Friday, September 20, 2013

Queasy Rider

     Claude thrusts his gloves into the sleeves of his leather jacket and straddles his hog. He stamps the starter and with a roar rips down the highway. The wind yanks Claude’s ponytail back as bugs paint his mirrored shades psychedelic greens and yellows. Crumbs and scraps of lunch are whisked from his beard. The desert vermin who cross his path bug their eyes and shriek before being suddenly rendered two-dimensional –Gila monsters, jackrabbits, scorpions and tarantulas. A huge old desert tortoise finds his shell smashed to shards and pulls a dusty hubcap up to cover his wrinkled nakedness. The highway zips and is yanked after him, becoming unstuck from the earth like a ribbon of elastic. Clouds of exhaust fart from his tailpipe. Claude spits tobacco that sizzles on the scorched gravel of the shoulder. The painted backdrop looms before him, covered in craggy buttes and rockf formations that look like the splintered stumps of ravaged windmills. Claude runs right into it, leaving a Claude-shaped hole in the cloth behind him as he plunged into the void behind hit, hanging suspended in the air for a full minute before plummeting straight down.

     As he mounts his powerful steed, Claude notices four kids skateboarding off the curb, doing little skips and jumps and trying to spin their boards in midair. “Fucking punks,” he yells, hurling his half-full can of Schlitz at them. The can beans the smallest  kids just above the eye. The kid screams in pain as a jet of blood spurts from his eyebrow. Claude guffaws and speeds away.
     Fifty miles down the highway he pulls into a truck stop to take a leak, and does a double-take: there doing stunts on the edge of the parking lot are the same skaters. The smallest one is missing. They kids stop and glare at Claude. “You fucking rugrats, get a paper route!” Claude bellows, and pulls a lug wrench from his saddlebags. He chucks it at the kids. It bounces off one of their mop-headed skulls. The kid collapses into the dust. Oh shit, thinks Claude, and rockets off.
     It’s dark when he stops at the Paul Bunyan Motor inn. As he’s dismounting who does he see but, yes, the two remaining kids, trying to ride the railing heading upstairs, but mostly falling and cursing. When they see Claude they stop and stare at him, clutching their boards. Claude is not sue what to do. Suddenly there’s a loud bang from his cooling bike and a hunk of no-longer-duct-taped shrapnel flies from the undercarriage, slicing right  through the throat of one of the boys like a ninja throwing star. The kid falls to his knees at the foot of the stairs, gushing like a crimson geyser. “That time wasn’t my fault!” Claude whines, and tries to start his hog. After a few attempts it chokes into life and zooms off.
     Claude drives through the night, his bike rattling and clanking but still going. He pops his last remaining uppers to keep his eyes wide and fixed on the tiny smear of light dribbling from his headlamp. The needle on his gas gauge slips closer and closer to empty and Claude finds it harder and harder not to think about what  might happen when he is forced to stop.

     Claude swings his axe back and forth before him. The leather-clad figures who surround him in the dusty parking lot beside the bar just laugh and tell him to come back inside and have another beer. Claude shrugs and follows them in, axe resting peacefully across his shoulder. George Thorogood stutters on the jukebox and Claude chugs a couple of brews and feels better. His leather jacket is made from the hides of an entire head of cattle, his belt the flayed skins of a pit’s worth of snakes. His bandana was once a gigantic flag flying above a Perkins. Claude rides his massive blue chopper through the dense forested roads. Slamming down his dozenth mug he he looks across the room and there she is, a tray of beers balanced on her tiny palm: a midget transvestite with a face like a toad. Claude is instantly smitten. She toys with him all night, then when her shift is over disappears into the men’s room, reappears wearing nothing but a motorcycle helmet and a pair of fishnets. Once the Paul Bunyan of the highway, Claude has been reduced to a feeble, delusional shadow of himself. He takes his Dulcinea on the back of his steed and rides off to swing his ax at the windmills that stand guard atop the hilltops, rows of three-armed giants silhouetted against the sky.

1 comment:

  1. Dulcinea! oh my - the things you think of - amazing. Great story...