The Car Chase From Bullitt
A Mnemosyne story
Start at the beginning of the Mnemosyne series
In the winter chill our blood sustains us. It brings not only precious air to from our lungs to our hearts and heads, but heat. When you return inside from extreme cold, you can feel your heart pulse and push the fire of your blood through your limbs, setting your fingers and toes on fire with each beat. It is every bonfire and cup of hot cocoa that you have ever sipped after playing in the snow, all ignited in your chest and throat at once. Blood is the sweetness of your life, your passion and exultation in your own existence, burning away the chill as it bites at you. In the cold, your blood turns you into a flame in the night, defiant and furious in your life.
Feeling that heat leak out of another human being, seeing their fire diminish . . . that is agony.
"Theo! Theodore!" My voice echoed over the empty streets, rebounding from the buildings as it filled the hollow city around me. He gave no response, so I shook him violently in my desperation. His head lolled back and forth, but he moaned. A cry forced its way out of my throat. It felt as though the air coming from my lungs was choking me as my throat tightened and I swallowed hard automatically, my throat and jaw beyond my control. I could feel the dull ache of tears and my struggle to fight them throbbing in my neck and face. A sound escaped my mouth, a low gasping hum of ragged breath.
"Come on. We need to go and get you help." I lifted one of his arms and set it around my shoulders, trying to support his weight. He nearly fell as I moved him, but was able to catch his balance. Theo shook his head once, then twice, and seemed to regain some strength.
He took a step before I did, almost pulling me along the street. I rushed to keep up, trying to keep my center under his arms and keep him standing. "My chest hurts." His voice sounded flat, as if he were frightened and unsure how to handle the situation. Unsurprising. Most people would not know how to handle being stabbed. I certainly wouldn't. "I . . . can we get to a hospital?"
I tried to make my voice as reassuring as possible. The chill and effort made it difficult to breathe, and I was gasping more than Theodore was. "Of course. We will get you there in no time. You're going to be fine."
We needed a car. Even as I realized this, I could see the streets around us were barren, devoid not only of human presence, but of any real sign that the city was occupied at all. Only the buildings themselves haunted the streets, looming in the dark, absent of any light or warmth of civilization. It was like walking through a ghost town of the Old West, years after any gold miners had left the town to die.
"Stop for a moment." My voice quavered, breaking my illusion of calm. Theodore slumped against me, clinging to me with whatever strength he had left. I suspect he was moving so quickly only by continually throwing himself forward and letting me catch him. When we stopped, it was difficult for him to keep his legs stiff enough to stand.
"What are you doing?" Now his voice sounded frightened. I closed my eyes and tried to bring the image of a car to my mind. The first car I thought of was the one Papa had owned when I was starting school as a kid. It had been a dark blue Escort sedan, tiny and drafty. The heater had been broken, and the passenger side window hadn't rolled up all the way in years. A faint smell of oil hung in the air of the car, and old dark stains on the carpet showed the telltale signs of the spills that had created the odor. It had been a terrible car, but I'd loved it, because Papa had taken me everywhere in it. To my basketball games, to my spelling bees, on my first date, the two of us had driven the length and breadth of the city and beyond in that car. It will always be the car I associate with my Papa, and with the understanding of cars in general.
I summoned all of my will, trying to focus on opening my eyes and seeing that car in front of us. The need I had for it touched every part of my being, and I cried out in the silence of my mind like a man in the desert for water. The car MUST appear before me. I squeezed my eyes closed as tightly as I could, straining against nothing, feeling the blood pound in me as I stopped breathing and forced the pressure and heat of my body into my head. It felt as though I was trying to lift an invisible boulder, unable to see or comprehend its heft, only hoping that I was strong enough to lift it without it crushing me.
Theodore slumped against me and gasped. I opened my eyes and there before me was the car. Only, it was far larger than any car I'd ever driven. Its wheels came up to my mid-thigh, and I would have to reach up to my shoulder to open the door. I stared at in, confused and disbelieving. Still, a car was a car, and Theo needed my help.
"Come on. We need to go." I wrapped my arm around his waist and began almost dragging him to the blue vehicle. He put one hand against the metal and used both the car and my body as crutches to move. When we reached the edge of the door I tried the handle, and luckily it was unlocked. I had to give Theo a boost up onto the enormous stiff plastic seat and then use both hands to push the door shut behind him.
The driver's side door creaked loudly as I pulled it open, using my body weight to pull it passed the fulcrum point of a warp in the metal of the door. I reached across the seat and grabbed the plastic with my hands and used it to lever myself up into the car. Theo had slumped back into his seat, his legs dangling off of the edge, and was softly moaning.
The keys were in the ignition. A neon purple fake rabbit's foot dangled off of the keychain, swinging back and forth from my entrance into the car. Papa still has that rabbit's foot. It's migrated from car to car. Every time I ask him to get rid of it, he laughs and tells me he will. Yet it's always there when I ride with him. Seeing it hanging from the enormous steering wheel burned at my eyes with a longing for Papa to be here to help me.
I had to perch on the front of the seat in order to be able to turn the key. Only by straining my neck could I see over the dashboard out the front windshield. I was looking under the wheel, trying to keep my vision lined up between the plastic arc and the bubbled driver's dash. Relief filled my stomach as the engine turned over and started smoothly, more so than the car ever had when I was a kid. Frustration quickly poured in to replace relief with a burning pain as I realized that with the size of the car, I could not reach the pedals.
I slammed the steering wheel with my fist, causing a loud shriek from the horn. I joined it with a scream of my own. The dark blue Escort was my father's car from my childhood, all the way down to the size difference between myself and it. The tears refused to hold back any longer, and I let loose a great hacking sob, my face falling forward to hit the center of the wheel. My shoulders shook back and forth uncontrollably as the pent up fear and confusion began to take over. The wetness dripped off of my face and splashed against the dusty plastic of the wheel and ran down it, leaving small trails of blue in the field of grey.
Theodore let out a cough that shook me back from my own grief. I could not give up and cry while he lay there bleeding. Looking over at him, I could see that his face was pale, and his eyes were half-lidded and rolling wildly in their sockets. The smell of blood was potent in the closed air of the car, mixing with the oil fumes to create a dark scent - a scent from the worst recesses of my imagination. I pulled my eyes back to the road in time to see a dark figure lurch out of the door of the bar and turn toward the car. Kevin.
Though he was nearly a block away on the lightless dark street, I could feel his eyes boring into mine. His dark coat billowed around his legs, despite the night being calm and windless. Wind would have given a feel of life to the city; instead there was only a dead emptiness. Yet still the coat swirled in thematic fashion, propelled perhaps by my own sense of drama and mood. With deliberate care Kevin began to slowly pace up the street toward the car, the certainty with which he took his steps seeming to sound the inevitability of catching us rather than the probability of our escape.
I sat frozen, unsure what I should do. There was no way for me to effectively drive the monstrosity of a car I had created, and Theodore was in no condition to run. Kevin approached slowly, his movement giving no hint of the beating he had received. He came down the middle of the street, his head never shifting, intent only upon the car, and me in it. As he neared the car I realized that no steam came from his mouth, despite the freezing chill of the air. It was as if Kevin was an automaton, some sort of moving mannequin, come to life to threaten Theodore and I. That last break from reality galvanized me to action, causing me to give up any last shred of belief in a rational way in which one should operate in the world. I slid down onto the floor and held the steering wheel with both hands above my head, then braced my back against the seat and stomped on the gas pedal as hard as I could.
The car lurched forward violently, its wheels spinning against the slick icy pavement. I could feel gravity tug at my stomach as the back of the car fishtailed around wildly before the tires caught traction and straightened the vehicle. The pealing sound of spinning treads on asphalt filled the air, joined quickly by the scent of burning rubber. There was mad laughter in my throat as I tried to hold the wheel toward where I believed the road to be, as I could not hope to see from my position on the floor. Theodore rolled across the seat, his body gone completely limp, almost relaxed.
A loud thump shot through the car as something collided with the hood, and then the sound of bending and denting metal as the weight of it rolled up and over the roof of the car. The laughter I was holding back burst into the open as I imagined Kevin flying up through the air, arms and legs flailing, attempting to keep hold of his hat and cane. I thought briefly of putting the car into reverse and backing up quickly in an attempt to hit him again, but instead kept my foot pressed to the floor in my desperate mad attempt at a blind escape. I had begun to believe that perhaps my desire to flee from Kevin was so powerful that it would change the streets around us, opening a path for the car, when our hurtling egress was cut short by an unlit streetlight.
I do not know how fast we were travelling when we hit the pole as I could not see the speedometer from the floor. The violence of a collision always belies the speed at which you were travelling, turning a steady crawl of thirty miles an hour into the speeding one hundred and twenty of a stock car crash. My body compressed around my legs, sending my knees passed my ears and straining at my hips and thighs, jerking the tendons taught and stretching them past the point of safety. The brake pedal flew at me out of the darkness as my head came forward and smashed into it, pushing it to the floor, before I bounced back and smashed into the bottom of the steering wheel.
My dazed state was pierced by the sound of the broken car horn car sounding across the buildings of the empty street. The horrible wail drove into my ears like a spike. The accelerator was still pushed to the floor, and the car was making a terrible grinding noise as it fought with the light post outside. I realized that my foot was still locked in place on the pedal, and tried to relax it. The muscles wouldn't respond to my will, so I reached down and knocked my own foot off of the gas. That seemed to do the trick, as the grinding stopped, and my leg began to behave.
I didn't seem to be badly injured, only a few bruises and strained muscles from jolting around on the floor. Theodore, on the other hand, lay crumpled across the center console, one leg between the seats and his arms flopped onto the driver's seat. His head was turned away from me, showing me nothing of what he was feeling. The moans had stopped. I sat for a long quiet moment, looking for any sign of motion from him, but there was nothing.
Story and image by Nick Bergeron, Copyright 2010