Tuesday, 6 January 2009

Dog Cyclist: Part I

Nobody says it’s quiet out here tonight because there’s nobody around, but it is quiet; eerily so. The little daylight that remains has had to spread itself thin, so there’s really only a sort of scratchy greyness by which to see. Being as how that’s the case, it’s probably advisable to get the pictorial description out of the way: a crossroad, seven miles out of Bremer (pop. 15,489); flat, balding grassland stretching off in every direction; one rusty metal signpost, whose relationship to the horizontal describes an angle of about 75 degrees on the acute side. The post bears two arrows and the broken stumps of two more; the complete ones, which point in opposite directions, read ‘Bremer – 7 miles’ and ‘Shackleton – 18 miles’.

It is from Bremer and towards Shackleton that the evening’s first interloper is travelling. He is a lean, wiry man of indeterminate age, dressed in a torn and stained body stocking that looks like it can only remember red as a distant cousin of the brown family. He is riding a bicycle of singular construction, clearly assembled based on which parts were available rather than which were preferable; still, it holds together somehow.

The strangest aspect of the cyclist’s appearance is his long, battered helmet, which appears to be a composite of a standard cycling helmet and some sort of elongated facemask; it’s the type of thing you might put on a wild dog to keep it from biting people.

The bicycle has no lights, and the relative quietness of its operation means that its approach has been a stealthy one. This is not true of the vehicles pursuing it: two off-road automobiles with headlights blazing. They were about 300 metres behind when the cyclist came into view, but they’re closing pretty fast, despite the fact that their quarry is cycling at an incredible 55mph. They’re within 150 metres by the time he reaches the crossroad, at which point the chain on his bicycle suddenly comes loose and jams the back wheel, catapulting him into the tarmac. He lands hard, and by the time he’s managed to climb, groggily, to his feet, his pursuers are upon him.

‘Don’t fucking move, dickhead!’ shouts the first man out of the off-roaders, shining a powerful flashlight into the de-cycled cyclist’s face. Small eyes squint back from behind the helmet’s muzzle, betraying no hint of comprehension. Three more men emerge and bear down on the injured figure; together they encircle him at a distance of about five feet. They seem unwilling to go closer.

‘Let’s not make any trouble,’ says the torch-bearer, ‘Just do what I fucking say, right?’ He pauses, awaiting a response; it is not forthcoming. ‘Alright,’ he continues, managing to cover his uncertainty well enough that his associates fail to notice it, ‘get him down on the ground.’

The encirclers stay where they are for a few seconds, each waiting for the others to make a move; one of them edges forward, only to leap back when the cyclist sways slightly in his direction. Anticipating the imminent loss of initiative, the torch-bearer curses to himself and steps forward, bringing his torch down onto the unprotected shoulder of his adversary: there is a crunch and an animal whimper, after which the man falls to earth like a damp sheet pulling free from a washing line.


The insides of cars are hot, airless, frighteningly enclosed spaces is what he thinks, although not in so many words. Thinking is really more of a sensual experience for him: snapshots from his past, colours, sounds; more like the way an infant thinks, probably. Language is a paltry, abstract contrivance.

That last thought – language is a paltry, abstract contrivance – was really the memory of the fat-armed school teacher who tried to make him read in front of the class; the feeling of the skin of that woman’s hand in his mouth: warmth, saltiness, the taste of metal. Blue Bear Goes to the Beach wasn’t half as unambiguous as his teeth.

It doesn’t matter that the inside of this car is cool, well ventilated, spacious; cars are all of a kind, and any appearance to the contrary is a deception. He’s still pretty out of it, after all, although not too out of it to register a few other facts, namely that: he is sitting in the central back seat, his hands tied behind his back, flanked by two big guys who are trying to look as tough as possible while pressing themselves right up against their respective windows; his left shoulder hurts a lot more than a healthy left shoulder does, and the position of his arms isn’t helping matters; his helmet/mask is still in place, presumably because his captors didn’t like the thought of what they might find underneath.

There is only the driver up front, and he can see the back end of the other vehicle through the windscreen. There could be as many as five more men in there, armed, for all he knows. Best to stay still for now; conserve strength. The suspension of responsibility this scenario represents is soothing to him, and he soon begins to doze. The only concern that lingers in the back of his mind is the status of his bicycle.

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