THE HEADBANGERS AND STARBORN VISITORS
With the wind tugging at his baseball cap, fourteen-year-old Danny Chase smiled over his shoulder. “Gretchen! Imagine us on the beach!”
“I can see us there already!” Her blue eyes sparkling, Gretchen laughed delightfully. Her ponytail streamed behind her like a trailing halo. “I love riding Kalyde II!”
The magic tandem, named after an alien, streaked ahead, a bright crimson blur rocketing down the alpine road. Along the hilly route, the center line blinked and telephone poles appeared to shrink into the tall posts of a long brown fence.
A loud caterwaul sounded from Danny’s left. Racing neck and neck with them, Murg the calico cat, his sister Sarah, and star-born friend Kah-laye-dee rode the other magic bicycle. The second gift from “Kalyde” was sky blue with white trimmings.
“We’re going to win!” Sarah’s brown eyes narrowed. Billowing in the wind, her hair fluttered like a red-gold cape, streaming toward the alien sitting on the back seat.
“You work too hard, friend Daw-nee.” Kah-laye-dee sat relaxed with his saucer-like eyes almost closed. His hands were tucked behind his overly large head and below his wind-slicked blue mohawk. With his shirt off, the skinny Cor-ror-o’lan seemed to be cast from living metal.
On a padded book carrier atop the rear wheel, the calico cat leaned around the shiny alien. The winds rushed through her Halloween-colored fur. With her eyes closed, Murg seemed nonchalantly excited and indulgently satisfied.
A school of rainbow butterflies seemed to abruptly surround the racers, colors swirling along in their wake. Then the air quaked and thundered mightily. With a brilliant flash of white light and the roar of a thousand lions charging, the bicycles and their riders disappeared.
When the wind returned, the cyclists blew through the thick clouds and onto the rainbow bridge. Wheel to wheel, the tandems raced up the dazzling skyway, never more than an inch in front or behind the other. They crested the peak, then plummeted down the rainbow’s arc, heading for the white sun below. Still tied tire to tire, the tandems sped through the gate of light.
Sand sprayed as the racers appeared on a beach. Just ahead waited a gray and white house sitting atop stilts. Standing at the base of the steps, Danny’s mom and dad waved at them.
Something hit Danny on the shoulder. He sure missed Mom and Sarah. Had they only died six months ago? It seemed like just last week. The hole in his heart still ached, though less agonizingly; at least now Danny didn’t feel like he wanted to curl up and die.
Again, something tapped Danny on the shoulder. He glanced to his left.
Jason held a bicycle pump in his hand. “I said, are you having fun?” The very tall boy was Danny’s riding buddy and friend, a cyclist hopeful who dressed the part in a yellow jersey and black lycra pants. His helmet mimicked the color of a canary with wings stretched back by the wind. “You zoned out, Mister Speed-demon.”
“I was daydreaming,” Danny replied.
“Stop the presses. Call a news conference.” Murg mentally projected. With all four feet tucked underneath her and eyes closed, the calico rested atop the rear fender on a thickly padded book carrier. “Danny Chase is daydreaming.” The calico could speak while in contact with the bicycle; but when others were around, the boy and his sister’s cat spoke telepathically — mind to mind.
“That must have been some dream!” Jason laughed. “You were flying! I can barely keep up with you! I’m afraid if I fall behind, I’ll never catch up! How can you ride so fast in blue jeans?”
Danny looked around. The pastures along the farm road blurred green, one field blending with the next. He’d let his imagination run away; now the magic bicycle raced just as fast. As they climbed a hill, Danny relaxed; the pair of riders slowed. The world settled into its rightful pace.
“Sweet!” Jason cried. “We were flying! We’re ready for the Tour de France!”
“Uh . . . yeah! Quite a tailwind!”
“Without a cloud in the sky.”
“This is Texas, remember? Wait a minute, the weather will change.” Danny hid his relief. His best friend didn’t appear suspicious, never dreaming that Danny rode a magic bicycle powered by his imagination. He found it interesting that Kalyde II could affect another bicycle. What else could Kalyde II do?
“Humans often use accidents instead of planning ahead to discover something.” Murg’s eyes remained closed as she spoke mind-to-mind. “Too bad you can’t take Jason flying.”
“Riding fog, you mean. We haven’t learn to fly, YET. I hate not being able to share the magic bicycle with Christina and Jason. I wish I could, but . . . .” He sighed. “I told Gretchen and look what happened. Our dads told the U.S. government, and they seized it. If I hadn’t changed time . . . . who knows, I might have lost Kalyde II forever.” Danny shuddered. “I’m not sure I can ever trust anybody again with our secret.”
“Have faith in the people who care for you. They . . . . Hey, I believe I smell company. Odd, this feels very, very familiar.”
“There they are!” came the cry over a barrage of heavy, pounding metal music.
“IT’S THE HEADBANGERS!” Jason cried. As he and Danny topped the hill, four boys mounted on dirt bikes roared from a copse of trees. Square-faced Spike led the pack, guiding his smoking mini-motorcycle through a hole in the fence. Once clear, each boy put on a black-coughing burst of speed, then ramped onto the road. With a squeal of burning rubber and the thrashing of guitars, The Headbangers raced after Danny and his friend.
“HAUL, MAN!” Jason stood on his pedals, running on the bicycle, driving it faster and faster as though sprinting toward the finish line. Danny joined him, slowly pulling ahead as he urged Kalyde II faster.
Even on old, smoking dirt bikes, the Headbangers gained quickly. The music grew deafening.
Danny looked left and right. Beyond the fences, flat ranch pastures scattered with bushes and large trees provided some shade but no place to hide.
“You know, I have feelings of deja vu. Drier this time. That’s nice.” Murg cracked open a green eye.
“You are so funny,” Danny muttered.
“Except this time you have a friend with you . . . and you’re riding a magic bicycle. You can outrace anything you can imagine.”
“I can, but Jason can’t,” Danny replied.
“A difficult choice.”
“HA! HA! CHASE!” Spike cried over a screaming guitar solo. The large, heavy-set brute appeared to dwarf the small dirt bike, his knees bowed awkwardly wide. Below a protruding brow, his close set eyes glowed feverishly dark. “This time, you’re finally going to get what you deserve!” Spike waved a bat, then spat, sending a green stream squirting. “Right, Reggie?”
Reggie looked gangly with a sickly pallor and deep set eyes. The pale boy gunned his motorbike. As Reggie surged closer, he brandished a chipped and chewed Louisville Slugger.
“Danny, I’m riding as fast as I can.” Jason struggled to keep pace.
I’m not, Danny thought, but he couldn’t use the bicycle’s full power. He’d either reveal his secret or leave his friend in the dust. Danny refused to desert Jason; but at this speed, they’d never escape their tormentors. All to well Danny recalled being sat upon, punched and having his face ground into the dirt.
“What are you going to do, Danny?” Still appearing relaxed, the calico perused the thugs. “You know, I count at least five tattoos. Why would anyone want a snake on their neck? Is that guy’s hair really that color?” Murg nodded to a ape-jawed boy with bright orange hair. “And why wear jewelry? Don’t they like the way they look? I abhor wearing a collar.”
Danny growled. “I could use some help here. An idea maybe?”
“If cats, like me, gave reasonably intelligent people, like you, answers all the time, they might think cats were smart and you’d stop feeding us and cleaning our litter boxes. Feline civilization would be absolutely ruined. You don’t want that to happen, do you?”
The motorbikes and music roared deafeningly. Jason, Danny and Murg found themselves suddenly surrounded by angry boys wielding bats. The orange-haired boy with several pieces of jewelry sticking from his face swung at Jason. He ducked and swerved, running into one of the motorbikes. Sparks flew. Reggie gassed his bike, crowding Jason.
“Headbangers, bang some heads!” Spike swung his bat. Danny dodged the blow.
A blur with claws, Murg slashed, then she rested as if she’d never moved.
“YEOW!” Spike cried. He dropped back, cursing the cat.
“I wish Jason rode a magic bicycle, too.” Danny could feel Murg’s stare bore into his back. “Wait! Don’t say anything. I don’t need to be hit by a truck.”
“Oh no, a hill!” Jason cried.
“Come on, Jason, we can do it! Just like before!” Danny quit working so hard and relaxed. He imagined a magical link connecting the two bicycles, a cannonballing locomotive hauling a caboose. The wind parted, swirling around to catch them from behind in a mighty tail wind.
“Where’d this headwind come from?!” Reggie squawked. “It’s slowing us down, but . . . but not them! I don’t believe this!”
“Chase, come back here and face me like a man!” Spike’s voice and the discordant music grew weaker and more distant. “This is impossible . . . . Stupid bike!”
Murg turned away from the motorbikes, flicking her tail as if dismissing them. “Well done, my friend. You saved yourself and Jason without giving away our secret. Good thinking.”
“Wow-whee!” Jason cried. “We’re smokin’ them! I love a good swirling Texas wind!”
Danny smiled broadly. “Yee-haw! Thank the winds! They can’t catch us!”
The road felt perfectly smooth and nearly flat as they sprinted uphill, the wind hurling them ahead ever faster. Cows and horses seemed to appear and disappear as though images flashed on a screen. Fence posts ran together, a long ladder running east and west.
“Yee-haw!” Jason cried. “We’re ready for anybody or anything man! Yeah! We are the Speed-demons! Sounds like a great promotion for a pair of blazing riders!”
“Yee . . . .” Danny began, then stopped in mid cheer. Off to his right, he thought he saw a flash of green–some kind of bright balloon–but it was gone now. Danny shivered. It gave him chills. “Murg, did you . . . .”
“DAW-NEE CHEZ, COME HOME.”
Danny straightened. “Kalyde? Murg! Did you hear that?!” Could Kah-laye-dee have returned?!
“Hear what?” Murg asked.
“Nothing. You probably didn’t see anything either,” Danny replied, dropping from exhilaration to depression. He was just hearing what he wanted to hear — that Kah-laye-dee had returned to Earth.
When they stopped at a traffic light before splitting to go their separate ways home, Danny said, “Jason, I don’t understand. Why doesn’t Spike give it a rest?”
“Spike doesn’t like me because I’m black, and worse, probably because I like you. You’re kinda short, freckled and red-headed. Go figure.” When the light changed, Jason turned left onto Ranchero road, heading home. “See you tomorrow!”
“Murg, where would I be without the magic bicycle? It allows me to escape, go anywhere I want to go. I should have called it ‘Freedom’.”
“Give yourself some credit, Danny. Your imagination helped you elude Spike and his gang of uncouth youths.”
“With a little bit of feline advice,” Danny replied.
“Where would man be without us? It’s a wonder we are not referred to as man’s best friend.”
“You don’t hunt.”
“I bring you birds,” the calico disagreed.
“Exercise is necessary for a sound mind and a healthy body. Do your own fetching.”
They pulled off the road and walked into the trees. Danny looked around, checking for witnesses. “Is it safe?” Danny whispered.
Murg listened as she smelled the breeze, then nodded.
“Good.” Danny unlocked his old bicycle from an oak. The bike looked exactly like Kalyde II but wasn’t magical. This was his original, everyday ordinary ten-speed two-wheeler, red with black trim and handgrips.
With his hands still on Kalyde II, Danny pictured the magic bicycle shrinking, transforming into a wristwatch. A flash of light washed over him and a squeaking noise, as if something were being crushed, made his ears twitch. When Danny opened his eyes, he held a watch identical to the one he wore. He put that one in his pocket, then attached Kalyde II to his wrist. “I wish I could silence the noise when it changes shape.”
“Keep working at it. I think you’re smarter about this in your old age, now that you’re fourteen.” By wearing the magic watch, Danny could still hear Murg’s words in his head.
“Yeah, that’s me. Fourteen going on thirty. I just don’t want Kalyde II stolen again.” “DAW-NEE CHEZ COME HOME.”
“What was that?” Murg asked, ears perked.
“I told you I heard something! Kalyde’s back!” Danny cried. He raced home, skidding to a stop in the garage.
“Don’t barge in. Breathe.”
After several deep breaths, Danny walked into the house. His dad slept on the couch. A college bowl game played on the TV screen.
Danny snuck upstairs, then rushed into his bedroom. “Kalyde!” he tried to whisper.
Something grabbed him from behind, covering his mouth and eyes. “Surprise!” a voice whispered in his mind. “Keep quiet, we do not wish to awaken your dad. To make a scene, I think is the correct colloquialism.”
“I’ll be quiet,” Danny whispered. He removed the silvery hand; it only had four fingers. “Kalyde?” Even before he turned around, Danny knew the answer.
“No, not Kalyde,” a female Cor-ror-o’lan told him. With large lavender eyes the size of saucers, the alien stood a little taller than Danny. Her skin appeared flawless and silvery white, the color of a full moon’s splendor. Her magenta hair was similar to half a mohawk but cut sideways, stretching from ear to ear and falling just past her shoulders.
“I hope you’re not disappointed. I am Kri-neee-dee. Kah-laye-dee’s older sister.”
Danny quietly closed the door. “I swear I haven’t been traveling time. I’ve been good! Very good. And I’ve been very, very careful. Nobody but Gretchen and Murg here know about the magic bicycle.”
At first, Kri-neee-dee appeared confused, then a look of understanding dawned across her alien face. “Be calm, Danny Chase. I have not come to take the Xenozilit from you. The star metal bicycle is a gift from Kah-laye-dee to you.”
“Then why are you here? Is something wrong with Kalyde?” Danny asked.
“No, certainly not. You worry too much. Why is that?” she asked Murg.
“Time doesn’t heal all wounds,” Murg replied. “It just dulls the edge.”
“Oh. I thought ‘Time heals all wounds’ was the Terran quote.”
“That’s a quaint saying, not a quote,” Murg replied. “Why are you here?”
“I wish to stay with Danny for a while. Danny, the Cor-ror-o’lan Elders thought it would be wise to learn more about your species, especially since there is some debate and confusion over the value of Terrans.”
“No surprise there,” Murg agreed.
“Will you help me, Danny? Help us understand you better? Kah-laye-dee said you’d understand. This is very important. I believe a famous human, a United States President named John F. Kennedy said, ‘Ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ In the galactic scheme of things, your country is your world.”
Danny stammered, tongue-tied. He was supposed to help them understand people? He didn’t even understand people. He wasn’t even sure he understood himself some days.
“Danny Chase as a representative of the human race?” Murg mused. “Well, there’s an old human saying that no good deed goes unpunished.”