“Use the breakdown lane, Carlos. Pass these slowpokes!”
Damon’s speech slurs. The tequila bottle slips between his clawsand clatters amidst the trash on the floor.
Carlos grips the 1978 Ford Fairmont’s steering wheel. Grime tints the windshield, the washer fluid reservoir is dry as cornstarch. Millennia have elapsed since the car crept more than a few yards.
“Check out Miss Hotness in the Lexus!” says Damon. “Thinkshe’d love to see the trick I do with my tail? Hey, baby!”
The heat is tire-melting extreme, even for Texas, yet the defroster is jammed at maximum.
“Will you shut up?” says Carlos. “All you do is act obnoxious and embarrass us. And you never pay for food or gas!”
Damon’s evil visage crumples. Carlos blinks, mouth agape — the fiend is replaced by a frail, weeping young woman in a summery print dress. Carlos’s mother, who died when he was seven years old.
“Damn you to hell, cut it out!” Carlos says, and punches her. She yelps and Damon rematerializes, rubbing a scaly shoulder. The car reeks of Agua de Violetas and brimstone.
“I was only messing around. You don’t gotta act all shitty.”
“Carlos gave what you deserved,” Judy says from the backseat. She wears Givenchy. A tiny knot constrains her polished-copperhair.
Beside her, eyes locked on his phone, Jason mutters, “Yeah, must you always be such a dick?”
“Jason,” Damon replies, “your question is so stupid, I’m surprised by the blunt stupidity even from someone as stupid as you. Silence, stupid person, and keep watching porn.”
Jason shrugs. His toupee genuflects. He licks his lips and focuses on the phone’s display.
“Damon!” says Judy. “Listen to yourself. If we’re so lame, why’re you stuck here with us?”
Arms crossed, Damon glares at his lap. Smoke wisps from his pointy ears and flared nostrils.
The traffic’s pace quickens. Damon opens another bottle of tequila and switches on the radio. Each station preset he jabs isstatic. Smirking, he cranks the volume until white noise swampsthe car’s interior.
“Turn off your bullshit!” Carlos shouts over the roar.
Judy uncorks a shriek and clouts Damon, who pivots, now transformed into a snarling Bengal tiger. Judy backhands hissnout, putting lots of follow through and a class ring into the swing. Jason yells — he dropped his phone. Carlos cuts left to avoid a suddenly stopped tractor-trailer rig. The Fairmont bounces and fishtails; it furrows the grassy valley between highway lanes. Empty liquor bottles tinkle like wind chimes. Damon, restored to his usual semblance, hangs his head outside. He howls. When the car is under control again, Carlos shuts off the radio, which sputters sparks and fumes.
“What a ride,” Damon says to Carlos. “The most fun I’ve had in eons!”
Easing along the breakdown lane, Carlos hand-signals before hemerges with traffic.
“Don’t talk to me, Damon. Because of you I can’t see my kids. No more going to baseball games. No home-cooked meals. You’re garbage and you’ve ruined my life!”
Judy and Jason murmur in assent. Damon’s smile fades. He spits; the floor-trash hisses and sizzles.
“Really, Chuck? That’s the way it fucking went down? I wasn’tpresent yet, compadre! Maybe we should replay the tapes…”
Carlos focuses on the road, the rear view mirror, hair on theback of his hands; anything except the memories inside his head.
“Are you sure you don’t need a break? I’m a super-good driver.”
“I’ve a hankering to, you know, let those four-cylinder ponies run free. You know, ignite the afterburners. You know?”
“What I know is it would be a disaster. So, no.”
Orange barrels funnel the road into a single lane again. A rusty Dodge Grand Caravan chops the Fairmont and slows abruptly. Carlos brakes hard and paints black stripes on the pavement.
“What are you doing, moron?” Carlos bellows. He pounds thesteering wheel. The horn doesn’t work.
Damon swigs tequila. “Never mind. You drive.”
The miles grind beneath their tires. Carlos glowers, shoulders hunched, neck craned. His deviated septum whistles rhythmically.
He nudges the mobile blockade’s rear bumper and smashes theFairmont’s gas pedal. The conjoined vehicles surge forward. Swerving as one, they launch barrels skyward.
“Carlos!” says Judy. “You’re making me uncomfortable!”
Damon is silent. With the tip of his tail he cleans his talon cuticles.
“Is this the deal, diablo?” Carlos says. “The way it has to be, always?”
“More or less, amigo,” Damon replies, barely audible above the metal-on-metal mayhem. “More or less.”
“The Prince of Darkness rides shotgun with us,” says Jason. His mouth twitches. “I can’t believe it.”
“I’m flattered, Jason, even though the reference is technically incorrect…”
“You appear devilish.”
“Thanks! However, I’m not The Dude.”
On Jason’s face, tears rinse sweat. “Santa Claus at the mall. You’re one of Satan’s little helpers.”
Damon nods, his gargoyle grin gleams. The minivan opens a gap. Dodge and Ford, accelerating, bear down on the traffic jam ahead. Carlos’s field of vision collapses to a pinhole. The formerly broken speedometer indicates ninety-five miles per hour. The Fairmont well-nigh floats.
“Four of us!” screams Carlos. Spit sparkles on his goatee. “Me, my ex-wife, her lover my boss, and the Devil –“
“– or one of his talented acolytes –” Damon interjects.
“– whose job is to torment us for all Eternity!”
Judy snaps shut her compact mirror and slips it inside her purse. “Speak for yourself. Damon’s your problem, not ours.”
“This is my favorite part,” Damon chuckles, bobbing his horned noggin. “She has no idea why she’s here!”
“Carlos, you look, sound, and act exactly like my ex-husband,” Judy says.
“You say those same words every time, dearest Judy,” Damon sighs before impact, “but please, don’t stop.”
Michael Grant Smith wears sleeveless T-shirts, weather permitting. His writing appears in elimae, The Cabinet of Heed, Ellipsis Zine, Spelk, Bending Genres, MoonPark Review, Okay Donkey, trampset, Tiny Molecules, and elsewhere. Michael resides in Ohio. He has traveled to Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Cincinnati. For more Michael, please visit http://www.michaelgrantsmith.com and @MGSatMGScom.