About fifty miles from my hometown, even the air whooshing past my face started smelling familiar. Trees and grass and earth and a clean wind blowing in from the mountains, it’s not just any particular smell, but all of them combined, and they’re all exactly the same as what I smelled every time I returned home from a ride. Rain started coming down hard when I was twenty miles out, but it didn’t wash the smells away. It’s been seven years since I’ve been here. Seven years since I rode down Lizard and the other Spawns that killed my father and burned down his house. Apart from the familiar smell, this is nothing like a coming home should be.
It started raining that night too, soon after I saved my sister Roxie from Lizard, giving up my freedom in exchange for hers. No. Sacrificing my freedom for my life and hers. Only one of us got to live that life, and it wasn’t me. I held onto the hope of one day getting my life back for a year, maybe two, of my captivity. But I lost it well and good after that. Even now that I’m free, I don’t have hope that I’ll ever have an actual life again.
I doubt this homecoming will change any of that. Just as killing Lizard and the rest of the scum that kept me locked up and made me fight in a cage like some dog, didn’t change it. If anything was gonna change it, that was it. But it didn’t. It just made me more of an animal. A soulless animal.
I wasn’t gonna ride in on the same road I left my hometown on, but I changed my mind at the last moment and circled back. It stopped raining while I did that, and the trees Roxie escaped into are glistening now from the downpour, the raindrops still clinging to the branches and reflecting the grey sky that’s gonna send down more rain any minute. I couldn’t follow her into the trees that night. And I couldn’t die either. So I let Lizard take me. It was a coward’s mistake. I should’ve fought them to the death. I lost my life that night anyway. And everyday I still live is a very cutting reminder of that fact.
I feel nothing as I stop at the turn of the road where I forced Lizard to let Roxie go. The wind’s grown cold and still brings drops of rain, the grass in the large field bordering the road is bright green and swaying, and I can smell the mud left by the rain underneath it. I smelled it on that night too, while I knelt on the pavement with a gun to my head, deciding to give up my freedom for my life. I smelled it many times before that night, while I rode on these roads that surround my hometown, as free as any bird. I don’t feel any desire to get that back. The only thing I feel is the burning need to kill Lizard and those other Satan’s Spawn MC bastards all over again. But they’re all dead, so I’m never gonna get the chance to. And that’s a problem.
The town is quiet and empty when I reach it, just as it always was on rainy afternoons. Not much to do in the town of White Falls, Illinois, never was and probably never will be. One of the best things about this town was leaving it. I did a lot of that. But I always came back, always rode in through Main Street, just as I did now.
Joe’s Hardware Store is still on the corner, still closed for lunch until four PM like it always was. Starburst Diner is still open, it seems, going by its flashing sign, which rises above the first row of buildings that line Main Street. But the mom and pop grocery store run by Ruth and Benny is gone, replaced by a flashy looking modern supermarket. In fact, everything lining main street is flashy and modern, even the cars parked on it.
I do feel something as I leave the town behind and head for my father’s home. A tightness in my stomach. It’s made up of guilt and regret and wishing things didn’t turn out the way they did. That tightness was my constant companion, while I was locked up, always lying just beneath the rage and dreams of revenge. I’ve lived those dreams now, so the regret is all there is these days. And it’s strong enough to make me sick the nearer I get to the burned down ruins of my childhood home.
My father’s house was squeezed between the woods and a hill on one side and old, abandoned train tracks on the other. They were like that as far back as I can remember and the road leading out of town runs along them. All that’s left of my father’s house is the concrete slab overgrown with wild grass, and there’s a tree growing out of a crack in it. Bright orange flames had already engulfed the entire house by the time I reached it that night, the air hot and unbreathable, smelling of gasoline. But the rain and snow of the last seven years washed any other evidence of that night away.
The night that ended my life. And my father’s. And all my MC brothers’. And my sister’s too, I believed for a long time. Looking at all this now, it’s like none of that ever happened. Except in my nightmares, there it still happens almost every night.
“I wish I’d come back sooner, Pop,” I say into the silence, which is absolute after the echoes of my bike’s engine die down. It’s still like that once my words fade on the wind.
I was on my way out of town that night, taking one of my many trips out into the unknown, like I liked to do. But I got a frantic, hurried phone call from one of the brothers not long into my ride, telling me the Spawns attacked and to get back. I turned around, but I was too late to prevent anything. Except…
“Roxie got away, Pop,” I say into the wind. “She made a good life for herself.”
The silence returns.
Lizard had just taken over Satan’s Spawn MC a couple of months before they attacked us, and it was no secret that him and my father, the President of Wolves of Hell MC never saw eye to eye. My father wasn’t overly worried about it though, didn’t think Lizard’s hatred would lead to anything. Especially not what it led to in the end.
Everything was already burning when I returned that night—the clubhouse, most of the member’s houses and this house too. Everyone was dead or dying, including my father, including the wives and the girlfriends, even some of the club whores. I was too late to save any of them, and I wanted to die with them.
“But I chickened out at the last minute, didn’t I, Pop?”
The world stays as silent as it does every time I speak to him like this. I doubt my father can hear me, wherever he is.
“I wish I’d stayed home that night,” I say anyway. But I told him all this before, over and over again.
“At least, Roxie lived, that’s something, right?”
More silence. About a year into my imprisonment, Lizard lied to me that he tracked her down and destroyed her—even showed me pictures of the bloodied and mutilated corpse of a black haired girl. That killed the last shred of my hope. I’m happy it turned out to be a lie. But not as happy as I should be, not in my heart as any normal man would be.
“Lizard got his,” I add and wish I could kill him all over again.
More silence follows. This time I don’t break it by speaking like a madman to the wind.
My father’s been dead for seven years. None of this matters to him anymore. And if there is a Hell, he already met Lizard and the rest of those Spawns scumbags there.
I try to think of other things, try to remember the way it used to be when our house still stood here. But it’s no use. Too much time has passed, and too many other memories are filling my brain between then and now. I don’t remember this place as my home. I just remember it as something I lost. Something that can never be replaced. And all I feel is hatred and rage. It wasn’t even a mistake coming here. It was just pointless.
There’s no life for me anywhere. I lost it on my knees in the rain the night everyone I cared for died. Everyone except Roxie, but she was dead to me for so long, it stirs nothing inside me knowing I was wrong about that.
There’s no peace for me anywhere either. I thought I might find it here, by returning full circle back to the place where it all ended. I was wrong. All I have is my freedom, for what that’s worth.
* * *
Roxie wanted me to visit Pop’s grave and put some flowers on it, which I find totally pointless, since what the fuck good are flowers anyway? But she’d probably know if I lied to her about doing it, so I did it.
What I meant to do was bury the knife I used to kill Lizard and most of the top ranking members of his club next to my father’s tombstone, a symbolic gesture to show him he’s been avenged, and to give him the tool I used to do it. But when it came to it, I didn’t wanna part with the knife. I like looking at it, I like carrying it on my belt, and I like taking it out from time to time to remember what I used it for. It gives me the little peace I can still find.
Realizing that didn’t help my already sour mood any, and I didn’t stick around at the communal burial plot where they laid him to rest, because there was no one around to bury him proper. I should be buried right beside him. And I couldn’t stop wishing it were true all the while I was there, so I left in a hurry.
Hawk, Devil’s Nightmare MC info-gatherer found the gravesite for me. He also found the last remaining Wolves of Hell MC member still living—Denco. He was burned bad and shot, but he lived. Denco was my father’s enforcer and close friend besides, but he’s at least seventy years old now and by the looks of things, he’s about as far removed from MC life as anyone can get.
It’s raining hard again, and I’ve been sitting on my bike in the trees near his hilltop cabin for a couple of hours now, deciding whether to go and knock on his door or leave him be. He’s another person who deserves to hear that the Spawns are all gone, that they paid for what they did to us. But he seems to have found his peace and maybe I shouldn’t mess that up by stirring memories. And seeing someone who survived, someone who remembers, will just make my black mood worse. Roxie’s different, she’s my sister, but Denco, he’s a brother in arms. Someone who might not understand how I could work for the enemy for so long, because I was too much of a chicken shit to lay down my life for the club.
I almost turned my bike around and rode back down the hill and back into oblivion a couple of times while I sat here. But once the rain lets up at twilight I find myself walking through the tall grass surrounding his mountain cabin. He should die knowing the full story. I think he’d appreciate it.
The light in the cabin turned on as night fell. He’s home. And that’s all the thinking I do before I knock on the door.
He opens it wide immediately, pointing a sawed-off shotgun at my chest, and squinting with his one good eye. Half his face is burned right off, and the ends of his fingers are missing on both his hands, but he’s gripping that shot gun just fine.
“What’s your business here?” he barks. “I’ve been watching you out there in the trees all afternoon.”
I put my hands up like I’m surrendering to him. “It’s me. Ice. I didn’t mean to frighten you.”
He squints at me even harder, leaning forward to get a better look. The shotgun drops in his hands as he recognizes me.
“By God, so it is,” he says with an air of total surprise and shock. “I heard rumors you were alive, but I dismissed them as bullshit.”
It’s impossible to tell if he’s happy to see me or what, but he did lower the shotgun all the way.
“Not bullshit,” I say and chuckle. “And Lizard and the rest of his MC got theirs now. I thought you should know that.”
“I heard rumors about that too,” he says and opens the door all the way. “Come on in. Maybe you can help me sort out the bullshit from the facts.”
I follow him into the cabin, the wooden floorboards creaking under my boots just like they did that night we cornered five Spawns in a cabin a lot like this one. The boards didn’t creak anymore by the time we left, because they were soaked in blood. I don’t know how much of that I’m gonna tell the old guy though. I became a different person during those killings, had trouble reining myself in even when I tried. The monster inside me, which made me the undefeated Death Match champion for six years running, became much more blood thirsty after I was freed, and it’s still thirsty. Some of the Devil’s Nightmare MC members called me Ice the Butcher behind my back, and if the killings went on much longer, they’d probably start calling me that to my face. I’m not sure I’d mind.
“Sit,” Denco instructs me once we reach the kitchen. I do it while he pulls a label-less bottle filled with a golden brown liquid from a cupboard. He sets it and two glasses down in front of me.
I doubt he’s washed those glasses any time in the recent past, but I don’t comment on it as he pours. It was pointless worrying over it anyway, since the liquor burns my throat like fire, meaning it’s probably strong enough to kill any and all germs.
“So, what happened to you?” Denco asks after he empties his own glass. “I heard you fought for Lizard in his tournaments. Heard you were his pride and joy for a long time.”
I don’t like the edgy light in his eyes or the accusation in his tone. I don’t like it one bit. But I know Lizard liked to spread that lie around, and I understand how it must’ve sounded to Denco, the sole survivor of Wolves of Hell MC. And I agree that letting Lizard keep me prisoner was wrong.
“He kept me locked up like some fighting dog and only let me out when it was time to fight,” I say and reach for the bottle to pour myself some more of the drink. Not like it’s gonna help any, but it won’t hurt either. “But, yeah, I should’ve let him send me to Hell and I should’ve taken him with me, instead of letting him keep me locked up.”
Denco doesn’t say anything, and if it weren’t for the sound of his raspy, old man breathing filling the room, I’d swear I was alone. That’s how I am most of the time anyway. Alone in my head. Just like I was for the six years Lizard kept me under lock and key. I didn’t even speak much for most of those years.
“I’m glad you stayed alive, son,” Denco finally says. “All we got is this one life and no guarantees of anything better after it ends. I hate to speak ill of the dead, but your daddy underestimated Lizard and we all paid the price.”
“Lizard paid his price too,” I say darkly, the night it happened clear before my eyes like it’s unfolding at this very moment. “He died choking on his own blood while trying to hold in his guts and keep them from spilling out all over the place. I delivered the bill and collected the payment myself.”
The satisfaction I got from killing Lizard was dark, but it was the closest to joy I’ve felt in a very long time. It didn’t bring me relief. Or peace. It was a thing that needed doing, and I did it. But it didn’t make anything right again.
“The rest of Satan’s Spawns MC followed him to Hell soon after,” I conclude. “The ones I killed died in pain and fear. The Wolves of Hell MC has been avenged.”
“Good,” Denco says and it sounds like he’s speaking through gritted teeth. “Wolfman would be proud.”
I imagine my father would be proud, I just don’t know what he’d make of the man I became. But I’ll never know, so it hardly matters.
“Ain’t nothing gonna bring any of them back,” Denco says while pouring himself another shot of his moonshine poison. “That’s what rankles the most about this whole thing. My wife and my son were killed. Your sister too, poor girl. And all the brothers. I should’ve died too.”
“My sister’s alive,” I say. “Lizard took her, but she escaped when they captured me, and she has a good life out West now.”
Denco’s face brightens at the news, the change clearly noticeable even in the dim light.
“Now, that’s some good news,” he says and pours me more of the moonshine liquor. “We gotta toast that.”
We do, and we drink, but then there’s nothing left to say. The room is filled with ghosts from our past now, at least it seems that way to me, and they’re loud, too loud to ignore.
“What are you gonna do now?” Denco asks.
“I don’t know yet,” I answer truthfully.
Roxie desperately wants me to be a part of her life, but I won’t join Devil’s Nightmare MC. I’ll never call anyone brother ever again. I’ve mourned too many brothers already.
“Be careful around here,” Denco warns. “The Kings and the Bloods are still dividing up the Spawns’ leftovers, and it’s messy. Most of them won’t be too happy to hear you helped dispatch the Spawns either. They let me live as a living reminder of what happens to those that crossed them, but I doubt you’ll get a very warm welcome from any of them.”
“Don’t worry about me. I’m not staying,” I say and stand up, because the ghosts are screaming in my ears now, and I can’t stay here a minute longer.
“I’m glad you came to see me,” Denco says and stands up too. “Good luck, son.”
I take the hand he’s offering and shake it, but don’t say anything.
There’s nothing left to say.
I’ll find the nearest bar and continue drinking there. Maybe one of the Kings or one of the Bloods will even come to me looking for an argument and a fight. I’ll gladly oblige too. The raging monster inside me needs to be fed, it’s been starving for too long. And a good fight is probably the only thing that’ll silence the ghosts tonight.