This is the story of my first car.  I wrote it for an English class at Maryland in 1986.  Got an 'A'.


by Christopher Gleason

Red and white, the lights from the cars glowed on the wet road and turned the desolate piece of highway, momentarily at least, into a gaudy, neon-lit city boulevard.  Exhaust filled my mouth and nose.  The deep, coughing sound of revving engines echoed through the empty office complex, causing a vibration in the pit of my stomach, which mingled with the fear already there.  Would I have the nerve to win?  Would I let Hashimoto down?

Scott grinned widely at Michelle, standing in front of our cars holding a tattered handkerchief.  She gave me a disappointed look.  I could have asked myself how I'd gotten into this, but I already knew.

It had started about three months before, when I thought I heard somebody say something about kamikaze pilots.  It flashed into my mind, like someone had told me, but I was alone.  I was in the Like New Used Car part of Gregory's Ford and Like New Used Cars, looking at the Dodge Colt I had just bought.

Gregory's was a large place, it was maybe three hundred yards from where I was standing to the big, glass-enclosed office and showroom; but it took this salesman only a minute, it seemed, to reach me as I stood looking at the car.  Although he was a beefy, older man and, even in the mid-day heat, decked out in a dark blue three-piece suit, he wasn't sweating or puffing a bit.  Maybe he smelled a sale.

“How're you doing there, sonny!” he boomed without really trying to.  His white hair showed off his good golfer's tan and his voice was as loud as a fundamentalist preacher's.  In fact, he sort of reminded me of one of those religious guys on TV.  Or maybe they all reminded me of used-car salesmen.

He must have been impressive as hell to some people, but not to me.  For one thing, I don't like to be called “sonny.”  Also, he wasn't Fred Hillman, the young apprentice salesman I'd bought the car from the day before.  I explained how I was to meet with Fred and finish signing the papers, and didn't call the guy “Pops” like I so badly wanted to.

“Look here, sonny. I can handle all of that up at my office.   And I'll tell you, I think that Fred is off today,” he said conspiratorially.   I knew Fred would be there and this guy was just trying to get the commission for himself.  Still, can you believe it, he almost had me convinced. That voice!

I couldn't double-cross Fred, however.  We had shaken on it and that was that.  The big salesman took it okay.  He even walked me back up to the office so I could wait in the air conditioning.  He walked a lot slower on the way back though, and he started sweating.

I flipped through the well-used December 1978 copy of Mechanix Illustrated from the little rack in the waiting room until Fred arrived.  This was going to be my first summer with a car so I was excited and didn't mind the wait.  The Cruising Summer!  Fred arrived and we finished signing all the papers.  I drove home in my car.

Why a Dodge Colt?  You're a teenager, my friends told me, why not get a fun car, with speed, something like a Chevelle SS, with a 442 and big, thick tires, and dual exhaust and stuff, man?  Why get a little foreign four-cylinder with good fuel economy and a speedometer that doesn't even go up to 80?

The Colt was perfect for me.  I had wanted something small and dependable, and the Colt fit the bill.  All my friends with so-called fast cars seemed to spend more time working on them than actually driving them.   Also, they didn't notice the good points about a Colt, like how you can park behind a bush if there are no spaces in the lot; and how I'd paid for my car all at once escaping monthly-payment bondage.

Later, I found out how lucky I was to have the car.  It, or he, I should say, saved my life.  This was after I'd found out that my car was a reincarnated Japanese kamikaze pilot named Hashimoto. Hashi.

How did I find all this out?  He told me.  That's right, he spoke to me.  It started that day in the car lot.  He had been talking about himself then.  Sure, I was surprised at first, but luckily had an open mind and wasn't freaked out by it.

Before I continue this story, let me assure you that I am not crazy.  Really. There isn't even any history of mental illness in my family.  True, my Uncle Oscar would drop everything, run to the television to watch Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous and never miss an episode.   That isn't a sign of insanity though, merely bad taste.

At first I thought that Hashi's “voice” was just in my mind, that it was telepathy or mind-reading or something like that.  I'd seen it on Star Trek.  I was wrong.  Hashi's voice could be heard.  I would determinedly ignore the voice if someone was in the car.  Sometimes, I thought that Hashi did it just to embarrass me.

My girlfriend Michelle heard him a few times but always believed that I had hidden a tape recorder in the glove compartment.  She thought it was hilarious.  I didn't mind this a bit because her laugh was as sexy as hell.

The one time it did cause a problem was when I was cruising down a long and winding road with my friend Andy.  Andy was a Beatles' fanatic.  He was so obsessed with the Beatles that he would listen to nothing else.  He carried around a tape of the White Album with him and made me play it in my car.  Andy got bored with any situation he couldn't think of a Lennon-McCartney phrase to describe.  Many people were put off by his obsession, but not me; Andy was really an interesting person. Besides, I liked the Beatles.

After Andy had heard Hashi's voice calling me, our friendship was never the same.  Sure, he would still call “Hey, Jude!” when he saw me at school, but we never went driving again.

See, I'm not crazy.  He did talk.  Other people heard him.  And other people talk to their cars, treat them like human beings, curse them when they stall.  So its not all that unusual, is it?

Hashimoto had missed the twisting and turning ship that he had dove for.  He had honorably given his life for his divine Emperor and had received the promised gift: reincarnation and a new life.  Because his mission wasn't entirely successful however, he was not a noble stag, nor a soaring hawk, nor even a beautiful chrysanthemum.  He was a car.

It wasn't the fact that he was a car that bothered him so much; there were many worse things that he could come back as.  Think about it, how would you like to come back as a Nike tennis shoe?  Or a toilet seat?  No, he didn't mind being a car.  He was angry that he had been a failure in his chosen mission.  This anger, this bitterness over his lost honor, kept trying to find ways to come out, and would get me into a lot of trouble.

I had a good deal.  He never broke down, always warned me before there was any mechanical trouble.  Hashi always started and never asked me for anything except a tankful of Shell Super Unleaded now and then.  Smoking was not allowed, which didn't bother me, and he preferred to be washed weekly and rubbed down with a good chamois cloth.  Fine.

There was this one other thing.  If a American car was going to pass us, he would holler, “Faster, please!” and become really upset if I lost, which was often.  I tried to explain that a Colt, which can fit all four wheels on a speed bump, is not a big, speed-demon-type racing car.  But it was his way, he said, of trying to finally win the war, beating out those yankee-pig-dog cars.  No offense intended.  None was taken.

I'd made it clear from the very beginning that if I ever felt that I was not in total control, if I felt that Hashi was taking over the driving, I would stop, get out, and never come near again.  Hashi agreed reluctantly.  I promised to help him regain his lost honor if I could and I hung a Japanese headband around the rear-view mirror as a symbol of the contract.

Okay, enough background.  The night that all the trouble started I had a date with Michelle.  It was late in August.  The Cruising Summer was almost over.  We pulled up to her house as usual, Hashi teasing me about how much aftershave I was wearing.  In my usual parking space however was a Ford Mustang GT.  It was white and had black racing stripes; a 5.0 liter engine; big, fat, Eagle tires; the works.  Scott's car.

Scott was one of Michelle's “Just Friends.”  You know what a Just Friend is.  Someone who spends more time with your girlfriend than you do, but it's okay, don't be jealous, because they're Just Friends.  Scott knew Michelle before I'd met her.  They went to high school together.

No matter how Just Friends they assured me they were, I was still jealous.  Very jealous.  I admit it.  I was also jealous of Scott's car. Not because I would have traded it for Hashi—no way!  But because Michelle helped pick it out, and talked about it more than Scott did.

Hashi hated it for reasons of his own.  Every time we pulled up near it, he would start grumbling and yelling “Banzai” and stuff.

“I can take that car,” Hashi said that evening.  He kept repeating it as Michelle and Scott came outside.  I got out and leaned up against Hashi's side.  “I can take that car,” Hashi said again.

They cut across Michelle's front lawn and came up to us.  Michelle's long blonde hair gleamed in the feeble glow of the streetlight.  She was wearing that black sweater I gave her last Christmas, and looked so beautiful that I almost forgot that Scott was there.

Scott was probably a nice guy, and if I'd given him a chance, we might have become good friends.  He was an Engineering student at school and we'd taken some of the same Math courses, although never in the same class.  We might've had a lot in common but I wouldn't find out.  Any guy who said that he's friends with the main rival for his girlfriend's attention lied like a carpet.

“How's it going?” he said as they reached my car, smiling like he was really friendly.  God, I hated that.  When he asked—sarcastically, I thought—“How's the car running?”  I started to get mad.

“I want to beat that car,” Hashi said.  “Shh,” I whispered, happy that Michelle didn't notice.

“Let's go,” she said to me.  “I'll see you later, Scott.”

“Have fun driving home,” he said and they giggled at some private joke.  This got me even angrier—I hate private jokes.  He headed for his car.

“I have to beat that car,” Hashi said.  “You promised.”  The headband, Japanese characters on a Rising Sun background, swung side-to-side and back-and-forth. “You promised.”

I stood there, undoubtedly a stupid, slack-jawed expression on my face, and thought furiously.  Should I challenge Scott to a race?  If I get badly beaten what will Hashi do?  What if he tries to win?  He's a kamikaze pilot!  But how can I go back on my word.  Through the windshield, the headband was still swinging.

Michelle's elbow nudged me in the ribs and brought me out of my reverie.  “Hey, I thought you were going to get rid of that tape recorder. It's getting old,” she said.  “Are you ready to leave?”

“One moment,” I said to her, and ran over to Scott's car.  He was playing with the radio while warming up the car.  “Can I talk to you a moment, Scott?” I said.  We set everything up.

I got back into my car.  “What was that all about?” Michelle asked.  I started the motor, and pumped the gas petal a few times.  The engine revved.  I was trying to decide whether or not I should tell her the whole thing.

“Well, are you going to tell me?” she asked.

“I'm going to race Scott,” I said, hoping that Hashi would say something and force my hand, make me tell her everything.

“Race Scott?  Don't do it, Chris.  You'll embarrass yourself.  You'll embarrass me.  Why are you so jealous of Scott?  I'm with you, aren't I?  You don't have to prove anything to me.”

“It's not for you,” I said.

“Then who's it for?”

“Me,” I lied, because it wasn't really for me, it was for Hashi.  Or maybe it was for me, for I could not brake my promise.  Either way I couldn't tell her the truth.

Sure, I can tell you, because I know you really won't believe me, and even if you did, so what?  Right then, in the car with Michelle, I decided I could not tell her.  Japanese kamikaze pilot?  She would laugh at me, and I couldn't take that.  Maybe I made the wrong choice.  Maybe she would have believed me.  I still wonder about that.

“Fine,” she said in an flat emotionless tone that signaled to me, as clear as the toll of a bell, the end of our relationship.  Two years over in one passionless syllable.

We had dinner and saw a movie, but were two Just Friends out on the town that evening.  At her doorstep, I kissed her goodnight.  It would be the last time I kissed her.

After she went in, I stood there for a moment, looking up at the stars like I'd done many times leaving her house, but the familiar summer stars were gone.  Autumn constellations, like Pegusus, the flying horse, and Andromeda, the original damsel in distress, were high in the sky.  A cool breeze hit me, and I headed for the Hashmobile. Maybe I would turn on the heat.

“Thanks,” he said on the way home.  He had not spoken the whole night.  “I knew you would keep your promise.”

“I had to, dammit,” I said.  “But why did it have to be now?  And why Scott?  He'll kill us.”

“Chris, I don't plan on losing,” he said so forcefully that I did turn on the heat.

So there we were, three days later, lined up, with Scott's car to my left, in the deserted office complex.  Michelle, who had been hanging around with Scott the past few days, borrowed one of her father's handkerchiefs for a makeshift starter's flag.

The empty buildings all around us jutted darkly against the star-filled sky, reminding me of some kind of prehistoric temple.  A modern Stonehenge in glass and steel.

All too true, I thought.  Watch any car ad on TV.  We do worship our cars.  The Religion of the Open Road.  Oh, what a feeling!  If the liturgy of Father Zeus came back into practice, his symbol would no longer be the thunderbolt, but the Thunderbird.

Boy, I must've been nervous.  I always get philosophical when I get nervous.

The course was simple.  To get into the parking lot of the huge, monolithic Flamsteed Building, you had to use an access road called, oddly enough, Flamsteed Road.  It started out on Clarke Road, went straight for about a quarter of a mile and ended at a little toll gate.  At the gate, where the yellow arm was carefully wedged up, the road narrowed into one lane.  This was the finish line.  The first car in the parking lot won.

It was a well-used dragging strip.  The only dangerous part was at the end, where cars jockey for position to get in the gate first.  A spectacular accident happened at that point a couple of years before, but I wasn't worried.  Scott should reach there about a year ahead of us.

Then again, I wasn't so sure about that anymore.  “Trust me,” Hashi said.  “If you have the nerve, we can win.” I was getting more and more nervous but a promise was a promise and that was that.

“Get ready!” Michelle yelled and moved to the side.  Her voice was almost drowned out by Scott's engine, which grumbled ominously.  Hashi's engine was more of a irritated whine.

“Get set!”

I had my right hand on the stick, the gas pedal pressed all the way to the floor and the clutch out.  I was ready.  At least Hashi and I would go out with a squeal.

“GO!” Michelle screamed and threw the hankerchief in front of us.  We did squeal wheel, but not as much as Scott.  Smoke poured out from his back tires and the nauseating smell of burning rubber polluted the air.

I figured that I could keep up with him at first, when we were in first gear, but would be overtaken as soon as I shifted to second.  Hashi's engine whined; the sound growing louder and louder. I stayed in first as long as possible, and we did keep even with Scott.

Then he shifted into second and shot out a little ahead of us, still to my left.  He would try to get in front of us.  We were doing forty-five, higher than I'd ever been in first, so I decided to shift to second.  Nothing happened.

Before I even touched the stick, from the second my sneaker toed the clutch, I knew that Hashi'd done it.  He'd taken over control.  I did the only two things I could do: I made sure my seatbelt was tight and started screaming.

Gears, clutches, shifting, all no longer meant anything.  Hashi was running on pure will, his spirit coarsed through the metal shell of the car and propelled it like a leaf in the wind, a divine wind.

The gate approached.  To win, Scott would have to cut in front of us because the gate was on our side, a little bonus he allowed me.  Hashi had kept up with him all along, however.  Scott had never counted on that.

It was less a hundred yards now. I'll never forget the look that Scott gave me.  He absolutely refused to believe that I could beat him.  He had anguished look of someone who'd been shown the truth about something he'd taken for granted.  The look of a macho football player who had been told his favorite tackling coach was gay, or of a child when he is told for the first reliable time that there is no Santa Claus.

I remember that look when I think of Michelle and him now.

Suddenly, Hashi's hatch popped open.  My whole seat came loose with the explosive sound of metal bolts popping, and the whole thing, with me still buckled on, flew out the back window.  I almost hit my head on the hatch on the way out.

I came down hard, flat on my back in the street, but was cushioned by the padding in the seat.  Momentarily stunned, I tried in vain to get up, but the seatbelt was still on.

By the time I'd regained my senses, unbuckled myself, and looked at the cars they were nearly at the gate.  “No!” I yelled because Hashimoto had started turning into Scott's car.  Scott swerved to the left to try to get out of the way, but could not.  Hashi crashed right into Scott's passenger side with a crack that echoed like rolling thunder throughout the complex.

A Mustang was a big, solid car these days, built like a tank.  The Hashmobile bounced of the Mustang's door like one of those little rubber balls that you buy in a coin machine in the supermarket.  He even gained speed on the rebound, and rolled right through the gate.  The winner.

Scott had screeched his brakes and skidded, stopping in some of the bushes that lined the road.  He got out screaming and cursing, but I could see the damage wasn't that bad.  A Colt can only do so much to a Mustang, even if it was a Kamikaze Colt.

I walked into the parking lot of the Flamsteed Building to look at my car.  The front was pretty smashed in, like it had run into a brick wall or two.  Green radiator fluid dripped down over the shattered engine and puddled near the puckered tires.  Hashimoto was gone.

Winter had come and gone and both Scott and Michelle still wouldn't talk to me.  They think I'm crazy.  Responsible for the whole mess.  They're probably right.  But I kept my word.

Also, I think I did the right thing.  Why?  Well, I'm not making any inferences, and I'm drawing no conclusions, but down at the Flamsteed Building, right next to that little gate, a beautiful flower is growing.  It might be a chrysanthemum.  Go see for yourself.