The Writer's Voice
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Daniel R. Menage
Chapter 1: The Drive
I pulled into the merge lane to get onto highway 180. Once in the lane I pushed the accelerator of my 1980 Trans-am to the floor and felt my car rocket forward. I pushed the clutch in and let off the gas and shoved the car into a hard second. And felt the car rocket again, then third. In the middle of third I pulled onto the dark highway. I slammed the car into fourth gear and placed both my hands on the steering wheel. I glanced at my speedometer. My speed was exceeding that on the speedometer.
My headlights illuminated only a limited distance ahead of my speeding car. The trees on the other side of the ditch made the road look unimaginable small. I flicked on my driving lights. Immediately they gave me an extra hundred feet ahead of my car. Still that seemed like only a few seconds of reaction time. The stars were out and the moon cast a faint light on the road beyond my headlights. I don’t know where I was going, or why I was going there. I just had a need to drive. I reached for the radio. I felt the knob in my fingertips. I began to turn it. I didn’t want it blaring loud but some background noise would be nice.
The engine of my Trans-Am was an eight-cylinder Chevy 350 LT1. And the dead highway was eerily quiet. The radio clicked on, just static. I tuned it left, nothing. Then back to the right, dead. “Shit,” I said out loud before I could stop myself. I took my hand off the radio and placed it firmly back onto the gearshift. I was trying to keep my head. I don’t know why but I was on the verge of losing my mind. What was causing the sudden mental meltdown I was unsure of.
But still there was a need to unwind, a need to let loose, to do something to keep myself sane. In the past that thing had been driving. But tonight a simple drive in the country had turned into a test of will power. I never smoked cigarettes before in my life but now I felt like starting. I glanced right, the brush and everything was heavily blurred by my speed. I glanced left, there was a bunch of high school kids setting small bushes on fire. I watched the flames burn. Watched them crushing half-full beer cans only to remove another from a cooler.
Watching those late teens having fun made me feel so alone, so distant from the rest of humanity. I felt as though I needed someone. Just about anyone would do, anyone who would love me. I needed someone to sit in the passenger seat on rides like this. Maybe I needed someone so I didn’t do things like this. I knew that I would be gone long into the morning, that I might comeback sometime tomorrow. And then things would go back to normal for several weeks. But into two or three weeks I would do this again. I would return for another rampage. In the two years I lived in Golden I had driven almost every road in BC. But I had driven them all alone.
After several hours on the desolate road a green road sign flashed by. I only caught one name on it. “Victoria.” “Well, I guess I’m going to Victoria,” I said to my self. I laughed after thinking about the thought that I was talking to myself. I knew Kelowna would be coming up in a few hours; I was gonna stop there and have some coffee. Till then all I had to do was drive.
Normally if I had planned to go there I would go in through the Roger's Pass. But tonight was different, I had never traveled this road. It was new to me. I lived in Kelowna for several years as a travel agent for the surrounding area. Well I was more like the guy who takes the pictures for the brochures. No matter I traveled every road out of that god forsaken place. But I had never come across this one. But I knew the only way I could get from Golden to Victoria was to go through Kelowna. Unless you drive several hours to the north then get onto a back road for two more hours and then merge onto the Trans Canada highway. And I knew that I hadn’t gone that route.
I saw a speed limit sign coming up. I focused my eyes on it. The sign read 40. And that didn’t make sense to me. Most of the highway speeds even in the mountains didn’t go under 50. And that was even through the Roger's pass, which is where most accidents happen. And this was a fairly straight road. I mean it’s the mountains you can’t have a perfectly straight road in the mountains. But still.
I saw a person up ahead. They were walking with their thumb stuck up. I put my car into third and gently applied the brake. Then pushed the clutch and into second. Then I pulled up beside the hitchhiker. I stopped just ahead of her. I opened my car door. And got out of the car. I stood beside my Trans-am with my arm on the roof. “Need a ride?” I shouted to her.
She began to run. She came up to my car. She was carrying a duffel bag. “Are you serious, you gonna give me a ride?” she said. She sounded old, but her face looked youthful in the moonlight.
“Sure am, and as far as you're going,” I studied her. She looked like a college student. “I’m on my way to Victoria and that’s pretty much as far as you can go.”
“Well I’m heading to Vancouver so we can travel together,” she held her hand across the roof of my black car, “I’m Victoria.”
Utterly taken by the sheer oddity that just unfolded in front of my eyes I forgot to receive the handshake and just stood there. After what seemed like a few seconds I held my hand out across the roof to receive the gesture.
“Well, Victoria, do you want me to put your bag in the trunk?” I said. I was still a little shaken by what was happening to me tonight.
“Sure,” she was so pleasant, and the way she dressed. It was like she was from a different time. Like the past. She was wearing stone washed bell-bottom jeans and a tie-dye long shirt with small round glasses and her hair was long and straight. She was a strawberry blond. I walked to the back of the car and pressed the latch release for the trunk. She lifted her heavy bag and set it gently in the trunk. The shocks on my car absorbed the weight.
I slammed the trunk closed. I noticed something different on the trunk. The top always had this huge rust spot on it. Right in the center. I never missed it. It was gone now. As a matter of a fact my car was no longer a dull black; it shone in the dull light. It surprised me. The car looked new. I did a double take. Looking at the trunk then across the roof. I was beginning to be scared.
“Well we should be going,” I said taking one last look at the rear of my ‘new’ car. I was sure that my car was newer, I wasn’t sure how though. I began to walk towards the front of my car, to the open door. As I did I ran my hand up the smooth lines of my car. Minor changes had been made to the car. Just little things like, the small back windows were tinted, and the driver’s side had a black strip on the bottom and rear side of it. And I was sure that the antenna was on the other side before.
I reached into my pocket. The keys were there. I don’t know why I reached into my pocket. I left the car running. But If I had left my car running why were the keys in my pocket? I was on the verge of a total meltdown. I wanted to know what was going on. I got in and closed the door. It closed with a soft click noise. Which was a positive change from the loud bang I was used to. I looked out across the hood; there was a white decal of a huge Phoenix with spread wings across it. That was definitely different. The interior was leather, instead of the cheap seat covers I was used to; another bonus.
I stuck the keys into the ignition. I was used to having to ride on the gas to start my car. Normally I would give it several turns over then tap the gas and it would start. But this car was different there too. It was as if this wasn’t my car anymore. Had this girl changed everything? Had it been her that made me go out for a drive tonight? Or was this a dream?
My mind was racing to make sense of this new reality. The car sat there idling. That was something that was different as well. My old car had a high idle. This new one was a very low one, so low I could almost count the rotations. A very Thump, thump, thump, type idle, sounded like a blower had been attached. The speedometer was different as well. It was in MPH. That was not as weird as the other changes. I went to push the clutch in, and found no pedal. It was an automatic.
“Well,” Victoria said, “We going to get out of here or should I walk?”
“No, no we’re under way. I’m just praying for a safe journey.” An excuse for the not so simple reality of things. I pushed the gas. The engine roared to life. The engine's low thump of an idle picked up and the car vibrated; I was sure this wasn’t my car. I looked in my side mirror as I pulled off the shoulder. I looked younger. My eyes were brighter, my hair shorter. My skin was tight and new. I had a scruffy beard. “Stop focusing on yourself,” I though to myself, but I didn’t dare say something like that out loud.
About half an hour passed before we said anything to each other. But the first words that came out of her mouth frightened me. She said, “Did anything strange happen to you tonight?”
“Why do you ask?” I said. I had found the cruise control that had been installed in this car.
“Because,” she sounded nervous, “when you pulled up I got a glimpse of you and you looked older than you do now. And so for a matter of a fact did your car.”
“You noticed that little incident too?” I asked. I was beginning to think that this was a dream.
“Yea - I think my clothes changed too, in fact I’m pretty sure they have.”
“I wonder why those things happened, or how.”
“I was a collage student,” she sounded proud of that fact.
“I was a digital camera salesman.” I had a feeling that job didn’t exist now though.
“Boring, I take it.”
“Fairly. That’s why I left Golden tonight.”
“You lived in Golden? I don’t know why I left college. I just had this feeling that I needed to get away from everyone else and get into a stranger's car.” I thought she was coming on to me. She spun in the seat so she was lying on her side. I glanced at her. She quickly moved into a normal position. “I don’t know what came over me. I’m normally very conservative and would never do anything like that.”
“I don’t know what’s going on, but I want some answers,” I was getting that smoking feeling.
“Yea me too,” she demanded. She sounded very determined. I didn’t know where the next town was but I was sure as hell stopping there.
It took a while before a sign came up. It read “Kelowna – 15 Miles.”
“Miles? I thought we were on the metric system,” I pointed out. Even though I was pretty sure that I didn’t need to.
“Yea, we were on the metric system, and my clothes. I want my old ones back,” she sounded like a little kid, whining for what she wants.
“You look like a hippie,” I started to laugh.
“I don’t, you're mean.” But then she started to laugh too. “Peace, love, no more hate,” she said in a dreamy, sarcastic tone.
“Wait, I got one.” I began to take deep breaths to calm down a bit, “Dude, come in sit down and sum it up with me. Forget your troubles, let the smoke carry them away.” I used that same dreamy sarcastic tone to spiel off a couple of sentences. We started to laugh again. “We're low on gas, we should fill up in the next town.”
“And I’m hungry, can we get something to eat as well?”
“Sure, it’s probably about eight o’clock in the morning. I’m sure something will be open.”
“We have to both remember not to do or say anything that shouldn’t be said.”
“Like what?” I didn’t know why I couldn’t talk normally.
“Because, if this is the past, you can’t say that you sell digital cameras. They haven’t been invented yet.”
I saw the city limits sign ahead. In bold black lettering read, ‘Welcome to beautiful Kelowna city.” The town looked just as it had in the late seventies. There were orchards everywhere and small time ‘malt shops’ as they were called in those days. People roamed the streets dressed in what I could only assume was the latest fashion craze. This was the miniskirt era. Which meant the year was around 1970 to 1978.
I saw a gas station with a flickering neon sigh hanging in the window. I pulled the black car into the service lot. Immediately a short pudgy kid came running out of the small shack where you bought chocolate bars and chips.
The kid had a height of around 5’5” and probably near 160 pounds. With short curly red hair, and a large sum of freckles that covered his face. I rolled down the window and the kid bent down so he was at eye level with me.
“How may I help you, sir?” the fat kid said politely.
“Filler up,” I said in a casual tone.
“Filler up?” Victoria said.
“I’m from here around this time period. I know how to talk.” I said defensively. I wanted to look under the hood of ‘this’ car so badly. I pulled the hood release. The hood popped up slightly at the back. I opened the driver's door. I left the door open and walked to the front of the car. I was right up against the outside of the driver's door. And then the moment of truth came.
I lifted the hood. It weighed a lot, I remember that, more than my old one. I looked the engine over. One of the first things I saw was that this car had a huge ram air blower mounted on the motor. The engine itself was a big block Chevy eight cylinder. I looked the car over. It had changed distinctly since last night. It was no longer a Trans-Am, it was around a 1975 Pontiac Firebird. And it was a dark red not black. I closed the hood. And got back into the car. I sat there for a few moments, then I said without warning I said, “This isn’t my car anymore.”
“What do you mean?” Victoria asked.
“I mean, my car was a black 1970 Trans-Am, with a stock motor. This is a deep red 1975 Pontiac Firebird, with a blower. This isn’t my car.”
“That’s weird. We should find a motel and work this out. Work out a story as to why we are acting strange. As to where we're from and what we do.”
“I’ll go for that. I think there’s one up the street. We can stay there.”
“That’ll be four fifty sir,” The pudgy kid said from beside my door.
“Oh okay, hold on a sec.” I reached into my back pocket. There was a wallet in the left pocket. I pulled it out and opened it. Inside were tons of bills. I pulled out a ten and handed it to the kid.
“I’ll be back with your change sir.” The kid took off like a bolt of lightning. He moved with graceful steps as he crossed the service area. And opened the door into his shack. I kept my wallet open and waited for the change. Within moments the kid came out again with five dollars and fifty cents. He handed the bill to me and then piled the change inside it. Most of it was in dimes. I slipped the change into my pocket. Then I took all the money out of my wallet. I counted it. I put the five-dollar bill on my lap. Then a twenty, another twenty, a fifty, another fifty, two hundreds, another twenty and another fifty, three tens, a fourth twenty, another fifty and one more twenty.
“I have five hundred and twenty-five dollars,” I announced to my partner.
“I have my wallet in my duffel bag,” she said, “we can count whatever I have at the motel.”
“Okay, I need a shit, shower and shave anyway.” I closed the driver’s door. I looked at my self in the mirror. I had long hair, an earring in one ear. I started the car. The engine roared to life and took us out of the gas station. I put my left hand on the steering wheel - there situated on my ring finger was a ring. It was just a simple gold band.
“I’m married,” I said - well, I muttered it.
“What?” she said; she obviously heard me.
“I have a wedding ring on my finger.”
“Let’s see,” she said as she held out her hand, her left hand. I saw there the same ring on her hand.
“Correction,” I said as I held my hand out to her, “We’re married.” Victoria gasped. “We’re married. But you're like twenty five and I was nearly twenty.”
“I may be close to twenty five, and you may have been close to twenty,” I was almost laughing, in all this she thought she hadn’t changed, “but I was close to forty five before last night, so I would say you are about twenty two or three right now.”
“So let’s see - we're two married, firebird driving hippies. This has turned out to be the most interesting road trip ever.”
“Could be worse.”
“We could be older, fatter. You look great, and those...” Wait; what was I doing? I barely knew this girl. “Never mind.”
“Those what, why did you stop?”
“Because, I don’t know you that well.”
“Yes you do, we’ve been married for two years, now,” she paused for a second with her mouth open. “Now I’m scared; I don’t know how I know that. I don’t know what took over me.” She looked ashamed. “You're as new to me as I am to you. I shouldn’t be doing this.”
“Let’s go find a motel, we can talk this over. Make a contingency plan,” I never had used that word in my life.
“Contingency plan?” I wasn’t the only one who thought that was a little odd. I signaled left. And when I came to the parking lot of the Rowers motel I turned in. The parking lot was low-grade gravel. I pulled up in front of the main suite. I grabbed my keys. I gave the firebird a few more high revs then shut it off.
“Ready,” I said looking at my ‘new’ wife.
The main suite was set like an office. Instead of a bed there was a large desk, with a solid wood chair behind it. I knocked on the screen door. An extremely obese man looked squarely at me from behind his large, expensive looking, thirty dollar desk.
“Excuse me, sir. We would like to rent a room,” Victoria said from next to me. She sounded sheltered and innocent, with an undertone that implied exactly the opposite.
“Rooms are twenty dollars a night, movies are three dollars, and no cable,” the large man barked.
“No problem, do we pay now, or later,” Victoria said.
“If you pay now, you can check out whenever you like,” the fat man said.
“Twenty dollars, a night.” I said, sifting through my wallet, “Ah here we go.” I pulled out a fresh crisp green twenty and waved it triumphantly in the air. The man reached up onto a cork billboard with twenty tags on it and randomly selected one tag with two keys hanging on it. He got up and moved unsteadily toward the door. He cracked the door inward, and took the twenty from my hand and replaced it with the keys.
“Room 22, at the end,” the large man said, closing the screen door. “Damn kids,” he mumbled as he hobbled to his desk.
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