The Night Riders


Bev Young

Art By: Olga Dunayeva
By Olga Dunayeva

The moon was full the night Carrie and I became best friends. The street was blue in the moonlight, ice blue, and my breath was a cloud of grey mist rolling past my lips. We walked slowly, casually, across Seminole and onto St. Mary's back field, Carrie, Jody, Melissa, and I. We sauntered across the open field, the grass beneath our feet crisp with frost.

Carrie had been hanging around us since her arrival from Walkerville at the beginning of school, a couple of months. Melissa had befriended her, let her into our group. Okay, fine, cool. For now. Carrie was talking. Loud. She had one of those raspy voices that could be heard for miles. It was grating but fascinating; I wanted her to shut up, yet I could listen to that voice all day. She was a talker. She talked more than I did, and I could see Jody and Melissa beginning to follow her lead more than mine.

"Let's go have a smoke in the grotto!" she said. Melissa and Jody wanted to.

"Pu-lease," I groaned. "Isn't that kind of grade eight?"

Silence. Jody, always the peacemaker (a Libra), said, "Let's just go to the dance. There's a smoking area."

"Besides," said Melissa, "What if there are nuns in the grotto?"

There won't be nuns in there this time of day, I wanted to say sarcastically, but I didn't even bother. Carrie, hands in the pockets of her brown leather jacket, turned to look at me, her silky blonde hair shining in the moonlight. "Then we'll just kick them out. We'll kick some ass!" she said gleefully, running ahead.

Jody and Melissa giggled and went after her, around to the front of St. Mary's to the grotto, the little stone cavern where the sisters mostly, but sometimes the priests, prayed alone. I followed them slowly. An angel and the baby Jesus flanked the grotto's entrance.

"Are you serious?" I asked, feeling the crisp, cold air on my tongue. They didn't hear me and started into the darkness. In my anger the blood rushed to my face and I was suddenly hot, standing in the ice blue cold of the frost and the cold stone grotto. "Forget it," I said. "I'm going home."

I turned and headed back to the field we'd just left. To hell with them, I thought. I walked across the back field, using the moonlight to check for mud patches, remnants of the football game played that day. The bleachers had been full of kids shouting, screaming. We, the St. Mary's Gryphons, had won. I stopped and looked up. Suddenly the stands were full again. But I was on stage, singing, playing my guitar, no, just singing, a slow song. You could hear a pin drop in the immense stadium full of people as I sang.

In the blue smoke of my breath I heard the crowd chanting, stomping for more as I prepared for my encores, "Try" (belted out with the intensity of Janis herself), "As Tears Go By" (the mandatory ballad), and a composition of my own. In the crisp night air, brown leaves that hung by a thread on the trees behind the bleachers rustled in the wind and sounded like thousands of hands clapping.

Suddenly I couldn't breathe. The air had been sucked out of my lungs and I was stumbling, reaching for the ground. My arms flailed until I finally gained my balance, panting, breath billowing from my mouth. I turned around to see a greasy-looking kid on a bicycle, probably a grade niner, with shiny black hair and coke-bottle-lens glasses. He had pedalled up behind me and caught me in the back with one handlebar. His mouth was open and his eyes betrayed a wry little smile. "Scare ya?" he asked.

I said nothing. His eyes were as big as moons behind the thick lenses, his eyelashes long and wet. "It was an accident," he said, circling on his bike as I backed away. "Hey, wanna ride? There's room!" He was smiling with huge white teeth.

I was thinking if I got a head start I could outrun him to the street. Then I saw something flash. I bolted, my heart pounding in my ears, my eyes glued to the white frost rushing past my feet.

I heard a voice from somewhere behind me and turned, momentum carrying me backward. The boy was riding away. I ran again, felt my foot catch on a piece of nearly frozen ground jutting up. I fell to the ground, heaving for breath. Then I heard the voice again. "Hey, wait up!" It was Carrie.

"What are you doing on the ground?" she asked in her throaty voice, as if the sight of me was the stupidest thing she had ever seen. I looked up at her. We were like two mother lions meeting alone in the forest. Instinctively we knew we would battle. I only wondered who would win.

"See that kid on the bike?" I pointed. She squinted but he was almost out of sight in the near-darkness. "He tried to attack me!" I said, and Carrie gasped.

"He knocked me over, then asked me if I wanted a ride on the back of his bike," I said.

"Well he was probably just trying to scare you. You're okay, aren't you?"

"Yeah, sure, I'm fine." As if she cared. "I could have been killed but luckily I wasn't."

"Hey, take it easy," she said. "I'm sure it was a very frightening situation. I mean, it was just one kid, but still --"

"Yeah, one kid with a knife," I blurted out.

Her eyes widened. The flash I had seen played itself back in my head. A knife or a reflection of moonlight?

"What are you doing here anyway?" I asked her, dusting frost off my jacket and changing the subject.

"Melissa and Jody are dancing. I got bored."

We were walking side by side now, heading for the bleachers. I was still winded from running, and needed to sit down. Carrie jogged ahead of me, then broke into a run. I let her go. When I reached her, she was under the west stands on all fours, hunched over the cold, stony clay dirt, throwing up.

"Hey," I said. "You don't have to be so upset. Maybe the kid didn't have a knife, who knows? It could have been something else, the moon reflecting off his glasses, strobes in the gym window."

"No," she said, panting. "It's not that."

When she finished, she turned over and leaned heavily on her elbows. She hesitated, then said, "I'm pregnant."

I waited, full of questions but not knowing how to ask.

"That's why we moved here," she said. "My parents wanted to get away from the neighbours. I won't be coming back to school after Christmas."

"Didn't you want an abortion?"

"Yeah. But my mother's a good Catholic."

"How did she find out about it? About the baby?"

"She found out," was all she said.

We shivered in silence under the empty bleachers, as the haunting strains of The Doors' "Riders on the Storm" leaked from the gym.

"You know, sometimes I lie in my bed and wish I was dead," she finally said. "Like Jim Morrison."

I imagined Carrie and me going to France to visit Jim Morrison's cult-shrine grave. "C'mon," I said.

I ran out into the middle of the back field where the moon was bright and directly overhead and started to dance to the faint music. She followed me. We danced like night riders, riders on the storm, doing pirouettes, nymphs in a Shakespeare play. "Dancing on Jim Morrison's grave," I sang. I fell on my back, blowing white breath upward like a whale's water-spray.

Carrie danced and finally laughed. We ran across the field and she suddenly stopped and looked past me and pointed. "There he is!" she cried, sounding terrified. She turned and ran. "Run! Run!" she shouted over her shoulder. "Don't look back!"

I didn't. I just ran. My mind saw the kid on the bike, pedalling after us, having taken a rest by the trees, now refreshed and hungry for violence. Or worse, Jim Morrison, The Doors' long-dead lead singer, his ghost, on horseback, annoyed at our pretense of dancing on his grave, following us at breakneck speed. After us. Or after me. I ran until my lungs burned. Carrie was headed for the gym, but circled ahead of it and stopped, waving me to her. I looked back again, but all I saw was blank night and the grey outline of the back field's goal posts against the navy sky.

"What was it?" I asked breathlessly.

"The kid," she said. "You should have seen him. He was like this on his bike, with the knife like this, a machete, ready to cut us!" Her eyes were crossed and her fist pointed down as if extended by the huge blade. Then she started to laugh, big raspy belly laughs, at me and my knife sighting. "Gotcha!" she managed to blurt between chuckles.

I tried to smile, but I was hurt, and my face betrayed it. It always did.

"Just kidding, for God's sake!" she said.

"Yeah, sure." I started to walk away from her, when I felt her hand on my shoulder.

"Oh, come on," she said.

"Forget it, it's okay." I waved her touch away with my hand and accidentally brushed her face. She pushed me forward playfully. "Fine," she said. "Go," and pushed me again.

I stopped, turned, and smacked her head with my cold, ungloved hand. The next thing I knew we were on the ground, scrabbling like cats on the crisp, white frost. She pulled my hair and it hurt. I cried out, suddenly desperate to get away from her. I tried to fend her off but she kept grabbing. I hated her. Suddenly I heard laughter over our grunts and groans. We both stopped.

"I thought I heard laughing," she whispered.

"Me too."

We broke from each other's grip and ran. Back under the bleachers, we sat, crouching, and watched the treeline intently in silence.

"I did see something," I said finally.


"I mean before. A knife or something. I wasn't making it up." Not entirely.

"I believe you, for God's sake," she said. "He had a knife. What difference does it make, anyway? He could have had a gun for all you know." She was rummaging through her coat pocket.

The sound of muffled voices and two car doors slamming shut, one right after the other, echoed across the field from the parking lot next to the gym. I glanced at her but she didn't look up.

"Smoke?" she asked, holding out a package of Kools. I pulled one from her pack and we lit up, huddling around her Bic, cupped hands shielding the flame from the movement of the cold night air. We stared out at the trees. No night riders, no riders on the storm, just the night, still and clear. The Big Dipper hung above us, bright and silent, witness to everything.

"I'm going to need a coach," Carrie said slowly, exhaling thick plumes of Kool smoke.

"A what?" I said.

"A coach. Someone to help me get through the birth and everything. Tell me when to breathe."

I felt her glancing over at me as she spoke.

"Who's going to do it?" I asked.

"I don't know. All I know is I don't want my mother doing it, that's for sure." She took a heavy drag on her Kool.

I thought for a moment, about the kid and the knife and the music, and her face, red and puffy as she threw up under the bleachers. The mother lions had finished their battle. I knew I hadn't won. But I hadn't lost, either.

"I'll do it if you want," I said.

"Thanks," she said after a moment. It was all she said, all she needed to say.

We smoked in silence until our lungs or the wind left little more than filters and we had to drop the butts on the ground. I slammed my hands, now numb with cold, into my pockets.

"Let's go in," Carrie said, motioning toward the gym with her head.

We entered the warmth and darkness of the dance, heavy bass booming in our chests, newly lit Kools between our fingers, our hands at our sides. As the steel gym door closed behind us, I said something into her ear over the music about the kid being a rock star when she grows up. Carrie nodded, and without looking at me gave me the thumbs-up sign. I put my free hand in my pocket and stood perfectly still and smiled.

Bev Young is a writer, editor, and web developer living in Toronto, Canada with her husband, and (thoroughly spoiled) 3-year-old German Shepherd. She has written for The Hockey News, The Toronto Star, Dogs, Dogs, Dogs!, and co-wrote a series of essays on American film, recently published as a collection. When not hunkered over pen and paper or staring at a computer screen, she enjoys reading, cooking, and gardening.

Bev's E-mail---

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