My therapist tells me to go on a bicycle tour. “It’s great exercise,” she says, “and it’ll be good for you to actually get out of the house, where it happened, and see the world a little bit.” Bless her, she’s trying her best but nothing seems to take away the pain since Elroy, my dog, died. Well, technically, he didn’t die, he disappeared. No, disappeared isn’t the right word for it, either. It’s not like he ran away or anything. We were watching television and he heard something outside I guess, but when he jumped off the couch to see what it was, he got sucked through an invisible wormhole or something. I ran after him, but the wormhole was gone. All I can think of now is poor Elroy running for his life from some dog-eating creature on another plane of existence. The science professors at the community college near me say, sometimes it happens, get a new dog. I go to therapy instead.
I’m not able to find any cycling groups on Craigslist or Facebook or the community board at the library. There’re a few ads for spin classes, but my therapist said a tour not a class. As I’m walking out of the bike shop with a new tube for my rear tire, this guy with those horn implants in his head comes up to me and says, “What kinda bike you got?”
“An old Bianchi. But it’s in good condition. It was my dad’s.”
“Fuck your dad. Wanna ride with us?”
I look around, he’s alone.
“Yes or no?”
“Yeah, alright. When and where?”
He tells me to meet him behind the old Presbyterian church a few miles outside of town and to bring a backpack with food and water and maybe a jacket or sweater.
“Cool. I like your horns,” I say.
He ignores me, walks into the store.
About fifteen people or so are waiting behind the church when I get there. It’s over ninety degrees and the humidity is high so I’m already sweating like crazy. Everyone else is wearing black onesies and their faces are covered in tattoos. One of them smiles at me, sticks out his tongue. It’s forked. I give a thumbs up because what the fuck do I do with that? There’s one other person there, like me, who looks lost. She walks up and introduces herself. Her name is Jandy. She says it’s her first ride with this group. I say, me too. The dude with the horns rides up. His handlebars are shaped to look like horns. This guy is really into horns.
Horn guy calls us over, makes us stand in a circle. He says if we’re new to the group, don’t introduce yourself, no one cares. Just follow him and do what he says and don’t veer away from the group or it’s your ass, not his. Jandy and I look at each other like, shit, but it’s too late now I guess. I’m in this, I need this. For Elroy. Poor Elroy. Horn guy’s wide eyes work their way around the circle, locking with everyone else’s as he prays:
Take us into your belly.
Let us be guided by the chaos of your darkness.
We offer ourselves up as sacrifices, blood and flesh and pain.
We fear you.
He smiles, spits on the ground. “Let’s ride, fuckers,” he says.
There’s a narrow entrance that leads beneath the church, leading to some underground road below, a tunnel or something. The walls are crumbling brick. Graffiti everywhere, drawings of dicks and 666 and, I think, Godzilla. It smells like piss and stale bread and rubbing alcohol. It reminds me of Chuck E. Cheese. There are Christmas lights strung up that seem to go on forever, into pinpoint blackness. The guy with the forked tongue coasts by, flicks his tongue at me. “Better keep up,” he says. Another thumbs up.
Jandy rolls up next to me and asks how I ended up on this ride. I tell her about Elroy. She says she’s not surprised, there’s been a rise in sporadic wormholes across the state. The media won’t cover it. Too dangerous. I don’t ask her for her story but she tells me anyway. She’s looking for the detached wings of fallen angels. Says they make your skin pretty and make you fertile and they’re worth a shit ton of money on the black market. She heard from a friend of a friend of a friend of a friend that these guys know where to find some, so she tracked them down and here she is. “Anyways,” she says, “good luck with your dead dog!”
My legs start cramping when we hit a slope that takes us further down. I don’t have to pedal for at least five minutes. We just keep going down, down, down further and further and weeeeee this is actually sorta fun! But I start to wonder what my therapist would think because, really, I’m not exactly seeing the world. I’m not seeing much of anything except the Christmas lights and brick walls that are, wait, oozing? Yeah, they’re oozing something. I think maybe we’re under a river or lake but it’s not coming out like water it’s coming out like that pink shit on Ghostbusters II. The kind that Ray and Winston and Egon had to swim through two-thirds of the way through the movie.
Horn guy yells back at us, “Watch your shit!”
There’s something moving ahead, like a shadow of a shadow. The shadow of a shadow starts speaking in a language that is probably Latin or something because isn’t everything that’s kinda scary somehow spoken in Latin? Horn guy screams, “Yes, Lord!” I watch him rise in the air, still pedaling, drifting toward the shadow of a shadow. He’s laughing. He’s so happy. Good for him. The shadow of a shadow opens its mouth, its teeth like boulders, crunches down on Horn guy. Some of the group hoots and hollers while others scream we’re all gonna die! we’re all gonna die! we’re all gonna die! I lift my ass off my seat and pedal as hard and as fast as I can, wishing my therapist could see me now.
The bricks in the walls are falling out and the ooze is gushing out. It slops on the floor, makes a few of the other riders skid out and crash. But they don’t really crash per se. They sort of… melt into the ooze. Limbs sizzle and smoke, sinking into the thick slime.
A few riders fly by me, frantic. Then, all the blackness disappears and the tunnel is illuminated by mountains of fire up ahead. The brick walls have all crumbled. At our sides is the black ooze steaming. Above the ooze, winged creatures are flying around, screeching and throwing spears at the riders. They nail a few riders and swoop down to pick them up and fly off with them. They leave the bikes.
It’s just me, Jandy, and the guy with the forked tongue now. The guy with the forked tongue keeps switching between laughing and crying but he makes the same face for both so it’s sorta funny but also sad. Up ahead there’s another tunnel, leading into further blackness. Right before we dip, the guy with the forked tongue screams. I look back to watch him being ripped in half, vertically, by two shadow of a shadow monsters. Should’ve kept up.
This tunnel looks like the one we first went into: graffiti, brick walls, Chuck E. Cheese smell. It’s colder, though. Like, really fucking cold. Jandy and I slow down. My legs are turning into icicles.
“We’re not gonna make it,” Jandy says.
I think about Elroy. He’d want me to push through. Dig deep. Carry on. Go! Fight! Win!
We inch along. Ice stretching across our arms, back, chest. We inch for hours, not sure how far we’ve gone.
Then, a light ahead. Daylight. Sunshine. Earth. Our legs find their strength. We pedal faster, harder. Green grass and blue skies up within eyeshot. My legs move at super speed. I’m the Flash. I’m Superman. I’m Lance fucking Armstrong. We shoot out of the tunnel entrance, our tires on fire. I jump from my bike, watch it fly off into the woods. I turn, see the church behind me. We’re back where we started. Jandy stands beside her bike, drinking her bottled water, eating a Zero bar.
“I’m sorry you didn’t find your wings,” I say.
“It’s fine. Maybe they’re somewhere else.”
“Do you feel better about your dead…”
I’m pulled at the waist. The world expands. Noiseless. Grey. I’m a noodle.
Elroy sits next to me on the couch, watching the weather.
He looks up and stares at me.
D.T. Robbins has stores in Hobart, Maudlin House, Bending Genres, X-R-A-Y, Ghost City Review, Trampset, and others. He’s founding editor of Rejection Letters.