Hello, friend. Who doesn’t love a good car chase? This one occurs about 110 pages into my story. In this scene Ethan, my hero, is forced to deal with the reality of his new life. Reader beware…its about 4K words, so get comfy. Enjoy!
Ethan eased the Falcon out of the garage and followed the road back to the gate. He stopped short of the fence and sat watching the windshield take on blots of sunset tainted purple and yellow water. The wipers made little headway on clearing the glass and beat a dull rhythmic thud as they chased the drops away just to repeat and begin again. The v8’s low rumble and a faint scent of hydrocarbons brought Ethan back to his childhood. He had spent many days and nights in the passenger seat of that very car, with his dad in the driver seat, just watching him be his dad and learning how to be a man.
His father would talk on things that Ethan failed to understand, but the tone, the inflections, the body language taught Ethan more than words. Some of his wisdom did stick, though. Ethan Senior held these things in high regard: Family. Helping the less fortunate. Hard, honest work. And Family. He made Ethan memorize it. Everything you do must begin and end with Family. He shook the bittersweet memories from his skull and eased his car under the raised security gate. He gave a wave to the camera knowing that his image would be obscured by the rain and that Andy wouldn’t be looking for it even if the weather were less severe. Andy was still angry, but no less a friend.
Under a pounding storm, Ethan made his way through the winding back roads from Andy’s bunker to the main highway. He took the same route back toward the city. The power on the 55 had been knocked out during a traffic accident the prior week. Wet weather had prevented repairs and, as a result, the street lights and cameras had been off line. The Falcon hummed a musical exhaust note and the tires flung sheets of water into the wheel wells and onto opposing lanes with a harmonic rush that vibrated the solid, old chassis. Ethan listened to the sounds and felt the rumble through the steering wheel. His mind raced.
He turned on the radio to distract himself. Ethan was tired of thinking. It hurt. The local news stream droned on in the synthetic voice of a British female. “…the death toll is expected to rise. Officials with the Center for Disease Control have isolated the origins of the killer vaccine to a clinic in the southern part of New Orleans. A vaccine for the latest strain of the influenza virus is under investigation and the vaccination process has been ordered halted until testing can clear the remaining stock of the drug. In other news, police are investigating the murder of twenty-four year old Loyola University student Lindsey Martin. Her body was discovered this morning by commuters in a train restroom on the east bound NORTon line. NOPD refused to share details of the killing, but did identify Codatech employee Ethan Hammond as a person of interest. So far, Hammond has alluded contact. Any information on his whereabouts should be…” Click. Ethan shut off the broadcast and gripped the wheel with all the power in his hands. He could not get away from his upended life. Everywhere he turned, there it was, taunting him. Staring him down.
Before he had the opportunity to process what he had just heard, a distant pair of headlights pierced the rearview mirror. A chilling wail accompanied the approaching white eyes. Ethan let up on the throttle. The lights gained on Ethan and shared the middle lane with him. The center of the road held the least amount of water during a storm due to the engineered crown, so Ethan remained and waited for the fellow traveler to either pass or light him up with red and blues. He clicked on the hazard indicators and slowed his speed. He tapped the brakes to illuminate the dim-by-comparison lamps on the back of the Falcon. The lights behind him overtook the rearview, saturating the cabin with daylight intensity. Ethan changed lanes to let the car pass.
Behind him, the follower changed lanes in accordance and flashed high beams in a frantic pattern. Ethan dug his device from his jacket pocket and performed a perimeter scan. The car showed to be unregistered and not of NOPD origin, though it was on-line, on a mission, and hauling ass. Closer still, the chaser continued to flash lights and follow inches from the chrome bumper of the Falcon. He could see two occupants in the car behind him. One wore glasses.
The streaked bolts of water on the side windows reflected Ethan’s device screen in a lightning pattern of ultraviolet blues. The engine revved as the Falcon’s brick-aerodynamics pushed its way through the cone of oncoming wind and rain. He could not outrun a modern Carbon Foam Capacitor powered car. The instant torque, all-wheel drive and very high tolerance for long, high speed runs dwarfed that of the old combustion engine that powered Ethan’s hot rod. He mashed the throttle and the exhaust pipes bellowed a building guttural groan as the rear tires gave way to the over lubricated pavement and spun an eerie howl before finding traction.
He felt a push and clunk as the follower made contact with the Falcon.
Who did I piss off? It’s not the cops.
The back end slipped to the left and then the right, fishtailing and weaving, trying to find a groove. Hot tires smoked and slid as Ethan hung on and kept the loud pedal planted to the panel. He watched in his rearview as the chaser overcorrected in his wake and skidded to stop on the shoulder. The Falcon pulled away from the mysterious car and Ethan didn’t let up. Five miles at full burn clicked away in the rain.
Ethan’s device buzzed. A Comm from Charles Jordan appeared in his contact lens. He blinked it away and held fast to the task of gaining a gap on the chaser. A series of texts from Charles populated in his periphery. Ethan asked himself, why would Charles hit me up on a Saturday night? I haven’t heard from him in a year.
He looked in his rearview mirror, then at the sideview. The car’s lights had disappeared into the vortex left by dirty waste the Falcon spewed behind. A flashing lamp on the dashboard indicated that the Falcon’s engine had entered a stage of protest and would be taking measures to shut off stages of power if Ethan didn’t play nice-nice in a hurry.
He let off the pedal and a backfire popped as the car slowed. Dammit, I need to get to the office. He pulled off the highway onto the feeder road, stopped the car and shut off all the lights. The car needed to cool off if he was going to make it to the other side of the lake.
While the engine sputtered and shook the car, Ethan thought about sending an anonymous message about the suspicious car to the NOPD traffic compliance department. Not the best idea considering recent information. The idea that Max could be behind it sank in further than he would have liked. If not Max, the cops were either involved, or knew something. He scrolled his contacts and found Officer Dredge’s e-card. Something about Dredge was off. He decided against a call to him. Ethan pinged his GPS location and logged a description of the unprovoked events in his notes. Though he could not describe the car’s specifics, he just knew that it was white and devoid of anything resembling style.
While he waited for the car to cool, he checked his messages. Charles had sent him a series of Comms, so he tapped those open first.
20:21 Charles: Hey Ethan, not sure if you remember me, it’s Charles Jordan from District Animal Rescue.
20:22 Charles: I also run the Food Packs non-profit. I told you about it at St. Joe’s bar like a year ago. Remember that night? When that nutty woman went all mean-drunk on us?
20:24 Charles: You said I could call you if I ever needed anything
20:25 Charles: I need help
Ethan remembered liking Charles, but he had bigger fish to fry. The Falcon’s temperature gauge pegged maximum. He shut the engine off and sat in silence. He could smell the hurt, like burning plastic, it made his eyes water. Light clinking sounds of metal cooling under his feet were a good sign that the temperature was headed in the right direction.
Ethan looked out the window and squinted to make shapes in the dark. The landscape around the car could have been anything. The map on his device screen showed small houses and a chicken processing plant to his right. Across the highway, an open field split by a gravel road lead to a hydrogen plantation and another small farm. Power must have been out to the whole area, not just the highway; not one light, the sea of black liquid surrounded him. He might as well have been marooned on an island.
In his head, he replayed the conversation he and Andy had that afternoon. Am I next on the list? Did I hurt Cosmo? What happened that night? The rain slowed to a mist as he waited for the car to give him a go-ahead. He got out of the car to inspect the bumper and stretch his legs. Ethan was concerned about the taillights. Even with the advent of landfill mining, old car parts were getting hard to find. The solid bumper showed no sign of impact. Lenses, still intact.
A distant whine like the mating calls of killer whales broke the silence. He turned to see what was making the horrid racket. A pair of headlights breached the imagined horizon Ethan had left behind minutes before. It had to be the chaser again.
Ethan’s lights were still off. The Falcon was silent. Maybe they won’t see me, he thought, they will just roar on by and I’ll live another day. He got back behind the wheel and waited.
The chaser cut through the sheets of saturated pavement at speed. Ethan ducked down below the bottom of the door window sill as if to hide himself from sight. The white egg-car approached the exit with lights on full bright, and Ethan squinted as the quick flash of the triangular beams caught a shiny edge of the Falcon’s metallic red paint.
The siren of electric power stopped with an abrupt thud, and red brake lamps lit the landscape red as it slowed to a stop and spun, heading the wrong way up the entrance ramp, just beyond the exit where Ethan hid.
The Falcon’s engine was nowhere near cool enough for action, but Ethan turned the key anyway. Click. Click.
Who wants me dead?
Click. Click. The engine was not the original fossil from the Old Century, but still it had hundreds of moving parts that needed to work together.
The chaser crested the exit ramp hill, and its headlights illuminated the sky as Ethan began to sweat and curse his decision to drive the old clunker so far from home. What was I thinking?
He tried the key again, with the pedal on the floor and a noise like a rotating coffee grinder grated his ears. With smoke shooting from the fenders and grill, the v8 roared to life, and Ethan jammed it into first gear without letting off the gas and let his left foot slide from the clutch. The engine roared and fueled the tires’ angry protest. As the Falcon’s cabin filled with artificial light, Ethan banged second gear with fervor.
The chaser sped full bore at the Falcon. Ethan had played chicken on bicycles as a kid, but never in a car. A virtual light bulb illuminated in his head. If is how they’re going to get me, I’m taking these fuckers with me.
He aimed the Falcon at the white lights with his foot planted on the accelerator. Tires bellowed blue-white smoke and shot out water spray and chunks of spent rubber stuck to the quarter panels. He cinched his seat belt. He grabbed third gear. He said I’m Sorry to Kevin for leaving him to Andy in his will. He white knuckled the wheel and stared down the lights. He braced for impact as the oncoming orb shifted direction and the vehicles traded paint. A chunk of something shiny broke through the passenger window and landed in the backseat. The impact sent the Falcon rushing into the grass.
Clumps of dirt and weeds coated the windshield and chucks of dense debris hammered the underside as the Falcon rode waves of unimproved field down an embankment and back onto solid tarmac.
Ethan felt shots of pain pulse through his lower spine and abdomen. Without lifting off the throttle, he sawed the steering wheel left and right to straighten the car’s course and clicked the wipers back on. They smeared mud on the glass, making visibility even worse. Through the haze, what he could see of the front end of the Falcon appeared intact.
In the rearview, sparks followed him as a broken piece of something dragged the pavement. Ethan skipped fourth gear and slid right into fifth, his right foot flexing the floor panel with intent. Lights on the dashboard blinked, and strange noises and smells filled the cabin. The car’s engine control module took matters into its own hands by reducing power output two miles up the road, just short of the next exit ramp, and slowing the Falcon down to limping speed. The engine idled and sputtered with an accompanying clanking noise.
Not a good sign.
He stopped the car, got out and old-man-shuffled to inspect the damage. There had been contact, but it just took off the door mirror and bent the chrome front bumper into a crescent. Some trim was missing and the paint scraped. Overall, not a death sentence for the old bird. Seems as though the chaser lost his nerve at the last minute.
Where was the chaser?
He looked to see a fat rat dragging his flaky tail down the shoulder of the highway. It stopped to chirp some inaudible nonsense at Ethan. He looked up to see the chaser approaching at high amperage, following the grooves made by his grinding descent.
He moved as fast an injured man could and hopped into the driver seat. He had time to put the car into gear as the chaser’s headlamps made contact with the passenger side door.
Time slowed. Ethan gripped the wheel and gear shift. The passenger door bulged inward. A symphony of mechanical whining and metal crumpling played in the foreground. Screws popped from their holes and bits of door glass peppered Ethan’s face as the egg-car made its way into the Falcon’s cabin. Ethan felt the wet plastic bumper of the chase car against his arm as it pushed him away. His head grazed the roof support on his way out. Weightlessness. Darkness.
* * * * *
Olivia knelt by his bed and kissed him on the forehead with tender lips. She spoke, but her voice met him with syllables of fright and fear in low tones not belonging in her sweet mouth. Her body evaporated before him and the illusion melted.
On his stomach, he lay on the road among bags and debris flickering in the raging heat from two cars that had become one. He tried to blink the images away. Under the crackling and hissing blaze, the screams of a dying man trapped in the chase car chilled Ethan’s skin. The roar of fire gave off a hint of thermal comfort. Water steamed up from the polycrete surrounding the wreck and resulted in a growing dry spot in the highway.
Ethan pushed himself up on his elbows and tried to move his extremities. Everything still seemed to work, but his wrists felt tight. His head hurt. The knees of his pants were stained bloody with small rocks embedded in the skin and burned like hell as he moved to a crawling position.
Confusion lifted in small bits. He didn’t have time to shut his door. The impact had thrown him from the Falcon and it was now facing north, still on the southbound side. Or is it facing south on the northbound side?
His car burned as he watched. The gut wrenching death pleas of the fading man waned and stopped. Another man lay twisted, not screaming or moving near what was the crinkled hood of the Falcon. The Falcon. It was his dad’s car. What had he done?
Ethan stood and walked toward the flaming wreck to listen for life. He made his way closer to the chase car’s cabin and the heat overtook him. Ethan cupped his hands to prevent his eyebrows from singeing and he smelled burning hair. Is that my hair, or his? Who died trying to kill me?
Ethan turned away and blinked his lens to command it on. It responded. His devices all showed to be near. He patted his pants, found his handheld and pulled it out. The screen was not functioning, but it blipped on-line and he put it back in his pocket. The signal jammer Andy had given him was still around his neck. He hobbled around the wreckage and picked up his satchel. The drives were still inside. As he scoured the white-lined highway for the rest of his belongings, he located an employee pass-badge on the ground and reached to pocket it, finding his already there. He pulled it back out and saw it belonged to an employee of Fuller Labs.
He looked back at the wreck and then at the badge. Fuller Labs, Andy was right. The road still had clues to offer, but NOPD would be en route soon. Ethan made quick work of gathering all the drives and devices scattered from both cars and stuffed them in his bag.
He scooped a few power cells and pieces from the street and ended up back at the wreck, fire still burning, not showing signs of diminishing. He lens-scanned the face-down man on the roadway. No vitals.
Ethan gave him a weak rib-kick to be sure. Still nothing. He bent and touched the man. His skin felt dry and warm. He poked him in the fat of his back and took a step away. He had never been this close to a person who died a tragic death. Ethan looked around and down both directions of the highway. He was alone. The only way this would stop was if they, whoever they were, thought he had been erased. He understood what he had to do.
They want me dead? I’ll give them dead.
Ethan bent, rolled the man over, and compared him to the photo on the found badge. His nose and left ear were missing, leaving meaty holes, but even with glazed, wide open, blood coated eyeballs, he resembled the man in the picture. His left arm bent in an unnatural direction and the ball of an exposed humerus glistened with a pink glow in the firelight. He had a wedding ring on his hand.
This was someone’s husband. Someone’s dad, maybe.
Ethan knew what it was like to lose family.
He took a step back and sized the man up. They were about the same build and height. He took his Codatech badge out of his pocket and dropped it on the ground, out of the reach of the fire. He put the Fuller pass in his bag.
Ethan felt the nape of his neck and scratched bits of dried blood from his Stemjack.
This has to be believable.
He picked up the man’s right hand and felt in the webbing between his thumb and first finger. His RFID chip was there. It had grown deep within the fatty tissue. This was a company man. Ethan dug in his bag for pliers and went to work on the hand like a child on a knuckle-deep-nose-picking expedition. The jaws of his tool found the chipset and, with a yank, pulled it out. He dropped it and the pliers in his bag.
The last thing he remembered before the impact was grasping the gearshift lever. It had broken off and landed in the floorboard of the Falcon. The shaft was about the right gauge for what he needed.
Ethan stood and pulled his jacket over his head to guard from the heat and stuck a foot in to kick it out. It slid across the road. With his jacket sleeve, he picked up the hot metal, walked to the body and rolled it back to its stomach. He straddled the dead man and sat on his back. He looked up at the purple, pulsating night sky and shouted, “I don’t know if anyone is listening, but this guy is already dead.”
I need to buy some time.
With a handful of hair, he pulled the man’s head back.
Charles had his Jack ripped out.
With the antique white handle ball in the palm of his open hand, Ethan thrust the sharp end of the gearshift into the soft of the dead man’s neck, just below the skull. He let go of the hair and reached around and jammed three fingers into the man’s mouth to feel for the end. The tongue, swollen and arid, made thigs difficult. Half-expecting the jaw to clamp down and bite, he made quick work of guiding the point just to the top of the dry roof. He yanked his hand out, shaking off invisible saliva. Making sure it penetrated deep enough, he twisted and then removed the lever. Blood oozed and brain matter stuck to the threads on the end of the shaft. He tossed the shifter into the fire. Ethan rolled off the man and onto his butt and fought back the urge to vomit.
Can’t leave any part of me here.
Using his legs to push the dead body into the front floorboard of the Falcon, Ethan immersed him in the flames. The sole of his right shoe took a lick of fire with it. He shut the front door as far as it would go and walked up the embankment, stamping out the trail of melting rubber. He stood atop the exit bridge and watched the emergency lights of distant rescue vehicles breach the darkness. A Barred Owl landed on the railing next to him. Ethan looked at the bird and it looked at Ethan.
“What?” Ethan asked.
“Hoooo,” the owl replied.
“You saw nothing.”
The bird spread its wings and flapped away. After removing the power cells from the devices in his bag, Ethan slipped through a fence and let the mothering blanket of nighttime hold him close.