The Mysterious Ride of Chase Menen
"The Mysterious Ride of Chase Menen"
the crucial account of the curious jack-of-all-trades Chase,
if it were hastily written by Neil Gaiman,
but was actually by Jake Kilroy.
In the old country of Mexico, there is an older country still. It twists and crawls at night, and it cannot be found in the day. Any traveler would have to focus to see the shadows within the darkness, but, even then, that would not be enough to give the land an honorable name.
Somewhere beyond the reach of the locals, but close enough to hear each child sleeping in bed, there are creatures of colors from dreams and nightmares. They growl, they gnarl and, worst of all, they laugh.
The land, divine and broken, has an oral history that has only ever been recited in the jungle of shadows that are only seen out the corner of an eye, while the most truthful poems are only to be found in ancient cemeteries. And, yet, the roadside shops of La Misión open and close each day without terror or notice.
Most had been locked up at sunset, with the shopkeepers going home to their families, taking the dirt paths that would always lead to them to a hearty supper and cold ale.
A thick scoop of black pressed itself against the hills and over the town, as night didn't fall as much as it splashed like a cannonball across the long, anomalous valley. The lamps of the living rooms were kept aglow, this was true, but the only shops left with life in them were the liquor store and the restaurant of choice, Maganas.
The sounds of the valley were atmospheric and quaint. Dogs barking, mariachi on a radio, and the symphony of crickets giving up on harmony. But a new sound slathered its greasy, beautiful noise across the only paved road leading into the small, moonless town of La Misión.
Chase Menen rode his motorcycle through the curves of the country. It was the only sound between the graves and the heavens for him. White stars and yellow lights dotted the bruised landscape, and his figure, pattering coolly along the slow carving of the hillside, was the only thing that moved. The silhouette of curious men and women watched him from behind the pale curtains and iron bars of their houses.
But no one spoke or hailed his arrival.
He pulled up to Maganas, greeted the employees warmly, especially the bartender David, and ordered his meal. After a few strong laughs, Chase stepped into the cool wind of the valley.
Chase lit a Marlboro Red, snuck a drag, and, in an instant, the world went black. Well, not exactly. He at least had the stars. Behind him, the inky details of the restaurant whispered not a word. There was not a soul, not a sound, not a thing. He withdrew the cigarette and watched the town with a thin tickle in his throat. The town was there, just as it had always been. But the air now tasted stagnant, as if he were taking deep gulps of an old house's damp attic. The windows of every home were dark, and not even a dog barked in the emptiness of the blackout.
His eyes adjusted, and the earth came back to him in purples and blues. His glare moved from one end of the road and to the other. There was no breeze in the fresh pelt of midnight. The nothing was complete.
"Huh," he said.
A boom erupted in the distance, and it came to echo throughout the valley. The splattering of an engine, one that belonged to another motorcycle, coughed a death so loud that Chase touch his ears to check for a wound.
The motorcycle rolled into town like slow lightning. It materialized from Chase's right, from the bridge he had driven over since he had been old enough to speed. The brutal racket of the motorcycle seized his nerves, as the vehicle barely made it to the front lot of the restaurant.
Then the stranger stepped off and undid his helmet, hurriedly dropping it to his side. A long top hat popped out from underneath it, along with shaggy hair the color of ash and soot. The rider's skin swirled in the light of the stars, moving even, as if snakes of melted seaweed and pasty white soap coursed through out his rangy limbs.
Chase blinked and corrected his eyes, and the skin looked ghostly yet ordinary in the fresh beat of his pupils. The stranger dressed in peculiar clothes that looked formal and ill-fitting. He was a long pile of scarlets and ebonies.
"In my haste, I must confess, I am without guidance," said the stranger excitedly. "Am I correct to assume you have been charged with the title of town mechanic?"
The phrasing had rattled Chase's head for a moment, but his wits returned with a swing.
"Oh, no, I'm just cruising through, picking up some food," said Chase. "That's a gorgeous bike though."
The stranger seemed confused. His eyes idled.
"What trade has claimed you as its own?" asked the stranger.
"I'm an engineer," said Chase.
"Ah! Splendid, splendid," said the stranger. "And that is your conveyance over yonder?"
Chase turned to see his motorcycle still parked in the dirt.
"Yep," said Chase, "that one's all mine."
"And it is a grand contrivance at that! So you have crafted your fingers as tools then," said the stranger. "I could use that toolbox of a hand, you see, as this perilous machine has lost its livelihood."
"What's the matter?" asked Chase.
"The matter is that it runs on knowledge," answered the stranger, "and I am too tired to teach it anything, lessons or otherwise."
"Right on," said Chase.
Chase took a long drag of the cigarette in his mouth, and put it out, stepping toward the unfamiliar motorcycle. As he approached the wheeled machine, the metal changed in each of his steps. It was a red that he had only seen the first time he accidentally cut himself. He remembered it looking like a river of jewels coming out of him. He stepped closer to the bike, and the colors came more quickly; the blue of skies above churches, the green of a field he made love in once, the brown of a girl's eyes that he had only ever seen dance in his dreams of South America.
His eyes strained from the spectrum. When he finally touched it, the motorcycle was nearly pellucid, and it burned. Like running a cold hand under hot water, the sensation was cruel.
"You built this yourself," said Chase with distraction.
"No, truly, I wish I could bestow credit for it upon myself, but when you are in the position that I'm often found in, you have created and destroyed enough to simply leave things be. There are others who will build. There are others that enter the world in search of destinies, and they remain despaired until their heart has been given purpose. To even tinker on a machine such as this...it makes their very pores glow. I would take that away from no man or creature."
The engine stirred, almost with a breath of its own, as Chase's hand, strained and tense, dragged across the hide of the machine. It rumbled faintly.
"I've been working on bikes for a long time," said Chase, "and I've never seen something like this."
The stranger stepped forward, a thinly stretched smile cutting his face.
"Go on," whispered the stranger.
"I've been from here to India, and I've fixed up some of the wildest things not cooked up by a god, and this doesn't come close to anything I've found on the road."
"Tell me, young traveler," said the stranger with a peculiar intensity, "what is it you most want from the road?"
"I want to ride my motorcycle through the Middle East."
"Ah," said the stranger with a harsh tone of thrill. "A very brave charge but what do you most want tonight by dawn?"
Chase considered this, and his pupils swam through the murky waters of honesty.
"I could use a good surf right now," said Chase.
"Good," said the stranger with the coo of a hungry bird.
Chase noticed a small pack of tools tied to the seat. He unwrapped them and tinkered with the engine, all while the stranger posed questions and gave him conversation like a supple fruit that he could not stop eating. He could find nothing wrong with the motorcycle, though the stranger's demeanor had become more confident than curious.
"Now open the gas tank," said the stranger.
The stranger extended his arm, and a tool Chase had never seen before slid out of his sleeve and into his hand. Chase took the tool from the stranger and held it. The tool looked like a cross between a screwdriver and a wine opener, and it was heavy. But it fit into the lock of the oddly shaped tank. Chase removed the cap.
As if all the words he had said these last few minutes had been looming above him in the stationary air, Chase thought he heard his voice in tiny bits float downward by his ears and into the gas tank. Stunned, he stood up quickly and looked at the stranger, who leaned forward, scooped up the cap, and tightened it.
The stranger smiled knowingly. "That may have seemed all too easy to you, but it takes one with a great love for motorcycles to do it."
"I don't even know what I did," said Chase.
A moment of wordless echo seemed to pass between the canyon of the motorcycle riders.
"You know," said the stranger, "you aren't possessed with demand and desire like the others I encounter. They drag questions and requests. You carry observations and interests."
"Yeah, I guess that's true," said Chase.
"Well, no questions will get you no answers, but you have the immaculate glimmer of a wayward philosopher. So I will tell you," said the stranger. "There is a rumor that, every year, two motorcycles race across the world."
"Oh, yeah? What's the name of the race?"
"It has no name."
"There are no names for the two racers, but many are given," explained the stranger. "Good and Evil. Life and Death. God and The Devil. The battle, the race, the everything must go on, you see."
Another motorcycle suddenly wailed in the darkness. The bridge illuminated with a ghostly headlight, and the new banshee rider cried out in a mad bellow, poisoned with a feverish glee, flying by the two.
"Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeooooooooooow!" was the wild cry of the unknown.
"And there goes the other," said the stranger.
"Damn," said Chase, a gleaming smile decorating his chin.
But a sweat drew itself out of him then. His smirk deepened into an unfamiliar bite of the lips. His bones went cold, and the world unveiled itself to him, in truth and in logic. He breathed with patience, watching the lone light of the valley, besides the shower of stars above, pass as wild and easy as it had arrived. No fear drove his mouth to ask the million questions that devoured his tongue. Instead, he slowly turned his head and asked the one thing he wanted to know more than anything.
"So which one are you?"
The stranger showed him something that resembled a smile, as he buttoned his helmet. His mouth was a treasure chest of mismatched teeth. Chase had not noticed it before, but it had the unmistakeable quality of a hastily built fence, as if each tooth belonged to that of a different animal. How the mouth was able to close without gashes or cuts was beyond his mastery. The mechanics of it were other worldly, a terrible gift on display in the haunted museum of La Misión.
Finally, the stranger answered.
"I am the one who is losing."
The stranger threw himself atop the motorcycle, started the engine, and rolled it by Chase, back toward the road.
"In my many thanks, I would give you this," said the stranger. "Consider it a token for putting me back in the race. Chew the earth and rinse your mouth with the unknown, and you will get what you most need from this world."
He thrust out his hand and dropped the object in Chase's palm. It was a necklace of dark twine with an emerald oval looped into the thin rope.
"You carry moonlight with you now," said the stranger. "Rouse the tides and award your starved soul a feast."
With an enormous blast of color from the tailpipe, the sound rang throughout the valley. Chase could only describe it to himself as the sound of every war's first gunshot fired at once...
And so the stranger's motorcycle leapt onto the only paved road out of town and barreled out of the valley. The asphalt seemed to slide and careen beneath the weight of the spinning tires. A howl, not of man or animal, bestowed itself upon the chilly Mexican landscape.
Chase examined the necklace. His fingers, coarse from honest work, drifted over the surface. It was perfect in his smoothness. When he shook it, he heard the modest crashes of water inside.
The world returned with a call, and he looked up. The houses were aglow once again, and he turned to see the cook gesturing to show his food was on the tiled counter. He stared at the length of the road, but no cars or trucks crossed it, nor the demons or angels he suspected he might accidentally encounter.
He rode home, his quesataco stuffed into the pocket of his brown leather jacket. The house was as he left it, partially lit. His plan to turn on every remaining lamp in the house became him standing on the wall of the patio smoking a cigarette and listening to the ocean, as it purred against the dim house.
Chase picked up the beautiful stone that one of his younger cousins had discovered on the beach and left in a seashell last Christmas. He rolled it in his hand and felt its tiny curves.
After a cigarette, Chase climbed into his wetsuit and tied the necklace around him. There was a small but noticeable hole at the bottom of the oval, yet no liquid escaped. He tilted the gloomy green canister and still no water leaked from the necklace. It was curious.
He picked up his surfboard and walked to the water's edge with the small stone in his fist and the necklace hanging off his chest. The world was still, but not as silent as when the stranger had arrived. Cars passed in the distance, and the water coughed and crashed. After a long thought, the board and the surfer entered the sea.
After a comfortable paddle and several dips beneath small, easy waves, Chase sat upon his board. He laid the stone in his mouth and drank from the necklace. The water carried a sugary taste as he swirled it across his gums.
A wave rolled beneath him like a quiet, slow-waking beast.
The coastline's lone surfer watched the sky sparkle above him with the bare light of the stars, and the jewels of the coastline, a confetti of porch lanterns and highways lamps, snuck upon the world with a cluster of yellow that gave the cliffs a broken-tooth grin.
Chase gargled the sweet flavor a final time and then spit the stone into the ocean. It sank, and as it did, a stormy pale blue burst from the stone like glowing tentacles. The contorted arms spread out until the surrounding water looked sprinkled with every shade of blue oil paint.
And then—the waves came. A set of translucent hills, swimming with the pace of great aquatic creatures, dazzling and featureless, rolled their way toward Chase, who lowered himself and began paddling forward, in anticipation of the Poseidon's playful challenge.
A magnificent lust blazed in the young man now, as his hands carved out the cold ocean water that warmed with each stroke. His fingers lightened, and the water's temperature reminded him of pool parties from his youth, when summer was endless and time was motionless, and he was free.
The bountiful laughter could be heard along the shore for miles, loud and exuberant, his eyes radiant and his heart triumphant. Blue, the color of boyhood and sea and sky alike, swallowed the darkness around him, piercing and welcomed. For this moment and beyond now, all was hope.