David cursed loudly at the world in general. He forced himself up the steep dirt incline, unsure how to make the car behave when it wasn’t shifting gears for him. The weathered sun-bleached sign read “Tim’s Auto Repair, Straight ahead.” For the first time in a while, he had to trust the sign. The soothing fvoice of his GPS navigator had crapped out on him a few hours ago.
The vents were blasting full heat on him; making the already 90º day even more miserable. His bare thighs were adhered to his leather seat, whose electric butt-warmer was stuck on “toast” for some reason. At least the windows were working, or he would have been a mummified stick of human-jerky. Clouds of choking dust rolled in the passenger window and stuck to his sweating face as he edged his car up the last few yards.
There were only a few feet left when he felt the brakes go. As the car began to slide back down, he panicked and punched the gas as hard as he could. The SUV rocketed up the incline as Dave screamed and tapped the breaks. The car slowed but wouldn’t stop. Through his fizz of adrenaline, Dave managed to grab the emergency brake and wrench it up, HARD. He heard the gears scream and felt something in his arm go “SPROING,” but the car was now rolling at a sedate 15 miles an hour and slowing. It might have coasted to a stop if not for the concrete barrier. Dave had just enough sense to turn the wheel sharply. There was a sickening crunch of metal on cement and the ride was mercifully over.
Dave painfully peeled himself from the leather seats and blessed the powerful, if rather sour breeze that ruffled his damp clothes. He walked around to the side that suffered the impact and jumped back a little. The tallest man he had ever seen was already looking at the crater-deep dent on the sliding door. He must have been at least 6’6,” but he wasn’t thin and stretched out. He had simply been built (constructed?) on a larger scale. This face was brown and lined; his age indeterminable despite his thinning white hair. The faded green coveralls he was wearing didn’t accommodate his height, showing inches of his white shins and forearms. It reminded David of Karloff’s Monster in the “Frankenstein” movies. The name on the coveralls said “José,” but Dave thought he didn’t look like a José. He was too…er….white. Dave winced at his own lack of racial sensitivity.
“Possibly–José” was fingering the streaks of silver showing through the Jade green finish with the little sparklies Dave was afraid to admit he liked. “Probably–not–José” looked up at him and Dave was startled by the man’s eyes; they were white–not the milky white of a blinded eye, but rather a shade of blue so pale that it was like a glass of water held up to the sunlight.
“Problem with your car?” he asked in a deep clear voice. David fought the impulse to say, “DUH.”
“Yeah,” he said mildly. “I was trying to reach Tim’s Auto Repair.”
“Lucky you, then. I’m Tim.”
“Great!” sighed David in relief. “Do you have a phone? I need to call my insurance company.”
“It’s up at the shop,” said Tim nodding at a ramshackle lean-to. “Can you drive her up er do you need a tow?”
“The breaks don’t work,” said David using the hem of his t-shirt to wipe his face. “Damn near everything’s broken.”
“Well walk with me son, we’ll get you to a phone and I’ll get m’ towtruck. “
“Kay,” grunted David. He really wanted something cold to drink and a working AC, but didn’t expect either in the rickety wooden shop 70 metres away.
“I don’t get it,” David said, despite his parched throat. “I bought that car brand new. It’s a FORD for God’s sake!”
“You like American-mades?”
“Yeah, well, you heard all that stuff in the news about Toyota, and now Mercedes, right? Malfunctions, sudden accelerations. Some guys died.”
“I wouldn’t say that’s always the car’s fault.”
“Well, yeah, the lawsuits get out of hand when a companies get sued. I didn’t want to take chances though.”
“You gotcherself one of those computers in there dontcha. Son.”
“Yeah. Top of the line,” boasted Dave. “Onstar, GPS, Bluetooth linkup with my cell. It even parallel parks for me!”
“You do a lot of parallel parking?”
“Nah. In Chicago, if you try to back up, there’s always a car on your ass.”
“Do you really need all those gadgets in your car?” asked Tim suddenly.
“Well, I can afford it, so why the hell not, right?”
“It’s just that…”
“When mankind gets too dependent on computers it can lead to trouble,” said Time scratching his hairline.
Dave risked another glance at him. Probably some luddite, he thought with a sniff. “What kind of trouble?” he asked conversationally. He expected to hear something along the lines of an evangelical speech about the devil, but he had a good sense of humor.
“Well when the computers control everything, the world leaves itself open to the gremlins.”
Dave stopped short. Had Tim really said that? “Gremlins?” he asked.
“Yep. They started messing with planes in WWI, affecting the instruments and such. Gremlins love vehicles. They love trains and cars and planes more than anything, but they can’t keep their hands off the machinery. They’ve spread to computers now. The Internet market bubble, the stock market crashes, the recession we’re in. I’ll bet you anything it’s because the world relies too much on computers.“
Tim turned to face David, and he could smell the chewing tobacco on his breath.
“Men believe that a single strand of zeroes and ones can change the world, but they don’t believe in gremlins.”
Dave and Tim walked the rest of the way in silence, Dave because he was anxious to reach the phone, and Tim because he obviously had nothing more to say. Tim left Dave at the shop door as he went to get the tow. As soon as he was out of sight, Dave made a mad dash for the inside of the shop and frantically dove for the phone. He dropped the receiver a few times in his rising panic.
Tim was obviously a lunatic. He was lost on the God-forsaken salt flats with no one around and no car trapped in the auto body shop of a slobbering mad man who saw little green men. He pulled out his bar-less cell phone to look up the number for AAA, but Lord knew if he could tell them where to pick him up. As he scrolled down his address book the LED screen flickered and went dead.
“No! “ he gasped. “You sonnuva bitch bastard don’t do this to me!” He was really screwed now. He had no phone numbers. He didn’t even know his MOM’s phone number, that’s how dependant he was on his cell phone. As he locked the door to the shop and began to barricade it Dave reflected that there was some sense to what Tim had said. When the machines let us down, all hell breaks loose.
He found the revolver under Tim’s desk, and dialed 911. While listening to the dial tone, he thought he heard high-pitched laughter on the line before it went dead.