The shrub cut his face as he raced down the hill. The spoke card on his back wheel tapping wild. A cloudless sky, with a dry heat upon the San Joaquin mountains. Behind him, another boy a year younger drooling and spitting and chasing with his tongue out. Both of them raced across the mountain scape and swerved about the corrugated landscape, around bends whose steep turns had them drag their wheels to brake. Dropping stones off the side of the mountain towards the city, the miniature of a city, from their height. The leading boy stopped on the side of the trail road. A little platform with old tire marks and broken beer bottles. The safety guard bent and with holes in the sheeted metal. They stood high and pointed down into the side of the mountains, a little off, further and further away from the fringes of the city where somewhere in the dry oaks and flatbed a small wooden shack hid.
“We’re close.” The older one said.
The creosote cut against their bikes as they raced through and towards the far off object. Down the road, around the bend. The sheen of a long sheet of metal growing larger and larger down the steep way. The patched roof of the house. What was left of one.
They stuck their feet out and dragged dirt coming to the stop. They stopped along the edge, the bike spitting dust where they braked. The lagging boy breathed heavy and almost turned over and collapsed. He caught himself on his knees and took heavy gulps. His tongue out but bone dry, cracked. The older one handed him a water bottle and he drank and wiped and drank again.
The older boy stepped up to the front porch looking mesmerized at the rising steps and the crooked door frame and the collapsing pleated shingles. Holes covered with thin rusted metal. Half wood, half makeshift. Frankenstein’s abode.
“Just wait until you see it.”
“Whatever dude.” He set the water bottle down.
The older boy walked up the planks, he watched his feet through the creaky steps. Stepping meek and testing out the boards as he went up to the door.
“You’re gonna wanna be careful-”
The younger boy was not careful.
He took two large steps and one leg broke through into the wood and trapped him by the ankle. He dragged his foot out and cursed. The older one shook his head. They both drew closer to the door, neither of them touching it. The hinges weak with rust opened from westward wind. A pacific breeze from an ocean somewhere beyond the city. Not that they could see it. They couldn’t see much of anything at this slope, too many trees. Too many inconveniences to the eyes. Like the water tower with its metal barrel peeled. Like the shingles exposed and crooked and dangling. An ossature of beams and exposed insulation like a decayed body. Like walking into a tomb, you could smell it in the air. The rank of age; mold and mildew and rot. Both gulped and they went inside. The ceiling exploded with a prior cave-in on one side, both boys slipping underneath past the collapsed foyer and into the living room. A carpet covered with syringes and condoms and beer bottles. Ashy circles around broken hot plates.
“There’s more.” The lead boy said. Sweat had glued their clothes. Simple navy and white shirts. Simple city boys enjoying the spring break before school.
The older boy approached the hall. The wallpaper peeled all around them into piss-colored curlicues. The older one came to a stop in front of a door amongst the broken glass and dirt and chewed carpet. He did not walk in, simply held his spot in the hall. It was the younger one who walked forward to the room. The door knob was broken over, the hinges outside of their sockets, the door sat at a bevel against a bathroom sink. He went around and held the broken door. His eyes narrowed then widened.
A skeletal hand poked out from the rim of the copper bathtub. Inside the bath was full of cement and from the porous gray a little nose peered out, dessicated to brown bone.
The boy opened his mouth and he screamed.
UNLUCKY MOUNTAIN BIKERS FIND JANINE FLORES – LOST FOR EIGHT YEARS – DEAD IN POOL OF CEMENT