Of Fast Cars and Slow Karma
George T. Philibin
"What the hell is this? My pay went in today!" Jeffery yelped.
"Honey, calm down," Jean said. "Try again." Her blue eyes flashed and her jet-black hair flaring like a silken cape as she glanced quickly around to see if her husband's outburst was drawing attention.
Jeffery looked at his card, wiped it off, swiped it again, and made sure the card slid through evenly. He took time entering his PIN.
The machine flashed NO FUNDS AVAILABLE.
"Oh, for Peteís sake..." Jeffery ranted.
"Honey, here, let me try," Jean said.
Jean swiped the card, entered the PIN and waited.
A moment later the machine flashed, ONE THOUSAND DOLLARS FOR YOU -- HONEY!
"I never seen that on an ATM machine before," Jean said.
Jefferyís eyes narrowed as he glared at the screen. He brushed his auburn hair back as he studied the display. Both heard a whirl of gears turning inside the machine, and the sound reminded Jeffery of the old Lionel model trains that he had played with as a kid. Yet, the sound was different. Different like the machine were thinking, or laughing by the only means it had.
"That is weird," Jean added. "How much should I get?"
"Hit the quick-cash for sixty," Jeffery said.
Jean pushed the button, flinching as an icy chill stung her fingertip. "Geez, you'd think the machine was outside, and in Alaska, too," she complained. But for her, the machine worked, flashing PLEASE TAKE YOUR MONEY as the sound of gears whirled and bills flicked into the pick-up slot.
"Make sure itís sixty," Jeffery said.
"Twenty, forty, sixty," Jean said. "At least it got that right. But Jeffery, I donít like it calling me 'Honey'. It seems kind of inappropriate, you know?"
Jeffery looked around and found the security camera embedded in the brick wall with its lens aimed at him. He looked directly into the camera and shook his head.
A red and white '57 Chevy in pristine condition with eleven-inch slicks on the rear wheels sat at the red light, Jeffery noticed. Its glass-packed duel exhaust bellowed blah-blah-blah-blah loud enough to make the window in the ATM alcove vibrate.
Jeffery glanced at the Chevy. Cool night air made everything crisper as he watched the Chevy go when the light turned green.
"They must have a clown working there -- some computer geek who thinks itís real cute to add his personal touch," Jeffery said.
"Well, we got the money," Jean said.
"I donít like this shit," Jeffery said as Jean walked back to their Toyota.
As Jeffery continued to look around the alcove, his eyes glanced at the display again. He froze as he read, NICE CAR, WASNĎT IT? TOO BAD YOUĎLL NEVER HAVE ONE! YOU NEVER LISTENED TO YOU MOTHER!
"Jeffery, are you coming? Forget about that stupid machine," Jean said.
The ATM next flashed YOUR WIFE IS CALLING YOU. SHE IS A REAL HONEY -- ISNíT SHE?
Jeffery looked at the camera and said, "Pal, your ass is mine tomorrow!"
As he walked towards the car, Jeffery turned around and yelled, "Tomorrow, ass-hole!"
"What the hell was that all about?" Jean inquired.
"Some security guard must be fooling around. He sees us, then types some crap onto the screen. Thatís how "Honey" popped up I bet!" Jeffery added.
"I donít like being called 'Honey' by -- by a machine -- but it's worse if some guy is watching me and --" Jean started to say, but Jeffery interjected, "Tomorrow me and that bankís going to have a little pow-wow, and I donít care if somebody gets their ass fired!"
"Jeffery, maybe you should let it go, no harm was done," Jean said. "You know the bank? They might put some surcharge or extra maintenance fee on our account because something weird happened. Theyíre so good at that!"
The Toyota pulled out and headed down Elm Street. The í57 Chevyís taillights came into view and Jeffery read "HONEY-1" on the license plate. His eyes scanned the plate again for his mind didnít believe them. The plate has 'Honey' on it! Do you understand, Jeffery? The plate has 'Honey' on it!
"Look at that --" Jeffery muttered.
But this time Jean interrupted him, yelping "Whatís this? Counterfeit money! Look!"
Jeffery pulled over. As his eyes focused, his face turned red.
"Look!!" Jean yelled.
From the center of the twenty-dollar bills, Jeanís wedding picture almost jumped out at him!
"What the fuck --" Jeffery started to say, but before he continued he swung the Toyota around and floored the accelerator. "This shit has gone too far ... Iím going back and bang of the bankís door until somebody shows up!"
"No youíre not!" Jean screamed. "Not tonight! The bank will be open tomorrow and we can go there then. Jeffery, you canít do anything tonight--you know that!
Letís stop at another machine," Jean added. "I have the slip and we can show it to the bank tomorrow with this counterfeit money. Jeffery, leave it alone!"
After traveling another half a block, Jeffery turned again.
Four blocks down a convenience store with bright white lights that washed over its parking lot and gas pumps also lit up "ATM MACHINE." As Jeffery pulled in, he noticed the '57 Chevy parked at one end.
"I can just imagine the fee weíre going to pay here. This is bullshit," Jeffery said. "This machine isnít our bankís."
The ATM machine inside sat off to the left.
A large guy with tattoos crawling over his arms towered over the machine, and as he punched in his PIN, he said over and over again to himself, but loud enough that Jeffery could hear: "Honey, youíre the greatest!" And after each chant, he laughed, a laughter that sounded like an old car trying to start in winter when the engine turns over slowly.
One of the clerks looked over at Jeffery and smiled. He didnít return her smile; in fact he frowned a little as his eyes studied her. She continued to smile as she turned her head away.
When the guy with the Tattoos finished, Jeffery drew out sixty dollars. He took the receipt and showed it to Jean.
"Thereís only sixty dollars drawn out. What about the counterfeit money?" Jean asked.
Jeffery studied the receipt and said, "Let me see the other one."
"Look at this," Jeffery said after Jean handed him the first receipt. "Read the numbers then take a look at the bottom."
Jean read her SSN number and Jefferyís SSN number and their address and their cellphone numbers. At the bottom she read YOUíRE A REALLY HONEY, JEAN.
"We are most definitely going to the bank tomorrow! This is personal information and nobody should get away with this." Jean stated.
The '57 Chevy fired up its engine, and the rumble of glassed-packed mufflers vibrated the large front windows and transmitted the rumble inside the store. The deep bass blah-blah-blah-blah reverberated off the walls and caused everyone inside to look out, for the sound-waves could be felt on oneís cheeks.
The guy with the tattoos walked out. He climbed on a Harley.
"Whatís with that car?" Jean asked.
"I donít know...but Iíve seen it before ... somewhere," Jeffery answered.
Yes, Iíve seen that car before. Somewhere? Iím sure about that. In a movie? At a car show? Back in my old neighborhood as a kid? Those thoughts danced in Jefferyís mind as the '57 Chevy pulled out and waited at the red light.
A loud scream of tires burning rubber filled the store as all eyes looked towards the intersection. The '57 Chevy shot up the street like a navy fighter taking off from an aircraft carrier with blue smoke trailing behind, and within a second or two it was gone.
Youíve seen that before! That car and that peel-out start! a voice in Jefferyís mind said, but the where and when of it remained hidden.
Outside, teenage boys ran over and looked up the street at the rapidly disappearing Chevy.
Car lights flashed across Jefferyís face as they walked back to their Toyota. A siren pierced that night, but an ambulance sped up the street.
"Itís so nice with the kids in college now," Jean said. "Letís forget about this ATM nonsense until tomorrow. The critics say this is a very good movie.
"Even with the expense of college itís great that we finally have some time together-----just like when we were dating!" Jeffery said; then Jean leaned over and kissed him on the cheek.
"This movie should be interesting," Jeffery added, but his mind was on something else.
"Hawaii must have been so romantic before Pearl Harbor," Jean said. "So many novels, so many stories -- why the other day, an elderly couple said they met on the eve of Pearl Harbor ...
You shouldnít play in the street! Never! You hear me, Jeffery? You hear me?
Jeffery jumped up. A cold sweat had started forming on his forehead as his heart blasted out each beat so loud, that Jeffery thought a marching band were parading outside. But none was there. Only his heart, pumping away.
He got up, walked down the hall and into the bathroom. The mirror echoed his face as his heart pounded; a thought found its way into his mind, and the thought grew as the mirror reflected his face until a vivid picture of a wrecked red and white '57 Chevy wrapped around a telephone pole became clearer and clearer. The images were black and white at first, but color washed into the scene as if a curtain of mist suddenly opened. Jeffery heard the sirens, the screams, his mother yelling at him, and his father screaming and waving his arms for traffic to stop. The odor of gasoline filled his mind as he remembered the stream of gas running down the sidewalk and forming a pool before it entered a storm-drain.
It canít be the same car! It canít be! Jeffery thought as he looked into the mirror.
The reflection in the mirror changed. Another face appeared looking at him with smiling eyes, but a moment later they turned into narrow slits. Slits that emitted a cold but red-hot light of a hue that Jeffery never had seen before.
Jeffery backed away from the mirror, but the eyes in the mirror followed; growing larger as Jeffery backed away until he touched the shower curtain. He almost tripped backwards into the tub.
"You killed me," the image in the mirror said. "Now Iím going to kill your wife and you canít do anything about it! Ha! What goes around, comes around and Iím coming for Jean! Maybe tomorrow? Maybe next week? Next year? Your birthday? Hers? How about in five seconds! Ha, one life for another. Around and around we go, and where we stop -- only your wife in her grave will know! Ha, ha, ha, ha! I died, she will die. It all will balance out, Jeffery! One for one, me for you, Jean for me, time for time!"
The image held itself, burning and taunting and laughing and frowning in quick succession until it pyramided into form and extended itself out from the mirror to within a foot of Jefferyís face. The slits for eyes started spinning, faster and faster until two eyes appeared and focused sharply, and they said, "Jeffery, Jean is all mine!"
A moment later -- poof, the head vanished.
Sweat poured off Jefferyís forehead as his heart beat faster, and he felt the cold shower curtain that started clinging to the perspiration on his back. He could hear nothing but the pounding of his own heart, boom boom boom, so loud that he was sure that it would wake up Jean, and he felt a vein in his neck throb with each beat. Each heartbeat echoed within him, seeming to enter from outside the window as if a heart as large as a stadium were just beyond his front lawn.
His legs felt cold; his head, hot; his knees, icy, and his elbows, roasting. And his feet frozen as if he were standing on a glacier while his hair soaked up sweat.
Is this a bad dream? Is the guilt still with me after all these years? It wasnít my fault! Not really!
No, it wasnít Jefferyís fault according to the police and eyewitnesses. The '57 Chevy drag racing another car that night swerved to miss ten-year old Jeffery who happened to be riding his bicycle at night on a boulevard with two friends outside his house.
They shouldnít have been drag racing!
My fault? -- No! They shouldnít have been drag racing. Over and over that thought played in Jefferyís mind as he stared at his face in the mirror. Now, almost forty years later, something didnít agree with the thought that had been dormant in the caverns of his mind -- it wasnít my fault -- and that something was making itself known. Jeffery trembled as he looked into the mirror.
"Honey, are you sick?" Jean asked as she stood in the doorway. "You know jalapeños always give you indigestion. You shouldnít have them on your taco salads. Come back to bed; Iíll fix you an Alka-Seltzer."
Jean left for the kitchen, and Jeffery looked back into the mirror. But was it a mirror? Or a window into the past? Maybe a reflection of things hidden in his mind, and after years of hiding, they decided to bubble up. But why now?
"Jean, Jeffery ... we have no record of that transaction. Are you sure it was our ATM machine?" Donald Morgan, the branch bank manager said as he sat in his gray-flannel suit which gave him the appearance of a bank manager from the forties, yet Donald couldnít be more the thirty, at the most.
"Yes, check your camera!" Jeffery said.
"We will, of course," Donald said. "These bills are obviously very good -- er, reproductions. And your wifeís picture is extremely clear. Theyíre not counterfeits but it is still illegal to make bills of this quality even with another picture that replaces Andrew Jackson.
"Sixty dollars was drawn out, as you said, from an ATM machine located at the Nine to Nine Convenience Store at the corner of Elm and Sixth Street. And that is the only record of a withdrawal from your account we have from last night."
"Just check your camera," Jeffery repeated. "Youíll see us."
"Look at the receipt," Jean said. "How could our personal information get on your bank receipt?"
"I donít know -- I donít know. But believe me, we will get to the bottom of this!" Donald said.
"Who works in the bank at night?" Jeffery asked.
"I canít release that information -- bank policy -- but I can tell you that our security is contracted out to professionals -- Chesterfield Security International and they are all over the country and banks are their specialty. But neither the security company nor anyone still in the branch could just override the ATM display as you have described."
As Donald called in his secretary, Jean whispered to Jeffery, "What is this? A scam?"
"I donít know," Jeffery said as he looked at the pictures of Jean on the bills again.
Scam my ass! You know what it is, Jeffery! You know it's no scram! An image of the í57 Chevy running over his wife popped up at him from one of the twenty-dollar bills.
Jeffery stood up and shouted, "This is bullshit! You say that you canít tell me anything about who works here -- or how my wifeís picture wound up on bills from your ATM -- our how our SSN numbers and phone number wound up on your receipt ..."
"Jeffery, calm down!" Jean shouted.
Jeffery grunted, his hands folding into fists before he forced them to relax. He turned around and brushed his hair back with his hand, then asked, "Do you have a menís room?"
"Yes, please use mine," Donald said, obviously alarmed by Jeffery's display of anger. "Itís right through that door."
As Jeffery opened the door, Jean said, "Please excuse him -- he thinks someone is stalking me or something like ..."
"If I were in his shoes, Jean, I would be in the same mood ... and believe me I understand ..."
Jeffery washed his face, feeling the cold water draining the heat from his anger-flushed face and neck. Again and again he washed his face and hands, and the cold water seemed to drown his anger and fear. The soft sound of an exhaust fan that came on settled his nerves as its hum found Jefferyís ears without him consciously hearing it. The distant murmur of voices, some laughing, some engaging in conversation, and some asking questions, leaked though the tiled wall and mixed with the hum of the exhaust fan.
One more splash of cold water on his face brought a thought, and that thought said, You had better remain calm.
"Feel better, Honey?" Jean asked as Jeffery sat down.
"Sorry about the outburst," Jeffery said. "This stuff really has me on edge."
"Thatís quite understandable with what happened," Donald said. He removed his hand from the edge of the desk, and Jeffery suddenly realized that there must be some kind of alarm button there. He'd been dangerously close to getting himself arrested -- and what would happen to Jean then?
"May I keep these bills? Iíll give you a receipt," Donald asked as his blue eyes searched for the right answer.
Without looking at Jeffery, Jean said, "Yes, please take them."
"As a show of good policy, we will pay any fees taken from your account at Nine to Nineís ATM machine," Donald added with a practiced smile.
As Jean and Jeffery left the bank, the '57 Chevy sat idling in the parking lot. Its rumble attracted Jefferyís attention, but the Chevy pulled out and entered traffic. Jean hadnít noticed it, and Jeffery decided not to say anything: remain calm. But he watched it as it left and noted its direction.
"Well, we told them," Jean said after Jeffery started the Toyota.
"I guess it all depends on the camera now. They might think weíre trying to pull something. I can read this Donald. Heíll use this to get his name better known with the higher-ups in the bank, and Iím sure heís already working on the answers heíll give to his bossĎs questions," Jeffery said.
As Jeffery and Jean drove down St. Clair Boulevard, a '57 Chevy sat rumbling on a side street adjacent to the Boulevard. Two teenage boys were looking it over with eyes as large as moons. Back and forth they walked almost marching in time with the blah-blah-blah-blah of the dual exhaust.
The Chevy didnít pull out after Jean and Jeffery drove past. It sat idling, thinking, planning or maybe basking in the attention the two boys were giving it, and before long some other older guys caught a glimpse of it. Soon, a group of young men and a girl hanging on to one of the guys orbited the idling Chevy as it rested next to the curb. The Blah, Blah, Blah continued its concert, but the girl broke through the sound and grabbed everyoneís attention when she said, "How the hell can anyone see out of those windows? Theyíre black!"
The blah-blah-blah-blah turned into a growl as the Chevy moved into the center of the street. It turned down St. Clair Boulevard and headed in the opposite direction from Jean and Jeffery, and its engine snarled between gears as it picked up speed, but it remained within the posted speed limit.
However, the snarl didnít reach Jeanís or Jefferyís ears, for they were three blocks away and waiting in traffic near the city park. A statue of a soldier honoring the Vietnam War caught Jefferyís eye, and as he studied the statue, Vietnam came alive again with the odor of diesel fuel burning, and the hammering sounds of helicopter rotors, and the scream and roar of jet engines. And the voice of his best army buddy, Bert Sheptfield, repeated itself in his mind the words that Bert had said over and over to Jeffery almost every day in 'Nam, "Weíll be best buddies forever! Itís like we grew up together!"
Best buddies forever. Yes, they would have been, except Bert walked out in front of a bus within a week after getting home from 'Nam. One year in Vietnam, one day in Pittsburgh, one bus on schedule. Bert gone! He never knew what hit him, they said.
It wasnít fair, Jeffery thought.
Most guys had a bad feeling when going to 'Nam. But Jeffery always remembered Bertís face as clearly as if it were a painting when Bert said, "Buddy, I got a bad feeling about going home."
Thirty years turned into yesterday as Jeffery pictured Bert laughing with a beer in his hand and his warm smile radiating as he told a story about how his family had run Moonshine from West Virginia. The stories Bert told were better than any movie about the Moonshine cars, and Bert knew car engines! Yes, he managed to stick an old Oldsmobile V-8 into an army jeep.
One night when Bert and Jeffery were out in Saigon picking up girls, the military police had signaled them to pull over, but Bertís Moonshine skills took over and before the military police had time to react, Bert floored the jeep! Tires screamed, smoke drifted up, and the jeep took off with the two Vietnamese girls screaming and holding on to Jeffery while Bert yelled, "Hold on tight, the revenue agents are behind us!" The two MPís just sat and watched in disbelief as the jeep sped away like a '68 Shelby Mustang GT 500.
Later, the two Vietnamese girls wanted to know what these "Revenue" G.I.s were and Bert said, "Oh, I they donĎt like my family brewing whiskey back home, in fact they chased me the whole way over here to make sure I donĎt brew any!" One Vietnamese girl called the Revenue agents Number Ten G.I.s. Bert agreed with her and Jeffery laughed until his insides hurt.
The army never found out who put the V-8 in the jeep, but the jeep was confiscated two days later from the motor pool. Jeffery never mentioned that episode or many others to Jean. He never talked much about Vietnam, and Jean had respected his silence. But seeing the memorial on top of everything else that had happened had brought it all back. It seemed like the '57 Chevy had made a hole in Time itself, and the past was pressing in on Jeffery in ways that Jean couldn't fail to notice.
As they talked, Jean took his hand and leaned closer.
"Honey, did seeing that Pearl Harbor movie upset you yesterday? Is that what was wrong last night? And today at the bank -- you have a temper, but I've never seen you like that before."
Jeffery said nothing, not seeing the connection between a movie and his outburst at the bank.
"Honey, Iím sorry," Jean continued. "I completely forgot you'd served in Vietnam -- it was so long ago and you never talk about it. Iím so sorry," she said again.
"What? -- No! To tell you the truth, I hadnít thought about 'Nam for years until just a moment ago when I looked at that statue.
"Jeffery -- thereís more to this ATM. business than youíre letting on. What is it?" Jean inquired.
"More to it! What the hell could be more than somebody stalking my wife!" Jeffery said.
"Honey, the bank will get to the bottom of this," Jean said. She sighed and turned to look out the window, her dark hair swirling, upset by Jeffery's behavior and worried that he was hiding its real cause.
Across the park on the north side, a '57 Chevy cruised by getting some attention as it rumbled on.
"Did you ever look in my boxes with all the army stuff?" Jeffery said.
"No! Those boxes belong to you, and I never looked," Jean answered. "The only picture I ever look at is the one on the mantel with you, Bert and some of your other army buddies."
"We should look in those boxes, together," Jeffery said. "Iíll show you more pictures of Bert, and the rest of my unit. Boy, that was a long time ago -- I almost forgot about the war and those boxes." Then he looked over at Jean and added, " Honey, since weíve been married, I forgot about everything except you."
A slight smile formed on Jeanís face as she looked at Jeffery, and her dark eyes became larger then ever. But before she could answer, Jeffery added, "I bought you a present, and I want you to keep it on."
Jean took the present, opened the box and said, "Itís beautiful! Jeffery, itís so beautiful! I always wanted a diamond cross just like this one."
"I had it blessed by Father Coventry this morning right after I got it," Jeffery said. "I always wanted to get you one, and, well, I found myself in front of Eltonís Jewelers after showing the Parker building across the street -- I got one hell of a big commission locked up on that one -- so -- do you like it?" Jeffery asked.
"Honey, I just love it. What a nice surprise. Thank you Honey, Iíll wear it always," Jean said, but her eyes narrowed, and a very slight frown appeared as her mind fired questions, but none left her lips.
"Itís almost one, drop me off at the daycare center. Iíll get a ride home with Julie. Remember, she wanted me to help her ítil five. The kids should be picked up by their parents then--- unless one gets stuck in traffic or something else crops up. Julie has to stay later and later each day, it seems. I donít think she ever knew what she was getting herself into went she started that daycare center. If it wasnít for me and Jackie, she would have gone bananas by now," Jean said. "And Honey, it is very beautiful." Jeanís eyes reflected the questions she had about the cross -- big commission or not, the timing was odd, the choice of a cross was odder, and having it blessed by their priest was oddest of all -- but Jeffery didnít see them.
A church building had to be the safest place for Jean, Jeffery thought as he watched her go in.
As Jeffery pulled out, the '57 Chevy shot out of an alley ahead of him. Behind it now, the blah-blah-blah-blah from its exhaust bounced off his windshield and made the Toyota tremble with fright, it seemed. Black exhaust smoke rose up in front of the Toyota and started swirling in circles as the Chevy stopped for a stop sign.
The concentric swirl closed together until a face, red hot with slits for eyes, hovered over the hood of the Toyota. The form solidified into a head and the slits started spinning around and around until eyes formed and beamed out; they drilled into Jefferyís eyes with a stare that felt like the blast of heat that hits you in the face when you open a hot oven. Jeffery froze, sweat pouring out and sizzling into steam as the face now floating above the hood spoke: "Jean is mine, yes she is, my little boy on the bicycle blue! Ha, you should have listened to your mother when she said, ĎDonít ride on the street.í Iíll get Jean no matter whoís in my way! Iíll swerve for nobody now! Ha!"
The face floated a second longer, then the Chevyís tail pipe sucked it back in, and a second later blue smoke from the rear tires drifted up and the roar of a big block engine driving a four speed tranny going through the gears grew fainter as the Chevy became a bullet, ricocheting its snarl out of the dual exhaust and down the street until it vanished. Jefferyís Toyota sat idling as Jeffery sat soaking in sweat that washed his face and ran down to his chin, dripping, with the furnace heat now gone.
Jeffery turned the air vent towards him, and turned the air conditioner on high.
This is bullshit! Bullshit! If it wants a fight, itís got one! Anger fueled the thoughts that won in Jefferyís mind as he floored the accelerator and raced after the Chevy. He knew he could never catch it, not in the Toyota. But Jefferyís other car could match this Chevy!
Jeffery spun into his driveway. He leaped out, entered the house, walked into the garage, and stared at empty space that should have had a modified '68, 427 SS Impala with a four-speed tranny and slicks on the rears. Jeffery had spent ten years rebuilding and modifying that car from scratch. His jaw dropped. It was gone!
It should have been impossible to steal that car! The garage door was still locked from the inside! The front door locked! The back door bolted, and Mr. Johnson sitting on the porch across the street. Impossible, but the car was gone!
Jeffery ran over to old Mr. Johnson. "Mr. Johnson! My Impala's gone -- it's been stolen! Did you see or hear --"
Johnson shook his head. "Didn't see or hear a thing. Anybody took that car, must've towed it between the time you left and the time I finished my breakfast, 'cause itís impossible not to hear that car start."
Jeffery thought he remembered seeing Mr. Johnson limping out to his porch as he backed the Toyota out of the driveway -- which meant the theft had taken no time at all. Why not? he thought bitterly. What's one more fucking impossible thing with everything else I've seen lately?
Then fear pushed everything else out of his head. You had better get to Jean! Jeffery thought as he walked back to his Toyota. He could hear the roar of the '57 Chevy and see it in his head as it bore down like a red and white missile on Jean, seeking revenge.
I'll stop you, Jeffery thought. How I'll do it in without the Impala, I don't know -- but I'll stop you.
The '57 Chevy -- or its ghost -- was waiting for Jean when she emerged from the rear of the church with Julie and ten five-year olds. The group gathered at the curb, linking hands and looking both ways before starting to cross the street to reach the playground nearby.
Before they started to cross, a roar two blocks down and behind a delivery truck shot the '57 Chevy out and into the center of the street. It picked up speed with no regard for pedestrians or vehicles in its path, and headed straight towards Jean.
Traffic noise -- heavy with trucks and buses in front of the church on the main thoroughfare -- hid the roar of the Chevy somewhat, but when the group was halfway across the street, Jean heard it and looked up.
She froze, as she saw two headlights glaring at her, a grill scowling at her, and a license plate advertising her name in large letters "Jean!" The children stared, Julie screamed and Jean started pulling the children across. But the Chevy kept its aim on Jean as she trudged towards the playground pulling the children who had their attention on the approaching '57 Chevy. Jean made little headway as the Chevy hit second gear, barked its rear tires, and started to whine out its engine, and its headlights watched Jean very closely.
"My God!-" Julie screamed as she started nudging the children to run. Some of the little boys pointed, and one screamed "Racecar" as he pointed at the oncoming Chevy, smiling broadly as he resisted Jeanís pull.
Before the Chevy got near the intersection, a white '68 Impala purred out from an alley beside the church. It turned into the direction of the oncoming Chevy and revved up its engine; it then laid a patch of rubber with its rear wheel for about ten feet. Whoever drove the Impala knew cars, for he pushed in the clutch, idled the engine, and coasted it into the middle of the street and up to the stop sign. The Impala never jerked nor looked out of control as the oncoming Chevyís roar turned into a snarl as its tail-pipes racked-off from its engine that helped to slow the car down.
The Impala inched out into the middle of the intersection. The Chevy closed to within a foot or two of the Impala and stopped. Each car faced the other as its engine idled.
The street had little traffic, but two cars in succession crept by, and the drivers turned their heads, wondering or cursing at the two muscle-cars that now started revving their engines in anticipation.
Jean raised her hand over her eyes to block the afternoon sun as she looked at the encounter in the intersection. She recognized the Impala instantly and took a few steps forward until she screamed "Jeffery? Jeffery! Jeffery!!"
As she looked, four of the little boys sounded out "VROOM VROOM VROOM" as two held an imaginary steering wheel, turning it as if they were racing each other.
A crow sailing casually over the playground seemed to be warning Jean: "Kars, Kars, Kars". And as the crow continued its chant, both muscle cars backed away from each other until they cleared the intersection. They both backed a little farther into the side street then locked themselves into place.
Each car revved its engine, popped the clutch, and spun the rear wheels until blue smoke crawled up over the roof of each car, hovering, then started swirling around and around until two heads formed out of the swirling smoke that didnít float away with the slight autumn breeze that played with Jeanís hair.
One head had slits for eyes. The other, loving but firm eyes that only a Rembrandt could have created.
The heads floated out over the intersection to within five feet of each other, and both cars sat rumbling a deep bass tone that didnít harmonize with the other.
Both Julieís and Jeanís jaws dropped. The kids huddled themselves together speechless. And two guys on Harleys screeched to a panic stop before they entered the intersection.
Jean recognized one: He was the same guy at the ATM machine in the convenience store the other night. As he towered over his bike, Jean heard some of his scream, "What the Hell is..."
The two heads over the intersection spoke, and Jean understood some but not all. Most of it made no sense to her, but the final scream from the head that came from the Impala was clear as it growled, "Never in Eternity-----Never!"
The tailpipes sucked the heads back into their cars, and a moment later the Chevy backed down the street as the Impala stood guard, it seemed, at the intersection. The two guys on Harleys looked in awe, one looking at the Impala and the other staring down the street at the Chevy. Another car crept across the intersection, unconcerned.
The Harleys make a right turn and parked. Both guys walked past Julie and Jean, and the big guy yelled, "Those two lunatics are nuts! Theyíre going to kill themselves or somebody else playing chicken!"
As the final words from the big guy settled into silence, the Chevy roared louder than ever before; then it took off up the street towards the Impala.
The Impalaís engine exploded with thunder, the driver popped the clutch, and the rear wheels spun around and around as blue smoke in equal amounts came from each slick that the posi-traction rear end drove. Within a moment, the Impala leaped across the intersection and bellowed forth such power, that lightning flashed above it, then another flash and another as the Impala catapulted itself at the Chevy.
Desperately, the Chevy turned up onto the sidewalk, but a fire-hydrant unseen from the Chevyís angle remained firm as the Chevyís front right bumper met it. The bumper, the right front tire, and the frame were no match for the fire hydrant as the Chevy lifted up, turned on its left side, then spun over on its roof as it screeched out into the intersection from the sidewalk causing sparked to fly from the asphalt. As it spun around and around, it found a telephone pole and folded itself around it. A second later the Chevy exploded sending up dark smoke in a mushroomed cloud that hovered above the now burning remains of the once proud muscle-car.
"Jesus Christ -- call 911" the big guy said. His buddy flipped open a cellphone and dialed.
Julie hustled the kids over to the church door with Jean, but they didnít enter. The two guys ran up near the burning Chevy, but they couldnít get close. The Chevy started burning white-hot -- melting itself into liquid -- and the heat became intense, but the liquid didnít run. It ate itself into nothingness as the white-hot fire which appeared more like welding than burning continued, and it sent white smoke up that pushed the blue smoke out of its way.
Jeffery ran up to Jean from the opposite end of the street. He stopped running about twenty-feet from Jean, for his eyes fixed themselves on the head that formed over the inferno, a head that Jeffery had seen too often, but this time it didnít look menacing.
The two Harley guys saw the head and backed away, and two of the kids yelled "big balloon" as they looked at the head over the inferno. It did look like a balloon: one that is seen during a parade.
The Impala spun around and headed towards Jeffery, but it stopped before it reached him, and the driver got out and looked up at the face over the dwindling remains of the Chevy. The face had slits for eyes, but they were more horizontal then vertical, sloping at the ends in to parallel the drooping corners of the now-silent mouth. The eyes didnít spin as they had before; their power seemed to be dying as the Chevy shrank away into nothingness.
Before another second passed, the driver of the Impala screamed at the face, "Go away! Stay away! Or next time you will wish you had!" The face expanded like a puff of smoke, losing its shape and drifting away on the breeze.
Sirens became louder in the distance, and the little boys screamed, "Fire-Truck, Fire-Truck" as the Harley boys began to direct some cars to pull out of the way. Fire trucks approached from every direction. Some pedestrians stopped to help, but the heat from the burning Chevy stopped all attempts at a rescue, if anybody were in the Chevy to be rescued.
"Oh my God!" Jean said softly to Jeffery as they both watched the Chevy burn so bright that they had to look away..
"What happened --" Jeffery started to scream, but his eyes found his Impala.
"Whoís in your car?" Jean asked, and Jeffery answered, "I donít know, but if it isnít your brother -- his ass is mine!"
Jeffery walked over to the guy next to his Impala, but before he could ask a question or grab the guyís arm or scream out a threat, the guy turned around, smiled a smile that Jeffery knew and said, as if he and Jeffery had just finished a game of pool together at the local bar, "Old buddy, that thing will never screw with you or Jean again----- Ever!"
The images in Jefferyís mind flipped over and over like someone adjusting an old television before remote control. One after another the images appeared to Jeffery, and finally one face, Bert Sheptfield, came into focus, and as Jeffery switched between his thoughts and the face standing before him, he mumbled, "Impossible!"
A fire truck, then another with police cars and an ambulance started filling the intersection and side streets, and the firemen began spraying water on the burning Chevy. However, the water had no effect in dowsing that fire.
This is impossible! Bert has been dead for thirty-years. Jefferyís mind and eyes argued.
"Nothingís impossible old buddy. You know that, we used to talk about things like that in 'Nam. Remember old buddy? Come on, whereís the old idealistic Jeffery at? Oh, by the way, where I come from now is beyond paradise. You might say -- excuse the pun -- itís Heavenly, " Bert, or Bertís image said as he winked at Jeffery just as Bert had a thousand times before in 'Nam.
"Impossible -- this is impossible." Jeffery murmured. But it was a good kind of impossible, unlike the shit with the ATM and the ghost Chevy.
"Remember, old buddy," Bert said, "When I said that we will be buddies forever -- I meant it!
"Some day you might understand what that thing was, but donít try to until you pass over, and that isnít going to happen to you for a long, long time. My time was up years ago and please donít think of me as gone. No, please not that nonsense. Think of me as what I am: your best buddy forever!
"You and Jean have a long way to go yet, and when we meet again, I hope that it will be as it should be," Bert said. "I know you have a zillion questions, but old buddy, when you get to where I am, youíll have a million zillion, if not more!"
"Bert!" Jeffery started to scream, but Bert cut him off and said, "Old buddy, I have to get going; your car will be back in the garage. I always wanted one of these. She handles real nice -- you did a great job on her."
Bert climbed in, looked over at Jeffery, winked and started down the street as Jeffery stood frozen with his jaw open and his hands raised halfway between a hug and a shrug. As Bert passed Jean, he waved and smiled, and Jean felt warmth wash over her like sunlight penetrating an overcast sky. She followed the car with her eyes until it turned onto another street.
The Chevy continued to burn brighter then ever, and it got smaller as the glare, blue-white as the spark of an arc welder, repelled all attempts by the firemen to extinguish it.
Jean came over to Jeffery after the kids were safely in the church with Julie. Some of the young boys wanted to watch the fire, but Julie made them go in, and their sour faces showed that they didnít agree with Julieís decision.
The firemen stopped trying to extinguish the fire. They didnít have to because the Chevy became smaller and smaller until it vanished with one bright burst of light. As the firemen walked back and forth over the spot where the Chevy had burned and vanished, their Fire Chief came. He grew taller it seemed when the firemen turned there hands palms-up and said, "What the hell gives?"
Jean played with her cross, and then folded her arms over her chest. Her dark eyes became deep, deeper than Jeffery ever remembered, and her hair added to the depth as she walked around but remained within ten feet of Jeffery. Her eyes locked into Jefferyís eyes with a stare that Jeffery had seen once before, and hoped never to see again, and remained locked as she stepped closer.
She played with her cross again -- twirled it around and around between her fingers -- and stopped the attack on Jefferyís eyes as she aimed her eyes down the street where the Impala had been.
Again her eyes drilled into Jeffery as she continued to twirl her cross, and she maneuvered herself closer to him without taking her eyes away or blinking.
She finally said, "Iíve seen that guy -- driving our Impala -- in that army picture of yours! Jeffery -- for last time -- what the hell has been happening?"
© 2005 by George T. Philibin
George tells us, "Iíve been writing for two years, and enjoy every strike on my keyboard. Iím not sure why I write---its fun, IĎm sure about that--and I intend to continue and learn. I work at a generating station in Western Pennsylvania, served in Viet-Nam, attended the University of Pittsburgh for Mechanical Engineering, worked in a steel mill, a dairy, and a coal mine once. My favorite authors are Charles Dickens, Theodore Dreiser, and Kurt Vonnegut." This is George's fourth appearance in Aphelion; his most recent story was Albino Alligator (February, 2006).
E-mail: George T. Philibin
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