Not much to laugh about these days, so for a break from all of the bad news, here is a rather outrageous scene from The 22nd Gear, the third book in my “Bicycling” trilogy. The setup: my protagonist, Jack Miller, has ridden his mountain bike onto a world where lesser gravity is making it difficult to keep his feet—and his bike tires—on the ground. As he seeks help, he encounters three, uh, rather unique life forms on the road. Here is the scene:

A couple of minutes later I ran into Hubert, Horatio, and Humphrey.

They had just joined the road from a path on the right. All three were of the same stature of anyone who had ever played Friar Tuck, with the appropriate robes. Facially, Hubert looked like Laurence Olivier when he’d played Hamlet. Horatio looked like Orson Welles when he’d played Citizen Kane. Humphrey looked like Ringo Starr when he’d played drums behind three guys named John, Paul, and George.

At the intersection, Horatio had stumbled over the nether hem of his garment and was now on his back, kicking like a cockroach as the others tried to pull him up.

“Stop with the legs, moron,” Hubert said in a nasal voice that definitely did not sound like Laurence Olivier when he’d played Hamlet. “You’re making dust!”

“Get me up, you idiots!” Horatio cried, and nope, he didn’t sound like Orson Wells when he’d played Citizen Kane, more like Dawn Wells when she’d played Mary Ann on Gilligan’s Island.

They dragged Horatio to his feet. Humphrey dusted him off. “Are you hurt?” he asked. Yes, he did sound a bit like Ringo.

“Uh-uh,” Horatio replied.

Humphrey whopped him hard across the back of his head. “Now you are, turdbrain! Don’t forget to be careful next time.”

“Oh, wise guy, eh?” Horatio replied, gouging Humphrey in the eyes with two fingers.

Hubert cracked their heads together. “How do you like that, jerkoffs?” he asked as they staggered about. “Come on, we gotta go.”

Humphrey threw a punch at Hubert, who ducked, then tripped over the nether hem of his garment and fell to the road. The others helped him up and dusted him off. He tweaked both their noses. Hard.

“You two asswipes are—! Hey look, some guy’s coming.”

“Hiya, fellas,” I said, not really sure why.

“Who are you?” Horatio asked.

“I was going to ask that, peckerhead!” Hubert said.

“My name’s Jack.”

That was when they introduced themselves. Humphrey then said, “Come on, wartfaces, let’s shake his hand.”

They all started forward, elbowing one another, then tripped simultaneously over the nether hems of their garments and toppled into the Nishiki, which knocked me over. I bounced up; so did the bike. The bozos gawked as I floated groundward. They grabbed hold so I wouldn’t take off again.

“You really should do something about that,” Hubert said.

“I’m trying,” I said dryly.

“This is out of our realm of knowledge,” Horatio mused.

Really? I wouldn’t have guessed. “What about this Mountain King?” I asked.

“That’s what I was about to suggest,” Humphrey said.

“Why didn’t you then, fartbreath?” Hubert asked.

“Oh, wise guy, eh?” Humphrey exclaimed, getting ready with the fingers.

“Hold on, guys,” I interrupted, “I need some information. How far is it to the hall of the Mountain King?”

“Real far,” Horatio said, “about—” He started counting on his fingers, then tried to use Hubert’s, but Hubert whopped him across the back of the head. “—nineteen miles to the base of the mountain,” Horatio went on, rubbing his head, “then a long way up a steep trail. You won’t make it today.”

“I’d figured that. Are we close to the Ramunzel Inn?”

“Oh, sure,” Hubert said. “The Ramunzel Inn sits on the far edge of Vanaduro, which just happens to be our destination. We can easily make that before dark.”

“We’ll make nothing if you keep on being a diarrheamouth!” Humphrey exclaimed. “Hurry now; our business in Vanaduro is quite serious.”

Yeah, I can imagine what kind of serious business these guys had in Vanaduro. They bounced off one another a few times, and Humphrey again tripped over the nether hem of his garment. But soon each was standing with a small black suitcase, none of which I’d noticed before.

“You’re welcome to travel with us to Vanaduro, Jack,” Horatio said.

“I was going to say that, toejamlicker!” Hubert exclaimed.

Toejamlicker? “Thanks, fellas, I’ll just follow along.” I don’t think they heard me mutter at a safe distance.

It turned out that no distance was safe from Hubert, Horatio, or Humphrey. They tripped, stumbled, staggered, teetered, poked, lurched, whopped, mauled, brutalized, gouged, insulted, demeaned, and otherwise maligned each other all the way to Vanaduro, which turned out to be a loooo-oooong four miles farther on. There were other folks on the road now, most of whom gave the dipshits a wide berth. Actually, I thought they were funny as hell, but with my problem it behooved me to concentrate on not falling down, avoiding potholes, and making sure no one else ran into me.

Humphrey, who had tripped over the nether hem of his garment at least six times since I’d first seen them, was more curious about me than his buddies. Two miles from Vanaduro he came back to walk next to the Nishiki, and let me tell you, that made me extremely nervous.

To tell the truth, he was more curious about my bike than the guy who rode atop it. Well, I’d been humbled enough lately, so that didn’t bother me. I tried to explain how it worked, but from the bemused expression on his face I could tell it was like talking particle physics to a hamster.

What was worse was when he asked if he could ride it. “I don’t think that would be a good idea,” I told him. “It has the same problem—whoops!”

He tripped over the nether hem of his garment again. Well, I sure couldn’t help him. A couple of peasant types dragged him to his feet, and he rejoined me.

“As I was saying,” I went on, “it has the same problem as me and also needs to be…cured.”

Humphrey nodded. “The Mountain King will take care of you.”

I probably shouldn’t have asked, but I did anyway. “Just who is this Mountain King?”

Humphrey looked at me with his Ringo Starr face as if to say good lord almighty jack you must be a far greater putz than either of my associates. “Why, the Mountain King is only the wisest, most all-knowing person in the land! No one, no single one, could claim to have the mass of brains as our farseeing and sagacious Mountain King!”

Hey, an awesome testimonial! Yeah, but considering what I’d run into so far, being the smartest one here might not be any big deal.

“No one,” Humphrey went on, “could be any more learned than his radiance the Mountain King, or—!”

“Yeah, you made the point. Thanks, pal.” Sheesh!

I think he would’ve kept heaping praises, but Hubert, who had just tripped over the nether hem of his garment after an eye gouge duel with Horatio, stumbled back and twisted Humphrey’s ear. “Get up here, anuspolisher!” he said as Humphrey yelped in pain.

“Oh, wise guy, eh?” Humphrey retorted, stomping on Hubert’s foot. Hubert screamed and hopped but still held on to Humphrey’s ear, and in this fashion they managed to rejoin Horatio, who laid a nifty double eye gouge on them.

I slowwwwwwed even more, which was almost impossible.

Anyway, we finally reached Vanaduro, a good thing, considering the sun was close to setting. It was a large, bustling town in the middle of productive-looking farmland, although the houses and shops were not much better constructed than those in the Land of Boobies. Plenty of people around, but surprisingly they showed little interest in an oddly dressed, slowwwwww-moving dude on a mountain bike.

Hubert, Horatio, and Humphrey stopped in front of this one large building and put their heads together, which of course turned out to be a disaster. After knocking themselves unconscious for a few seconds they staggered back up on their feet.

“I’m telling you scabpeelers, that’s the right place!” Horatio exclaimed.

“Let’s go then,” Hubert insisted. “We’re needed!”

“Good-bye, Jack,” Humphrey said. “We’ll see you later.”

“Is this where you have your serious business to attend to?”

Humphrey nodded. “It’s the hospital.”

“The hospital?”

“Yeah,” Horatio said, “we’re brain surgeons.”

They started for the building. Hubert tripped over the nether hem of his garment. Horatio and Humphrey began an eye-gouging duel. “Will you two stoolsamples pick me up?” Hubert cried. “If we don’t operate soon, it might be bad for the patient!”

Brain surgeons; they were brain surgeons.

Either way I think it was going to be bad for the patient.

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