Friday, August 03, 2012

It goes in cycles – a short story

“Hold your fucking horses, bike boy.”

The cyclists crushed his brake handles in shock, crushed them so hard his tendons stung and he felt the imprint of the handles dig into his palms. The bike screeched to a stop, the back wheel rearing up behind him, and he wobbled on the spot, partly off balance, mostly out of fear.

Superman was stomping towards him, cape billowing, ground quivering, bright boots kicking through the thin puddles. No-one else was around. Hardly any windows, and only a few birds, overlooked the quiet side street. The cyclist wanted to look round, wanted to turn his head, but he was too frightened. His stomach wrung like a towel at each of Superman's approaching steps.

“Now tell me,” said the Man of Steel, when he was close enough that the cyclist could feel his breath rasping against his ear. “Do you know what a red light is for?”

The cyclist spoke, but said nothing, unable to muster the air to stir his vocal chords. He looked down at his bike, as if it was responsible; either for his dereliction or his feeble lungs. The bike in turn, as if equally ashamed, wobbled beneath him, then the front wheel twisted out, and it collapsed in a heap. The cyclist, still without looking at Superman, dropped his head a little more.

“Well?” asked the only surviving son of the planet of Krypton. “You know the rules of the road?”

“I do sir,” rasped the cyclist, finally, looking bolt ahead.

“And what are they for?” the costume-clad superhero spat, glad to have a response and not just be yelling at a mute.

“Stopping traffic.”

“Right. And you? Are you traffic?”

“I am sir.”

“You are traffic, yes indeed, you are. And tell me, did you stop at the red signal?”

“No sir,”  said the cyclist sadly.

“And why not?”

Superman’s breath was heating up now, and the cyclist wondered if it was going to singe the hairs on the back of his neck. 

“I don’t know sir.”

“You don’t know do you? That's a pretty pathetic answer, if you ask me.” The breath was hot. You could probably cook on that breath. It was like a bunsen burner.

That breath. A superhero's breath. That breath had been up the noses of some of the greatest master criminals of the modern day. It had blown in the faces of Presidents and Vice-Presidents, berated evil dictators and tantalised the necks of the world's most beautiful women. And now it scorched a cyclist's ear. How times had changed. The paparazzi had a lot to answer for, that was for sure. 

There was a pause, and it occurred to the cyclist that he should probably say something, some kind of entreaty, but he had no idea what that might be, and in any case it felt infinitely safer to just remain silent, as if things would only get worse if he spoke. But Superman didn’t speak either, and the cyclist began to worry now quite considerably that he was probably meant to say something, something clever or apologetic, or whatever it had to be, in order to stop the tireless fighter for peace, justice and the American way from drop-kicking him over a skyscraper, or bionically lobbing him into a special flat glass prison and Frisbee-throwing it into outerspace, or just delivering him to the police, arms bent back in a completely unnecessary and much too harshly applied full Nelson, because superheroes don’t know their own strength – I mean how can they – and they probably injure far more captives than they mean to, even when they don’t mean to.

The cyclist bit his lip. Still nothing occurred to him. Then Superman spoke again, only he was much quieter, and his voice echoed about the buildings.

“Hey you, pick up that litter!”

And the cyclist turned his head, saw Superman some fifty yards down the road, berating a middle-aged woman in ill-matched woollens. He picked up his bike and made off, pedals rattling beneath his shaking feet.