Charlie set out on the day of his eviction to visit the graves of his dead heroes. He made a map using Google and Wikipedia to find their graves. He plotted the most efficient course from one to the other. Surprisingly this wasn’t difficult. Fate had saved him from the traveling salesman problem. There was only one clear path to follow. No crossroads to ponder.
Several days were spent in preparation. Three piles were made; stuff he needed, stuff he wanted and stuff he couldn’t figure out why he had in the first place which turned out to a very large pile indeed. In the end the definition of need was reduced to what would fit in Charlie’s father’s old backpack.
In addition Charlie composed and memorized tributes to his fallen heroes. Each was special to him for one reason or another, though a few he couldn’t quite remember why. He wasn’t sure if was the people themselves he idolized or the myths about them that caught his fancy. Of course it didn’t matter. Heroism and idolism are rarely anchored in reason.
Eviction day came. Charlie strapped the backpack to his bike and sat on the floor waiting for the sheriff to come and kick him out. At three in the afternoon the police cars finally showed up. Charlie handed them the keys and warned them of the voodoo curse that was out on the place by Papa Carl, a local used car parts dealer that Charlie had crossed. The cop thanked him for the keys and for the warning.
Charlie climbed on his bike and peddled away. Twenty-five minutes later he was at his first destination, the initial resting place of his home-town hero. A once but no longer famous athlete who died penniless due to racism, bad investments and poor grammar. The man’s remains were actually no longer there in what was once the pauper’s field. He had been moved far away but this is where he first was laid down so this is where Charlie came.
Charlie tried to say the little prayer he had rehearsed to Ghisallo, the sacred shrine of cycling, but he forgot the words and hadn’t packed the notebook he’d written it in because he thought he had memorized it. He improvised some nonsense about holy wheels turning but gave up mid-verse. He climbed back on his bike hoping that the coming storm wouldn’t be as bad as the news said.
Two days later, soaking wet and very tired, Charlie rolled into the ornate southern Connecticut cemetery containing the remains of a writer of many mysteries, of which only one was Charlie able to solve before the detectives in the book. This time he remembered his speech. Saint Edgar’s own words of fear and darkness.
Charlie loved good mysteries. His mother had a huge collection of old paperbacks but after reading a half dozen or so Charlie found that he could guess the murderer after only a few chapters. Book after book were tossed across the room in frustration at the stupidity of the paper detectives. Till one day, just one chapter from the end, Charlie realized that he didn’t know whodunit. His assumption was that the writer was lying or hiding something but when the solution was revealed Charlie saw how he missed a vital clue. He was impressed and a marathon of reading the writer’s work began.
The next day the weather improved greatly. Sunshine and gentle breezes. Charlie peddled in ecstasy, successfully forgetting what the end of the day would bring. The day’s route would end at Grand Central Station, but before that it passed two more graves, both women. Charlie puzzled on that as he rode. The only two women on his heroes list were buried ten miles from each other. One a writer of odd fiction. The other a teller of odd truths. At both graves his words once again escaped him but he managed to pull together some nice sentiments from the words of Saint Hermann and Flip Wilson.
Evening was falling as Charlie stood looking at his poor bike chained to a “No Parking” sign. He pretended to wonder if it would survive intact until he got back. He knew it wouldn’t. It’s only hope of survival was to be set free. He unlocked the chain and left it laying on the ground. He saw a young man watching him from across the street. Charlie waved him over but the boy wouldn’t budge, so he turned his back and walked into the station. He never saw the boy ride his bike away whooping with joy.
Charlie boarded a series of trains heading west. One of the reasons he rode a bike in the first place was because he couldn’t stand being in motion when he wasn’t in control. Fortunately his quack back in Wormtown gave him the meds that would help him make the trip. The next few days were a blur of light and dark rushing past windows with vague recollections of animated conversations with two very ugly men and one very beautiful woman.
The sunrise glinting off the giant arch alerted Charlie that it was time to detrain. Another rich man’s cemetery with an ornate marker welcoming home in death the prodigal son. A writer of so-called fiction unfortunately played out in the pain of reality before commitment to paper. Somehow Charlie’s prayer to Saint Christina came to him perfectly without effort. It pleased him.
The funds diminishing Charlie boarded a bus heading further west. Increased doses kept him asleep for long stretches of road. Every time he woke there was a new person sitting beside him. Once a young Amish man with a wooden box in his lap. Another a man in an orange jumpsuit. Mostly they were dark blobs of humanity who didn’t care who Charlie was other than that he was quiet and they could get some reading, sleeping, thinking done.
Waking up on a bench in a bus station in Los Angeles is like eating stale bread with good cheese. Los Angeles holds every promise and every sadness. It was just a short walk to the sun-bleach resting place of the penultimate hero. A writer of fiction and of truth, the two often getting confused for art’s sake. Charlie had no prayer for this man. He wouldn’t have wanted one.
One last bus over the hills and into the valley. One last stop. One last hero. The heat beat down on Charlie’s balding head. His backpack seemed to carry the weight of the sun. There was his first, best and last hero lying six feet below him. A giant of both the silver screen and the canvas. The man who’s greatest success was his lack of skill. Forging a path only he could follow. Others tried but always came up short. Charlie had hoped that inspiration would hit him at this point. His hero would want him to commune with the spirit of the wolf but he didn’t know how to do that.
Charlie stood staring at the simple headstone for hours waiting for some sign or clue till a shadow swept across the stone removing his hero’s name from view. Charlie turned and faced the sunset. There were no more heroes. There was no more west. There was no bike to climb on and ride home. There was no home. He sat down and watched the sunset with no thought in his head but the beauty of the moment. As darkness fell, his backpack for a pillow, he fell into dreamless sleep.