Estimated reading time — 13 minutes
I don’t think I can put into words, how good it feels being a Father. I love Daniel more than I could possibly say. His bright, shining smile, his endless curiosity about the world around him, and his gentle, loving nature.
I didn’t think I was capable of loving someone else this much, but every time I heard his little laugh, or saw his smile, I knew. Even the smallest things he did made me so incredibly proud. Every achievement he earned was something I wanted to celebrate. Even the interests he had that I didn’t like, I tried to at least enjoy his enjoyment of them, if that makes any sense.
Cars were one of those interests. Those Disney movies with Owen Wilson playing Lightning McQueen, a red racecar who unsurprisingly loved racing. I suppose the movies weren’t that bad. But ever since he’d been a baby, Daniel had loved watching the first two, and his interest hadn’t gone anywhere by the time the third one came around.
I’d been planning to take him on opening night, and I’ll admit, even I was a little excited for it. Partially because the trailers showed Lightning McQueen getting into a terrible car accident, and I was hoping that might mean the movie would be a little more interesting, and partially because I wanted a break from job hunting.
I’d been a salesman at a local Chevrolet dealership for the past few years. I’d actually been hoping to work my way up to sales manager, although I suppose those hopes got dashed when half the sales team was laid off, myself included. I didn’t mind watching Daniel after school. But I didn’t like letting my wife, Theresa be the only breadwinner. She kept assuring me it was fine, that I’d find something, that she was making enough to support us for now… For the time being, life went on, just like it was supposed to.
It was a fairly warm October, that year. Theresa had to be down at the hospital early, so it was up to me to help Daniel get ready, and walk him to school. He liked school, he was a friendly boy, so he seemed to make friends easily, although granted, kids at that age seem to think everyone in their class is their friend.
We left a little early, on the walk over, taking in the beautiful autumn leaves, and early Halloween decorations. We lived in a quaint little suburban neighborhood. The houses were close together, and almost all identical. A one car driveway, and a tree out front of each one. I’d noticed one of the neighbors had hung a scary spiders web in the tree out front of their house, and it got me thinking about what I might do with our tree.
I’d been walking beside Daniel, and lost in thought, which was probably why I didn’t notice anything until he pointed it out to me.
“Daddy, look! It’s Lightning!”
I was jolted from my thoughts, and looked over to where Daniel was pointing. There was a bright red coupe just down the street, with a familiar design… The grille was a custom job, depicting the wry smile of Lightning McQueen. The windshield even depicted his eyes. The resemblance to the character was almost perfect!
“I wanna see!”
Daniel almost ran across the street to get a better look, I stopped him, even though there weren’t any cars coming, just to take a quick look around and be sure, before taking his hand and letting him cross the street with me.
“I wonder who owns him,” I said, as we made it to the car. Up close, the detail was no less stunning, and if I’m honest, a little bit creepy. Daniel didn’t seem to notice that, though. All he cared about was that it was Lightning, right here in front of him!
“Daddy, can I go inside?” He begged,
“Maybe later. I don’t think we can go in right now,” I said. The car was parked beside a playground that we frequented, abandoned at that time of day. I figured one of the nearby houses must have owned it, but I wasn’t sure who…
“I’ll tell you what, I’ll see if I can find out who owns it, and maybe he’ll let you check it out!” I promised. Daniel seemed fine with that, and gave the car one parting look before he let me lead him away.
I spent the day applying to new jobs, and had one phone interview with a woman who I’m sure was only trying to be as condescending as was humanly possible. I did a quick google search, to see if anyone in the area owned a Lightning McQueen model, and found myself looking at similar models online. Nothing was quite the same as the one I saw. The eyes and mouth were different. I’d figured that whoever had made the model must’ve been some sort of hobbyist, who’d have documented it on a youtube channel, or at least sought some sort of recognition for all their hard work. But I came up with nothing. When the afternoon came, I prepared Daniel’s after school snack and left to go and pick him up. Passing by the playground, I looked around for any sign of that Lightning McQueen car. No luck, whoever owned it, had moved it.
I didn’t dwell on it too much, figuring I’d see it again later… Later came a lot faster than I’d expected. I saw the damn thing parked right outside the school!
For a moment, I wondered if it belonged to some other kids parent, and he’d made it to impress them. Lightning was certainly getting a lot of attention, with all sorts of little kids crowded around him. Daniel was among them.
When he saw me coming, he said a quick goodbye to one of his friends, Toby, and rushed over to me.
“Daddy, look! Lightning McQueen came to visit!”
“So he did,” I said, “Did you get to go inside?”
“No.” He sounded a little disappointed. “He’s just been sitting there all day.”
Now that struck me as a little odd. I would have thought whoever had made the car, would come out and claim some credit for their work.
“Really?” I asked, a little concerned now. “You didn’t see his owner?”
“No. I don’t think anyone’s inside right now,” Daniel said, although I didn’t know how he could be sure. I couldn’t see through the windows, actually, I wasn’t entirely sure how a driver would see out of those windows, come to think of it.
“Maybe he’ll still be there tomorrow!” Daniel said.
“Yes… Maybe,” I replied, and took his hand, to lead him home.
That night, Theresa and I were woken up by a loud crash from outside. I jolted awake, disoriented and confused, unsure if I was dreaming or not. Outside, I heard the squeal of tires, and shambled to my bedroom window to look out over the front yard. I couldn’t see anything in the darkness, aside from an empty street out front. For a few moments, I listened to the semi-silence of the suburban night. There was no sound of a car speeding away, or any sign of anything else.
“Paul, what is it?” Theresa asked, standing by the bed and awaiting my verdict.
“I don’t know… I don’t see any damage, but…”
“Should we go out and look?”
Part of me didn’t really want to, but I wasn’t sure how much sleep I’d get unless I confirmed that they hadn’t hit her car in the driveway. I put on a pair of slippers, and headed downstairs, then out the front door to assess the damage, and swore under my breath when I saw what had happened.
Our small tree was almost snapped in half and nearly uprooted. Something had hit it with a lot of force. My first instinct was a drunk driver, and I looked around for any sign of them, but saw nothing on my empty street.
I rushed back inside to share my findings with Theresa, and we called the cops. The police weren’t able to do much aside from take a statement and look around a little. There was no saving the tree, so I’d need to have what was left of it removed. They weren’t able to find any broken off pieces of the car either.
Theresa and I didn’t get much sleep that night, and after putting Daniel back to bed after the commotion, I stayed up looking through job boards, then through youtube videos.
By the time I had to take Daniel to school, I was dead tired, and shuffled through the motions of that morning. Lightning McQueen hadn’t moved from his spot from yesterday, and remained parked out front of the school. Daniel stared and smiled, but didn’t seem as interested in him today. Neither of us mentioned it. I kissed him on the cheek, and headed back home, taking only a brief glance at the car, before leaving.
As soon as I got home, I looked up a cheap landscaping company and called them about removing the tree.
“I can probably book something in for tomorrow,” rhe man on the phone promised me. “We’re a little backed up. It’s weird… We’ve got a lot of calls like this, today.”
“For broken trees?” I asked.
“Yeah, there’s been a bunch all over the neighborhood. I think a bunch of kids pulled some sort of stunt last night.”
I couldn’t imagine a group of teenagers deliberately crashing their cars into trees for fun, even if they were just small trees. But… well, kids these days were a lot different than back when I was in high school.
I took the slot for tomorrow, and turned on the TV, to check out the news. Sure enough, there was a report on all the vandalism from the night before. Our cat, Urkel rubbed against my legs as I watched, and I absentmindedly petted him, before letting him out to wander the neighborhood.
After that, I took a nap on the couch, burnt out from all that excitement last night.
When my phone’s alarm went off, I slowly woke to work on Daniel’s after school snack, and checked the back door to see if Urkel had come back. No sign of him, but I wasn’t too worried about that. He seemed to prefer being outdoors, and I knew he’d come back when he got tired. I went out to go and pick up Daniel.
Lightning McQueen was gone when I got to the school, and I noticed a police cruiser parked in the Kiss and Ride, that made me feel uneasy.
“I hope everything’s alright,” I remarked to Daniel once I’d collected him, and looked over at the police cruiser. Daniel stared at it as if he was surprised to find it there.
“Did something happen today?” I asked him.
“I dunno. I didn’t see,” he said, and seemed to think about it for a bit. “Rick said the ‘D’ word, so maybe that’s why?”
I highly doubted the cops were going to show up, just because some kid uttered a cuss word. I stared at the cruiser, then at the empty space where Lightning McQueen had been the day before.
“No Lightning today?” I asked.
“He left,” Daniel said. “He took Toby for a ride, though!”
My heart stopped in my chest.
“Lightning took Toby?” I asked.
“Yeah, Toby was looking at him during recess, and his door opened, so he got in and they left!”
I stared at that cop car, feeling physically ill as I realized why they were there. I knew Toby’s parents. They were good people, and I couldn’t imagine what they were going through at that moment. I took Daniel by the hand and pulled him towards home, trying to keep calm as I went.
When I got there, I let Daniel eat his snack and watch TV, while I called Theresa and told her what had happened. I then called Toby’s parents, to check in with them.
It was as I’d feared. Toby was missing, and the suspect had been driving a car that looked like Lightning McQueen.
The Police came by briefly to ask Daniel some questions. The officers were gentle, even though I don’t think Daniel was able to give them anything of value. He was too young to understand the danger. I’d heard an Amber Alert was issued, but I had a sinking fear in my stomach that it was too late.
I considered keeping Daniel home from school the next day. I’d heard nothing about Toby being found, and that sick feeling in my stomach hadn’t passed. But eventually, I relented. The school was still open and was being watched by the police. Maybe it was safer to let him go today. Reluctantly, I went through our morning routine, and walked him to school, eyes peeled for that fucking Lightning McQueen car.
The other parents, dropping off their children seemed grim and shifty. The demeanor was more guarded and uneasy. Some of the parents I usually chatted with ignored me, in favor of making sure their own kids were safe. I didn’t take that personally. A lot had chosen to stay home. I didn’t blame them for that.
I watched Daniel until he was safely inside the school, and walked home slowly, my feet almost dragging on the sidewalk.
It wasn’t until I got home, that I remembered something I’d completely forgotten about in the stress that had defined last night. Urkel.
As I got closer to the house, I spotted him on the street. Recognition immediately tore my mind away from every other thought as I saw that tuft of orange fur, and I broke into a run, already fearing the worst…
His green eyes stared vacantly upwards, and his mouth was open, with flies already beginning to inspect it. This had been recent. This had just happened.
I couldn’t bring myself to look at the blood spatter on the pavement, and the guts. I wanted to be sick, and I wanted to cry. As if this week couldn’t possibly get any worse.
I cleaned up the mess, giving poor Urkel a shroud in a garbage bag that I shoveled him into, and burying him out back. I was just finishing burying him when the landscapers arrived to take care of the tree.
As they worked, I sat in my living room, still trying to process all that had happened over the past few days. On the surface, I tried to tell myself that this was all a random series of events… Unconnected, and unfortunate, but it felt like much more than that. Three surreal vehicle incidents, in less than three days? All coinciding with the arrival of that fucking Lightning McQueen model.
It seemed too crazy to be true.
I tried not to think about it, and turned on the TV, watching the news to try and take my mind off of this… That didn’t work either…
There’d been a murder. Not just a hit and run, oh no… Worse than that. A car had gone off the road, and right into the living room of a house, not far from where I lived! They’d all been killed in the accident… well, almost all of them. There was no sign of the driver or the car.
And then they revealed the names of the deceased. Names I recognized. They weren’t friends, no. I don’t think I even knew where they’d lived until then, but I’d met them out front of Daniel’s school. And when they showed a picture of the house, a house almost identical to mine, I couldn’t help but notice that there wasn’t a tree out front of that house. But there was a fresh mound of dirt, where the tree had once been… A mound of dirt that looked a lot like the one that would be outside my house very soon.
I felt myself start to shake. There was no denying this, or if there was, I just didn’t want to deny it! Something was wrong, and I didn’t even know how to begin to explain any of it. Some lunatic in a Lightning McQueen car was driving around kidnapping children, and crashing into things? It occurred to me, that if he’d been behind all that damage, then perhaps his car would have shown signs of wear. There’d been no such thing when I’d last seen it, but that wasn’t much of a comfort, was it?
I watched that report on the news, unable to understand the why behind any of this, until eventually I decided that I just didn’t care. ‘Why’ didn’t matter. The Police could handle that. All I needed, was to take care of my family!
I booked the hotel right then and there. Third floor, where no car could possibly reach us, and I set to packing our things immediately.
When the time came to get Daniel, I didn’t bother making him a snack. I called Theresa and told her to come home. I told her it was urgent, and then went to get Daniel. I figured I could meet her at home, and we could leave immediately.
Daniel seemed quieter when I picked him up, and I kept a brisk pace on the walk home, holding his little hand tightly.
“Is Toby coming back?” He asked me, as we walked.
“I don’t know,” I replied. “I hope so. I hope the Police bring him back safe.”
“Me too,” Daniel said quietly, glancing over his shoulder.
It seems like such a minor conversation. The kind of thing I wouldn’t even remember later, but I remember it now. I remember the last time I spoke to my son.
When we got home, Theresa was already there… and she almost sprinted towards me. By the time I was close enough to see why, I barely noticed her at all.
Where my front door had once been, now there was a gaping hole of splintered wood and drywall, roughly the size of a car. It looked sickeningly similar to the house I’d seen on the news earlier. The tire tracks on my lawn passed over where my tree had once been, and I felt that gnawing sickness in my stomach return as I realized that I could have easily been inside the house when the car had come,
“Paul, what the fuck is going on?” Theresa cried, and in the back of my mind, I almost was grateful for the damage, since at least my concerns had been vindicated.
“I’ll explain later. We need to go, now. Get in the car. I’ll get the suitcases. I’ve already booked a hotel,” I said, and handed Daniel off to her. I headed towards where my front door had once been, and hurried through the ruins of my house, upstairs, to get our luggage.
As I retrieved the suitcase from mine and Theresa’s room, I saw him through the window. Lightning McQueen, parked patiently across the street. My eyes widened in horror. The model had taken some damage. The paint was scratched. And one of the mirrors had broken off.
I’d expected whoever was behind the wheel of that Goddamn thing to be long gone, but no, they’d just been waiting for another chance. I didn’t waste my time with the suitcases. I sprinted back down the stairs as I heard the engine rev.
I wasn’t even at the door when I heard the sickening crunch of metal on metal, and Theresa’s scream of agony. When I got out the door, I saw just what had happened to her. She was pinned between the side of her van and Lightning McQueen. The model had hit her head on, and backed up, leaving her to collapse uselessly to the ground. Through the windows of the van, I could see Daniel, clearly terrified. Lightning hit the van again, tires rolling over Theresa as it did, and the van rocked. I screamed, but remained frozen and helpless.
Daniel was struggling to escape. He opened the door of the van, as Lightning reared up to ram it again, and looked at me, before running towards me.
I might have screamed. I can’t remember if I did.
Lightning swerved away from the van, going around it, and hitting the speed again. Daniel froze in his tracks, looking into the headlights of the oncoming car as it sped towards him, and in the blink of an eye, overtook him. That snarling mouth hit Daniel head-on and slammed him against the brick of my house. Just one quick movement before the car shifted into reverse.
I lost control of myself. I ran towards Daniel, but I could tell that there was no saving him… I can only hope he died on impact.
The headlights of the car fixated on me, and with tears in my eyes, I looked towards them, waiting for them to bear down on me… But they didn’t. Lightning McQueen idled, it’s driver, if there was a driver, studying me from behind the eyes on the windshield. Then, finally, the car pulled back.
I heard sirens in the distance, and could only watch helplessly as Lightning McQueen sped off into the distance, the blood of my wife and son on his grille.
I’m told the police found pieces of the car, abandoned in a dumpster a few kilometers away. Whoever had made the thing, just swapped out what they couldn’t fix, to keep the vehicle looking somewhat pristine.
Of course, they never found out just who it was, or even why they did it.
They took Theresa off of life support last week, after the Doctors declared complete brain death. Her loss was another painful blow. I can’t say how much I spent on trying to save her. More than I had, I’m sure. I’m told that her organs might help save some lives, but that’s not much consolation. I’ve buried her beside Daniel. She loved him as much as I did, and if it had been me. It’s what I’d have wanted.
I saw on the news that a Lightning McQueen model tore through a playground last month, killing six people. Four of them were kids. I’ve heard it mentioned as having been seen in a few cases of child abductions too. I still don’t know why. Maybe some sick bastard out there just likes killing kids, and making his car look like Lightning McQueen was the best way to make them get close. I don’t know. I don’t think I’ll ever get any answers. What I know for sure is that I have nothing left in this world. Daniel is gone, and so is Theresa. As I write this, I’m sitting in a motel room, that I know I can’t afford. I don’t suppose it matters. If the sleeping pills don’t do their work, I’ll just try something else later.
All I can say is this. If you ever see a model of Lightning McQueen on your street, get the hell out of town.