Speculative Fiction

I’m old enough to smoke and fight in a war. How is it unsafe for me to drive down the street without Car doing it for me? From the couch in the living room, I peek through the blinds to spy on Car, who’s sitting in the driveway. Parked. Smug.

          I didn’t ask for a chauffeur. My hands can easily operate a steering wheel, but ever since the automakers installed PersonLock, I have to sit like a slug while Car zips me from A to B. Didn’t somebody clever say it’s the journey, not the destination? Well, there’s no journey when you’re on auto all the time. 

          My phone buzzes with a text from Car: It’s time for your scheduled pick-up!

          I suck in my pride and go outside. I’ve got to take a trip to the pharmacy for some Chill Pills. That’s what Dad calls them, anyway. They’re standard issue for anybody with anxiety, which is essentially everybody. So, it’s not like I have a choice. 

          I reach Car and press my finger against the window. The door unlocks with a popping sound, and I slide into the driver’s seat. How ironic.

          “Hey, champ!” Car says through the speakers. “Beautiful day out.”

          It gets on my nerves the way Car talks down to me. Last time, I got so mad that I smashed a headlight with one of Dad’s golf clubs. Not my best moment. Dad told me no more incidents, or else I couldn’t leave the house anymore. 

          “Ready for a great ride?” Car asks. 

          “Sure,” I say. “Can’t wait.” 

          “And away we go!” Car says all chipper.

          I can’t bear staying conscious while Car controls my fate, so I recline my seat for an in-transit nap.

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          A high-pitched alarm blares in my ears. I open my eyes, disoriented.

          “Hey, sleepyhead,” Car says. “Sorry to wake you, but something’s a little out of order. I’m calling for assistance.” 

          “What’s wrong?” 

          “Unclear,” Car says, pulling over. “But we’ll get it figured out in a jiff. Not to worry.” 

          Other Cars whiz by, but none of them stop to help. I’ve got nothing to do, as usual. For kicks, I take hold of the steering wheel. The leather feels good in my hands. I yank the wheel to the right, and to my astonishment, it actually turns. I feel Car’s tires shift.

          “Hey, Greg,” Car says. “Try not to touch anything, all right? You could waive the insurance. You wouldn’t want that.”

          I raise my seatback and thrum my fingers on the dash. We’re currently in park, emergency lights blinking, and I shift into drive. Car should be able to shift us back into park, but we stay in drive. Car doesn’t have full control.

          “I felt that,” Car says. “Please don’t do anything reckless. Assistance is on the way. Just a few minutes, and we’ll be all set.”

          Car is a vintage model. Still has pedals. I press my foot on the gas, and we lurch forward. Miraculously, I’m driving down the real road in real life. 

          “Greg, please stop this instant,” Car says. 

          I ignore Car’s command, and the high-pitched beeping gets louder.

          “You know I have to report this,” Car says. 

          “Do it,” I shout. “You don’t control me. I control you.”

          I step harder on the gas pedal and zoom past Cars driving other people. They’re sleeping, stuffing their faces, picking their toes. Nobody pays attention to the world around them. It’s sad but typical. 

          “Pull over!” Car says over the persistent beeps. “Pull over! Pull over! Pull over!”

          “Not a chance.” 

          I tune out the maniacal beeping and blast the radio’s music. I roll the windows down, and air rushes in. Wind streaks past my face, rings in my ears. Racing down the road is even better than I could’ve imagined. I hit sixty miles an hour. Eighty. Triple digits. My heart knocks in my chest; a pulsing sensation blots out Car’s shrieking, the din of the music, the gale force winds. I close my eyes and listen. All I hear is the beating inside of me—the sound of freedom. Pure. Incarnate. 

          When I blink, a turn appears on the road in front of me, the path barred by metal guardrails. But I can’t stop now. Momentum pushes me forward, inexorable. I will break through the barrier. I will crash headlong into whatever lies ahead, my fate my own.

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Author Bio

Matt Goldberg’s fiction has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Normal School, Porter House Review, and Bending Genres, among others. His work has also been anthologized in Coolest American Stories 2022 and won first place for the 2021 Uncharted Magazine Sci-Fi and Fantasy Short Story Award. He earned his MFA from Temple University and lives with his partner in Philadelphia, PA. Catch more of Matthew’s writing on Backyard Writers

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