Once again the trilogy is complete. My revised comedy/sci-fi story, The 22nd Gear (A Retro Ride: Book Three) joins Bicycling Through Space and Time and The Ultimate Bike Path to chronicle bicyclist Jack Miller’s weird and wonderful adventures in some pretty strange places.
Probably like you, I’ve tilted with plenty of windmills throughout my life, just as Don Quixote de la Mancha did in Cervantes’ classic novel. So you can imagine how much fun I had in The 22nd Gear when Jack, astride his Nishiki mountain bike, pedaled into literature and joined the fabled knight-errant on his noble quest. You’ll find one of those scenes in a previous post, “Tilting At Windmills.”
To celebrate the re-release of The 22nd Gear, here is another goofy scene. The setup: after battling the giants—er, windmills, Don Jack of Del Mar is riding with Don Quixote, Sancho Panza, and kitchen slut Sally Fuerte on their way to an inn, which the Don visualizes as a castle. At a crossroads they spot a “very weird procession.”
Since the windmills Don Quixote had been quiet, his eyes firm on the path ahead. The passing parade of perturbed peasants had not warranted his attention; no wench had been mistaken for a highborn lady, no goatherd for a lord. Now, at this crossroads, he turned to the right, the direction from which the very weird procession was proceeding, his brow creased with deep concern.
“What manner of devil’s work is this?” he cried, pointing with his lance. “I must find out. My lady, I beg of thou—”
Sally jumped down. “Don’t need to hear that pristine head crap again,” she muttered.
This time I was determined to go with the Don, if for nothing else than to keep him out of trouble. You see, even though the very weird procession looked very weird, it did not appear to be very dangerous. Up front were five monks in hooded saffron robes. (Maybe they were monkettes; I couldn’t see their faces.) They walked face down, hands crossed in front of them. Just behind were four monks (definitely; they were unhooded) in black robes, these guys bearing a fairly large litter. Atop the litter, covered by layers of white filmy cloth, was a body. You could see just enough of its outlines to give you the creeps. Walking alongside it, waving what looked like a silent maraca, was a guy in a three-piece dark green suit and spit-shined leather shoes. And bringing up the rear were five more people, three women and two men, all finely dressed in appropriate period costumes. They were crawling on hands and knees, beating their chests, wailing, throwing dirt in their faces, banging heads on the ground, for the most part making a hell of a scene.
“I think it’s a funeral procession,” I told Don Quixote as we rode toward it.
He looked askance of me. “Be thou limited of senses, Sir Knight, that thou cannot tell what lyeth under yon sheet?”
“Looks like a dead person lyething under yon sheet. I mean, what else—”
“It is a”—he suddenly realized he was screaming and lowered his voice—“a servant of Satan himself, Don Jack! By my sword, they will not be allowed to place the hell-born thing amid the people of God! I will—!”
“You’ll cool it,” I warned, “until we check this out. I mean, you got your religious folk here, and your bereaved family in the throes of mourning, and I don’t think it would be polite to piss them off.”
“Very well, Don Jack. I will allow them the benefit of the doubt. But be on guard, I prithee.”
This prithee crap again. Anyway, we confronted the very weird procession, Rocinante nearly knocking down and trampling one of the monks (no, it was a monkette) in a saffron robe. These folks, and the litter bearers, and the guy in the green suit, all stopped; the mourners kept on doing their stuff, which was unnerving when they crawled closer.
“I would converse with thou leader,” Don Quixote said.
The ones in robes looked all around. It was Green Suit who stepped forward. “State your purpose for this delay and make it fast,” he replied, kind of pissedly. “We are in a hurry.”
“Yes, I would wager thou to be,” Don Quixote said smugly. “I would learn the identity of the deceased.”
“None of your friggin’ business,” Green Suit replied (yeah, that’s what he said). “You—arrgghh!”
The Don had shoved the tip of the lance up under the guy’s chin. “Need I repeat my question, knave?”
“He…is a man of some means from the province of Alicante,” Green Suit answered hurriedly. “We are bearing him to Seville, where his parents were born, for burial. Can you not let us pass now, Sir Knight? You see how bereaved his kinfolk are.”
Like I said before, these “bereaved kinfolk” continued to do their thing, and they were close now, although as yet none had acknowledged the presence of the Don or me. Then, one of the women, after shoving a handful of dirt in her ear, crawled over and bit the Nishiki’s front tire. There was no way she could damage it, of course, but even so…
With a loud hiss the Cycle Pro Mudslinger went flat.
The woman glanced up at me, except she was no longer a woman, but something that looked like a big snake with a baboon’s face. Her hiss was louder than my deflating tire. I jumped off the bike before she could do something similar to my leg.
Don Quixote impaled Green Suit, who had turned into something that resembled a megalosaurus, an ugly, bipedal dinosaur. You don’t want to know the color and viscosity of the stuff that spewed over the knight’s rusty armor.
Now all hell broke loose…literally. The bearers put the litter down and turned into frog-things with sharp teeth. The mourners turned into things identical to the creature that had popped my tire. All the other monks and monkettes became dark, misty things with long talons. And every blasted one of these monstrosities had an attitude problem.
But the worst of it hadn’t even happened yet.
First things first, though. Don Quixote and I were back to back, him with his lance, me with the sword, which fortunately I had not returned after the battle with the…you know. Rocinante stood nearby and for the most part was left alone, but when one of the creatures got too close he would lash out with his hooves and send the whatever flying with a scream that sounded like when you grabbed a guy hard by the balls. Some of the things were also attacking the Nishiki; not meeting much resistance, though.
Most of them came for us, and needless to say, we kept busy. “Guess you were right,” I told the Don as I carved up one of the frog-things.
“Yes, I always am,” he replied, impaling one of the baboon-things.
We held our own, although to tell the truth the odds were not in our favor. Then I noticed that Sally, having picked up a heavy branch, was laying the suckers out left and right. Sancho, who had first tried to talk her out of it, now followed her with a little pig-sticker. He seemed to be having the most success with the black misty things.
That’s when the worst of it did happen.
The dark figure beneath the sheets on the litter started to glow a weird red-orange, like it was on fire. The sheets rose in the air, first taking on the contours of Casper the Friendly Ghost, then poofing out of existence. Whatever they had been covering was too bright to see at the moment, but I knew it was moving, changing from horizontal to vertical, like the biblical pillar of fire.
Then the fire died, and you don’t want to know what was standing there…but I’ll tell you anyway.
You might remember in the first Predator movie, when Arnold Schwarzenegger stands face-to-face with the alien and says, “You’re wan ogly modderfokker!” Yeah, so was this thing, only a hundred times oglier, I swear! I’m talking scales and fangs and slimy flesh and mandibles and slavering jaws and insides hanging out and outsides twisted in and dirty fingernails and flared nostrils with boogers hanging like icicles and oversize Ferengi ears and muscles that would have made even Schwarzenegger say “Fokk dis, I go home’’ and a scrotum that…
Did I detail it enough?
“Oh my, this could be challenging,” Don Quixote said by way of understatement.
But let me tell you, as the monstrosity tried to rally its demoralized troops, the old fellow raced toward it on his spindly legs. Okay, so he tripped and fell on his face, and the lance went flying and caught the creature right between its fiery red eyes, which I forgot to tell you bulged out like googly-glasses and dripped some sort of purplish-brown discharge. Its subsequent scream would have shattered every wineglass in the Memorex cupboard from a distance of two light-years. But what the hey, it worked, and as the hell-thing started sinking into the ground, so did all the other horrors. Sally, Sancho, and I kept on thrusting, sticking, and clouting until the last of them melted away.
“Yo, what a team!” I exclaimed as we helped Don Quixote up. “Did we kick some ass, or what!”