long road ghost - part 5 of 9

No one heard from Alex for a couple of days. I wouldn’t have known that he’d disappeared, since it often happened that I wouldn’t see him for a few weeks at a stretch. But the news from town eventually tumbled in, and Katrina tumbled in along with it. I didn’t get her, frankly. One minute she’s givin’ him a frosty shoulder, the next she’s cryin’ in a pint of Pabst Blue Ribbon because he hadn’t come home. All I could figure out was that after fifteen years of marriage, the spark had gone out. He got himself a bike; she was tryin’ real hard to get herself a biker, since Alex wasn’t quite it, but feelin’ torn up about it.

But as luck would have it, just as Katrina was goin’ about how worried she was, Alex stumbled in lookin’ like he’d been run over by a semi. His leather jacket was shredded, his face was caked with dirt, his jeans were torn at the knees.

“The rider,” he said, out of breath. “The rider.”

The man was obviously not right in the head. Shock or somethin’. So I had Mojo make up a strong pot of coffee. When my chubby little Filipino cook came out of the kitchen with said pot, Alex brightened up considerably.

“I went out riding to clear my head,” Alex said. “We needed to talk, Katrina, but obviously I wasn’t saying the right things. I thought a ride would be inspiring. So I’m riding along when I suddenly hear a bike behind. It roared like nothing I’d heard before. I looked back and saw only blue-white flames on the side of the bike…then I noticed the rider…the rider…Can I have something stronger?”

“Stick with the coffee. Ya’ll thank me later,” I told him. He gave me puppy dog eyes and, when that didn’t work, continued on.

“The rider had a pumpkin for a head, a pumpkin on fire. I didn’t know whether it was a prank or not, but I just revved the engine. I could barely make out Rasor Road; I figured I’d be safe when I reached it. It was a silly thought, right? There are no such things as ghosts. But it was getting dark. I was upset. Imagination got the better of me. Then I got off at Rasor and stopped; a stupid thing to do, really. In retrospect. The rider didn’t follow me, but seemed to disappear. I thought I was safe, so I started the engine again and was ready to go when the rider popped up in front of me. I don’t know how he did it. He took off his pumpkin head and flung it at me. I guess the pumpkin hit me right in the head – I have the headache to prove it. I woke up the next day and tried to get to get my bike runnin’, but had to wait until some kids with a dune buggy came by.”

“And you’ve been gone for almost two whole days?” Katrina said. Alex just shrugged to that.

Later that afternoon, the Bone Riders made their appearance. The way they giggled left no doubt to me that they’d taken a page out of those headless horseman stories. I’ll bet Alex knew it too, but who would think about it when chased by a hooligan and feelin’ the tight grip of adrenaline?

The thing about his whole headless rider story is that, about fifteen years ago – I remember because that’s when I came out of a three-year stint in the slammer – a serial killer was kidnappin’ women and takin’ their heads as souvenirs, apparently using them for un-Christian purposes. After about four women, the boys from the FBI finally caught up to him. He got killed trying to escape when he flipped his car. Seatbelts, I have to say, are good for cagers.

So from that some said the headless rider was this serial killer, whose name nobody really remembered, on the prowl for more victims. That made even less sense to me than the Hessian mercenary gag, which didn’t even apply to California – the real Sleepy Hollow’s in New York State. But that’s just the sort of thing to get spun into a grand urban legend.

To be continued...next week

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