I rehearsed on the drive. “I’m deciding between law school, getting my MBA, or taking a year off to join the Peace Corps.” Or maybe, “I have my sights set on medical school, and I can’t wait to start.” Perhaps, “The politics of third world nations has really captured my attention, so I’m going after a job with the UN.”
I didn’t know what I wanted to do after college. I could easily admit that to myself. Admitting it to my girlfriend’s parents wasn’t so easy. Not least of all because her parents were among the most decorated individuals in the United States military. Dad was a war veteran with numerous medals and accolades. Rumor had it he was a confidant to the Commander in Chief. Mom graduated top of her class at the Air Force Academy and had since made enormous contributions to drone combat technologies.
My palms perspired as feelings of unworthiness spread like weeds in my mind. Traffic began to get heavier on the freeway. Brake lights lit up in front of me, and my coasting speed dropped down to a crawl. I checked the time. I was going to be late if traffic did not clear up immediately. Bass-heavy music thumped from a car nearby. A few horns honked here and there.
Five minutes later traffic reached a stand-still. I texted her. “SO sorry honey really bad traffic I think I’m going to be five-ten minutes late.”
The “typing bubble” appeared.
Not a single car moved an inch. The guy in front of me got out of his car and stood up on his truck’s running boards to get a better look…
Typing bubble still showed.
He climbed onto the roof of his truck and stood on his tiptoes to get an even better look. I glanced at the people in the cars around me. They had their eyes glued to the guy standing on his truck.
The typing bubble had disappeared, and she hadn’t responded. I cursed out loud. I was going to be late, and she was angry. If I hadn’t watched those stupid cat videos, I would have left an hour earlier.
Exasperated, I buried my face in my hands and gripped the steering wheel while I clamped my eyelids shut.
I opened my eyes to a shocking sight. The guy standing on his truck faced me, eyes agape, boring into me. I did not move a muscle. Neither did he.
My phone chimed. I ignored it.
It chimed again. I ignored it.
He watched me. Sweat seeped from my pores.
My phone chimed once more, and I gathered the courage to look.
“OK no worries! Dinner won’t be ready for a while anyway! Love you ride safely!”
When I looked up, away from my phone, the man was back in the driver’s seat of his truck. Traffic began to inch forward. My car restarted and crawled with the rest of the traffic. I took a deep breath. I was too stressed about the meeting of the parents. I was seeing things. Maybe the man wasn’t looking at me at all. Maybe he was looking at the long line of traffic behind me. I shook it off and reclined my seat. I felt my car speed up and figured whatever caused the traffic must have cleared up. I shut my eyes and tried to relax.
When I woke up, I heard ocean waves off in the distance. Dew decorated my windshield. I hadn’t realized the address I’d plugged into my GPS was near the coast. The driver’s seat returned to its upright position.
There wasn’t a house in sight. I was at the coastal cliffs. The sun was setting, and dusk’s light shimmered on the rippling ocean. I shook off my confusion and double checked the GPS address with the address I had been given. They matched.
Maybe the car glitched and ended up here.
No way. Vehicular glitches on this level were rare. So rare that when they happened news outlets jumped on the stories and made sure the world knew about them.
“MESSAGE RECEIVED” popped up on the car’s information screen.
“Read message,” I said.
The automated voice began, “Message received at 5 PM. Message from unknown sender. ‘You will not be joining us for dinner. You will not pursue a relationship with our daughter. You will not show up to our house for dinner, and when she asks why you did not show up for dinner you will say you do not wish to be in a relationship with her any longer. We have updated your vehicle’s outdated software package for you and have increased your income deposits to a more livable wage. The useless class will not climb.’ End of message. Would you like to reply?”
“No,” I responded.
Assholes. Classist jerks. Useless class? Who even said that anymore? I took my phone from its dock and stared at the screen. No missed calls, no texts. Did I love her enough to go against her parents’ wishes? More like commands, actually. They hacked my car and drove me to the beach. That was a scary thought.
The car powered down and the screen read, “UPDATING. 1% complete…”
I removed my phone from the charging dock and dialed her number.
“Honey, where are you?” she asked.
I hesitated, unable to respond. Times were changing, true, but not everyone was on board with those changes. I thought I could escape the “useless class” designation and climb the ladder of society. My parents warned me against this when my name was drawn in the higher education lottery that enabled me to attend college. “Just because you learn with them doesn’t mean you are equal to them,” my father had said.
“Hello? Are you ok?” she pressed.
“I’m fine…I have to tell you something,” I said.
“Can’t it wait until you get here? My parents are worried about getting dinner on the table. You know my dad can’t eat too late.”
“Your parents hacked my car and stranded me at the coastal cliffs. They tried to soften the blow by updating my car and increasing my income deposits. I had to tell you. I love you.”
“I’ll call you back.” She hung up.
I took a deep breath. I had to say something. I couldn’t allow that kind of closed-minded behavior to propagate. We want change, we want an equal society. We were in love, that should be enough.
“UPDATE COMPLETE,” the car informed me.
My phone rang.
“What did they say?” I said as I answered.
“GET OUT OF THE CAR!” she screamed into the phone.
I reached for the door handle, but the doors locked before I could get out. An engine roared from behind. I shot my eyes at the rear view mirror. The same truck from the traffic jam slammed into my car from behind. My neck whip-lashed against the headrest, not a single airbag deployed. The UPDATE COMPLETE screen flashed on and off, malfunctioning. My ears rang. The impact rotated my car so that half the car was suspended off the cliff. The truck reversed, gunned its engine once more, and smashed into the driver’s side sending me off the cliff in a violent free-fall. Just before impact I caught a glimpse of the truck’s driver, eyes agape and slack-jawed, watching me fall.