The Night Cyclist
By: J. Agombar

My coffee steams into the crisp midnight air as I glance upon the sparkling stars from my balcony. Living on the coast of Blavega is an experience full of wonder and magic, however, it can get crowded at this time of year with tourists, which is why my balcony becomes my retreat. On the night of every November 9th a grand race is held along the cobbled coastline road of Blavega, a twenty–eight–kilometre track that connects the top of Mount Cartlin to the peninsula of the Old Town where I reside. It calls to celebrate the world of cyclists that gather here, but this event serves merely as a facade for some, for the cobbled road is now twinned with a modern, smooth cycle path, and few cyclists actually consider it a 'race'. Nobody rushes this stretch where the coastal breeze changes the banal feeling of just existing into something more, a euphoric higher plane where the gulls above observe, matching the speed of even the more agile riders. The biggest secret is the least mentioned in advertising, but the most talked about in the town. The masses come in attempt to catch a glimpse of the 'Night Cyclist', a spirit that can be found on rare occasion, and even rarer, an encounter with a strange illusion where the rider is momentarily transported to another place.

I have been lucky; in my experience he can only be found on certain nights when the moon is fuller, and only reveals himself to a certain kind of person. Having lived here for several years, and initially not aware of this phantom cyclist, it so happens he was always more likely to reveal himself to someone like me. Each year after the event I find tourists and locals in café's and bars garrulous of their experience, flaunting some fanciful story as to how they were briefly haunted by the fearsome spirit world. But these stories are fabricated, mere poetics to impress the guileless masses who pass on the tale in a chain of whisper; a desperate grasp for attention.

The genuine ones are different. I know how they react, more subtle in their approach to the description. They are reserved, confused, and hesitant to reveal due to not expecting to witness such a strange occurrence. Some are lost in translation if their English is not so strong. But certain elements of what they say make it seem natural, certain perceptive intricacies concrete the validity of their experience. Firstly, they take the time, usually alone, to think about what they saw and ponder if reality had taken them away briefly, or perhaps if an overactive imagination had temporarily overcome them. Then they look around the bar, or coffee shop, not quite knowing who to tell, for they want someone who already knows, to assure them, to put their mind at ease, to let them know if they were actually just dreaming.

When I first moved here a few years ago in the height of autumn, my oblivion to such a graceful spirit was resolved by an old local man who had been climbing Blavega's steep inclines since his childhood. He was drunk, and initially I cast his tales aside before heading home. Then, after hearing about him, I was compelled and went looking, but that is how I learned that actively seeking him will always end fruitless. A year passed and another invasion of crimson and ochre leaves fell to the cobblestones. I'd forgotten all about him, until one September evening when the twilight battled with the antique street lamps, I saw him; saw something. I had rode less than 5km, leisurely; free of expectation, a classic trigger for his appearance. As I pulled up to where a low sea wall framed the last glimpse of the sunset, I stopped and released my drink from the bottle cage on the frame beneath me. A meek current of air; a slight zephyr, pushed across behind me. I turned my head to see him as he passed. His brown jacket and flat cap were what I noticed first. He half turned as he rode away, slightly tipping it to greet me, or so I believe. The bike was an odd shape which caused my main confusion at the sight of him, but as I completed my journey home that day, I realised exactly whom I had seen, and finally felt a sense of belonging in the town I still call home today.

Over a period of time I saw him sporadically from a distance, sometimes even from my balcony here. The visions were fleeting and barely noticeable, like passing through smoke only to find it disappearing as you disturb it. Around three months ago was my longest and most profound experience of him. During a cycle home just before dusk, I had stopped for breath moments from my home. The rain had fell lightly for some time, and scattered dark clouds blocked the last remaining light that shone behind them causing them to glow at the edges, and a rainbow to form in the distance. It was the worst few days of the summer weather and followed a heatwave. Of course, I wasn't prepared for this weather and my hair helped soak my head. However, as I ducked under the canopy of a local bakers, which was closed, I noticed a man standing by the low sea wall, staring out to sea. I knew who he was immediately as it was too strange for anybody to be left on the coastal road in the rain, except for the odd tourist couple, perhaps. I watched him oversee the rippling bay for a moment before he moved and retrieved a bike that was not present, yet somehow leaning against the nearby lamppost. Like him and his bike, the lamppost also shimmered in the light like a prism turning and glinting. As he mounted it, it appeared to my vision with a blurred motion. He cocked his leg over the sturdy frame and rode away. I wasn't an expert in bikes, but I knew my way around one. I had not seen the type he had before, but I knew it was not from this modern age, and likely a relic of the past. I later researched the frame style. It was a Hercules, and furthermore, a trade bicycle which had a wider frame than usual with a kink in it so you could hang an advertisement board within it. There was also a basket frame below the handlebars. I didn't get much more from that moment, so I took a chance on getting a cold, jumped on my uncouth modern Ammaco Ethos mountain bike, and followed him, taking me towards Mount Cartlin, and away from home.

I knew eagerness would likely collapse the vision so I calmly kept my distance. He seemed to follow the path of the cobblestones but found no friction from them, whereas I stuck to the modern cycle path that ran alongside them. As I trailed behind him, attempting to catch a closer glimpse of his bike, I felt a strange sensation. My body became numb, and the rain stopped. I felt heat as the temperature seemed to rise rapidly around me. The sun burst out from behind the clouds and the sky turned a bright blue with daylight once more. The ground in front of me unfolded differently. As I approached him, I slowed to stay in his wake. Vibrant colours burst from the ground and everything around me, dancing with incendiary motion. It was like the rippling effect a boat leaves on water behind it, but thickly applied like the strokes of a pastiche painting. Each colour matching its component: the cobblestones, a grey and auburn; the ocean, an lazuline blue; the shops frames, umber and yellow, and the grass on the richer side of Mount Cartlin, a sensational green. Everything became a visual fantasy in lucid and eidetic form. Shortly, the colours then blended with their opposing tones with dark blues, violets and browns that transcended into an otherworldly night time. It injected a curious feeling of warmth and freedom with my mind as well as my body. I could no longer feel the aches of the day, nor the rain which had drenched me.

I continued my pursuit with lungs expanding to their full capacity and entranced by the imagery of another era that quivered before me. I gained a little momentum as I let the apparition take me on his beauteous journey toward the mountain. Suddenly, the smell of bread in my nostrils, strong and fresh. It became hard to see him in the momentum, but his basket under his handlebars contained two loaves, stacked in equanimous fashion and separated with some apples. Although his attire was not a uniform, it was smart enough to warrant an occupation of some kind. His build was that of a regular working–class man and not the modern lycra lathered, agile visitors who crossed the same stones each year. I noticed his front wheel was slightly smaller than the rear, although his tyres seemed to be smooth, motionless circles in this strange parallel void, and his spokes near invisible. An array of souls, bursting with stop–motion colour appeared around us and seemed to acknowledge him. A woman in a red coat waved a gloved hand at him, a small dog yanked at his masters lead to chase the wheels, he swerved a little to avoid the football of a young boy who darted across the promenade. I marvelled at the now dark hues of the blue sky above which allowing the stars to glint with spectral, momentary beauty. I felt like my eyes were a prisoner of Van Gogh, and as I glanced at my own body, I found it had succumbed to the same artistic layered style the world around me had taken. Lines of flickering light blended with thick daubs of colour which flaked away from my hands and shirt as my bike cut through the backwash of the unreal cyclist ahead of me.

My journey ended as he pulled over to a place just before the mountain. An old house with brown and red panelling, where the windows grilled with steel diamond emblems were lined with flowers stood. He slowed, leaned his bike against another lamppost, gathered the bread and apples from the basket, and glanced up to the house. A woman emerged from the double doors and onto the balcony. She wore a long, stylish mauve coat with high heels, and a dark hat with a face veil. She smiled and blew him a kiss. I could see the cyclist's face clearly for the first time, a long, thin face and sturdy jaw with dark eyebrows against pale skin, although in reaction to her he adopted a florid expression and broad smile. The lady above retired into her house, leaving the balcony doors open. He stopped and looked at me. I froze. He sustained his broad grin, added a wink, and tossed me an apple. I instinctively went to catch it and did successfully as it swirled and resonated with restless sanguine shades in my palm. I snapped my head back up to him in bewilderment where his form lost its colourful shimmering flair and became a more ghostly transparent outline as he passed through the closed doorway of the house and disappeared. The balcony door above was then closed, or perhaps, in this moment of time, never opened. The vision faded, as did the bike against the lamppost, and I was left alone once more in the light rain of that evening.

So, I no longer strive to see the phantom the other cyclists speak of. They say the spirit of the night cyclist haunts this place as if with vendetta or malice, wandering lost with some developed torment. Yet they still seek him, wanting to believe in their own mindless folklore. My heuristic approach has taught me otherwise. To me the Night Cyclist represents the opposite nature. He is a happy soul and appears before those who achieve that same mindful clarity, free of judgement and stressful acquirement. To me he is the soul of a blessed man, a man in love with all aspects that he surrounds himself with, a rarity to be envied by many, and indeed, the soul of this very town.

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