(Content Warning: Blood, gore, mild language, some crude humor.)
Wallowing through the darkness at sixty-five miles an hour on rural I-79, Bethany’s eyes grew heavy. She had been driving for the past three hours, and fatigue was starting to set in. In a desperate attempt to stay awake, she cranked the radio volume to the max, hoping the noise would keep her senses alert. It helped for a few miles, but Bethany needed something more.
She rolled down the window and let the cool air coast over her body. Goosebumps appeared on her arms, and she felt an unnerving chill race through her spine. It was almost as if Death himself was wrenching her vertebrae like a wet towel. The thought disturbed her psyche so much that she decided to stop the sudden onslaught of cold air and closed the gap.
Bethany flinched her eyes and slapped her face like a boxer getting ready to take a beating. Wake up, wake up!
The self-inflicted beat-down didn’t help much either. Bethany needed to find a motel and fast. The cold hard truth was a horrible idea and made her stomach twist in convulsions. The thought of dirty strangers having one-night stands in a bug-infested room made Bethany cringe. She could almost taste the bile.
Feeling her body quiver, she quickly closed her eyes and inhaled deeply through her nose. The stress was very overwhelming. Exhaling, Bethany opened her eyes and saw the outline of a person walking across the road. Oh, my god!!
Slamming on the brakes, Bethany could hear the tires screech as her Chevy Lumina spiraled across the road like an ice skater performing a toe-loop maneuver to win the gold. The mysterious shadow jumped out of the way just in time, and for that, Bethany was glad. The Lumina halted on the shoulder, and Bethany slowly released her tight grip from the steering wheel and turned the radio off.
Bethany’s pulse was racing, and her heart was thumping. She wanted to run out to the road to see if the person was ok, but she couldn’t. Her entire body was trembling in a bittersweet mixture of panic and relief. She closed her eyes and took a big gulp, swallowing her trepidations.
Just then, a thundering knock rocked the passenger window, disturbing the silence. Alarmed, Bethany glanced over and saw a young man in his mid-thirties wearing a brown trench coat and a Buccaneers baseball hat. Though it was dark, she admired how his smooth complexion accentuated his baby-sweet face.
Wiping away tears, Bethany rolled the window down and stuttered, “I-I am so sorry!! Are you alright?”
“I’m fine. You missed me,” the man said, “but I think I might have banged my knee.”
Bethany released a deep breath and responded, “I can’t believe I almost hit you! What were you doing in the middle of the road anyway?”
“Well… I was trying to get to the other side!”
She watched as a wry smile tugged at his lips. “Oh, you smartass!” she roared.
The strange man chuckled to himself. “Look, I’m alright, and it looks like your car is fine. I normally wouldn’t ask, but since you almost killed me, and my knee is screwed up, do you think you could give me a ride to Braxton?”
“Yeah, it’s the next exit a few miles down the road.”
After an awkward silence, Bethany said, “Well, I guess it’s the least I could do; you seem like a normal person.”
With a devilish smile, the man replied, “Of course, I’m normal. Who did you think I was? A crazy killer or something?”
Bethany’s cheeks turned red. “No…no, I didn’t mean it like that. What’s your name, by the way?”
Scrunching her face, Bethany said, “Well, Larry, let’s get a move on. My name is Bethany.”
Larry wasted little time and jumped in the car. Bethany could feel his dark eyes on her as she drove away. One thing was for sure, Bethany wasn’t tired anymore. In fact, she was wide awake. Her thoughts were clouded with the notion that Larry had already imagined a hundred different ways to screw her with his perverted eyes. This would typically make her sick, but somehow, it was kind of a turn-on in, a weird way.
Who hasn’t fantasied about picking up a sexy hitchhiker and having a love rendezvous?
This, however, was no romantic fantasy; it was real. Bethany put the thought aside and felt dirty just thinking about it.
Wanting to divert the illusion, Bethany asked, “So, what’s in Braxton? Family?”
“No, I don’t have any family,” answered Larry.
Bethany noticed that Larry was squirming in his seat. A touchy subject, perhaps? “So, you don’t have anyone to miss you or worry about you?”
“How about a little music?” Bethany said.
She twisted the volume knob, and a sweet melody played – a calm blanket to soothe the soul. This seemed to help with the awkward tension that was inadvertently created.
To her surprise, Larry asked, “What about you? Going to see some family?”
“Oh god no!” she retorted. “I have a crucial business meeting tomorrow morning.”
“So, you’re a businesswoman, huh?” Larry said.
Pointing to the car, he continued, “I thought business women had a lot of money, so why are you driving this piece-of-shit car?”
A look of shock appeared on Bethany’s face, and she snapped, “Well, Larry, this piece-of-shit car was the only vehicle the rental place had available!”
“Oh, I’m sorry.”
“Don’t be! It is a piece-of-shit car!”
They both laughed, and their fears dwindled away like melting ice cream on a hot summer day. The next song that blasted through the speakers was more upbeat and only helped their cheerful moods.
Bethany felt silly despite herself and uttered, “You know for a moment, I really did think that you were a crazy hitchhiker killer.”
Larry laughed and admitted, “I thought you were a psychotic murdering traveler!”
Bethany frowned and glanced at Larry with a rugged look. “Why would you think that?”
“It was just the way you were asking about my family and if anyone would miss me.”
“That was a completely normal thing to ask,” she barked.
“If you say so….”
“I do say so,” Bethany blasted. “At least one thing is for sure.”
Larry wrinkled his forehead. “What’s that?”
“We both agree about how miserable this car is!”
“That’s for damn sure!” he said.
They both smiled, and for a moment, Bethany started to fantasize about a lustful sin, but she was rudely interrupted when she glanced at the gas gauge.
“Ugh… I can’t believe it!”
“What,” asked Larry.
“I’m almost out of gas!” Bethany said, pointing at the console.
Larry sat up in his seat and pointed to the nearing exit sign. “Don’t worry, there’s the exit. There’s an Exon just up ahead!”
Bethany turned onto the Braxton exit and saw the gas station. She pulled up alongside the pump just in time because the Lumina was stuttering - desperate for some gas to drink.
“I can’t believe this car made it!” Larry said.
“I know, right?” Bethany said in a sarcastic tone.
Stepping out of the car, Larry said, “Thanks for the ride, Bethany. I think this is where we will part.”
“What, are you sure?” she said, dumbfounded.
“Yes. I don’t think I can stand to sit in this crappy car anymore.”
“I don’t blame you,” Bethany said, putting the gas pump in the tank.
“At least let me buy you something to drink before you go.”
Larry took a deep gratifying breath and gave in, “Ok. I could use a drink.”
They both walked into the Exon, and to no surprise, it was the usual roadside gas station. Snacks were stacked in the front with drinks towards the back. Larry grabbed a Coke from the cooler and met Bethany at the register. She paid for his soda along with the gas and bought herself a pack of Marlboro Lights.
“I didn’t peg you as a smoker,” Larry mumbled.
“I used to smoke, but I quit.”
Perplexed, Larry asked, “Well, why are you buying those cancer sticks?”
Bethany started to laugh. “I thought that if I lit up over the next few miles, they might help keep me awake and avoid any motels along the way,” she paused for a few minutes and declared. “Also, maybe the smoke smell will help with the shit smell in that car!”
“It would be an improvement,” chuckled Larry.
She gave him a warm smile, and they walked out of the store side by side. Larry glanced over to the Chevy Lumina and noticed that it was quaking and shivering. He grimaced and pointed at the shaking car. “It looks like your car is getting ready to explode!” His voice was soaked with caution.
Bethany took in the moment with hesitance and frustration. There’s no way the car would explode…. Could it?
At that moment, she hated the slick western cowboy who talked her into renting the vehicle in the first place. He was very charismatic and had a sexy voice that melted her loins. With his sexy cowboy hat, tight blue jeans, and thick southern accent. Bethany wanted to ride him like a wild stallion, but alas, she had to settle for the Lumina instead.
Damn you to hell, you sexy-ass cowboy!
Running over for a closer look, Bethany and Larry were treated to an unsavory surprise. The Chevy Lumina made a strange transference sound and shook so fiercely that the vibrations could be felt through the pavement. The two travelers watched slack-jawed as metal twisted against metal, and individual parts shifted and turned backward and forwards, inside, outside, over and over until the vehicle towered over them like a giant among mice.
The Chevy Lumina had transformed into a hulking robot machine and stood defiantly before Larry and Bethany. On what one would consider its head, two red lights lit up like hot coals in a bellowing stove. The robot stared at the two humans that stood before its greatness and uttered one memorable phrase in a synthesized metallic voice:
“I am not a piece-of-shit car!!”
Bethany screamed in terror as the robot smashed Larry with its massive arm. Larry’s body splattered into mush like someone had just stepped on a ripe banana. His blood flowed like a river and poured into a nearby gutter. As the Chevy monstrosity lifted its arm away from the bloody pulp that was once Larry, thick strands of tendons, ligaments and cartilage came along for the ride, like bubble gum stuck to a shoe.
In a rush of panic, Bethany ran towards the store, hoping that the shelter would save her. She felt a trickle run down her leg and felt ashamed of herself for losing control. Who could blame her? It’s not every day that your car transforms into a living, breathing, psychotic robot.
Bethany was only inches away from the main entrance when she felt a sharp cut rip through her ankle - causing her to trip. The Lumina was firing CDs at her. Bethany hit the pavement hard, and to her relief, the one and only Exon employee ran out to help her.
The robot fired more razor-sharp discs at the worker, and before Bethany could rise to her feet, a decapitated head knocked her back down. She was crying and screaming hysterically.
Was this real?
Have I fallen asleep at the wheel?
Yes... Yes, that must be what happened.
This is all a dream!
A sharp digitized voice brought her back to reality. The robot arched its back and urinated gasoline on Bethany. Her nightmare wasn’t over; it was just beginning…
Her eyes burned like someone had just poured acid into them and couldn’t see anymore. She still had her hearing, and the next terrifying thing she heard was:
The robot scratched the pavement with its foot, and sparks ignited Bethany’s body. The Chevy monster walked away to the road and fired a missile at the gas pumps as she burned.
The Exon gas station exploded into a giant fireball, and sirens could be heard in the distance. The travelers were dead, but Bethany and Larry’s deaths were not in vain. The robot transformed back into its original form and drove away with a satisfaction that humans could never feel.
Daniel R. Hayes