Old cars stink. Sort of a mixture of melted plastic, crusty leather, mold and musty old crackers. Trusty, as his previous owner had named him, had a color to match his smell. My dad had promised to help pay for a paint job, but for now I was stuck with the embarrassing greeny-brown (where he wasn’t rusted through). His one defining feature was what was under his hood; a beautifully tuned engine and every tube and wire in place.
I remembered how the old man had slammed his palm down on the old clunker. “Cars like Trusty,” He had said, “they have old souls. Just treat them right, and they’ll be with you forever.”
I had laughed it off as an old man’s senility, but…uh-oh. A cop. My breath shortened as I caught sight of the now familiar car behind me. My hands gripped the steering wheel and I nervously checked all of the “ometers.” Everything looked right, but I knew from experience that that meant nothing. Sure enough, the blue lights flicked on, and the cop even wailed his siren a little. “shit.” I muttered. “shit shit shit.” I resisted the urge to smack the dash and carefully pulled over. I shut Trusty off, because, despite his inner workings, he wasn’t the best at idling. I swiped my fingers through my hair, and flicked a glance in the rearview. The cop heaved himself out of the car, one of those that are well-padded with donuts. “Shit.” I said again as I realized I recognized him. He swaggered over to my car and I cranked the window down, doing my best impression of “honest and upright.”
“Officer.” I said with what I hoped was a winning smile.
“Second time this week, Chad.” The officer smiled patronizingly back. “That’s not a very good record.” He chuckled and patted his belly lovingly.
I waited in silence while he lumbered around my car, checking it over. “Nice old classic you’ve got.” He said. “Did you just get her?”
I stifled the impulse to correct the gender—Trusty was so obviously male—and just nodded. “Bought it three weeks ago sir. Uh, can I ask what’s wrong?”
The officer frowned at me. “You in a hurry?”
“Just getting home from work.” I glanced at my watch significantly. “I’ve got a curfew.”
He nodded. “Well, I can understand that, son, but it’s still no excuse to go 45 in a thirty mile zone. Now, since I let you off with a warning last time, I’m afraid I’ll have to write you a ticket.” I stifled my sigh of irritation. “It won’t take too long, and after all, everybody makes some mistakes their first week or two out.” The officer patted his belly again and walked on back to the patrol car; I cranked the window up again, since the night was cooler, and sat back in the seat and closed my eyes.
The officer was wrong. Some people do make mistakes; sure, some even make two or three in their first week.
But eight pull-overs in two weeks? That was beyond ridiculous and headed into the extraordinary. Or the supernatural.
I couldn’t forget what the Mr. Simms had said as he handed me Trusty’s keys. “Now, you be careful with Trusty here. He’s a nice old car if you treat him right to begin with.”
I’d kind of nodded and smiled, and driven very carefully home. My dad and I had checked Trusty over that night and we both agreed it was a good first car. I had driven him on a few errands, and then on the first day of school, proudly parked in the junior parking lot. That’s where the first problems arose.
“Hey, Chad! That your grandma’s car?” Tim, my best friend teased when he saw my car. Tim’s family was pretty well-off, and he had gotten a brand new Camero for his sixteenth birthday the previous year.
“Come on man, at leas it bought it with my own money.” I let the teasing slide. But it went on, with my other buddies joining in. Finally, to get them off my back, I popped the hood. “Well, I guess he’s pretty good underneath.” Rick, whose father was a mechanic conceded. “Too bad about the paint.”
“And the body.” Tim said.
“And the rust.” Nick, chimed in.
“Yeah, yeah, but my dad said he’d get me a new paint job for my birthday in October.” I slammed the hood down. “Trusty’s got it where it counts.”
“Trusty?” Nick laughed. “You named that thing Trusty. What is it, a dog?”
“I didn’t name it, bonehead, the old guy who had it before me did. Anyway, it fits it. So what?” I leaned against the car. “You don’t even have a car yet. Still getting rides with your little sister.” Nick frowned but stayed quiet.
“So, you want to race tonight?” Tim said, glancing at his bright little sport scar. It was parked next to Trusty and was practically dwarfed by my boxy monstrosity.
“Sure,” I said as the bell rang and we split up.
That night we met at the quarry. As far as racing clichés went, this was it, narrow, secluded road that ran all the way down the hill. It was perfect for thrills; or killing yourself, as my mother would probably say. The hill was a pretty gradual slope though, so, unless you drove off the road at the top, you probably wouldn’t kill yourself. We zoomed down the road a few times, Trusty keeping pretty good pace with the Camarro. At the end you could rev up and spin out in the gravel. So long as you kept track of the quarry walls, you could get three or four doughnuts in before you had to slow down.
I remember it pretty clearly: We decided on one more race before we both had to get home for curfew. The roar of the engines sounded like animals challenging one another. Tim zoomed down just inches ahead of me. I was tailing, ready for the last turn where I thought I could move ahead. The turn came, and I slipped along side Tim, revving upon the outer edge of the road. I honked my horn triumphantly, and that’s where things went wrong. Trusty hit something—a bump or a rock—and I spun off the side of the road. The side of the quarry that the road cuts through is not too steep, but still plenty dangerous if you hit a wrong turn. Which I had. The car ripped through the bushes and jounced down the hill. I think I closed my eyes for part of the ride down, but i do remember seeing the headlights bounce crazily, until we landed with a crash and a groan on the rocky floor. I sat for a moment, hands glued to the steering wheel, hardly daring to breath. I wiggled my toes, and then carefully unfolded my fingers. My neck hurt something fierce, but, amazingly, I wasn’t bleeding. Trusty had shut himself off and I took the key from the ignition. Tim came roaring into the quarry just as I was slowly pulling myself out. “Ow.” I said as he came over.
“Dude! You alright?” He asked.
I shrugged, then winced. “Guess so. Just sore.” I looked up the hill, “How far was that drop?”
“Like, 50 feet, man!” Tim was totally amazed. “You really ok, Chad?”
“Yeah, I’m fine.” I straightened my back and turned around to look back at the hill, tracing the path of my descent by the skid marks and bushes. “Dude, you're crazy.” I told Tim. “That's only like, 15 feet or so.” I turned back to my car. “I just hope Trusty’s alright. I don’t want to have to explain anything to my parents.”
“That name is totally stupid.” Tim said with a chuckle. We checked Trusty over, but everything looked fine. There were a few new scratches in the paint, but the old car was already so rusted up nobody would’ve noticed.
“Ready to go?” Tim said and I nodded. Trusty turned on again, and we limped home together. “Sorry about that.” I said to the car. (Hey, I was still a little shell shocked, you know?). I patted the dash, and thought I heard a rumble in response. I hoped it was a good rumble.
Tim’s house was closer to the quarry than mine. He honked and waved as he peeled down his street. I honked back, and kept on towards home. I was literally two turns away from my house when the inside of my car lit up with blue. “Uh-oh.” My heart thudded. Had they seen us racing and followed me? No, that was impossible. I pulled to the side, half-expecting the police car to go around me. He parked right behind and the officer got out. “Shit.” I said, and cranked down my window.
“License and registration.” The cop sad, shining his flashlight directly in my face. I blinked, and pulled the glove compartment open. “Here.”
The officer looked my license over, taking extra car looking at me. Then he gave both things back and stepped back. “It’s no problem son, you’ve just got a brake-light out. Get that fixed, ok?” I nodded, and at his signal pulled away.
That was only the beginning. Did I mention eight pullovers? Since that night racing I’ve fixed brake-lights, the turn signals and just about every sparkplug in the car. All the wires are still attached and I’ve checked everything underneath. And what Mr. Simms said, well, it keeps coming back to me. “Old cars have souls.”
I know this sounds crazy, but I think Trusty’s playing tricks.
I couldn’t talk to anybody about this…they’ll all think (rightfully) that I’ve cracked up. And besides, this was between me and Trusty.
So, three weeks later I was in a little bit of a hurry, but not because of curfew. I wanted to get out to the quarry before the racers got there. I wanted some alone time with Trusty.
We parked at the top of the hill, facing the road. The sun was just a sliver of gold on the rim of the quarry. I kept Trusty on and in drive. “Listen, car. I’ve been pretty good to you.” I said, feeling a little foolish. “Eight times to get pulled over? Isn’t that a little ridiculous?”
I didn’t hear a rumble or a click yet, so I went on. “I don’t know how much of this I believe, but this kind of stuff has got to stop. You and I, we can be friends or we can be enemies. But I warn you, if we are enemies, I’ll just put you in neutral right now and let you go off this hill.” I didn’t think about how I would explain that to my parents. “So, are we friends?” I slowly took my foot off the brake, still in drive. Trusty moved forward down the quarry road. Halfway down the road, still going at a snail’s pace, I began to feel pretty foolish. I had half made up my mind to turn around and go home when the car perceptibly sped up. “Hello?” I said. I pumped the brake but nothing happened, and now the car was going faster. We were nearing a tight curve at around forty miles an hour. “Trusty, cut it out!” I swerved around the curve, but didn’t quite make it. With some irony, I realized that this was the same curve I had first crashed on. We went over again, and I held on, again, sitting low in my seat so my head didn’t hit the ceiling this time. We landed with a clunk on the quarry floor, again. I opened my eyes. Trusty hadn’t shut himself off. “Are we done, car?” There was no answering rumble, which I took to be a good sign. I put him in reverse and backed around.
The ride home was uneventful. I even had a policeman follow me a few blocks…but no blue lights that time. I pulled Trusty into the garage and got out. “Alright, old guy. I’ll take it easy.” The engine ticked, but not impatiently. “But you’ll forgive me if I don’t talk to you in front of my friends?” I grinned at my own ridiculousness and went in for dinner.
© Orianna Pratt, 2008