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Today's Story by Darren Callahan

Some say God is their co-pilot...for me it's the bugs.

The Driving Bugs

At night, I pretend my Chrysler is a race car.  It’s a ’74, blue, pretty ugly, but it gets up to about seventy or so, if I push it, which I do.  I jump the hills of my hometown streets, plummeting to my near death, to land again on the cracked tar of Green Street or Maplewood or Noel Avenue.

During the day, I clean it and put air in the tires and gas in the tank.  But at night, I drive…hands on the wheel, two o’clock, ten o’clock, my soda-pop-bottle-bottom eyeglasses pulled down to the bridge of my nose like a visor, slightly askew.  I couldn’t see without my glasses, not the road, not the lines, not the signs, and certainly not the people.  And it’s the people I want to see, because they’re the best part of driving.

Some say God is their co-pilot…for me it’s the bugs.  It could be the dead of winter, it could be the middle of summer, but the bugs don’t die off, because they’re with me, and somehow the car gives them protection from a normal cycle of existence.  Like beetles, but thinner;  like centipedes, but longer; like cockroaches, and the shell is winged, and they sometimes fly past the glow of the dash.   They blur, but move slow, and buzz like tiny chainsaws, massing at my feet and on the pedals and floor mats.

Sometimes, the driving bugs ease their way under my pantlegs, and I don’t like that.  I can feel thousands of tiny feet pricking the skin on my legs and underneath my socks, and it itches and I get scared that they might just keep going right up, up, up to my belly and into my bellybutton.  But they never do.  Still, I don’t like that at all.

I usually drive between midnight and one a.m., but the bugs tell me to go earlier sometimes, because they can’t wait, but I never go out twice.  That’s too risky, they say, and I agree.

So, like a pro at the track, I steer my Chrysler around corners and over jumps.  The ’74 moves at my bidding and takes people at the bugs’.

Vampires don’t roam the streets of America, they’re here, behind the wheel, remorseless driving bugs.  I’d stop them, if I could, but I can’t.  If I tried to stop, they might fill up the car to the top and smother me, because they seem to multiply as I begin to lose my nerve.

Over the past few months, I took this burden as a curse.  I did something wrong, somewhere…if I could only find the moment of my error, my trodding upon some sacred grave best left undisturbed, things might be put back.  Then I could leave my garage in the day, or I could spend the mornings eating cereal instead of scrubbing and washing and scraping at the Chrysler’s front end in some vain effort of restoration.

But now I know, it’s a blessing…who else but the driving bugs could give me the power to do what I’m going to do on tonight’s drive?  Without them, I’d shrink into a corner and make myself as small as an ant.  I wouldn’t do anything like what I’m planning.

She said, “I know it’s you…I used to own that car.”              She’s right, too, co-titled, but she gave it to me in exchange for the dog, a terrier that was never trained and I hated anyway.  I got it last night, and despite being so small, the Chrysler was extra tough cleaning the next morning.  Much more mess than all those children, you’d be surprised.

Anyway…How can I do this to the one I once loved?  I’m surprisingly calm, I think.  If she had said anything else, anything else but what she did, I’d just tell the bugs to get someone else to drive them tonight.  I’m tired, I’m going to bed. You’re on your own.

But she said, “If you did this, then you did the others, and Charlie and I would have to leave this town…the town I’ve lived in for my whole life, to avoid the looks we’d get.”

She’s such a hypocrite!  You really have to know her, you do, because that’s so her…throwing Charlie back in my face, too.  As if I didn’t give that stupid fool of a mechanic a job in this town in the first place!  Like I really care about people looking at her in the supermarket!  They look at her now for what she did to me.  Mom says they’re on her side, but that’s not true.  I know lots of people who take my side.  Lots.  Well, the bugs…they’re with me, not with her, and, like I said, they’re a blessing, not a curse.

When I pull around onto her street with my headlights off it’ll be beautiful.  I’m not even gonna time it.  I kinda know when she gets in, but the bugs say I don’t need to plan it.  I’ll just keep driving.  Keep driving.  And then, before I’m even really aware of it, it’ll be her road, and she’ll be there, marching her unsuspecting way over to her friend Nina’s (I could tell you a lot about her, too), and the bugs’ll zoom across the dashboard lights like mosquitoes to a zapper, and they won’t crawl up my leg and fill the driver’s seat, because I won’t chicken out, I won’t, and she’ll be the last one, yes, she will…the very last one.  Tonight.


Darren Callahan lives in Chicago.  His novel “City of Human Remains” is published on Fiction365, and can be read in its entirety here.


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