Thursday, October 30, 2014

Critical Mass


“Watch it, asshole! You’re going to kill yourself!”

It was another close call, but nothing out of the ordinary for Marco who was flying on two-wheels. It was like he was doorbell-ditching Death every time he rode his 54cm black fixed speed bicycle through the streets of L.A. The bike had only one gear and it was called, “Go.”

Go through the yellow light! Go around those cars! Go up the middle, you pussy, go, go, GO…you’ll make it!

A few weeks back, when Marco’s mother and father, paid a visit to Los Angeles, they witnessed this first hand. Waiting for their son outside a restaurant, they heard a screech of tires as their son blew through an intersection to make their lunch appointment. He had nearly been sideswiped by a late model Volvo, as the driver laid her palm on the horn and didn’t let up.

Marco stopped, but only for a moment, in front of the Volvo and grinned at the driver.

The horn continued to bellow, but he held up his hands with a “Did I do that?” look. Catching that his parents witnessed this near miss, Marco smiled with gap-toothed pride and called out to them, “Welcome to L.A.”

“Get out of the road, you asshole,” the woman yelled from the confines of her luxury automobile.
“Hey lady, that’s my mother over there. Show some respect.”

The driver looked over – Marco’s mother, Martina shook her head and covered her eyes.

“Your son is nuts, lady!” 

Marco moved out of the way, and the Volvo drove off with the driver rolling her eyes in that bemused Los Angeles way.

“Why don’t you get a car, honey? It’s too dangerous.” His mother had asked to Marco as they shared a dish of ice cream.

“And pay for gas?” Marco asked, “Insurance? Have to take it in for an oil change every three months and deal with the crazy traffic? Live half my life on the 405?” Marco pulled the cherry off of the sundae and popped it into his mouth, “I’d rather use that money to buy a new computer.”

Marco’s father, Hector chuckled. He was a bit more “on the level” with his son.

“He wants the adventure,” Hector said, as he lightly nudged his wife. He was a big man, big arms, with an enormous belly. He worshipped his son in the way that any father marvels at their child – knowing that the best of them has passed down to a new generation.

“Look at our boy, he’s in perfect shape, Martina! Those legs of his are steel. He’s doing the world some good. Saving the environment, one pedal at a time, right?”

Hector let out both a gasp and a laugh; he knew that it wasn’t about the environment or saving money. The truth was simple, painful, and clear: Marco was afraid to drive.

Father and son exchanged a knowing a look – a remembrance of Hector teaching Marco how to drive in figure-eights around an empty church parking lot – of the countless attempts to parallel park.

Hector remembered his son weeping with frustration as he knocked over the cone for the twentieth time, never mastering the art of backing up and sweeping in. The tears were something his son never revealed to anyone, let alone his mother. Hector knew that his song was tough and he watched him bite back tears when he fractured his wrist, or feigned that nothing hurt when his brothers roughhousing got downright medieval.

Driving was another matter – it was the boy’s weakness. Marco could never grasp that you only used one foot to control the gas and the brake. He wanted to pump with both legs.  Both legs were always twitching, jumping – they were ready for action. He would have been a great drummer. Hector knew this right away and was determined that maybe Marco would gravitate towards a stick shift – maybe that was how he could solve his youngest boy’s driving dilemma. After borrowing a manual drive car from his neighbor, it didn’t solve the issue, but only seemed to exacerbate the problem.

Again, Occam’s Razor was in effect. The simplest answer seemed to confound the most heartfelt of efforts. Marco worked best when both legs were in unison. He could never master the clutch release while adding the gas. It was push and pull, and though it made sense intellectually to Marco, it just didn’t connect. The manual transmission screeched and screamed. Before long, Hector and Marco could smell the fumes of the clutch as it boiled under the pressure.

The neighbor never said anything about the car (or the smell), but he never did return the weed whacker Hector loaned him, when normally the neighbor had always been so prompt to return. 

Hector was willing to part with the weed whacker – knowing how much it would have cost to replace the clutch.

Martina put her foot down on the motorcycle suggestion.

Hector wasn’t sure if Marco could handle a motorbike, but he was blazing and graceful on his ten-speed. The kid was a natural on anything with two wheels. Hector felt that his son would have to eventually own a vehicle of some type.

But Martina vetoed the suggestion as soon as it was presented. Hector often joked that he was merely the CFO of the family, and it was the CEO who was boss.

Martina shot the suggestion down with merely a glance that said, “There was no way in hell my boy is going to ride a Donor Cycle.”  

Hector didn’t know what to do? Unless Marco learned to drive a car, he would be forced to ride his bike into adulthood. He’d be stuck riding a bus or taking cabs, looking like the working class Hector desperately wanted his boy to escape.

Hector had spent the majority of his life waking before dawn and working until dark. He was proud of his work ethic, but never proud of his work. The grease under his fingernails had lasted far too long – and though he had become a well sought after Maintenance Mechanic for over a dozen wineries in the Los Osos Valley, he wanted his children to aspire to be anything they wanted, anything without grease under their fingernails.

A young man needed a car. But Marco…

Even when Hector quietly offered to give Marco money to purchase a vehicle of his choice, Marco bought a road bike, and refused to buy a car.

Hector had to hand it to him. Here he was at twenty-four years of age, working in graphic design at well-known advertising agency, and living (by choice) in the heart of North Hollywood.  He was making do with just two wheels and a metro card to get to downtown LA and back.

“You be careful on that thing,” Hector said to his son, before he and Martina headed back up north.

“Your mother worries,” Hector chided, “That’s her job. But seeing you blow through that intersection just now, you had my heart skipping rope.”

Marco hugged his old man – he loved him all right – he couldn’t have asked for better parents. To worry is to love, he thought. He looked his father straight in the eyes.

 “I’m always careful, I always wear a helmet…” Marco knocked on the hard plastic strapped to his head. It was decorated in stickers with no rhyme or reason. There were stickers with bands he never listened to and slogans he didn’t care to say.

What the stickers hid were the numerous cracks from where his helmet kissed the asphalt. It had saved his brain on many of an occasion – and though it was recommended that you change your helmet after any initial impact – Marco felt it was his good luck charm.

“You mean that potato you stick on your head,” Hector said, as the stickers could only cover so much, and plopped a meaty palm on to the top of Marco’s head. “That’ll save you from a two-ton truck?”

Marco kissed his Dad on the back of his cheek, “I’ll be fine. Now get out of here before you get stuck on the 101.”

“Just look both ways…and obey the law.” His father said.

“Obey the law!” Marco’s mother said with finality before giving her son one more good, long kiss on the side of his eye.

They motored away and Marco sighed with a bit of relief. His eyes narrowed and his vision sharpened. He was back on his own again. Back.

In the streets.

In the land of his control.

He knew this town better than when he was growing up in Gonzalez. He knew it better than the back roads of Los Alamos, where his family moved when he was ten.

Los Angeles was his now– every intersection, every back alley, every short cut, side street and Metrolink wormhole. It was his. And he wouldn’t have it any other way.

He had every bit of control on his bike – even when he couldn’t control the millions of other drivers.

Marco had been hit numerous times, but all of them were never more serious then standard close calls. He had the agility to contort and twist his body mid-air. A bit like an acrobat, he could position himself for the safest landing possible.

Marco should have broken his collarbone three different times, snapped both wrists, had his knees replaced, a nose surgically engineered from the fat of his ass – lost eyes, lost teeth, been scalped.

But yet for the mystery of life and save for his ability to either turn in just the right way, or slide effortlessly up and over the roof of the car – Marco had remained mostly unscathed.

Scabs were ever present on his elbows, he knees and ankles. One time, the mirror of a pickup gave him a black eye – but that was his fault for not paying attention.

His friends had asked before they knew better, “Are you insane? That Beemer just totaled your bike…nearly totaled you! And you’re going out for another ride?”

“Why stop?” Marco had asked. “I’m not letting them win.”

But deep down, Marco wondered if his nine lives had already been spent. He had been more than lucky – he had been blessed. But it was starting to gnaw on him now. He’d have to buckle down and get a car. Ugh. It would be selling his soul.

But things were getting serious now that Lucy was in the picture.


Marco met Lucy during LA’s famous Critical Mass bike rally. 

The Critical Mass ride sprang from a close group of cyclists who wanted to brave the nighttime streets of Los Angeles. But being dangerous to ride through the city at night, the only way to beat the streets was to ride with a crowd.

A big crowd - a crowd that had grown into a phenomenon.

On the last Friday of every month, thousands of bicyclists gather at the corner of Western and Wilshire – and without knowing exactly where they are headed – follow a pickup truck with flashing lights and orange vested volunteers – and are lead through maze of LA streets and points of interest. Riding, rolling, hooting and hollering, the mass holds the streets of LA hostage.

And it is fantastic.

Sometimes they roll west and invade Westwood, Santa Monica and Venice Beach. The hundreds of bicycles cruise ocean side, smelling the salt and caramel apples, waving at the teenyboppers and retired couples that tour the Promenade. Eventually the pickup truck leads the group back onto Olympic where they own the boulevard until reaching home at Wilshire and Western.

By this time it will be well past one in the morning – with everyone exhausted, but elated.

It is something special when all of those bicycles take over the streets of LA. As if they are crowned king of the city if only for just that day.

All cars are brought to a standstill, as the Sheriff’s department usually assists at the larger intersections, while people on the street wave at the unending stream of riders.

The bicycles themselves are a sight to behold – covered in colored rights that are wrapped around the spokes, frames and handlebars. Some bicyclists strap a cooler to their back fender, filled with ice and canned Modelo. Music pumps out of speakers from their backpacks or strapped to the frame. 

Anywhere you ride, it is akin to traveling through spectrum of the radio. There is hip-hop here, and if riding ahead, punk rock there. Onto trance, or any jam band you might like.

Marco liked to linger with the reggae, if only for a moment.

The riders are generally dressed in costume or in street clothes, some with or without helmets, they cheer and pump their fists and hop over sidewalk bumps, raising their smart phones over their head to capture video of the event.

Marco lived for the Critical Mass. It was the Burning Man for bicyclists. If hippies could dance, then those like Marco could ride.

This is where Marco first caught eyes with Lucy – and where she coyly mentioned that she liked his bike.

It was the same spray-painted black “fixy” that Marco was riding at the moment – since  the road bike Hector bought him long gone, was demolished under the wheels of a sooped up El Camino.

Lucy asked him if he knew a quicker way to the Coliseum – which was the rest stop for the Critical Mass riders – to which Marco replied, “Yeah, I’ll show you.”

The two broke off from the group and raced down Olympic, dodging cars and blowing through yellow lights. They were racing and Marco was impressed, Lucy knew how to ride. She was good, maybe even better than him. But his vision sharpened and his reflexes quickened – and he was sure he was going to give her a run for her money.

Everything about that night was as if it were predestined – as if it were scripted. As if it were already etched into their memories long before it ever occurred.


Every word spoken, every joke told, every light that turned green was in their favor.

Lucy and Marco were hooked to each other from the start – and when Critical Mass ended for the night – they continued to ride, vowing not to stop until sunrise.

They came close – but Marco couldn’t shake the cramp in his thigh and they stopped on the corner of Rossmore and Clinton Street.

Leaning against a lamppost from a different era, Marco kneaded his leg and without thinking, kissed Lucy on a whim.

She had been making fun of the sole of his shoe, as it was nearly torn off: “You keeping that together with chewing gum?” She asked.

Marco couldn’t help himself, and neither could she.

And that was their meet-cute and time rolled on.

Tonight, was going to be their tenth Critical Mass.

And Marco was late.

He promised Lucy that after the ride ended, they would roll down to the beach and watch the sun rise.

They had made good on their first promise, and rode through the night a month after they met. It had been unseasonably cold that morning, and wetter than they had anticipated.

That wouldn’t be the case tonight – they were going to be war.

But Marco forgot the blankets at home when he left for work and had to race back to NoHo on the Redline.

He had plenty of time - but then his landlord dropped by and talked at length about repainting the interior, who was not paying their rent, the crazy explosion of money and energy in North Hollywood – and before long it was six-thirty. A mere sixty minutes from show time.  

At seven-thirty, Critical Mass would start the ride with or without him – and he couldn’t’ call Lucy...well…he could – but there was a rule once the ride started: You were to be given no clues. You’d have to find the group on your own.

Marco had taught this rule to Lucy a few months back. She wasn’t pleased, even though he had warned her multiple times – it was the legacy of the ride.

Critical Mass was to be discovered each and every time. Lucy had argued with Marco that night, annoyed that he wouldn’t answer his phone after seven-thirty – and it was the only time in their ten-month courtship that all was not honeysuckle and bumblebees.

Was Marco being bullish about this? Was he being just a tad pig-headed? Sure, he was, but aren’t we all with our own peccadilloes? The argument lasted an hour after she found the Mass, covered in sweat and furious.

But a rule was a rule, and this time, it was up to Marco to discover the group. And with the heavy pack of blankets, and a change of clothes on his back, he needed to make some serious good time.

Marco made a quick excuse to his landlord, and hopped onto his bike with a most serious quest on his mind. He now had forty-five minutes before Critical Mass rolled out.

He could make it if he hopped back on the Redline, and booked it to Vermont/Sunset. From there on, it would all be downhill.

Marco adjusted his pack and tightened his helmet. It’d be close – but Marco loved a challenge when it presented itself on two-wheels. Fitting his feet into the straps around the pedals, Marco kicked up his legs and took off in a blur.

Most people don’t know that Los Angeles has a subway system, and one that is efficient, affordable and for the most part, clean.

Marco skidded to a stop at the intersection of Magnolia and Lankershim, as a couple of LA’s finest waited to turn left – eyeing Marco for a red light ticket.

He’d gotten a couple citations before – and for the amount the city charged, it would mean his meals would consist of ramen and more ramen for the next few months to pay it off.

The clock was ticking, and Marco was already soaking through the Manchester United jersey he wore during Critical Mass. He’d only biked a few blocks, but adrenaline had seized him. Who knows where the ride would go? He could be canvassing the city for hours before he finally caught up with them.

And Lucy...ugh, she would not be pleased.

The LAPD moved on, and so did Marco as soon as they were out of view. He likened this experience to that ancient game, Frogger – where one false move meant, “SPLAT!”

Fortunes smiled on him the rest of the way, as he held his bike over his head as he rolled down the escalator, and caught the train seconds before the doors closed shut.

Coming out into the fading light of the day at Sunset and Vermont, Marco checked his cell phone when it finally grabbed a signal – and he had less than twelve minutes to go.

This was it, he thought, this was his race to lose.

Marco jammed his way west down Sunset, where the strip was no longer glamorous, but downright sketchy. Graffiti was marked on every powerbox, and more buildings were locked down then open for business.

It was all liquor stores, massage parlors and questionable Chinese restaurants with a sun-faded “A” in the window.

Up ahead was his ticket down south – Normandie. A wormhole, much like Western, though less crowded on a Friday night.

Marco took a left while riding with the traffic, ignoring the various honks that plagued him as he grew bold enough to take up a lane – and then it was all downhill. Marco pumped his legs until he reached terminal velocity.

The fixy didn’t have brakes – brakes were cumbersome and heavy – and Marco learned long ago to use his right foot to slow the back tire.

Lucy later learned this was why Marco ran through his soles while his shoes remained relatively new. He was burning rubber on rubber – and as he sped down the hill, Marco kept his right foot limber for immediate action.

Racing through the middle of cars inching through a usual bottleneck coming up on Beverly, Marco caught sight of other riders making their way to the mass.

Marco pulled his cell out of his pocket, and it was 7:29. He wasn’t going to make it; he was at least another two miles from Wilshire.

Lucy was going to be pissed.

Marco summoned every bit of energy he had into his lower core, and used his back and legs, now burning, rubbery and viscous, to crush as much weight into the pedals as he could.

Traffic was easing, and there was more room to breathe.

Marco blew past a gaggle of amateur bikers, with their flashing helmets and fifteen hundred dollar Trek frames.

He was going to make it.

He had to.

The night was his.

Marco owned this city. He knew it better than anyone, he knew it, because he could trace the pulse of Los Angeles and ride the wave.

This was his, all his..

A horn blared, as Marco looked up from his handlebars.

Two things struck him before he flew in the air: 1) That the light he rode into was red and 2) He was on the corner of Normandie and Melrose.


God, he hated Melrose.

On the numerous times when Marco was hit by a car, he could recount the slow down effect to whoever would listen.

“I don’t remember the impact, I don’t feel the impact – all I feel is time slowing down, as if I am suddenly leaping onto a single second, and hanging on for dear life. It’s during this hang time that I can adjust...”

It didn’t matter if a car, truck or police cruise. It didn’t matter the intersection. It didn’t even matter the bike. All that mattered was that Marco stayed alert and alive during the hang time. He could adjust. He would adjust.

Red light. Melrose.

“God, I hate Melrose” raced through his head in a multitude of different languages, as he hung onto that second for dear life.

In the air he traveled, across the sky he wandered, and soon gravity would have him.

He was holding his bike. He was holding it as it rotated with him. He was flying upside down now, as a green vehicle skidded underneath – skidded and smashed into another car.

Broken glass, shattered plastic, twisted metal underneath – the second was closing now, all was coming back into focus. Time was starting up again.

Marco adjusted.

Pushing his weight to the left, Marco brought himself and his bike right side up, and landed at the far end of the intersection.

On two wheels, on two legs, with working limbs, and without a scratch or a dent – a master of miracles – his ninth life had just been spent in full.

The account was empty now – Marco knew that – next time he would be in the red.

Somebody screamed, a horn blasts, now sirens in the distance. Marco knows that if sticks around, he’ll be in deep.

Deeper than he ever has been. Deeper than he can afford.

Marco did something he had never done before – he runs.

Riding his bike down the sidewalk, he dodges people who run towards the scene, and with traffic momentarily stopped, he flies back into the southbound lane and puts his head down.

Soon, he is riding in silence – traffic is back to normal, and he is really moving now. He is graceful and electric on the bike.

The adrenaline has now paid many a dividend. He is going to find the Mass and he is going to kiss Lucy and tell her he is buying a car.

Marco reaches into his pocket for his cell – but it is gone. Long gone. Another sensation jars him, he feels the wind in his hair. Reaching up to his scalp, his fingers are suddenly deep in his sweat-soaked black locks.

The helmet, the cell – shit, he doesn’t have his wallet, or his backpack – all must have been lost in the melee.

He shouldn’t have run – the Po-Po will discover his entire life on the pavement – ID, credit cards, his Peddler's West membership card.

Marco shakes his head in dismay and continues to ride. He won’t turn around - he’s gone too far.

He was lucky to have been spared his life – he can part with the stuff – everything he needs was right there. His health and his bike – and he peddles, and soon he is reaching Wilshire.

Any moment now.

And that’s when Marco met the Sharks.


They come, a bit of rolling thunder of their own accord, the whizzing of wheels, the hard clatter of steel rims over bumps, the clicking change of their gears, and the hoots of men on their mechanical stallions.

“On the left, your left” yelled one of them, as he raced by Marco as if he were standing still. 

“Your right, your right” another one commanded, as he too flew by with a speed that was almost preternatural.

“Behind, behind..."

Marco whipped his around, and saw a tall gangly fellow, with a reddish complexion and hell-raising eyes.

“I’m gonna buzz you...”

The rider buzzed the front wheel against Marco’s back tire.

“Hey, stop it!” Marco called out, suddenly annoyed.

“Your left, your left” as another rider passed and then slowed coming within an elbows distance to Marco.

This was one was African-American and wears a shirt with a silver Tomahawk – the weapon, not the plane.

“You headed to the Mass, aren’t you...” asks the African-American, and Marco’s bike tire is buzzed again.

“I told you to cut that out,” Marco directed at the guy behind.

“Aw, come on, man. We’re just playing.”

The reddish-complexion rider pulled up to the right, and now the three of them were hogging the right lane on Wilshire.

“What’s your name, son?” Asked the reddish rider.

“Let me guess,” said the African-American, “It’s Jose.”

Red laughed, “Naw, it’s Luis.”

“No way is he a Luis,” the African-American said, “It’s Joe-say. Am I right?”

Marco shook his head, “Enough with the Mexican jokes.”

“Well, aren’t you?” Asked the African American, and Marco rolled his eyes.

“It’s Marco."

The guys laughed.

Red asked, “Are you sure it isn’t Mako?”

“Nice,” the African American said. “We need a Mako,” he followed up.

“Marco,” Marco said again, more than annoyed, but now a bit frightened. These guys were being aggressive.

“We’re the Sharks,” Red said, and they were – as a pack of them, different guys; various sizes, ethnicities, makes and models – on bikes of from old to new – they surround Marco, now their own Critical Mass owning one side of the streets on Wilshire.

“I’m Hammerhead,” said Red – and so he is.

“I’m Thresher,” said the African-American, followed up by Whitey, Bull, and an assortment of other sharks.

Sharks that ride the streets of LA in a pack, or better yet, a school.

“But we don’t have a Mako,” said Hammerhead, “Why don’t you join up with us?”

The offer was sincere, and the threat seemed relatively low.

“You headed to the Mass?” Marco asked.

“Something like that,” said Hammerhead, “Follow us, Mako.”

The sharks turned down a side street into an urban neighborhood with craftsman style homes, once a splendor to behold, but now run down, with windows protected by steel bars.

“This was ground zero during the riots,” said Thresher, “I don’t think it has ever recovered.”

“Look at Thresher, running for Mayor, huh?” Catcalls Whitey, “I’ll vote for you.”

Thresher shot Whitey a look, “Shut your mouth.”

Whitey grins – showing two immaculate rows of teeth. “The better to chew on you, my dear,” he said, but Thresher pedals ahead, leaving them all in the dust.

“You guys ride often?” Marco asked, and the guys responded with laughter, hoots and hollers.

“Oh we ride,” Hammerhead said, “We ride and ride.”

Through the neighborhood, the riders wait at a light and Marco spies the Mass up ahead.

“There it is.”

Marco kicks his wheels, and speeds down the street.

“Follow the leader,” screamed Hammerhead, and the school of sharks take off in pursuit.

Lucy was decorated in LED Lights. Her helmet, the bike frame, the wheels – in a rainbow of colors that swirl in and out, in a crowd of this size, she was still hard to miss.

She checked her phone and sees that Marco hasn’t called.

That damn legacy, she thought.

She wanted to call him – but he will then think he cheated.

Lucy placed the cell back in her pocket and looked around. A feeling of desperation overwhelms her – a feeling that she’ll never find him. That she’s lost him.

She continues the slow roll with the other riders, staying near the back, to allow him time to catch up.
_
Marco spots her from quarter a mile behind, and relief floods his system. He has his health, his bike, and his love. At the moment there is nothing better than that.

She is wearing the LED’s he helped her design. They waste batteries – but in this moment, he has never been happier to spot her from this distance.

“You’re really moving, now. You got someone up there?” Asked Thresher, as he paces Marco, with his hands on his hips, letting the handlebars go untouched.

Thresher maintained the speed that Marco worked so hard for, as effortless as holding letting the wind push you.

“Goddamn, you’re fast,” Marco said in return.

“Thanks,” responded Thresher, “So who is she?”

“My girlfriend,” Marco said, and Thresher threw him a look, an uncanny look of dismay.

“He’s got a girlfriend up there,” Thresher calls out to the pack behind.

More hoots, more hollers, but nothing more.

Lucy’s LED’s are growing now – she must be really taking it easy.

“Good girl,” Marco said, “Thank you, thank you,” he said to no one in particular.

Marco and the Sharks gain on the Mass, and soon, they are speeding through the slowest riders, as Marco approaches Lucy.

Marco thinks about scaring her, but knows that wouldn’t be welcomed. Instead, he plans on calling her name.

“Lucy,” he said, softly – but when she doesn’t hear him, he calls out louder.

He reaches for her.

But a firm hand catches his wrist – it’s Hammerhead.

“Let’s ride, Sharks!”

Hammerhead won’t let go, and Marco is pulled past Lucy.

“Lucy!” Marco calls out, but Hammerhead laughs.

Marco turns to see Lucy looking around – she must have heard his voice, but this band of lunatics has taken him hostage.

“Faster, Sharks! Faster!” Hammerhead calls out, and removing his hand from Marco’s wrist, he grips the handlebars – and they blaze past the crowd of Critical Mass, and speed south from the Coliseum where everyone else is headed to rest.

“What the hell are you doing?” Marco screams, but Hammerhead and the sharks contiue to ride.

“Faster!”

And they roll – as if going downhill in San Francisco – the wheels hum with a life of their own, and Marco is moving at a speed he has never experienced.

The group is pushing each other.

The Sharks scream out, “Ride, ride, ride!”

Hammerhead lets go of the handlebars, “Don’t ever stop, Mako, you can’t stop!”

“The hell with this!”

Marco reaches his right foot to his back tire and burns rubber on rubber, skidding to a stop. The school of Sharks fly past him as Marco hangs onto the handlebars to keep himself from toppling over.

The Sharks are in the distance now – that speed, Marco thinks, how in the world can they go so fast?

And it is in the blink of an eye, that light flood Marco’s senses.

Turning to his right, a truck (a two-ton, his Father would have said) plows through the intersection and right into Marco.

Where it passes right through him.

And suddenly Marco is filled with dread.

At first thought, Marco thought he hallucinated, but as he watched the truck lumber on up the street, and another car rolled through him without leaving a mark – dread turned to terror.

The sound of a lone bicycle invaded the eerie silence – as Hammerhead approached, with a mournful seriousness.

“I’m sorry, Mako. You’re a shark now. We ride and we never stop.”

Tears cornered the bits of Marco’s eyes, and they stung. He could feel the salt water burning.

“But how? I feel. I’m hungry, thirsty, aching and tired.”

“It’ll pass, with time,” Hammerhead said, “But you have to ride.”

“Why?”

“You don’t want to know why.” Hammerhead returned, and this time, a flicker of fear edged into his hard demeanor.

“We’ve had a few sharks that pulled off from our group. We argued for them to stay. But they didn’t and we never see them again. But we do hear them on occasion. We hear them scream. It’s not pretty, and it’s undeserving for a rider like you.”

A shudder erupted through Marco’s body.

Could this be happening?

“Quit asking why. It’ll make sense eventually.”

“What about my girlfriend?” Marco asked, and the tears fell from his eyes and cascaded down his cheeks.

“Don’t you worry,” Hammerhead said, “She’ll catch up. They all do, eventually.”

Marco nodded, this was happening. He hadn’t just lost his helmet, cell and wallet – he had...
“Nine lives in the red,” Marco said.

Hammerhead nodded, as if he got what Marco meant – even though there was no way that he could.

“We have to go. Now!” Hammerhead urged, he twisted the handlebars and clicked the bike gears back to one.

Kicking his feet into a spin, Hammerhead brought the bike upright on his back wheel and rode the wheelie like a stallion, waving his right hand up in the air as if he were holding a saber.

“Let’s ride, Mako!”

For the first time that evening, the nickname they gave Marco, gave him a feeling of hope. All he had to do was ride. Marco felt the terror begin to wash away

Watching Hammerhead disappear into the mists of the mid-evening fog, Marco turned his head and looked at the street behind him.

An unsteady air clouded his thoughts, as if something was there, but you couldn’t tell what it was – it was somebody, and they were indeed on their way – somebody dark and ominous, with fingernails that scraped grooves into the street, and had teeth that chattered with a ferocious appetite.

“Wait up!” Marco yelled.

Lucy, Marco thought, oh Lucy.

“Don’t you worry about her,” Hammerhead yelled from somewhere far up ahead, “She’ll catch up. They always do.”

Marco gripped his handlebars and kicked up his legs.

He took off through the changing stoplights in a blur.

Written by Trevor Boelter