The Demon Scorcher

THERE IS A MAN–if he is a man–in Boshoff Street who possesses a motor cycle (relates The Witness) who cleaves the air with the speed of a cyclone and the noise of a traction engine. Who he is, where he comes from, whither he goes, why, indeed, he breathes and has his being, are mysteries unfathomable. No one has seen him on his bicycle in the light of day, and the legend is gradually growing in the neighbourhood that man and bike are the disembodied spirits of some demon cyclist, who departed hence, machine and all, in a cloud of brimstone, and is still scorching on the other side.
Every night, as darkness falls, before the lamps are lit, and when the shapes of trees and houses stand out unreal and ghost-like, the neighbours congregate in little groups and listen awestruck and spellbound. Afar off, below the belt of low mist, that hangs shroud-like in the steep dip of the street, comes a faint thud thud, like the throbbing of an artery. It grows louder, and comes nearer. Dogs crawl whining into their kennels, children flee screaming, wives cling to each other’s husbands, and young maidens grasp the first male arm which they observe extended in their direction. All is terror and excitement.
Up the steep slope comes the thud, thud of the demon cycle, the rush of its demon wheels, and the fierce snort of its demon rider. There is no lamp on the machine, but a pale scorching glow radiates from its wheels and chases the shadows away, like imps of darkness. It is neither a heavenly nor an earthly light, but if you listen to the most frequent ejaculation of awestruck spectators of the scene you will form an idea of where it is supposed to come from. As the apparition comes nearer the air becomes more sulphurous. Unsuspecting pedestrians, feeling the sudden impact of the infernal machine upon their heels, and the breath of its demon rider on the necks, jump with marvellous agility, adding immediately and directly a deeper shade to the already cerulean atmosphere.
Nobody catches more than a passing glimpse of the spectre cyclist. Impelled by no human agency, the winged apparition sweeps past them, and perchance over them, with the swiftness of a thunderbolt. Low down on the handle-bars of the machine crouches a demon form, with eyes agaggle, jaws dripping, bristles on end, and on its features the stare of a maniac or a corpse. But it is gone, like last month’s salary, almost in the twinking of an eye.
Away up the street the rush of the wheels and the thud, thud, thud grows fainter, and at length dies away to silence. From the roadway human forms arise, and limp, smitten by the pestilence, into the adjacent houses.
Presently the street lamps flicker apologetically into existence, and try to look as unlike glow-worms and as much like lamps as they can manage in Boshoff Street. Then timid residents go indoors shuddering. Doors are locked and bolted, window blinds are drawn, frightened females make hurried search, according to custom, under beds and behind boxes, while brave men brag together of what they intend to do to the Demon Scorcher next time.
But they have done nothing yet, and only on Monday night he was seen in Boshoff Street as usual.