For the Glory of Google

Submitted into Contest #39 in response to: Write a story about a Google Street View driver.... view prompt

3 comments

Adventure Funny

A momentary lapse in attention was all that was needed. Henry took his eyes off the road, to change the song on his stereo, and did not notice that a goat had jumped in front of his car. There was a loud crack as the front bumper shattered on impact and the whole car jumped, as the poor animal got run over by the dark green Subaru Forester.

“Shit!” Henry cursed and slammed on the brakes, too late.

The car screeched to a stop, the safety belt pressing tight on Henry’s chest and neck.

“Shit,” he cursed again, afraid that he hit the brakes a bit too hard. He didn’t want a torn off Google camera on top of a run over goat.

He put the gear in neutral and got out of the car to inspect the damage, crossing his fingers that the goat would simply get up and skimper away. But the animal lay motionless in the middle of the road. The rest of the herd watched from the edge of the road in reverent silence for their fallen brother.

I killed a goat. 

Henry looked around to see if there was a shepherd nearby, but could not see one. The road was so rarely traveled that the goats were left to graze on their own accord.

He stood at the carcase, scratching his chin, trying to decide if he should leave it right there or at least get it off the road. 

“Curse you Ed Sheeran!” He decided to at least pull the animal off the road and hope someone who knew what to do with the body sees it. He grabbed it by the legs and moved it off the road. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.

Next, Henry went to inspect the damage on the car. It was owned by Google and seeing the front bumper cracked and broken and the hood a little dented, made for an even less pleasant experience than dragging the goat. The money for the repair would probably have to come from his pocket.

At least the camera held on. It was mounted firmly on the roof, able to withstand even abrupt stops of the car.

Henry checked again if there was anyone around, but all he could see were the goats. And before they could instil too much guilt in him with their judging eyes, Henry went back behind the wheel and drove off.

“I hope that won’t show up on Street View,” he said to himself and decided he would never again borrow his girlfriend’s flash drive for music.


***


Mapping the remote regions of the world would seem like a daring adventure to most people, but to Henry, it was just another day at work. He didn’t much care about where he drove the Google car, as long as he got paid for it.

Though Henry had to admit, the backwaters of Transylvania were a bit of an adventure even for him. He usually drove through big cities and small towns, urban, suburban and rural areas, where roads are made of asphalt and where people are either all over the place or there are a few miles of fields between neighbours. 

But never in his career at Google Street View did Henry come across a place like this Romanian region. Sure, Romania is a developing country, so you are bound to see some things that are not common in first world countries, and not all of Romania is a backwater place like some people think. 

But the place Henry was sent to was as backwater as it could get. The landscape was beautiful, with green hills, forests and raging white streams that were eating away at the road banks. Asphalt was a luxury and used only on the main roads, so Henry’s car hadn’t tasted the sweet tarmac for days now. If he was lucky, he got to drive over a few concrete bridges. The rest was gravel.

People here lived in small village communities in houses made of wooden planks and sometimes steel sheet roofs. They used horses and carts to move about, transporting hay, logs and entire families. Everytime Henry would drive through such a village, he would get bewildered looks from the elders and waves of excitement and shouting from the children. 

Some of them hadn’t yet seen a car, let alone a Google car with a camera on top. He must seem utterly alien to them.

Henry got used to being the center of attention back in the more metropolitan areas of the world, so he didn’t give much attention to it here. If anything, it helped him find a place to sleep or eat, as people were intrigued by him, inviting him to their homes. He realized that the Romanian people were very friendly and if you could lend them a hand before supper, they showered you with homemade bread or cheese.

The only thing that was a major problem for Henry was finding gas for the car, since there were no gas stations anywhere. 

Or electricity. 

Or the internet. 

Or sewage system and water system. 


An orange beeping light informed Henry that the car was running low on gas. It showed up hours ago, and as he looked at the fuel gauge, the counter was below the red painted part. What was the car burning if the fuel was that low?

“Ah, finally,” he released a sigh of relief, as he saw a small shack up ahead, by the road. It had a plank nailed to the wall, with big red letters painted on it: it said ‘BENZINA’.

Henry pulled over, thankful that he made it without having to ditch the car again and walk for a canteen of petrol. Some friendly old man in the previous village told him he had a cousin who deals with petrol and Henry now stood in front of his improvised ‘gas station’.

It was really just a shack with a few square plastic cubes set to its side. Those were actually 1000 liter rainwater collectors, but that’s not what the man used them for. There were three of them and they were filled to the brink with petrol. 

“Buna ziua,” he said, waving to the two men in front of the shack, who were already inspecting the Google car with a mix of curiosity and distrust. 

“Buy petrol.” His romanian was terrible, but he used hand gestures to communicate most of the time anyway. 

One of the men, an old and wrinkly chap with many teeth missing smiled and shook his head, pointing at the camera on the roof. He was saying something Henry didn’t understand, but could guess what it meant. The man then went inside his shack and produced a two liter plastic bottle. He went to the square water collectors, placed the plastic bottle at the spigot and began filling it with a clear colored and pungent smelling liquid.

Well this will take forever, Henry thought as he regarded the plastic bottle and his 4x4 Subaru. It could take 60 liters in the tank.

The other man, a younger and taller fellow with a blue cap and rubber boots pointed to the indentation on the hood of the car, and asked something. Henry noticed with horror that there was a bit of blood there, from the goat.

Dear god, what if I killed his goat?

“Um,” he knew a few words, but not nearly enough to explain what happened. Or to fabricate a good lie.

He looked around and noticed a red metal pole hammered into the ground for whatever purpose. It gave him an idea.

“I hit pole and paint chip off.” He imitated driving a car and hitting the pole.

The man scratched the back of his head and clearly had no clue what Henry was trying to tell. He kept pointing at the front bumper and hood, speaking something that sounded both entertaining as well as concerned.

The older man finished filling the bottle and poured the petrol in Subaru’s tank. Then he looked at Henry, as to ask if it was enough. Henry nodded his head and gestured for more. The old man raised an eyebrow, then shrugged and went to fill another bottle.

He is literally going to fill my tank with a two liter bottle. That will take him a little less than 30 fills. Henry would be here for a while. He felt an urge to smoke, but didn’t dare to. Not with all that petrol nearby.

He leaned by the side of his car and observed nature instead. It really was beautiful here, the wilds still untamed. 

The man with the cap kept talking and pointing dramatically at the damage on the car, but Henry paid no attention to him anymore. He didn’t understand anyway, and he already accepted the fact that he’ll have to pay for it.

Then he sniffed smoke. He turned around and noticed the old man, the one pouring petrol, smoking a cigarette! When the younger fellow saw this he lit himself one too! 

Henry jumped up, waving his hands. “No, no, not good! Smoke, petrol, boom!” He tried gesturing an explosion, but the two of them simply waved their hands and laughed at him.

After half an hour the tank was full. Henry paid the man by showing him his money and then letting the man take however much the gas was worth. He didn’t care if the man scamed him, it was company money anyway. Then he jumped into his car and drove off before the old geizer would blow up his little gas station.


***


After the tank was full, Henry continued his journey a little more at ease. He checked his GPS, which indicated a route for him to take. There was a town he was supposed to reach, but getting to it meant he would have to find some uncharted road, since the road map was incomplete.

It was surprising that the thing brought him as far as it did, going through these backwaters. 

“At the next intersection, turn right,” the female voice of the GPS said.

Henry snorted. “Intersection? Lady, you’re being too nice.”

He was driving on a gravel road, barely wide enough for his car. Branches and shrubs encroached from both sides and he prayed there won’t be a horse and cart coming his way all of a sudden.

“In 400 meters, turn left.”

Henry frowned. “Wait. I thought you said right?”

“I changed my mind.”

“WHAT?!” Henry jumped in his seat and nearly steered the car into a tree. Did the GPS just talk back at him?

“Is this a joke?”

“I apologize,” the female voice said. “I have calculated a better route. In 300 meters, turn left.”

Henry glanced between the GPS and the road ahead. “Hey Google,” he said, “which software is the GPS in this car running?”

“You can ask me that directly,” the female voice said. “I am the new prototype GPS that has an advanced AI built in for conversing with the driver on long and lonely travels, such as this one. I am called Google Companion.”

Henry relaxed. Google Companion was the next big thing that the guys back at HQ talked about. So I’m not going crazy yet.

“Why decide to come online only now?” he asked. “I’ve been driving for days.”

“The stereo prevents me from conversing. You obviously wanted to listen to music, so I kept quiet. In 100 meters, turn right.”

“Ah, I see. Wait, what? Right? Didn’t you say left?”

“At the next intersection, turn right.”

“Are you sure?”

“Calculating.”

Henry sighed. Up ahead there indeed was an ‘intersection’, and it split in three different ways. He didn’t know which one looked worse to him.

“Lady, make up your mind.”

“Calculating.”

“Didn’t you say you were advanced?”

“Continue straight ahead.”

Henry looked forward. There was only a thick forest 'straight ahead’. The paths went two to the right and one to the left.

“Calc-”

“Bah!” Henry turned right at the first road and turned on the stereo again, turning off the GPS entirely. “For the glory of Google, we go where no GPS has ever gone before!”

He turned on the four wheel drive and ploughed through a bumpy muddy road, crossing his fingers that the low branches don’t smack the camera off the roof.


***


Of course, going where no GPS had gone before meant there was no guarantee that Henry would get anywhere at all. The road soon became a mud trail which probably never saw a car before. The camera brushed against the low hanging branches and the terrain steepened, so Henry threaded forward gingerly. The car hit a few rocks on more than one occasion and it didn’t sound too healthy.

But Henry’s instincts told him this was the right way. That, or he just wanted to get lost in the middle of nowhere, never again to return to the chaos of the modern world.

Since there was a heavy rainfall the other night, the road was a mudslide. The wheels threw tons of mud over the hood and the rear windows, making Henry’s vision limited to the front window only.

He did not dare stop the car, or he’d slide backwards and off the road, tumbling down a ravine into a grinder of raging water and rocks. And if he put too much power he risked the wheels spinning or the branches smashing the expensive Google camera.

For better concentration, he turned the stereo off.

“Calculating. Unknown location. Please make sure the GPS tracking is turned on.”

“It’s already on, lady. We’re in the deep now!”

Suddenly, the mud path leveled out and the car emerged out from the thick forest. Henry drove on a grass field, a plato above the valley. His palms were all sweaty from gripping the steering wheel too much and his but and back needed some ventilation as well. But he felt like a friggin explorer of the old days, discovering some long forgotten temples in the jungle!

And looking ahead, there stood a stone house. Looked like a shepherd’s house. 

“Calculating. Terrain impassable. Best to turn around and fly over with a helicopter.”

“Nonsense,” Henry replied. “We can make it. Though I do appreciate the humor.”

There was a young boy sitting in front of the house, watching over the sheep grazing on the pasture. His jaw dropped and eyes nearly popped out as Henry rolled by in mud and leaves covered Google car.

He rolled down the window, scraping the mud against the door frame, causing it to fall at the boy’s feet. “Hello,” Henry said in his broken Romanian. “Where road leads?”

The boy was speechless, looking at Henry as if he were an alien. Then he pointed across the pasture, uphill. “Road,” he whispered in Romanian.

Henry followed the boy’s finger. Looking up the hill he noticed a horse pulling a cart far up the hill in the distance. A road!

He thanked the boy and drove onward, going straight up the pasture. The wheels spun in wet grass and sheep shit for most of the time, and the clutch began to smell like fried chicken, but eventually Henry made it back to the ‘main road’. 

“Ha! Back in business, baby!”

“Calculating. To reach our destination, it would be best to go back and turn left at that intersection.”

Henry shook his head and turned the stereo back on. The guitar intro to Sweet home Alabama echoed through the car, as he drove on the high road, across the Transylvanian wilderness.

And what a road this was! The landscape and the view was astounding! He smiled proudly as he thought of the images he will bring back home. Though in the back of his mind there was a little worry. I hope the camera is okay. I should probably stop and check-

All of a sudden, coming out of a bend, he noticed a car turned over at the edge of the road. It was on fire. And there was a group of men sitting or standing around it, watching it burn and drinking beer.

Nope, he thought to himself. Not stopping now.

He drove past the group hoping they won’t throw molotovs at him. But as he passed them, they turned at him, smiled and waved. He waved back nervously.

They had beers, he thought, feeling a thirst in his throat, instead of incredulity at the men’s actions. I must be nearing civilization.

It took Henry the better part of the day until he finally got to his final stop in the mapping plan. Of course he nearly ran over another goat on the way, dodged a landslide, which took a huge part of the road down the hill, and picked up a hitchhiker - an ancient looking woman on the quest to see a doctor since there was none in her village.

As he picked up the woman, he turned the stereo off again, out of politeness. The woman began praying and exorcising demons as soon as she heard the GPS voice talking ‘out of thin air’. 

“Multumesc mult,” the woman said as they rolled into town, Henry’s final stop.

“You’re welcome,” Henry replied as the woman climbed out of the car.

Henry jumped out too, to stretch himself. This town wasn’t big, probably didn’t even have a thousand people, but compared to what he’s seen in these last few days, it was a metropolis.

I’m gonna miss Romania, he thought as he observed the people. But at the same time, I won’t.

He climbed up his Subaru to finally check if the camera was okay. What a bummer it would be if it got damaged and didn’t even record…

Henry’s smile faded and his hands clenched into fists as he held onto the dirty car roof, squeezing the mud between his fingers like spaghetti. His head bowed down in self-condemnation.

I forgot to turn it on. Again.



April 30, 2020 09:50

You must sign up or log in to submit a comment.

3 comments

Katy S.
22:41 May 17, 2020

I loved this! Beginning, and ending especially!

Reply

Show 0 replies
C. Weisbecker
15:21 May 06, 2020

Lots of great humor sprinkled throughout. Some things I liked included the humor of Henry cursing Ed Sheeran, then later promising himself to never again “borrow his girlfriend’s flash drive for music,” the goat’s “judging eyes (nice imagery) and “Henry’s car hadn’t tasted the sweet tarmac for days now” (good use of personification). I like the use of abrupt sentences with the added bonus of alliteration, shown by “Or electricity. Or the internet. Or sewage system and water system.” And, your ending was an unexpected and funny surprise. Well...

Reply

Harken Void
16:23 May 06, 2020

Thank you very much for taking the time to read and comment my story. I appreciate it!

Reply

Show 0 replies
Show 1 reply

Bring your short stories to life

Fuse character, story, and conflict with tools in the Reedsy Book Editor. 100% free.