We were standing in the rundown barn on Ben’s vacation property just outside Saranac Lake as dusk faded. A yellow fluorescent bulb was buzzing and flickering; mosquitoes swarmed in a blood-hungry cloud. My mouth was hanging open in awe.
“That,” I said to Ben, “is a 1970 Dodge Challenger R/T.”
“Yup,” he said, tarp still in hand. “With the 426 Street Hemi. Found it here when my Grandfather left us the house last year.”
“Does Diane know?” Diane was Ben’s primary partner and the crunchiest member of our constellation. She was back in the farmhouse with my partner Sarah, making dinner and catching up.
Ben chuffed. “She’s been all over me to register it with the EPA and find a buyer, but I’ve been busy. With stuff.”
“Right,” I grinned. “So, is this the real reason you invited us up here?”
“Nah. Sarah told me you two were having problems, and August in Manhattan always feels so pre-apocalyptic. Plus that place of yours gets a bit ripe thanks to the canals. We thought a change of scene might help.”
“Yeah,” I said. Wall Street’s canals could make the whole city smell fetid depending on the wind. And my relationship with Sarah had been wilting.
“You know we love her,” Ben said, turning serious. “Sarah’s the kind of person you list as your emergency contact. Know what I mean? Plus, she has that whole sexy obsession with cyberpunk thing going on. She’s basically the digital to your analog.”
If scientists ever figured out how to upload our brains to the cloud, Sarah would be an early adopter. Meanwhile, I worked for an artisanal distillery, and still ate meat when I could afford it; I carried my grandfather’s pocket watch and kept real, physical books. I’d also never had a primary partner.
For a long time, our differences had been good conversation fodder, but then we’d moved in together, and Sarah had started pushing me to update my lifestyle.
My eyes toggled between Ben and the aubergine Challenger. “Can I touch it?”
“This should be in a museum,” I said reverently.
“It gets better.” He pulled a keychain out of his pocket.
“It runs? Where’d you get the gas?”
“Old pump behind the barn,” he said. “Want to drive her?”
The car’s massive carbon spewing heart was seriously illegal. If we got caught on the road it would mean huge fines. Maybe even jail time.
Ben smirked at me like he had the first time we’d met in a Park Slope bar—he looked like Harrison Ford during his Han Solo days. “Come on. Let’s do it,” he said.
I smiled, remembering how he’d walked over to me that night, like we’d already known each other, like we’d intended to meet. Then he introduced me to Diane. Diane had introduced me to Sarah, and, over time, others in their collective orbit.
“Okay,” I said. “But you’re paying for the lawyers if we get caught.”
The Challenger roared like an angry predator and we went screaming off into the darkness, cruising north, past derelict filling stations, dying trees, and rotting strip malls.
“You know, Sarah’s not asking for anything crazy,” Ben said suddenly, shouting over the engine. “Most of us are sharing rent, bills, property. Setting up a legal partnership makes sense now that communal marriages are recognized. We’re not kids anymore.”
“Says the person joyriding in an illegal muscle car?”
We laughed and another mile vanished. Then Ben’s phone buzzed. He started texting.
“What’s up?” I said.
“Sarah and Diane,” he said. “Wondering where we are.”
“Should I turn around?”
He grabbed my leg. “I think you should really put the hammer down.”
Here’s the thing about modern cars: they’re quiet, clean, and drive themselves. Sarah and I had covered Brooklyn to Saranac in a cushy temperfoam and plastic bubble while we fooled around with our touchscreens.
The Challenger was a physical antonym to that low friction existence, a throwback to a time when freaks and freedom raged; it was feral, requiring constant attention. Driving the monster, I was almost euphoric. Until a pair of headlights appeared behind us.
“We have company.”
Ben looked over his shoulder and shrugged. “So, go faster.”
We were on a nice run of pavement with long, gentle curves surrounded by nothing but trees. Even so, I could feel my pulse throbbing as the accelerator climbed. The cabin noise was deafening; the steering felt increasingly shaky. It wasn’t enough.
Four hipsterish looking kids pulled up next to us inside a battered chassis at least ten years old. From the speed it was pulling, it was obvious someone had hacked the AI.
Suddenly, its exterior holoskin lit up with 70s skin flicks—at least a dozen different scenes juxtaposed to create a kaleidoscope of wildly pistoning bits. The kids laughed and hooted, pointing at our dumbstruck faces.
And three deer leaped into the road.
On reflex, I jacked the wheel and stomped the brake. The Challenger went into a slide. I swung the wheel back. We lurched and spun. Ben screamed. I thought, well, this was a dumb way to die.
We rocked to a stop on the shoulder, dust dancing in our headlights.
The beater was gone, having easily avoided the deer before vanishing around the bend. Hacked, ten years old, it had still been faster, and safer.
We sat in silence until Ben’s phone buzzed. He pulled it shakily from his pocket and barked out an adrenaline soaked laugh.
“Diane says if we’re not back in twenty minutes they’re calling the cops.”
I stared at the antiquated gauges, my chest and neck hurt from being whipped against the simplistic safety belts. Tentatively, I started the car and eased us back on the road.
“Diane was right. We should sell this thing.”
“I guess,” Ben said, rubbing his neck. “I’m just glad we’re alive.”
“Me too,” I said. I really needed to talk to Sarah.
About the Author
William's work has appeared in The Arcanist, Daily Science Fiction, Little Blue Marble, and other fine publications. You can also find him on Twitter at @DelmanWilliam, or on the mats at Fenix BJJ. If he's not writing, tweeting, or training, he's probably doing laundry.