Happy Halloween kids.............,
It was a dark and stormy night as John “Popcorn” Wilson rode home from the bar where he and two of his fellow firefighters had celebrated his acceptance into the town’s volunteer fire department.
A quiet young man of twenty four, Popcorn recently left the Army after a six year hitch with a deep sense of loneliness and confusion; his family members were all either dead or living in other states. His closest friends had moved away years ago. He didn’t have a woman since his girlfriend sent him a “Dear John” letter telling him she now belonged to what was his best remaining friend. And while serving in Iraq even his damned dog died. But soon after mustering out (getting out of the service) at least he did manage to find a job turning a wrench in a bike shop.
He’d been good at working on scoots most of his life because his uncle Dale had been teaching him the skill ever since Popcorn was a very little kid. But the old man had withered away and died from an extended illness leaving his long neglected ’71 Shovelhead bagger to the absent soldier who asked to have the bike stored with the only friend he had left, the local fire chief. “Chief Tom” had been a drinking buddy of Uncle Dale and was for all intents Popcorn’s “other” uncle, though there was no blood relationship betwixt the two of them.
Iraq and Afghanistan were certainly screwed up places to be. Each time Popcorn was told that his company would be returning stateside he’d soon find that his time in the “Land of Sand” was to be extended and they were moved back and forth from one of those hell-holes to the other.
Every day was full of patrols on foot or mounted (in a vehicle). And every day was another day of bad people shooting at him, bad people setting IEDs all over the damned place (Improvised Explosive Devices), and bad people angrily shouting at him to go home. He was never pissed about that or even thought of the locals as being ungrateful... he just didn’t care. By then he only wished to get the hell home. Even the women and little kids were dangerous over there. In fact it was a woman suicide bomber who strapped an IED to her body and exploded it while taking two of his buddies with her, leaving Popcorn with permanent scars all over his formerly handsome face.
And Popcorn lost a LOT of buddies... too many when he didn’t have that many to begin with. If it wasn’t for that, and for his fear that he’d be stuck over there for the rest of his life, he probably would have agreed to stay in the service and become a “lifer” simply because he had no place to go and no one to be with. “But anything would be better than this shit.” He thought.
The one thing he DID have, the one thing he knew would always be his, and the one thing he knew he could come home to, was the bike he’d come to call his “Baby”.
Soon after he came home the beat up but relatively stock motorcycle was stripped and raked with a 10” over front end. He painted all the sheet metal a deep, dark red. He got rid of the rusty and pitted exhaust and then mounted upturned drag pipes with fish-tails on the old girl. He rebuilt the heads, changed the cam, fine-tuned the motor, and turned the old iron plow horse into something that looked and acted like a Kentucky Derby winner. Soon she was just as he wanted her.
While he was working on her he’d often pat her just like she WAS a horse saying soothing words to her like: “Almost done Baby, you’re gonna be one fine lady.” And when he finished tweaking the timing or adjusting the carburetor he’d say, “There ya go you pretty thing.” Then he’d stand back and gaze at her imagining how she’d look when finished and how she’d feel between his legs as they chugged down a country road on a hot summer day.
But tonight was the exact opposite of a hot summer day. It was cold, dark and stormy.
He wished he wouldn’t have let his new companions talk him into doing those last few shots of Jack because Popcorn’s loneliness seemed to get worse. He had thought that becoming part of a fire company would make a difference. And it has, a bit. But to fully feel like you’re a part of anything is something that has to be developed... you have to go through an extended bonding process which hasn’t yet unfolded, so he wasn’t quite there.
Suddenly the bike started coughing and missing. Then she quit running entirely as he coasted to a stop. He tried to start it a few times, then got off and pulled loose the wire from one of the plugs finding she wasn’t getting any spark. After wiggling a few things and noting how soaked everything was he paused and thought, ‘I bet it’s the damned coil.’ and disgustedly pulled out his phone to call Chief Tom.
After that, while he waited for the Chief to bring his truck to pick up him and the bike, Popcorn stepped over the curb to stand out of the storm under a shoe store’s awning and smoked a cigarette as the flashing lightning, thunder, and pouring rain darkened his mood even further. Soon the Chief showed up. They loaded the scoot, climbed inside, and as they headed home Chief Tom looked over and asked, “Aside from getting drenched and your bike quitting on ya, how ya doing?”
“Oh, I dunno. Still not up to snuff I guess. I feel like everything is so pointless.”
“After all that shit ‘over there’, and now not having any family or friends, I feel like there’s nothing to look forward to here.”
“Hey! I’m here. And I’m family, ain’t I?”
Popcorn just smiled sadly and nodded.
“And soon you’ll think of the firemen as your brothers.”
“........But they’re not like me.”
“Nobody is exactly like anybody else. And even if these guys haven’t been riding bikes, seen combat, went through the same shit as you, or wear a face as uh, distinctive as yours is, in many ways we’re ALL the same. And we’re all part of the same family... the family of mankind.”
“Have you been drinking?”
“I mean what I’m saying here. Solitude is always chosen... unless you’re on a damned island, in a cell, a padded room, or something. When you get comfortable with who you are, and where you’re at in life, THEN you’ll find all the friendship and companionship you want even if it doesn’t come to you. Ya just might have to put forth some effort to get out there and find it.”
“I think that’s more than you’ve ever said at one time since I’ve known you.”
“Well I’ve been drinking.”
As they rode along in silence the young veteran realized he wasn’t alone. There were other veterans out there... plenty of them with scars of their own... of all kinds. There were other bikers out there and plenty more of them. There were firemen. And out there somewhere there was probably a most spec-tac-ular woman who could see past his ravaged face and fully appreciate him for who he is. What the hell have I been thinking? I’m gonna pull myself out of this ‘poor me’ crap and start living again! And all it took for him to realize this was some crusty old man who had a good buzz on to tell him that his life didn’t suck. Just one person who actually took the time to show they cared and to give a few words of support and encouragement.
After reaching Popcorn’s apartment, and after they had unloaded the scoot into the garage, the Chief silently left the young man alone with his thoughts and drove away.
Popcorn entered his little pad and quickly changed out of his soggy clothes, put on some tunes, nuked something in the microwave, then settled down on the couch to eat. As he was about to start he thought he heard a noise in the attached garage on the other side of the living room wall. He stood, walked to the door and opened it as he turned on the garage light... nothing. He had almost closed the door when he distinctly heard a feminine voice, not out loud, but in his head.
I’m wet and I hurt.
Popcorn stepped into the little one-car space, looked around again, then he stood staring at the machine expectantly waiting for more.
I’ve been so lonely. I’m sorry I let you down. Fix me and I’ll try not to let it happen again... I promise.
Approaching the bike he gently rubbed her gas tank and thinking of what the Chief said to him he calmingly replied, “Don’t worry Baby. Nothing and no one is ever gonna hurt either one of us again. I think we’re finally home at last.”