Race with the Devil

Continuing my series of short stories inspired by song titles. Gene Vincent released this song in 1956 and another song with the same title was released by Gun in 1968.

motobike flaming cropped 18.5.19

‘He’s a good lad really, even if he is a bit of a devil sometimes.’

‘You’re too soft on him, Mary. You know what they say about spare the rod.’

As usual the vicious old woman next door was slagging me off and stirring up trouble. If I was a devil, her tongue was pure evil. For all her holier than thou demeanour she delighted in gossiping about the younger generation, and if there was nothing to say, she’d make something up. It wasn’t the first time we’d had a run-in, and after I punched her son on the nose, she went out of her way to make life difficult for me.

Gregory was a nasty little weasel, and just because his family were well off, thought he was better than the rest of us. For his 21st birthday, darling Greg had been given a flash sports car. My Mother had bought me a second-hand headlight for the motorbike I was building, but I know which gift was most appreciated. Since Dad ran off when I was a toddler, she had brought me up on her own, and worked two or three jobs to keep food on the table and a roof over our heads. I was proud of her, and determined to win the prize money in the big race to buy her something nice, as a way of showing my gratitude.

I didn’t have a girlfriend, but if I did it would have been someone like Jenny. She was a pretty girl, quiet and shy, studying hard to be a vet. That didn’t stop Gregory constantly pestering her for a date, but when she made it clear she wasn’t interested, he and his mother joined forces to spread rumours about her being easy with her favours. It wasn’t fair, but it wasn’t my business even if I felt sorry for her.

Exceeding the speed limit was wrong, but the tranquil, country roads were far out of town, and I wanted to open the bike up to see what it could do. Well pleased with the result, I’d slowed down to check I hadn’t pushed too far when I heard a disturbance from the nearby trees.

‘Please, stop it. You said you’d help with my car. If you can’t get it going, just let me phone the garage.’

‘It’s much more fun to play. Come on, you know you want to.’

‘Stop it, Greg. Leave me alone or I’ll scream.’

‘No one will hear you way out here, and even if they did, I’d tell them you led me on.’

It was Jenny’s voice, and she sounded really scared. Pushing through the trees I confronted the bully as I tried to keep my temper under control.

‘I can hear you, Greg. The lady said leave her alone. Now move away, and let her be.’

‘Look who it is! Mr bad-boy himself. What makes you think they’d take your word over mine? You call that a lady? You’re welcome to her.’

That’s when I punched him. He wasn’t man enough to stay and fight but took off in his flash car, dripping blood from his nose all over his shiny new leather seats. I managed to get Jenny’s car started, then followed her on the bike until she was safely home. I didn’t see her after that, but Gregory soon had the rumour mill working overtime, telling everyone he had tried to rescue the girl when I attacked him. That, together with my customary outfit of black leathers, soon earned me the nickname of ‘Devil,’ while Greg’s white car and round, chubby face had him designated as the ‘Angel.’

The competition organisers had a field day with publicity for ‘Race with the Devil,’ but all the betting was on the Angel beating me in the race. I wondered how much it would cost his family to cajole, blackmail or bribe the judges, but was determined to win fair and square. Jenny had stopped attending college, and hadn’t turned up for her regular work experience with the local vet. It seemed the tittle-tattle had hit her hard, and I heard on the grapevine she had moved to another town, unable to face the shame of being labelled as a cheap slut.

Once I had some money in my pocket, it might be worth trying to find her, to tell her most people knew Greg was a liar and a cheat, but were too weak to stand up to him and his family in her defence. For now, the important thing was the race. Although we were a small town, it had become a major event and entries came from miles around. The starting line was in the fields behind the square, then along the main road leading out of town, up the hill, through the twisting country lanes, along the dirt track by the quarry, then back in a loop for the home stretch. The race was unusual in that bikes and cars competed against each other, although most of the entrants were Greg’s cronies, which would ensure he won. Not this time. There were very few bikes apart from mine, which I had built from scratch and finished off with a black and red devil painted on the fuel tank.

It was a bright, sunny afternoon as we lined up for the start. Greg’s car was in the centre, and the other cars were tightly packed around him, leaving the only space at the outermost point. That explained why the judges had stopped me entering the field until the cars had taken their places. The bribery had started already.

With a loud bang, the starter gun fired and we were off. The white Angel sped into the lead as I was forced to hold back behind a solid mass of cars, going deliberately slowly to block me. After a few miles the pack opened up as some dropped out, and the narrow lanes gave me an advantage. Weaving in and out I opened up the throttle, and in the distance caught sight of Greg’s car entering the stretch by the quarry. 80, 90, 100. I broke the ton as I pounded along the dirt track, steadily gaining on the white angel. By the time he heard me, no other competitors were in sight, and even the supporters had opted for the comfort of the finish line with its fairground atmosphere. It was just him and me.

Inch by inch I narrowed the gap. The wind whistled through the thick trees on one side, and emerged to escape over the sheer drop into the quarry as I seized my chance to overtake him. Sheer adrenalin kept my wheels grounded as I pulled alongside ready to move into the lead. The sneer on his face was the last thing I saw as he wrenched the steering wheel hard to the left, sending me spinning into nothingness.

‘I’m sorry, Mum. I tried,’ I said, as the rocky ground far below sped up to meet me.

Was I hallucinating? The white of Greg’s car as it crashed far below before exploding into flames was not the only White Angel around that day. Feathery white wings surrounded Jenny’s angelic face as I found myself defying gravity, until I opened my eyes to see the bike sprawled a few feet away from where I lay on the path.

The rescue party discovered not only Greg’s charred remains by his burnt-out car, but Jenny’s body buried in the undergrowth nearby. She had been dead a week. The inquest loosened tongues, and once all the facts were revealed it was generally accepted that Greg had murdered Jenny, and hidden her body near the spot where he had died.

The race with the Devil had ended with the Angel’s revenge.

© Voinks March 2019

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