Justine grabbed her back pack, heaving it up and onto her thickly leather-clad back. This damn thing gets heavier every time I put it on. There were the usual clicks and rubs as she secured it into place with the nylon straps that wrapped around her waist and over her shoulders. Thank God it’s October! The mountains are at the peak of their blaze, now. Grabbing her half-helmet, Justine headed out the door.
Once in her driveway, she checked to make sure that her tent and sleeping bag were rolled and secured tightly into place on the Ground Pounder. Sufficiently assured that everything was in place, she slid into the saddle and started up her bike. Ahhhh, that low rumble was the sound of pure freedom!. She put her helmet on over top of her skull cap. This was meant to contain some of her long, thick raven black hair, now in a fat, silken braid down her back. Putting on her sunglasses, and the bike in gear, she carefully pulled from her driveway. Man, those winding mountain roads would never be close enough.
The low rumble of the Ground Pounder turned into a loud, persistent growling. It shook the earth enough to make the pictures on the walls of her neighbors rattle. Once on Main Street heading out of town, she came to a stoplight. Spotting a fellow biker who was heading in the opposite direction immediately caught her gaze. I shouldn’t be riding alone. When the light turned green, she began pulling away and turned her head slightly and nodded an acknowledgment to the other biker. Knowing that her insatiable curiosity was going to catch up with her someday, she once again threw caution to the wind. It might be someone I know, she reasoned.
Just as I was passing the other biker, a prickling tingle of fear ran up my spine. That was odd. I must be seeing things? With growing curiosity, she noticed that the other biker had the same identical bike as her own, which was unusual enough since there were only 1000 of these bikes ever made. But, even the paint and pipes were identical. That’s just impossible! My paint and my pipes are custom! Somehow, though, this other bike had both of the same, only the colors in the airbrushed painting on our gas tanks, were somehow…inverted. But it was more than that. It was so much more than that. I suddenly felt that my entire life was about to come to a screeching halt. Ice crept up my spine.
I kept thinking about what I had seen long after passing the other biker. Maybe my mind was playing tricks on me? There is no way I could have seen what I did. No one could possibly look that much like me!
I did decide her imagination was just getting the better of her. She was heading out of town, and up into the Blue Ridge Mountains for a badly needed four day weekend and she had opted to spend her weekend alone up in the mountains. I was going to my own little known spot. There’s a source of natural energy there that acts almost as a protective shield around me, allowing me to meditate and heal myself from the dredges of the world for a bit.
The ride took about two hours. Bliss and peace. Cruising through the winding mountain roads, the smell of fall was crisp in the air and I could detect that familiar odor of camp fires and wood stoves. The blazing October forests were as spectacular, intense and beckoning as they ever had been before. I finally came to a small and seemingly insignificant trail on my right and I turned onto it. It had thick vines and was almost indiscernible for all of the Spanish moss clinging to the trees and pooling on the ground. The trail was almost completely grown over. As I was still looking back, I juiced her and took off for my parking “spot”. I gathered all my gear, still feeling like my body was super charged with electric volts from the vibration that comes with the territory for most bikers. I still had a hike ahead of me; It was a short one; about thirty minutes, but it was all uphill. Once there, I let out a long, beautiful exhale. The view from my camp site was probably the most beautiful from anywhere else on Grandfather Mountain. The mountains were ablaze with the colors of fall. Like an artist’s rendering, they were painted: reds, yellows, oranges and purples, with a hint of summers lasting green here and there.
I’m losing light quickly. Once I had gathered wood, I set up my camp and then started the fire. My bones are tired, I thought as I gazed into the fire. Within seconds I was pulled from my reverie by a steady crunching of leaves under someone’s foot. With my back to the sound, I reached into my jacket and pulled out a .40 XDM. I twisted around as I pulled up the muzzle and directly in the line of my sights about 20 yards away, was that biker.
When I was 10, I brought home a stray cat who was malnourished and his hair was falling out. It took my parents 24 hours of “discussion” before they would let me keep him. With that out of the way, I went about finding all the information I could about how to nurse the cat back to health. After a few hours of painstakingly preparing the cat’s abode (which was fit for a king), the cat and I snuggled up and drifted off to sleep.
The searing pain on my belly was intense enough to jolt me from my deep slumber. I bolted upright and looked down at the source of my pain and in the bright fall moonlight I could clearly see 3 bloody scratches about 6 inches long directly across my abdomen. I put the cat in my closet and went back to sleep but I didn’t tell my mom about it because I thought she’d make me get rid of him.
So the next night, I put him in my closet again with his bed, food and litter box. When I woke the next morning, he had somehow gotten out and had torn my room apart. When I jumped out of the bed the first thing I could see was my reflection in my mirror and I was covered…literally covered…in cat scratches. So I cleaned myself up and got dressed, because today was the first day of school.
When I got home that afternoon, I went up to my room to see my cat. I walked over to his bed because I could see his soft fur in a little ball as he napped there. As I was reaching down to him my heart began racing. He was dead. I was heartbroken.
When my mom came home and I showed her the cat, she asked me if he had bitten or scratched me. I tensed as I lifted my shirt and showed her all the scratches.
The next thing I knew, the CDC was at our house. Everybody had masks and suits on and they took blood from everyone who had any contact with my cat.
That was the last I ever heard about any of it. I never found out why my cat died. Or maybe I did and I just blacked it out.
All of that preparation, nurturing, allowance money, scratches, hiding wounds and love, and I only owned that cat for a week. Not to mention the fact that I cried for at least 3 weeks after that! Never again, right?
Every animal I’ve owned since then have been strays and rescues, or I’ve taken them home from shelters.
Hey….everyone wants to be needed, which may be where this story started. In the end, though, this experience turned out to be my very first lesson in unconditional love.