Approaching midnight on a smooth stretch of a remote county road, the air was crisp; the stars shining hard and bright. Dash lights glowing warmly Jake’s truck lumbered and loped through a restless idle. Parked on the center line he owned the abandoned road.
He stashed a pint bottle under the seat, pressed his mouth to his shirt sleeve, and touched the radio volume up. The cab jangled with a deathless sweet Clementine, the biscuits and gravy of country-western song.
Headlights gleamed over a line laid out long and straight. It was a perfect night to see what she could do.
Chrome plated the intake stood prominently through the hood. The engine revved in bursts torquing the frame with promise. Jake imagined the starter stepping up — “On your marks” — raising a flag overhead; “Get set!” Answering, twin butterfly valves opened onto a gaping throat resonating hollow and hungering for air. The motor roared.
Tires smoking, the ‘57 Chevy leaped forward pressing the driver firmly into his seat, his fuzzy dice decidedly back. Jake whooped. In half a moment the speedometer registered eighty, ninety, one-hundred miles an hour… Jake whooped again.
Despite the engine being barely broken in, it couldn’t have waited another night. To the racing yellow clear coat and the flame job rimming the fenders, she was proving true, truer than true — his chariot — his wheels of fire. Pushing one-hundred and twenty miles an hour the truck hauled its single-minded existence down the road. Across the tailgate stenciled in bold script was a sweet sorrow, “Let us never say goodbye.”
Glowing gauges reported oil pressure and water temperature all where they should be. Satisfied, Jake eased off the pedal and patted the dash. Saturday night at the drive-in for a cherry-cola and a little business will show the boys what’s what. With pride and not a little love he glanced over the gauges once more and back to the road.
But it was too late.
A split-second decision followed a knee-jerk reaction, and the tires barked briefly in favor of his keeping control, taking the collision head-on.
But the collision didn’t happen — only a cold whoosh of white that instantly passed. Checking in the rearview mirror there was nothing. “What the hell was that?” he said.
At first a split second before the truck dissolved it it seemed some large white animal barreling across the road. But somehow that was not right. It was no deer, and it was no horse. That it had jumped and run was clearly so. But no matter, apparently it was only a puff of rolling fog.
Jake snatched a breath and blew hard. That what he’d seen proved neither deer, nor horse, (nor cow for that matter,) he was glad for the sake of his truck, its body, and the paint job. Reducing his speed more he tried to put the matter behind.
What nagged was it was a clear night without wind or reason for fog. The vision insisted on replay after replay in his mind. Jake reluctantly became convinced the vaporous shape had been neither four legged nor some rude patch of fog — but something clothed in fog and running on two legs.
Seeing himself step harder on the gas pedal scared him even more. He eased off and feebly laughed.
“Come Jake, ol’ boy,” he said. “That would have scared the buh-jeezers out of anyone.”
This statement would have been true but for the lone exception now sitting beside him, cold as ice and pale as death. She wore a white prom dress. Jake sensed it. Then he saw it. The headlights went crazy as his truck flipped and flipped some more.
When the truck finally came to a stop gasoline dripped and a hub cap rolled down the asphalt.
Upside down in the middle of the road smoke rose from the truck undercarriage. Jake regained consciousness. The radio was still playing but he was alone now. It had to have been a dream; he thought. He went asleep at the wheel, flipped the damned truck, and now his left arm wouldn’t work. He painfully hung upside down by the seat belt. The restraining buckle wouldn’t release and there was the smell of gasoline then a woof of flame from the rear of the truck.
Outside the smashed driver-side door, pale feet dangling below the hem of a prom dress lowered upon the broken glass strewn across the asphalt. She looked in on him struggling with the seat belt. Flames rose higher behind the truck.
“Jake,” she said.
Jake turned with a start, his heart withering to a prune. The light from the fire behind illuminated the bushes on the side of the road – bushes visible through her face as she leaned in for a kiss. He croaked, “You were always on the crazy side Beth. You can’t blame me for what you did. Please.”
“Let us never say goodbye, Jake,” she said.