“One for the race, please,” said Surtch Pherther to the clerk.
“Here you go,” she said, swapping a ticket for his currency. “Now, just ride through this gate, and park beyond the show tent that’ll be on your right. Concessions are under the grandstand, and you’re free to wander the paddock and the garages and, you know, check out the bikes and stuff.”
“Okay, thank you. Wait, what?…”
She chuckled. “Of course. Just watch for racers out test-riding and on their way to the track.”
Surtch was beside himself. He hadn’t imagined that he’d be allowed to get familiar with the machines. It hadn’t even crossed his mind that it might be possible…
That morning, in pre-dawn’s thin, blue-gray wash, he’d zipped up the vents on his leather coat, snapped shut those on his full-face, wriggled his fingers into his gloves, and switched on Riot Machine and pressed its starter. With a crank-crank-ba-RUMPH-blub-blub-blub, the naked bike’s big V heat had begun to rise. He’d hipped it vertical, heeled its stand, POP’d it into first, and at easing the clutch lever out and the throttle on, thundered off.
He’d rumbled west at 15 over the limit on arrow-straight Industrial Way: past drab factories, tilt-up warehouses, and countless lots for ready rigs; past the vast tailings pond and pile with sides so slightly sloped that it nearly goes unnoticed; past the refinery and smelter and sky-piercing stack–all forever crumbling and always on the rise–seizing what’s precious from the City of Contradictions’ gaping open-pit; and around, where the head of the Partition Mountains forces Industrial Way to join the interstate and shoves it and the rails onto fickle Lake Termina’s sometimes-shore–foggy when freezing; otherwise, marshy, muggy, buggy, and enchanting for its harshness.
History of the Wild West claims that it was for passage less perilous that horsemen and handcarts, wagons and stages, and roads and rails had rounded the ranges when possible, skirting each and shooting straight for the nearest end of the next one west as though in some super-scale dot-to-dot, but no… It was the mountains that had held men out and pushed them around: The peaks had sought to keep their secrets–their glitterings hidden and groves untracked, their snowmelt unsavored and vistas unseen. They’d sought to safeguard their elevated virtue.
About 30 minutes after leaving home and after a few miles of toying with 85 in a 75, Surtch had throttled down gradually on the ramp that swings off long, rises to overpass the interstate, and drops–suddenly to 45 mph as well–depositing one into the dusty, greasy guts of little Brinton, less a town than a glorified truck stop with the regular roadside fare for weary travelers struck with hunger whenever.
As he’d tried to cut Riot Machine’s speed to the limit, he’d mumbled into his muffling helmet and above the remaining road-, wind-, and bike-noise, “This morning’s like autumn. Something about this just feels like fall”.
Twelve or so years earlier, Surtch had joined his brother and sister-in-law in peaks-nestled Silvervale for dinner, a sort of celebration for his brother’s birthday. While they had afterward wandered the old mining town turned tourist trap, a late-August evening chill had lifted from its lofty perch, trickled down through the filtering grasses, shrubs, and woods and spilled across splashing streamlets onto Silvervale’s steep, off-season streets.
Surtch had remarked that something about it all smelled like autumn, and if he recalled correctly, his companions had questioned his perception. The thing was, he hadn’t know why. If there’d been evidence, he could have cited it, could have defended his senses, but–though roadside grasses had been late-summer dry–the undergrowth still had been lush, and the aspen leaves fully green. Nevertheless, to Surtch there’d been something–something intangible, something inscrutable, something maybe just beneath the surface.
“HellOOO racers and fans alike. Welcome to your Salina Raceway.” The loudspeaker announcement, a bit distorted and screechy, echoed off the pavement and off the cinder block of the grandstand and the garages and drifted into the vacant, desert sky. “We hope you enjoyed the gOrrrgeous morning, that you’ve drooled on a bike or two, and that you’ve bought a bite to eat and something refreshing to drink from our concessionaires, located under the grandstand. If not, there’s – still – time.
“NOwww, the moment you’ve all been waiting for. The race of the classic and fabulous, the downright delightful, the historic, but highly modified, within reason, mind you… The Honda CB160s-EEZ-Eez-eez… Racers, please proceed to track gate number 1. The event will commence in 15 minutes. Thank yoouuu.”
With the lunch of champions in hand–a large Coke, watered-down and over-iced for sure, and a box of Mike and Ikes–Surtch climbed the grandstand steps to join the other spectators. There weren’t many–the place was virtually empty–and they were gathered at the railing overlooking the pits and the track. They were mostly family, friends, and racers themselves, content in each other’s company and transported by the gaiety of the event–a good group.
“We have a real treat for you today, race fans. The event will begin with a Le Mans-style and bump start. For those who don’t know…”
The suited-up racers took starting stances on the track’s inside edge and, at the drop of the flag, dashed across as well as possible, snatched their bikes from their assistants, and proceeded to push start–or to try to–those little engines that could. After one racer rushed to the wrong ride, resulting in a brief, theatrical scuffle on the track and a hearty chuckle from the grandstand, all bikes got started, got moving, and within a turn or two, magically were clustered: Stragglers had surged, leaders had lagged, and all were synchro-sweeping out of sight, speeding toward the far reaches.
Cheerful chatter in the grandstand filled the brief noise-void before a cloudlet of dust rose in the distance as a racer coasted his stalled bike off the track. Immediately thereafter, a remote hum followed by a low buzz signaled the pack’s return. The racers appeared in warmth-wavy flashes across the asphalt and mounds of dirt and sparse brush–there, gone, there, gone, there, gone–like breaching by a pod of mechanical sea forms on ground swells of a bleak future-scape.
Suddenly, in plain view around the final wide curve before the home straightaway, they zipped, high-revving their low displacements at 75 or 80 mph if they were lucky. The smattering in the grandstand erupted in hurrahs and applause, and to the grinning stranger nearest, Surtch hollered gleefully, “Ha-haa! They sound like a herd of blasted mosquitos!” And just as suddenly, the racers were gone again, off bagging curves of lap two, synchro-sweeping out of sight, speeding toward the far reaches.
It was early afternoon, and from the high desert valley floor, summer heat now was rising–spreading for itself, settling everywhere, getting into everything. Above the cheerful chatter that filled another brief noise-void, Surtch could hear the metal canopy high overhead pinging and popping with expansion.
He mumbled to himself, “Today–it’s like autumn nonetheless. Something about it just feels like fall–something intangible, inscrutable, maybe just beneath the surface. If only there were evidence”.