Spring, Part Three
A Solstice story
Start at the beginning of the Solstice series
Vulcan slowly lifted his thick fingers from the steering wheel, set down the camera, and cracked his knuckles; thunderous in the dead night air. He heard Mars' restored corvette roar to life in the parking lot, smiling against the deep red tail lights.
"Put down the phone."
"Huh?" Bacchus stopped fumbling with the clamshell of his cell.
"I said, put down the phone. The police don't need to know what's happening here."
Bacchus looked to the steering wheel, glanced at the parking lot, and shook his head. "No. Vulcan, no. We're not chasing him."
"Like hell we aren't."
"Look at that car! Look at your truck! Even if it was a good idea to catch up to Mars on a back road - and it isn't - do you seriously think you can outrace him in this?"
"You think that I don't know engines?" Vulcan smiled, thick lips tightening across his teeth. "You think that I don't have some new tricks in my forge?"
"Vulcan, seriously." The scent of drink and sweat filled the cab of the truck. "Don't, please. I told you. Nothing good comes of trying to settle these things this way."
"How do you know if you've never tried?" The car pulled out of the Northwoods' lot as Mars waved farewell to the last knot of his friends. "Something you're not telling me?"
"No, I'm talking sense and you're out of your fucking mind, Duncan." Bacchus put a hand onto the dashboard for emphasis. "Listen. Stick to the plan. We've got the video; we can prove an assault and make it stick. We can put the word out that he's got that post-traumatic bullshit, that he's not safe to be around. That she's not safe in his house. That's going to be enough. You haven't seen him up close yet. He's built like a monster, Dunc."
"I've told you not to use that name." Vulcan's voice was quiet and calm as the truck pulled away from the curb and started down Ridge Road, keeping a few car lengths between himself and Mars. At the first stoplight, he idled impatiently, waiting for his chance to continue the slow pursuit. "Did he say where he was going?"
"Countryside." Bacchus turned to wrestle with the door latch, but found it immovable. "What's wrong with your lock?"
"Never bothered fixing it. You're the only one I ever carried around and it never bothered you before."
"Look, Countryside's a bad enough drive in the daytime and sober. If you're serious, let me out here. I've bled enough for you tonight."
"You owe me."
"You used the mortal name. Now you owe me again." Vulcan crept forward, then stopped and revved his engine. "Come on, light. Change already."
Bacchus took a deep breath. "If you don't let me out I'm going to be sick."
"Lean out the window. Wouldn't be the first time." His tires squealed as the light finally changed, the forward momentum tossing Bacchus back against the torn seat and bringing his stomach into his chest. He grasped for the crank to lower the window and for a brief, harried moment thought of tumbling out bodily. The sight of the sidewalk's cracks rushing past both changed his mind and emptied his stomach, leaving a trail along the gutter behind them.
"Get any on the truck?" Vulcan asked with a laugh. "This is like old times, Bacchus. Just like old times. I missed them. I missed this."
"Shut up, shut up, shut up ..." Bacchus squeezed his eyes shut against the nausea and vertigo. "Hell, Vulcan, drop me off, please. I'm begging you."
"Just like old times," repeated Vulcan.
Ahead, the corvette moved like a shark through shallow waters, sliding easily along as Mars turned left and headed out of Solstice. Vulcan kept a certain distance, but began to pull closer as they passed the auto dealership that marked the edge of town, his smile widening as the engine purred beneath him.
In the corvette, Mike adjusted his rear view mirror for night driving and looked again at the headlights of the truck with a frown. "Asshole," he muttered to the night air, "Get around if you're in such a goddamn hurry." He hung his left hand out the window, gesturing to pass.
"Look at that," sneered Vulcan, "I guess his ride's not so fast as he wants us to think."
"Vulcan, you can't hit him."
"I'm not going to hit him. I'm not an idiot.
"That's two lies in one sentence. Come on, man ..."
"Come on, asshole!" Mike's gesture grew more pronounced, but Vulcan simply flipped on his brights with a grin.
"All right, you son of a bitch," said Mike, "you picked the wrong fucking night." He stepped on the gas and the car responded instantly, leaping away from the truck like a champion thoroughbred being spurred into battle.
"Now we're talking," said Vulcan, "hang on."
"Please, please, please ..." Bacchus' voice went unheeded as the truck roared into the night, pushing itself forward against the first curve in the road leading to Countryside.
"Oh, you want to play," said Mike, still frowning. "All right, pussy. Let's see what you got in that shitcan." Ahead, the road forked into two separate channels, yellow divider sign flaring against their lights. He set his right turn indicator, glanced in the mirror, and took his foot off the gas to decelerate. The truck did not slow, quickly gaining ground between them.
At the final moment, Mike stepped on the gas and turned left onto Countryside against his blinker. The truck lurched behind him as Vulcan corrected himself, throwing Bacchus against his right shoulder.
"Belt in," he growled as he shoved Bacchus back.
"I can't. I'll be sick again if anything touches me."
"Then be sick out the window! Who's stopping you?"
"The belt would stop me, you idiot!"
"Why did I even bring you along?"
"That's what I want to know!" Bacchus shifted, ready to lean out the window again and saw the willows ahead, their overhanging branches not yet trimmed back and brushing dangerously close to the curving road. "Oh, hell." He pushed his fist against his lips and fixed his eyes on the roof of the cab.
Countryside road had been laid out among the rolling hills which flank the Fox River, turning and twisting according to reasons and seasons long forgotten. Those hills echoed now with the unmistakable song of engines rebounding through the night as the race progressed.
Mike, too, was smiling now; warming to the game with a warrior's heart. He was of half a mind to pull over, to get out of the car and confront the man behind him, but a strange blend of prudence and recklessness warned against leaving the car and simultaneously chided him for abandoning the chase. He crested the next hill and felt the sudden leap in his vitals as the car threatened to leave the ground - glancing in the rear-view mirror, he saw with some satisfaction that the older pickup had flown against the forces of gravity.
Turning forward once more, he put all his attention to the road as the willow branches raced past him. He was focused solely on speed, as directly and as well as he had focused on caution in his time abroad. He knew how to handle the curves, and paid only cursory attention to his pursuers at that moment. For the first time since returning to Solstice, he felt alive and aware, fully in command of a situation he could never hope to control.
With nothing in his mind save the chase, he missed the sudden flash of white to the side of the car. Behind him, the sharp, sudden shriek of brakes was the first sign anything was amiss.
The deer which had stepped from the willows as Mike flew past was startled into leaping forward, directly into the center of the road - and directly in front of Vulcan, whose wordless bellow brought Bacchus' eyes flying open.
The truck was jerked violently to the left, avoiding both the deer and the solid hillside but crashing through the ephemeral curtain of willow branches. The uneven ground would have been dangerous at a normal speed, and as the front right wheel struck a large stone at nearly seventy miles per hour, the momentum of the vehicle lifted its side completely from the ground.
Screaming, Bacchus only dimly recognized the crunch of metal, felt the warm spray upon his face, closed his eyes again - and then was shot into darkness.
Vulcan stood at Bacchus' bedside, running one finger along the inside of his own neck brace and watching the displays on the life support machinery. The constant humming of those machines soothed him these days in a way so little else could, knowing that it was only thanks to them that his oldest friend still lived.
"You'll wake up," he said, hoarsely. "When you do we'll worry about everything else, but you'll wake up. I promise, Bacchus. I owe you that."
"Mister Wane." The nurse's voice was sharp with exasperation. "I've told you not to get out of bed more than once today. You're in enough trouble with the doctors already, and believe me, you don't want to get on my bad side as well."
Her voice softened somewhat. "I've told you that we'll let you know if there's any change in his condition. I know what you must be feeling, but there's nothing you can do for him now."
"I'll be able to do something for him once I'm well," said Vulcan, turning. His eyebrows drew together slowly. "I've made ... I've crafted limbs before, you know. I could do it again. I know I could. I just need time."
She eyed him, unsure of his meaning. "You'll have plenty if you don't kill yourself with this walking around. So come on, or else I'll have to chain you to your room."
"I've made chains as well," said Vulcan, shuffling toward the door. "Chains along a hillside, driven deep into the rock. We made a joke about it, him and me, before the accident. I was proud of them, the way I was proud of my truck. I've been too proud of everything."
"So you've said." She glanced toward an orderly in the hallway. "Do you need some help getting back? Steven will be happy ..."
"No." Vulcan moved to shake his head and groaned from the sudden reminder of the brace. "No. John tried to help me, and look what happened. I'll do it myself." He limped along the hallway, once more the crippled god, head filled with visions of silver arms and golden limbs as Bacchus, unconscious, frolicked in the surf of his beloved islands, among the bronze-skinned youths and maidens of his now never-ending dreams.
Story and image by Ivan Ewert, Copyright 2009