Ghost Rider

Ghost RiderHe heard from someone in the club that they’d set up a ghost bike for Tom.  Tom.  The name cannoned around in his mind like a pinball, setting off lights and bells whenever it hit a relevent memory.  Tom turning up at the club for the first time, not just any cocky teenager, the cocky teenager.  Tom tagging along on a training ride and the look of confusion on everyone’s face when they didn’t manage to drop him in the first ten miles.  Tom.  Potential is one thing, but when he began to win road races at seventeen, they knew they’d got something special.  He had some engine that boy.  The thought brings a smile unbidden to Reg’s face.  Tom would often appear alongside him during a ride and chat, oblivious to the fact that Reg was close to death so furious was the pace.  But that was Tom.  He began to feature on the pages of Cycling News, the next big thing, winning a few ranking events, beating established racers, ruffling feathers.  Then the injuries.  Achilles, spine, a broken collar bone that refused to heal.  All of a sudden it wasn’t so easy.  He came back from injury every time, but the law of diminishing returns began to take effect.  His times dipped, it was no longer easy, too much pain.

But Tom wasn’t finished.  He adapted to new realities, evolved, shapeshifted from hotshot to veteran, started coaching, acting as role model, father confessor and friend to younger riders.  Overnight, he went from the front of the training group to the back, the sheepdog he called himself, watching over his flock.  Always riding a few feet from the kerb, determined that motorists would give the group room, “If they see my fat arse, perhaps they’ll give us some room!”  Always there for a struggling rider, giving them a tow back should they fall off the back of the group, encouraging, cajoling, berating if they were slacking.  He could be tough as fuck.  If he thought a young rider was squandering talent, he’d soon let them know.  If they were showing off, he still had the speed to put them in their place.

And now he’s gone.  Caught a glancing blow by a hassled commuter making a vitally important call on his mobile as he weaved through rush hour traffic.  Bastard.  Again, Reg rolls a word round his mind, trying it for size.  He finds it wanting.  He knows what Tom would say, that the poor sod has got to live with guilt for the rest of his life, that he was just a poor wage slave, deserving pity not a kicking.

To hell with that thinks Reg.  He hopes the irresponsible bastard has to drive past the ghost bike every day for the rest of his life, is constantly reminded that because he was too wrapped up in some pointless business transaction, because he was reckless with a deadly weapon, Tom hasn’t gone home to his family.

Reg swings his leg over his bike, clips in and sets off on a pilgrimage.  Through the outskirts of the town, up onto the moor.  In spite of the poignant mission, he’s bouyed by the ride, knows that it’s the right thing to do.  His mind wanders back to rides spent in Tom’s company, the smiles, the miles, the pain.  It’s as if Tom’s still right there on his shoulder, still taking the piss, urging him on, “Pedal up old-timer!”  As the road begins to climb in earnest, Reg’s mood changes.  Nervously he waits for the ghost bike to appear, wondering how he’ll react, whether he’ll be able to control his emotions.  Then he sees it, ethereal in the setting sun.  Opposite the bike is a lay-by where Reg takes refuge from the hurtling steel of the late afternoon rush.  He sits on a dry stone wall and contemplates the bike.  Pretty much unscathed in the accident it looks good even under a coat of white.  Reg feels the bitter bile rise in his throat and tears start to his eyes.  He puts his head in his hands briefly, then looks up again.  There on the bike, grinning, is Tom.  Never could keep the bloke off his bike thinks Reg.  Tom clips in and starts to pedal.  Up out of the saddle, he begins to build speed, looks across at Reg and nods his head as if to say, come on, keep up.  As the speed increases, Tom begins to melt away, off on a celestial training run where there’s no pain, no injury and no cars.  When he’s finally gone, Reg lays out along the top of the wall and smiles up at the stars.

One Comment

  1. Keep true to the dreams of thy youth.