Quigley’s Watch – Short Story

My life was in bad shape but my bike was not, at least when my troubles began. So I decided it was best to take the bike and leave the life behind. At least, I planned to leave it all behind for a couple of days and then try to sort it all out when I got back to it.

Most people who drink frequently do it functionally and know their limits. I was never one of those people. I was the complete opposite of those types. I seldom drank but when I did, I came off the henges. Seldom evolved into “occasional” and there were a few embarrassing incidences.

It all came to a head after a bitter argument with my wife. We were both miserable but you know what they say about misery and it’s love for company. At the end of the fight, we were both certain we would not be in one another’s company much longer. So I took a ride to the liquor store nearby and decided to irrigate this bad patch of life thoroughly. This stoked the fires between my wife and I like gasoline.

Getting out of the house seemed like a good idea. It wasn’t. I was charged with DUI and it was certain that I was going to then lose my job as a postal carrier. I sat in my truck on the shoulder of the road, drunk but having a moment of clarity as the blue lights flashed in my rear view mirror. No wife, little savings, no job and a DUI on my record: in my historically easy life, things had never been any worse.

But that night, drink was the last thing on my mind. The best time to put down a destructive habit is immediately after you discover it. I’d spent time walking on the beach nearby until it became apparent to me that sleeping outdoors wasn’t an option. Rain poured down in sheets and the wind could have blown a less experienced rider off the road easily. The handle bars didn’t budge in my grip as I considered my options.

The hotel at the end of the road had been booked solid at 3:00 PM when I’d stopped by earlier. “Shrimp Season,” the clerk had told me. “I doubt you’ll find much in town either. Have you tried the campgrounds?”

I remembered Fort Fremont and thought how easy it would be to pull my bike into one of the concrete tunnels unseen. After that, one would be free to light a small fire and lay out a bedroll. Why not? Poor judgement seemed to be an item on my life’s coat of arms. The storm seemed to somehow have gotten worse. In all odds, no one nearby would have blamed me for taking refuge there.

The last thing I remembered was wondering if I had misjudged my speed a little into a sharp turn. It happened so fast, as I was told one day it might. The front wheel jerked and I felt my hands leave the grips as the rest of me lifted off the seat and into the air.

I woke up and tried to stand immediately, partially out of fear that I might be crippled. My entire body had a cold numbness to it. My legs were wobbly at first but I managed. A warm trickle of blood ran down my face onto my jacket. Rather than probe for an injury, panic took another route. Unconsciousness, if one was out cold for more than a minute or two, he or she was in big trouble. Was I hurt worse than I felt? Was I in shock?

My bike was a yards away, on her side, one of the mini-apes badly bent. There was no use trying to crank it but leaving it in the ditch was out of the question too, I thought. Why? I’m not sure. It just seemed to be connecting me to something. I tried to lift her but it felt like she weighed a ton. Maybe this was a symptom of shock, I wondered. Normally, being young and in shape, getting a bike that size upright again wasn’t a problem for me.

The gremlin bell my father had given me: it had to come with me if I was to leave my prize possession in the muddy ditch. Bikers often gift these little bells to one another to guard against gremlins on the road. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to protect you against high winds and rain. He’d given it to me about three bikes ago and it was the only constant part of gear for me.

The rain had stopped as quickly as it had began. The walk was actually pleasant until someone in a pickup nearly ran over me as if I’d been invisible. So much for flagging them down for help, I scoffed! Camping at the old fort was still the plan, I supposed, so I hurried along in case the rain started again.
Soon the huge concrete batteries loomed into sight like the walls of some ancient temple built to some forgotten old god. The guns there had never fired in anger until they were dismounted and taken to France during the Great War. Didn’t someone once say that the best weapon is the one you never have to use?Built to protect the coaling station at Paris Island during the Spanish-American War, a ship would have to have been suicidal to try to get past the fortresses’ ten-inch guns and rapid fire cannon. Apparently, all of America’s enemies had felt the same way and never challenged the Fremont.

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