verkaro.com

Blogs and tales by Warren R. Smith

Never Let Us Say Goodbye

Midnight on a smooth stretch of a remote two-lane, the air was crisp, the stars shining hard and bright. Under the dash gauges glowed warmly. Jake dialed in the local radio station.

With a racing cam and new manifold in place, the engine lumbered and loped through a restless idle. Headlights gleamed over the center line laid out straight and clear into the black velvet horizon.

Jake stashed a pint bottle under the seat, pressed his mouth to his shirt sleeve. He touched the radio volume. The cab jangled with a deathless sweet Clementine, the biscuits and gravy of country-western music.

Chrome plated, the intake stood prominently above the hood. Jake revved the engine. The truck frame flexed. Just ahead, to one side, the spirit of the race materialized, holding a starter’s flag. “On your mark!” The flag whipped up, held high. “Get set!” Butterfly valves opened on a gaping throat that resonated hollow, hungering for air.

“Go.”

Tires smoking, the '57 Chevy leaped forward, pressing the driver firmly into his seat, his fuzzy dice decidedly back. Jake whooped. In half a moment, the speedometer registered eighty, ninety, one-hundred miles an hour. Jake yelled again.

Barely broken in, it couldn’t have waited another night. To the racing yellow clear coat and the flame job rimming the fenders, she was proving true–truer than true—​his chariot—​his wheels of fire.

Jake pushed one-hundred and twenty miles an hour. In cursive lettering across the tailgate was the inspired sweet sorrow, “Let Us Never Say Goodbye.”

Glowing gauges reported oil pressure and water temperature all where they should be. Jake eased off the pedal and patted the dash. This coming Saturday night at the drive-in for a cherry-cola will show everybody what’s what. With pride and not a little love, he glanced over the gauges once more and back to the road.

But it was too late.

A split-second decision followed a knee-jerk reaction, and the tires barked briefly in favor of keeping control and taking the collision head-on. that instantly passed. But the collision didn’t happen — only a cold whoosh of white.

It seemed like some large white animal barreling across the road. But somehow, that was not right. It was no deer, and it was no horse. That it jumped up and ran, there was no doubt in Jake’s mind. In the rearview mirror, there was nothing. “What the hell was that?” he said.

Jake snatched a breath and blew hard. What he’d seen proved neither deer nor horse, (nor cow for that matter) he was glad; for the sake of his truck, its body, and the fresh paint job. Reducing his speed, he tried to put the matter behind.

What nagged on — it was a clear night without wind or reason for fog. The ghostly vision insisted on replay after replay in his mind. The snapshot was still developing. Jake reluctantly became convinced the vaporous shape had been neither four-legged nor some damp patch of atmosphere, but something clothed in fog, — on two legs.

Seeing himself step harder on the gas pedal, scared him more than he wanted to acknowledge. He eased off, feebly laughing.

“Come on, Jake, whatever, man,” he said. “That would have scared the buh-jeezers out of anyone.”

This statement would have been right but for the lone exception now sitting beside him, cold as ice and pale as death. She wore a white dress, no shoes. Jake sensed it, the wisp taking shape. Then he saw it. The headlights went crazy as his truck flipped and rolled time and again.

Upside down, the truck finally rocked to a standstill. Gasoline dripped and a hub cap clattered down the middle of the road. The radio played on.

Jake regained consciousness.

It had to have been a dream. He fell asleep at the wheel, flipped the truck, and now his left arm wouldn’t work. He painfully hung upside down by the seat belt. The restraining buckle wouldn’t release. It smelled of gasoline. A flame woofed up from the rear of the truck.

Outside the driver-side door, pale feet dangling below the hem of a white dress lowered upon the asphalt and broken glass. She bent low, looking in on him struggling with the seat belt. Flames rose higher. He was blubbering about his poor truck.

“Jake,” she said.

Jake turned with a start, his heart withering to a prune. The fire illuminated the bushes on the side of the road–bushes visible through her face as she leaned in for a kiss.

Pinned in terror, he croaked, “You can’t blame me, Beth, for what you did.”

“Let us never say goodbye, Jake.”

END

This story was previously published on StoryPony.com and Medium.com