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Every day on his way home from work, he would stop at the shop and stare through the window at the bright shiny bike. The frame was fire engine red with small yellow flames at the head tube and seat tube. The chrome glittered and gleamed in the afternoon sunlight, the big tires black as night against the polished rims.

He wanted that bike, he wanted it so badly that he could taste it.

For months he had been working hard at his boring job, saving every cent that he could towards the day that he could afford to put down the cash and take it home with him.

The shop was small and the window was dusty. It was run by a little old man who he sometimes saw pottering around inside as he was staring at the red bicycle in the display window. He never saw anyone else in the shop, and he had never actually gone inside himself, as the old man who ran the shop seemed to always have the "closed" sign on the front door whenever he passed by.

Once he had knocked on the door, but the old man had walked out of sight into the dim interior of the gloomy shop and disappeared from view.

It was friday and the boss had given him a bonus today, he finally had enough money to buy the red bike. As he walked home from work towards the shop, he was determined that he would get inside and buy that bike today and ride it home.

He reached the front door and the first thing he noticed was a new sign on the door. The sign read "Closing Down". He gasped in dismay as he saw that the red bike had gone from the display window. He peered into the gloomy interior of the shop but there was no sign of the old man. With a moan of frustration and sorrow, he sank down onto the step near the front door.

Gone ... he thought. After all the effort and saving, the boring drudgery of months of stinking menial back-breaking work, now .... all for nothing. His dreams of owning the red bike lay shattered in the dust at his feet.

He rose up slowly, and turned away. Just as he started to drag himself towards his home, he heard a sound, a small tinkling sound. He turned around and the shop door stood open. The little old man was standing there looking at him. His heart gave a leap as the fellow motioned him to come in.

He stepped inside the musty shop. It took his eyes a few seconds to adjust to the dim light inside. When they had, he was rewarded with a fine sight. The red bicycle stood leaning against the wall. The shop smelled of chain oil and old polish. There was another smell too, but he couldn't quite place it. His eyes were fixed on the red bicycle.

He looked up at the old man and asked him if he could buy the bike. The old guy shook his head. The young man reached into his pockets for the pile of notes and coins that he had saved up over the long months. The old shopkeeper shook his head, holding up his hand in a stop gesture. He reached out and took the red bike, and handed it to the youth.

The young man was astounded, lost for words. he spluttered, stuttered, afraid that he had misunderstood the old mans gesture.

Then the old fellow spoke. His voice was rusty and hoarse like the wind through dry leaves, and while the young man stood there holding his red treasure, he told him this story.

Many many years ago, when he was a young man, he also has lusted after the red bicycle. He had worked hard, saved his money and finally had earned enough to afford it.

He had tried to pay the old man who then ran the shop for the bike, but he had also refused.

Now the old shopkeeper took the young fellow by the arm and led him back towards the dim recesses of the shop. It was much bigger than it looked from the outside. They walked further into the dimness and the youth realised that there was no way that the shop could be this deep. Then, they finally reached a large solid steel door. The old man pressed his wrinkled hand against the grey metal, and the door slid into the wall with a hiss.

Brilliant blue-white light assaulted the young mans eyes. He couldn't see anything for several seconds, but gradually his eyes grew accustomed to the light.

Then .... he nearly fainted.

Before him was a huge room, with strange machinery everywhere. In the middle of the room was a towering stack of machinery full of dials and coils and electronics the like of which he had never seen before. There was a quiet humming sound from the assembled machinery, which reminded him of a huge slumbering beast lightly sleeping.

The old man motioned him to a chair, and he sat, eyes full of wonder at what he was seeing here. Then he was told a story. A fantastic unbelievable story. A story of far galaxies, races of strange beings, of interstellar travellers and way stations across the limitless reaches of the universe. His mind was filled with stories of travel between the stars, travel as fast as thought across the immeasurable darkness of the void.

He reeled under the information, he couldn't believe what the old man was telling him, he felt dis-oriented, confused, and all he wanted to do was get up and run out of this strange place far away from this crazy old guy as fast as he could.

As he sprang to his feet to make his escape, the air was filled with the sound of a soft gonging noise.

The little old man jumped up and quickly went to the huge machinery in the centre of the room, where he stood, his fingers dancing across a strange keyboard on a flat portion of the front of the huge stack.

We have a traveller coming in, he wheezed. The youth seemed to be frozen to the spot, his eyes wide in disbelief as one of the large tanks near the wall of the cavernous room lit up with a green light. The machinery in the building came to life, going from a soft purring to a menacing whine as large turbo's spun up to high speed.

The very air in the room seemed to vibrate and the bright lights dimmed to a soft glow as the huge machinery reached a peak, then spun into a pitch that his human ears couldn't detect, but which his whole body felt.

A movement in the green lit tank caught his eye. Standing in that huge tank was a ... a ... something. It was huge, black, and resembled a monstrous slug covered in knobby extrusions. With a gasp, his legs collapsed and he fell back into the soft chair, his eyes glued to the creature in the tank.

The old man gave the thing a casual wave, and it responded to him with a long black suckered tentacle. All the young man could do was stare....eyes wide in horror and disbelief....

Then, it was suddenly gone. The youth shook his head. what in God's name was that?

The machinery slowed, the air became still and the lights returned to their brightness.

The old guy returned and sat down opposite him. He was the station operator. He had been the operator here for one hundred and fifty three years. Now he was ready to retire. But the station needed someone to work it, to see to the needs of the travellers who came across the void on their way to distant galaxies. He had chosen the youth to be that operator. The job was easy he said, and there were many side benefits, like free travel to anywhere in the universe. The machinery also gave the operator more life, as it acted upon the human system prolonging the body and mind to twice or three times the normal length of a human lifespan.

The old man painted a verbal picture of riding the red bike across wild strange planets in far away galaxies under purple skies through fields of rainbow coloured flowers for the youth, of speeding down endless singletrack and crossing huge red glacial flows of pure crystal quartz with many legged riding companions at his side. Limitless downhill runs through giant ferny forests of glowing yellow trees and speeding across mountain passes of light gravity moons on balloon tires.

All he had to do was accept the old mans offer, become the station operator, make sure the travellers were looked after, and that was it. He would have access to anything he wanted, any amount of money, food, whatever he needed to live a long and happy life.

The old guy waited for his answer.

The youth stood up on trembling legs, shaking his head wildly and staggered towards the heavy steel doors. They opened with a soft hiss, admitting him to the dim interior of the dusty shop. He stumbled towards the door, and almost fell out onto the footpath.

The late afternoon light was soothing to his eyes. He stood there...dazed and shaken outside the old shop.

After a while, he shook himself like a dog shakes off water. He turned around and looked at the front of the shop. There was a sign on the front door.


He couldn't remember why he had stopped here in front of this delapidated old shop.

Something about a ... a red bike..??? He strived to remember, but the memory flitted away, out of his reach, gone forever.

With a shrug, he turned and walked away. Tomorrow was another day of work, and he didn't want to be late. He was saving for something, but couldn't quite remember what it was anymore.

Ah well, who cares he thought, it wasn't important.


OMR - Old Man Riding
429 Posts
A good tale... as always Ray....

Reminds me somewhat of Stephen King's Needfull Things... without the awaiting evil. Always a pleasureful read young man!

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