The Car by Madison Harvey

The throttle stopped sputtering. “Shit,” I whispered. I pulled the key out, wiped it on my jeans, and put it back into the ignition. I turned the key, and finally, the car started smoothly. I pressed my foot on the brake and pulled the gear, lurching the car forward. I slowly applied gas and took a right turn down Meribel Lane. I was only 100ft away from my driveway when the car started to shake. It groaned under the pressure of my foot. I slowed down, preparing to stop, when the weirdest thing happened.

The car’s rust started to fade off, to reveal a smooth finish underneath. My clothes started to change. Then my hair, my skin! I became taller with broad shoulders and paler skin. My chest became flat and my hair shortened, almost like a buzz cut. My limbs grew to an uncomfortable length, and my clothes turned into a plaid shirt with cargo pants. Like I would ever wear those.

I looked up and saw a man waving me down. I stopped the car and rolled down my window.

“John! You were going a little fast down that hill. Be careful now, or the warden will be out for your arrest!” He laughed.

“Thanks Jim!” I rolled up the window and drove away. How did I know his name? I pulled the car down a side street and parked there. What in the actual hell is happening? Maybe there is something inside the car that can tell me. I looked around the seats, where I saw a piece of paper sticking out of the seat cushion. 

Martin, I told you not to do this. You can’t alter time. It could cause a lot of problems for someone else. LEAVE IT ALONE. Or you might regret it.

I flipped the paper over, but there wasn’t anything on the back. A knock on my side window startled me, causing me to drop the paper. I looked to the left and saw a police officer standing there. I rolled down the window. 

“I’m gonna need you to get along now. You can’t be parking here. This side street is out of commission.” He told me.

“I’m sorry sir, I didn’t know. I’ll be going now.”

“Just make sure it doesn’t happen again. I’m gonna have to catalog this, give me one moment.” He went back towards his car. My heart was beating so hard. 

“I’m gonna get caught.” I whispered to myself. He came back a few minutes later.

“Alright, this is your warning, but next time I’m gonna have to fine you. Safe travels.”

“You too, officer.” I watched him get in his car and back out of the street. I rolled the window back up and took a deep breath. “Well, that was a shit show.” I put the car into drive and slowly rolled down the street, being careful not to hit the boxes on the sides that the local businesses put out for trash. 

The car skidded when I made a right turn, almost taking out a trash bin. I corrected the wheel and went down Thelmen Street. Large, brick houses with shiny cars in the driveways created the sense of rich white men. I pulled into the driveway of the eight house on the left. I didn’t even think about it. Like it was a muscle memory. I looked up to see a thin woman wearing a small dress with the highest high heels I have ever seen. She was caressing the arm of an older man, he was maybe in his late 50’s. I got out of the car and slammed the door.

“Vanessa?! What are you doing?” I walked up to her.

“Honey, this is Martin. He wanted to know how the car was doing. Remember? You bought it off of him.”

“What does that have to do with you touching him? I’m not oblivious, you know.”

“John! How do you insinuate something like that?” She said, “especially with us in front of the house.” she whispered. 

“Are you kidding me? You’re scared of what the neighbors might think? How long has this been going on?”

“Ever since you bought the car.” Martin spoke up.

“Martin!” Vanessa exclaimed.

“God damn it Vanessa. This is the second time this month!”

“Well maybe you should have come earlier, you’ve been gone all day. You’ve been gone every Saturday for weeks now. I needed someone to comfort me like you used too.”

“And you chose Martin? That man is nothing but a crook.” I turn to Martin. “I found the note in your car. The one warning you to stop what you’re doing.” Martin looked at me with a scared expression on his face.

“I have no clue what you are talking about. I never put anything on the passenger side of the car. It must have been a joke from a friend that rode with me.”

“I never said anything about where I found it.” Martin looked at me, to Vanessa, then back to me. 

“Stop this nonsense John. Leave the poor man alone, his mind must be conflicted with his old age.”

“Vanessa, you know I’m not that much older than you right? Maybe twenty years.”

“No one asked you Martin. John, go into the house, I’ll escort Martin back to his car. He had to park down the street, because you don’t like it when others park in your spot.” Vannessa walked Martin down the hill, causing me to lose view of both of them. The nerve of that woman. How can she put me in the wrong for her cheating? I’ve only been working these past Saturday’s to afford her new lifestyle. I can’t keep up with the bills, let alone the new outfits she buys every week.

Gods, this John guy has it rough. I can’t believe Vanessa would do this to…us. I was starting to get way too invested in this family. I really need to leave, or I fear I might forget who I really am.

I looked down at the keys in my hand and jingled them. Why did it feel like I was leaving the love of my life? I guess I am, since I am John.

I walked to the car and put the keys in the ignition. I slowly backed out of the driveway and went down the same road Vanessa and Martin went to. About 200 feet ahead they were making out on the roof of his car! I slowed down, rolled the window down and yelled, “Vannesa!” She turned my way and I held my hand up to her and elongated my middle finger. Her face grimaced while she pushed Martin off of her.

“JOHN!!!” She yelled while I sped away. I traveled maybe a mile down the road, then the same thing happened again. The car began to shake, as well as my body. My skin turned darker, my clothes turned into a blue flannel and fitted blue jeans. I could feel each individual hair growing out of my head. I glanced at myself in the mirror and saw an African American male. 

“God damn it, where am I now?” I continued driving down the street for a little while, passing some stores. My stomach began to growl so I looked around for a grocery store. About three places down from the Presbyterian Church was a small grocery store. I pulled into a parking spot, nearly missing a rouge shopping cart. I pulled the key out of the ignition but fumbled with it, causing myself to drop it. I leaned down to look under the seat, then I saw a piece of white paper. 

It must be the one from before! I flipped it over, and sure enough, it was! But this time there was an additional note, written in another handwriting.

There is something wrong with this car. I pretended for it to get stolen so I could get insurance money to pay for another one. This car is in the police records as stolen. —J.

John! I wonder if he must have gone through the same troubles I’m going through. I’m starting to think it would be for the best to leave this car alone when I get back home, and I need to get back home now. My stomach started to growl again. “I’ll go back home when I put some substance in my stomach.”

I walked up to the store. It looked a little run down, because there were two letters missing in the sign. I walked and right away spotted the stand for the local newspaper. July 1, 1964. I hope it’ll be ok for me to be here. I have no clue if segregation has ended yet. “You! Yeah, you! By the newspaper stands. Get out. Your kind isn’t welcomed here.” I turned to him.

“Please sir, I just wanted something to eat. I have money, I promise.”

“Grab an apple and leave a dollar. I don’t want you in here for a minute more.” I grabbed the dollar from my pocket and placed it in the spot the apple I took from the stand was. When I walked out of the store a police officer was standing by my car.

“Is this your car young man?” He asked me.

“Yes sir, it is.”

“It seems that your tags are dead. I’m gonna have to run this, sorry.”

“That’s ok. I understand, this happens a lot, if you know what I mean.”

“I’m sorry about that. Truly, the color of your skin doesn’t bother me. It’s just my job. I gotta run your plates.” He went back to his vehicle and wrote down my car information. He came back a couple of minutes later and told me it was ok if I left, just to get my tags fixed. I drove down the road, trying to remember which way Meribel Lane was. All the roads looked the same, despite the street signs. I hear a siren go off behind me. I looked in the back mirror to see the same police car from before.

“Please pull over the car. You are driving a stolen vehicle.” I guess he was using a microphone so I could hear him from inside the car. I thought he said it was fine. In the corner of my eye I saw the white piece of paper. John’s voice saying “stolen” echoed into my mind. I was driving a ‘stolen’ car. It definitely doesn’t help that I’m a man of color. I sped up a little bit, trying to think if I needed to go left or right. Right! Definitely right. 

“Pull over now or I’m going to have to use force.” I started to speed. I needed to get out of here as soon as possible. The police car started to catch up with me.

“I’m almost there. I’m almost there.” I kept repeating to myself. The police car kept on getting closer and closer to me, but maybe luck was on my side, since I was getting closer to Meribel lane. I could see it! About 300 feet ahead of me. 200…100…50.. The police cruiser slammed into the back of my car, sending me propelling down the rest of the street. When the car began to shake and I felt myself changing back to myself I knew I was safe. I skidded to a stop on all four tires. It was completely smashed with shrapnel all around me. According to the repair man it was completely unrepairable. I couldn’t even sell the parts. That’s why I was really surprised when you tracked me down and wanted the ignition out of it.

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