Flame - Erin Noelle


THE BRIGHT LIGHTS BLIND ME to everything except the dirt track laid out in front of me. The energetic, bustling noise from the crowd feeds adrenaline buzzing at the speed of light through my veins. The familiar vibration of the bike’s engine securely tucked between my legs locks me into that special frame of mind, where things move in slow motion, allowing me to do what it is that I do best.

This is it.

Why I’ve busted my ass every day for the last decade.

The final tour stop of the year.

Winner takes all.

Me or him.

Do or die.

Tightly wrapping my fingers around the throttle, I coast down the ramp, picking up speed as I go. By the time the tires hit the clay-colored earth, I envision myself executing the trick—my trick—flawlessly, from takeoff to landing, exactly like I do each and every time I nail the 501 Double Backflip.

Moments later, I’m soaring through the air, defying gravity. Back arching, I use my body’s strength to propel myself, flipping my bike into two full, backward rotations. This is why I work my body to the brink of exhaustion.

First flip. My bike above me. Through my goggles, I see nothing between me and the man-made track underneath. Beautiful.

Second flip. Out of the corner of my eye, I see a flash of yellow and twist my head instinctively, wondering if it was her. If she came to watch. A collective gasp from the packed crowd can be heard a split-second before I look away from the multitude of camera flashes around the arena and glance down below.

It’s like time sped up and I’m not there. I skipped a step. I blinked too hard and too long.

Something’s wrong. The ground is too close, rushing at me too fast. I still have half a rotation to go, but without the space. Time slows, even as the clay track hurries to greet me . . . but it’s too late. The world is a blur, the sounds roar of white noise. I’m under the bike, not on top of it. I turn my head again, eyes squinted as if to ward off the imminent pain. I picture her face. I picture her on the sidelines. Even if it wasn’t her, I want to pretend. Pretend she came to see. Pretend she cares.

I feel the brush of dirt before I register the impact. It’s gritty and hard, and I know before I feel anything . . . this is going to fucking hurt.

The last thing I remember is the sound of bones crunching, shattering to pieces like the gravel around me, as I hit the cement-like ground. White-hot pain shoots through my body like a speeding locomotive. The breath is forced from my body. I try to suck it back in, try to fill my lungs because without the air, I can’t even gasp in pain. I can’t yell or cry or scream. It all happens inside, trapped and fighting to get out. But I can’t. My chest is collapsed in protest, locked and frozen in shock. All I can get are short pants of oxygen through my nostrils. The dust settles inside and I want to cough it out, but I don’t even dare. Instead, I lay there and choke.

All around me is silence. Motors are shut down, not even idling. There are no murmurs from the crowd. My throat is burning and the sun is piercing my eyes. I feel footsteps rush up beside me, shaking the ground, jostling me, and exacerbating my pain tenfold.

As a form leans over me, blocking out the heat from the harsh rays, numbness settles over me. Head to toe, I can’t feel a fucking thing.

This was it.

Why I’d busted my ass every day for the last decade.

The final tour stop of the year.

It was winner takes all.

It was me or him.

It was do or die . . .

And I’m pretty sure I just died.



Nearly three hours after leaving my Denver apartment, I shift the transmission of my cherry-red Jeep into park in front of my parents’ house outside of Breckenridge and slump back into the leather driver’s seat, releasing an exhausted sigh. According to Google maps, the drive from my front door to theirs should’ve taken about an hour and a half, but that didn’t account for the tractor trailer that jackknifed across Highway 70 a little ways in front of me, spilling its shipment of cotton balls, and bringing