Monday, January 14, 2019
By Daniel Skye
Evan Rudd woke to the intoxicating aroma of coffee and the lingering scent of overcooked bacon. It was a quarter past eight, but Ethan had been awake since five o’clock. Evan could hear his brother’s muffled profanities coming from the garage as he made his way downstairs.
That car is going to be the death of him, Evan thought.
Ethan made sure to leave Evan some coffee and a few scraps of charred bacon. He helped himself to a cold piece. He didn’t mind that it was burnt; he usually preferred it that way.
The percolator hissed, as if to remind Evan there was still some coffee waiting for him. He poured a cup with a splash of milk and a pinch of sugar, and joined Ethan in the garage. Ethan was fiddling around under the hood and dropping F-bombs every three seconds.
Lucy. That’s what their father named it. He told them that every car needed a name. Their mother’s name was Lucille and he had named the RM Valhalla after her. Not that she appreciated the sentiment.
Their mother hated that car. Hate didn’t do it justice. A stronger word is needed to describe her feelings. It wasn’t just resentment. It was, for lack of a better word, fear. Something about that car scared the living daylights out of her.
Evan could never understand why she was so afraid of it, or why they weren’t allowed to go near the thing. Only their father was allowed to touch it. He’d go for Sunday drives, sometimes with the kids, sometimes by himself. But never with Lucille. Other than the occasional cruise, the car stayed in the garage under lock and key.
He used to disconnect the battery cables from the terminals and remove the distributor cap to ensure there would be no joyrides in his absence. Evan didn’t mind so much. But Ethan seemed to take it personal. They were just kids, but something about it rubbed Ethan the wrong way. It wasn’t the lack of trust. It something that Evan was never quite able to put his finger on. But it felt like envy.
When John and Lucille passed, they left the house and the car to their sons. But Evan had no interest in trying to repair that clunker, so he told Ethan the car was all his, if he wanted it. And Ethan really wanted it.
The car was a 1958 Valhalla, powder blue in color. RM was the manufacturer, short for Reliable Motors; an obscure company that folded in the mid-sixties.
And the years had not been kind to the Valhalla, hence Ethan’s profanity laced tirades whenever he was working in the garage.
The Valhalla was a long car with a wide body and those sharp fins on the back. Small round headlights, like two white eyes with no pupils or irises. A chrome grill that was begging for a few coats of wax. The whitewall tires were so bald and frayed you could see the wires beneath the rubber.
The hood was dented in the center, and a nest of rust had formed in that deep crater. And that wasn’t the only spot where rust had eaten the paint away. He shuddered to think what the under-body looked like. The interior was stained with coffee and riddled with cigarette burns. The upholstery was bleeding through cracks and slits in the seat cushions. The antenna was ancient, and if you were lucky, you might be able to pick up a few AM stations–If you could get it to start.
Ethan liked to hurl words around like “vintage” and “antique”, but Evan knew what he was really saying.
The car wasn’t vintage or retro or classic. And it certainly wasn’t an antique. It was ancient. The Valhalla was a freaking dinosaur, a fossil from the Stone Age. It was a lost cause as far as Evan was concerned. But Ethan didn’t see it that way.
That car had become a fixation, an obsession. He was infatuated with the machine and let it consume all of his free time. When he looked at that car, he got that same starry, faraway look in his eyes that their father had when he’d take Lucy for a joyride.
“Need a hand?” Evan asked.
“Yeah, you could help by getting me some more coffee. It’s going to be a long morning.” There was a puddle of dark oil seeping into the concrete. There was a crack in the engine block the size of the San Andreas Fault.
Evan shook his head. Ethan had already sunk a few grand into that heap, and he was about to drop a few more before it was all over.
Ethan had changed the brakes, bought a new carburetor, a new catalytic converter, a new belt to replace the one that was cracked and barely holding on. A new metal bumper to replace the old one that was rotting off. And ironically, a new distributor cap. And the car needed a major tune up, which Ethan was currently putting the finishing touches on.
He still needed to replace the tires and hubcaps. And there was the matter of the giant crack in the engine block.
Ethan slammed the hood down out of exhaustion and frustration.
“That ought to do it,” Ethan said, though he didn’t sound very confident.
The driver side door opened with a rusty, hellish scream. “What about the crack in the engine block?” Evan reminded him.
“I used a type of sealant. Should be set by now. Let’s see if it works.”
He twisted the key in the ignition. The engine sputtered, then stalled. He tried again and punched the accelerator to give it some juice. But it refused to turn over. The exhaust squealed and the tailpipe coughed clouds of noxious smoke. It smelled like scorched engine oil and rotten eggs. The combination was enough to make Evan retch.
“Son of a bitch,” Ethan muttered and slammed his fist on the dashboard.
“I’ll get you another cup of coffee,” Evan said, still shaking his head.
Evan went inside and brewed a fresh pot.
He returned with two steaming mugs of coffee. The hood was ajar again and the driver side door was shut, but Ethan was nowhere in sight. The garage door was closed. If he went inside, Evan would’ve heard him come through the kitchen.
“Ethan? Where the hell did you go? Ethan…”
He glared at that dark puddle of sludge under the engine block. There was something different about it. Something different about the Valhalla, too. The paint was brighter. The chrome grill sparkled and shined. The headlights stared back at him, beckoning him, pleading with him to go for a spin. Come on, Lucky called him. Let’s go for a ride.
He walked around the car and examined the tires. They looked brand new, even smelled brand new.
He walked back to the front of the car and kneeled to take a look at the dark puddle underneath. It wasn’t just engine oil.
It was blood. A lot of blood.
The engine roared to life and Evan recoiled and fell back, the coffee mugs in his hands shattering on the concrete floor. The headlights flashed, as if winking at him. The engine revved with power and newfound life. It sounded like a million bucks.
Evan got back to his feet and no longer noticed that deep red puddle of what could only be Ethan’s blood. All he noticed was Lucy. A wide grin spread across his face. He was in a deep trance. And he had that same starry, dreamy look in his eyes that his father and brother had when they looked at Lucy.
He opened the driver side door and got in. “Okay, Lucy. Let’s go for a ride.”