The road unrolled before me like a sweaty black carpet. On either side, emptiness. It was just the road. I’d been riding for 5 hours now, the first part of what would be a 3 day ride across the state. My bike tire is flat and both extra tubes have holes in them. How is that even possible? That both back-ups would be defective. They lay at my feet now like two poorly written O’s making the word, or sound, OO at me. I sigh and look again. Maybe I could walk to the next stop? It’s got to be at least a 3 hour ride away which would mean at least 30 miles. Not an option. I should just wait. A car will pass eventually and I can wave them down. I did choose the route, however, specifically because it’s not a major road. In fact, desolate is the word I used to describe it to Ethan.
I don’t understand why my phone isn’t working. I plan for the signal to come and go while I’m riding, but I haven’t had a signal in over an hour. Maybe I should walk off the road and try to find a clearing on a hilltop. Silly. Finding a hilltop for a signal is something that works in the movies but has no basis in reality. Anyhow, I don’t want to leave the road. The second I do a car will come, I’m sure of it.
I look down at the bike again. Maybe I could ride it on a flat tire? It would be uncomfortable, yes, and probably ruin my tire for good, but I could at least move at a faster than walking pace. I reach down and grab the spare tubes. I’m not one to litter. Stuffing them back into the satchel I turn to grab my water bottles. 4 total, 3 of which are empty. Dammit, I knew I needed a bigger bag.
The daylight is dimming, it must be 3 or 4 by now. A slight breeze has picked up as the temperature cools. It would be pleasant if I was actually riding right now. Thinking of all the evenings like this that I’ve spent on my bike. The rhythmic turn of the pedals, the constant wind kissing my cheeks, the sunsets. Ah, the sunsets make it all worth it. My brief reverie is interrupted by a faint motor humming in the distance. I hadn’t heard that before. I quiet my breath and listen. A car. Thank god, it’s a car. I grab at my gear clumsily shoving it into the satchel and wrestling it closed. In the distance I finally see the headlight crown the horizon like single faint star. With no care or concern whatsoever about who might be in that car, I move into the middle of the road. They are stopping whether they want to or not. Or they’ll have to run over me.
Standing quietly in the middle of the road, bike leaning against my leg, helmet slung around my shoulder, I notice something on the opposite side of the road from where I was originally stopped. The car has dipped below a distant hilltop but is probably still 3/4 mile away. I lay my bike down and step over to the shoulder, my clips clicking on the pavement. Where the shoulder ends the ground slops down gently toward a dry creek bed. Halfway down a clump of bright red stands out against the muted green grass. I glance back nervously at my bike and then look toward the horizon for the car. It’s not crested the next hill yet. My eyes are drawn back down the hill to the bright red, blood red spot. In the ever graying light I can’t make out what it is, but it’s still rich with color despite the dusk. As if in a trance, I begin to shuffle at an angle down the slope. My bike clips, not made for treking through grass collect dirt and feel heavier. Shit, they’ll be full of mud when in I get in that person’s car. I continue down getting closer to the red circle, but I seem in a race with the sun in which it is winning. Light escapes with every step. Finally I reach the red. It is a cluster of flowers forming an almost perfect circle. I have never seen flowers like that before. The are short, maybe 4 or 5 inches from the ground. There are no leaves on them just cone shaped scarlet heads of tiny round petals. I stare at them, entranced. And as I stared, the dark gaps between the flowers began to blur, to fill in with more red. The round clump of flowers became a solid bright circle of color. I can’t seem to look away. The circle of color begins to swell upward like a bulging belly. My heart begins to pound even though I don’t understand what is happening. My feet are rooted, I can’t move them and I can’t look away. The bulge becomes a cylinder and rises to my height. Like a spotlight, the red cylinder lengthens upward toward the sky and stops a few feet above my head. Now I’m in front of a tube, bright red, and glowing somehow. Without thinking I extend my hand to touch the surface of the thing. I fingertips disappear like I’m dipping them in a lake. Then I feel it. An urge. A beckoning, even, to step inside. The sudden longing surprises me, as though I’m homesick for the space inside that round tube. I manage to break my gaze from what is in front of me to look back up the hill. The road seems so far away now. Miles even. The car must have passed by now. The climb to get there appears treacherous. How did I make it down here in the first place without falling? The pit of my stomach aches, the way it does when I miss my mom. I hear a soft hum. The sound draws my eyes back to the red. Warmth creeps up my extended arm and curls around the back of my neck. All sounds around me become the hum, harmonize with it. I inch forward a bit and feel my hand sink further into the glowing cylinder. Where does it lead? Where will it take me? Is it some sort of doorway? I breath in slowly, close my eyes and step into the glowing red light.