Sunday, May 18, 2014

The Wink of an Eye

Wires hung limply from the headlight socket, ends lightly scratching the concrete driveway as they twitched in the breeze. The otherwise pristine Beetle slouched in a vaguely lopsided way. The effect was distressingly like a medieval torture victim whose freedom cost an eye. The lamp itself was gone, spirited away without scratches or broken glass.

Lyss groaned and gave a satisfyingly loud kick to the metal trash can beside the garage. She felt violated. A glance at her cell phone showed there was no time to deal with this, so she gently tucked the wires in as far as they would go and headed to work.

Much later — after calls to the police and the insurance company and the repair shop — Lyss headed to the pub where her friends were waiting. She flagged the waiter, ordered a bottle of beer, and dropped into a chair.

“Fucking Monday. Some asshole stole Lady’s headlight this morning. Or last night. I don’t know.” She rubbed her face with both hands. 

“Oh no! It's like your happy beetle has a black eye!” Shelley frowned sweetly.

“What?!” Evan set his elbows on the tabletop. “Who the hell steals a headlight?”

“Dunno.” The waiter placed a napkin on the table and started to set down the beer, but Lyss intercepted and took a gulp. After a relieved sigh she continued, “Insurance is gonna pay for it, but covering the deductible means extra hours at work, or cutting something out this summer.”

“Fucker.” That word always sounded funny in Shelley’s gentle Appalachian accent. 

Lyss giggled and lifted her beer. “You can say that again.” She waited. “No, really!”

“FUCKER!” Shelley smiled at her friend’s second chuckle. “Why a headlight? That can’t be easy to remove, and nobody’s going to buy it, are they?”

Lyss frowned. “The cops say it’s not uncommon. ‘High-end accessory’ they called it. Volvo side mirrors get stolen a lot, too. Something about the high cost of O.M.E. parts.”

Shelley rolled her eyes. “O.E.M.! Original equipment. Not knock-offs.”

“Whatever. Anyway, it’s a quick and easy repair, so she won’t be in the shop for long.”

Evan nodded. “That’s good.”

They all relaxed back into their chairs and sipped their drinks quietly for a moment, enjoying a friendship that didn’t always require words.

“Hey Lyss?” Shelley glanced sideways. “Do you want me to track them down and destroy them?” 

Lyss met Shelley’s eyes and replied fiercely, “Yes! Please destroy them. My poor baby.”

“Okay then.” Shelley reached for their hands and nodded at them to complete the circle. Evan grinned and reached for Lyss’s hand. Shelley closed her eyes a moment, then snapped them open. She slowly intoned
     Thief in the night
     Stealer of light
     May your evil be returned
     A hundredfold!
A reflection of light crossed the room and paused momentarily on Shelley. A glass broke in the kitchen and they all — even Shelley — jumped. Laughing, she reclaimed her hands and pronounced “Evil mojo sent. Beware, evildoers!”

Chuckling and shaking his head, Evan ordered another round as the conversation turned to more cheerful topics.

* * *

The vehicle — technically a Volkswagon Beetle, but an embarrassment to that name — was a Frankencar, with parts “acquired” from front yards and junk yards. Fenders from the seventies had been forced into compliance with doorjambs from newer models using appallingly liberal amounts of Bondo and sheet metal screws. Nothing quite matched. Nothing actually fit. It was uncomfortable to look at — there were no lines, no harmony of purpose. The overall effect was made worse by intermittent rust patches and a spastic application of remaindered house paint the color and consistency of vomit. Still, it ran. Frances was enchanted by the reedy cricket chirp of the engine. He had found what remained of the frame and engine in a junk yard and “liberated” it, along with a first round of parts. He added more as the reanimation project progressed. He took great pride in his creation. Everyone agreed that it was unique, even if they didn’t appreciate the artfulness with which he had stitched the thing together.

Frances tugged the driver’s side door open and, leaning in, fumbled the key into the ignition. The starter groaned into action and he laughed with delight as the little engine burred. It had taken most of an hour, some wire nuts, and almost an entire roll of duct tape, but he finally had two working headlights. The new one bulged hugely from the much-smaller socket and was partially obscured by the tape which held it in place. A passerby might get the impression of a defeated boxer whose eye had swollen from abuse. Nonetheless, what was not blocked glowed with a brightness that made the first light almost unnecessary.

He turned off the car and went inside to wash. 

* * *

Pollen rained from clear skies. The nightly news ignored stories of earthbound mayhem in favor of extensive weather reports. Meteorologists, shell-shocked by the sudden interest in their craft, drew giant colorful diagrams of wind patterns and tried repeatedly to explain the drifts of yellow. There was no scientific explanation. Shelley knew, though. While others wiped streaming eyes with handkerchiefs and took allergy pills in double-doses, her eyes were clear. The wind bore the deep green scent of hollows and the dust of grassy balds. It smelled of home. There was magic in the pollen, borne up through ancient granite, charged by seams of coal, and thrust skyward by oak and pine. She had called it with her simple rhyme. Called, but not tamed it. Something had been loosed, and was hunting.

* * *

Frances paced the sweltering kitchen while he ate a random collection of leftovers. The pollen had finally abated enough to leave the house. It wasn’t all gone, but several storms had blown through and washed most of the wretched stuff into meandering outlines in the gutter. His car, however, hadn’t come clean. Yellow motes were embedded in every brush mark. He tried sweeping and wiping and even washing, but the paint peeled off in giant scabs that left it looking diseased. He’d have to paint it again. The car still ran, though, and he was restless. 

Stalking out of the house, Frances didn’t bother to lock the door. He yanked the car open and wedged himself in. Throwing it into gear he swerved into the street and gunned it down the block, barely glancing at the cross street as he barreled past the stop sign. Fast. He needed to go fast. He leaned over and rolled down the passenger window, angling the fly window to catch as much tepid air as possible. The sun would be down soon, and everything would cool off. Four-forty a/c, he told himself. Four windows at forty miles an hour. The joke brought a small smile to his face.

Every stop light was against him: turning red as he approached, taking forever to go green. The bloody sunset reflected from windows all around, blinding him. The city was unbearable. He turned on to Highway 6 and lurched his way toward the interstate. He pulled a death metal cassette from the pile on the passenger seat and shoved it brutally into the tape deck he’d found — still in its car, of course — over in the hoity-toity part of town. He cranked the volume and shouted along vaguely with the German he didn’t understand. 

Slowly the lights fell away and the road opened up. He stomped on the accelerator, shifting through the gears, ignoring a metallic cry from the little engine. Fresh air flowed in, tickling his arm and ruffling his hair. His sweat dried. He overtook other cars and swerved around them, cutting as close as possible, laughing at the terrified expressions highlighted by their dashboard lights. 

The road began to climb. He downshifted, car bucking as he ground into third. The engine screamed into the red as he forced the little car to race up the hill. Tall pines loomed over the road now, moon flickering between, until the road narrowed and they closed over him. He leaned into the curves and accelerated out of them like a shot, disregarding the weathered center lines. Still holding the pedal to the floor Frances was cresting the hill, exhilarating in a moment of flight, in the sensation of the car falling away from him, when both headlights winked out.

* * *


“Yeah. Guy musta been going, well, shit, a hundred? One twenty?” 

The two policemen skittered several yards down the embankment to where the mangled frame of a car lay at the base of a gigantic oak tree. The bark was scattered, heart wood splintered and bare almost eight feet off the ground. More parts were scattered down the hill like the tail of a meteor. It was as if the car had dramatically fallen apart at the seams. No two pieces were still connected.

“The hell is this stuff?” The first officer scraped at the ground with the toe of his boot. Yellow powder dusted the entire debris field. “Looks like some clown came by and poured cornmeal everywhere. Who the hell would do that?”

“No fucking clue. Hey there!” The second officer waved at an investigator who was leaning over the largest chunk of wreckage. “Whatcha got?”

“Weirdest fucking thing I’ve ever seen. No skid marks on the road,” he waved up the hill they’d just come down, “and it looks like the car fucking flew into this tree. I have no clue how fast he had to been going for that to happen. And here’s the weird bit. He should be hamburger. I mean, look at this shit.” The investigator toed a piece of metal which might have been a door panel, but was too misshapen to tell. “But he’s not. Looks like he just got out of the shower.” The others leaned in and nodded in bemused agreement. 

“What the fuck is that powder all over everything?” 

“That? That shit is pollen. Came in through the busted windshield. Tell you the truth, I was kinda freaked out by it, until someone figured it got shaken out of the tree when he hit.”

“Makes sense, I guess, specially after the past coupla weeks. Still, it’s kinda weird, being only here and all.”

“Yep. But I’m not gonna worry about it. Dumbass had it coming. At least no one else was hurt.” They all nodded in silent agreement. The investigator clicked his pen and jotted down another note. 

The two officers turned and walked down the hill, glancing deliberately at the bits and pieces lying everywhere. Seeing nothing of note, they eventually turned and climbed back toward the road. They stopped once when a flash of light caught them by surprise. A moment’s investigation proved it was just a shiny new headlight, winking in the sun.

Inspired by a couple of truly awesome women I'm fortunate enough to count as friends.


  1. Fabulous story! Everyone needs a Shelley.

  2. Oh, my goodness, you've been busy *writing*! Lovely.

    So this post made me try to adapt an Appalachian accent just so I could say "Fucker" and see if it sounded funny. Then I realized I only have a vague idea of what an Appalachian accent sounds like.

    You took me on quite a journey here.