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Brendon’s ride home from work, through a deserted park at dusk, could turn out to be his last...

‘Don’t fall and get gravel rash.’

The voice was unfamiliar, maybe imaginary, but the message was well known to him. From the first day he had pedalled free of the training wheels attached to his new bike, Brendon’s mum had warned him and worried for him, with those words. All kids crash their bikes and rip up their knees. Brendon had the scars to prove his childhood bravado just like most of his friends. No big deal. He always replied to his mum that he would be fine and usually he was.

Did he really hear someone say that to him just now? He was alone, wasn’t he? Gravel crunched and jostled beneath the tires as he rode through Lakeside Park on his way home from work. Had he started the trip after dark, he would have ridden the long way home but an extra fifteen minutes to avoid the park was fifteen minutes he wasn’t willing to give up tonight. He had a date. Samantha Ewells had finally said yes.

Daylight was being folded away like a piece of paper soon to be imprisoned in the darkness of an envelope. Brendon pedalled harder. He would probably make it through the park and reach the freeway before the black night began to reign but he maintained his pace, even ramped it up a little. There was no way he was going to be late home tonight. He had to make up time. That truck was to blame. The one which arrived late at the Toyota dealership, around the corner from the depot, to unload its cargo of new Camrys. The whole road was blocked for ten minutes as the driver made numerous attempts to reverse the truck into the lot. Brendon had sat there staring at it and tapping anxiously on the steering wheel. Wondering why him, why tonight and trying to not to think of having to make Samantha wait. She might not wait. He had cursed under his breath as he waited impatiently. Must have been a new driver. Inexperienced.

Now he was running late. Running out of time. This was an experience that Brendon could have done without. He had heard stories about people going missing in Lakeside Park. Everyone said it was no place to be after the sun had gone down. The only ones to disregard the danger were the drunken fools and deviates who frequented the park in order to debauch and destroy themselves under the cover of darkness. Brendon would have happily avoided them for the rest of his life.

In the quiet of the dusk, the only sounds were Brendon’s heavy breathing, a squeak from the pedals on each revolution, and the chuckle of the gravel underneath his tires.

‘Be careful of gravel rash.’

Brendon’s first instinct was to stop and listen closely without audible interference but fear kicked in and pushed him on. Was he hearing things? The gravel seemed looser, less willing to support and carry his weight, and he struggled at times to control the handlebars and stay on course. The night was black and heavy now. The acacias which lined the track leaned in closer to him, whispering seditiously. He flicked on his night light which was perched in the centre of the handlebars, but the battery was so low it barely reached the spinning tip of his front tyre. Hot, sweaty and panicking he wondered how much farther to the freeway? He looked up for a moment but could not see through the opaque gloom. Suffocating gloom. That was what he felt. This was bad. Very bad.

‘Don’t fall. You’ll get gravel rash.’

‘Shut up!’ yelled Brendon frantically at his invisible taunter. ‘Shut up!’

Forcing himself to concentrate on controlling the bike, afforded Brendon some peace from the persistent paranoia, but someone was watching him. He knew it. Somehow keeping up with him. One of those perverted pariahs who lived in the park was teasing him, tormenting him.

He felt the front of the bike dip suddenly and then rise again as though he had ridden through a pothole. His left hand was jolted free of the handlebar grip but he quickly reestablished a firm hold. The knowledge that he must be nearing the edge of the park, encouraged Brendon and strengthened his aching legs. He imagined he could now see the headlights of vehicles flickering through the trees as they roared southbound along the F6. Then he realised he was sinking.

A violent and immediate stop catapulted Brendon over the handlebars and onto the gravel path. Having somehow managed to maintain a one handed grip on the handlebar, he pulled the bike down on top of him as he fell and it landed pedal first against his chest.

Too stunned to move initially, Brendon just lay there. Insistent and angry pain advised him that he was still alive. A gush of air left his lungs as he exhaled, then he coughed for a minute or two, wincing with each contraction of his diaphragm. As he pushed the bike off himself, he felt the rough gravel nibbling at the skin around the back of his neck and calves. A strong sucking sensation against his right knee caused a new burst of pain as the sharp edges of the gravel cut his skin. He heard a sound close to him. Very close. A murmur. Low and indistinct. Garbled as though someone was talking with a mouthful of food.

No longer pinned by his bike, Brendon tried to wrest himself free of the disturbingly soft gravel but the more he twisted the tighter he was held. If he could have he would have screamed for help but the only sound to escape his mouth was a pathetic mumble. If he could have he would have kept fighting his unseen enemy but fear immobilised him. His very last thought as the gravel swallowed him alive and crushed him, was that if only that truck had not blocked the road, he would have been home now getting ready for his date with Samantha instead of dying alone in Lakeside Park. 

Just before his head disappeared beneath the rippling surface of the gravel track, he heard the voice again, ‘I warned you about gravel rash, didn’t I?’


Heavy metal lover and cricket tragic, D.A. Cairns lives on the south coast of News South Wales. He works as a freelance writer, has had over 80 short stories published, and has authored six novels, as well as his recently released superficial and unscientific memoir, I Used to be an Animal Lover.


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