Friday, December 16, 2011

#FridayFlash: To Begin With

I’m not sure about this one, so feel free to pound on it if you’re so inclined.



To Begin With

Source: Wikimedia Commons
The Harley was dead, to begin with.

Finds like this are rare nowadays. Almost every barn, shed, and garage in the world has been mined for vintage motorcycles. Those who still have them have an idea of what they’re worth — gone are the days when they’d almost pay you to cart off that hunk of rust.

I didn’t get it for free, but a hundred bucks is close. “Yeah,” the old lady said, “I could probably get a lot more for it, but I’d have to put it up for sale. To be honest, I need the space in the shed more than I need the money. My husband brought that thing home… oh God, thirty years ago. He left it there all this time, then he passed away last year, just as he finally started tinkering with it.” I didn’t exactly argue with her about the price. Maybe I should have — if I’d offered her something close to what it was worth, she might have still let me have it for the hundred bucks, but… well, I’m getting ahead of myself.

She watched as I pushed it out of the shed and onto my trailer. It was a tough slog — the tires were flat and rotten, and the axles turned only under protest. The chain was caked with grease, which was good because it didn’t impede me even more. The clutch cable was frozen, but I managed to find neutral after a few attempts.

“I think I got the better end of this transaction,” said the old lady, with a sardonic smile, after I wrestled the bike onto the trailer and got a couple tie-downs on it. “Would you like something to drink?”

“Sure,” I said. “But seriously, you’re letting this go for —”

She waved off my protest. “Coffee or tea?”

“Water would be fine,” I said. She nodded and ducked into the house, bringing out an old green tumbler full of ice water as I finished securing my prize.

“Mitch wi— would be pleased,” she said as I drained the glass. “At least someone’s taking on his old project.” She paused a moment as I handed her the tumbler. “Well, I’m sure you’re anxious to get home and start fixing it up.”


The restoration went much smoother than expected. I had to tear it down, of course, but the insides were in much better shape than I could have hoped for — almost no wear on the bearings, and no scoring on the cylinder walls. The odometer’s 1300 miles could well have been honest. The frame was sound, and most of the rust was only on the surface. A few hundred bucks’ worth of parts, and a bunch of evenings spent the way I like spending them, and I had a vintage bike easily worth eight grand. Maybe ten.

It was Christmas Eve when I hooked up the battery. Cold outside, but warm enough in the garage. I thumbed the compression release, squeezed the clutch, and stood on the kickstarter. To my surprise and delight, it coughed to life on the third kick! “Merry Christmas! It lives!” I shouted. I let it warm up while donning my cold-weather gear.

“Where to?” I asked the bike. Friends were drifting off… but Jim had said something about a Christmas party at his place tonight. It was only ten miles away, and my gear was good for thirty in this weather. I backed out of the garage, flipped on the headlight, and was on my way.

The Harley was alive!


I’d gone maybe a mile when the rabbit dashed across the road. The bike surged on me, as if jumping at the rabbit, and we nailed it before I had a chance to brake or throttle back. I grimaced, but there wasn’t much I could do about it. Evolution in action, etc.

I was almost to Jim’s place when it started sputtering. I cursed and pulled to the side under a street light, working the spark advance to keep it running, and leaned over to look. Nothing leaking, but that didn’t mean anything. I could have missed a piece of crud in the fuel system — or worse, an oil line — and now I was paying the price. I took off a glove to twist the petcock, then cut a finger groping for it. A second later, the engine smoothed out. I wrapped a napkin from my pocket around my finger, then put the glove back on. Whatever crud it was, I thought, it must have passed through.

Jim’s party paused for a few minutes, because everyone heard my grand entrance and wanted to see the bike. Beer flowed freely, and I drank more than usual when on two wheels. Jim offered to let me stay over, but the Harley started right up again and I rolled out.

A rat scurried out in front of me on the way home. Again, the Harley surged and caught it. Too weird, I thought, but I had no idea anything was wrong until I got to the turn home… and kept going. I couldn’t get the bike to slow down, no matter how hard I throttled back or braked. Straight on we went, into the ugly part of town.

Close to midnight, I saw the drunk staggering along the sidewalk up ahead… and so did the bike. The headlight died, and I braced myself for what was coming. The drunk stumbled into the street and the Harley surged again. I wrestled the handlebars, but the bike was in control: it swerved at the last second, kicking the back end around and slapping the drunk back to the sidewalk. The reaction pushed us out of the skid. We kept going, and haven’t stopped yet.

So if you see me coming, get away from the road.

The Harley is undead. And it’s hungry.

22 comments:

  1. Awesome tale. The Harley is undead. And it's hungry. I loved the closing lines; capped this flash off perfectly.

    (Your piece reminded me in many ways of Christine by Stephen King.)

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  2. Brilliant, definitely one of my favourites of yours. Stephen King would be proud!

    "Walter wi— would" - such a sneaky line there :).

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  3. Fantastic, Larry. I loved the undead bike, hungry for blood, but the first line? A classic Christmas opening.

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  4. I found that line with: "Walter wi-- would be pleased." to be great foreshadowing, but it was vague enough to where I couldn't predict what would happen.

    I guess as far as some #stabbylove, I found the part where the bike breaks down to be a bit out of place. It did give me pause to think the bike was going to try and strand him out in the cold or something like that, but then I realized even if he was half way, he would only be 5mi from Jim's or his own place. Perhaps something with the blood awakened it, but I'm not sure either since it surged for the rabbit.

    Also, and this is picky, you start two consecutive paragraphs with "Water would be fine." and essentially "Walter would be proud." Very similar construction and the Walter and Water are quite similar as well. It played a little trick on my eyes, and I thought for a moment that 'Walter' was 'Water'

    But overall this was a great piece and I loved the ending!

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  5. I love the last lines. An undead Harley is pretty creepy. :)

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  6. Is this about that new Ghost Rider trailer, Larry?

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  7. Hey all!

    Quinn, the difference between this Harley and Christine was that the bike likes blood. Pushing it doesn't repair it.

    Craig, thanks. Rare company you & Quinn put me in there. Glad to see that sneaky line got caught!

    Tony, I couldn't resist!

    Thanks Michael. I changed the name, although the story really didn't want to update. I had to trick it. I'm not kidding. 8-o

    Cherie, Ganymeder, thanks much!

    John, I don't think the rider caught fire or anything. :-D

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  8. This puts a whole new spin on "Born To Run." Of course, in the UK it would have to be a Triumph Bonneville. They were definitely possessed by the Devil.

    Great story Larry..

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  9. Bloody awesome. Soon, it should ask to be fed.

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  10. Tom, the vintage Triumphs would certainly qualify. Wasn't Lucas's nickname "Lord of Darkness"? Thanks!

    Raven, I doubt it will do anything as polite as ask — I expect a line to snake up and attach itself to his wrist before long!

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  11. Sometimes when our hobbies take over our lives it's not our fault.

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  12. Oh a deadly bike indeed! Very good, I found myself reading faster and faster towards the end, just like the bike surging forward. ^__^

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  13. I thought the sneaky line was a bit too obvious, but then my mind actively seeks twists as I read. So I saw it coming, but it was brilliantly written and the end was superb, the last four sentences couldn't get any better. =)

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  14. Tim, they usually don't take over so literally, either!

    Helen, that's quite a compliment — sounds like you got absorbed in the story!

    Thanks, John. Funny thing, I'll put in "sneaky lines" that seem so obvious, and they often go by without a mention.

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  15. I rather liked this one. In particular the structure: "The Harley was dead", "The Harley was alive", "The Harley is undead". I knew that old lady wasn't to be trusted.

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  16. He needs a bike exorcist. LOL Or a bike slayer or something.

    Really liked the last two lines. Also this line: "Walter wi— would"

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  17. An undead bike? Yikes! This guy got a lot more than he expected with this purchase. Great story.

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  18. Great opening line. I love the way this hints at what will, and sets the tone. I enjoyed the story.

    You asked for criticism. I found the opening created a question for me that wasn't resolved in the ending. That question is related to him wishing he'd offered her more money. Almost as a sense of regret, but the ending doesn't seem to have regret as much as warning.

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  19. It's like Christine on two wheels.

    Loved this though.

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  20. Howdy all!

    Flyingscribbler, the structure was either inspiration or just something that demanded to be added. And yeah, the old lady had something up her sleeve. A longer story would have seen him get back to/at her.

    Sonia, some bikes just seem to be possessed! Glad you liked it!

    Thanks, Chuck!

    Aidan, yes, that wasn't developed as well as I'd planned. He felt like he'd taken advantage of her, and thought if he'd offered what it was really worth that the curse wouldn't have had any effect.

    Thanks, Icy!

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  21. I bought a boat from an old Ladies shed once for a hundred quid, that was similarly cursed.

    Like the idea of him eternally wrestling the bike trying to stop its killing spree.

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