While he continued to pack up the campsite, Chase Dekker shook his head as his younger brother, Jax, brushed off yet another attempt at gaining his help. “C’mon Jax. That’s enough!”
“I know, I know,” Jax replied, bustling through the tall grass scaring up grasshoppers. “Lemme catch one first.”
“Jaxi, the sooner we get packed up the sooner we can get back on the speed-bike.”
“Yes!” Jax said as he bolted back over and packed up his own backpack.
Works every time. Chase thought with a grin. Jax loved riding the speed-bike more than most kids. Soaring through the trees while he held onto Chase was something he always looked forward to, and Chase knew to exploit that.
“Chase,” Jax said as he plopped next to his brother on the ground, “teach me to drive the speed-bike.” Jax looked at him with hopeful eyes. Like Chase’s, they were big and blue but the morning sun turned them lighter, if you could see them through his shaggy hair.
“Oh no,” Chase said mockingly. “Not today. Not for a few years, Jaxi.”
Disappointment draped over Jax’s face as he stuffed the tent, which was the last of the gear, in the back compartment of the speed-bike. It wasn’t a large compartment, but they didn’t need much for the couple days they camped.
“You always say that.” Jax frowned and kicked a clump of grass. “It’ll be a couple years, you say, but you’re leaving me for college next year and then to the Space Academy after that.” He looked up with his big eyes. “Then I’ll never see you and I’ll never learn to drive as good as you.”
“Hey, hey,” Chase said kneeling by his brother. “I’m here for a whole ‘nother year. School just got out on Friday; that means we have all summer to hang out and camp and ride the speed-bike together.”
“But you’ll be leaving for college by this day next year,” Jax said. “It’s too close.” Chase could see that Jax was convinced college would separate them forever.
Chase thought for a moment and asked, “How about this? Your birthday is in seven months, November right?” He said with a knowing grin.
“No, Chase! June 12th! You know that. I’ll be ten.”
“Oh yeah,” Chase replied. “I keep forgetting, don’t I?”
“It’s okay, I’ll keep reminding you,” Jax said with an attentive look.
“Alright. On your birthday this year,” he paused letting Jax feel the tension, “I’ll let you drive the speed-bike.”
“Really?” Jax asked with his big eyes.
“Oh man!” Jax said jumping with excitement. “Wait’ll I tell my buddies!”
“Hold on now,” Chase said with a serious tone. “You can’t just jump on and drive this thing six months from now.”
“I can’t?” Jax said confused. “But you just-” Chase put up a finger to cut him off.
Chase gave a smile and said, “You need to learn how it works first.” And then winked at him.
It took a moment for Jax to work through what Chase meant by this. Then a smile grew to the size of his entire pudgy face. “You mean, I can?” He looked at the speed-bike perched on the ground.
“Yup.” Chase said smiling.
“C’mon, jump on,” Chase said as he straddled the bike. “Sit in front of me.”
Jax nearly jumped clear over to the other side when he hopped up on the bike. Chase tucked him tight against his chest and placed Jax’s hands on the handle bars right before the grips.
“Now, for our first ride like this, I only want your hands here while we ride. I want you to feel the power of the bike, and I want you to get a feel for when I turn and pay attention to how the bike reacts. Alright?”
Jax nodded like a toy bobble-head doll. “Uh huh. Uh huh. Let’s go!”
“We have to start it first, don’t we?” Chase asked.
“Oh yeah. That’s here, right?” Jax said pointing to a red button at the front of the engine casing where the handle bars come down to the neck.
“Yes but we need to do this first.” Chase pointed to a green toggle next to the red button. “This switch needs to go first. It’s for the hover system. Flip it.”
Jax reached for and flipped the small green toggle, and the hover system whirred to life; and the bike rose several inches off the ground, balancing itself in the air.
“Cool,” Jax said as if it were his first time on the bike.
“Alright, now we start the thrusting engine. You ready?”
“Uh huh. Uh huh.” Said Jax with his head bobbing maniacally.
“Push the button, but after I turn this key. It won’t work without this key in and turned to ON.”
“Alright,” Jax said and positioned his finger over the red push button.
Chase turned the key and said, “Okay, do it.”
Jax didn’t wait for Chase to finish his instruction, and thrust three of his tiny fingers onto the ignition button. The engine roared alive. Chase massaged the throttle, injecting plantinum fuel into the engine. Heat and vibrations oscillated from beneath their seats. “Yes!” Jax shouted.
Chase laughed and raised his feet onto the foot pegs, squeezing Jax tight with his legs and making sure he was well contained. He gripped the thrust engagement lever under his left hand on the handle and with his right hand, wheeled the throttle back and they shot off into the grass field, Jax screaming with all his excitement for this moment.
Chase had had this bike for a couple years and was accustomed to lugging his larger-than-average younger brother around. Turning a split second earlier or revving the reverse thrust sooner and harder for braking was all the adjustment Chase needed. Jax’s height was normal, but unlike Chase, he was a thick kid with a huge barrel chest. Their father always said he’d make for a great IPAC Agent.
Fast and hard through the forest they raced the fifty kilometers or so to their home. Chase darted in and out of pockets of trees and grass fields all while Jax screamed, faster. He spent the entire trip crouched forward on the bike as if he were the pilot. This lasted all of fifteen minutes before they passed into their backyard from the forest.
Chase coasted the bike to a stop next to the shed and Jax climbed off first.
“Oh man, that was awesome!” He screamed and threw his goggles to the ground. His hair was frayed and blown back.
“You like that, huh?” Chase asked. He shut down the engine then the hover power, and the bike eased into its cradle on the ground.
“Totally! Can we go again?” He asked, perching up on hope-filled tippy-toes.
“Maybe, tomorrow. You feel like fishing?”
“Um,” he pretended to not be excited, “YES!”
“Alright, then. Help me put our gear away and we can go fishing tomorrow.”
“Yippee!” Jax shouted as he ran around the yard pretending to drive a speed-bike. He didn’t even think to help Chase put away their camping gear. Chase chuckled to himself knowing Jax was too excited to remember that part of the deal.
After unloading the bike, they walked towards the backside of their two-story home tucked neatly into the small neighborhood. It was much the same as most neighborhoods in America Northwest, little pockets of civilization spotting the rest of the forested land throughout the continent. Some major roads linked them, but there were many paths between these neighborhoods worn by personal speed-bikes and family sized cruisers.
The second floor of the home was where they lived, and the front half of the first floor was Father’s antique shop. The back half had been converted into a storage area that held the merchandise their father, for some reason, never sold.
When they entered, Jax lingered in the storage area to finger through the artifacts Father kept on the shelves while Chase continued into the antique shop to let his father know they were home. His father, Leo, was with a customer, discussing the potential sale of an old grandfather clock that stood by one of the walls. It was an aged reddish brown color, and it had intricate detailing on its face you couldn’t find on newer clocks. Handcrafted anything was a lost art, and it was Leo’s business to deal in these rare findings.
“You sure you can’t go any lower than two and a half?” asked the eager customer.
Leo knew how much the man wanted it and shook his head. “Positive. I’ve already let you talk me down from three, and that’s far enough.”
They both waited, hoping the other would budge. The first one to talk never wins, Father always said.
“All right,” the customer said at last, “twenty-five hundred then.”
“A wise choice, sir,” Leo complimented him. Though the customer probably couldn’t see it, Chase saw his father trying to conceal copious joy within. This was a sale Father had been waiting to snag for a long time.
Chase gathered the garbage from behind the glass counter as part of his usual set of chores. Father shook the man’s hand and sent Chase a welcome-home look.
“How was camping?” he asked as he handed the customer the small credit scanner.
“It was good. Gonna go fishing tomorrow,” Chase said shortly. He never was able to get used to customers. They’re all strangers in his home and it felt weird, so he turned to leave quickly and carried the garbage through the storage area and out the back. He opened the lid to the trash dump next to his speeder and used his size-ten foot to kick it over the edge. He watched as the bag tumbled and disappeared into the underground garbage haul below.
When Chase came back inside, Jax was looking through the pieces on the shelves for something new to play with.
“Dad’s gonna holler at you. You know he doesn’t like us picking through these things,” Chase said but joined him anyway. There was so much. Thousands of things to look through. Finding something new to look at was an easy endeavor. The aged books alone carried enough intrigue to steal hours of anyone’s attention.
He walked past a crouching Jax and, for no particular reason, glanced high up on a shelf, where something caught his eye. It seemed as though several books were leaning up against…nothing. Like a book was missing from the last slot before the end panel of the shelf and the other books were leaning against its empty space.
This was an irresistible temptation for Chase. He grabbed a nearby ladder, rolled it in front of the bookcase, and began his almost two-story climb.
“Whatcha doin’, Chase?” Jax asked, interested in the mystery his brother had stumbled upon. Chase ignored his question, knowing that his refusal to answer would drive his little brother nuts. Upon arriving at the top of the ladder, Chase peered over the edge of the shelf and realized that the empty slot wasn’t so empty after all. Stuffed far back on the shelf, he found a thick, half-sized book.
“Hello there,” he whispered to himself. “You’re an odd-looking thing.”
And he reached for it.