A 1-year cycle of the night sky over the African veldt played out in fast-forward on the ceiling, the planets highlighted so as to be clearly visible. The chair vibrated and turned to jelly around Jimmy Marist’s tush, and then congealed and held form as he stared up at the wandering planets. Mars went forward pretty fast, more self-assured than the others, but then second-guessed itself and doubled back before looping and continuing its original course, more surefooted than ever. The others moved slower but never doubled back like Mars, but Mars still had the fastest laps, so what was the moral there? Jimmy couldn’t really have said. Sure was a sight though, and fun to speed up to Alvin & the Chipmunks-type frequency and then slow down to actual speed that would be boring if it weren’t for the juxtaposition. Dave, Jimmy’s dad, asked him to stop playing with the speed dial, it made him carsick. They pulled over and he hurled in a ditch just to prove it.
“Better to stop now than later,” Dave said, “Later we have to just troll right through.”
Soon the carpeted floor became littered with soda bottles, empty sandwich wrappers, and bags of chips holding air. Dave had a hand on his stomach that seemed to have not yet decided if it was there in satiation or in an attempt to hold back another yack attack. Jimmy bounced in his seat, his body fueled by sugar, the vehicle smoothly traversing terrain hilly and curvaceous.
“Dad, why did Uncle Ray have to die?”
“Ray died because people have to die, son. Everyone has to die.”
“Well, the drinking didn’t help.”
“Are you sad?”
Jimmy sat still long enough to switch the ceiling display over to a National Geographic on cheetahs, and Dave asked if Jimmy would mind if they put on EWTN.
“Well, I need to catch up a bit before the funeral.”
“Oh, well, I mean, I guess so then, if you have to.”
They continued moving, and Jimmy noticed that they had entered the place where they were supposed to drive straight through and he stood on his knees to get a look through the window. Mountainous walls of junked old model cars surrounded them, people of all ages dressed in a motley of multicolored leathers and fabrics crawling in and out and through them in some complex tunnel system of open windows, detached doors, and moonroofs, the cars’ interiors stripped down to metal. Their vehicle screamed “PLEASE REMAIN IN SEAT AND FASTEN SEATBELT” for a few moments before shuddering to a halt.
“Jimmy, sit down and don’t look out the window here.”
“But dad, they’re all looking over at us.”
“I know. It doesn’t matter. Just sit down and keep your head low.”
So they drove through, Dave constantly fussing with the GPS/AP system to make sure they were staying on course through the maze of stacked cars as the system would often, upon finding its way blocked, re-route ad infinitum.
“I used to hunt here, you know.”
“Yeah, me and grandpa and your Uncle Ray. I was about your age the first time I saw a dead deer. We were over at grandpa’s house—”
“No, Bridgeport, he lived in Bridgeport then. And so he comes back from a hunting trip with your Uncle Ray and they’re over in the garage, and so I walk in and there’s this giant buck, hanging from the crossbeams by its legs, and they’ve got buckets on top of plastic tarp covering the floor and keep switching them out as they get full of blood. So Ray sees me as I come in and laughs, because I’m staring wide-eyed at this deer, and he asks me if I think it’s gross, and I don’t respond and he can tell I’m a little scared—and I don’t really know why I’m telling you this—but so he smiles at me and picks up this plastic bag from the workbench and he brings it to me and holds it open and asks if I know what it is—the thing that’s inside it. And it’s huge and wet and as big as my head, and I tell him no, and he laughs again and grabs it and puts it right in front of my face and says ‘The heart!’ and I ran out of there back into the house.”
“So why did you hunt?”
“I don’t know. It’s just what we did back then.”
“Is that why you brought the gun?”
“Uh, no. Well, it wasn’t a junkyard back then. Just a big forest. A bunch of camps, lakes, rivers. Grandpa had two camps up here, Red Door and Green Door, and I used to come up and Ray and the old men were all there and they’d hunt during the day and drink and play cards in the night, and me and Ray would play cards in the attic for pretty much anything in our pockets and watch old westerns until we fell asleep. That was all at Green Door, on Moose Pond over by Fifth Lake. Red Door was much smaller, more or less consisted of a large room filled with bunkbeds, a small kitchen, and an outhouse.”
“He made a killing selling off the land to the government. Your grandpa did.”
“How do you sell land to the government?”
“Well, they have to ask you. I think.”
“Didn’t you make a killing too?”
“Well yeah, I sold them the lumber business when they cleared it out. That’s why I get to spend so much time at home. I retired early.”
“Oh right, okay.”
“I also devised the plan on how to dam up all the rivers so they wouldn’t pollute anything outside.”
In silence they continued. Now there was a priestly sermon on the inherent value of mercy playing out on the ceiling screen, but Dave had fully sunk into his horizontal chair and was fast asleep. Jimmy looked out through the windows at all the cars piled up, their brilliant array of various rusting colors really just a different kind of wilderness.
Outside the window on the side of the road, a man was having sex with the exhaust pipe of a junked 2005 Ford Taurus.
Jimmy averted his eyes. He remembered watching an old movie with his dad, The Godfather, and his dad had been talking for days on end about how great a movie it was and, to his wife and Jimmy’s mom Bonita, that sure Jimmy was young, and yes the movie was rated R, but it’s a classic and the kid needed to watch it, and after all that he finally won the argument and they put the movie on and there came a scene halfway through where a beautiful young Italian woman took off her shirt and her breasts were right there, dead center in the screen, and Dave fumbled with the remote, Oh jeez forgot that they showed that but uh what’s done is done. The rest of the movie carried on without a hitch.
Jimmy fidgeted around, thinking about what he had seen. He decided to take another look, unbuckling and kneeling up on his chair, but the car went over a hill and the man was out of sight. “PLEASE REMAIN IN SEAT AND FASTEN SEATBELT” the car screamed again and then shuddered to a halt. Dave woke up and unbuckled so he could lean forward in his seat and buckle Jimmy down, but the back wheels were lifted as a muffler fell from the top of a ledge of a cliff face on the left side of the road and landed on the hood of Dave and Jimmy’s car. Dave rose with the force of the car and hit his head on the ceiling monitor, the impact shattering an image of the Eucharist being lifted by an enthusiastic priest. When he slammed back into his seat, he reached out to Jimmy, who had sat and buckled as soon as he saw Dave reaching for him, and thankfully there was no glass in his hair.
“Yeah Dad, I’m fine.”
“Alright, just stay calm,” Dave said, pulling down the separator to the trunk of the car behind his seat and taking out the shotgun, “Come on, we have to get out of the car.”
“Just give me a few seconds,”
When they got out of the car, they were greeted by the mechanophiliac Jimmy had seen a few minutes earlier. His face was flushed, probably just from running over though. His pants were tan car seat leather with fabric patches, and his shirt was made from the black fabric that lines trunks.
“I saw your car pass by a minute ago, so when I heard that smash I came running. Everyone okay?”
Dave raised the barrel of the gun towards the motley-clad man, putting Jimmy between himself and the flattened car.
“Whoa, no need for that, no one here is going to hurt you.”
Dave lowered the gun slightly, “Our GPS can’t be removed from the car. How do we get out of here? Is there a functioning vehicle here that I can buy from you?”
“Headed down south or Canada?”
“You know, you remind me of someone. Or something. Gosh, I really can’t place it, but it’s right there.”
“Yeah, it really is. You know, I think I ought to show you boys something. Yeah, there’s something I really ought to show you.”
Dave raised the gun again.
“Easy. Nothing like that. Besides, if you shoot me then you’ll really, uh, really be in trouble. Everyone will come running, and you’ll have no idea where to go. There, that’s better. Man, I really wish I could place you. It’s not even like I’ve seen you before, but more like maybe somehow heard you.”
“No sense in waiting to figure it out.”
“Yeah, sure. Come on, it’s a long walk.”
“Hey now, wait a minute, you need to at least tell us where you’re taking us.”
“You don’t really have, uh, well, a choice in this.”
The three continued along the road, up and down large hills, more cars stacked on one another with people crawling through and stripping them of parts. Women of all different ages barely covered by leather and black fabric eyed Dave and Jimmy, and Jimmy eyed the women back, his expression a mix of fear, fascination, and attraction.
“You know, a lot of people have wondered what you all have been doing out here since the Great Hobo Exodus,” Dave said to the man.
“Have they? It’s funny to think that now people are concerned about the homeless.”
“I can appreciate the irony there.”
“Well, we do a lot of things. We put on plays. We build shelters using the junkers. We do yoga.”
“My chakras have never been more open. My body is a conduit of positive vibes.”
“And what’s your name?”
“Junker George. You?”
“So what brings you out here? No one ever comes through, even though the roads are safe. Well, reasonably safe.”
“I’m afraid of flying,” Jimmy piped up from next to Dave.
“Ah. And you are?”
“He’ll have to get over his fear of flying by the trip back though. We won’t be driving back now.”
“It’s easier to get over a fear when it becomes a necessity to do so,” Junker George said.
Dave hoped that this was true, more for himself than for Jimmy. He was not looking forward to his brother’s funeral mass, and even less so to the open-casket wake, Ray’s body certainly faded and grey after his organs shut down from years of alcohol abuse. Really, there wasn’t a single aspect of the funeral that didn’t fill him with weighted anxiety. They passed an empty lake on their right and what looked like a town once beside it, all the buildings leveled, junk cars strewn across the place. To their left, conspicuously still standing, was a white arch and a smiling Paul Bunyan statue, the blue ox nowhere to be seen. Dave recognized the place.
“So, now that we know names, can you tell us where you’re taking us?”
“I’m taking you to see the Driver. He’ll let us know your next step, whether or not we can drive you out of here.”
“Is the Driver some kind of leader?”
“Something like that.”
Jimmy looked at Dave urgently. Dave pulled his best “reassuring father” face.
“He makes decisions. He doesn’t lead so much as point us in the right direction.”
“So we’re going to what, his office or something?”
“No. He doesn’t have an office, more just constantly returns to the same spot. We’ll wait for Him there.”
“Why do you say it like that?”
“Say what like what?”
“Say ‘him’ like ‘Him,’ ‘he’ like ‘He.'”
“I really don’t hear the difference.”
Jimmy tripped over a muffler and scraped his hands badly on the asphalt. Dave was by his side in an instant.
“We really don’t have time for this. We’re so close and the Driver will be here any minute, so we have to get in position. It’s just over by that junk pile,” said Junker George.
“Just hold on, he’s hurt.”
Dave put his gun down beside Jimmy and looked over the scrapes on Jimmy’s hands. Nothing a little Neosporin won’t take care of once we’re out of here, but Dave didn’t say that out loud, and instead looked over to the pile of junked cars Junker George had motioned towards. It was mountainous, easily the biggest pile in the place that Dave had seen so far. The cars spilled into a large drained pond and filled that halfway up too. Dave knew just where he was. It was where his father’s camp used to be, the nights he remembered old men screaming obscenities over cards and thick smoke, he and Ray playing cards in the attic, trying to avoid the rats. In between them and the pile though, there was a line of pre-automated cars, lined up and looking road-ready. A set of speakers ripped from junked cars loudly played a tape that was mostly hiss, but through the static came the occasional sounds of what seemed like Gregorian chant sung and played by a lone elderly man on an acoustic guitar. A few women were waxing the car with diapers. Jimmy was mesmerized by the women, the way they held the diapers, their lack of covering and self-consciousness. Dave thought that the cars might be a good way to escape, but there was still the chance that the keys weren’t in the cars, and that they wouldn’t have any idea how to get out of the junkyard without a GPS.
“Here He comes!” Junker George gleefully shouted.
Dave helped Jimmy up, then the two of them followed Junker George, Dave looking out for any chance of escape. To his surprise, the car that Junker George went to stand in front of was an automated car, sun glinting off the large solar panels on the hood of the vehicle. Junker George was laying some ground rules as he stood directly in the Driver’s path.
“So as He approaches, keep your head lowered. The Driver will know what you need. If He drives up to the cars being washed over there, then one is yours, I’ll have a key delivered and drive you out of the Junkyard and that will be that.”
“What do you mean that he’ll know?”
“On the other hand, He might just drive away, in which case, we wait to try again next time. Until then, we’ll find something for you two to do here.”
Jimmy’s eyes were on the women wiping down the cars with diapers. He thought they were incredibly beautiful and wanted to talk to them. One met his eyes and it was like a lightning bolt and he looked away. Dave was looking over at the cars too.
“Alright, alright, eyes down! Eyes down!” Junker George took Dave by the shoulders and turned him towards the automated car as it approached. He did the same to Jimmy, then stood in front of the car and lowered his own eyes.
As the car neared, its collision detection caused it to come to a stop in front of Junker George, and Dave noticed that it looked worn down and rusted, covered in dirt and mud. The tire pressure was low. The windows were dusty, and Dave looked up into the car to see the Driver; a blackened skeleton smiling out the window, moss growing out of its hip, its pressure on the seat allowing the car to move and constantly re-approach the mountain of junked cars from different angles, day in and out, looking for something buried so far underneath that it could really never be reached.
Dave smashed the window with the butt of the gun.
“What are you doing? What the hell are you doing? Help! Someone help!”
With the gun pointed at Junker George, Dave told Jimmy to climb through the window into the car. Jimmy looked from his father to the beautiful women who, while standing in shock for a moment, were now running to get help for Junker George and the Driver. One of them accidentally knocked over the tape deck attached to the speakers, and the tape grew hissier, making the chant seem shrill and off-balance, shifting pitches with reckless abandon.
“Jimmy, get in the car!”
Finally, as the last of the women ran for help, Jimmy climbed through the window, plugging his nose and sitting in the empty seat next to the corpse with his eyes closed and his legs curled up to his chest.
“This is wrong. This is sacrilege, what you’re doing,” said Junker George, looking up at Dave with hot tears in his eyes.
Dave shivered when he heard this, and he looked at Junker George and wondered if what he had done really was sacrilegious. He heard his son crying in the car. Then Dave yelled for Junker George to lie on his belly on the ground. He did, swearing the whole time, as Dave took a long reluctant look at the corpse inside the car and climbed in backwards through the window, pointing the gun at Junker George. He wiped the info from the GPS/AP and his hand froze there for a moment before he put in the address of his brother’s house and they were away.
The entertainment system overhead had long since sprouted large dark spots from its perpetual use, and they left it on without thinking much about it. Dave didn’t dare leave his position in between the Driver and the window with his gun pointed out. The smell of death in the vehicle never became lighter to stomach. Once they were safely outside of the Junkyard they stopped the car and exited after Dave had selected the previous destination from the GPS/AP history, and they watched the car turn around and away as it tried in vain to catch its headlights.
Daniel Massett is a 22-year-old student currently living in Syracuse, New York.