I present to you a short story I started writing while on vacation in Florida at the beginning of last month. I am trying to work on being creepy in a subtle way. Please comment to let me know what you think, and I hope you enjoy it!
BOYS ON BICYCLES
By all accounts, the vacation was desperately needed by the Smith family, so the uncooperative weather was especially frustrating and almost painfully disappointing. Amber felt the sting of missed expectations most keenly as she had deemed the trek to the Sunshine State a necessity because she absolutely needed to feel the baking rays of a fat, sweltering sun fall heavily upon her as she squished cooled, clumped sand between her toes while standing at a meandering shoreline, watching breaking waves. The sudden, nearly physical yearning for a sandy shore had surprised Amber, but in hindsight, it made perfect sense. Amber and the rest of the Smith family hailed from the Great Garden State, which had recently been brutally ravaged by Hurricane Sandy. With rollercoasters claimed by the Atlantic, enacted martial law, and missing pieces of the famous and beloved boardwalk, the Jersey Shore was no longer a place to escape to. Indeed, many of its inhabitants were escaping from the coastal communities up and down the shore. The Smiths were no exceptions and for reasons Amber could not explain, she needed a beach.
This inexplicable need did not grasp anyone else and Amber had difficulty rounding up family members to head to the beach. In the end, only three others decided to pile in the Hyundai with Amber; her twin sister Susan, her young cousin Adam, and her aunt Kim, at whose home they were vacationing. Adam was a restless kid looking to get out of the house and, being his godmother, Kim wanted to please Adam and her devotion compelled her to come along (Amber believed Kim’s unconditional love and devotion knew no bounds and that Kim would follow Adam to the ends of the earth were it ever asked of her). Susan’s motivations were not as obvious, and Amber could only surmise that her twin simply wanted to drive.
With Susan at the wheel and with Kim as the co-pilot, Amber and Adam claimed the backseat of the car and thus began the fifteen minute drive east to the ocean. There was superficial, intermittent chatter but starting, let alone maintaining, a conversation became more trouble than it was worth over the wind roaring in and out of the open windows. Amber was happy to stick her arm out of the window and flatten her palm so that her hand rode the waves of air; it was worth the annoyance of having to squint against the powerful gales and to constantly and continuously tuck bothersome strands of hair behind ears to keep them from sticking in the corners of her lips and eyes. It did not matter to her that it was cold (for Florida, anyway), nor did it seem to matter to anyone else. The windows stayed down for the duration of the drive.
When the Hyundai came to a rest in a slanted parking space, Adam bounded from the car, excited for room to run in a way that only a child can be excited. The adults hurried after him, up a flight of wooden stairs to a sparse boardwalk, and then down another flight of wooden stairs to the beach. The beach was essentially deserted aside from a few other small groups of more obvious tourists and some die hard fitness fanatics reaping the cardiac benefits of running in the sand. Amber, before making it all the way to the chilly sand, sat upon a wooden stair to roll her jeans over her calves and above her knees. She also removed her flip flops and held them firmly in hand when she joined the others near the water. Adam raced Kim along the shoreline as Amber and Susan chased the water back to the ocean and then promptly fled from the icy liquid as it traveled back over the sand. Amber and Susan also wrote “New Jersey” in big, capital letters in the sand, using their feet and toes. Then, for a change of pace, Adam raced Susan as Kim and Amber observed, occasionally interfering with either runner by playfully using physical restraint to impede progress. Short of being tackled to the ground, the runners were breathless, laughing and spinning to a halt in the sand as their loved ones hung about their shoulders and waists.
Though everyone was having fun, it really was too chilly for the beach. The four resolved to pack it in, call it a day, and head on home. Amber paused at the top of the stairs leading from the beach to the boardwalk to take one – just one – longing backward glance at the sand and the rough waters of the Atlantic. Sullenly, she unrolled the legs of her jeans and wiggled her feet and toes back into her flip flops. There was only sea as far as she could see, and the landscape made her feel limitless and full of endless possibilities. It was intoxicating and she offered up a silent prayer to Whomever Might Be Listening for warmer weather and longer trips to the beach.
But perhaps Amber wasn’t the only one longing for scenic escapes – no matter how brief – because once everyone was safely back inside the car, Kim made a suggestion. “Turn right at the end of this street instead of left,” she instructed. “I’ll show you guys where the really nice houses are.” Susan dutifully obeyed and with all the windows down, the foursome traveled northwest along Ocean Drive. There was nothing remarkable to be seen at first, but eventually the sprawling hotels and quaint seaside shops gave way to exotic looking vegetation that concealed starts of cobblestone driveways that led to grand mansions, which, at times, could not be seen from the road. Those homes in view were certainly impressive.
There were stone staircases with wide steps leading up to double front doors from either side, and the doors were made of rich, sturdy mahogany. There were balconies with thin, delicate-looking iron railings. There were terracotta roof tiles covering wide, sloping roofs that turned houses into haciendas, complete with cement archways, an overabundances of hues of orange, and which betrayed the historical Spanish influence on the entire state. The accompanying guest houses were all substantially larger than the Smith family home and truly dwarfed the house of the surrounding residential communities.
Susan was only barely rolling along, operating the vehicle at a snail’s pace. Open-mouthed, she craned her neck from left to right and back again, incredulously observing the excess of wealth on either side. Her scan was panoramic so that, at the very least, the driver was conscientious enough not to slam into anything. That being said, Susan did neglect to look into her rearview mirror as she was so wholly taken by the new and exciting scenery. As a matter of fact, it was not until Amber made an announcement from the backseat that Susan gave any kind of thought to the rear.
“There’s a car behind us,” Amber said, her neck twisted gracefully over her right shoulder. She turned forward after a beat and added, “He looks pissed.”
“So what?” Susan grunted dismissively, clearly annoyed at having been interrupted. She stuck her pale, toned arm out of the open window and waved the following car around, indicating the driver should pass the four-door filled with unabashed looky-loos. He passed, after shooting Susan a murderous look, and everyone relaxed, as if a useless, creeping anxiety had been relieved.
But that was only because the rear faded from their minds and no one turned to see the bicycle following so closely that the rubber tread of the front wheel nearly grazed the bumper. It would have been an unsettling sight indeed, especially when the rider’s face came into clear view. His young face was not innocent as it should have been, but was instead so blank and vacant and devoid of emotion that irrational as it may seem, the boy seemed sinister and cold. His youth and carefree activity did nothing to dispel the image of evil that lingered about his person, just beneath the surface.
Adam, upon being confined to the car, became restless once more and fidgeted in the seat. He looked all around for excitement, even for some trouble, and was successful when he looked behind him and saw the young boy. Adam knew the boy was about his age, but also knew instinctively that the boy was somehow much older. There was experience and wisdom running through the odd lines of his face. Adam believed the young boy knew things that young boys shouldn’t know, had seen things young boys shouldn’t see, and had done things no one should ever do, regardless of age and gender. His tiny body shook uncontrollably and he scooted to the end of the seat so he could whisper in Kim’s ear, “There’s someone else behind us.”
“What?” Kim asked as a reflex, because she had clearly heard Adam and required no further explanation. She turned around in her seat to look out the back window. She saw what Adam had seen and then some, because her advanced age allowed her to comprehend and articulate the oddity of the scene. Laughing without much humor to keep her own fears at bay and to assuage the unspoken ones belonging to Adam, Kim said to Susan, “Wave this kid around. He’s tailgating you on a bike.”
Susan laughed with genuine humor. “That’s ridiculous,” she smiled and once more sticking her pale, toned arm out of the window, she waved to the boy. She quickly wondered if he would know what the provincial gesture meant, and she was about to yell out instructions in an annoyed tone when he sped past the car. He was moving so quickly and so close to the window that Susan had to pull her hand in speedily, as if she had been dangling it before the open mouth of a hungry alligator. “What the hell, man!” she roared. Angry and in need of validation for her visceral, intense reaction, she turned to Kim. “Did you see that?”
Kim shrugged, merely imitating a cool indifference. Her voice betrayed her as it trembled ever so slightly. “Kids can be just as rude or as creepy as anyone else.” Though it had been chilly, the weather would have been described as downright frigid by Kim, the longtime Florida native, and she rolled up her window fast. “Let’s just keep going.”
Amber laughed. “You’re not afraid of an elementary school kid, are you?” She shook her head slowly, still smiling.
“There’s more,” Adam whispered. An intense silence filled the already cluttered interior of the car, and their eyes followed two more boys, older than the first, cycling by at an almost impossibly slow pace; it was as if they were not even moving. The eyes of the boys were just as intently focused as those of the passengers in the car, each party staring the other down. Kim, Amber, Adam and Susan observed with wide eyes, betraying their fearful emotion without much thought. The boys on bikes gazed back with a curious detachment that hinted at a complete lack of empathy and as a result, also hinted at a complete ability to terrorize. Adam started softly crying. Amber unbuckled her seat belt, slid close to him and wrapped her arms around him.
“Let’s get out of here, Sue. This place is weird. I don’t like it.”
“Okay, okay,” Susan responded, slightly agitated by fear. She made to increase the pressure her foot was placing on the gas pedal, but found that she could not because the three boys on the bicycles had parked themselves directly in front of the car, so close that the boy who appeared the oldest, trailed his fingers along the edge of the hood.
“Back up, back up,” Kim chanted.
Susan shifted the car into reverse and lifted her eyes to the rearview mirror and had to stifle a scream. More boys on more bicycles were now barricading any possibility of escaping from the rear. “Roll up your windows! I’m locking the doors!” Susan commanded, her voice cracking as it reached a level of hysteria never before reached. For a brief moment, she wondered if she was being silly; they were children on bicycles. Where was the threat? What reason was there for the sweat accumulating, or for the increased pace of her heart, or for the tears pricking at the back of her eyes?
Amber, still holding tightly to Adam, had locked the doors and was waiting for the window on her side to complete its infuriatingly slow progress upwards. She stared through the windows for a pair of sympathetic eyes, for someone who looked as if they might care. All she could see were these mini monsters, these children with stone faces who were intentionally scaring them. It did not make any sense and for Amber, that was the worst part about it. It had been chilly, yes, but it was still sunny. They were on vacation in Florida, observing how the other half lived. It was not dark and ominous and they were doing nothing illegal or harmful, nothing to justify such a turn of events. Her eyes frantically and desperately scanned the surrounding lawns for adult eyes, aged eyes, eyes with wrinkles that belonged to someone who could rush over and demand the absurdity cease and desist in an authoritative tone. Amber’s eyes only met statues that may have once been human, but could not possibly be human now. They were adults on lawns, pushing mowers or chatting idly with neighbors, and they were observing the harassment and intimidation occurring before them, but there were no passing looks of disgust or pity. Their faces were blank and their eyes were pointed in the right direction, but it did not seem as if they were really seeing.
Kim, Susan, Amber and Adam were helpless and all alone.
Only Adam’s soft and horrible moans penetrated the suffocating silence. Agonizing minutes passed where the aggressors remained absolutely still and the victims only breathed in and out.
Then, suddenly, the boys on the bicycles descended.