Midnight on a smooth stretch of two-lane the air was crisp, the stars shining bright. Parked in the middle of the deserted country road, Jake's truck engine lumbered and loped through a restless idle.  The gages beneath the dash glowed warmly, and the headlights gleamed over a center line that faded straight into the black velvet horizon.

The chrome intake jutting through the hood glistened in the moonlight. It was a perfect night to see what she could do. The engine revved in two quick bursts, flexing the truck's frame nicely. Jake checked the rear view mirror. All clear. He tuned the old radio. On a clear cold night like this his entire sense of purpose sang like a green light.

Jake stashed the pint bottle under the seat, wiping his mouth on his shirt sleeve.   The radio volume was bumped up and the cab jangled with a deathless Sweet Clementine, the biscuits and gravy of country-western music.

The spirit of the race materialized ahead, holding a starter's flag. "On your mark!" The flag whipped like a salute held high. 

Jake pressed against the back of the seat, clutch to the floor. 

"Get set!"

Synchronized gears thumped into first. 


Butterfly valves flipped open on a gaping throat starved for air. Tires smoking, the '57 Chevy leaped ahead. Fuzzy dice jumped back.  In half a moment, the speedometer registered eighty, ninety, one-hundred. Jake whooped.

Barely broken in, it couldn’t have waited another night.  To the racing yellow clear coat and the flame job rimming the fenders, she was proving true. Truer than true--his chariot--his wheels of fire.  The gage pushed one-hundred and twenty miles an hour.  Jake whooped again.  "Let Us Never Say Goodbye," read the lettering across the tailgate.

Oil pressure and water temperature all where they should be Jake eased off the pedal and patted the dash. This coming Saturday night at the drive-in will show the boys what’s what. With pride and not a little love, he glanced over the gages once more and back to the road. But it was too late.

In a split-second decision, the tires barked briefly in favor of maintaining control. He'd take the collision head-on. Time crumpled.  A snapshot of horror was swiftly buried. Or not. Now. Jake's ears were once again filled with the roaring engine. No impact. Still rolling. Jake's eyes blinked upon nothing more than icy stars and the road ahead.

Nothing in the rearview. “What the hell was that?” It had seemed like some large white animal barreling across the road. That wasn't right. No deer or horse. Too big. That it jumped up and ran, there was no doubt in his mind. Jake snatched a breath and blew hard. He was relieved, if only for the sake of his truck, its body, and the new paint.

What bothered him was that it was a clear night with no wind or reason for fog. While the snapshot was developing, the vision insisted on replay after replay. Jake reluctantly understood that the vaporous shape was not four-legged or a damp patch of atmosphere, but something clothed in fog and running on two legs. Now Jake found himself stepping harder on the gas pedal than he wanted to admit. 

He eased off with a feeble laugh. “Come on, Jake, whatever, man,” he said. “That would have scared the buh-jeezers out of anyone.”

This would be true but for the lone exception presently seated beside him, materializing. Jake felt it, the wisp forming and teasing his shirt collar. She wore a white prom gown. Her smile was full of teeth. The headlights went crazy as his truck flipped and rolled time and again.

Jake regained a dizzy consciousness. The truck rested upside down, in the middle of the road. A hub cap clattered out of sight as it rolled. The radio played on. Desperately, Jake reasoned that it had been a dream. He must have fallen asleep at the wheel, flipped the truck, and now his left arm wouldn’t work.  The restraint buckle was stuck. He painfully hung upside down by the seat belt.  Just before the truck's back flamed up, he smelled the gasoline.

A gown and pale feet dangling met the asphalt and broken glass. She stooped to look in the driver-side window and pitied the boy, preoccupied with his seat belt.  True, he was never good with snaps. Flames rose higher.  Jake blubbered about his poor truck until he turned and saw her.

"Beth, please," Jake's heart withered like a prune. "Don't hold it against me."

The truck fire illuminated the roadside bushes. As she leaned in for a kiss, they were visible through her face. "Let us never say goodbye."

The End