Appalachian Hope: Chapter 13

Daniel and I hatched a plan after he bought the Firebird. I would buy the Camaro for seventeen hundred dollars. Daniel would work on his mom to get the price as low as possible, and I would beg my mom to buy the car. Mom and Sandy were friends, and Daniel and I were friends, so we figured that chances were pretty good we could force a deal.

Even with a V6 engine, the Camaro would be an incomprehensible improvement over the Pink Easter Egg. Daniel had already moved the stereo with the thumping bass to his new car, but he left the chrome rims and the neon kit.

“Mom, you know Daniel bought the Firebird. He’s going to be selling the Camaro.”

“Are you hinting at something Mike?” Mom groaned.

“I bet we could get a great deal on it.” I looked at my feet bashfully.

Mom glared at me, “I’ll think about it. That’s a lot of car for a teenage boy.”

“But it’s only a V6.”

“I said I’ll think about it.”

I snuck off to my room and called Daniel, “Well, that didn’t go well.”

“Eh, it’ll work out. My mom was pretty excited about the idea.”

“Think Sandy can work on my mom a bit?”

“Oh, yeah. She wants the car gone. She’s always complaining about it clogging up the driveway.”

A week went by with no indication that Mom had given the car another thought. Naturally, I asked about it every day, but the answer was always the same. “I’ll think about it.”

Sandy was also being tight lipped. She refused to even entertain the topic, telling me to “give it time.”

Daniel, on a Thursday evening after school, gave the only indication that my mom was even still considering buying the Blue Camaro. Daniel shrugged, “They’ve been talking on the phone a lot,” he smiled. His eyes twinkled, he knew more than he was letting on.

“That doesn’t mean anything. They always talk on the phone. Like an hour a night.”

“Yeah. I guess they do.” The same smile spread across his face.

“You know something.”

“Maybe I do, maybe I don’t.”

“I swear to Christ if you know something.” The doorbell rang and Sandy’s dog gave a halfhearted bark.

“Hmmmmm.” Daniel stood up slowly and scratched his chin, “I wonder just who that could be.”

I pulled the blind out a bit from the window. My mom’s car was parked next to my Easter Egg car in the driveway. “It’s my mom.” Daniel and I walked out to the living room, and we were greeted with the sound of my mom’s giant laugh coming from the kitchen. I rounded the corner, “Hey Mom, what’re you going here.”

“Hey Mike. Your Dad is here too.” Mom pointed to where Dad and Jason were talking outside the living room window.

I paused for a moment, trying to puzzle out the different possibilities in my head. I looked from my Mom to my Dad and finally to Daniel then back to my Mom. “You’re buying the car?” I nearly shouted in excitement.

“A little slow there aren’t we Mike?” Daniel could barely contain himself.

“Holy cow! Really?”

“Jason and your dad are gonna put new plates on it. We already have the insurance. Got those after work today. Sandy just signed the title over. You need to sign here.” Mom pointed to a line on a piece of fancy paper sitting on Sandy’s counter.

“Once you sign this, the car is yours.” Sandy said.

I picked the pen up and scrawled my name as fast as I could, hoping that no one would change their mind before I could complete the transfer.

“Your dad is going to drive the Egg back to the house. Be home at a decent hour. It’s a school night.”

And just like that, the Easter Egg and my parents were gone. I stood with the keys resting in my hand for what seemed like forever. Unable to move and unable to speak. Daniel snapped me out of it by reminding me that I was wasting time standing around when I could be driving my new car.

The importance of a car as a status symbol for a young man can’t be understated. The car symbolizes freedom and is one of the few non-genetic status markers available to high school students. The car is the great equalizer, even the nerdy overweight kid can have a nice car. I’d gone from a pink sub compact to a sky-blue sports car in a single jump.

I practically floated across the ground. I clicked the unlock button on the little remote, and the car chirped. I pulled the seat forward and adjusted the mirrors. Sitting in the drivers seat felt like climbing into the cockpit of a jet. My legs were spread out far in front of me. The pedals were nearly out of site, shoved up under the firewall. I adjusted the steering-wheel and had everything just the way I wanted it before I put the key in the ignition and turned it. The starter whined slowly, and the car rumbled high before idling down to a low growl. I pushed the shifter knob and pulled it into drive. I crawled the car through the subdivision and left onto the main road. I turned toward town, and I opened it up. The car glided across the road, taking the corners without effort, and I just couldn’t believe I was behind the wheel. I dropped my eyes to the speedometer, I was going twice the speed limit.

“Holy shit!” I shouted.

“Yeah, I was gonna say something about how fast we were goin’ but you were enjoying yourself too much for me to spoil it.” Daniel laughed. “It’d be a real bitch if you got a speeding ticket your first time out. Your mom would never let you drive it again.”

“Yeah,” I put my foot lightly on the brake. The speed fell almost as quickly as it’d climbed. I drove us down backroads and through town. Looking for anyone to be out cruising, but no one was.

“This switch turns on the under glow neon kit.”Daniel walked me through each of the car’s gauges, knobs, and instruments.

“Sweet.” I reached over and flipped it on.

Daniel immediately flipped it off. “Mikey, it’s illegal while the car’s moving.”

“Shit, yeah. I remember. That’s a stupid ass rule.”

“Yeah. You can run the inside ones though.” Daniel reached across onto my side of the car and flipped another switch tucked on the side of the radio compartment, and the floorboards of the car glowed with blue neon.

“I never knew you had these!”

“Put em’ in right before Dad passed away. They wouldn’t look right in the Firebird. They’re the wrong color.” Daniel looked out the window as he spoke before jerking his head toward the digital clock. He reached out and tapped it with his finger. “You’re gonna lose this car before you even get it home,” He laughed.

The sun was low in the sky, shining brightly through the windshield, threatening to turn the sky orange. I dropped my windshield visor to shield my eyes. “Yeah, we better start heading back.”

“You don’t have to look so disappointed Mikey.” Daniel teased.

“But I only got to drive it for like a half an hour.”

“Well, tomorrow’s Friday. You can drive it as much as you want. You can show it off to all the guys at the produce stand.”

“Think Kenny will be jealous?”

“Nah. He usually gets to drive the Firebird.”

“I don’t get it Daniel. Why do you keep Kenny around?”

“He’s a good friend. Useful.”

I could tell Daniel didn’t really want to talk about it. I’d tried to broach the topic of Kenny multiple times with him, but each time he clammed up and dodged the question. I shrugged my shoulders, “It’s your business, man. Thanks for helping convince your mom to sell the car.”

Daniel waved his hands, “You don’t have to thank me Mike. You’re my oldest friend. At some point, watching you drive around that Pink junker was making me sad. I’ll be a lot happier with you driving this car instead of some stranger. Mom wouldn’t let me keep it because I have the Firebird, but Dad and I worked a lot on this car, and I know you’ll take good care of it.”

I looked straight ahead, “I will. For sure.”

“But that doesn’t mean don’t drive it. You don’t have to baby it all the time. Cars like these are meant to be driven hard sometimes. That’s what Dad used to say.”

“I’ll have the car for a while before I tear on it. My mom’s worried I’m gonna kill myself. Need to prove her wrong for a bit before I get my first ticket.”

“You got enough money you could pay a ticket yourself. With your fancy Shop and Save job. She wouldn’t even have to know about it.”

I laughed, “You know my mom has so many spies I can’t even wipe my ass in a public bathroom without gettin’ a phone call.”

“True.” Daniel chuckled, “true. But we still get away with a lot.”

“As long as no other adult sees.” I turned the car around and horsed the throttle up to the speed limit, heading back to Daniel’s house. “I’d kill for a cigarette.”

“Left yours in the Easter Egg?”

“Can’t smoke em in the car. Don’t know why I even keep em in there.”

“Well, this car already smells like cigarette smoke.”

“Yeah, but it’s not too bad. Your dad always kept the windows down, and so did we.”

“Yep, but your clothes smell from being at the house, and the car smells.” Daniel smirked, “I got one more surprise for you.” Daniel popped the glove box. A pack of Marlboros flopped around in the glovebox. He opened the box, handed me a cigarette and pushed in the car’s electric cigarette lighter. When the lighter was ready, it popped out of its socket, and I grabbed it. The red hot metal glowed. It warmed my face, and when I touched it to the end of my cigarette, the paper burst into a small flame, and the tobacco crackled and popped.

The smoke filled my lungs, and I relaxed. Daniel took the lighter and did the same.

“Now it’s perfect.” I said, and Daniel agreed. We listened to the radio all the way back to Sandy’s.

The following night, after a long day of school, I pulled into the produce stand parking lot. Everyone was already there. The moths were hovering around the flood lights that shone on the produce stand’s sign. The Camaro rumbled sweetly across the gravel, and I let it idle for a minute before shutting it off and climbing out.

“I heard the rumors, but I didn’t believe it.” Jeb walked over and clapped me on the shoulder. “Mike’s gone and got himself a car that can go over fifty-five.”

“Not that he’ll ever push it that fast.” Steven jabbed, “Daniel said he didn’t get it out of first gear when he drove it yesterday.”

“Eh, fuck off Stevie.” Gray came to my defense. “Give him a minute to get used to it.”

Del spoke next, “Yeah, Mikey just went from a horse and buggy to a race car. He’s probably a little scared of it.”

“You know, you guys are makin’ a whole lot out of Mikey’s driving this car fast.” Kenny was leaning against Daniels Firebird, “but if you ask me, the point is to pick up chicks. It’s about the how the car looks. Not how fast it goes.”

Everyone groaned at once, agreeing simultaneously that Kenny was wrong, and that speed was exactly the point.

The CB radio in Jeb’s truck squawked, and everyone stopped talking to listen. Truckers were stuck on the other side of the two lane bridge to Maryland. The bridge was the only way to across the Potomac. The next nearest route was forty-five minutes down a country road. The hollow was sandwiched between Virginia and Maryland, and main street had been a major shipping route for decades. The economic life blood of the hollow was through traffic and tourism. The truckers, and their CB radios were valuable informants for us. Eavesdropping on the chatter gave us new information about the world around us with all of the thrills of being voyeurs hearing things that weren’t meant for us.

Jeb reached into the cab from the bed through the back window glass. “Something’s got them all worked up.”

The radio hummed, “Traffic ain’t moved for the last two hours.”

Another voice “I’ve been here more than three hours. Got the bridge closed both ways.”

A third asked, “anyone close enough to the front to see what’s going on?”

A fourth answered “I’m almost at the bridge. Seems like every cop and fire company in the tri-state is at that old hotel just off the bridge.”

“The old hotel?” I thought out loud.

“Yeah,” Gray said, “the old, blue, roach motel. Didn’t know it was still opened.”

“Shit, I thought that place was condemned or something.” Del said

“Well, we don’t really know what is actually going on yet. Maybe burnin’ down.” Daniel noted.

“True. Let’s find out.” Del reached through the window of his car and flipped on a portable police scanner. Which didn’t take long to come alive.

A dispatcher reported a minor domestic disturbance, and an unrecognized voice, probably the sheriff, reported that there were no units to respond “because of the hostage situation on the bridge.”

“Did he just say hostage situation?” Ken pointed an ear to the scanner.

He was shushed aggressively by the rest of us, desperate to hear more. The dispatcher and the voice spoke back and forth for a minute before the voice stated that no police would be dispatched to non-life threatening situations.

“Did he just say that no police would be dispatched unless someone was dying?” It was easy to see the gears turning in his head. The world around us appeared to be rendered temporarily lawless.

“Guys,” We collectively turned to see Daniel standing in the high way. He looked one way and then the other, squinting to see as far as possible. We followed him into the road, doing the same. There were no headlights in either direction as far as we could see. Even on the latest weekday nights, traffic on main street was ever present.

“There’s no cars. Not a single one.” All of us stood dead center in the middle of the busiest intersection in town, looking around in disbelief.

“Did they close the road down?” Del wondered.

“The only reason to drive through the hollow is to get somewhere else.”

“I bet they got the bridge closed down.” Jeb took a final turn around, and then walked to his truck. “Hop in Mikey, let’s take a ride through town.”

Daniel ran toward his car, and Steven climbed in the passenger seat. “We will head the other way.”

Jeb and I rode through town, not a single other car was on the road. We passed the school, the gas station, and the bank, no one. Jeb stopped in the middle of the intersection in front of the courthouse. He thought for a moment and then turned right, toward the sheriff’s department. The parking lot was empty. All the cruisers were gone. No light shone through the office windows. Jeb drove back to the highway, and straddled the truck across the yellow line. He took the truck out of gear and set the parking brake before climbing out of the cab and standing in the middle of the road. “This is some crazy shit.”

I nodded in agreement. The headlights swirled through the dust and truck exhaust out into dark infinite. It was as if Jeb and I were the omega men, the only people left on the planet.

“Let’s head back.” Jeb climbed in the truck and jammed it into gear. He dumped the clutch off and thick black smoke rolled out of the pipe behind the truck. Jeb whipped the truck around two full rotations. The tires screamed and smoked. Jeb straightened the truck up and pushed it through its gears. Our speed climbed to the top of the old truck’s speedometer.

The bank and the school blurred by, and Jeb brought the truck under control just in time to drift gently back into the gravel lot of the produce stand. Daniel beat us there, and everyone stood wringing their hands like children as Christmastime.

“What’d you guys see?” Del and Ken asked at the same time.

“Jeb pulled two donuts in front of the courthouse.” I said simply.

“Holy shit! Anyone come out?” Steven asked.

“Nope.” Jeb replied simply. The tones of the scanner screeched through the air. Jeb shushed everyone.

“We have a report of reckless driving happening in front of the courthouse. Can anyone respond?”

“Dispatch,” a tired voice droned on the other side of the conversation, “we have no units to respond to any non-emergency calls because of the situation at the bridge. All units are engaged.”

“Hot damn!” Jeb clapped his hands.

“The Gods have smiled on us today.” Steven laughed.

“Does this mean we can do anything we want?” Daniel wondered aloud.

“As long as it ain’t takin’ a hostage.” Ken laughed.

“Alright,” Del raised a hand. “I think we should test this out first. Daniel, go up to Shop and Save and rip a donut.”

“Don’t have to tell me twice.” Daniel nearly tripped over his feet running to the car. He edged out into the road and stopped at the red stoplight just a few feet up the road. When the light shifted to green, the car roared. Daniel drifted the car around the corners of the intersection, and the car sped across the empty parking lot before breaking traction. The headlights rotated through the smoke. When the cloud of burning rubber grew so thick that the headlights were dim and barely visible, Daniel straightened the car and sped back to us, a trail of gray vapor following behind.

He crawled back to the produce stand, and we waited anxiously for the report to come across the scanner. “Reports of reckless driving at Shop and Save. Caller advised that units are unable to respond to non-life threatening situations at this time.”

“Holy monkey fuck balls!” Steven jumped into the air and danced a little jig. “We can do anything!”

“I think we oughta drag race through town.” Gray said.

Del opened his driver door, “I call suicide lane. Who wants to race?”

“I’ll race you Del.” Daniel said, sticking his head out the car door.

“Nah, I want it to be a fair race.”

“The Fiero is fast enough.” Daniel insisted.

“Not fast enough to hold pace with the Firebird.” Del whined

“How big a lead you want?”

“I’ll give you five seconds.”

“To the school?”

“That’s more than a quarter mile. But I think five seconds’ll do it,” Del agreed.

“Let’s do it then.” Daniel turned to me. “Wanna ride along Mikey?”

“Yeah, I’ll add some weight. Give Del a fighting chance.”

Steven stepped toward the highway, “I’ll be the flag girl.” Steven tied the front tail of his shirt in a knot and then flipped the knot over the collar.

“Your chest is pretty flat there Stevie.” Kenny rifled around in his pockets and pulled out some napkins. He crinkled them and fluffed them up before stuffing them into Steven’s shirt and pushing them up. “There you go.”

Steven smiled, “Kenny, I’d ask why you had a pocket full of napkins, but there’s no time. Boogity, boogity, let’s race!”

Daniel and Del lined their cars up. Steven strutted to the starting line and raised his hands. He pushed his hips back and made his lips pouty. Del laughed and so did I, but Daniel was only focused on Steven’s hand. The light turned green, and Del took off. Steven held Daniel back for a count of five. When Steven dropped his hand, Daniel dumped the clutch and the car’s suspension squatted, throwing Daniel and I back into our seats.

The world passed by in a blur. We caught Del in no time, we pulled into the school parking lot and ripped around the parking lot. Returning to the highway in time to see Del pull a donut in reverse in the middle of the road. We raced back to the produce stand.

Daniel, Del, and I jumped from the car with excitement. “I can’t believe we just did that!” I yelled.

“I was cruising at like one-twenty right through the middle of town. It was nuts.” Daniel panted.

“I didn’t make it that fast, but I did a burnout in reverse.” Del offered.

“Who has next?”

“I do!” I ran toward the Camaro. “I better get a race in before I have to go home.”

“Whoa, Mikey’s gonna race?”

“Yeah, I can’t believe he’s gonna push that car faster than fifty.”

“Hey man, I like to baby my stuff. But when am I ever going to get another chance like this. This might be the only time I can get away with this without getting a ticket or my mom finding out. I’m takin’ my chance.”

“Alright there killer,” Del laughed. “Well, who here wants to race Mikey in his new hot rod?”

“I’ll race you Mikey.” Jeb popped the door on his truck.

“Finally a fair race. Jeb’s heavy ass truck versus Mikey’s wimpy driving.”

“Yeah, yeah. Laugh it up.” I shouted out the window and buckled my seat belt.

“You tell em’ Mikey.” Jeb laughed. “Let’s race.”

I lined the Camaro up in the suicide lane in front of the light. My heart raced. I considered that any moment the hostage situation at the bridge could end, and a flood of police officers would appear in the hollow all at once, and heading in my direction. But for the moment, I pushed the worry out of my mind and revved my engine. I leaned across the center console and looked up at Jeb. He grinned at me. We couldn’t of looked more ridiculous, an old yellow pickup, lifted and used for landscaping, and a blue Camaro, lined up, waiting for the red light to change to green.

The light shifted, Jeb’s tires chirped, and the truck jumped ahead, but I caught him quickly. I stuck my hand out the window and waved as I overtook the crawling truck. I moved back into the normal lane and returned to a normal speed. I decided in that moment to just continue down the highway and go home before anyone got hurt or in trouble.

The hostage situation ended up taking nearly a week to resolve itself. The bridge was closed the entire time, and all traffic into or out of the hollow was restricted. The police returned little by little as it was clear that the situation devolved into a standoff. A robot came from the city and blew a hole in the back wall of the hotel, and the man gave himself up.






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