Note: This story takes place after right after Rites of Passage.
I have to admit, my car sounds good.
I rev the engine on my Camaro, and it growls- much louder than it used to. After the winter, with all that went down in the mountains, my mentor- Eli Romer- and I rebuilt my car. I was content to simply repair the damage that had been done by the...things that had banged it up. New windshield, replaced front end, new passenger door. But Eli insisted on upgrades.
And boy did he upgrade. Eli had been an engineer before he began a life as a supernatural expert. So he used all that skill to develop a new engine for my Camaro- taking it from a sturdy V8 to something else. Something monstrous- in a good way. I thought "Man, what a friend!"
Now, I'm not so sure.
By the way, I'm Sawyer Shepherd. A year ago, I graduated high school in Texas and set off on a journey of self discovery. Solo roadtrip across the good old USA. By fall I had landed in Sage City, Colorado intending to see the aspen leaves changes and do a little hiking. Instead, I got caught in a snowstorm, an avalanche and I learned that monsters are real. Especially demons. But how those rites of passage went down is another story for another day. Since that time I have been training with Eli, learning about the supernatural world, building a cabin, and suping up my car.
Which all really went together more than I realized, actually. See, about two months into working on the car, Eli started telling me about a legend. And when Eli calls something a legend, he is talking about a monster. (I picked up on that tell quickly.) In this legend, there is demon drag racer in the Mojave Desert. He loved to race for 'pink slips' ( I think that means the title for the cars in old people speak. Eli is getting up there- like fifty or something)- but the pink slip was the opponent's soul. Only the racer didn't know that. They thought if they won, they would get the demon's super fast car- it used to be a Shelby Mustang, then it was a Corvette Stingray, then in the eighties it was a Ferrari Testarossa. That was the legend Eli told me. That a man had figured out the demon's scam, and tried to cheat the demon. During the race, the man was holding his own for a while, but then saw the demon start to pull ahead. So the man threw some spikes down in the road under the Ferrari. But the demon saw this, and with a flick of his finger, he redirected the spikes under the man's car, causing it to roll. The demon came over to the accident and told the man that he admired the desire to win at all costs, so he could keep his soul, but he would bear for the rest of his short life the cost of trying to trick a demon. Then the demon vanished, his car along with him.
The man was paralyzed in the accident, and died just a year later.
Eli told me the legend was just that- a legend- for over thirty years. Then about two years ago, sightings of a fancy Lamborghini Aventador racing around the Mojave started. Then there were accidents- horrific, metal rending solo accidents that were reported almost every month, near the full moon.
Then he told me that I was going to have to race the Demon Drag Racer.
So, there I was. In my suped up Camaro, in the Mojave, under a full moon. Alone.
Yep, Old Eli said the demon never shows for racers with a shotgun passenger. So Eli rode down here with me from Colorado, giving me great advice on how to really get the most out of the Beast (what he has taken to calling my car) and what do if I lose the race and by extension, my soul and life.
It was quiet, for a long time. So I started listening to some tunes. Good Alternative music, some Classic Rock- and appropriate Van Halen song about "Runnin' with the Devil" comes on, and I get psyched. I might have even been drumming on the steering wheel and air guitaring. Maybe.
Then I heard it. A rumble. No, I didn't just hear it, I felt it. The rumble was in my bones. It was like hearing a jet do a flyover, but at an altitude of ten feet. Not only was the growl of this as yet unseen super car shaking me up- I had the same feeling I had last winter when I met my first demon. Not a fear, thing. No, more of a foreboding, and anxiety to get it over with and meet my fate.
It was an adrenaline surge.
And I loved it.
Then I saw it.
I have had my breath taken away before. I feel down a well once. I got punched by a horned demon. I met a beautiful girl named Mandy.
But that car.....
It was a sharp thing, as if I touched a single square inch of it, I would pull away a bloody finger. It was dark, and out there the light was nonexistent, but the red streaks in the paint- mostly a matte black- looked as though demonic sparks were dancing in the night. It rumbled up next to me, and stopped. For a long time, neither of us moved. Then the window went down.
I would like to say I was shocked at the hideous monster behind the wheel, but this demon looked more like a rich playboy out playing with his excessively expensive toy. He had longish hair, slicked back. He wore sunglasses at night (due respect to Corey Hart), but they were pulled down on the bridge of his nose. He had a ring in his left eyebrow, and several in each ear. Honestly, he looked kinda like Mickey Rourke in the eighties- not in Iron Man 2. He reached up to adjust his glasses a bit, and I could see he was wearing leather (God I hope that was leather and not what I fear demons wear for accessories) fingerless gloves. He was tanned, naturally, not spray on. He half smiled. Then he asked me, "Wanna race, kid?" The voice was deep and confident, to match the look.
I knew my script. I laughed my best smug scoff. "Not sure you're up to it." Yeah. I said I knew the script. I did not say it was Oscar worthy. Or true. Or rational.
"Oh, heh, I am. But I only race for big stakes."
"You mean pink sl--I mean titles?"
He looked out his front window in a far off way. He licked his lips. "Something like that." He turned his head back to me, chin declined and eyes - red eyes- leering over the sunglasses. "You win, you get my car and your life. I win, I get your soul."
I kept telling myself, 'stick to the script.' But it was difficult. Why couldn't I just exorcise this guy right here? Oh yeah, the car was some sort of demonic anti-exorcism shield. It had to go. "Soul? Yeah, I'm not into long term deals."
"Oh, but kid- this is a Lamborghini Aventador- you are never going to get a shot like this again. Plus, your car looks like it might just be up to the task." For a demon, he was terrible at lying.
"OK, deal. Shake on it?"
"That's how we seal this deal."
We both exited our cars. I'm an average sized guy- about five-nine. This guy stood and was an easy six-two. He wore a leather (I hope) jacket and motorcycle boots with spurs. His sleeves were rolled up and I could now see leather bracelets on his wrists, and a pitchfork tattoo running up his left arm. Nice branding, there demon.
We stood between the cars and shook. With his other hand, he pointed off toward the distance. A low hill was all that was on the horizon of the long straightaway. "To that hill. First one wins." He half smiled and nodded. "Good luck, kid."
"Yessir- what's your name, by the way?"
"Call me Phil. And you?"
I really did not want to tell him. I knew that knowing my name gave him power over me-but I also had to trust that my soul was in fact safeguarded for this fight. So I told him, "Sawyer."
"See ya on the other side, Sawyer."
In our cars, we both revved the engines. The Beast was a kitten compared to the Lambo. For the first time, my rational mind kicked in- I was going to lose. BIG TIME.
Our eyes met across the cars and the demon clicked his tongue.
We tore off.
We held even for a bit. I felt he was toying with me as we reached sixty. We were still matched at eighty. And at 100. For the first time, I looked over, and he had a look I had not expected.
At 130 I felt the Beast shake a bit. At 150, it shook a lot. I spared a look over- the Lambo was as smooth as silk- but we were still even- and I think I saw sweat on the cool car demon's forehead.
Now, truth be told, I had no idea how much my newly rebuilt Camaro could take. But I was in for the whole deal. Eli had left me a trick- there was a nitrous button on the dash. I hit it.
The Beast surged to 200 and I pulled ahead- whitest of knuckles on the steering wheel. I pulled ahead- a full length. I still do not know how. For a second, I caught a glimpse of Phil- he was angry. Red eyes behind sunglasses angry. Then he was gaining on me. Fast. I felt that rumble again as the Beast topped out and the Lambo began to pass with ease. Phil turned to look at me and gloat.
That was the mistake he made.
At that moment, the Lambo slammed into something- something I had not seen either, but that I drove right past at 210. In my rearview, I saw the beautiful Aventador's front end crumple, and the rear end rise up and fly over the front- pausing for just a moment at an apex where it looked like a clock face at midnight, then the whole car crumpled in an ear-rending metal screech.
I slammed on my brakes and skidded to a stop. I looked out my side window- I was perfectly in line with the low hill we had aimed for. I'd won.
I wheeled around and drove back to the wreck site and I saw it. Written in chalk was a Latin incantation. I couldn't read it, but I knew what it was. A demon binding spell. And I knew who wrote it even before Eli walked up from the ditch on the side of the rode, dusting off sand.
Phil crawled out of the wreckage, but just stood up- uninjured, but unable to move, thanks to the incantation trap on the blacktop. He shook his head and cursed. "Just what do you think you've accomplished- you cheated!"
"Like you did when paralyzed my father thirty five years ago?" A steely eyed Eli was staring Phil down. Suddenly, I understood. This was revenge. This was how Eli knew so much.
it was personal.
Phil smiled and shrugged. "All is fair, I guess. Okay, send me back to Hell. I'll be back up in another fifty."
Now Eli shook his head. "Not this time. Sawyer, you got the sword?"
I drew out a Roman gladius that had proven quite useful in my first demonic encounter. It might or might not be a sword forged from the nails that were driven into Jesus' hands on the cross. Either way- it seems to kill demons just fine. "And what is this fellow's name, Sawyer?"
"Goes by Phil."
"Phil, Phil...." Eli was rubbing his graying chin. Then he snapped his fingers. "Mephistopheles."
Phil tensed up, then growled.
"Yep. Gotcha." Then Eli began to recite an ancient rite of exorcism, stopping before the end to motion at me. I stepped forward.
"Sorry Phil- good race, though." Then I drove the gladius into his chest- flame erupted from the wound and his eyes as Eli finished the rite. Then Phil disintegrated into the warm night air. And so did the wreckage of the Lamborghini Aventador.
Eli clapped me on the back. "Good job, son!"
I looked at him with a mix of shock and anger. "Seriously? You couldn't let me in on this part of the plan? 'Hey, Sawyer, I'm gonna put up a supernatural roadblock and wait for you and the demon to hit it.' Really, how hard would that have been?"
Eli shrugged. "I had to let the demon think you were totally alone- that whole 'no sidekick' thing and all. And if you were thinking about where I was hiding, well, you might have given me away. Or you might not have been as convincing."
"Convincing? I legit thought I was going to die and lose my soul to a George Michael reject in an awesome car!"
"Ah, your soul was never in danger. And you were definitely convincing! Besides- I engineered your car to go beyond its limits. You had it."
"Yeah, the Beast did great. Thanks for the upgrades."
"And how about that nitrous- eh?" Eli nudged me with his shoulder.
"Nitrous was cool. But next time- we put your soul up against the demon, okay?"
"C'mon- you're the rookie- you gotta earn your stripes somehow! Now give me a ride back to town- my feet are killing me."
So let this be a lesson to you all- the next time a kindly older gentleman fixes up your car for free- make sure you know the WHOLE deal. You never know when you will have to put your soul up against a demon just for a few extra MPH's.
Chad Lehrmann lives with his wife and two teenage daughters in College Station, Texas, where he teaches High School Psychology, Sociology, and Debate.