Playing Possum

The best way to start the day? With a bike ride to work. Even with the chance of rain, it looked like a great day for a ride.

The only drawbacks? The stretch of old highway, logging trucks doing 60mph , and a narrow shoulder littered with debris from the trees.

Wishing didn’t change anything. Mostly.

A light, humorous fantasy with some crude language—for readers who like that sort of thing.

🍀

In the early morning, fresh from sleep and facing a partly cloudy Puget Sound sky, riding to work—that is bicycling to work—sounded great. It didn’t take Derek more than three looks out the window at the slowly brightening day, chowing down on home-raised eggs and bacon, to make up his mind.

Yes. Yes! A day with only thirty-percent chance of rain was a good day to ride the bike.

Out came the black, padded cycling shorts, great for keeping the balls from becoming ball jam on the ride, the bright yellow cycling jersey, great for keeping him from becoming street jam beneath the massive double-wheels of the logging trucks that did sixty down the fifty mile hour old highway. And of course the bright yellow helmet, but between that helmet and a logging truck he expected the helmet would make about as much difference as squat.

Work clothes, decent tan pants and a blue button down shirt, along with a fresh undershirt and boxers—he didn’t wear anything under the cycling shorts—plus his shoes and belt all went into the dry sack that he strapped to the handle bars of his 29er, a Gary Fisher Marlin, metallic green.

Fifteen minutes to get ready, then twenty miles of blissful riding to work. Or at least ten, because the first half didn’t really count.

The first half of his commute followed the old highway which meant sharing the road with commuters that buzzed the rumble strips and the logging trucks blasting past with a wind that threatened to rip him right off the bike. He tested his reflexes dodging all the broken tree branches that had come down in the storms, that the road crews never bothered to clean off the shoulder.

Nearly at the halfway mark—looking forward to joining the trail for the final ten miles— Derek sped down a hill with a couple S-curves. You really had to watch the commuters because some of them liked cutting those corners, and instead of slowing to forty-five like the signs said they gave it more gas. And for the same reason the road crews spent even less time cleaning those narrower shoulders.

The only thing to do then was stand up and pretend that the mountain bike was a racing bike, take the lane and haul ass. Every couple pedal strokes he ducked his head back to look past his left arm and check the traffic behind him.

Coming around that last corner his head came up and there, right there by the side of the road, was a massive bald eagle. The bird’s white head swiveled around, tracking him with a predatory intensity and it was only then that he realized that it was standing on a gray-furred body.

At that point he was doing a good twenty-five miles an hour, taking advantage of the gap in traffic, swinging wide across the lane to get positioned for crossing to the trail.

The eagle, clearly seeing this strange yellow-clad skinny man barreling down the hill, must have decided that it’d rather eat its road kill someplace a little more private.

Thick talons gripped the body and the bird flapped enormous wings, laboring to lift the corpse from the road.

Derek was moving. Legs pumping, heart-pounding like a steam engine. Thick saliva filled his mouth demanding he spit or swallow. The wind tore past his helmet.

The eagle looked so cool! It was right there, close enough to see individual feathers, struggling to rise. Its first attempt carried it another few feet down the road, right to the edge of the trail.

A massive horn blasted out behind Derek. He very very nearly—for the first time since kindergarten—peed his pants at the sound. He didn’t even need to look to know that there was a logging truck behind him, most likely loaded with logs straining against rusted chains, moving over fifty-miles per hour.

No way that mother was going to stop because some scrawny cyclist got in the way. Even if the driver wanted to, he couldn’t. Not that fast. Not if he didn’t want to jack-knife his rig and send the logs and truck tumbling down the road.

Which would still add one more white cross to the side of the road in Derek’s memory.

The other lane had a Prius coming toward Derek, but he didn’t even think before he swerved, cutting across the lane in front of the Prius, out of the way of that logging truck.

He hit the shoulder on the other side, turning to glance back as both the Prius and the logging truck tore past.

His front wheel bounced. He looked forward, expecting to see the trail and instead he saw the eagle.

Time enough to see the pure snowy feathers on its head, the sharp yellow-orange beak, wings out, catching the wind. Flying right at head-height across the trail. Beneath it, clutched in wicked talons, the limp raggedy gray-furred body of a possum.

The eagle’s white tail twisted. Wings dipped and beat powerfully. Derek swerved, trying to avoid the imminent collision. He saw the eagle release its meal, the possum falling as the eagle shot up into the air, free of its burden, and then he bounced off the trail.

Riding a mountain bike down a single-track was one thing. Bouncing out of control off the trail was quite another. The moss-covered boulder could have erupted from the ground right in front of him for all he knew. He saw it.

Hit it.

Sky and earth. Earth won with a bone-jarring slap as if to disabuse him of any notion of flying.

Stunned, not even remembering to breath for a second or two, every part of his body clamored for attention with shrill pain signals. Somehow he’d gotten spun around in his brief flight. He could see the top of the boulder, the spinning rear wheel of his bike, making a metal grinding sound as it slowed that couldn’t be good, and above that the partly cloudy sky turning to blue as the sun rose higher.

Derek hurt, but he couldn’t decide if it was broken-hurt or bruised-hurt. Should he try moving, or wait until someone decided to stop and see if the crashed cyclist was okay? That could be a long wait. He’d gone onto the trail, then off it, down a bit of an incline, it wasn’t a stretch to imagine that it’d be hours before anybody’d even notice him lying there. And even then, what if they assumed he was taking a nap or something? People didn’t like to stop and get involved.

Of course a dog-walker might come, even if they didn’t usually come out to this spur of the trail. There weren’t any houses nearby. All around his small patch of sky were tall Douglas fir trees, all undeveloped land. Someday it’d be housing developments and little strip shopping centers along the old highway, but not now.

Nearby, someone grunted.

He still hadn’t decided if it was safe to move or not—the pain was bad—but he couldn’t make up his mind if it was so bad that he shouldn’t move. It came in waves, but he was breathing at least, so he called out.

“Help? I could use some help here?”

More grunting and then a small man covered in raggedy gray fur climbed up on the boulder and stood silhouetted against the partly cloudy sky. He had a fat broad face with pinkish, squinty eyes and a long naked gray tail that he held in two tiny black-clawed hands. His hands ran over and over the tail like it was a rosary. The small man wasn’t wearing anything, Derek could even see his junk hanging out of the fur beneath a rounded belly.

“What’re you looking at?”

The small man’s voice was scratchy and deep, but the words were clear enough. Derek looked back up at the squinty face. Seeing the pointed nose sniffing the air, it occurred to him that this was the possum, the one the eagle had beside the road.

“You’re the possum.”

“Am not!” The small man’s possum tail snapped like a whip and he spread his arms wide. “You see a lot of possums walking the fuck around on two legs, do you?”

“No. If you aren’t a possum what are you?”

“A fucking leprechaun, genius!”

Derek considered this for a second or two, also still trying to decide if it was safe to reach up and see if his helmet was still attached, or if his brains were oozing out onto the rock.

“You don’t look like a leprechaun.”

“Oh asshole? You don’t think I fucking know what I am? I’ll bet you think leprechauns are all wee little fairies dancing around in gay green outfits, don’t you?”

Derek tried shrugging. It hurt, but not collar-bone-broken kind of pain.

“Think censors, asshole.” The leprechaun, if that’s what he was, slapped his hands against his rounded belly. “We’re naturalists. Nudists, if you’re one of those prude fuckers. But no one wanted to draw us that way! They thought it was funny to draw us with queer little hats and outfits. Of course they didn’t know what the hell to do with our tails so they fucking amputated those!”

It seemed like there had to be holes in that argument but clearly Derek’s brain was too rattled to find them. Instead he seized on something else.

“You don’t sound like a leprechaun either.”

The leprechaun jumped up and down screaming, a rather alarming sound that brought to mind cats fighting. Derek was tempted to try and crawl away, but he didn’t want to risk hemorrhaging or something if he was busted up inside. This went on for several long seconds before the leprechaun stopped his fit.

Huffing, the leprechaun held up his hands. “I’ve had an awfully shitty day, but that just pisses me off! You think I should be all top o’ the morning, and shit, don’t you?”

“Well, is that wrong?”

“Listen, asshole, I was fucking born here! My parents were born here. I’ll fucking bet you that I can trace my lineage back a hell of a lot farther than you, and we’ve been here most of that time.”

“I don’t understand.”

“That means, asshole, that I’ve got yer damn blarney stones right here, if you think I give a shit!” The leprechaun grabbed his junk and thrust his hips in Derek’s direction.

That didn’t make Derek feel better. He wiggled his fingers. They moved alright. The sharpest pain was coming from his left hip. The rest of his body just hurt, but his hip felt like a deeper pain.

“If you’re gonna fucking just lay there on the ground crying, we might as well get this business out of the way.”

Derek looked at the leprechaun, glad to see that he was stroking his tail again instead of other things.

“Business?” Derek asked. He lifted his arms up in the air as if signaling. Both arms seemed intact.

“Yer fucking wish! I wouldn’t waste my fucking time with you, but you did save me from that eagle, by being a complete asshole moron.”

Derek put his hands down and pushed himself up, anticipating great pain, but it didn’t happen. He hurt. A stinging pain on his right elbow turned out to be a four-inch long road rash full of embedded gravel, dirt, moss and Douglas fir needles. Blood oozed out around the debris. That was going to take a lot of meticulous cleaning to get all that shit out, and then he’d be lucky if he didn’t get an infection.

“Ouch.” Derek looked down at his body. More scratches on his right calf. He didn’t even want to look at his left hip, but he did.

A pointed stick stuck out of the ground. The end of it was wet with blood, and there was a small pool forming on the ground beside his hip. He’d gotten impaled, stabbed clear through his shorts! Bacon and eggs churned again in his gut, he could almost taste them, and quickly looked away from the wound.

“I think I’m going to be sick.”

“Stop your whining and make the fucking wish! I told you I’ve had a shitty  day already, let’s get on with it!”

Derek looked at the foul leprechaun on the boulder. “You’ve had a shitty day! Look at me!”

Then Derek noticed his bike on the other side of the boulder. Shit! His bike! He got to his feet before the pain stopped him. He staggered and went back down, catching himself with scrapped palms on the rock.

“Watch the fuck out!” The leprechaun jumped backward on the rock.

This close Derek could smell a musky, animal smell from the leprechaun. It didn’t help his upset stomach at all. On top of that he could smell the blood, and a glance down showed more blood oozing out of the wound in his hip.

Suddenly it felt like the world was spinning, trying to throw him off. Derek clung to the rock until the sensation passed. When he raised his head he saw the bike’s front tire first.

Totally taco’d. Irreparable. It even looked like the fork was bent. Damn, he’d hit that rock hard.

“Yer bike is toast, asshole. How ‘bout you wish for a new one?”

Derek blinked, looking at the leprechaun’s broad squinty face. Whiskers sprayed out from his tiny nose.

“I could do that?” Derek asked, as an expensive high-end Cannondale 29er came to mind.

“It’s a fucking wish, of course you can! Make the wish so we can both get on with our fucking days. I don’t give a shit.”

That was something to think about. Derek’s hip pulsed with pain. He made himself look down at it. Gingerly he picked at the torn shorts. The wound wasn’t bleeding that fast, a slow ooze. He wasn’t in danger of bleeding to death, but a puncture wound was serious. Now that he was up the road rash on his arm, hands and leg were all  burning, pain ramping up.

He really needed a hospital, as much as he hated the idea.

“Well?” The leprechaun demanded.

“I —” Derek stopped. Why rush it? It was his wish, wasn’t it? If this leprechaun wasn’t just a sign of a head injury, then that wasn’t something to rush into. “I’m not ready.”

The leprechaun snarled. His tail snapped down against the rock, scattering moss. His tiny hand shot out and poked Derek’s arm, a dark claw digging into a smaller patch of road rash that Derek hadn’t even noticed yet. The pain was like getting an electric shock.

“Hey!” Derek jerked back, nearly tumbling himself off the boulder. “Stop that!”

“What’s your fucking problem? Just make the wish!”

Derek eased back and stood up. The world didn’t spin him off. He hurt, each movement hurt, but he could move at least. He limped around the boulder to his bike, considering the possibilities. The bike was in worse shape than him. The front tire and fork were lost causes, but that bad of an impact could have fractured the frame too. The rear tire looked wrong somehow, misaligned or something.

Wish for a new bike? Wish away all of his injuries? That was tempting. The pain seemed to be growing more intense in spots, while most of his body just ached.

But a wish? Why not wish for millions of dollars? Then he could buy whatever he wanted, and his wounds would heal on their own.

The leprechaun was watching him, glaring with those squinty eyes. His lips curled in a sneer that showed sharp teeth on one side of his mouth.

If this wasn’t a delusion, and it certainly felt real, then the world was a lot different than he’d imagined. The leprechaun was different than any leprechaun he could have imagined. That alone argued that this was real. If he was suffering hallucinations from a head injury then it should have looked like the guy on the Lucky Charms box.

“Asshole!” The leprechaun waved his arms. “Are you going brain-dead on me?”

Derek shook his head. “No, I’m just thinking. What are the consequences of making a wish? Like if I asked for money would the feds show up on the doorstep to arrest me for robbing a bank?”

The leprechaun let out a nasty little chuckle. “Didn’ hit your head too fuckin’ hard did you? Hell, when you went acrost that boulder I thought you were toast!”

Derek shivered, feeling like he’d just missed another car flattening him. “Then maybe we should just call it good and skip the whole wish thing?”

“Oh no, boyo. I don’t owe anyone. You’ll make that wish!”

The dirty wound on his arm suddenly sent a breath-taking jolt of pain up his nerves. Derek gasped and nearly sat down again, but he didn’t want to be within reach of the leprechaun. He needed a hospital.

Phone! He wasn’t thinking, he needed to call 9-1-1. He reached behind his back with his left arm since it hurt the least and reached into the left-side pocket on his jersey.

When his fingers touched sharp edges he knew it wasn’t good. He reached deeper and found several edges, and pieces that rattled beneath his fingers. He scooped it all out and looked at it in dismay.

The phone was shattered. It looked like it’d been smashed with a sledgehammer.

Derek looked up and saw the leprechaun smirking as he crossed his arms over his protruding belly.

“What’re you gonna do now, asshole? I don’t know, maybe make a fuckin’ wish?”

With the phone smashed Derek couldn’t call 9-1-1 for help. He couldn’t let his boss know what had happened. Not all that far away, just past the mouth of the trail cars rushed past on the road. Everyone going about their day, not even noticing the bloodied cyclist standing just down the trail with a smashed cell phone in his hand.

He dumped the ruined cell back in his jersey pocket. He wasn’t going to litter the trail. Then he bent, an action that caused more things to hurt, and grabbed the handle bars on his bike. He pulled it up.

The leprechaun jumped up, catching the handle bars and pulled himself up onto the dry sack. His long tail wrapped securely around the handlebar. Derek shook the bike.

“Get off!”

The leprechaun shook his head. “Not until you make your fucking wish! Come on! Is it really that hard?”

Derek had the left grip in his left hand, his right held onto the frame, and his wounds screamed at him. He tried to ignore the pain. All he had to do was drag the ruined bike over to the road and flag down one of the cars. Somebody would stop, even if they only called for help that’d be enough. But he didn’t want to leave the bike here, busted or not. That just felt wrong.

“Make the fucking wish!” The leprechaun snarled, baring sharp teeth.

Derek shook the bike again. “Get off!”

The leprechaun just laughed. His fat little body shook while his tail kept him firmly anchored to the handle bar. The laughter grated on Derek’s frayed nerves. He couldn’t take it anymore.

“Fine! I fucking wish I had decided to drive today!”

The leprechaun roared, “No!”

🍀

Ever since Derek turned the car onto the highway he regretted backing out of riding the bike. It was a fantastic day! It’d looked like it might rain, and he rode in the rain often, but today for whatever reason he hadn’t felt like it, but there wasn’t any rain in the sky. Plenty of patches of blue sky and sunshine, but no rain.

It was frustrating. He always, or almost always, regretted driving.

Coming down the S-curves on the hill right before the trail he had a logging truck behind him. He didn’t miss that, at least. Having that monster behind him while on the bike would have been nerve-wracking. He’d have been up standing on the pedals, pounding as hard as he could to make the mountain bike move like a racing bike.

Hell, he even missed that.

On the other side of the road a flash of white caught his eye. A bald eagle! It was on a raggedy gray body, possum from the look of it. The eagle looked at the approaching cars and evidently decided to take its meal someplace more private.

Powerful wings beat. It struggled at first to take off, but slowly gained height. For a few seconds it flew, right by the mouth of the trail, at head height and then it flew on, carrying its meal.

Derek sighed as he drove around the last curve and continued on to work. If he’d been on the bike he would have gotten a much better look at the eagle.

But that’s what he got by driving instead. Tomorrow. Tomorrow he’d ride. Or better yet, after work he could go out for a ride just for fun.

🍀
3,526 WORDS

Author’s Note

This story is the 52nd weekly short story release, written in March 2012. Hard to believe that a year of stories has already passed! I plan to continue the weekly story releases. Eventually I’ll do a new standalone e-book and print release when I am satisfied that I can create the cover art that I want for the stories. In the meantime I’m enjoying these weekly releases. Stories will remain until I get up the new  e-book and print versions and at that point I’ll take the story down.

If you’re interested in longer works, feel free to check out my novels through the links in the sidebar or on the Books page. Check back next Monday for another story. Next up is my story Bouncing Baby Boy.

Author: Ryan M. Williams

Writer and artist, Ryan M. Williams, author of more than twenty novels, writes across a range of genres including fantasy, science fiction, romance, paranormal, and mystery. He holds a Master of Arts from Seton Hill University in writing popular fiction. His short fiction has appeared in anthologies from Pocket Books, WMG Publishing, and in On Spec Magazine. He currently attends San Jose State University, pursuing a Master of Information and Library Science degree.