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Body Work

by Terry Groves

Mile marker one hundred and thirteen flashed by as Paul realized his foot was sticking to the gas pedal. It was tacky, spilt jam on a poorly wiped floor. In his mind he saw a wad of gum on the sole of his shoe. He’d pull into the next service station and sort it out. The entire incident occupied his mind for about three seconds before it was replaced by the lyrics on the radio.

Paul drummed his fingers on the steering wheel, rocked his head and pounded the dashboard, transformed into Joey Kramer, drummer for Aerosmith. Lost in his fantasy and the beating lilt of Dream On, he didn’t think about stopping until the third gas station slid past. He resolved not to miss the next one. His foot was starting to cramp.

The sun evaded his pursuit by diving for the horizon. Paul adjusted the visor but the bright orb was too low for that to help. The glare would soon be gone anyway, tucked in for the night behind the mountains of Vancouver Island.

He pulled the knob for the headlights and jiggled it until the dash lights flickered on. He hit a small bump in the four-lane highway that rattled the car causing the left-turn indicator to flicker, flicker and blink. Paul mentally added this to the list of things he was going to fix on his 1970 Javelin. The list had been growing for ten months.

Purple metallic-fleck paint and white pin-striping accentuated the cool, sexy lines of the car. They spoke of speed, stability, muscle, just what Paul looked for in an automobile. Less than a year after buying it though, his proud car spoke only of neglect.

Rust bubbled the surface around the headlights and along the fender trim. A crack meandered across the bottom of the windshield. Two splits in the dashboard spewed eruptions of yellow foam. The powerful V-8 was now a stuttering V-6; two cylinders horribly fouled had become crippled passengers. Paul had replaced the muffler but only when his girlfriend refused to ride because of the fumes.

Paul tried to slide his foot to the side but it was held firm. It wasn’t sticky any more. It was stuck. He could still work the pedal, just couldn’t remove his foot from it. He pictured the shoelace looped over the pedal or his toe hooked in the worm pile of wires under the dash.

The car struck a crack in the road. Paul felt the flicker, flicker, blink of the left turn signal tingle in his foot. He reached with his right hand to free himself. Dipping one shoulder he grabbed at his toe. It was a long stretch and he made struggling faces as he reached.

The car swerved over the center line. Paul peeked over the dashboard and concentrated on steering until the vehicle was travelling in the proper lane.

Attention returned to his foot. His fingers told him he wasn’t tangled in the wires. It must be his lace caught. Then he remembered he was wearing low zippered boots. He ran his fingers along the lumpy line of his sole trying to discover the problem. He could feel his boot and the pedal but he couldn’t feel where they met. A horn blared.

“Alright! Alright!” Paul swerved back into his own lane. Flicker, flicker, blink tingled in his foot. He gave up trying to free himself and placed both hands on the wheel. Thoughts of his foot continued to chew at the back of his brain. What had he felt? What HAD he felt? He stretched his arm down again, fingers questing.

“Huh?” He felt his boot but now it was even lumpier, more swollen. When he pulled his hand away, a greasy glob of thick oily slime clung to it. Paul stretched his fingers apart and stringy tendrils trailed between them. The fine strands vibrated with the thrum of the engine.

Bringing the goop close to his face, Paul took a sniff. He couldn’t detect anything except the usual smells in his car. He stuck out his tongue but quickly put it back where it belonged. What was he thinking? He shook his hand, snapping the goo to the passenger side floor.

A green sign announced the exit ramp to Bowser. “Bow bow bow” Paul sang in deep bass in tribute to long and lanky bass vocal singer Bowzer of the band Sha-na-na, as he maneuvered onto the ramp. Paul didn’t care that the lyrics he sang were actually part of Rubber Biscuit, a Blues Brothers song, not Sha-na-na. He wiped the last of the goo on the passenger seat cover.

On his left, a wide, slow river waved white-tipped greetings as it danced over barely concealed rocks. A pickup truck, sides high with railings and straw, pulled onto the road. Paul braked hard to avoid rear-ending the truck.

“Jerk, dimwit, goof.” The window squealed as he rolled it down to shout, “Where the hell’d you learn to drive, farm boy? Just wash that license and can’t do a thing with it?” And when the truck just carried on without so much as the driver tossing him the bird, “Are you deaf as well as stupid?”

Riding one foot on the brake, accelerating with the other, Paul searched for a stretch long enough to pass in. “Cripes! If you were going any slower you’d be going backwards!” Only the dusty fart of a backfire replied.

An eternity of frantic seconds later, two gas pumps welcomed Paul to their services. He pulled up, shut off the car and opened his door. He tugged at his feet, but neither moved, and he almost toppled out of the car. He had to grab the door to keep from crashing to the pavement.

He reached under the dash, determined to free himself and stuck his hand into a warm sticky pulsing mass where his foot should have been. He reached for his left foot and found a similar gloppy mess.

His vision dimmed and he felt dizzy as a cable brushed his hand and planted itself into the mass of his foot. He felt it squirm its way into him, stretching his skin. There was no pain but his stomach churned. His mind felt numb.

“What the hell?” he repeated over and over. He struggled to comprehend with a brain steadfastly refusing to shift into gear.

He turned and looked at the variety store. A pizza-faced teen peered at him from behind the counter. “Hey!” Paul waved at him. Maybe he could call someone to help but the youth simply pointed at the Self-Serve sign and continued staring.

No matter how frantic Paul’s actions became he could not entice the attendant from the security of his store. Paul slammed the door closed realizing his efforts were useless. He coughed the engine to life and left the un-service station in a cloud of blue smoke.

Jeez, Paul thought as he roared back toward the expressway. Am I going crazy? There is no way this can be real. No way, man. This ain’t real. His feet burned and he felt more ‘things’ moving into him. The flicker, flicker, blink pulsed in his feet with every bump the car hit. “Real” whispered in his ear.

He snapped his head to the side but there was no one there. Had he really heard that? He could feel the misfiring cylinders send shivers up his legs. He tried to keep his hand from wandering, poking at what his feet had become.

Miles disappeared under his wheels before he realized the growth was moving up his legs. It was consuming him. Savagely shifting gears, darting in and out of traffic, accompanied by frequent horn blares from irritated drivers, Paul tried to come up with an explanation he could live with, tried to outrun what was under the dash.

The classic rock music of 89.7 Sun FM began to fade and Paul reached for the selector knob to find a clearer station. His hand wouldn’t move from the gear shift. He pulled and tugged but it didn’t budge. In the dying light his hand was just a dark blob. Paul tried to turn on the interior light but his other hand was attached to the steering wheel.

Glue? Sure! One of his friends had put glue in his car. Contact cement would do it and the weird feelings were simply a result of his being tired, maybe even from the fumes. That explained it... except for the cable twisting into his foot at the gas station. He knew it wasn’t glue but that was better than what it really was. His mind drifted back to the radio.

As he stared at the glowing station indicator, the red needle slid a little and the radio station faded completely. Shock and wonder walked across Paul’s face. He felt as though his eyes were going to pop out of his skull. He swallowed hard and again willed the selector to move. It complied, obediently crossing several stations releasing a cacophony of garbled sounds. “Easy” the voice whispered.

Paul’s quick laugh was a sharp bark in the sudden silence that followed the tuner needle hitting the end. He looked at the road. How long had he been absorbed by the radio? It was a wonder he hadn’t driven right off the highway, but he was squarely in his lane and with hardly a waiver to the normally wandering front end of the car.

“Drive” came a whisper. He glanced back at the radio and, in response to his silent command, the needle reversed its previous movement. It still travelled too quickly and Paul willed it to slow down. It obeyed. He made it stop when a rock station became clear. “...bring the Comox Valley classic hits. We are The Eagle CKLR. Coming up after this break, five in a row.”

Returning his attention to the road Paul was surprised by how straight a course he was driving. He wasn’t even thinking about steering as the car negotiated a curve. Making no effort to navigate, he watched his arm steer through the turn.

Fast approaching the vehicle in front of him, Paul tried to work the brake but his foot remained firmly attached to the clutch. He eased up on the accelerator but was not going to slow enough to avoid a collision.

A moment of panic was replaced by an excruciating pain in his left leg. He glanced down but couldn’t see anything in the darkness that cloaked his feet. He wished he could see. The interior lights blinked on. “Watch” another whisper.

As his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw a tendon tear free from his left leg, a writhing snake shedding dead skin. The head swung back and forth, tugging up and down freeing more of itself from the meat. Then it split open, a flower blossoming, grasped the brake pedal, convulsed like a whip and applied the brakes. The entire scene took only seconds but was etched in the granite of Paul’s brain. He wished the lights out.

The car became darker than possible for what it was hiding. Paul opened his mouth and began to scream. He did not try to stop himself, it felt good. It seemed the sanest thing to do in light of his obvious madness. The sound of his terror echoed around and around him. The rusty Javelin screamed on through the night. The lights of Courtenay reflected off the clouds that vultured overhead.

Not knowing how long he had continued to wail, Paul gradually regained control of his emotions. He didn’t know where he was but guessed somewhere near Campbell River. He didn’t recognize any landmarks to put a location to them. Too much strangeness coursed through his brain, a brain refusing to work properly.

His mind turned to his body, the interior lights flashed on and Paul saw the pulsing masses his hands had become. He was barely human. Slime oozed over throbbing lumps. His fingers had grown together. There were just bulges where he joined the wheel and stick shift. The mass of alien flesh was moving up his arms.

At some point the cover had come off the steering column allowing wires to plug into the pulpy mess of his hand. Tubes controlling the windshield wipers and washers snaked into his arm just above the wrist: mechanical intravenous. Paul watched them squirm under his skin just behind the advance of the waxy flesh. He felt the car’s fluids move within these new veins and the sparks from the electrical system tickle his nerves. A moan escaped him. “Better” came a whisper.

His right arm had dripped and grown to include the centre console within itself. He shifted gears but there was no detectable motion, the action was taking place completely within that mass.

He could not keep his eyes from straying beneath the dashboard. The number of wires, hoses, and cables embedded in his legs forced another moan. “What is going on?” he spoke out loud.

“Control,” whispered softly. The car’s oil, brake and power steering lines pulsed with new liquids.

“Are you the car?” He felt his blood running these systems, mixing with the fluids they were designed to use.

“Car,” a sensual whisper. Old, neglected oil and coolant burned, acid in his veins.

“You’re taking...”

“Over,” the same voice but no longer a whisper finished his sentence. Thick black tastes oozed from his saliva glands. His heart misfired several times then resumed normal beating. The tail lights flickered through his brain. His heart increased revolutions and he was barely able to draw breath through a clogged air filter. His heart misfired again, keeping time with the motor; it was the motor.

Outside, traffic passed, oblivious to the Twilight-Zone events happening inside the purple car that drove a course as true as the lines that divided the asphalt into lanes. Paul leaned his head back and began to wail.

He tried to lean forward again but couldn’t. His head was part of the seat. He couldn’t open his eyes or turn his head. When he tried to yell, the only sound was that of a new exhaust on a tired engine.

New sensations attacked his brain. He was the car, experiencing what it felt as it pulsed sludge through its vital systems. Rust ate his body like cancer. Coolant, broken down by too many hot miles, tortured his organs. His axle was a bucking arthritic joint. His brakes scraped like sandpaper. He was in a world of pain, had become a world of his own creation. It was his neglect. It was his. He had become it.

The speedometer began to climb, the front of the car rising slightly with the acceleration. 70, 80, 90, the needle moved slightly past 120 then stopped, there were no more numbers but the car continued to accelerate. The rumble of its exhaust sounded like laughter rolling from a bronchial chest.

Paul mufflered his agony.

A 1970 Javelin cruised to the pumps of a Co-op gas station. The engine pulsed with smooth throbs then grew silent. Paul watched the attendant wipe his hands on an oily rag as he approached the driver window. The smile on his face and the long glance he gave the car showed his appreciation. The window spun down in a slow smooth motion. The man whistled as he bent and looked in the window. “Sweet ride, Cherry. ‘69?”

Paul coughed from deep in his chest for a moment before sputtering, “’70”. The attendant paused a moment as he looked at the driver then simply nodded his head. “Fill ’er up?”

“Please,” Paul said, his words coming in a wheeze. “And check the oil.” He coughed again as he rested his elbow out the window, the movement causing his face to crinkle in pain. “You gotta take care of these old cars.”

“Looks like you’ve put a lot into this baby.” The attendant took a long look at the oozing boils on Paul’s forearm before grabbing the nozzle from the pump.

“Body and soul,” Paul spoke just above a whisper, “body and soul.”

Copyright © 2011 by Terry Groves

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