumpling to the ground in a fainting fit.

I’d seen what I wanted to see, and was ready to turn back. Of course, I wish they’d taken me with them, but just seeing my dream come to life was enough for me at that time. And besides, I was certain that at some point they’d come back for me.