The pathways that crossed the swathes of green land between Sam’s house and work were as dangerous as ever. Few dared walk there, for fear of injury, or even just the contempt of the monsters that had laid claim to them. It hadn’t been so bad in the winter, when harsh frost and black ice had kept all but the most hardy from the area. At that point he had been able to risk the short cut with a degree of confidence. Sam knew he could usually see or hear trouble coming long enough to sidestep it.
That was then. Now the warmer weather had added new hazards. The open grasslands attracted mushroom circles of students ostensibly studying in the sun. They either reduced the space to sidestep the hunters on the pathways, or worse joined their numbers and rejoiced in making the lives of humble pedestrians as difficult as possible. In this city, the bicycle was king.
It had started, as these tyrranies often do, as simple expediency. Take a large student population – in other words one not necessarily flush with money – and add a young tech-heavy economic powerhouse or two. Sprinkle with a desire to reduce pollution, and see bicycle lanes and traffic calming measures waltz in, hand in hand.
Then add some self-interest and entitlement, because that’s what humans do, and watch as those who cycle come to see those who don’t as part of a problem to be fixed. Any area not specifically designated for motor vehicle use was implicitly claimed, and the gods help any poor pedestrian or tourist who didn’t realise this.
During the winter, only the most dedicated cyclists used the paths, and they were easy to avoid, if only for their regular schedules. The summer though was far more chaotic, and injuries were far more common. He’d witnessed plenty for himself, avoided many, and been unlucky once or twice. Sam wasn’t bitter about that however. The occasional – rare even – mishap or encounter was just the luck of the draw.
No, his anger had a very specific focus: the Darrens. A youngish couple who had moved into the area recently, but who had embraced the bicycle cult with fervour. Their matching matt-black steeds were built for speed, and matched the dark lycra in which they wrapped each other before they headed out. It was no coincidence that they featured in the nightmares of so many; for they took a perverse pride in forcing people to leap aside.
For the Darrens, few things could beat a stealthy glide along the pathways across the common, and then a ring of their bells at almost the last minute to prompt cries of panic and frantic attempts to leap for safety. They even had a scoring system based on the perceived vulnerability of their victims and whether they could cause collisions between their victims and bystanders as one leapt into the other in their panic.
The only thing better than that was causing another cyclist to flinch – and in that there was perhaps the seed of Sam’s current course of action. Every day, the Darrens came up the rise to the crest of the Common at around midday, heading home for lunch.
This time, as they focused on the pace of their ascent they found Sam, on a borrowed bike, coming the other way.
They looked at each other and smiled, and then accelerated. They would not turn aside. The game of chicken was one they loved. Sam and the Darrens closed rapidly on each other. Students in the grass either side of where they would clash began to back away. All eyes were on them.
Sam barrelled towards them, head low to reduce wind resistance and legs pumping steadily. The Darrens too also kept up their brisk face, a hungry anticipation visible on their faces.
And then, a little more than a bike’s length or three away from them, Sam drew his sword and charged straight at them. The sword glinted in the sunlight as he drew it in a tight arc from the scabbard on his back. There was just enough time for horrified recognition of the shape in Sam’s hands and then it was too late.
The Darrens tried to peel away to either side, but failed to count the effect of going from smooth asphalt to soft earth and grass. As they both tumbled from their bikes, Sam streaked on and past, dropping the plastic toy sword on the path behind him. It clattered loudly in the sudden silence as he sped away, laughing into the distance. The Darrens were never quite the same, or as feared, from that day