Terror Rides a Tricycle

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Terror in its purest form is felt by small children. The greatest terror I ever felt was as a small child; four years old and living in a small brick house in Washington. They were the vague, brief years of being an only child. I did have a brother then, but at only a few months old he didn’t really exist yet, not to me.
That house had three cement steps with iron banisters leading to a front door that—no matter the season—had a wreath. The front was engulfed by tangled bushes of pink roses, the kind that sported plenty of green thorny vines. The ocean of pavement with our sidewalk pier was breath-taking to me. I was always curious. Like a pup testing the ground outside its den, I always wanted to get out of the house, whether it was to pluck miniature tree frogs from the rose leaves in our wild garden or find faces in the clouds.
One day, my parents let me out to play. It was the first time I’d been out unsupervised. The thrill of the freedom filled my limbs up with ants. I took my tricycle out of the garage to ride it.
In those days, the princely thing was relatively new. The handle bars had their original white plastic grips and the paint was red like a Washington-grown apple, but glossed, so its radiance would be the envy of all the other kids in the neighborhood. I remember tearing birthday wrapping paper off it outside, and seeing the white sun hit the steel frame for the first time.
I amused myself for a long time just listening to gravel popping under smelly new tires and the axle squeaking its mechanical tune. That was interrupted when I saw another girl in the distance walking towards me. I could tell she was older than me, maybe five and a half. But her hair was as long as a seven year olds’. It was dark brown and looked like it had been pampered with silver brushes. Four years-old, my hair was ashy blonde and not really cared for. In the sun, this girl’s hair glowed like maple syrup; she immediately had my respect.
She was getting closer and walked with such ambition that I was frightened at first. I stopped my pedaling and watched her.
She grinned and waved at me. “Hi.”
“Hi.” I echoed.
Her eyelids lowered as she studied my tricycle. She looked it over completely, her nose getting very close to the front wheel at times. She glanced up at me with eyes that were pure syrup. “You have a really nice bike. Red’s my favorite color.”
“I like blue.” I said blankly.
I realize now, how mature she was for her age. The average five-year-old would’ve showed some type of envy and if not, would’ve pouted, pretending not to care at all. But this girl genuinely admired what I had and was happy for me.
“Do you have friends around here?” she asked amiably.
“No,” I said. “I don’t know anyone. We just moved here.”
Her face lit up so much then, that I thought she’d heard the ice cream truck’s song.
“Where’d you move from?”
“Atlantic.” I said and straightened up on the metal seat throne-like.
Her face puckered. “That’s an ocean. You can’t move from the Atlantic.”
“My dad’s in the Army.” I said as if that explained everything.
She had her epiphany. “Oh! Europe! You were in Europe?”
I nodded. “Yeah, that’s it. On a base.”
“Can I play with you? I don’t have a bike, but—“
I hopped off the tricycle. “We can share.”
Her eyes watered with delight. She got on the tricycle and pedaled fiercely; she was much faster and she could make tight circles that if I tried, I would fly off. The axels squealed like piglets and I was concerned that she would wear out the wheels.
Then she stopped. “Do you hear that?”
“Hear what?”
“Just listen.”
I strained my ears and against the quietude of our neighborhood and heard the noise: a distantly familiar one. It was a clamor of metal grating on rust;















another tricycle (though I wasn’t certain at the time).
The girl dismounted from my bike. The wheels must have been steaming.
“That’s him alright. He’s coming.” She said.
“Who?”
“It’s okay,” she said gently. “I can handle him. You’ll just have to go home quick before he gets here.”
My house was on a gentle decline and there was a hill under the road like a swell at the beach. I couldn’t see ‘him’ from where we were, but the cyclic turning of his wheels was getting louder.
“You really don’t want to see him. He’s mean; doesn’t get along with other kids.”
I gave an awkward smile, heavy worry brewing in my stomach.
She looked at me sternly in the eyes, the sound of the pedaling getting more monstrous sounding. “He’s only three, but he has the biggest mouth you’ve ever seen. When he opens it to eat you see how wide it really is. If he doesn’t like you he will eat you.”
I felt terrible then. My breath froze in my lungs and I gulped the air painfully. I wasn’t practiced in knowing when someone didn’t like me.
“Hurry! Go home! I’m pretty sure he’s in a bad mood. I saw him kicking gravel around this morning.”
Fear arrested my legs. I asked, “What about my trike?”
“I can keep it safe for you until he goes away. I’ll pretend it’s mine. He won’t hurt it, if he thinks it’s mine.”
My brain stalled. I just stood there with a boy-on-three-wheels shape appearing on the crest of the hill that led to my house.
“No, I’ll take it with me.”
“I think you can make it. Hurry up. You wouldn’t want him to kick it over or try to eat it.”
I looked at the boy and even though I couldn’t see him well his head did look big, big enough for a huge mouth. There came the point in which a dream becomes a nightmare. I picked up my red tricycle: very very heavy. Dragging it along, handlebars dug into the crooks of my arms and the wheels banged on the pavement. I tripped loads of times. But, I didn’t have time to process any of my terror. It wasn’t horror movie brand scary, but true terror that slowly fills you like a glass and teeters on the rim. It doesn’t spill over. It’s agony.
All I worried about was getting me and my trike to safety. When I made it at last from old gray asphalt to the clean sealed cement of our one-car garage, I threw it. It landed bottom-side up on the handlebars, balanced unsteadily for a second, the front wheel twisted around and the red tricycle crumpled to the ground with a pitiful little crash.
With my back facing the outside I heard, “Michelle, what are you doing over here?”
It was not a cute three-year-old voice, but something I perceived as akin to a dog let off its chain
“I was just playing. I’ll go back with you, don’t worry.”
I guess they walked away then: Michelle trotting besides her little brother on his dirty tricycle struggling up the hill, the grinding axels giving tortured squeals.
I moved through the garage to my dad’s office. It was black in there; no electricity had been installed yet. I crawled across the spiky plastic carpet to a corner and drew my knees to my chin. My heart was beating against my ribs, but my terror had mostly dissipated.
My mom and dad came out of the house, having heard the crash of my tricycle probably. My mother took my wrist to help me inside. I resisted so she picking me up. As soon as she did I started crying.
“I don’t want to go in! Please! I-I w-was having fu-un!”
“Shhh. You’re tired. Come on in, sweetie.”
“Go to your room and settle down.”

“Why are so upset? What were you doing?”

“Nothing!” I answered instantly, passionately.

That was a mistake, because by the look on my parent’s faces, they knew I was indeed doing something. I was guided by a hand pressing gently against my back. I did the walking and the hand did the steering. It was a good thing too, as my head was down and my eyes firmly attached to the carpet. Then I found myself in my room. I knew it from the bare-foot impressions on the beige carpet. I flung myself on the bed, blinded by images of Michelle’s smiling face in my head, and dozens of invented horrible faces for mouth-boy. What was he really like? I would never find out.
One day, when I asked my mom if she remembered any of this, she laughed at how frightened I said I was. She told me that Michelle’s mom was a single parent, and a very nice lady. Her boy’s name was Randy. He didn’t get his teeth until twenty months, which made him an ornery kid. He’d bitten scores of children in his day-care.
As I heard this, I sighed and laughed too.





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