This author did not provide a biographical note.

Worth the Risk

by H. I. Brown

Meredith heard the motorcycle before she saw it. She turned from where she stood at the coffee machine to the window, and presently the black Triumph Street Triple standard came into view, humming along the road, slowed at the bottom of her driveway, turned, and revved up to the house. Meredith smiled, her heart aglow. She poured a second cup of coffee, and let herself out the door to greet her visitor.

The bike growled to a halt. The biker removed his helmet and hung it on the handlebar, then faced her, dressed in black leather from his broad shoulders to his mud-spattered boots, a large white cross patch on the back of his jacket, the warm glow of the sparkle in his eyes reflecting the sunshine that had burst in her own spirit. He let himself inside the gated yard and approached her.

“Levi, hi!” she greeted him.

“Hey!” he laughed, and spread his arms.

She pressed herself into his embrace. He held her clasped in his arms for a moment, then released her with a squeeze and retreated a respectful step back.

She grinned up at him. “You must’ve gotten up when it was still dark. What are you doing here this early?”

His eyes sparkled. “You were on my way, and I just thought I’d get out early enough to come by and see you before your shift starts.”

“Well, here, since you’re here.”

She handed him the coffee. He downed a sip, growling at the bitter taste of it black. “Did I ever tell you you make biker coffee, girl?”

She chuckled, her eyes flashing sparks off his humor. “Deal with it. It’s firefighter coffee.”

He laughed.

Meredith frowned, the rush of joy at seeing him overshadowed by anxiety as she realized what it meant that he had ridden to her house on his bike.

“You’re taking that thing to Klamath Falls? Why don’t you take your truck?”

Never in her life had Meredith thought she would love a man who rode a motorcycle and smoked. She wanted nothing to do with those who did such things, as she already considered such a one to be reckless and irresponsible. And if her first glimpse of Levi had been while he was seated on his bike with a pack of cigarettes in his jacket pocket, she never would have looked at him again.

But she had not met him that way. She had met him in church. As their conversations had lengthened, each found, to the other’s surprise, that they were the corresponding counterpart to each other’s soul. She loved him for his character, his sober and genuine grasp of what was important and what was not, and his brokenness, without which he would never have reached the depth of soul that set him apart from most men. His mother had left when he was eight, and his father, a man of explosive temper and sharp words, had brutalized and terrorized the boy until he was sixteen—when he left home to live in his car for four years until he had secured a place to live.

And she knew that he loved her. She knew, because he had not carried a pack of cigarettes in his pocket for nine months. She reflected on that conversation from time to time.

“I love you,” she had told him. “I love you, and I never want to lose you to something as stupid as a pack of cigarettes. Those things will kill you. It hurts me every time I see you smoke one.”

She remembered the look in his eyes, a deep and sober respect, a profound humility, as if he couldn’t believe the words she was saying to him, couldn’t believe that she was standing in front of him telling him she loved him.

“And it is going to hurt me every time I see that, all my life. So… please, you’ve got to give up smoking, please. If we’re going to be together… you’ve got to. Because I can’t do this if you don’t.”

He had been silent for a moment, his lips parted as if he intended to speak, but breathless as if he could not determine what to say. His eyes had glowed softly. “Okay,” he had said, simply. “Okay.”

But while he had quit smoking, she could not seem to prevail against him to sell his motorcycle. She had seen enough horrific motorcycle wrecks in her years as a firefighter and EMT to hate the things, but Levi stubbornly shrugged off her pleas, and she was beginning to feel that she could not make a dent in his tenacity for that particular habit.

And he was riding his motorcycle on the long, dangerous drive to Klamath Falls.

“There’s a reason they call them ‘murdercycles,’ you know.” Her tone was teasing, but she was dead serious.

He knew it. “Yeah… I know,” he conceded. “Well, I’d better let you go.” He returned the coffee cup.

“Okay. Please be careful,” she said through the ache in her voice.

“I will. God bless your shift!”

He let himself out the gate and mounted his bike. She returned his wave and his smile, and he turned and rumbled down the driveway.

Meredith drew a breath against the anxiety swelling beneath her lungs as she watched him go, a prayer upon her lips. “Oh Lord, please keep him safe…. Please.

She turned and let herself back into the house, but the worry that tugged at her heart would not go away.


The tones sounded for a call for Meredith’s fire station. When she heard the dispatch information, her heart froze, and she could not breathe. There had been a motorcycle wreck, involving a young male rider, on Highway 140 not far along the route to Klamath Falls.

Once on scene, Meredith and the crew unloaded from the truck. Skid marks drew a swerving path to the bent guardrail, and glass and fragments of metal littered the pavement. Law enforcement was controlling traffic.

A state trooper approached them, his face grave and severe. “Witness says a deer ran out in front of him and he swerved to miss it and went straight into the guardrail,” he explained. “He’s in the trees down there,” he pointed off to the roadside, “about fifty feet from the bike. Deputy sheriff was first on scene and applied a tourniquet to his left leg, his thigh. But otherwise we haven’t moved him. It’s a bad one, though.”

Carrying oxygen and suction equipment and a long backboard, the fire crew climbed over the guardrail.

Oh God, her heart beat the rhythm of the prayer, please, please no. Oh God, please no.

They started down the steep bank that fell away from the roadside, dropping several yards down into the forest that sloped away below. Meredith felt her heart freeze as her eyes fell to what lay below them. A black Triumph Street Triple lay nearly at the bottom of the shoulder, headlight broken, front wheel gone, handlebars mangled and detached. Meredith could hear her heart roaring in her ears as she fought to breathe, swallowing back the bile and panic that rose in sickening dread in her throat, feeling as though her legs were about to buckle beneath her as she stumbled down the steep bank. Her mind refused to accept the unimaginable reality that presented itself to her, refused to believe it, refused to give in to the horror that would crush her if she did, until she was sure.

Oh God, please no… Oh God….

As they descended the hill, she spotted the rider, a patch of black leather lying awkwardly at the tree line, like a discarded article of cloth some motorist had cast out of their window along the roadway. The deputy sheriff stood near him, his hands still covered in blood from applying the tourniquet; he backed away as the fire crew approached to give them room to work. As they neared, she saw that the man lay unmoving, wrapped around a tree where his chest and side had caught the trunk as he had come to a stop from his headlong tumble from the roadside.

Oh God… no….

Meredith fought down the churning of her stomach, and the edges of her vision began to dim as the panic in her heaving chest threatened to swamp her. He was dressed all in black leather, his large, tall form sprawled in horrific unreality against the tree in the dirt and blood.

Oh God… please…

As they neared him, she noticed the lion’s head emblem, not a cross, emblazoned on the back of his riding jacket…. The relief that he was not Levi almost buckled her knees, her ears roaring and hissing in shock as she found herself to be involuntarily gasping in horror, but the relief was immediately replaced with the equally visceral realization that this man was someone’s loved one, that every feature of his face, every inflection of his voice, every facet of his character, was precious, was treasured, was counted dear by someone, as Levi was to her, and the shock combined with this understanding hardened immediately into urgent and competent purpose.

Lord, she pleaded, all her heart in the prayer, please be with me, please help me, please guide my hands. Please save this man’s life, please save his soul, please put Your hand upon him and help me know what to do, help him to return to his family. Amen. And she felt at that moment the peace and the confidence, the assurance of God’s hand upon the situation, that she always felt when she prayed at the scene of a call.

The blood and torn up soil, the marks where the man’s body had skidded across the ground, told what had occurred. As the bike had flipped from the high-speed impact with the guardrail, he had been hurled over the handlebars, one handlebar catching his left leg, which lay flexed and twisted beneath him, deformed at the thigh below the tourniquet the deputy had applied, his leggings torn and stained bright red where the bone had pierced the leather, the soil and pine needles beneath him flecked with spots and blotched with rubbery, opaque clots of blood the size of her hand. If the deputy sheriff had not arrived when he did and immediately applied the tourniquet, he would have bled to death before the fire crew arrived. He had plowed into the ground headfirst, and his momentum had carried him tumbling head over heels into the tree trunk. His helmet lay broken in three pieces several yards from where he lay.

“Okay,” the fire captain instructed the crew. “Let’s get his airway clear and get him on the backboard.”


Time faded out, became irrelevant, as the young man broken on the ground before her became to Meredith at that moment the only person in the world, and she did not know how long she and the crew labored over him.

“Medics are here,” one of the firefighters commented, and Meredith looked up to see the ambulance roll up at the top of the embankment. Soon the advanced life support team was navigating their way down the shoulder of the roadside.

“Thank God you guys are here,” she exclaimed.

The fire captain stepped forward to address the paramedic who approached them. “Fractures to cervical and thoracic spine,” he reported, “blood in his ears bilaterally so possible skull fracture, malocclusion so probable jaw fracture, several broken ribs and flail chest on right chest, diminished breath sounds on right side so possible collapsed lung, massive bruising to right upper quadrant so possible liver laceration….” He summarized his crew’s findings and the medical interventions they’d performed, detailing the nearly endless enumeration of obvious and suspected damage, to provide the emergency medical personnel with the information they needed to take over his care.

The fire crew assisted the EMTs and paramedics in the difficult task of carrying the young man, strapped securely to a long backboard, up the bank, and transferred him to the ambulance stretcher.

As the ambulance lit up the siren and pulled away, Meredith felt her composure shatter as the pressure to perform the best she could to save the young man’s life vanished; she had been leaning against it, and when it caved beneath her, she crumbled too.

She did not know whether the young man would survive his injuries, if he would ever wake up from the massive injury his brain had sustained. If he did wake, he may have to learn how to walk again, how to speak again, how to swallow again, and may never. He was probably paralyzed, perhaps from the neck down. Even if he survived with the best possible outcome, no paralysis, and only mild brain damage that left him with only difficulty remembering things and an inconvenient propensity to occasionally act on impulse without thinking for the rest of his life, this day had changed his life forever, in just a few short seconds, and he would never remember it. And all because a deer had run out in front of him. If he had been driving a car, they would have been cleaning his blood from the airbag, not extricating him from around a tree.

She gazed down the embankment at the mangled Triumph Street Triple, and just how horrible it all was suddenly rose up in her in a sickening wave. Suddenly, she doubled over, her back turned to the responders on roadside, and vomited over the guardrail. She rocked back, trembling, sobs rising in her throat.

Another firefighter was immediately beside her. “You okay?” she asked, her face pained and concerned.

Meredith stared down the hill at the broken bike. “When we first drove up on scene,” she murmured, her voice barely audible, “I thought it was Levi.”

The firefighter’s face turned pale as she realized.

Meredith leaned into her friend’s embrace, racked with sobs.


At the fire station, Meredith dialed Levi’s number. She just wanted to hear his voice. Her heart beat hard beneath her throat as she listened into the phone as it rang into the silence, counting the seconds.

He picked up. “Hey, you.”

Her chest heaved. “Levi, where are you?”

“I’m just heading back out to Klamath Falls now,” he explained. “I went back into town to do a few things before heading out, and by the time I got going there was a wreck on One-Forty that had traffic all backed up. I turned back. I really want to get that bike part before I go back to work tomorrow or else I won’t be able to get it for another week, though, so I decided to head over after all that. I’ll make it by nightfall; the guy says he can meet me at eight. It’s supposed to rain this evening, though, so I stopped back by the house and took the truck. Be a late night, but if it gets too late I can just sleep in the truck and get back in time for work in the morning.”

The silence stretched after his words, too long.

“Meredith, are you okay?”

“Yeah,” she managed, swallowing back tears.

“Bad call?” His voice had turned gentle, deep with understanding concern.

She choked on the words then. “Gotta go,” she managed.

“Okay.” She heard him draw a breath. “I love you, Meredith. You call me if you need me.”

The tears came then, released in a flood tide of grief, dread, relief, and care that seized her in its grip and wracked her entire body in sobs that crushed the breath from her. She hung up, unable to speak.


That night, after her shift had concluded, Meredith drove home, alone with her thoughts that pressed in on every side. Once home and changed from her uniform into loose hoodie and jeans, she lowered herself into the easy chair by the window without turning on a light, and stared into the darkness outside. She could not sleep. She knew better than to try. It was better to sit and stare.

Still, the image of that young man’s face, pale and smeared with blood and dirt, the crunch of his broken neck beneath her fingers, the scattered fragments of the bike strewn over the road shoulder in disarrayed testament to the violence of force and momentum visited upon the unrestrained and exposed rider, thrust itself to the surface of her mind. She remembered the jerking of his legs and the trembling of his hands as his oxygen-deprived brain racked his body with convulsions, the red-stained froth as she suctioned the vomit and blood from his bitten tongue and broken teeth from the back of his throat, the tinge of dark, alarming blue about his lips as she sealed the oxygen mask over his face once the shaking had stopped. She remembered the relief as she heard him draw a clear, unobstructed breath. She remembered the dark brows, the strong chin, the large hands, the face someone knew and loved.

She realized suddenly that she was weeping uncontrollably, tears rolling hot and fast down her face. She didn’t brush them away. The pain, the grief, the dread, the fear, and the love rose within her in a crushing, overwhelming flood.

She did not want to live in a world where these things could happen, where you could love someone that much and, in an instant, lose them to some stupid, senseless accident. The pain of even the thought was too much for her, the agony that threatened to tear her heart out if it ever were to sink its teeth into her life raking across her soul. She had seen too much death, too much suffering, too much damage, too much tragedy, to not keep it from happening, at all and any cost, if she could do anything to protect those she loved. The anger rose, and hardened like a spearhead forged sharp by pain.

She lurched from her seat. She reached into the corner of the room in the gap between the wall and a bookcase, and pulled out the twelve-gauge shotgun she kept there for self defense or predator control. She opened the gun safe where she stored ammunition, and reached for a box of copper-plated buckshot. She strode out of the house, the shotgun gripped resolutely in her hand. She opened the back door of her truck and laid it across the back seat.

She had several long minutes to think about what she intended to do by the time she reached Levi’s house in the woods, but all she could feel was the pain and the black, roiling fury in her chest, dark and immovable as glowering thunderclouds, obscuring all else.

As she pulled up to his house, she confirmed that he was still not home; he had probably opted to stop halfway back and sleep in the truck. His motorcycle stood next to the house, gleaming in the moonlight.

Meredith got out of the truck and took the shotgun from the back seat. She donned the safety glasses and ear protection her first responder’s insistence on safety had compelled her to bring.

She stopped a few yards away from the motorcycle, took a breath, then threw the shotgun up to her shoulder, sighted, and fired.

By the time she had emptied the full box of shells, the bike looked as if it had been bombed. Fragments of metal, glass, foam, shell casings and plastic shotshell wads lay around it in a debris field.

Meredith stood trembling, her heart pounding into the silence of the night which followed the barrage, as the reality of what she had done began to sink in. She laid the shotgun across her back seat again, and set the empty shotshell box beside it, then pulled off her glasses and earmuffs. She stood for a moment, breathing hard, until the last of the fury and pain burning in her chest faded and spent itself, while her saner reason contemplated in detached surprise what she had just done.

Before she left, she turned one last time to look at the bike.

She was not sorry. After what she had seen, she would rather see Levi sitting in the driver’s seat of a truck shielded from the ricocheting metal, the asphalt, the guardrail, the tree trunks, and the unmitigated forces of gravity and momentum by an engine, a back seat, a roof, a floor, a backrest, headrest, and restraining seatbelt, two metal doors, two airbags, and three laminated glass windows, even if it meant he never spoke to her again, than see him lying broken on the side of the road. She would rather he hate her and be alive than lose this remarkable, beautiful, precious man she loved so much it hurt to some stupid cause and know that it could have been prevented.

Without a regret, she drove home.


The next morning, Meredith’s heart leaped when her phone rang. It was Levi. She had slept only an hour or two; she was glad she did not have a shift that day.

“Hey.” His voice was astonished, disbelief ringing in every word. “Uh, you’re never gonna believe this, but uh, someone, ah, destroyed my motorcycle last night while I was gone. Like, literally destroyed it… looks like they used a shotgun. There are shells everywhere. Must be twenty, twenty-five shots. I just, have like, absolutely no idea… what happened, or why, or who did it, or…. Yeah, this is just crazy.”

She remained silent.

“Wait—” Disbelief raised his deep voice to a pitch it almost never attained, “Meredith, did you—?”

She did not answer.

“You did it!”

She heard him scoff in utter disbelief. Several seconds’ silence followed.

“Meredith, why?” he stuttered. “Why did you do that?”

Her heart was pounding so hard in her throat that she was for a moment unsure if she could answer him. She swallowed, and drew a deep breath against the tightness of her chest, preparing for the worst.

“That wreck on One-Forty yesterday….” The words dropped from her mouth like shards of glass, “I was called to it. It… it was a motorcycle wreck, a young man… he swerved to miss a deer and went head over handlebars over the guardrail, and he went down the bank into the trees. He’d hit the ground with his face so he had a skull fracture and his jaw was broken and his teeth were all messed up and he was choking…. Massive TBI, his back broken in two places, fractured ribs, collapsed lung, bruised liver….” She let her tears fall unashamed. “Last I heard, he was on a ventilator, and they didn’t know if he was gonna make it through the night. If he does, they don’t know how much function he’ll regain, his brain was pretty damaged…. He was so young.” She drew a deep, shuddering breath. “When… when we first got to the scene… I thought… it was you….”

She choked, and Levi said nothing while she fought to gather the breath to speak.

“I can’t do that. I can’t. I can’t roll up to a bike wreck and see you lying there like that. I just can’t do it. I’m not gonna let that happen. I can’t. So….”

There was nothing else to say.

When Levi did speak, his voice was low, guttural, and unreadable. “Come see me at the house.”


“Right now.”

She gulped, her voice dead. “Okay.”

He hung up before she did.


When she pulled up to Levi’s house, he was waiting for her, standing in front of the destroyed bike with his arms crossed over his chest.

She approached him as though she expected the ground to cave beneath her, her boots scuffing in the gravel.

He came to her, covering the ground quickly with his long strides, and enfolded her in an embrace so tight it crushed the breath from her, enveloping her in the sound of his beating heart. After several long seconds of surprise, Meredith allowed herself to melt into him, and wrapped her own arms tight around his shoulders as she had wanted to do all the harrowing day before. Then she felt his chest heave beneath her cheek as he drew a breath, and he released her.

He held her at arms’ length with his strong hands on her shoulders, his gaze glowing warm upon her. To her surprise, she noticed that there were tears in his eyes, and as he blinked, they spilled to roll down his whiskered cheeks.

With his next words, he surprised her yet again. “Thank you,” he said.

She furrowed her brow, bewildered. “I destroyed your bike.”

He gulped, and more tears spilled. He lifted a hand from her shoulder to brush them away. “I don’t mind,” he said, his deep, strong voice broken by tears. “I’m not… used to having someone care about me… someone worry about me. I’ve… never had someone care about me like that.” He shook his head. “Ever.”

Tears welled in her own eyes as he continued.

“So I don’t mind. … I’ve never had someone, someone that it mattered if something happened to me, and… and I need to do something about that… I need to take care of myself now. It’s different now… it’s not just me now… I need to take care of myself for you. And I wanna do it. For you. I need to do it. So… ” he drew a breath, and met her eyes, “thank you for caring.”

“I love you,” she said, and she heard something break in his throat.

They held each other for a time, then at long last broke away, each brushing away tears.

Levi cleared his throat, then turned to look at her, that mischievous twinkle she knew and loved so well returning to his eyes, and suddenly a full-toothed smile broke over his face through the drying tears. “But you know,” he said, “I did actually just find a buyer for the bike.”

Meredith’s brows rose in astonishment. “What—? You were selling it?”

He grinned, nodding.

“No way!” She laughed.

“Yeah!” He chuckled, rolling his eyes at the bike. “And now I’ve gotta call the guy and tell him my crazy girlfriend shot my bike.”

Meredith snorted, unable to contain the hilarity of the irony, and Levi’s full-chested laugh mingled with hers.

“Maybe you could still sell it for… parts?” she offered, half apologetically.

He shook his head, his face alight with his full, bright grin. “No way. I’m going to keep it just the way it is. Every time I see it, I’ll remember how much you love me.” His eyes glowed as he met her gaze. “And that you are worth it all.”

Copyright 2024 by H. I. Brown