I don’t know if any of you know how one gets to be on this side of the car blog screen door, but in my case it all started here. I wrote one of these Project Car Hell stories – one about a salvage title NSX – and after reading it, Murilee told me that I had to do one every day. Not wanting to disappoint a lady, that’s what I did. Those comments in turn got me noticed, and because of that I managed to make the leap from commenter to contributor over on Jalopnik, and based on that, I get to write stuff for you fine folks here.
But back when I was still a commenter, I wrote a story for a PCH that happened to fall on Halloween. I’ve always kind of liked it, so I thought that for this All Hallow’s Eve I might dust it off and fix a few of the typos so as to share it again with all of you. Those of you who go back a few years may have seen this before, and for that I beg your indulgence. For those of you who haven’t read this already, I hope you enjoy it, and that it sets the tone for tonight’s spooky festivities. The creep show begins after the jump.
I guess I should have known how this would turn out. I mean, I keep coming back to the phone call that set everything in motion, I should have known then that something was wrong with the whole situation. But how could I have? I’d been looking for a car like this for months, scouring Craigslist and prowling swap-meets but to no avail. I was about ready to give up seeing as when I liked something, my budget didn’t. Then came the call. . . Like I said, I should have known.
The call came from my brother-in-law, the one who can’t seem to find steady work, but still seems able to manage to find a steady supply of eye-reddening sinsemilla. He was really ampped to tell me about this buddy of his, whose uncle heard from the guy at the gas station, who – I had to cut him off. “Get to the point” I said, yawning and thinking how different my sister’s standards were from mine. “There’s a cherry ‘63 Impala SS for sale, one with a 409.” Suddenly he wasn’t such a bad guy. “It’s supposed to be pristine, and the coot who owns it must not know what he’s got because he only wants $666 for it.” There was a pause. “You still there, bro?” he asked. “Yeah, I’m still here. Six hundred and sixty six dollars, that’s nuts, are you sure about this?” Yeah,” he said “totally legit, you want the number?”
$666 seemed like an insane steal for a 409-powered ‘63 SS in what was supposed to be nice shape. No, more than a steal, it sounded like either a trap or that the seller must be bat-shit crazy. When I called the number my brother-in-law had given me, my second suspicion seemed confirmed.
At first I thought he was being wary, and maybe was planning to sucker me in and then try and take me to the cleaners. He seemed distracted, only answering my questions with monosyllabic responses and occasional grunts and whimpers that really set my teeth on edge.
Regardless, he did agree to show me the car, and I did manage to get out of him that while he didn’t want to sell the car, he needed to, for his health. He also managed to give me his address, and agreed to a meeting there. I planned on taking the cash, and hopefully driving the Impala home that day, if it really was as he had described it.
I made the trip up to his place with a buddy of mine, Seth whom I’ve known since 5th grade. He agreed to stick around and give me a ride back if things went south, or if the car turned out to be a total turd bucket.
When we arrived at the address, it was late afternoon, and the sun had lost its fight with the graying clouds in the late October sky. As we got out of the car and headed up the brick walk, Seth commented that it was “pretty damn quiet around here.” I noticed it too, not a bird chirped nor dog barked, only the dry fall leaves blown by the wind broke the heavy stillness.
Repeated knocks on the door went unanswered, the bell seemed not even to work, but we pushed it again and again. Peering in the windows revealed a dirty, disheveled living room, but no sign of the inhabitants. “Geez,” I said. “I told him we’d be here, what a flake!” Seth looked to the double-car garage at the end of the property, leaves and discarded newspaper pushed up against the old wooden door. “Maybe it’s in there?” he said, pointing with his chin to a second, walk-in door at the side. “Wanna’ check it out?”
The knob of the side door was old, tarnished and rubbed smooth from use. It turned easily the door creaking open revealing a dark coolness and something else. A smell emanated from within. We both instinctively covered our noses and went inside. The Impala was there, situated in the right-side bay of the two-car garage. As our eyes adjusted to the dim light provided by a lone four-pane window opposite us, we noticed that It appeared to be in as-described shape; good body, wheel covers and stainless side trim intact. Then a noise, a scraping like that of a ship against a dock, the stretching and relaxing of rope and following that we found the owner. In fact, we found his whole family.
There were three of them, An older-looking man, a woman who looked like life had not been too kind to her, and an overweight kid who appeared to have been in his early twenties. They hung from the main transverse rafter, angled from the corner of the garage nearest the roll-up door. Their heads were canted to the side, and were purple and bloated. The wife, who had been a plain woman in life, took on the caricature of a clown in rigor, with purple face, and mousy hair thrown forward from the jolt hitting the end of the rope. The son’s neck, pulled by what looked like a good 300 pounds of weight, was already stretching, elongating and separating the lumbar vertebra, the toes of his dirty sneakers nearly touching the floor. The owner looked the most life-like, if you can call it that. His eyes were open, and fairly bulged from their sockets, his tongue likewise appeared as though a macabre radish shoved between violet, swollen lips.
Beneath each was an upended kitchen chair which appeared to have been dragged into the garage for this intended purpose.
“Jesus H. . .” was all I could get out.
“What’s that in his hand?” Seth asked, leaning forward and grabbing a crumpled piece of paper from the contorted claw of the swaying owner. Opening the folds, and smoothing it out against his right leg, he read it. “TAKE THE CAR, TAKE THE DAMN THING BACK TO HELLS OWN FIRES.” it said, in a jagged scrawl dotted with what might have been spittle. In the center of the paper, held in the fold, was a single silver key.
We tried to call the cops, but our cells wouldn’t work. Cursing T-Mobile and our luck, we looked at each other and at the car. Suddenly Seth let out a long, low giggle. Not a happy one, but a nervous, kind of creepy one. “What the hell was that for?!” I demanded, appalled at his obvious disrespect for the deceased family not more than three feet away. “Nothing man, I, I mean, I don’t know.” He looked at bodies. “Dude, we definitely need to get out of here.”
Now, I don’t want you to pass judgment on my morals or anything, but we took the car. I don’t know what was compelling me, but the decision seemed out of my control, as though I was being driven by an external force, deciding my actions for me. We left the money, all of it, in the dust on the workbench, I mean it’s not like we were theiving the dead. A twist of the silver key in the ignition brought the Impala to life, the garage door went up sending the bodies swaying into one another like sides of beef, and away we went. I took the lead in the Impala, and Seth, who it seemed couldn’t stop giggling and had started to get a little wild-eyed, followed in his Honda.
We got out of that dead neighborhood and out on the highway and I started to feel a little better. The 409 really had torque in every gear, and the car felt tight and willing when you put the spurs to it. Traffic was light, and I was cruising along doing about 70 when I saw a light-bar in the rear-view. I let off the gas, not only didn’t I want to get popped for speeding, but I hadn’t quite figured out how to explain why I was driving a dead man’s car. As I slowed, the highway patrol cruiser pulled up next to me. I could see, out of the corner of my eye, his glances over at the dark, ominous car. Shifting to the rear-view again, I saw Seth pulling in behind me, and pacing the SS. He had a panicked look on his face, having seen the black and white slipping through traffic like a mako shark through the breakwater.
I decided to play it tough and turned to give the cop a cold, confident stare. He wasn’t looking at me any more he was looking ahead and turning his head from side to side, as though trying to extract something from his ear. Shaking his head, and rubbing his eyes he floored it, lifting the nose of the cruiser and shooting ahead of me.
The highway patrol car began weaving back and forth across all the lanes, “doing a traffic break” I thought. The cars started bunching up behind him, and what was previously sparsely filled macadam became four cars wide and three deep. As he crossed the lanes he also slowed, until we were all traveling at a crawl. I looked in the rear-view, but Seth’s Honda was no longer there, having moved into the number two lane next to me. I looked over and he gave me one of those “WTF” shrugs as we came to a complete halt.
The cruiser in front was now stopped dead center of the highway, and the driver’s side door was opening. A tall, leather boot emerged, followed by a pale, long-fingered hand on the door jam as the officer arose from the car as though out of a crypt. He was tall, and wore the expected mirrored aviators. His wide brimmed hat further obscured his continence, and I couldn’t tell what he was doing, and murmmered “There wasn’t anything in the road right here, what the hell?”
He seemed to be regarding the Impala, and my heart nearly froze. He’s here because of me! I thought, and my skin went cold. I got out of the car, and stood sheepishly behind the door, hands shaking. Starting to formulate excuses in my head I barely noticed him drawing his service pistol and grasping it in both hands. Something in my head, some baser survival part from the past, brought me back to reality just before the first shot rang out.
I twisted instinctively to the right to see where he was shooting, just in time to see the windshield on a Celica spider and explode in blood as the Toyota driver’s head was knocked back. The cop now was in one of those stereotypical poses you think only happens in the movies – knees bent, both arms out, popping off round after round. Bam, bam, bam. The F150 behind Seth’s Honda, jacked up on big tires, must have made a tantalizing target as he put two rounds into the cab, the driver slammed against the back window twice, the second time shattering it before he was thrown forward and onto the floor boards. I shouted to Seth to “get the hell out of there!” but it was too late. I could see the recoil pushing the cop’s arms back and up as two more bullets were unleashed, and heard the familiar sound of my friend’s car horn. Looking over, I could see his head slumped on the wheel, and a fountain of crimson squirting from a hole behind his ear and rivering down the door.
The cop, crazy as a shit-house rat, was shooting from slow lane to fast, and I knew that I was next if something didn’t happen. I saw the almost imperceptible shift in his targeting system as it locked onto me. I knew he only had one or two shots left in the gun and started to dive for the floor of the Chevy when I heard what sounded like an atom bomb go off, and saw the F150 that had been 20 feet away go sailing over my head in a cartwheel. Seth’s car was likewise smashed and pinwheeled out of the way, as a 6-axle crane truck smashed through the stopped cars at 80 miles per hour.
The cop, concentrating on me, didn’t have time to jump out of the way as the flat, steel plate bumper of the truck caught him at mid-hip, tearing him in half. His legs went down fast, and trailing ocherous internal organs, got caught in the undercarriage of the 10-ton beast, bouncing and rending apart. The rest of him looked like a fly on the windshield for an instant – arms splayed, his head canted macabrely – until the truck smashed into the cruiser causing a fireball to erupt into the sky and immolating the insane arm of the law. Hitting the cop car caused the crane to sway off its mount, throwing the truck wildly off balance and tipping it up on 3 wheels before rolling completely over with a gut-wrenching clang.
Shaking uncontrollably I got back into the Impala and threw it into gear. My hands were wet with sweat, and I thought I may very well have shit myself, but I managed to keep it together long enough to get the rest of the way home, and the car into the garage, where it sits now.
What could have caused this insanity? First the suicide of the previous owner’s family, then that cop going off the deep end, and I think Seth may have been losing it there too, what with the giggling and it being his idea to take the car. The Car. That Car. That’s what I keep coming back to, it’s the connective tissue between these psychotic episodes. Maybe it is cursed? Maybe it holds the souls of those too weak to resist its evil incantations. But. . . but that’s crazy. I’m not crazy, it hasn’t affected me in any way. No way, no way.
I’m going out there now, out to the garage. I need to confront this car, need to face whatever it is that’s causing this, put and end to it. I’m taking a road flare and a jerry can full of gas. I don’t trust the car. I don’t know the car. If I start to feel anything I’ll know what to do, I just hope it’s over quick and doesn’t hurt too bad. And if you should find this note, you’ll know too. Be careful. It knows what your thinking. And it knows how to make you. . . do things. I may not come back, and if I don’t, be forewarned. And for the love of God, don’t follow me. . .
Happy Halloween everybody.