Dragons of Challon series

Dragons of Challon series
Dragons of Challon

16 January 2018

Riding the Thunder - excerpt



Asha’s grip on Jago’s waist tightened as the voice filled her brain.  Not now, she prayed.  

Before, when she’d been assailed with the memories of Laura Valmont at the pool and the drive-in, she had totally zoned out.  At the pool Jago had been there; he would've caught her if she’d fallen.  In the car, she had faced no physical danger, but here, losing consciousness, and slipping into a past that happened over four decades ago, could be costly.  She might fall from the bike, or cause Jago to lose control.  The prospect was scary.  She gritted her teeth and tried to fight the images.  

Oh, please not now.  Her mind tore in two.  Part of her was on the back of the motorcycle with Jago.  Another part was channeling images from Laura and the 1960s.

Tommy, I’m scared.

Asha was scared, too.  She faintly shook her head as if she could dispel the overpowering recollections of Laura, but the insular feel of the helmet made it harder to fight the flashes.  The narrow, winding road Jago had taken seemed familiar, so familiar, though she’d never been on it before.  However, Laura Valmont had, in a fire engine red Ford Mustang.

Pulling back from the past sucking at her, she grew aware Jago had picked up speed.  The sense of everything zooming by in a blur was dizzying.  Her arms tightened about him and held on for dear life.  Please, stop!  Oh, bloody hell, please stop!  She wasn't sure if the thoughts were hers or Laura’s.  

She tried not to squeeze Jago too tightly, yet it was hard to judge.  Instead of bringing the motorcycle to a halt, he gunned the engine.  The bike almost jerked on the back wheel.  She gasped as the Harley roared down the road.  They were nearing the cliffs.  Have mercy, Jago surely wouldn't take the old abandoned road?  Glancing up, Asha caught sight of the reflection in the review mirror; she then risked turning her head to see.  A dark truck bore down on them, keeping pace with the motorcycle’s flat out speed.  As the pickup gained on them, Jago again goosed the Harley, nearly causing the back wheel to spin out on the wet pavement.  The monster leapt forward, keeping them out of harm’s way.

Asha held her breath as the truck inched closer and closer.  Her heart racing like the motorcycle engine, the sound of the tires on the wet pavement, the rumble of the Harley―all blended into part of the nightmare from the past.  She swallowed her own panic.  It doubled as she tasted the terror of Laura Valmont.

A scream ripped through her brain as she struggled for the last vestiges of reality.  She could not lose consciousness at this high velocity.  She would die.  Jago would die.

We’re together.  We’ll always be together.  Just like the song, our love will never die.
Never die…Never die…Never die…

Just as Asha opened her mouth to let her scream meld with Laura’s, Jago cut the bike to the left and shot down a narrow side road, barreling down the dilapidated lane.  The truck thundered on past.  Jago skillfully spun the bike in a 180-degree turn, so that he sat, legs braced, facing the mouth of the small road.  He waited, gunning the Harley, clearly fearful the idiot driver might come back.

 Shocked by the experience, and still being drawn into the past, Asha climbed off the bike, barely aware of what she was doing.  Some part of her mind recognized Jago’s concern; even so she couldn't stop as her steps carried her toward a strange, deserted building at the back of the nearby lot.  It called to her.  Without knowing why, she had to go to it―was compelled to go to it.  Strange, the structure being out here in the middle of nowhere...similar in fashion to The Windmill.



The damp weeds of the field were up to her thighs.  Most were dead, except for the creeping honeysuckle and wild rose briar on either side of a faint path, some patches nearly over her head.  Several long canes reached out, almost snatching at her; she dodged as her steps carried her on.  Broom Sage, Queen Anne’s Lace―all dead, long dead, and not just from this past summer, but the summer before that and likely several summers long ago.  Judging by the looks of the derelict land, it hadn't been cleared this decade, possibly a decade or more before that.  Who knew when the last time it was used? 

The building wasn't cared for, only half-heartedly secured against vandals.  As if no one ever came here; no one cared if they did.  So weathered, the wood of the plank siding was a colorless grey.  Plywood had been nailed across the front of the place, covering the windows and doorway.  Someone had spray painted a peace sign and the words Hell no! We won’t go! in red on one warping board.  The Vietnam era?  The paint was fading away.  

Asha paused at the bottom of the steps, contemplating if the porch was safe, but then decided to go around to the back instead.

Behind her, she heard Jago calling, but his words were carried away on the waves of memories fighting to surface within her.  As she circled around the side, she heard a flapping noise.  Her steps slowed as she neared.

The sound came from an odd addition to the building.  Originally, she’d judged, the structure was a simple L-shaped house.  Possibly someone had lived here once.  At some later date, the extension― what looked like a small pavilion―had been grafted onto the back.  There were no walls to this part of the structure, just sheets of unpainted plywood covering the two open sides.  One wooden panel had been pulled half down, hanging diagonally by a single nail.  Behind the boards was a heavy circus tent quality canvas, gray from age and ripped in a couple places.  The wind caused the end to flutter, the metal grommets of the rings knocking against the wooden post.

Asha hesitated for a moment, uncertain if she wanted to pull back the sailcloth and see what lay beyond.  Just as she worked up enough nerve, Jago touched her arm.  Her mind snapped back.

“Asha, are you all right?”  He reached out and brushed the back of his hand to her cheek.
She offered Jago a fleeting smile, trying to reassure him, only her attention remained divided.  The clanking of the metal grommets against the poplar wood post was a siren’s song, calling her.  

  In a sad voice, she told him, “It seems so small now.”

“What’s small?”

She heard his words―ignored them.  Moving forward, she grasped the canvas and lifted it back.  In a flash, everything about her surroundings shifted, changed―as they had by the pool.  Instead of the dingy, forlorn pavilion, the white canvases were rolled up to the roof and tied back, leaving everything open to the night air.  Colored Christmas lights were tacked along the poplar wood rail that ran along the outer edge of the small skating rink.  Eydie Gormé’s Blame It On The Bossa Nova played over the speakers hung on the walls.  The skaters could rock to the music while going around and around.  Laura loved the dizzying sensation, loved the spinning colorful lights, similar to the feeling of being on a merry-go-round. 



 No, no, the bossa nova…

Then she saw him, standing by the post, watching her.  Tommy.  So handsome.  And she loved him more than she loved life.

“Asha, damn it.”  Jago jerked her around by the arm to face him.  “What the hell is wrong with you?  And don’t bother telling me you need a soda.”

With a faint shudder, Asha’s mind returned to the present.  She glanced about the dingy building.  No Christmas lights.  The hardwood floor was ruined by the decades of the lack of care and intruding rain.  No music.  No skaters.  No Tommy and Laura.  However, Tommy Grant and Laura Valmont had once stood here on a hot summer night over four decades ago.  For some strange reason she was being shown their young lives, their special passionate love.  

Though all about her was now back to normal, an oppressive air of sorrow lingered; it pushed against her mind to where a tear came to her eye.  She wasn't sure why seeing a beautiful memory like the one she had just experienced should leave her so profoundly shaken.  The couple’s love was so clear, so beautiful.  Laura and Tommy were extraordinary people.  Though these flashbacks left her rattled, she felt Laura was giving her a gift.  That gift should bring joy, happiness.  Instead, she was overcome with a poignant, heartbreaking sadness.

Silent tears streaming down her face, she smiled at Jago, trying desperately to hang on.  Just hang on.  “I wish I had known them.”

Poor man, he stared at her, totally confused, fearful.  “Who?”

“You’re now sorry you went to bed with me, eh, Jago?  You’re scared I’m crazy as a loon.”  She reached up and touched his beautiful face, cupped his cheek.  “I’m not sure I can explain, since I don’t really understand myself.”  Dropping her hand, she walked in a small circle.  “This used to be a skate rink.  They came here on summer nights.  Played music.  Mostly the girls skated.  The guys just watched them in their tight Pedal Pushers.  They decorated with strands of Christmas lights, made it festive.  Others would park their cars out here, and would sit on the hoods observing, too.  The nights would flicker, alive with lightning bugs, turning everything magical.  It was a gentle time.  A happy time.”

As she talked the images grew so strong, the music filtered around her.  “’I wonder what went wrong, with our love, a love that was so strong,’” ― she sang the lyrics to the tune she could hear.

“Del Shannon’s Runaway,” Jago identified.

Asha’s head whipped back to him, almost hopeful.  “You hear it?” 

  If he could hear it, too, maybe she wasn’t going insane.  She gave him credit.  He listened for a minute, but then shook his head no.

“You’re hearing Del Shannon?” he asked solemnly.

She chuckled, trying to make light of the bizarre situation.  “Actually, no.  You’ll think I’m totally nuts.  I’m now hearing Alley Oop.”

“Alley Oop?”  Jago huffed a small laugh, but concern filled hid dark green eyes.  “Sorry, I missed that one.”

“I’m sure it’s on the jukebox at The Windmill.  I’ll play it for you when we get back.”  She smiled, fighting the tears.  Her tone sobered.  “I’m not crazy, Jago.”

“You just go around hearing Alley Oop?”  He shoved his hands in his back pockets and looked at her, guarded.  “I read once about a guy, his tooth was turning his mouth into a radio.  Somehow, he was receiving music through his filling.  Maybe you need to have your fillings checked.”

She shrugged.  Walking to the rail, she put her hands on it and gazed out at the abandoned property.  “It might account for the music.  Only, it doesn’t cover Tommy and Laura.”

“Tommy and Laura?”  he echoed, his disbelief rising.  “The lovers from that song on the demented Wurlitzer?”

“Yeah, Tell Laura I Love Her by Ray Peterson.  It was very popular in the early ‘60s.”

“Maybe you’re fixing on that song for some reason?”

“Tommy Grant and Laura Valmont.  They used to come here.  They were very much in love.”

“Used to?  Were?” he challenged.

A flock of birds were suddenly flushed from the stand of trees, the crows’ caws filling the late afternoon sky.  Jago took her elbow.  “Come on, we can figure out Tommy and Laura later.  We need to get out of here.  Now.  The sun is already starting to go down and I don’t want to be out on the bike after dark.  Do you know anyone with a black pickup truck?  A Ford.  Not a new one.”



“Around here?  Half the farmers, most likely.  There are some trucks that are from 1940s still in use.”

“I think we were being followed.”

“That nut in the truck?”

“Yeah.  This morning I noticed a black truck in the drive-in, parked in that corner where it could look down on the bungalows.”  Jago encouraged Asha to sit in front of him this time, clearly not trusting her to safely hang on behind him. 

“I wouldn’t worry about that.  Colin drives an old Ford truck.  It’s black.  That was likely him cleaning up the trash left from the night before.”

“Any reason to think Colin might mean you harm?” he asked as he handed her the helmet.

She shook her head.  “Sorry, you’re barking up the wrong tree there, Jago.  Colin would never hurt me.  There isn't anything he wouldn't do for me.”

He shrugged, unwilling to let go of his doubts.  “Colin is in love with you.  Maybe he resents you letting me into your life.”

He gunned the engine and set the Harley wheeling down the road.








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