From: “My Man Jesus Ain’t No One Night Stand!” &
Other Glimpses of the Second Coming (and Third, Fourth, Fifth)
– 9 Short Stories by L.E. McCullough – http://www.lemccullough.com/LEMcCullough/Stories.html
© L.E. McCullough 1993
The tow truck appeared less than a minute after my engine died and I’d coasted to a stop beside a “Visit Real Western Ghost Town — 16 mi.” billboard on the shoulder of a crumbling two-lane blacktop in the middle of nowhere Arizona.
Then there it was, pulling over from the opposite lane. . . a super-charged monster-wheel tow truck with LIFETIME TUNEUP crudely painted in red on the rust-caked side panel. “Can’t believe you were passing by!” I called, shielding my eyes from the gusting sand as the driver snaked out a thick coil of black cable from a gigantic generator straddling the truck bed. “I think it’s the battery.”
He peered out from the hood, his wizened, grey-bearded face punctuated by mirrored sunglasses and grease streaks. “More than the battery, sonny,” he droned in a voice as flat as the brown, shimmering horizon. “Start ‘er up.”
Great, I thought. A genuine antique codger. I slid behind the wheel and turned the ignition. The generator belched, the engine rasped and a flash of light seared my eyes. I blinked and stared out the windshield at the cactus grove occupying the spot where the billboard had been, not noticing for another several seconds that the blacktop had disappeared and my car was sitting alone atop a sand dune.
Well, not exactly alone. A half dozen guys dressed up in medieval knight costumes and toting big Zorro-type broadswords stood about ten yards away babbling in Spanish. “Señor Englishman,” one of them said, approaching me with swordpoint extended. “You trespass on territory claimed for His Royal Majesty King Phillip of Spain by his loyal conquistador, Capitán Francisco de Coronado.”
He bowed, real serious-like, and I laughed. “Guess you guys are from the theme park up the road. Jesus Yippi-Yi-Ay Christ, you must be hot as hell wearing all that armor. Esta una fast food taco place around aqui?”
El Capitán growled and the others started toward my car, weapons raised. “Infidel!” he shouted, whirling his blade over his head. “In the name of the Inqusition, I dispatch you to the devil!”
“Whoa, muchachos!” I mashed the accelerator and the motor wailed and I prayed the windshield was one of those new silicon-tempered kind guaranteed to repel 16th-century saber attacks.
“Told you it ain’t the battery. It’s the timing belt.”
I opened my eyes to Grey Beard grappling with a bunch of loose wires under my hood. The billboard and blacktop were back, and there was no sign of El Capitán y los hombres.
“What’s going on?” I yelled.
“Never you mind. I’m busy.”
“I nearly got sliced into guacamole and you’re busy?”
“Dang timing belt was cattywampus. Give ‘er another spin.”
It’s gotta be the sun. I’m still asleep with that barmaid in the Route 95 Motel 6, or maybe I’m in a deep coma somewhere, but I am not standing in the middle of the damn desert with some geezer and–
“Crank ‘er up, you’ll be outa here ‘fore you know it.” He rubbed his chin with a socket wrench, then leaned over and spat in the cracked earth.
I eased back into the car, keeping him in sight every step of the way. Here goes. . . I turned the key, heard the motor catch and cough and sputter. . .
Then WHAM! I bounced sideways against the doorframe and looked out the window, thinking I’d been rear-ended by a train.
I was in the middle of a grade Z cattle drive movie, surrounded by hundreds of cows butting and stumbling their way across the underbrush. In the rearview mirror, a covered wagon with a dozen black-hatted riders was wheeling into view.
I leaned on the horn. “Mr. Big Wrench, I want outa here!”
A shotgun blast rang out, and I ducked below the dash waiting for the sound of shattering glass and possibly my own skull caving in. But there was only the low whistling of the desert wind, and I cautiously lifted my head.
Grey Beard leaned in the window holding a small, oily rubber fragment between his stubby fingers. “You got a leaky bovine insulator valve. Don’t know if I got a spare, but I’ll look.”
I pressed the door lock. “You’re a lunatic. Please leave.”
“Son, a bad BIV is no bucket of grins, as you just found out. How often you service this vehicle?”
I could make a run for it. Better humor him. “I didn’t know they had to be replaced.”
“Most folks don’t. Then again, most folks don’t know nothin’ about what’s really in a car. Come here, I’ll show you. See that squarish thingamabob by the distributor?”
“What about it?”
“That’s your thermo-hyperbole aerator. And that bronze wire alongside?”
“Your libido intake coupler. Looks a mite threadbare to me. Over by the fuel pump — there’s the scruple armature. And the divinity differential right there beside it. I’d have that decorum bypass manifold checked out, they can snap on you in a hard freeze, and it wouldn’t do one bit of harm to clean out your secondary infatuation sensor with some good, old-fashioned Burmashave.”
I scanned the empty road ahead and calculated my chances for escape.
“Needn’t try to skedaddle. Sure, I can read your thoughts. Ain’t all that innaresting, ‘cept for the barmaid. Heh-heh-heh.”
I looked into his face, and the mirrored surfaces of his sunglasses began to spin and whirl crazily, fusing into a deep glimmering vortex.
“Who are you, old man? Are you God?”
“Never you mind. While you’re waitin’, I’m gonna change out that sanguinity determinator. See where it’s pressed up against the contrabass metaphor mute?”
“Am I dead? Is this hell?”
“Just fulla questions, aren’t you, sonny? Hand me that pretence perfolator, if you please.”
I sat down on a rock and sighed. “I’m not going to make my meeting in Phoenix, am I?”
He paused and wiped his forehead with his sleeve. “How much time you spend behind the wheel?”
“Maybe forty hours a week coming and going.”
“Figure in your trips to the grocery, drycleaners, bank machine, video store and the average person, even a little kid, spends almost half their waking hours absorbing the car’s LFPR.”
“Life-Force Particle Radiation. The soul of the car. Humans these days are chock fulla tension and phobias and psychotic episodes and repressed anxieties from their childhood, and it all mingles in with your car’s life-force. That’s why most cars get outa whack so quick.”
“You learned all this in mechanic school? I’m impressed.”
“One glance under the hood and I know exactly what ails a person’s soul. A broke-down axle or a busted fan belt ain’t just a piece of metal or rubber gone bad. Corresponds to some strained part of your psyche, a part of your spirit that’s sick or twisted or about ready to go haywire and do you permanent damage.”
“You billing me extra for the philosophy lesson?”
“Remember this. All the traveling you do represents your progress through life. When you figure out where it is you really need to go, you’ll find the car that gets you there.” He gave a final wrench twist and closed the hood. “Hop in and fire up. I got another call comin’ in.”
I shrugged and primed the gas pedal. “So what’s my engine shutting off in the middle of the desert telling me about my inner essence?”
He chuckled and mounted the cab. “May take awhile gettin’ used to the notion, but. . . turns out your alternator reset modifier was misadjusted all these years. You’ll be lots happier now that’s fixed. Trust me.”
I frowned and turned the key. “My alternator what?”
“Adios, amiga.” He waved as he sped away, vanishing in a thick, swirling cloud of gritty black dust that blotted out the road ahead.
The engine caught, and I pressed the accelerator hard just as the dust swept over the hood and everything sank into black. . . and then. . . mauve? “Hey, wait! Whaddya mean my — yowwwaaaaaAAAHHHHH!!!!!!”
* * *
I made my meeting in Phoenix. And I made a huge impression on the boys in the boardroom with that hot-pink mini and those white vinyl go-go boots.
Of course, it was all a little difficult at first: getting used to wearing high heels, shaving my legs, choosing the correct shade of lipstick to match my blouse, putting on eyeshadow zipping down the interstate during rush hour.
But I got the contract and married the marketing director, our mutually affirmative spirituality parameters inspiring us to start a nationwide chain of self-serve psychic bowling alleys that earned us twenty or thirty million last year. I’m not as good at math as I used to be.
But after that alternator adjustment, I sure do know a lot more than the average American woman about how a car really runs.
* THE END *
And this bonus story in honor of Pete Ford and The Singularity… it’s coming, R U Ready?
© L.E. McCullough 1997
“Your problem, dude, is lack of charisma,” admonished Brad, Dave’s best friend and modem-mate. “Better get some if you want a date for the dance this weekend.”
He’s totally right, thought Dave, flipping off the vidphone and opening his wardrobe closet. “I need mega-magnetism and fast.”
“Yo, Davie-sweets, you super-rad bytehunk,” replied Maxine, his pillow computer. “Would monsieur like a leettle turbo massage zees a.m.?”
He clicked her out of French Maid MTV mode and into Ultra Macro-Mom. “Right now I need major image reprocessing. Open Attribute Update Program, extension C-13.”
He glanced anxiously through the files: Camouflage. Cannibalism. Carbonation. Celibacy. Charisma. Bingo! “Maxine, access ‘charisma’, then scan for viruses and neuron compatibility and quikpatch directly into cortical drivelink two.”
“And you just strap down in that reset chair, young man, and get comfy while we fix you allllll up for your big date. You know, these nasal lobeports of yours remind me of your father more each day.”
That Friday, from the moment he and Cindy stepped into the new PromWorld ThrillMall, Dave felt magic in the air. “I’m so incredibly drawn to you,” Cindy cooed, as the holoband kicked into a surging medley of Miss America Ate My Puppy Dog tunes. “I always kinda thought you were smart, witty and athletically built, but nowwwwwww — I just can’t take my eyes off you.”
Likewise transfixed, Dave stared at her angelic, beaming face, which had only an hour before been reshaped by the new Sony/Chanel Virtual Elegance FaceWriter® Font.
“Cindy, you’re so. . . so. . . divinely flawless — i-i-in a most extremely bodacious way. Will you, like, marry me?”
Men, she chuckled as they strolled to the dance sleds. So easily deceived. Marry him? His mother probably still washes his diskdrive.
* THE END *