Iron Horse

Matt West is a graduate from Arcadia University, and is proud of never having a single creative writing class in his life. His girlfriend convinced him to pack up and leave Philadelphia for Austin Texas, and writes stories inside to avoid dying of heatstroke. His short fiction has received honorable mention in Allegory Magazine, and is ferociously seeking representation for his novels.


Iron Horse

Shawn woke up to the annoying screech of his cell phone’s alarm. Monday mornings, probably the worst joke ever invented in the modern society. He thought that it might be better to just work all seven days a week—better that than suffer through Monday mornings. His girlfriend slept soundly in the bed next to him, as she was able to sleep through almost anything. Lucky her, she worked right down the street, thirty second commute, if that.
Get up, eat breakfast, take a shower, brush your teeth, same thing every weekday. It was somehow harder on Monday though, and last but not least, motorcycle gear. Shawn loved to ride his old school Honda CB750. All bikers that are worth the scars on their knees have owned a vintage Honda. It’s the bike that you learn on, and can buy when you’re too young and too broke to be able to afford anything else. This particular bike was a one owner for the past twenty years, garaged and only took two minutes to warm up in the morning. Quite a find, and quite fun to ride on the hour commute to the suburbs of Philly. The drive became too monotonous, and you can only listen to the radio for so long. With a motorcycle, you could ride with the wind on you, the road under your feet, and you were free.
Shawn put the helmet on last, since his girlfriend always wanted to get a kiss before he left for the day, and in order to remind him to lock her in—she stayed up late at night to watch murder mysteries. It could really take a toll on your frame of mind if you weren’t careful. The helmet is top notch, full face and had a special microphone to talk to your riding buddies while on the road. The helmet cost the same as the bike, but since Shawn’s strong suit was his mind, he wanted to protect it, and protect it the helmet would.
They lived in a little one bedroom apartment on the outskirts of Philly, and Shawn worked at the family insurance agency. He was usually the only one there, and if not, there were other family members. So he didn’t much care how he smelled, which wasn’t very good after an hour commute in the summer, with full motorcycle gear. It was a sacrifice he was willing to make, since he already had a girlfriend, and didn’t need to impress anyone at the office. Life was good, so he grabbed the motorcycle keys off the counter, shoved a revolver in his breast pocket, and hit the road.
The elevator down was always interesting, he got something different every day. This day, a little boy hid behind his mother as she was going to drop him off at daycare. “Remember honey? He is just a motorcycle rider, he needs to wear that stuff for protection, remember honey? Nothing to be afraid of.”
The kid understood but still didn’t want to have anything to do with Shawn, so he waved to them and exited the elevator first so he wouldn’t cause the kid any undue stress or nightmares. The glass doors in the lobby opened and the sunlight hit his black suit, and he knew it would be a hot ride today, especially on the way home. He was usually drenched in sweat as it was, but sometimes it was a weight loss program, having to replace the lost pounds with tap water to avoid having to pay for the bottled stuff.
Summers in Pennsylvania were beautiful, there was enough rain for all the trees to be green, the flowers to bloom, and honey bees to dance around. All the different smells you got on the bike made summer a good time to ride, and Shawn looked forward to it every day. He rounded the corner and saw the tarp that was protecting his beloved bike, the one thing that made the monotonous daily grind at the office a little bit better. You could see the brand new tires under the tarp, and a little bit of the baby blue paintjob that still looked like it came from the factory.
Shawn pulled off the tarp and stuffed it into one of the saddle bags. He put the saddle bags and the sissy bars on himself, as well as the cup holder that didn’t quite fit the cups at Wawa. He had to ride the bike with one hand for the last mile to work, the other hand holding his cup of coffee.
Pulling the coke out, Shawn inserted the key, gripped the clutch, and then started the bike. It had a custom exhaust, not name brand. It roared and stuttered, coughed, and then stalled. He turned the key again, this time giving it some gas, revving the engine up to five-thousand RPM’s and making a lot of smoke and noise. When he let go, the bike finally stayed on by itself.
The gloves stayed in the bag on the sissy bar—a couple days earlier he had realized that the new gloves left a horrible purple stain all over his hands, and it took two showers and a dozen hand washings to get it off. There weren’t too many cars or trucks on the road going away from Philly during morning rush hour, so he didn’t really worry about any rocks getting kicked up and hitting his hands, so it didn’t bother him to ride a couple days without them. In fact, that day his father found a pair of nice old all leather gloves to give him, and those would be at the office today.
Shawn backed the Honda out, kicked it into first gear, and then in an alternating hand twist slowly let the clutch in. The bike purred forward and off he went, down the road, and onto the vacant highway right outside of his apartment complex. Once in fifth gear, he put his feet on the highway bars for a smooth and relaxing ride. He dropped his helmet visor, leaving it a little cracked to feel the cool breeze on his face, and thundered down the road, just him and his iron horse.
A large graveyard passed by on the right, with old and new headstones making a gray and black checkered painting on the green landscape. A Harley rode by on the other side of the highway, and they both gave a small wave of the hand, just to let each other know that they understood each other, the reason why they had to feel and see the road beneath their feet.
It wasn’t long until Shawn’s thoughts drifted to work that he had to do at the office, the insurance quotes that still had to be finished for a couple small businesses, and a home owner’s policy. It was strange how people honestly had no idea what they were purchasing when getting insurance. People were always shocked to find out that home insurance doesn’t cover flood, that’s why so many claims end up being “wind damage.”
He snapped back to the open road, wresting his thoughts, knowing that he shouldn’t waste this time thinking about work. The road was too smooth, the trees too green for that. He revved the engine up, six thousand RPM’s, and roared down the street, pushing sixty-five. Then out of the corner of his eye… a van was coming closer.
Surely he was mistaken, the van couldn’t be coming that close… but it was, and he squeezed the front brake, and the tire screeched. The van was slowing down too, and matched the speed of the tiny Honda, the very very tiny Honda. Then bang, Shawn was down on the ground, and hit his head on the side of the road, and then on the concrete median. He kept going though, and traveling at sixty miles an hour while sliding on concrete seemed effortless. Somewhere along the journey the visor snapped off, and a little pain was felt in his hands, and then it was over. It might have been one second, it might have been ten. However long it was, it felt like forever.
He lay there, not wanting to believe that what happened really had happened. Was that real? He thought to himself, it must have been, I’m lying on the ground, so it must have happened. He sat up real slowly, and felt that his knee was a little banged up, and that his shoulder took a little beating. They were okay though, since he had his gear on, and those spots were padded.
Then Shawn saw something red dripping down onto his suit as he was looking at it. Red drops, drip, drip, drip, and then a little stream. His hands—he didn’t put his gloves on. Stupid stupid stupid he thought to himself. He wanted to be a writer, and worked at his second unpaying “job” at night, trying to make it into something he could do for a living. But now, looking down, doubted whether or not he would be able to use his fingers for typing again. There was just so much blood. His right hand didn’t look all that bad, so he used it to push himself up and sit on the median that hadn’t been too kind to his helmet.
Shawn turned his head to look down the road, and realized how fortunate he was that there weren’t any other cars coming behind him. He could have been run over and would have surely bought the farm at that point. A flashing light caught his eye and right next to him in the opposite lane was a police car, with the officer rolling down his window.
“Hey, I’m going to pull up to the other side and block the traffic, sit tight, don’t move.”
That was quick, thought Shawn. Then a big man came strolling down from the van that hit him, nearly killing him.
“Hey, I had to. It wasn’t my fault, there was a car pulling out from the dealership, he would have hit me.”
Shawn didn’t say anything, and he certainly didn’t see any other car. Another man came out of the van as the big guy went back to talk to another police officer.
“You alright man?”
Shawn didn’t say anything that time either—trying to decide whether or not this was real, whether or not he should start a fight with the guy that hit him, or just be a little passive aggressive and then let the lawyers figure it out. One thing was for sure though, that guy definitely didn’t say sorry, he just kept repeating how another car would have hit him, and that he had to.
The ambulance had the back door open for Shawn, and he walked himself up and got in. They had him sit on the stretcher, lying down after they closed the doors and started for the hospital. The EMT bandaging his left hand said “You’re lucky, you got all this gear on so it could have been a lot worse.”
“Yeah tell me about it,” said Shawn, rolling his eyes, “I just wish I had my damn gloves on, then I wouldn’t even be going to the hospital.”
“Yeah, they always get real excited whenever they know we are bringing a motorcyclist in, they always come out to see the damage. It’s usually a lot worse though, they’ll be disappointed.”
“Heh, lucky for me though.”
“What kind of bike were you riding? I couldn’t really tell.”
“It’s a Honda CB750, but I got the fairing and bags and stuff so it looks kind of different than most of them.”
“Oh yeah, those were cool bikes back in the day, I ride a Harley, but I don’t wear the gear that you have on, I probably should though.”
“Are you serious? You’re an EMT and you don’t wear gear? After everything you see? Ha ha that’s kind of funny.”
“Yeah well, I have just been riding for so long, I guess I just never caught onto it.”
“Well, six months of commuting and look at what happened to me, now I’m afraid it will ruin it for me, I love to ride, but Jesus I might have bad luck or something.”
“Eh don’t worry too much about it kid, you’ll be back on in no time, and next time I bet you’ll remember your gloves,” the EMT said with a grin.

The hospital cleaned the hand wound, put some stitches in, and bandaged Shawn right up. In a couple months his hand would be back to normal, except that his knuckles were worn down so much that he will always have scars on them. Not too much of a price to pay for learning a valuable lesson, stains will wash off, but scars won’t.
When Shawn went back to the hospital to get the stitches out, he found out that the EMT that patched him up was in a coma from a bad motorcycle accident. His family pulled the plug a few months later.

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