With reluctance, I walked into the stuffy classroom. Hugging my arms close to my chest, I watched my feet walk across the tile floor. A dark haired woman stopped me before I could make my way to the seat I had eyed at the back of the classroom. She smiled, then rested her hands on my shoulders as the last few students hurried into the classroom. “Good morning class” the teacher spoke, massaging my shoulders. “This is Avery, it’s her first day here. Why don’t you tell the class something about yourself, Avery?”
“Well…” I began, not looking up from my still-new Mary Janes.
“Um…I’ve moved over 12 times in my whole life” I mumbled. The teacher smiled wider and bent down to meet my eyes. “Oh wow, that’s impressive! Is your daddy in the army?” Her condescending tone and toothy smile was enough to make my stomach churn. I replied “no, may I sit down now?” Her face fell and she squeezed my shoulders yet again before letting me go. I sought out the desk closest to the rear of the classroom and rested my head on my crossed arms. I did what I could not to cry from embarrassment.
Suddenly I felt a tap on my shoulder. A boy with short curly hair was smiling at me. His face was round and freckles were scattered over his cheeks beneath round glasses.
“Mrs. Connors did that to me a few months ago and I threw up” he said. I giggled a bit, using my sleeve to stop a tear from falling.
“That sucks” I replied. “I’ve done this so many times, you’d think I’d be better at it.”
“Well, now it’s all over and you can start making friends; I’m Brian.” He held out his hand and I shook it. “It’s nice to meet you.”
At lunch I sat with Brian and his small group of friends. I was introduced to Liam, a skinny red headed boy who wore a shirt that was clearly two sizes too big. I also met Katy, she was a brunette with long straight hair and small facial features. The conversation passed from subject to subject until something came up that piqued my interest.
“I swear I saw her myself the other day” Katy said, taking a bite out of a candy bar.
“No way” Brian sneered. “You can’t see something that doesn’t exist.”
“Well if you believe it exists, you can” Katy shot back, flipping her hair behind her shoulder.
“What are you guys talking about?” I chimed in.
“The woman on the yellow bicycle” said Liam, rolling his eyes at the other two. “She’s the town ghost.”
I put down my sandwich and immediately rifled through my backpack for a tattered red and black composition notebook. I grabbed a pen and asked “what do you know about her?” At this point in my moving journey, I had grown accustomed to the strange stares my notebook elicited whenever local lore came up in a conversation. These stares I ignored and implored Liam to tell me more. He shook himself out of confusion and started telling me the story.
“About 30 years ago, when my parents were our age, there was this woman that rode around town on a yellow bicycle. She was in her 60’s and would be seen around the same route at the same time every day. Her bike was this banana colored yellow, a really nice Schwinn model that was obviously well taken care of. Some folks thought she was a bit insane though, she always wore a pair of sunglasses, no matter the weather, and she had a basket and streamers on her bike.”
“Some kids started telling stories that she was a witch” Brian interjected. “They also said she might be blind or missing an eye because of her sunglasses. No one knew who she was. She lived alone and would never wave or talk to anyone as she rode through town.”
“She chained her bike up outside of her house that was surrounded by a ten foot wrought iron fence after her daily ride” Liam continued. I was in awe of his story and wrote down notes with as much speed and accuracy my excited hands could muster. Liam then leaned into the circle of friends and spoke in a hushed voice. “One day, these brothers, Ben and Rich Georgiano, who were known as local troublemakers decided to try and steal her bike. They followed her along her route and waited. The moment she got off of her seat to roll it onto her property, the kids tried to grab it.” Liam then grew silent, as if that was all there was to the story.
“Well? What happened next!?” I nearly screamed.
“No one really knows. All we do know is that Ben showed up dead the next day, the bike is still chained up on the old woman’s property, and no one ever saw her again.” Liam sat back in his seat, finished with what he knew. My muscles relaxed and I scribbled down the last few details.
“Well, that’s not totally true” Katy chimed in. “Some, like me” she said, shooting a nasty look at Brian “have seen her. She just rides along parts of her usual route and disappears into a tree or something.”
“Well I think it’s a load of crap” said Brian.
“Then I guess you won’t mind taking me to see the house after school?” I smiled.
“Pfft, no problem” he responded, waving his hand in the air nonchalantly.
As the final bell of the day rang out, the hallways of Coalville High filled with students. I packed up my things and made my way over to Brian’s locker. “Ready to face your fears?” I asked. Brian stuck out his tongue in response and grabbed his backpack. Katy and Liam scurried over with excited smiles on their faces. “Do you guys mind if we come too?” Liam asked. I looked to Brian for an answer. He seemed a bit irked at the idea but said “sure” nonetheless.
Our group walked through the grey stone walkways of Coalville together, enjoying the change in the weather. The dead leaves crunched beneath our feet and a slight chill was in the air. The town itself seemed to be grey all over. The changing leaves were the only thing to brighten the darkened storefronts. I imagined the woman riding her bike through this grey town on a rainy day, the only spot of color for miles.
“So you said you’ve moved 12 times?” Katy asked, breaking the silence.
“Yeah” I replied. “My mom and dad got divorced so my mom and I have been moving around trying to find work for her. She’s a psychologist.”
“That sucks” Brian chimed in.
“Yeah, but it’s life. My mom and I have a great relationship now. We’re more like sisters.” I replied with a half-smile.
“My dad split before I was born” said Liam. “I know how that can be.”
There was an awkward silence for a few moments before Brian changed the subject. “So, you have a notebook full of ghost stories, huh?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “Finding new stories about things beyond this world really helped me get through the divorce. Besides, there seemed to be a ghost story or some kind of lore in every town I’ve lived in.”
“Sweet. Any favorites?”
“Yeah, actually. My favorite was this girl I knew that had some kind of demon in her room that would give her hallucinations. She once saw a nest of spiders crawl out of a light only to move it and find nothing there.” Liam, Katy, and Brian listened with rapt attention as I told my stories.
We followed the sidewalk off of the main road down into a suburban cul-de-sac. It led us to a small ranch-style home behind a seven foot tall wrought iron gate. “Here it is” Liam said as we approached. I swallowed hard and began to quiver as I looked around the property. The grass was patchy, moss was growing on the roof, and the large tree that took up most of the front yard was split in half. The house itself was darkened and covered in vines and weeds.
Several of the windows were broken and it looked as if it hadn’t been touched in years. Down near the walkway that crept under the iron perimeter, the bike sat, chained to the fence in three places. The once bright yellow paint had nearly all chipped away and the tires were flat. The rims and spokes had rusted, there were only a few strands of plastic remaining in each of the streamers, and the basket had a bird’s nest in it.
“Wow” I said under my breath. I felt a certain sadness I couldn’t put my finger on. I reached through the small space between the posts of the fence and touched the dirt encrusted handlebar. It was like I could feel the woman’s pain, like her spirit hadn’t left the property and she was stuck, forced to watch the bike she loved so much wither away.
“As fun as this is, I’m going to be late for dinner if I don’t get home soon” Katy said. “I don’t have all day to stare at an old house.” Glancing at the time on my phone, I realized she was right and that the sun had already begun to set.
We all walked back towards the main road until Katy and Liam darted through the backyard’s of a few houses. While they took the shortcut to their apartment complex, Brian and I were left to walk in the same direction on our own. “Do you know where Fourth Street is from here, Brian?” I asked. He looked startled but smiled.
“Yeah, it’s not far.” He said.
“Want to walk me home?”
“Uh…yeah, sure” he replied, his voice cracking a bit.
“Thanks” I said, smiling sweetly in return.
Just before we turned the corner onto the main road, I looked back at the house one last time. The sadness I’d felt before returned and my heart hurt for the old woman. Suddenly, my jaw dropped and my eyes widened. The bike was gone.
“Everything okay, Avery?” Brian asked, noting my nervousness.
“Yeah….yeah, I’m fine.”
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