SHORT STORY | Riding the Baltic Coast by Angela Butkus

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Family vacations were always one of my favorite times spent as a child. I remember this one time when I took my little sister to the coast of the Baltic Sea. She’s ten years my junior and she wanted me to teach her how to ride a bike. Mom and dad were there and of course, wanted us to take a photo. 

“Brother, squat down! I want to be taller than you,” Gabriele said to me. So I did and I wrapped my arm around her legs and she plastered on a grin that to this day makes me feel honored to her big brother—nothing comes as a better feeling than knowing your little one is happy and content in the world. 

After the photo was taken, Gabriele skipped down the coast, “Lucas, let’s race!” 

“You wanna race? You won’t beat me! I have twice as long of legs as you do,” I said.

“I’ll bet you my bicycle!” She retorted.

“You’re on!” 

I gave her a twenty-second head start, but she blew my cover when she called out, “Lucas, look at that boat! It’s huge!” She looked back seeing that I was standing still admiring her youth. “You’re cheating! You have to run!”, she said. I began sprinting and I caught up to her, past her and kept going. “Yay! There you go! But I’m still going to beat you!” she continued not knowing that I noticed a couple of gypsies steal her bike and rode off on it. She’s too young to know that they’re going to offer it as payment for drugs. What’s weird is that they’re not usually around this area—they keep to the forest. 

They disappeared under the bridge, which was to my advantage. The water was known to get very high at that point and I knew these junkies didn’t know how to swim by the looks of them. The first one tripped on a slippery rock and fell and lost grip of Gabriele's bicycle. The second one picked it up and held it overhead to avoid any water damage and prevention of rust. Luckily, they did not see me. I came up from behind him, kicked him in the back of his knee so he would fall, grabbed the bike from his grip and used it to swipe him across the face so he would stay down, all while hoping that we were too far in the distance so Gabriele wouldn't see this side of me.  

I made my way back across the strand and I saw Gabriele curled up on our mom's lap. Her smile turned to a look of worried malcontent-- a look of which I have never seen on her before. Again, she blew my cover and I could tell that she saw exactly what had happened under the bridge. Our parents did not judge since they knew what those two men were doing. My only surprise was why my father didn't do the same or come and help me. I suppose he figured I had it handled.

I went to pick Gabriele up and tried to console her. As observant as she was, she was still young and needed help to connect the dots. Plus, I wanted to clear my character in her eyes. "Gabby, those men stole from you," I began. She nodded her head showing that she understood. "And they were going to get rid of it so they could continue their low level of living. I had to get back for you. You have to learn to ride.”

"I know, brother, but maybe next time in the city," she replied, now with a little bit more relaxed of a look. I could still tell that a shade of her innocence was shaven away, and I felt bad in the role I took in it

ANGELA BUTKUS