broke down car

It’s not right, I tell you.

Somewhere along the road, something got broke and it can’t be fixed. The engine keeps failing and no one can figure out why. But instead of replacing the car or the damn engine, we’re stuck with the thing – failing, over and over. Sometimes in the driveway. Sometimes on the freeway. Sometimes on the curve of an icy road.

And no matter the frustration, no matter how often we try to fix the damn thing, it doesn’t get any better.

It gets worse and worse and we know – one day, nothing’s going to start that car again. We’re going to be stuck, wherever we are, in a parking lot or a snowbank or piled up in the wreckage with a dozen other cars enduring the same nightmare, and that’s where we’ll be.


Freezing or bleeding or quietly starving to death. We can’t get out and walk. We’re locked in. The car won’t start. We already ate the only granola bar in the glove box and ripped our shirt to tie around the hole in our belly, but we’re still bleeding. Still dying. Still stuck, in motion or standing still, inside this goddamned car, on this goddamned road, that we never wanted to be on in the first place!

We don’t know how we got here. All we remember is getting behind the wheel and the car started moving on its own. It keeps going and going, and every once in a while, there’s a nice place to stop for a cup of tea, or some beautiful body in a car that smiles as we pass, and maybe, if we’re really lucky, a good song on the radio. Something beyond the nightmare newsline or the static rhythm of whatever tired old pablum some generic pop star is regurgitating to the front lines.

Eventually, this car will die, and we won’t know where that is. Will it be in the high country, in Pirsig’s mountains? Or in the desert, those vast plains of dry and dusted skeletons? Maybe in a city, in the run-down parts, where people oppressed by others who know no oppression scrabble for food and shelter and feed themselves on compromise, over and over again, the way we do, when we’re running out of hope. When we’re living hand to mouth and all of a sudden, the goddamn car takes a shit. Again.

This car takes a lot of shits. We take a lot of shit.

Sometimes, all we can do is sit there and cry, glaring at the dashboard with desperation as it flashes its warning lights, pounding on the steering wheel and screaming bloody rage at the insensibility of it all. All the while, the wheel takes us nowhere we didn’t choose to go, in fits and starts, sometimes slow, sometimes beyond any sensible limits.

We could have gone anywhere, if we’d just ignored the directions we were given. Instead, we followed turn after turn, signpost after signpost, going where the arrow pointed, and now we’re here, with everyone else, wondering what the hell went wrong. Wondering why that turn into the green valley looked so pleasing, and why we drove on anyway into the smog and the soot. Why the thing sputters and chokes and makes noises we can’t identify, over miles and miles of busted asphalt and crushed gravel. We wonder why we learn to live with the little imperfections. The tear in the seat where the spring sticks through. The radio that only tunes one channel, poorly. The rearview mirror held up with baling wire and a trunk that won’t quite close. That goddamn muffler.

Yes, someday, this car’s going to die, and nothing will revive it. Someday, this car will cruise or crash to a stop, to its final resting place, its forever home. It’s going to decay and become no more, as will everything around it, up to and including the road itself. A pile of dust it will be, carried on the wind to the desert, mote by obsequious mote, until it’s so far lost, no one would ever know it existed.

That’s where we all go, in the end.

And no hunk of junk is going to stop us.

Target: 1200 words
Written: 1273 words, short story: Late Riser

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