Joyride Along

A man wakes up from a nap. This is fortunate because he happens to be behind the wheel of a car as it speeds down the freeway.

“This city changes you,” he says to the man in the passenger seat. His voice is raspy and rough, like he’s been talking for hours. In fact he never stopped talking, even during his impromptu siesta; a feat which impressed the passenger as much as frighten him.

“It changes you,” the man continues, “by chewing you up and spitting you out. No. No that sounds so cliché. Um, wait a minute. Let me try that again.” He overtakes two cars, bolting past traffic at twice the legal speed limit. The cars almost seem to be standing still, he is going so fast.

“This city changes you,” the man begins again. “And never just for good or ill. No contact with it goes unnoticed by the higher powers. Who are they? Oh we’ll get to that.”

A helicopter flies in the distance. The passenger hopes it is a police helicopter tailing them. He hopes this nightmare will be over soon.

“It doesn’t matter what you want, or what you meant to do or meant to say. Your intentions, your motivations, your desires don’t factor into it. It’s that chaos factor. The random whims of an uncaring, unfeeling universe, acting on you. On all of us. And yet for all its randomness, one can’t help feeling an underlying sensation of cruelty, permeating it all. An itchy, prickly moss bed beneath your feet, for miles all around you.”

The passenger wanted to speak, but the gun in the man’s hand was motivation enough to stay silent. Not to mention the duct tape covering his mouth and tying his hands together.

“A boy goes to the roof. Up on the roof there is a cage holding a dozen doves. They are white. Pure. Unmarred by any notions of corruption or vice. They simply are. But besides being pure and white they are also caged. Enslaved. Beholden to the whims of some doddering old caretaker. And what does this Columbidaen overseer demand of his feathery charges? For what ends are these severe means employed? Why, the doves are meant to be released at weddings and other milestone celebrations. A symbol of devotion. Or something. Dove-otion. Am I losing the thread here?”

The passenger dared not say, one way or the other, though it was clear the man had indeed lost the thread.

“Okay okay, anyway. So what does the boy do? What do his egalitarian notions of suffrage convince him is right? Why, freedom, of course. So, he opens the cage and manumits those poor innocent doves; cleansing him of his share of humanity’s guilt. Smiling and self-satisfied he nods, unaware of what will become of them thanks to his actions.

“What happens to doves when you release them, I ask you? I’ll tell you what. They get hit by drones. They get caught in traps meant for vermin. They land on faulty powerlines and get fried into tasty dove treats. Some eat food laced with rat poison and painfully perish. Some will actually manage to survive. Sounds neat, right? Except hold your horses, fucko. Because do you know what happens to doves when they’re let back into nature? Yeah, they go feral. Hell, what do you think pigeons are? That’s right. Feral fucking doves. Reduced to being nothing more than the rats of the sky. Did they survive? Yeah. But they come out the other side looking anything but pure or innocent. That’s the city in a nutshell. You brush up against it or it brushes up against you and bam. You end up dead or a feral beast. Man, this is good shit. Are you writing this down?”

The passenger looks down at their duct taped hands and back to the man.

“You have fingers, don’t you? Christ, I have to do everything around here,” he gripes, fishing around for a spare ball point pen as he swerves down the interstate. “It’s a crucible is what it is. A never ending test. It’s predatory, man. Darwinian, even. Only it’s not the strongest that get ahead necessarily. See, that’s what they don’t tell you.” Inches from side-swiping the median rail. “The fastest, the smartest and the sneakiest get their days too. That’s how I’ve lasted as long as I have. By being smart and sneaky.” A split second from decapitation from the jack-kniving semi. “Not always in that order, though. It depends on the day, you know?”

There were lights and sirens now. State Patrol was on their tail. The passenger prays to any god that would listen to deliver him from this nightmare.

“I’m not a suicidal type, by the way. Despite what my, heh, previous actions would have you believe. No, I love life. I love every facet of it. Even… *click click*” he mimes the cocking of the gun, even though his pulling back of the hammer renders his miming unnecessary. “… the ending of it. Can you imagine having your skull cavity emptied via one single irreversible act? Impossible, right? Can you picture being dashed on the pavement at 140 mph, your body torn to shreds by friction and inertia? Concrete on metal. Metal on flesh. Leather and rubber and glass and blood. Gets your juices flowing, doesn’t it?”

The passenger sobs softly.

“Hey, don’t do that. You’re obviously not hardcore enough to try something like that. I get it. Living on the edge is not for the faint of heart. Just ask my stepfather. Ha! That’s a joke. Cuz, heh heh, cuz he’s dead,” the man squeals. “I guessed you weren’t the type to live on the edge the second I laid eyes on you in that Annie’s Crafts Store parking lot. Not that you’re less masculine for being into crocheting or whatever the fuck. I just figured a guy who works with knitting needles probably prefers the quiet life.”

The car squeezes between two State Patrol cars microseconds before they crash into each other trying to hem him in. They spin out and roll over each other before exploding.

“This used to be a great city. I don’t… I can’t remember it exactly. It’s a shadow in my brain. It’s a foggy mirror. You know, I’m terrible at similes. Like a man grasping at straws with fingers that are also straws. On the ends of wild snakes. Lashing this way and that. Yeah.”

There are spike strips deployed on the road. The man doesn’t even see them, but somehow he navigates around them as if preternaturally aware of their presence. The passenger sobs more loudly now.

“Man this car gets great mileage. Hybrid?”

The passenger continues to sob.

“No, it’s one of those new fangled electriks. Man, that’s impressive. I’m impressed. The engine roars like its got pistons flying out of explosive chambers for real. They think of everything,” the man nods with a smirk. The smirk vanishes. “Of course that means that… that this roar of the engine it’s… it’s fake.” The color leaves the man’s face. “This car is a façade. One giant charade. It’s sleek and sexy on the outside like a sports car, but the inside is all batteries and microprocessors. Digital clowns with digital face paint. Dancing around my ignorance. Laughing at me. Who’s the real fool, now?” he screeches, mimicking clown speech. “Who’s the driver and who’s the driven? Well, heh, they think they can ride me all the way to Moron Town? Think this is the express to Buffoon Borough? Well I got news for you, electrik. I’m no fool! Raaa!”

The man screams as he unloads his pistol into the dash, slaying the premium sound system and at least a dozen of the car’s computers. The digital cable spider-webbing through the car’s body engages its safety back-up protocols, overclocking the remaining processors to compensate for the lost computers. This is to ensure that a driver will still be able to sing along to the latest Taylor Swift tracks, even in the event of a massive system failure brought about by a prodigious smattering of bullets. The car’s designers, if nothing else, had their priorities straight.

The man fires until his gun runs empty.

“Ah jeez. Sorry about that. Here, hold on a sec while I reload this bad boy,” he says as he fishes for a fresh clip in his coat pocket. The passenger, seeing an opportunity and acting before he can really think it through, lunges for the steering wheel. The car loses control immediately, plowing through the divider rail and launching up and over the lane of oncoming traffic. They are airborne for a good five seconds before physics steps in and reasserts their gravitational rights and privileges, sending the car careening headlong into half a dozen cars going the other direction. The man, not wearing his seat belt, is sent flying through the front windshield, ricocheting off the windshield of a second car, before getting bisected by the grill of a Hummer limousine.

The passenger, not having a chance to put their seat belt on before a crazed lunatic accosted them during their shopping errands, is also sent flying. He flies through first one car, then a second, then a third, pulping every person, pet and grocery bag they encounter. The passenger bounces off the artificial earth of Interstate 5 and then flies through another three cars and a motorcycle before coming to rest a hundred yards from the crash site. When he musters the courage to open his eyes, he realizes that not only is he alive, but he is also unharmed. No broken bones, no torn ligaments, not even broken skin. He is covered in blood, but it is not his own, though he doesn’t process this right away. He hesitantly stands as three helicopters and a fleet of State Patrol vehicles swarm his position.

And that was the day he learned he had super powers.

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