Continuing what I was working on last week, I have posted the newest revision of this short story. There are some edits and improvements to the start, and another page or so of additional story. It still doesn't have an ending. Actually it does, but I haven't written all the stuff between what you see here and the last couple paragraphs, so leaving it hanging makes more dramatic sense. If you wanted to wait until I finish the whole thing to read it, that would probably be a good idea. I'll just keep posting it this way until it's all done, which should be in 1 or 2 weeks.
We called it a forest. Really, it was a few hundred trees along the riverbank. Standing at just the right angle you could see clear through them. From the stubble field on one side to the ripening durum across the river. Surrounding the forest for as far as you could see was mile upon mile of sun blasted, wind swept prairie. A forest then, at least in contrast.
By 10 am, the baking heat would be unbearable. The trees might not have been much, but they stood thick enough to provide a little shade.
Bing was riding his Kuwahara. Chrome silver with black accents in liquid smooth powder coat. I had a rust spotted CCM bmx frame adorned with a mish mash of parts pulled from dead bikes. Bing’s bike was the envy of all the local kids, but I prefered my frankenstein bike. It could hit a jump in just the right way. A smooth launch, a little give on the landings. The Kuwahara had footpegs, better hand brakes, and a brand new chain, but it felt a little too unforgiving. Antagonistic. It confronted the ground rather than rolling over it. Also, Bing was always on it.
The sun hadn’t really gotten going yet, so the air was still a little cool. Wet streams drifted to the corners of my eyes as my feet spun the pedals. We didn’t talk, but I could hear Bing breathing hard off to my left.
We hadn’t really discussed it, but we both knew where we were headed. Since late spring we had been building a jump in the forest.
Greg Stevens had swiped a shovel from his garden shed and left it out there last summer. He had some plan for digging a WW1 trench and camping in it. His shovel caper resulted in a pit about two feet deep and four feet across. He couldn’t even lay in it without crunching up his legs. Greg decided not to bring the shovel back since his dad had blamed the neighbor and bought a new one. Now it was our primary jump construction tool, and the trench was our main excavation point.
We would all take turns scooping up some dirt from the trench and adding to the jump. Over a couple of weeks, it had gone from a small, bump crowning the edge of a natural ditch, to a loose kicker a couple feet high.
We had ridden over the Jump dozens, maybe hundreds of times, but only the center had packed down properly. The edges were still loose enough to catch an errant wheel ending your your run really quick. You might spin off to the side, dump the bike right there, or stop dead and go over the handlebars. Honestly it was hard to tell what might happen, except that it would probably be bad. We would bang on the jump with the shovel, or ride over it slowly, but without some rain to really tamp it down, it was just too scary to hit the jump properly, at full speed.
I made it to the edge of the forest where our jump was under construction and locked up my brakes on the loose dirt. I leaned hard, kicking out my back tire, planting my inside foot and sliding to a tripod stop. Bing, right behind me, did the same, but maybe not with quite as much style.
I gave the ramp a quick once over to see if any work had been done on it in the past couple of days. Swimming lessons had prevented me from coming out and working on it, but there were about five of us that regularly came out here, and also knew where the shovel was stashed. All I saw were deep gouges running up the landing slope of the ramp, turning up all the soft soil underneath.
“If they are gonna ride on it, they should at least stomp it down” Bing griped between winded huffs.
I silently agreed and made a sour face. Older kids had been coming out at night with BMXs, and an 80cc dirt bike. The BMX tracks weren’t that noticeable, but the dirt bike had left the ramp in an unusable state. They might as well have run a rototiller over it.
I stepped off my bike and let it fall to the ground in disgust. I had been hoping to take a couple of slow runs, maybe catch a little air, before doing any construction work. Bing shoved out his kickstand and stepped off. He started stamping his hightops into the soft earth while I fumed into the forest to retrieve the shovel.
We kept the shovel up in a tree. It had been Bing’s idea. I would never tell him I thought so, but he could be pretty clever when he tried.
Shovel Tree was a little way past the Party Pit, an open area surrounded by trees. This clearing was regularly used by older kids for the kind illicit late night parties where someone would mess up a ramp, so the shovel had to be hidden far enough from those jerks that it wasn’t likely to be seen. The tree we settled on had lost a branch about 15 feet up it’s trunk. The bony remnant sticking out from the tree was just enough to hang the shovel handle. The lower branches stuck out in such a way that you could really only see the shovel hanging there when you were right underneath it.
To hide or retrieve the thing, required a daring leap from a nearby stump. You climbed up the stump, maybe a little more than waist height from the ground, jumped toward Shovel Tree, and either lifted or hung it all in one continuous motion. You then had the option of trying to hang on to the shovel dragging it with you while avoiding the lower branches, or tossing it over your shoulder and hoping it didn’t slice the back of your neck on the way down. I had seen both methods attempted successfully and unsuccessfully, but I never saw anyone get hurt. At least not badly enough that it would require telling a parent what had happened. I usually opted for the ‘carry the shovel down with you’ method, since that always seemed the least likely to end in a head wound. It might have been a clever way of hiding the shovel, but it was a Bing solution, so that meant a higher than average risk of injury.
I plucked the shovel off of Shovel Tree and started back through the clearing. Bing was standing there nudging his toe against a discarded beer can. He looked up at me.
“Listen man, we don’t have to work on this today. We can head back into town. Find something to do. We cou-”
“No!” I surprised myself with how loud I yelled at him. Surprised him too. As friends do, we bickered, even tore into each other from time to time, but I had crossed a line.
We just sort of stared at each other for a moment, feeling the waves of what was going on wash over us.
Finally, he curled his lip, flatly said “dick” and stomped out of the clearing to go sit in the dirt beside the Kuwahara.
Of course I know now that he had been just as upset as me. Probably more. It was his family that was moving. His life that was getting lifted up and drifted across the country. I would still have my other friends here, where they had always been. I was losing my best friend, but he was losing everyone. Like I said, I know that now. Back then, I just started digging and slapping down dirt. Swinging line drives with the flat of the shovel against the ruined side of our ramp. Our ramp. Mine and Bing’s ramp. Other kids worked on it too, but it was just us two who had started it.
I rammed the shovel down hard into the center of the trench. I was angry at the dirt. I was angry at the increasingly unbearable heat of the day. I was angry at Bing. I was angry at Bing’s dad for getting a better job. I was angry at me. I was angry at the kids who tore up our ramp. I really didn't know what I was angry at. I stabbed the shovel as deeply as could.
The next thing I knew, I was laying belly down beside the hole holding my chin where it had bounced off the shovel handle.
I looked up to see Bing standing over me. My face was probably a mix of bewildered and accusing, but Bing just stared right past me at the hole, eyes like pie plates.
“What in the hell, man?” Bing blurted out, less to me, and more to the shovel, as he reached down to take hold of it. It took a couple of firm yanks to dislodge it, and either the shovel, or whatever it had sunk into made a strange rattling, sucking sound. Like a reverse burp.