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Fairy Tale Ride, Part 2

December 20, 2011

Part II: The Troll

Bug grumbled to himself as he made his way back to camp. He was trying not to dwell on the fact that between his emergency trip back to the bike shop and the distance they would have to cover to make up for lost time, he would be pushing a century today. His legs could handle it. It was his ass that he was worried about. Why hadn’t he switched out the stock saddle? What an idiot. At least an unexpected storm last night softened the hard earth.

The sudden scent of coffee aroma signaled that camp was near. As Bug slowed, he heard Grimm and another voice.

“Hey! Good morning. ‘Bout time you got back,” Grimm shouted to Bug. He poured some instant coffee into a stainless steel cup and brought it over to Bug. Bug rested his Trek against a tree and took the coffee. His gaze stopped at the still standing tent. He pointed, looked over at Grimm, and raised his palms into the air. Useless!

Grimm didn’t take the bait. He undid the strap securing the repaired tire on Bug’s bike. Grimm continued, “Great, I’ll get this tire mounted and we’ll be on our way.”

“Need help with that?” the stranger inquired standing next to some custom bike set-up, the original paint and brand decals long since sandblasted away. The new powder-coat was shining silver.

“I can handle it. Bug, this is Lance Knight.”

Bug and Lance shook hands. His hands are callused with dirt lining his fingernails.

“Knight’s headed to DC too. Came down all the way from the Pittsburgh trailhead. Thought it would be cool to have him join us.”

“Sure. Whatever.” Bug shoved the tent poles into the bag. Seriously? This was supposed to be their trip. Not their and Lance’s trip. Knight would be the constant reminder for the next three days that each of them would easily be replaced. While Grimm realigned his wheel, Knight busied himself reconfiguring his own gear. At least he had sense enough to keep his distance, Bug thought.

“I’ll take the front, if you don’t mind gents?” Knight said as he swept his wavy blond hair underneath his helmet. If it weren’t for the week’s worth of dust coating Knight, he would probably be considered a handsome man. His jawline chiseled, his shoulder’s broad, and his eyes were a striking emerald green. Neither Bug nor Grimm objected and they soon fell in line behind Knight.

Despite Bug’s reservations, he was beginning to enjoy Knight’s company. Drifting off of Knight, slicing the headwind in half, allowed them to make great time. Plus, Knight was full of stories – some real, some fiction. They stopped trying to figure out which was which and just enjoyed the distraction. It wasn’t until dusk, when that same eerie red suddenly painted the forest that they came upon their first setback for the day.

“Must have been the rain last night. Guess it was worse here then up where we were,” Bug said looking out at a swamp where the trail should have been. “Now what?”

Knight seemed to be deep in thought. “Alright, gents. I got something. When I was touring this way a couple of summers ago, we got off course and ended up on some old railroad tracks. It parallels this towpath. If we continue on it for a while we should bypass this flooded-out portion.”

“Great! See, I knew it was a good idea to bring you along,” Grimm smiled as he slapped Knight on the back.

“There’s just one thing I’m worried about. Right before the two trails meet back up we need to pass under a tunnel.”

“So what’s the big deal? We have headlamps.”

“Be wary of The Troll.”

Both Grimm and Bug laughed. Knight remained deadpan and silent. There was something odd about it. Obviously just another one of Knight’s stories, Bug thought. Plus, now’s not the time to imagine evil trolls living underneath bridges.

The old railroad bed wasn’t too far from the canal path and seemed to head in the same direction. By the time they reached the tunnel, darkness had settled over them. They came to a stop before entering the dark cavern that awaited them.

“We should probably go single file from here. I remember there was a ton of scattered debris and garbage inside. Who’s going first?”

Silence.

Grimm laughed, “Alright boys, I’ll take the lead on this one. If we get split up I’ll just follow the sounds of your cries, babies.” He mounted back on his Surly and laughed again as he rode into the tunnel. Bug switched on his headlamp and followed the direction of Grimm.

Knight was right; trash littered every inch of the path. The light on Bug’s head was too dim to make out what everything was. Maybe it was better that way. The temperature dropped dramatically. Bug shivered. And then somewhere in the darkness ahead, Bug heard the scream. It echoed down the tunnel walls. A thud. And then silence. Oh crap.

“Grimm? You OK, buddy?” Bug’s shaky voice shouted. He was trying to stay calm but the scenarios began playing out in his mind. He thought he heard a moan up ahead. Probably just skidded out on some garbage. It’ll be fine. Grimm will shake it off and we’ll be back on our way. Nothing to worry about…

“No! No one passes! You pay! You pay!” It was an unfamiliar voice, certainly not Grimm’s or Knights. The voice was strained, raspy, and viscous.

Bug’s speed increased, plowing through the trash in his path, racing to save his friend’s life.

End of Part II.

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