The overcast sky brooded low over us and I had to lock my fingers together around Ringo’s chest to keep from flying off the back of the motorcycle.

“Where’s the Lancia?” I shouted, but even if he could have heard me he seemed to be in no condition to answer.

In minutes we were beyond the city limits and racing down a two-lane farm road, not another car to be seen. Of course, I didn’t have a helmet or even goggles; I kept my face pressed against the back of his jacket. My dampening hair whipped my face. Ringo’s wrist on the accelerator grip never relaxed from complete open throttle, and the engine screamed like a great iron beast in a state of psychological horror.

I had never traveled so fast by any machine, let alone a motorcycle. I wasn’t sure if we were in some kind of peril or if that was just how Ringo always drove. My pulse had already been agallop in a stampede of ardor before Ringo showed up and demanded that I get on the motorcycle. Now it was at a dead sprint.

But Ringo had left me no choice. I took one last remorseful glance at Dimity, flung down my books right there on the ground and jumped on behind him. The last thing I saw was her doe-eyes widening and a subtle parting of her lips, those two blushing pilgrims. Sweet empress of heaven.

To the right and left of the narrow road was old, wet farmland dotted with the occasional cottage. The gray morning robbed much of the excitement of what would otherwise have been an adventure.

Clenching every muscle from eyelids to bunghole I fought the cold wind that threatened to start sweeping away extremities, knuckle by knuckle, like so many ice nuggets when at last he released his stranglehold on the throttle.

We turned onto a dirt driveway that led to a small, abandoned house with a dilapidated barn behind it. The buildings slouched on a few acres of land which might have been cultivated at one time, but now the hackberry and dallis grass had retaken the soil; the scrubby foliage screened us from the road.

Ringo rode past the house to the leaning two-story barn that seemed as if a modest breeze would topple it into a pile of matchsticks. The sides were blotched with green swaths of algae, kudzu grew up the side and hung from the eaves.

He turned off the engine and my ears continued to ring for several minutes. The sudden silence and slight breeze of the dim morning seemed like a foreign spirit. With a glance he signaled me to follow him inside. One of the doors was slightly ajar and we squeezed through. Immediately an overpowering equine mustiness and the fetor of mildewed hay that covered the floor flooded my sinus.

Before us were two large tables piled with vials and decanters like that which had been in the basement last night. A crate on the floor contained about two dozen empty wine bottles. I started to understand why we were here.

Ringo lit a kerosene lantern on the table and we worked by that dim light. He fired up a camping stove and set a pot on it and started pouring in ingredients. Steam began to rise from the surface of the mixture and I wrestled with whether to inhale the vapor recalling the staggering albeit salutary effects it had induced before.

I looked at Ringo. With a devilish little smirk, he tilted his head toward the pot as if to say, Take a whiff. I smelled it. Nothing happened. I shook my head, “Nothing.”

The smirk vanished from Ringo’s face and he inhaled, at first guardedly then deeply. He blinked and tried again. He frantically grabbed a long-handled measuring spoon and ladled up a dose to sip, smacking his mouth like a sous chef tasting a béchamel. I don’t think I had ever seen Ringo in any state of grief before but an expression of pain mixed with terror wrung his face.

At that moment, two silhouettes appeared at the door. In a foreign accent that I could not place and a nasal coldness well-suited to the morning, the shorter of the pair said, “Good morning, Reginald.”

[Please leave me a comment and tell me how you think the story is going!]