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And now, the story…
When you shall these unlucky deeds relate,
Speak of me as I am. Nothing extenuate,
Nor set down aught in malice. Then must you speak
Of one that loved not wisely, but too well.
— Othello, Act V, Scene II
by William Shakespeare
I miss playing with Bobby and Phil and Stacy, and riding my bike. I really wish I could play one more game of soccer. I’d even let Jeremy Scapello play goalie. But I can’t do any of that anymore. Since the accident I don’t get to do anything fun.
Bike tag was our favorite game. We could play it all day, because it wasn’t just about who could ride fastest. You also had to be able to cut and juke, and spin around fast. You also had to plan, to know what kind of moves people did, where they might try to go to get away from you, things like that. Bobby said it was a game of strategy, like chess. I never liked chess, but I loved bike tag.
I loved everything to do with my bike. I rode it everywhere, all day when the sun was shining. There were no hills where I lived, so sometimes my friends and I would sneak onto the onramps of the expressway, so we could build up speed before rocketing down the side streets, usually to the elementary school. That was where we could skid on the dirt of the baseball field and hop the curbs all we wanted without anyone telling us to stop. During the school year we hated going to school, but during the summer we spent a lot of time there.
In those days it was me, Bobby, Phil, and Stacy, Phil’s kid sister. She used to come along everywhere with us, because it was the only way to keep her quiet. She could really ride, so she could keep up with us, and if we didn’t include her she’d follow us anyway and get Phil in trouble if we broke any of his mom’s rules. And his mom had a lot of rules.
Anyway, as girls go, Stacy was all right. She could hold a wheelie for half a block, and she used to beat her brother all the time at Playstation games, so Bobby and I liked having her around. Phil could be a jerk sometimes, and whenever he started acting like a big shot Bobby would say, “Hey, Phil, wanna go play Playstation?” It never failed. Phil would go all red and shut up for a while. He could be cool, though. He used to sneak us Cokes out of a refrigerator his dad kept in the garage.
Bobby was my best friend. We played soccer together. He was the left wing and I was the right. I swear that if we’d had a better goalie we’d have made the city championships, the way Bobby and I could score, but our goalie was Jeremy Scapello. Jeremy was only on the team because his dad was the coach, and he played goalie because he sucked at everything else. He sucked at goalie, too, but at least he could get in the way of the ball a couple times a game. Bobby and I used to throw rocks down by the creek, pretending that an old tire was Jeremy Scapello, and that if we hit him enough times he wouldn’t be able to play and we’d have to get a new goalie.
That game never lasted long, though. The creek was dry during most of the year, and Bobby and I had more fun digging through the grass and leaves, trying to find cool things that people had thrown out of the cars on Lawrence. Bobby used to collect bottle caps, but I was always hoping to find somebody’s wallet or something. You know, something valuable. This one time I found a ring that I thought was real gold at first, but when I picked it up it was just plastic. I kept it anyway, in a little treasure box where I kept all the little things I found. I also had a small bag of rubber bands, some wire from a car tire, a thick coiled spring, maybe thirty pennies, and one of those fake pens, like you get with a Palm Pilot.
Bobby used to keep his bottle caps in a shoebox under his bed, along with a pocketknife he found and a picture of Drew Barrymore he pulled out of some magazine. I was jealous of the pocketknife. It had three blades, though none of them was very sharp, and it was much cooler than anything I ever found. The coolest thing I ever found was an old videotape. Bobby and I were really excited about that, and rushed home to play it, but it was nothing. Just somebody’s boring old wedding. I was going to throw it out, but Bobby had the idea to tape X-Men with it, so it wasn’t a complete waste. Bobby always had good ideas.
It happened right at the start of summer vacation. After Christmas and Halloween, that’s the best time of the year. No more homework, no more tests, just long days to play all you want. The summer feels like it’ll never end. Bobby said we should start our vacation right, by riding our bikes straight from sunrise to sunset. Just ride all day long, all over the neighborhood, jumping our bikes and playing bike tag and stuff like that. Then we could spend the night at his place. His mom had just bought a big box of ice cream sandwiches. Phil and Stacy didn’t want to get up that early, but when I said it sounded cool, Phil said it sounded cool and Stacy wasn’t going to be left behind.
My mom thought it was a funny idea, but she was always happy to see me playing outside, so it was fine with her. She had to work all day anyway. She didn’t usually work on Saturdays, but there had been some kind of trouble at work and they needed her. My mom is a system administrator. I’m not sure exactly what she does, but they all rely on her.
We started the day by racing to the elementary school (I won) and then took turns trying to see who could leave the longest skid mark on the baseball field. Bobby said we should each try three times, but Phil kept saying that he needed a do-over, because he got distracted, or had trouble with his brakes or something. It was always something with Phil. It didn’t make any difference. Phil was too chicken to do a really good skid. It was Stacy who won that game. She beat Bobby by about six inches.
Next up was a jumping contest. We raced back to the elementary school (Bobby won that time) and took turns jumping our bikes. There was this miniature driveway into the teacher’s parking lot that I think was supposed to be for wheelchairs. Anyway, one side was higher than the other because it was connected to this speed bump. It was only maybe half a foot tall, but that was higher than the curbs around the neighborhood, so it was the best place to jump your bike.
For a while we just tried to see how high we could jump, but then it turned into a style contest, like seeing who could make the coolest jump. I was no good at that. I could jump my bike high, but I couldn’t do anything fancy in the air. Phil could swivel his handlebars in the air. Bobby said it was lame, but I thought it looked kinda cool. Bobby was always trying to kick his back wheel out, like the guys you see on t.v. who can make their bikes flat as a table in mid-air. He could never get very far, though, maybe swing his back tire out a few inches before he’d be landing and have to swing it back in. Stacy was the best at this. She could jump her bike, then pop a wheelie in the air, land on it and keep riding for like, twenty feet before she’d have to put the front wheel down.
She had just done that trick and Bobby and I were telling her how cool it was when Phil had to try it too. He jumped pretty good, but he pulled too hard on the handlebars. The bike whipped out from under him and he landed on his back. I thought he got lucky that his bike didn’t come down on top of him, but Bobby said the angle was wrong. The bike went to one side and landed next to him. Phil scraped up his arm a bit, but he didn’t really get hurt. Kinda scratched up the paint on his bike though, and he was pissed off about it, stomping around and shouting. It didn’t help that Stacy was laughing at him, calling him a big baby. Anyway, Phil looked like he was ready to punch Stacy, and Bobby and I looked at each other, not sure what we should do. So Phil picked up his bike, walked it over to Stacy, tagged her on the arm and yelled, “Bike tag! You’re it!” Then he’s off and riding, with me and Bobby only a second behind, laughing our heads off.
Stacy was right after us, though, and since Phil had a slight head start, me and Bobby were most in danger of getting tagged. I looked at Bobby and yelled, “split,” like when we’re on the soccer field and needed to get one of us open for a pass. We each peeled out in opposite directions, and Stacy stayed on after Phil, like she wasn’t going to tag us anyway. Stacy hates it when Phil starts a game of bike tag that way. She used to complain that it wasn’t fair, but Bobby and I told her that there are no rules in bike tag, so she just had to deal with it. Ever since then, if someone starts the game by tagging her, she makes sure she tags them right back, no matter how long it takes her.
So it was about noon and I was It. I knew Bobby had just split down another street and I’d never get him just now. I had just lost half a block on Stacy, who cut across a driveway with a skidding turn that I didn’t see coming. I was about to wheel around after her when I saw Phil coming my way. I wheeled around after him and I could see in his face that he just figured out that I was It. He tried cutting away down a side street, but he lost momentum turning around and I was gaining ground on him.
He cut across Lawrence and I could tell he was heading for that construction site, where they’re building the new hospital. We played around in there sometimes, but there was no good place to ride, so I didn’t know what he was up to.
Turned out he wasn’t going in there at all. He spotted a good place for a quick turn-around, and was heading back across the street, just out of reach, hoping to leave me stranded at the light. I flipped around faster than he thought, though and the light was still green as I cut back across, maybe twenty feet behind him and gaining fast. . . .
I never even saw the car.
I’ve heard people talk about the accident a lot. It feels like that’s all they talk about anymore. It was a green VW bug, driven by a guy named Tony Stanton. He had been drinking at lunch, and ran the red light right into me. There were a lot of cops and news vans and stuff like that. Phil was even on two or three local news stations. Tony Stanton was arrested, and everybody was talking about what a tragedy it was. It was all a big mess.
Anyway, I was really confused when I woke up. It was dark outside, there were no lights on, and I was all alone. I didn’t understand what had happened. I remembered chasing Phil on my bike, then the next thing I knew everyone was gone and I was all alone. I tried to go to sleep, but it just didn’t work. I couldn’t get comfortable. It took a little while for me to understand why. I just didn’t want to sleep. What I wanted to do was go upstairs, but that didn’t make sense, because we don’t have an upstairs. It’s a downstairs apartment.
I got up and walked around, but I couldn’t turn on any of the lights, like the power’s out. Now I was getting scared. “Mom!” I yelled, but she didn’t answer me. I went to her bedroom, but she wasn’t there. I still wanted to go upstairs, but now I felt a second urge. It was weaker than the other one, but this one I could do. I wanted to go outside, to the front yard.
I could hear some noise out front, and I was already kinda scared, but I since I couldn’t go upstairs I just had to go out front. I walked down the hall to the front of the house and could see some kind of glow in the front yard. It wasn’t the street light. It was like someone had put a swimming pool full of light on the grass out front. The noise was getting louder and by now I could hear people talking, but there was more than that.
Walking was just too slow. I was still in the hallway, not even the living room. It was taking too long. I had to go faster. I started running and for a moment it was almost like being back on the soccer field. I flew through the house and through the front door, but when I reached the front yard I stopped dead. The whole neighborhood was in my front yard. I could hear snatches of their conversation.
“I can’t believe Jack isn’t here. His own son. . . .”
“That’s it, I’m joining MADD. What if it had been our boy?”
“He was such a sweet child. How could this happen to such a sweet child?”
“Poor Edna. He was her whole world. We better check up on her over the next few weeks.”
Wait, that’s my mom they were talking about. Looking around I found her crying in the arms of Mrs. Kent, Bobby’s mom.
“Mom!” I yelled. She didn’t move. Nobody even looked at me. “MOM!” I yelled again. “I’m right here!” She still didn’t seem to hear me. Nothing made any sense. Why was she ignoring me? I looked around at the rest of the people there.
Mr. Kent was holding Bobby, who was crying like I’d never seen before. Phil was just standing there by his parents, looking the way he had when his puppy died, like he really wanted to cry but was never going to let it happen. Stacy was putting a piece of paper on the lawn. Tears were running down her face. It was a poem that read:
by Stacy Greene
Faster, faster, don’t let him catch you.
Duck and dodge and spin around fast.
On the streets, no one could match you.
Not always first, but never last.
Come back, Jeff, stay and play.
It’s not the same without you.
Come back, Jeff, just one more day.
So I don’t have to miss you.
I suddenly realized why the lawn was glowing. It was covered in candles. But not just candles, there were pictures of me, and more poems, and stuffed animals and all kinds of other stuff. Even my treasure box was there, in the center of everything. One thing drew my eyes. It was a piece of green construction paper that somebody had glued a picture of me to. Under the picture, somebody wrote in blue pen, “You were too young to die.”
Die? I flipped out then. I started yelling and screaming, doing anything I could think of to get attention, but nobody looked at me. I tried grabbing Bobby’s arm, but I couldn’t move it and he didn’t notice. I tried blowing out candles, and shuffling papers, but nothing worked.
I’m not sure how long I went on like that, but it didn’t matter. After a while, everyone went home, even Mom. I tried to follow her into the house, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t even cross the lawn. I had to stay in the area of the candles and stuff, like a dog tied to a parking meter.
That first night was the worst. I was scared, and alone, and confused. The low point was when I looked up into the sky at about dawn. I saw a stairwell among the last stars. Again I felt that urge to go upstairs, but I couldn’t. I still couldn’t leave the area of the candles and stuff. That was when I finally broke down and cried.
It’s been days now, I think. It’s kind of hard to keep track of time. Day and night look almost the same to me now. People keep coming by to light candles, leave toys or paper, or cry, or just talk. Mom’s a wreck. She doesn’t really talk to people much when she’s out here. She just cries.
I’m not scared anymore, just bored. For a while, I felt sorry for the people. I mean, this is all because they miss me. They keep telling me how they wish I were still with them, how they miss me just so much. I spent some time trying to tell them that I was still here, or just get their attention, but no one ever seems to hear me. I spent some time trying to get to that stairwell, but no luck. I seem to be stuck here. I’ll keep trying though. There has to be a way.
I wish I could play soccer.
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