Neighborhood Ace

Written on 16 March 2014 and read to a group of writers gathered at the local Olive Garden for dinner that evening.

In my mind’s eye I was reliving (and embellishing) some of the antics we kids enjoyed in our central Arkansas neighborhood, circa 1975 … while adding in recent influences from the discovery of Eddie Rickenbacker’s World War I memoir “Fighting The Flying Circus” and a re-reading of the 1965/1973 young adult non-fiction book I got in junior high school called “Flying Aces of World War I“.

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Launched toward my stomach, the missile ricochets off the frame of my machine instead. “That was close,” I tell myself, swooping to the right to avoid a collision with my approaching enemy. I stand on my coaster brake as he zips past, then let up and complete a risky U-turn close to the curb. The neighborhood ace glides away from me without looking back. His head is tilted upward, his mouth open — he’s laughing.  Does he think he hit me?

Seeing my opening, I pedal my Stingray for all I’m worth. My body surging up and down, I let go of the right grip and pull two tightly folded paperwads out of my shirt pocket. I fit them to the knotted rubber band that’s stretched between my nearly vertical handlebars. My enemy starts to lower his rear pedal. I stop pumping and pull the ammunition toward my chest as I land back on the seat.

The ace’s larger bicycle starts a lazy swing to the left, as though attempting to make its pilot a smaller target while the gap between us narrows. My front wheel tracks its path.  As the enemy becomes aware of my presence, I give the paperwads an extra tug and pick my bullseye. He jerks his head toward me, eyes open wide, and I let my ammunition fly.

In the unpredictable way of home-made weaponry, the launched wads separate as they go.  The ace looks away just before the shots bounce off his left ear and his right wrist. Involuntarily, he lets go of the handlebars and shakes his head at the same time. I’m forced to swoop to the right again as his bicycle crashes to the asphalt.

I steal a look at Mr. Rickenbacker’s place.  Sitting in his porch rocker, Mr. R. confirms my “kill” with a thumbs-up sign.  I wave back, then hightail it for home.

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