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ROAD TEST

By G. W. Thomas






 The man in the government-issued suit sat down without looking at the person across from him, the one in the driver’s seat.  “Please start the car and back into the parking lot.”

 The driving examiner was the epitome of his profession, the merest photocopy of some ideal “examiner”, cold, detached, disinterested.  He wore the tight, brown suit with the colorless tie, like a badge of authority, his heavy-rimmed glasses finishing off a perfect imitation of officialdom.  In his lap, the clipboard with road evaluation form 5C3 - (fifty demerits allowed), and  a pen attached with a bank-counter chain.

 The car roared to life, backed quickly but proficiently out of the stall and sped off in the direction of the main street.  “Turn left here.” the examiner, who’s name was Johnson, said.

 The car, a souped-up V8 barreled on like Hell On Wheels.

 “Please slow down,” the rider commanded.  “Speeding will cost you 10 points as will failing to make the turn.”  The driver made no comment on the loss of points.

 “Turn here, if you will.”  The direction came with a renewed bored tone of voice.  “Now, I want you to parallel park behind this car here.”

 The car shot passed, having nothing to do with the green Pinto, designated for parking practise.

 “Son, I said --” Johnson turned, looked at the fool who would dare to disregard his commands.  Didn’t this young man know that he, Arnold Johnson, held all his hopes of driving a car?  How could he even think --

 “Pooka!”

 Johnson boggled.  The person sitting next to him was no zit-faced junior high school brat.  He was an evil-looking, wide-grinned maniac.  The driver had an evil scowl, thick eye brows that wriggled like caterpillars and a wiry goatee that reminded Johnson of bad Satanist films.

 “Pooka!” The driver yowled again, as he pumped the V8 to seventy.  The tires squealed like stuck pigs.

 “Stop!  Stop this MINUTE!” Johnson demanded, not sure if he still held any power.  He didn’t.

 His hand reached over roughly, telegraphing his intentions of killing the engine by turning off the key.  A fist leapt out, striking him just above the eye brow.  The blow had behind it the power of an animal -- some brutal, instinctual being -- the kick of a billy goat.

 “Pooka!” the driver bleeted.

 Why did he keep saying that?  Outside, the city streets disappeared to be replaced by the weed-filled fringes of the rail-yards.  Beyond that -- the highway.

 Johnson went for the door.  Perhaps a bluff --

 “Pooka!” screamed the driver, jamming the pedal to the floor, taking the car up to a hundred and ten.
 Johnson closed the door.

 Turning back to his captor, the examiner thought to beg for mercy.  Before he could frame his plea, he peered at the driver.  He had changed.  The beard was longer, the skin darker and two large, curved horns crowned his skull.  “Pooka!”

 Then it dawned on Johnson.  He was of English extract after all.  Pooka -- Pwca -- Puck -- the phantom that inhabited lonely roads disguised as a horse, carrying unsuspecting riders to their deaths --

 Pooka!

 But in this day and age --

 The Highway curved.

 Pooka!

 -- no one road horses anymore --

 A pond filled one side of the road, deep and algaic.

 Pooka!

 -- they drive cars!

 No!  They were going off the road!  One hundred and twenty.  They would die --

 Pooka!

 They would die, only Johnson would live long enough to feel those large goatish teeth chewing the flesh from his bones.
 The souped-up V8 hit the slick surface of the pond like a fist into jello.  Windshield collapsed under tons of water, washing away the high, shrill laughter of the driver.


Copyright G. W. Thomas 1990


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