Dear Friends, this is David Telbat with “Bicycle Bandits, a Steadfast Short Story.” Many of you have been reading The STEADFAST Series (novellas), and you’re waiting for more. Well, I’m eager to write more! You’ve certainly noticed that the idea behind Steadfast is not the futuristic setting, or the post-pandemic scenario. Rather, what makes Steadfast most unique may be the resilient character of a simple man in the most strenuous of circumstances. How about remaining Christ-like while being shot at? This is another installment in the Steadfast timeline. Stay tuned for more Steadfast Shorts, novellas, and full-length novels to come! And remember, in America’s last days, only the steadfast will prevail!
by D.I. Telbat
Ben Lawrence pedaled his mountain bike faster. Sweat poured into his eyes—not from the exercise, but from the terror. After remaining cautious for so many years, highway bandits were now about to kill him!
He ceased pedaling for an instant and peeked under his arm at the road behind him. Heidi, his wife of seventeen years, was falling back. During the first winter after the virus had swept across America, Heidi had lost too much weight, along with her stamina. Now, with five robbers on bicycles chasing them, Heidi was faltering when she needed to pedal for her life!.
“Keep going!” Ben yelled ahead to his sixteen-year-old daughter, Annette. She had been only ten when panic and the pandemic had left one hundred million dead. Pan-Day had changed everything.
The teenager didn’t look back, and Ben was glad. Her parents were about to be massacred; she didn’t need to see that. The bandits surely wanted the supplies he had in his little tow trailer behind his rear tire. Provisions for survival were more valuable than gold those days. But the bandits would be disappointed, he knew. All he had was a small wall tent, a few cans of food, and three sleeping bags.
Leaving Denver and heading north that spring didn’t seem like such a good idea now. But the violence in Colorado had reached a dangerous pitch. Six years after Pan-Day, food and resources were short. It was just a matter of time before Ben was killed, maybe along with Heidi—and Annette would be forced into an unwanted relationship. Ben had seen it the year before. Families were worried about their progeny, but forced marriages and shot-gun weddings had ensued.
It was supposed to have been safer outside the city, fleeing to the north, but Ben realized he was drastically unprepared for the problems that day.
Ben risked capture by touching his brakes and slowing down for Heidi to catch up. He couldn’t leave her behind.
“Push it, honey!” he screamed. His own leg muscles cried for relief, but he couldn’t stop and rest. His family’s only chance of escape was to outrun the five bandits. “Faster! Come on!”
For the first time in ten miles of chasing, the enemy was close enough for Ben to see them in detail. The nearest one was only one hundred yards back. He wore goggles to ward off bugs, and tight clothes that didn’t hinder his movement. The distinct barrel of an assault rifle poked over the man’s shoulder. Since they hadn’t used their guns yet, Ben guessed they had some dreadful plans for them before killing them.
Heidi flew past him. She was breathing hard, gasping for air. Ben stood up to pedal, straining to get his speed up again with the heavy load on the back of his bike. Now, the bandits would probably catch him easily!
From far ahead, Annette screamed. It was a chilling sound that made Ben tense and growl simultaneously. He shook his head violently, whipping the sweat from his brow, and peered ahead. His daughter was coming upon two more gunmen standing on the roadside. Their rifles were in their hands. It was an ambush! The bicycle bandits had chased them into a perfect trap.
Up the highway, Annette tried to make a sharp U-turn, but her speed was too great. His daughter stuck out her leg to skid the back tire in a drifting turn, but her balance was off and her strength was spent. Annette went down on the highway pavement, only feet from where the two gunmen stood.
Ben stifled a sob. There was nowhere to go. Wide open range land spanned to his right, and thick mountainous forest stretched to his left. He looked back, realizing he had only seconds to decide what to do. Heidi skidded to a stop next to their daughter and climbed off her bike to help the injured girl. The two gunmen on foot were moving toward Annette.
For a moment, Ben had a clear view of the two killers ahead, so he reached into his jacket and drew his revolver. He had only four bullets left, after many failed attempts at hunting with the small caliber handgun. But if his family was to escape, it would be by continuing forward, not back. Killing two enemies had to be easier than trying to kill the five coming up on him.
Heidi huddled over Annette. Since they were so close to the two gunmen, their survival seemed unlikely, but Ben had to try.
He gritted his teeth as he steered with one hand and aimed the gun with the other. After squeezing the trigger four times, he glared disgustedly at his gun. Though he was no marksman, he’d expected to hit at least one of the gunmen at that distance! Instead, the two, apparently unharmed, reached his wife and daughter, and crouched next to them.
There seemed no hope for Ben to rescue his family. He threw down his empty gun and steered off the highway. He’d try his luck in the forest. On the edge of the highway, the ditch was deep and steep. His front tire hit the bottom of the ditch and stopped. The rim folded in half. Ben went airborne over the handlebars and landed on the other side of the ditch, facing the sky. Dazed, he rolled to his knees.
Before he’d completely gained his senses, he crawled through knee-high grass into the bushes, then the forest welcomed him into the shade of heavy branches. From the shadows of the trees, he watched as the five bandits rode past his gear and broken bike. Suddenly, a gunshot, then another, split through the mid-morning air. The two gunmen with his family had fired into the sky!
The bandits on the bicycles slowed to a stop only forty feet from Ben’s family and the two gunmen. Quietly, the bandits discussed something between themselves, then turned and pedaled south, from where they’d come. After ten miles of chasing, they were suddenly gone!
Ben staggered from the forest. What had happened? He tried to understand what had seemed like a stand-off between the two gunmen and the five bandits. He’d thought they were together, but now it was clear they were indeed separate aggressors.
Rather than witnessing a massacre, he saw his wife standing over their daughter as one of the gunmen knelt next to Annette, who still sat on the ground. Ben traversed the ditch past his bike, and reached the highway. At a jog, he approached the two gunmen and his family.
However, he slowed to a walk as he realized the gunmen held only hunting rifles, and the one who was tending to Annette wasn’t a man at all, but a redheaded woman in her late thirties. Her companion was a broad-shouldered man with an otherwise medium build, and he wore a beard.
“I just want my family,” Ben said, his empty hands held wide, “and we’ll be moving on.”
“You crashed your bike pretty bad back there.” The man’s voice was friendly. Even at a time like this! “And your daughter could use more water than we have in our canteens to flush gravel out of her road rash. I’d say you’ll need to rest a little before moving on.”
“What?” Ben frowned, then remembered the five bicycle bandits. He shielded his eyes and looked to the south, but saw no one as far as he could see. “You mean us no harm?”
“She’ll be fine,” the redhead said to her partner as she stood. “They look a little hungry, though.”
With Annette still seated between them, the four adults studied one another. Ben didn’t know whether to pick up Annette and walk away, or tackle the strangers for their guns. His family had ridden through whole towns wiped out by rampaging soldiers and looting civilians. No one could be trusted! It was hard to figure what form of brutality this couple had in store for them.
“Well, I’m Eric Radner.” The bearded man stepped abruptly forward, smiling, and held out his hand. His hand was calloused and tan. “Welcome to Wyoming.”
Ben took a half-step backwards.
“I . . . don’t shake. The virus.” To emphasize his point, Ben hid his hand behind his back. He tried not to think about the redhead already touching his daughter. “The virus is still around, you know.”
“Of course.” The man dropped his hand, but the friendliness remained in his voice and on his face. No one was this friendly. America was in utter ruins! “There’s a stream coming down from the mountain over here. Your daughter can get cleaned up there. Gretchen?”
Together, the redhead and Heidi helped Annette to her feet.
“No! Don’t touch her!” Ben reached out, but stopped before making contact with anyone. They looked at him for a moment, then he dropped his arm to his side. “I just want to be cautious. The virus, you know.”
“Well, I don’t have the virus,” the redhead said, then nodded to Annette. “Can you walk a little ways? Take it slow.”
The women started off the highway, and Ben hung back with the bearded man who had called himself Eric Radner.
“We have a settlement back west about twenty miles,” the stranger said. “We watch out for virus carriers, too. I don’t blame you for being careful.”
“I thought you guys were with those bandits.” Ben ran his fingers through his hair, trying to relax, but found himself still shaking. “I could’ve shot you!”
“Come to think of it, I think you tried!” The man actually laughed. “But no, a few warning shots into the air sent them away. We came to the highway at the end of a hunt. The deer seem to have pushed south of us, but we like to meet travelers on the highway occasionally to hear the news. We’ll say this wasn’t a wasted trip, huh?”
“You . . . meet people?” Ben frowned. “Are you mad? No one purposely meets strangers anymore. It’s too dangerous!”
“If I avoided everyone who might be dangerous, I wouldn’t meet any pleasant people on the highway.”
“But this day and age—” Ben hesitated. “Oh, you’re talking about us. Well, you almost got shot by us pleasant people!”
“Tell me,” Eric said, “where are you and your family headed?”
Side by side, they walked back to Ben’s wrecked bike and trailer.
“We heard the Liberation Organization might have pulled out of Wyoming, that it might be safe to live up here with a teenage daughter.”
Eric swung his rifle on the sling over his shoulder and lifted the front of the bike.
“You’re going nowhere on this, even if you hammered it out.” He set the wheel down. “Adderthorn is a few miles up the highway, but it’s not real safe since it’s right on the highway. Mastover is a day’s hike farther northwest. That might be a good place for you. Do you have a skill to offer?”
“Not really. I was a day trader before Pan-Day.” Ben sighed, expecting the same pity he usually received when he confessed how he’d once spent his life. A day trader had little value in those days. “You know, the stock market, numbers, and investments. I guess that explains why I can’t shoot a gun too straight.”
“Why, because you had a desk job?” Eric swatted at the air. “God saw to it that you couldn’t shoot straight. He kept me safe. That had nothing to do with your being a stock analyst. Truth be told, our settlement could use a good actuary.”
“What? How?” Ben scoffed. “I mean, nobody’s cared much to have me around before. I’ve barely survived and kept my family alive by scavenging.”
“You know how to measure risk and dangerous investments, right?” Eric shrugged. “That’s all we do nowadays—measure risk for this and that. I think you probably haven’t had the right friends who knew your value. Until now.”
Ben stepped away from the strange man and the bike. He looked up and down the road, then at the forest and high mountains that threatened to turn the sun into a shadow. This was Wyoming. Perhaps this was what he’d come to find, he thought—a simple man with a friendly voice, who spoke to him of value where Ben felt none.
Finally, Ben turned back to the man.
“I tried to shoot you, and you’re inviting me to your home?”
“I’ve learned a lot in the last six years. Maybe the most important thing is that God prefers to use men and women who think they’re not useful anymore. He allows us to get torn down, and then He begins to rebuild us. So, tell me: you narrowly escaped a band of murderers and nearly murdered me and my hunting partner. Have you been torn down enough for God to rebuild you yet?”
Ben glanced at the empty revolver on the road. He’d bought the gun in the early days of the pandemic when he guessed there’d be unprecedented crime across America. Now, he stood before a man who had saved his life, a man who spoke of God, and usefulness, and rebuilding.
“She’ll live,” Heidi announced as she walked up with Annette and the redhead. One of Annette’s elbows was wrapped in cloth. It wasn’t any cloth Ben recognized, so it had to have been provided by the woman. “We can ride double, or you can ride her bike and Annette can ride on the trailer behind you until we reach the next town.”
“There won’t be any next town.” Ben inhaled deeply, and looked into the eyes of Eric. Oh, to have the confidence and friendliness he could sense in this man! “I think we’ve reached the end of our journey, if Mr. Radner will take in a man who can’t shoot straight—or ride a bike too well.”
Eric laughed with the others.
“It’s a good thing we have use for your other skills, right?” Eric clapped Ben on the shoulder. Ben didn’t shrug away at the man’s touch this time. “We’d be glad to have you at River Camp, but your bikes won’t make it on these trails. There’s a burned-out homestead up the highway. We can hide your bikes there, if you’d like.”
Heidi moved close to Ben so they could speak privately. Annette and the two strangers chatted casually as they unfastened the trailer of gear from the ruined bike.
“Are you sure they’re safe?” Heidi asked Ben.
“You mean, safer than sleeping in a tent in strange fields and running from bandits on bicycles?” He felt his heart beat with anticipation. He took her hand and held it to his chest. “Do you feel that? I can’t remember the last time my heart beat like this.”
“Benny, you were just about killed. Of course your heart is beating fast!”
“No, this is something else.” He gazed up at the mountain. “It’s something that man has. It’s in the eyes of the woman with him, too. It’s God. I think. Don’t you see? They aren’t just surviving. Whatever this River Camp is—we have to go there. The whole world may be coming to an end, but here, we’ve found something resilient. Or maybe, He found us!”
“Okay, okay!” Heidi laughed. She hadn’t laughed in years. “We’re with you. We’ll go to this place. I hope it’s everything you want it to be.”
“I don’t just want it to be something, Heidi.” He took her hand and walked after the others to the functioning bikes. “With God, I think it’s more about faith.”
NEWS! We have finally published TWO of David’s Christian Short Story Collections! Book 1, COIL Extractions, with six COIL-related stories, has been out for some time at several retailers, but it has received updating and a new cover, and it is now live on Amazon! (It is listed there at .99 but will soon be price-matched and then will be FREE from there as well.) COIL Recruits for Christ, Book 2, is also out at most retailers, and is permanently priced at .99 for the 15 short stories. Most of the stories are from our blog, but David wrote a new short story prologue, so there’s at least one story you’ve not read. 😉 Click the titles for direct retailer links.
Prayer Prompt: Check out the Back to Jerusalem ministry From their website: “We exist to help the Chinese Church fulfill the vision they have received from God to take the good news to the nations in the 1040 window. The large majority of these peoples and nations are located in-between China and Jerusalem. The Chinese call this missionary movement Back to Jerusalem.” God is working mightily! Pray for their ministry.
COMING UP: Join us next time for David’s post, “Christian Short Story Collections Released,” with a little background on these collections.