A bike trail to Biloxi

I was dusting up my old bike in my garage getting ready for an annual ritual when the door bell rang.


Brandon’s call was becoming more apparent as he approached the garage door.


‘Hey, just dropped by. Something to tell ya.’


Brandon and I were planning to bike to the Biloxi state farm fair the next evening. 


As I raised the door, his contorted face became more apparent.


 ‘Do you remember that gal from the ‘T’ block?’


‘Who?’


‘The one you were talking to the other day at the student union’


‘Me? who? Tracy Burns?’


‘Yeh. That must be her name. She went missing on a visit to her grandparents’


‘Are you kidding me?where did you get this news from’ I told Brandon after I suddenly stopped greasing the front wheel.


‘The cops had come down to Shawn’s dorm to inquire.’


‘Gosh. Just saw her yesterday at the ‘Gooches.’?and man she looked happy and all that.’ I said nodding my head in disbelief. 


***


As Brandon left, I took a little longer than usual to finish my cleaning. The night did not pass as quickly as I wished.  The next day, the sixteenth of July, when the annual State Farm procession was expected to pass the deserted Locust Street, I was in better spirits. Being a college town in a rural district, I was eagerly waiting for this place to be filled with people again. It was a ritual for me and Brandon, my neighbor, whose dad had a flower nursery, to visit this spectacle without fail. Brandon’s dad was the same build as I, which made Brandon tease the two of us, rather jokingly, as ‘long lost brothers.’


Brandon’s dad was a state farmer and grew one of the finest blue Tulips in the entire Mississippi basin. Our visit to the state fair was in part owing to his victory in most of the Tulip contests. Goes without saying we enjoyed the celebration, the crowd adoration and the photo-op.
 
Rather than drive in that weighty Chevy this time, Brandon and I planned to bike. It was a long trail and not necessarily biker friendly. But, the torturous ride challenged us much more than ever to prove our physical mettle. As we rode on among fenced farms and white horses and as on the lonely streets Tracy’s memory reemerged in my mind.


‘I wonder how Tracy is doing’ I remarked.


‘Man, that’s really tragic’ Brandon quipped. ‘By the way, Tracy’s grandparents live right about on the bike trail, near Elm Street.’


‘Really? We should pay a visit’ I told Brandon. 


We passed several sleepy old barn houses that lay scattered along the vast stretches of the prairies. After two hours of pedaling we approached the near end of Elm street when  Brandon slowed down and said ‘This is it. This is their place.’


As we slowed down, we gazed around to gauge any signs on the horizon. Among the dozens of rolled corn that were stretched intermittently at the length of the farm, there stood an isolated rustic ranch house oblique to us with seemingly very poor upkeep.


‘Anybody in here?’ I shouted in a hoarse.


No response.


‘Is this Tracy’s house?’ Brandon took turn.


No response again, except for a far away echo that bounced off the beautiful hilltops of the Ozarks.


As I turned to my water bottle, two sips were all that was left in my rugsack. Brandon looked at me and generously donated his share. 


‘This place is deserted. Let’s, get out of here.’ Brandon said putting back his water can on his bike.


‘Ok. I wonder what’s the matter here’ replied. ‘Any way, time to go.’


As we made our way out from Elm into Locust again, Brandon caught a narrow glimpse of a bunch of fresh flowers tossed on the curbside. Nearby, someone had jotted a hurried note ‘Tracy, praying for you.’


We stood there for sometime rather quizzically. Brandon was weary of the oncoming trucks that were now approaching furiously from the freeway exit. We hurried back.





""…As I made my long journey, the corner of Locust and Elm haunted me….""


At the State Fair we felt the swell of the crowd and the hoots of the farm folks. Among all this were the punctuated were pig squeals and incoherent horse brays. Large cantaloupes and water melons were displayed with pride. A giant wheel squeaked on the far side. We parked our bikes and waded through the crowd.
 
The next day it was time to meet Jen at the union food court. She had been waiting eagerly to complete the summer’s last assignment.


‘Sorry for being late’ I said unpacking my bag.


‘Never mind. How was your weekend?’ She asked.


‘ It was alright I guess’  I said. ‘Just went biking to the State Fair park.’


‘Oh. Yeah. How was it?"


‘It was fun. Brandy didn’t tell you?’ I asked.


‘Oh Brandy. He must have been such a wuss bag. Well, I never got a chance to talk to him since I went home’ she said.


‘Hmm?.when did you get back, and by the way did you hear about the news?’


‘What news?’


‘Tracy went  missing.’


‘Who, Tracy?’ Jennifer looked surprised. ‘I saw her just yesterday with some dude. I thought she was with you. At least he looked just like you.’


‘Where did you see her? I asked


‘Near Locust. I was on my way home.’


‘Near Locust?


‘Yep. The two of them were dragging something at the far end of the farm.’


‘How do you know it was her?’ I asked.


‘Well, I honked when I saw her. She smiled and they both disappeared in the corn.’


***


A year passed and there was no sign of Tracy Burns yet. The ‘Biloxi Tribune’ stopped following Tracy’s story, displacing it with the story of the governor’s alleged affair with his campaign manager. I was beginning to graduate and already had landed a job in Ann Arbor, Michigan. Brandon McKenzie married Jennifer Johnson and relocated to Cheksaupee. Brandon’s father’s nursery was still going strong and getting ready for this years fair.  I thought of visiting the state fair one last time. This time I wanted to go alone. As I made my long journey, the corner of Locust and Elm haunted me and I remembered the smile of Tracy Burns. The house now looked almost dilapidated and in ruins. The farm had grown wild. I circled around among the broken sidings and the displaced shingles for a few minutes. As I sped, I spotted a fresh bouquet of blue Tulips tossed near the curb, fluttering freely on the wayside.
 
PS:
Dear readers.
This story is a work of fiction and influenced partly by the song ‘Ode to Billy Joe’ by the folk artist Bobby Gentry. Many of the questions in this story remain unanswered.  If you were confused, remember, this was the intention of the author!

Author: Newton Dsouza- USA