Tony Spencer applied the first coat of wax to his prized possession, a 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix. Oh, sure, it had flaws, like a smashed door and a dragging muffler, but the interior was a beaut. It had bright-red bucket seats with a gleaming silver gear mount between them, and flawless upholstery with not even a speck of lint on it. Tony had owned the car for about a year now, and it was just like an old friend.
“Kid!” screamed the old man next door. “I told you to keep that piece of junk away from my house.”
“And I told you, sir, that you don’t own the street and I’ll park where I please.” Why couldn’t that old goat leave them alone? They had five cars – so what? There were five of them and they all needed a car. Mom and Dad’s took up the driveway, and his, Keith’s, and Barb’s were on the street. Luckily Rhonda was married or there would be another one. The garage was so full of junk a bicycle wouldn’t fit, let alone a car. But, a lousy six feet of space was enough to give the old crab a hissy fit.
Tony gave one last flip to the headlight with his cloth, and then gathered his cleaning materials, and added them to the growing mound inside the garage. He had thirty minutes to get cleaned up and get to work at the local Kroger store. He liked his job as a sacker; it kept him in spending money and gas in his car. He was a 17-year-old high school senior who was six feet tall and still growing. His bright red hair was an irritation to him because of the accompanying freckles, and boy did he have them. He figured he could live with them though, as long as the girls didn’t mind. His grades were good, he was on the football team, and he had a car, all the things necessary to attract a girl.
Business had really been slow for a Saturday night, and he only needed to get through another half hour until midnight, and then he could go home and sleep.
“Oh brother, my favorite neighbor,” mumbled Tony as the old man placed a gallon of milk and a package of cigarettes on the counter. Tony placed the items in a bag and held it out to him.
“Carry out,” he spat out. “Ain’t that what you’re here for?”
Tony followed him out to his car and handed him the sack. Snatching it from him without a ‘thank you’ or a backward glance, the old man pulled from his parking space. Tony could see his own car gleaming in the moonlight. He always parked way down at the end of the lot so grocery carts wouldn’t be smashing into it. He’d seen those carts do a lot of damage to paint jobs.
Tony was much too far away to hear his car rumble into life, and as he turned to enter the store, he didn’t see his car slowly pull behind the old man, and follow him from the parking lot.
Tony heard the sirens from the rescue squad but didn’t pay much attention. He needed to get to bed so he could get up early and ride the church bus. He could take his car to church, but he was trying to get up enough nerve to ask Cindy out, and the only time he saw her was on the church bus.
He was dreaming of Cindy when his mother shook him awake. “Wake up Tony,” she said. “I have some bad news. Old Mr. McDade died last night. It appears that his car was forced off the road and into a tree in Peterson’s front yard. It caused him to have a fatal heart attack.”
“A heart attack,” breathed Tony. “I wonder if that’s why he was so crabby last night. I’m glad I held my temper. Do they have any idea who forced him off the road?”
“No, it was too dark for the witness to get a good look at the car before it sped off,” said his mother.
The next few weeks were hectic for Tony. His time was divided between work, football and trying to keep his grades up. He was in a neck-and-neck race with his best friend, Troy Roberts, for an athletic/scholastic scholarship. As of now, Troy was ahead by a few percentage points, and in three days time, they had to take the big test to determine the winner. Tony figured Troy would win because outside of football, he really kept his nose to the grindstone. Oh well, if he didn’t win, he couldn’t think of a better person than Troy. They had been friends for years and were almost always in some kind of competition, be it sports or girls.
Tony, Troy, and their friend, Randy Radner, were on their way home from a football meeting where the coach had given them a dressing down over last night’s loss.
“Boy, Drake was really mad, wasn’t he?” said Tony. “If we aren’t careful, we may get our names dropped from the scholarship consideration.”
“Oh, come on Tony,” laughed Troy. “We lost last night’s game, but did you see who scored the most for our team? That’s right, yours truly. You may get dropped my friend, but not me.”
Even though Troy laughed to take the sting out of his words, Tony knew he was serious. Troy had always been a bit conceited, but his good points usually outweighed his conceit.
About three miles from home, Tony’s car started spluttering and then stopped. “Oh good grief!” exclaimed Tony. “What now?”
“Pull the hood lift, Tony, and let an expert check it out,” said Troy as he jumped from the car. He fiddled under the hood for a minute and said, “Try it now Tony.” The engine started on the first attempt. Troy reached under the hood to adjust the linkage when the hood crashed down on his shoulders forcing his face directly into the fan blades. His horrifying scream pierced the night while bone, hair, and blood flew everywhere. The matted tangle of Troy’s body killed the engine; it was all over with by the time Tony and Randy scrambled from the car. Tony tried to raise the hood, his hands sticky with the blood of his friend. The moonlight showed clearly what was left of Troy’s head, and Tony felt himself slipping into blissful oblivion. He knew no more until he woke up in the hospital. They told him he had gone into shock. His mind felt numb. He knew he would never, as long as he lived, forget that blood-curdling death scream.
“Tony,” said the principal. “You can’t refuse this scholarship. It’s too important to your future. I know how you feel, son, but it was a freak accident and not your fault. Call it fate if you like, but I know Troy would have wanted you to accept this and get on with your life.” Tony knew that the principal was right, but oh how it hurt.
The insurance company had paid to have the car engine cleaned or Tony could never have driven it again. He and Keith were on their way to the K-Mart store when Keith said, “Tony, why don’t you get rid of this piece of junk? You have enough money saved to put a down payment on a really good car.”
The brakes squealed as the car came to a grinding halt, throwing Keith forward into the dashboard. “Good gods, Tony! Are you trying to kill me?”
“Keith, I didn’t do anything. I didn’t touch the brake. I am not getting rid of my car”. Instantly the car shot forward, expertly maneuvering into traffic with a shocked Tony behind the wheel. He knew that he was not controlling the car. “My God,” he thought. “What can I do? This car hears. Surely not, I must be losing my mind.”
The car pulled into K-Mart and expertly parked. Tony and Keith walked slowly inside. Tony’s head was in turmoil. He’d just forget what had just happened, because people would think he was crazy if he even suggested such a thing. He found the flashlight and batteries that he wanted and was putting three quarts of oil into the shopping cart when he glanced toward the door and noticed that Keith was leaving already. Keith had only come along for the ride anyway and usually picked up a package of licorice. His teeth were often black from the stuff.
Keith walked out toward the car, kicking rocks and trying to open the package of licorice that he had indeed bought. Just as he stepped near the back of Tony’s car, he saw a pickup truck rapidly approaching the parking area. Suddenly, a hard jolt from behind sent him sprawling to the pavement directly in front of the truck. Tony heard the sickening crunch of Keith’s bones as the truck rolled over his leg. “I don’t know what happened,” moaned Keith. “I thought I had been hit from the back, but our own car was parked behind me. I must have tripped.”
Tony followed the ambulance to the hospital to be with his brother. He was sweating profusely and was scared to death. He knew what had happened. His car- his friend- had hurt his brother, killed his best friend, and maybe even killed his neighbor. What was he going to do? He didn’t know the source of this car’s intelligence; he only knew that it was.
After notifying his parents of the accident and seeing that Keith was being taken care of, Tony left the hospital to test his theory about his car. He wondered if it could also read his mind. He knew he had to do something. He forced his thoughts to remain calm as he drove along the highway. He prayed to God for guidance as he began to think negative thoughts about the car.
“I wonder if Keith was right?” he thought. “Maybe I should get rid of this car.” The car slowed perceptibly. “No,” he thought. “I’ll keep it. It has been a good little car.” The car picked up speed and cruised smoothly down the road. Suddenly Tony screamed, “You piece of junk! I hate you, do you hear?” The car swerved sharply moving all over the road, and the front tire was flapping crazily. It halted abruptly along the shoulder. Tony knew the tire was blown, but was that all? Perspiration beaded his forehead and upper lip as he forced himself to get out and open the trunk to get the jack and spare tire. He stood beside the car listening. Nothing! Was he losing his mind? He’d been through a lot lately and maybe his imagination was just playing tricks on him. He knew one thing for sure, he was going to seek out the counseling that had been offered after Troy’s death and get himself straightened up.
Tony rolled the spare tire to the front of the car and squatted down. He started to loosen the hubcap when he felt, rather than saw, the car moving backward. He looked up as if in a trance, as it revved up and came hurtling toward him. He felt the impact, felt himself flying through the air, and then total blackness as he came in contact with the hard pavement.
“Looks like he was about to change a tire,” said the state trooper. “Hit and run, I’d say. Shame too, and he’ll be lucky if he makes it to the hospital.” As the siren from the ambulance faded into the distance, the trooper pressed the button on his intercom. “Whose turn is it for the tow job? Get them down here on Highway 29 and tell them to put the spare tire on.”
Tony lay in a coma for three long weeks, hovering between life and death. His father was standing beside his hospital bed when his eyes finally opened. Remembrance dawned. His first words were, “Dad, my car?”
“I’m sorry son,” said his father. “We sold the car because the doctor said it would be a long time before you would be able to drive again. We put the money in the bank for you and we’ll help you get another when the time comes."
“It’s okay,” sighed Tony as he drifted down, down into a deep and natural sleep. Tony’s father’s eyes were brimming with unshed tears. God had answered his prayers and spared the life of his son.
Kevin Coleman applied the final coat of wax to his prized possession, a 1973 Pontiac Grand Prix. He’d only had it a few weeks, but already it was like an old friend.
Bio: Leona Pence is a lifelong resident of Illinois. She has published one book, Hemphill Towers, and stories in five murder anthologies. She mentored a creative writing course called F2K (Fiction for 2000) for six years, and is a lifetime member of Writers' Village University. Her hobbies include reading, writing, and having fun with her great-grandkids.
Leona has four children, twelve grandchildren, and fifteen great-grandchildren.