excerpt #2 from "Hare Scramble"
chapter: The Word
Wild knew it was a bad word, so she stayed away from it. She found a rock ledge, without too many prickers, between sections of caution tape. Her legs hung down inside the course, and she thought she might have to pull my knees up when the bikes went by. Also, any one of the race Moms might see her and yell, “Wild, get outta there, you’re too close!” And just like that someone else would get her spot. She’d have to find a new one after the hill got crowded, or have to run back over near the bad word during a break in the bikes. Her pink boots were dewey from being left outside of the RV overnight, so she was wearing Jay’s old camouflage ones. She hated hand-me downs, especially from her brother, but “boy boots work better than girl boots when you’re trying to blend in,” she thought, with a flash of guilt for betraying her favorite color.
She watched from her perch as Jay and Carson and some kids they didn’t know from Ridge Runners moved big stones around on the course at the bottom of the hill.
“This’ll give ‘em more traction,” one said.
“The bikes will be like bam...bam...bam,” said another, stretch-stepping from one big rock to another.
A man who thought he sounded official, but wasn’t wearing a bright orange Junior’s Farm Hare Scramble Staff t-shirt, ran over to say, “What-a-ya’ doin’? You’re making it worse! We got this section all worked out yesterday!”
“He was the only one who didn’t get that they were trying to make it worse,” thought Wild, “Because, hello...CRASHES!”
Spectators were starting to pile up around the hill. Moms holding insulated mugs with both hands, staring straight ahead, out of it. Dads talked loudly about carburetors and starters and fuel lines, shaking their heads. This was Tiger’s class, though, so Dad was still at the start. He’d wait until the flag dropped, lean into a faceful of flying dirt, grab Tiger’s race stool and run over to the hill before the bikes wound around the first woods section.
This was a tricky spot, and everybody knew it, and so everybody came to watch. Men who used to race before they got old, or hurt, came to help riders avoid crashes, slipping under the caution tape to point firmly with their whole arm at the spots their riders should aim for. Other men came to help out after crashes, jumping in and untwisting bikes and riders and getting them started again. Wild could tell that it made them feel useful, and it was. “Who actually wants get inside that mess with all these other bikes are coming at you,” she thought. “Not me.”
Derek had the sign. The words were written on a pit board crews use to give messages to riders, like their time or that they’d better refuel. He was sticking it in the course in front of every rider as they came up the hill. Pointing at it with his other hand, too, for emphasis. The word made her feel like she’d done something wrong. They’d get into trouble soon enough, she thought.
She didn’t know exactly about that word, except that it made her want to rot in a swamp. “One day the man on the phone will be out hunting ducks,” she thought, “see my bones sticking out of a thin piece of ice and think to himself, “ I don’t remember throwing a dead calf out here”. He’ll look closer and think, “oh, this must be that girl.” //