By BP Editor Kenneth James Crist
A motorcycle miracle tale
had just finished putting another five-dollar bill in her
stash of “runaway” money, when she heard the rumble of the big Harley out at
the pumps. She hurriedly put back the loose board in the floor of her room and
scurried downstairs to wait on the customer. She knew if she didn’t step lively
the old man would start in on her, and with the summer heat, no air
conditioning, and a low-grade headache already—she didn’t need that.
had lived in her small Kansas town all her eighteen years.
“Piss-ant” town, her father called it. Their gas and grocery suited the town
perfectly. It was a two-pump, three-cooler, one-counter operation, with living
quarters, if they could be called that, upstairs.
moved briskly through the store and outside, letting the old
wooden screen door slam behind her. As soon as she let go of it, she winced. The
flat, cracking sound in the hot, dry afternoon didn’t help her head at all.
she approached the pumps, she looked the motorcycle over. She
took in dazzling burgundy paint in contrast with a worn, comfortable-looking
saddle, gleaming chrome pipes and sagging, supple leather saddlebags—a dangerous
combination of contradictions.
you, sir?” she asked.
man was tall and lanky, dressed in Levi’s and boots, along with
a blue workshirt. The sleeves were rolled up to his elbows and on one forearm a
tattoo showed. He stared at her and she tried to see past his aviator-style
sunglasses, to see his eyes. There was something there...but then he pushed the
glasses up onto his head and said, “I dunno, can you fill this without spillin’
gas all over it?”
removed both gas caps and said, “Give it your best.”
cranked up the premium pump and carefully filled the left
tank, capping it, then the right, while the rider’s eyes followed her every
move. As she shut down the pump and hung the nozzle she asked, “Be anything
suppose you’d have any Harley oil?”
don’t...wait a minute. Let me go look.”
ran into the store and on back to the storage area. Something
had stirred a memory. She went through shelves and pushed things aside until
she finally found one old can of oil with the distinctive orange Harley
Davidson logo. It was moist and slightly slick on the outside and left a ring
in the dust where it had sat for years. She trotted back through the store and
out to the waiting stranger.
I could do,” she panted.
took the oil can and looked it over. “Damn, girl. Wonder how
long that’s been sittin’.”
have no idea, really.”
seen oil in cardboard cans in years.”
no good, huh?”
I’m sure it’ll be fine. It’s just strange that you had this
right when I needed it.” He set about opening the can with a Buck knife he
produced from his boot. “What’s your name?”
Jenny, you’re a life saver today, and very polite, not to
mention pretty.” He opened the oil tank on his machine and added the quart of
oil. Jenny felt a flush creeping up her face. He thought she was pretty!
name’s Donnie, “he said as he tossed the empty can in the
trash. Then he turned to her and offered his hand. He wore fingerless gloves,
with metal studs on the backs, and his hands were very brown and strong-looking.
Jenny took his hand and felt her heart downshift and speed up. Then his hand
was gone and he murmured, “Been a pleasure, Jenny. What do I owe you?”
Oh. The gas was four bucks.”
I dunno...it’s been in the back for years. On the house, I
pulled out a battered brown wallet and extracted a five. “Very
generous of you, Jenny. Keep the change.” He swung onto his machine and turned
the switch and as Jenny turned to walk back into the store she heard the kick-starter
crank and the engine rumble to life. She glanced back as she heard the machine
clank into gear and watched as the man (Donnie-his
name’s Donnie) settled his sunglasses back on his face. Then he glanced at
her and smiled and pulled out onto the street. Jenny stood at the door and
listened to the song of the Harley’s pipes until they were gone, then her
father yelled for her and she went back inside.
Walters’ life was going nowhere. She had finished school and
there had been no money for her to go on to college, as many of her friends
had. She had other friends and acquaintances who were already starting
families, with and without the benefit of husbands. Then there were the ones
who were into drugs, not to mention the ones who had already died, from car
crashes and suicides.
own mother had passed away when she was small enough that now
it was difficult for Jenny to remember her at all. There was just her and her
Walters was a bitter man and it showed in everything he did. He
hated the government that made him pay taxes to support deadbeats and told him
what he could sell and when he could sell it. He hated the police who had
charged the man who killed his wife with drunk driving and nothing more. He
hated the jury that had failed to convict the man of even that lowly
crime. And he hated being alone. Of course, there was Jenny, but he considered
her more of a burden than a help. He also hated his wheelchair. The same
accident that killed his wife had put him in it, for life. He had a lot to hate,
and much of the time the pot boiled over.
kept a loaded .38 Special under the counter of his store, in
hopes that someday some scumbag would have the audacity to just try and
had her first dream about the man, Donnie, two nights after
she met him. She had put the extra dollar he tipped her in her stash and, just
before she put it in the cheap tin box, she had kissed it, feeling foolish and
immature as she did it, but not at all able to stop herself.
the dream they were on his bike, flashing through canyons, past
sheer rock walls, the exhaust pipes yammering and reverberating, the machine
vibrating as the engine strained. She was holding onto the only available
handhold—her arms were wrapped tightly around Donnie and the side of her face
was pressed against his back. She could smell the clean cotton cloth of his
shirt and some other, spicy odor of deodorant or cologne.
the sound of the engine she could hear and feel another
sound, and she listened closely, trying to identify what it was, until she
finally realized he was singing. She awoke moments later, almost painfully
aroused, and lay in her bed wondering where he was right at that moment.
evening, just ten minutes before closing, he showed up. Jenny
heard the Harley coming two blocks away and was standing at the pumps when he
pulled up—no sunglasses this time—wearing a black shirt with a dragon
embroidered on the pocket. His eyes were blue and full of pleasure as he spoke
Jenny. How ya been?”
Donnie. How ‘bout you?”
gettin’ along. Fill it up?”
bet,” she said, and cranked up the pump.
she was replacing the first gas cap, he asked, “You ever go
found she had to swallow before she could answer. “Nope. I’ve
never even been on a motorcycle.” Except in my dreams, she thought.
a shame. You’re missin’ a treat.”
course. That’s why it’s fun. But it’s only as dangerous as you
like to go, sometime.”
replaced the second cap and hung up the nozzle, her mind
racing. “I’d have to sneak out. Otherwise, my dad will raise hell.”
pulled out his wallet and asked, “How old are you, Jenny?”
almost nineteen,” she said, her chin coming up, her gaze
as she looked at him almost defiant, “why?”
old enough to vote, and old enough to go into the military
and get killed, even old enough to drink in some states. And you still let your
dad tell you what to do?”
just easier, okay? He’s in a wheelchair and he’s
pretty hateful sometimes, and...I just try to get along, ya know?”
handed her five ones and asked, “What time?”
time shall I come by?”
Oh, man. I don’t know. I’ll have to wait ‘til he’s asleep. It
might be pretty late...”
ya what. You get out whenever you can, and I’ll come by.”
how will you know...?”
smiled at her and said, “I’ll know. Trust me.”
stepped back as he cranked the Harley, then asked, “Do you
want your change?”
You keep it, and I’ll see you later.”
rolled out to the street and, seconds later, was gone.
inside the store, Les Walters watched his daughter. She was
getting too damn friendly with the customers, especially that guy on the bike.
He’d have to speak to her about that. He reached behind his head to the breaker
box on the wall and started shutting down his pumps.
was after eleven before Jenny could be sure Les Walters was
asleep. When she could hear him snoring and he was going real good, she
carefully left her room and, avoiding all the boards that might squeak, made
her way downstairs and through the darkened store and out the front door. She
had her key and a few dollars in the pockets of her jeans and she carried a
sweater. She walked out to the street, then decided to get away from the store
a little ways. She walked down to the corner and loitered a few minutes under
This is stupid. This is how girls get raped and murdered and found
lying in ditches, she thought. Insects flew around the quietly humming streetlight
and in the distance a dog barked. A few blocks over, on the main drag, tires
squealed as some kid popped the clutch on his old car and voices howled in
Just great. I’m gonna stand here half the night, like a
hooker looking for tricks, and he’s not gonna show up.
was ready to go and sneak back into the store, back into her
life, when she heard the Harley coming to her in the distance. When he turned
the corner a block down, he never even looked at the store. He came straight to
her, as if he knew exactly where she would be. Fifty feet before he
pulled up to her, he killed the engine and lights, and, as he stopped, flipped
out the kickstand. He set the machine over onto the stand and greeted her with
a smile, as the pipes ticked, cooling down.
Suddenly that throat-lump was back and shyness packed her
brought a sweater. That’s good, but you’ll need more than
that. Temperature drops as soon as you get outta town.” He stepped to the left
saddlebag and extracted an old, worn leather bomber jacket, holding it out for
her to slip into. As she slipped the jacket on, his arms enfolded her for just
a second and he whispered, close to her ear, “Glad you came out.” Jenny found
herself momentarily unsteady on her feet and he took her by her shoulders until
she regained her balance.
he straddled the Harley and said, “Hop on. Let’s ride.”
approached the bike, uncertain as to how to mount it, and
sorry, Jenny. My fault. You’ve never done this before. Look,
just put your left hand on my shoulder. Now put your right hand on the sissy
bar. Good. Now put your left foot on the passenger peg, see it? Now step up and
over, just like mounting a horse.”
settled onto the back saddle and Donnie cranked the machine.
It rumbled to life and she asked, “Where do I hang on?”
you can find. If you’re shy, hang onto the seat frame. If
you’re not, you can hang onto me. If your hands get cold, put ‘em in my jacket
pockets.” Then he eased out the clutch and they were rolling swiftly through
town and out onto the highway, westbound.
are we headed?” she asked.
would you like to go?”
seriously, tell me your heart’s desire. Where have you always
wanted to go?”
thought a minute, then said, “I guess I’ve always wanted to
see a big city, you know, just to see the lights and all the people. But
there’s no big cities around here.”
about Las Vegas? That’s the jumpinest, glitziest place I know
that’s...what? Twelve, thirteen hundred miles....we can’t go
there...I have to be back in the morning.”
chuckled and said, “Trust me.” Then he rolled the throttle.
seemed to Jenny that they were on the road only a short time.
Perhaps a half-hour. Later, as she tried to recall the trip, she would find she
had only the vaguest recollection of traffic and highways, mountains and
valleys, and the wind, always the wind, in her hair and snapping the collar of
the old jacket that smelled like Donnie.
rolled into Las Vegas without even stopping for gas. Down the
strip, past all the great casinos and hotels, the city lit up like daytime, the
sidewalks crowded with gamblers and show goers.
rolled up in front of Harrah’s and the parking valet greeted
Mr. Blunt! Haven’t seen you in a while.”
stepped off the Harley as Donnie said, “Say, Jimmy. How ya
doin’? Be careful with her, okay?”
thing, Mr. Blunt.”
young attendant stepped to the Harley, straddled it, and took
off for the garage.
knows you?” Jenny asked.
they all know me. I’m here pretty often.”
the door, the security man asked Jenny for some ID, but Donnie
said, “She’s with me.” and they let her pass.
really supposed to be twenty-one to get in here,” he said,
“so look mature, okay?”
headed for the cashier’s cage and Donnie bought ten one-dollar
not very much to gamble with.” Jenny said.
be enough. I feel lucky tonight.”
walked her through the casino, to a bank of dollar slot
machines and stopped at a machine that was vacant. He loaded the machine with
five tokens and pulled the lever. The machine rolled up random symbols and paid
nothing. Donnie smiled at her and said, “That was for practice.”
put five more tokens in the machine and pulled the lever. This
time, it showed straight sevens on one pay line, straight cherries on the next
and straight bars on the third. The jackpot light came on and bells started
ringing. Jenny stood astounded as a security man and a floor supervisor came
over and cleared the machine and gave Donnie a voucher for 5,800 dollars. They
went to the cashier’s and collected the money, and Donnie said, “How about some
seemed to Jenny that time stood still that evening. Even though
they didn’t leave her home town until almost midnight, it seemed they spent
hours walking the strip, watching the laser shows, and cruising the casinos. At
last, they left Vegas and it seemed in only minutes until they were in
mountains and the Harley was parked. Donnie built a campfire and they sat
together watching the flames dance.
thought about all that had happened and finally asked, “Who are
Donnie Blunt. Robert Tachman. Dante Stevens. William Haven. I
could go on all evening, but at some point you’d get bored.”
don’t understand. I don’t understand any of this.”
know you don’t, Jenny, and maybe you never will, but I’ll try to
tell you the truth, as I know it.”
do, because this is all so confusing. Is it...some kind of
of. Probably. I’m not really sure about that part. I do know
this. When we die, it doesn’t end. We return. I have a curse, or a blessing, I
don’t know which. I can remember, vividly, every life I’ve ever lived. It’s not
supposed to work that way, you know. Each life is meant to be a fresh start, a
chance to renew and redeem one’s self.”
not sure I believe you.”
not surprised. But you have lived before, also. I knew you in
a past life. We raised children together, and I’ve missed you very much.”
shiver passed through Jenny and she drew closer to Donnie and to
did you find me?”
luck. Never thought I’d find you at all. Wouldn’t have ever
expected to find you pumping gas.”
old are you?”
mean in this life? Thirty. Or do you mean total? That, I don’t
know. I remember walking the Nile while the Pyramids were being built. I fought
for Napoleon and Hitler. I died on the Russian front in the winter. I never met
Jesus of Nazareth, but I knew Mark, his disciple.”
know, Jenny, just like it’s unbelievable that we went to Vegas
and it’s not even two in the morning.”
spite of herself, Jenny yawned, and Donnie got up and went to
the bike, returning with an old wool blanket. “Here. Wrap up in this and catch
a nap. I’ll keep you safe.”
you...would you like to join me?”
I’d love to, but I don’t think we’re ready for that.”
is a nice blanket,” Jenny said, admiring the colors. The
burgundy stripes were an exact match to the paint on the Harley.
Navajo,” he said, gazing into the fire, “one of my wives made
it a couple hundred years ago. I found it in a trading post in New Mexico last
year, hanging on the wall, being used as art. I bought it back.” He looked over
at Jenny and she was asleep.
woke her as light was coming into the eastern sky. She felt
like she had slept a long time. He rolled the blanket and started the Harley,
saying, “We’ll have to hurry. I held off the dawn as long as I could, but some
things are inevitable.”
it seemed that only minutes passed and they were rolling
into her town. He dropped her off at the corner and said, “I’ll see you soon.”
you can get out. I’ll know.”
bent slightly and kissed him beside his ear and touched his
shoulder as he pulled out. Then she trudged down to the store. When she got
there, her old man was already up and wanting breakfast. “Where the hell you
been?” he asked.
couldn’t sleep, so I took a walk.” she replied, but she knew
he’d heard the Harley.
know where ya been. Ya snuck out an’ went ridin’ with that guy
on the Hog.”
swallowed a lump of fear and said, “Well, what if I did? I’m
not a little kid. In case you didn’t notice, Pop, I grew up on ya.”
ya sleep with him?”
stared at her father, sitting in his wheelchair, needing a
shave, his hair sticking up in back. She couldn’t believe he’d really asked
I didn’t. Not that it’s any of your business.” She was
starting to get pissed.
best stay away from that kind. They’ll just hurt ya.”
don’t know anything about him...”
know all I need to know! Sumbitch is a biker, isn’t he?”
Jenny could feel her cheeks burning with anger, and she said in
a quiet, barely controlled voice, “Oh, he’s a lot more than that, Pop.”
just stay clear of him.”
voice was getting strident, but Jenny couldn’t stop herself.
go out with whomever I choose. It’s my decision, Pop,
you take that tone with me, girl. Don’t you sass me!”
left him down in the store, ranting and fuming, and went to
her room. She lay on her bed, determined that she would not cry. She thought
about Donnie and all that had happened during the night, then at last she
turned on her side, grabbed her pillow and, burying her face in its coolness,
found her out on the street again, this time farther away
from the little store. She waited almost thirty minutes before she heard the rumble
of the bike. She would have waited all night.
Donnie was a second rider on a similar machine, and with the
stranger was another girl.
rolled up, and Jenny greeted him with a kiss, planted
slightly off-center on his mouth. He introduced the other rider, a shorter,
stockier man of about his same age.
is Alex. It’s Alexander, actually. He and I were in the Roman
legions together, but he doesn’t believe it, because he can’t remember it. He
just thinks I’m goofy and that’s why he likes me. The cute girl is Dawn, his
watch it!” Dawn said, then grinned. “Nice to meet you,
waited while Jenny clambered aboard; then they were off,
engines snarling as they headed out into the countryside.
Jenny found herself in a near dream-state, as the miles
whipped by. It seemed that only a few minutes had passed and they were pulling
into a small parking lot. A sign read, “Canyon overlook-South Rim”.
are we?” Jenny asked.
Canyon,” Donnie answered, “God’s Canyon, really. Ever been here?”
she answered weakly. It was a thousand miles from her town to
a magical place,” Donnie said, “so I come here a lot.”
they walked up to the overlook. They picked their way
carefully in bright moonlight until they reached the safety rail, where they
could look down a mile into the canyon.
it’s so beautiful,” Jenny breathed.
climbed over the rail, an action expressly forbidden by
view is much better from out here,” he said, holding out his
hand to her. Jenny glanced at Alex and Dawn, standing nearby. They merely
watched her with interest, to see what her reaction would be.
dunno...that looks pretty dangerous to me...”
be fine, Darlin’. Step over.”
heart was hammering as she climbed carefully over the pipe
rail and entered forbidden territory. As she stepped down on Donnie’s side of
the rail and turned to him, reaching for his hand, he stepped back...and
back...and back, until he had walked her right to the edge of the jutting rock
formation. His back was to a mile-deep drop, yet he was unconcerned and didn’t
even bother to look behind him.
for God’s sake...”
busy right now. Come sit beside me.” Then he turned and sat
down on the very edge, his feet dangling over emptiness.
sat down a few feet back and gingerly scooted forward on her
rear, until she was right beside him. He took her hand at last, and her grip
was that of a drowning man.
this is scary!” Her voice shook so badly, it was almost
is busy, too. He’s answering prayers. If we decide to slip
over the edge, we’re on our own.”
laughed nervously and said, “Don’t talk crazy, okay?”
not crazy, Jenny. See, you only perceive one life. You
can’t see the past ones you’ve lived, so you can’t be certain there’ll be
others. I know that if I die right now, I’ll merely become a child again, and
if you think about it, childhood is the best part of your life.”
don’t think I’m ready to die.”
sure you’re not, but I am, at any moment. See, when you know
about all your past lives and you know you will continue to live more lives, a
lot of the mystery and scary stuff goes away.”
I know is, I’m not ready to die. Not here. Not now.”
are you ready to do?”
as long as I can do it with you.”
you for your trust, Jenny, but that’s the wrong answer.
Flattering, but wrong. I meant, what are you ready to do with your life?”
dunno, I hadn’t thought about it lately.”
pump gas in Dickweed, Kansas ‘til you’re old and gray?”
Hell, no! But I don’t know...”
you do, Jenny. Look deep in your heart, and share.”
sat in silence for a little while, then, at last, she gave her
want to go to college. I want to study and eventually teach.”
I knew it.”
did you know it?” she asked, with a touch of skepticism
in her voice.
were a teacher before, when I knew you. And you will be,
no money for that. My dad and I already discussed it.”
reached into his jacket pocket and took something out and
handed it to her. In the moonlight, she could distinguish a packet of bills.
can’t take this...”
must. It’s the money I won on the slot machine in Vegas. It
means nothing to me. I can go there and win more, anytime. But for you, it’s
tuition and rent, to get you started. You’ll have to work, probably full-time,
and go to school at the same time. It’ll be very hard, but anything worth doing
is difficult. I know you’ll make it.”
can’t leave my dad...”
you can. You must.”
will he ever get along?”
hire some kid, or he’ll figure out how to manage by himself.
If you don’t leave and go your own way, you’ll live your life under his thumb
until he dies. Then your life will have been wasted. You’ll be old and bitter,
and for what?”
sat for a while, staring into the impressive depths of God’s
canyon, then she turned to Donnie and reached for him, wrapping her arms around
him, and they kissed, this time a real kiss. When at last they broke apart, she
said, “Thank you.”
you, too, Jenny.”
the life we had, before. You died that time, in childbirth,
and I was away. I never got the chance to tell you how much I really cared.”
held on to him fiercely and whispered into his collar, “Can we
go somewhere private? I want to be with you.”
don’t think so, Jenny.”
thrust him away and peered into his face, suspecting rejection,
and asked, “Why not?”
don’t think it’s supposed to go that way. Not this time. We’d
best get you home. It’ll be getting light out soon.”
was on her corner the next night and she heard the sound of a
Harley coming, but it was Alex, alone. He stopped and shut off his machine and
hung his head as he told her an awful thing. Donnie had crossed the center line
of the highway and hit a truck rig the night before, just after they’d dropped
her off. Donnie was dead. Alex wasn’t able to look at her face.
she stood there looking at Alex, she heard Donnie’s voice in her
mind saying, it’s only as dangerous as you make it. Had Donnie been
ready to die? Had he planned this?
turned and ran back to the tiny store, to once again hide in
her room and weep into her pillow.
Continental Trailways bus ran through Jenny’s small town at
noon each day. Her bags were packed, sitting in her room upstairs. With the
money from her stash, she had over six thousand dollars to begin her college
life with. Now she was having the argument with her father, the one she had
been dreading for days.
will you live?”
will you live?”
get a place. I’ve got some money.”
got shit! You don’t have any idea what it’s like out
in the real world.”
where you’re wrong, Pop. I know exactly what it’s like.”
you’re not leavin’. That’s all there is to it. You’ll stay
here an’ do what’s right.”
fingers caressed the cool steel of the .38 Special under
the counter. She’d already decided she’d shoot him if she had to, then herself.
One way or another, she was leaving…
the university, in Wichita, Jenny settled in quickly. She found
a roommate to share an apartment with and got a job waiting tables at a
Denny’s. Someday, she knew, she would teach, and perhaps marry and raise a
family. The only time she ever felt restless was when she would sometimes be
lying awake late at night, and hear the sound of motorcycle engines out on the
Kenneth Crist, firstname.lastname@example.org,
www.blackpetals.net, of Wichita, Kansas, wrote BP #87’s
“God’s Canyon” (+ BP #86’s “Tingles”; BP #85’s “It’s Out There…”;
serial, starting in BP #76, SURVIVING
MONTEZUMA; BP #78’s “Those Other Guys”;
“The Big Well” & “Virtuality” for BP #75; “Gift of the Anasazi” for BP #73;
“The Weeping Man” for BP #72; “Pebbles” for BP #71; “The Diner” for BP #67;
“New Glasses” for BP #61; “Ones and Zeros” for BP #50, & the novelette Joshua) and has edited BP for many
years, continuing as Editor Emeritus, then Coeditor/Webmaster. Widely
published, esp. in Hardboiled and on Yellow
Mama, he also has four chapbooks currently for sale in Kindle
format on Amazon.com: Dreaming of
Mirages, The Gazing Ball, Joshua, and Groaning
for Burial, his latest zombie fiction.