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Critical Mass

Critical Mass

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Published by Bryan Costales
Henry and his upset gut went out for a bicycle adventure. A story about a Critical Mass and the day after the night before. A literary fiction short story by Bryan Costales.
Henry and his upset gut went out for a bicycle adventure. A story about a Critical Mass and the day after the night before. A literary fiction short story by Bryan Costales.

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Published by: Bryan Costales on Jun 16, 2010
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Critical Mass

A Short Story

by Bryan Costales
Originally Published 2/14/2009 on bcx.org Genre: Literary Fiction

Critical Mass

© 2009 Bryan Costales

Page 1

Critical Mass by Bryan Costales

Henry Dales stood at the edge of Justin Herman Plaza holding up his new Pauseaux carbon-fiber bicycle. He had arrived early on the last Friday of the month for the Critical Mass bike ride, and was relieved to see his three buddies ride up. He waved to get their attention and felt his stomach gurgle. The gurgle caused Henry to remember that morning. He had made a bacon and eggs breakfast for his date Dixie. Unfortunately the damage done by the prior evening’s beer and whiskey combined with the food caused him to run into the bathroom and throw up. He drank a half bottle of mint Mallox while in there to settle his stomach. Too bad the episode was a turnoff for Dixie. She didn’t kiss him on her way out. Standing there holding his bike, Henry wondered what ate for lunch? Odwalla carrot juice? Was that all? His stomach did a slow cartwheel. He remembered going out to get something for lunch. He had given a handful of quarters to the homeless man outside Wallgreens. Then bought a carrot juice and thought that would be healthful. He drank it on the way home. Yep that was lunch. Dave, Sammy, and Wayne rode their bikes over and dismounted. All three were thin and wore faded Lycra bike clothing, all tight fitting and colorful. Henry wore blue sweat pants with a white strip up the leg and a green sweat shirt. He greeted the others, but ignored their chit chat. Instead he tried to remember if he had eaten anything else that day. His stomach became a boxer punching random bubbles. “Energy food,” Sammy announced. He held out a bagel atop a napkin. “Fish and cream cheese for long lasting energy, and the bagel for immediate carbs.” Henry eyeballed the bagel and wondered if Sammy had brought four of them. Dave and Wayne both moaned. Clearly they knew something Henry didn’t. Sammy relaxed his hand and the bagel fell into four precisely cut quarters. “Enough to share,” he said and handed out the four pieces.

Critical Mass

© 2009 Bryan Costales

Page 2

Henry looked at his quarter piece of bagel. It looked awfully small. The boxer in his belly punched bubbles up and out as a soft belch. Henry smiled, embarrassed. “I must be hungrier than I thought.” He gobbled down the morsel and swallowed. Inside his stomach he felt a polite, “Huzzah.” Henry looked around. He needed real food. A power bar or a hamburger. He spotted the Boudin bread place across the plaza. “How much time do we have?” he asked. Sammy looked over Henry’s shoulder at the clock on the Ferry Building tower. “Fifteen minutes or so. Why?” Henry looked again at the Boudin bread place and started walking his bike that direction. “I haven’t eaten yet today. I need to find some real food” Dave called from behind, “Don’t worry. It’s not like this is your first-time Critical Mass or nothin’.” Henry held up a middle-finger-salute and kept waking. The boxer in his stomach had tired and left the ring. Lox on an empty stomach had begun to turn his gut into a three ring circus complete with elephants. Henry was sure his noisy stomach could be heard for miles around, but those few people he passed ignored him. Henry resented Dave reminding him this was his first Critical Mass. Henry bought his bike just the Wednesday before. He had recently dropped out of medical school and was left with a nice chunk of unused money. So he had opted for the most expensive bike in the store. The Boudin bread place turned out to be an actual sit-down restaurant. The front door was open so Henry rolled his bike in with him through the open door. “Hey,” the young guy behind the counter said with a good imitation of authority. “You can’t bring that bike in here.” The boy seemed young enough to still be in high school. He wore a loose fitting yellow and brown uniform with a black apron. On his chest a badge advertised him as Tom. “Sorry Tom.” Henry muttered and backed the bike out. He looked for a place to lock it. “Shit,” he said. He hadn’t bought a lock for it yet. He looked at the front of the

Critical Mass

© 2009 Bryan Costales

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store. The glass was clear. He could watch the bike from inside if he leaned it against the glass. Back inside Tom said, “You can’t lean your bike against the glass. What if it slipped? It could scratch the glass or break it. You gotta move it again.” Henry didn’t say a word. The circus inside his stomach must have added a high wire act. The crowd was singing oooh and ahhhh, and rocking together back and forth, back and forth. Henry leaned his bike against one of the permanent tables. He could see the register and counter inside the Boudin bread store, so he figured from there he could look out and watch his bike. Back at the counter Henry asked, “What do you have that’s a meal and fast?” “We got sandwiches and soup bowls,” Tom pointed at a display case on the wall to Henry’s left. Henry looked. Tom tapped the glass, “The soup is served in a bread bowl.” Henry bent and gazed at the bread bowl. “What kind of soup is it?” “There’s two guys looking at your bike.” Henry stood up straight and looked. Two youths wearing hoodies, were smoking cigarettes and appeared to be talking about his bike. “Hey!,” he yelled. He hurried out. “So you guys mind? I need to order food.” “We’re just looking, man. I mean chill.” They turned and walked away. They both must have exhaled at the same time because their heads were simultaneously enclosed in a identical clouds of smoke. One of the high wire artists in his stomach must have fallen onto the net. Henry emitted a rude sound without wanting to. One of the departing youths gave him a middle-finger-salute.

Critical Mass

© 2009 Bryan Costales

Page 4

Henry looked for and spotted his friends at the far end of the plaza. They waved for him, gesturing for him to return and pointed at their wrists. Henry laughed. Nobody wore wrist watches any more. Henry returned to the counter. Tom smiled at him and said, “Clam chowder. That’s what’s in the bowl.” “I’ll have that.” “There’s somebody taking a picture of your bike.” Henry hurried out again. A well dressed Japanese gentleman photographed his bike using a cellphone. The man noticed Henry and smiled. He held up one thumb and said, “Nice bike.” Henry said, “Say. Would you mind watching my bike while I get some food? I’ll just be a second.” The Japanese man held up a thumb and again said, “Nice bike.” Behind him, Henry heard Tom call, “Hey! You’re soup is ready!” Henry gave a thumbs up to the Japanese man then hurried back in to pay for and pick up his soup. The soup was served on a stiff cardboard plate and was surprisingly heavy. Henry carried it back out to the table with his bike. He smelled the soup for the first time. The aroma was heavenly. Inside his stomach he felt the audience gave a standing ovation. Henry bent to set the soup on the table. Whether it was the standing ovation or his bent posture, he felt himself issue another rude sound. He stood quickly and looked to see if anyone had heard him. The plaza appeared clear. The plaza appeared clear? Henry looked for his friends. They were gone. Henry scanned the plaza. All the bikes were gone. Critical Mass had started and left him behind. “Damn,” Henry said. He pulled the lid off the soup, a circular slice of French bread. The aroma hit him again. He shoved the slice of bread in his mouth, bit off a chunk, and swallowed, then muttered again, “Damn.” In his stomach the announcer declared the show over. There were boos.

Critical Mass

© 2009 Bryan Costales

Page 5

Henry stood his bike and said, “Damn,” again. He mounted the bike. The bread slice in his mouth caused him to imagine he looked like a duck. He rode twenty feet and stopped. He looked back at the soup. A bum was standing at the table looking at the soup. The bum looked at Henry. Henry looked at the bum. Henry held up his thumb. The bum smiled. Henry looked at the clock on the Ferry Building. Critical Mass had only gotten a five minute head start. Henry muttered, “Damn,” again and started to ride. Inside his stomach the disappointed audience began leaving the tent. Henry ignored the audience and the sounds they made and rode in search of his first-time ever Critical Mass.

About the Author
Bryan Costales is author of several technical books, chief of which is the O’Reilly “sendmail” book, also called the “bat book” because of the picture of a bat on the cover. He has written short fiction for over thirty years and has been published in Cantaraville Six, Micro Horror, in the Banyan Review, and Peridot Books. In order to hone his craft, he has been writing a bi-weekly short story for almost two years. Those short stories are available here, as a kindle download, and on his own web site at http://www.bcx.org/ blogs/saturday/ Also see http://www.bcx.com/novels/ for his current, past, and future novels.

Critical Mass

© 2009 Bryan Costales

Page 6

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