Standing by the used car lot in my rundown neighborhood only made me anxious since a string of murders had taken place right on this corner in the last week. I was scared to turn around thinking I was about to become the next victim. I worked the night shift as a security guard in a funky warehouse in the middle of Manhattan. It took nearly two hours to get there by mass transit.
“Hey buddy, can you hear me?” The voice was deep and just a bit too gravelly, like the guy gargled with marbles. I turned slowly expecting a knife or something quick and probably painful. No one was there.
On the corner where I waited for the bus stood a used car lot. It had been in my neighborhood for decades. The owner hadn’t been seen for a while, which wasn’t all that unusual since most people thought this was a money laundering site and affiliated with the mob. As long as this criminal enterprise paid the police, nobody would bother them; business as usual in the Big Apple.
At the very corner of the lot, nearest the stop, was an old 1957 Chevy; the original fin-mobile. The lot didn’t have a fence, only those giant concrete posts. Impossible to drive over and no one dared damage the cars even in the Bronx, unless you wanted a one way trip to the grave.
The old Chevy had seen better days. Superficially it seemed okay, at first. Then I noticed its bent antenna. Bent just enough, it couldn’t be retracted and covered with a fine red rust. When I looked a little longer, I noticed rust in all of its seams, between the bumpers, around the lights; the chrome piping was dented and chipped, and the headlights were filmy and grey. Its once-epic paint job was a black body with once-bright flames coming from the front end in a stylized swoosh. That too had seen better days, faded, washed out and gave an overall feeling of malaise to the look of what was once a beautiful vehicle.
I had left the bus stop fascinated with this antique, this relic, out of time, and out of place on this corner surrounded by lots of more modern vehicles. Then I heard that gritty voice again and this time from right in front of me. “I am so glad you came over to see me. I have got to get out of here.”
Clearly my hat was on too tight. I took it off, scratched my head and put it back on. I looked in the passenger’s seat, then the driver’s and then in the back for good measure. I figured someone must be filming this and any moment a team from Punk’d was gonna bounce out and start laughing. No one came up. I didn’t see any cameras. As a matter of fact, I didn’t see anyone on the lot.
“Okay, I’ll bite, what do you want me do, Mr. Talking Car? How can I be of service?”
“I need to kill someone in 24 hours or I will be repo’ed back to Hell.”
“If you are a registered Hell-Car, why do you need my help?”
“Registered might be too strong a word. I am indeed a bonified Hell-Car, ala Christine fame, but I was not supposed to escape Hell.”
“You realize I don’t believe in Hell, right? I was just trying to see if I could trick you.”
“Do I look amused to you? Does this look like a joke to you? Why don’t you look a little closer at that “rust” you think you see.”
I got a little closer to the antenna to look at the rust. I strained and focused. I couldn’t believe my eyes. The rust was moving. I took out my pocket flashlight and lit the antenna and I stared harder. I could make out the shapes of people writhing, squirming over each other, rising and sinking into what appeared to be lava…The antenna of the car whacked me in the face. “Hey, what the Hell was that for?”
“Do we understand each other? I need a driver, you need a car and we both need a murder. Capeesh?”
“Wait just a damn minute. I didn’t agree to murder anyone…Did you say I get to drive you? Where ever I want?”
“Yes, I did.”
“What kind of mileage do you get? I don’t have money for gas. I barely have busfare.”
“We don’t need no stinking gas. We get a thousand miles a soul.”
“What kind of mileage do you have on you right now…Just curious. I mean you are covered in rust…”
“Okay, I did get a lot of miles in during the sixties. People wanted to drag race, a number did run off of cliffs or around Dead Man’s Curves but after sixty or seventy, I got bored with that and found my way into Hollywood. Then I claimed a few dozen parties, frat houses, the occasional bar mitzvah. Those were the good old days.”
“You were in Hollywood? Getta outta town. In any roles I know?”
“My favorite role was the car Christine, who was by the way a cousin of mine. When times got hard, I started getting cast in B movies. I had to change my appearance to get roles. Nobody wanted a ’57 in 1977. My last sweet role was in a flick called “The Car.” A total dog too. Stunk up the theatres.”
“Is that the one where The Car runs a kid on a bike off a bridge, and then tumbles down the street to crush two police cars and then lands and keeps on driving?”
“The very same. I am touched you know my work.”
“Man, that is my favorite movie. Can you look like that right now?”
“Are you gonna drive me off the lot? That’s the way the gig works.”
“You look like the Car, and I know a bunch of people who might need to get run over, by accident, of course.”
“Done and Done.” The ’57 Chevy contorted. There was a popping sound like rivets being driven into metal. I could swear I heard the sounds of people screaming in agony. No one opened their windows to shout out or complain so I figured it was just me.
The car stretched, it got longer, much longer. The front end kept its weird eye-like appearance and the bumper grew thicker, the grill wider and more sinister, the windows tinted and the inside disappeared from view. In a few minutes the Chevy was gone replaced with a 1970 vaguely Lincoln shaped vehicle. Did I mention it was nearly twenty feet long and almost nine feet wide? It didn’t look this big on television. The black and red were replaced with a smoky grey and matte black finish with bright and shiny chrome.
The door opened. Inside I could see the blood red leather seats and a featureless dashboard. “What? No radio?”
Two silver knobs appeared as I got into the car and settled down into the plush leather seats. The bus stop in front of me showed two men approaching an old woman who showed up as I was taking my seat. One whipped out a bat and began beating the old woman in the head.
I turned on the radio, hoping for something with a beat that I could dance to it. Instead I got “Hot Rod Lincoln”. “What the hell is that coming out of the stereo?”
“I’m a hell-car, I only get AM Gold. Get used to it. Looks like we got three thousand miles in front of us if we hurry…”
Who argues with a twenty foot long car? I always wanted to visit California, and with a crunchy snap, a crushed concrete post, a demolished bus stop and two murderers murdered, we were on our way to sunny California. Yes, we got grandma too, but she was gonna die anyway. I mean the guy hit her right in the head with a bat…
Road Trip © Thaddeus Howze 2013, All Rights Reserved
Image of The Car © Universal Pictures, 1977
The Good Old Days. Did I mention, I have some unfinished business with a movie critic in Utah?