The dirt road was rougher than expected. I could feel the aluminum rims of the courtesy vehicle punching potholes through the thin layer of rubber on the low-profile tires. Maureen’s house was definitely what you’d call backwoods. Another loud thump from the rear of the minivan and I could see why Courtney purchased her new truck in the first place.
“My God, these roads are not fit!” Knobby, the shuttle driver, barked to me. One hand on the steering wheel and another feeling the chest of his black leather jacket to see if he’d remembered his cigarettes. He pretended he had better things to do, like drink cold coffee and eat the remnants of Mrs. Bertenshaw’s homemade cinnamon rolls she brought in for the mechanics. He kept his foot on the gas and after a few more minutes down the road, what I saw gave me chills.
There it was – Courtney’s brand-new pickup truck. Perfect, reliable, mid-sized, Japanese brand, and my God, it looked as new as the day she purchased it. Here it was, imposingly large next to her mom Maureen’s modest wooden bungalow; the dead birch trees swayed in the background like gnarled otherworldly creatures. The jet-black color of the paint pinched a nerve in me, I half expected to see an old crow swoop by any moment like a bad omen. I was doing up the online ad in my head as I sipped my to-go coffee and gazed at this high-strength steel beauty. Mint condition, like new, low mileage. Not bad considering it was involved in an accident that left Courtney, the previous owner, deceased.
“You got to be kidding me, that’s the same truck?” Knobby asked in awe, lighting up his last smoke right next to me. I nodded. The report said it came off the road one evening and slid off down an embankment into a tree. The police investigation revealed road conditions were very poor. The front of the truck was obliterated, and Courtney’s body was found mangled under the dash.
Maureen was still very much distraught, as anybody would be. Her only daughter dead at 22 with her prized possession sat on the driveway inexplicably in showroom condition. Maureen came out to meet us in her plaid PJ pants and snow boots, the many lines of stress and sorrow shown as cracks underneath her teary eyes.
“The tow truck dropped it off yesterday.” She said, holding a piping hot mug of tea.
The autobody shop must have dropped it off, I assumed. Maureen knew nothing about vehicles and had appreciated my help when her daughter originally purchased the truck. A university student, I gave her the best deal I could. Maureen felt comfortable to inform me that Courtney also had a bit of a crush on me, and never stopped talking about me after the sale. I didn’t know how to respond to this, what would you say in light of the current circumstances? Anyway, Maureen asked if I could sell the truck for her and I was happy to help. I’d put it on our lot for sale and at least remove that stress from her life. She couldn’t stand the sight of it on her gravel driveway and feared she would lose her mind if it stayed there.
Knobby had turned tail and drove back by this point. I hopped aboard the truck and immediately felt an air of discomfort. It had that freshly detailed new car smell. The computer touchscreen was like a black mirror; the buttons, stick-shift etc. all oddly untouched. I couldn’t pass off this feeling that something was with me in the vehicle. I’d imagined a shape sitting in the backseat looking at me in the rear-view mirror, anything I could think of to create unease was playing out in my mind for some unknown reason. One thought that unnerved me, but mainly saddened me, was the picture of her crumpled body slumped under this very dash. My whole body shivered.
On the ride back I figured this would be an easy sell, the thing still rode like new and every luxury option worked a charm – the backup camera, the heated seats, heated steering wheel, cruise control, four-wheel-drive, everything. At least the money made would help cover the funeral costs for Maureen.
For Sale: Used Pickup Truck in Like New condition. Fully Loaded. Low mileage. One Previous Owner? I should leave that out. I’ll disclose the damage report when somebody comes in to look at her.
As soon as the online ads went up, I was inundated with the usual marketplace crap.
“Do you have any more photos?” (Even though I posted everything).
“What size engine is in this?” (With ‘V6’ clearly listed).
“Is that your best price?” (Yes. For the umpteenth time. It’s a steal).
There was one message that caught me off guard. I didn’t really know what to make of it. It was sent online from a fake-looking profile just asking:
“Did this truck belong to a young girl????”
The details of the accident were public knowledge however the specifics of the truck were not. I replied that I couldn’t divulge the requested information due to privacy laws. The message was seen but no reply given.
Next thing, I get a slew of test drive requests. It was a positive conveyor belt of people looking to see if this deal was too good to be true; a deal to pounce on like a cat. I grabbed the keys to show one gentleman, confident as can be, then the truck wouldn’t start. No lights, no power at all, dead. It got worse, I brought out the battery pack to jump it and the God-blessed hood wouldn’t even open. Stuck as if it were glued from the inside. How was I supposed to sell it now? The truck was fine when I brought it in.
One of our mechanics, Kim, came out see if she could jimmy it so I tossed her the keys and headed back into the dealership with the gentleman, wanting to tear each individual hair follicle from my head. I looked outside to see the truck heading towards the back of the building and breathed a noticeable sigh of relief.
“She seems like a sweet truck. Why’d they trade it?” The customer asked.
“Actually, the previous owner passed away, so we are doing the family a favor.” I advised honestly.
“Oh sad. I figured it must be something like that. I don’t suppose the truck is damaged in any way?”
I knew that question would pop up, so I logged onto my laptop and punched in the serial number to run the damage report, I was curious myself to know how much that miracle repair job cost.
No Damages Found.
There must be a mistake. I checked over the serial number again, maybe the insurance company didn’t report the cost yet?
No Damages Found.
Does this mean some mysterious backyard genius was able to rebuild the entire truck from scratch like a set of building blocks? I bet Maureen didn’t get the name of the company on the tow truck either. My eyes darted over to the customer who looked just as confused as me. Funny how facial expressions can be infectious like that.
“I’m sorry, I’ll grab the report from the printer there now.” I said and left my office. In only a fleeting moment, my ears rang from the sound of emergency sirens outside.
Kim’s face was smashed in. Caved in around the eyes, every bone broken from where the steering wheel impacted. It was just outside the repair shop, and nobody could make sense of what the hell happened. The customer was good enough to leave to venture back another day since our hands were now full. Blood had spattered everywhere, and there were teeth lodged in the steering wheel.
I barely slept a wink. Every time I thought about Kim in hospital, Courtney’s face popped into my mind. That smile she gave me when she drove off the lot in her new vehicle, that sense of reward and happiness. I was beginning to think the truck was jinxed, like James Dean’s car, only with more of a 1950s Plymouth Fury vibe. Just before I melted into my office chair looking for a nap, another customer walked in. I stood up and extended my hand.
“How are you today?” I asked positively, as though nothing were on my mind. His hands never left his dirty jean pockets. He looked very shady, sunglasses on a dull day and an unlit cigarette in his mouth.
“I wanna see that truck.” He stated matter-of-factly, not a smile to be seen from his unshaven face, so I ushered him outside with the keys in hand.
His heavy-soled boots clumped on the ground with each step. His tobacco smoke dissipated into the fresh wind with his eyes on the truck the entire time; I’d say he didn’t even glance at me.
“I want to know, who owned this?” He demanded, stood hunched in his camo jacket.
“I can’t tell you that. We’re bound by privacy laws.”
He laughed an insensitive arrogant chuckle before I handed him the keys and took a copy of his drivers license for test drive purposes. Sometimes you’d get a customer you didn’t want to sell a vehicle to, and this was him. Something didn’t seem right. Just my luck that the truck should start first time and purr like a kitten.
“I won’t be long.” He croaked through the driver side window before flooring the pedal and racing out onto the highway.
An hour went by, then two, then three, and then he wouldn’t answer his phone. Great. My boss said to leave it till tomorrow. If the truck didn’t magically appear by the next morning, report the theft. In the meantime, we were made aware that Kim died in hospital, her injuries too severe. The realization sunk in that the truck had claimed two lives. Even more bizarrely, the boss called me into his office to review CCTV footage of the accident. The truck sped up around the building three times. By the third time, I swear you could see Kim’s hands almost beating on the side window trying to get out.
That next morning, we ended up with a crisp sky, heading into a cold winter by the look of it. Gentle fog swept the banks outside the giant glass building and thin shimmers of ice rested delicately on tiny puddles in the worn parking lot. The truck was right there in front of the building. In a moment like this you’d think a sigh of relief would come over me, it did not. I was afraid. Afraid of the uncertainty. Each step I took towards it I felt like a toddler at Christmas expecting a spider to crawl out of a Jack-in-the-Box.
The doors were unlocked. Keys were in it. Why did he not use the drop-off box? My stress levels must have gone into overdrive. I sauntered back into my warm and cozy office with the keys in my hand. I imagined blood running down my fingers, pouring from the keys I handed over to each individual before they met their fateful ends. The feeling of responsibility somehow ate away at my skin. This was only to grow, as my Facebook newsfeed presented me with a headline that made me shudder.
BREAKING: Police Find Body of Local Man at Side of Highway.
The same stretch of highway where Courtney and the truck were found.
I needed to know who it was. My mind was gone, as was my coffee all over my desk. I shakily tapped my phone until my friend’s number came up. He was a cop. He wasn’t supposed to, but he’d confirm my suspicions. I had to know if it was the customer from yesterday.
I read the customer’s name from the driver’s license copy: Rob Pumphrey.
“That’s him. It looks like he was ejected into a tree. He hit the tree headfirst; head exploded like a watermelon. Strange thing, his hands were badly burned. You say he was test driving that truck you posted online?”
“He was, but the truck was here this morning with no damages. It must have happened after he dropped it off.”
“Sure thing. We may need to speak later. I’ll be in touch.”
Burned hands? There was no way the heated steering wheel could have done that amount of damage. And how did the truck get back here? I stared at the computer screen for a good ten minutes just spaced out. Those words ‘No Damages Found’ just clawing at my eyes.
My cell vibrated. It was a text from an unknown number that read:
“I want to test drive that beauty black truck. I’ll be by shortly.”
The message had an odd feel to it, something eerily reminiscent. I walked out to get the truck ready for viewing. As I looked outside, the hairs on my body all stood up. The truck was facing me. Maybe the stress of all this finally got to me. It had changed position. I felt like a mule deer about to get charged down. Calm down, just go out and get it ready, I told myself.
I was carefully looking it over for marks and that ominous feeling got to me again. The feeling that maybe Courtney was stood right behind me observing my every move.
The key once again sparked life into her, only now the gas light was on. That asshole must have taken quite the run to burn that much gas at our expense. Convenient at least that a gas station was located right across the road the other side of the highway.
When I went to pop the gas cap on the truck, I find it hard to put into words what I saw at that moment. Instead of seeing an actual gas cap, a pair of oversized fleshy lips puckered at me. That obscene smacking sound cut to my stomach through my ears, and I urged to throw up right next to the pumping station. I said, I must be out of my mind. I took another look, and they were gone. Just metal and plastic where the gas cap was. This whole chain of events caused me to hallucinate, and it was only to get worse.
My phone rang; it was Maureen’s number. Maureen was hysterical, something in her voice sounded like utter dread. She asked me if I brought the truck up to her place last night. Obviously, I didn’t. She could barely console herself, she said it was just there facing the kitchen window, running outside for over an hour moving around to each window of the house, following her every move before it eventually left. She was beside herself, struggling to understand why she could see hands punching the glass from the inside. I asked her in all of this, if she could remember the name of the tow company that dropped the truck off to her originally.
“I didn’t see it dropped off. I assumed a tow truck dropped it off. It was just there on my driveway that morning.” She said, right before her phone disconnected.
I received a text message from my cop buddy:
“I’m coming up to see you now. Don’t leave, and don’t touch the truck!”
I was already shaken by this mechanical monster, but I hopped aboard. Why? I couldn’t tell you. My mind was still fried, and my autopilot instinct told me to bring it back to the dealership. I didn’t even bother getting gas after.
When I stuck her in drive, I felt the seatbelt tighten across my shoulder before the gear stick slid away from my hand. The truck turned out onto the highway and gathered speed furiously. I couldn’t move, terrified, the pressure on my collar bone felt close to cracking it. I tried to unclip the seatbelt, but it wouldn’t release. So fast my belly felt faint, the sweat poured from me as I was unable to control anything. I noticed the onboard touchscreen flashed on showing me the text message I received earlier, “I want to test drive that beauty black truck. I’ll be by shortly.” It was showing as sent from Courtney’s phone. After that it cut to another text message, one I had never seen, from Courtney’s phone:
“I want you.”
I shouted until my throat scratched in pain. The screen cut again to an image of Courtney’s face looking right at me. The computerized voice of the truck’s Voice Recognition System repeated “I want you” over and over. I could feel the heated seats practically burning me and the power adjustable seat moving rhythmically against my body. I found myself crying out perilously.
“Stop! No! Please stop!”
The truck dodged off the road and I felt my head slam to a thud.
I woke up. A feeling of something warm and wet above my lip, I could taste the iron from the blood. Overall numb but the only pain from the friction around my collar. The seatbelt was off, unclipped. The truck was not idling, not moving, she was parked. I gently grabbed the handle, and popped open the door, it was unlocked. We were parked at a beauty spot in town overlooking the great Eagle’s Nest waterfall. The sky a depressing grey as a single crow cawed. There were no other sounds that I could hear, not even from the great source of water running against the rocks.
My body served an anxious reminder of the moment that preceded this. Sweat had glued my shirt to my back and stomach. At least my windbreaker jacket offered some protection from the elements outside. I felt so violated that I began to sob, frightened. The truck was parked towards the waterfall; I didn’t even want to look at it. I began to retreat towards the park entrance. Was this a dream? Was I still knocked out? As I walked towards the park entrance, something caught the corner of my eye and I could feel my heart give out. It was the truck. No sound, no engine noise, just the stones cracking underneath the giant off-road tires. Stiff as a board with tears in my eyes, I had no energy to muster an escape. It drove right up to me, nearly touching my torso with its headlights. I stared blankly at it for a couple of seconds barely able to gasp for air. Right then, the hood popped open, and I saw something moving.
As much as I wanted to, I couldn’t turn my face away. Under the hood was a fleshy, writhing, organic mess filled into every inch of the frame. A bulging exposed heart protruded where the battery used to be, beating. There, blood pumped through giant vessels, a set of lungs inflated and deflated, then that “fresh” smell hit me. I felt faint, like I was about to throw up and pass out at the same time, until I saw in amongst the squirming moisture, two dripping gargantuan eyeballs staring at me, her eyeballs, Courtney’s eyeballs. I haven’t stopped screaming.
Credit : Alex McIntosh
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