The boundaries of reality and fantasy overlap with sexy but spooky consequences when an author takes a drive in the country to overcome his writer’s block.
My car, which had also belonged to my father and my grandfather, wasn’t just a car. It was an automobile in the grandest sense of the word. I took a soft cloth from a shelf near the door and rubbed it lovingly along the sleek fender of my 1935 Packard twelve-cylinder coupe roadster. It was, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful driving machines ever built and a genuine work of art. The moss green paint shimmered. The chrome gleamed like sterling and the pale gold leather upholstery showed virtually no signs of wear. The men in my family had cherished this ravishing beauty for three generations and its powers of seduction remained undiminished by the passing of time.
I carefully folded back the top, slipped beneath the oversized steering wheel and turned the key in the ignition. It sprang to life with the deep rumbling purr that only twelve cylinders can provide. I backed around onto the ragged lawn – needed mowing, not today – and headed down the drive, anxious to get out of the city and enjoy a nice, relaxing afternoon drive. I hoped that the surprisingly warm late October air that rushed by my ears and the sun that beat down on my shoulders would help to get the creative juices flowing once again.
I drove aimlessly with no particular destination in mind. I left the freeway just beyond the city limits and sought out increasingly narrow, less traveled roadways, hoping to get away from every vestige of civilization. Soon enough, the suburbs thinned down to a mere sprinkling of small farms, several featuring piles of ripe pumpkins and corn mazes in honor of Halloween. I even spied a few early-bird groups of costumed revelers trooping along from house to house with their sacks of sugary loot. After I made a quick turn onto a particularly deserted stretch, even the neat fences that marked the division of field from field disappeared, leaving me alone at last.
Unfortunately, when I had undertaken this little outing, I had failed to reckon with the notoriously fickle Northwest weather at this time of the year. I had been vaguely conscious of a thin line of gray on the far horizon when I left the house. I failed to accord it any degree of importance. However, shortly after I turned off the blacktopped county road onto a narrow lane lined with weeping beech trees, the first drop of rain hit the windshield with a sullen splat. Now I found myself facing the unpleasant prospect of a rain-slick return to the city.
I secured the top and rolled up the windows, then took a look around. With a hundred and forty inch wheelbase, turning the Packard around wasn’t a task to be undertaken casually. The road was narrow, the ditches on either side were deep and the shoulders were non-existent. With no other choice at hand, I drove on, hoping to find a place to reverse course.
I was almost halfway across a narrow wooden plank bridge when there was an ominous cracking sound. I put the car in reverse and started to back up when the Packard lurched sickeningly to one side. I killed the engine and sat there holding my breath until I was fairly certain that I wasn’t about to be pitched into the fast flowing stream beneath me. I crossed my arms on the steering wheel and rested my forehead against them, trying to decide what to do next.
As far as I could tell, there was little choice but to hike to the highway and hope to hitch a ride back to civilization. When I opened the door, the raindrops that lashed me felt like ice water. The temperature must have dropped at least twenty degrees since I’d begun my drive, leading me to curse myself for lack of foresight in not bringing a jacket. Fortunately, the Packard hadn’t suffered any visible structural damage, but a pair of rotted planks had given way and the front right tire was firmly wedged. I checked my cell phone, but I was apparently out of the range of any service area. The situation was perfected when the rain began to fall in chilly earnest, plastering my now-inadequate clothing to my goose-pimpled flesh. Well, here we are then, I thought to myself—alone, cold, stupid and lost.
With every step I took, the wind blew harder and the rain fell faster. The sky was now a menacing shade of bruise purple, split occasionally by a jagged gash of lightening. I stumbled over a tree root and almost fell headlong onto what had now degenerated into a muddy, rutted track. A few more minutes of walking brought me to an intersection. I couldn’t for the life of me remember which direction I’d come from. In fact, I didn’t remember the intersection at all. Just in order to keep my blood from congealing in the cold, I turned left and walked doggedly forward.
At about the same time that I was beginning to consider the merits of just lying down in the road to die of exposure, I caught sight of a faint glimmer of light through the trees. My heart leapt at the sight! At last, I exulted, there is help for me. There wasn’t any driveway or path that I could discern through the rapidly increasing gloom, so I opted to cut through the trees while trying to keep the light in sight at all times.
After slogging through a creek and a ferocious thicket of blackberry brambles, I came suddenly into a clearing. I would have gasped out loud if I’d had the least bit of breath to spare, but under the circumstances I just gaped in disbelief as I negotiated the last few feet to the door.