By Carrie Clevenger
It was the fourth of June, when the driver of that Cadillac darkened my doorstep. His hat lay squared even with his ears, squashed down over his eyebrows. He carried some sort of little metal case, complete with shiny hasps, but it wasn’t him or his dress that got me. It was his car. That grey Cadillac was something else.
It perched at the curb like a metal bird of prey, scowling at me through the thin screen door. I wanted to shut it out. To close the curtains and go down in the cellar. I got lost in that grey, the color of baked, aged concrete. That grey was as deep a color as anyone ever saw, the shade of a manhole cover in winter. I shrugged off a shiver. The sun didn’t sparkle off it. It didn’t cast a shadow either. It just hunkered down, casually nosing the lawn and the beginnings of prickly weeds that little Johnny’d forgotten to come by and trim.
He said his name was John Wilson, but I suspected he was lying. He glanced past my shoulder, already leaning into the door, that crazy car of his seeming to reinforce the fact that he just wanted to use the phone. He offered me a quarter for the trouble, and against my better intuitions, I let him in, wiping my hands on a towel and loosening my tie. I felt choked up but kept the front door open so I could eye that Cadillac as if it would suddenly threaten the neighborhood kids.
John Wilson attached some strange-lookin’ device, dialed a number, muttered for a few minutes into the receiver, and hung up, letting the handset hit the cradle with a smart snap. I figured he’d made a long distance call, what with all that spinning the rotary dial, round and round. I would’ve let him know that wasn’t how we did things in my house, but I suspected he wouldn’t have cared one bit. No sir. The fact was, I was about to unzip my mouth and say something, but that’s when I noticed the Cadillac. It wasn’t grey anymore.
Nope, the car had now taken on a nice slick lipstick-red job. I staggered backwards and spun around to inquire about all this creepy-williness, positioned to make a good excuse to get this man out of my house and take his big mean car along with him.
John turned around in my kitchen, admiring the copper-bottomed pots and pans as he lit a cigarette. In my kitchen. I didn’t smoke. Neither should he, but by that time I was spooked. I eyed the crucifix hanging in the near shadows in the hallway, and mumbled a thanks to the Lord if he’d just watch over me one more time, thank you, Amen. John Wilson continued to savor that smoke and formed perfect rings on each exhale.
“Hey,” I started to say, but then I looked back at the Cadillac. It grinned grass-green back at me.
“What the hell…hey! That car out there!” I semi-shouted, about to ponder over all the reasons why General Motors hadn’t advertised their new color-changin’ schemes, but that’s when he let me have it. I spun around to dodge the swing but metal connected with bone. I went down.
I felt my skull give way as that iron skillet sunk deep in. I remember my eyes rolling up and looking at that man with it still in his hand, a little bit of my hair stickin’ to it. He dropped the cigarette to the floor right next to my face and ground it out with his heel. I sneezed at the sulfur and brimstone odor. It wasn’t no ordinary butt. The phone rang. He picked it up. Looked down at me.
“I’m gonna use your phone again. And you gonna stop worryin' about that Caddy."
I must’ve lost consciousness at that moment, because next I woke up, I was in the trunk of a moving vehicle, more than likely that color changin’ Cadillac’s. I didn’t know where John Wilson was taking me, why he’d taken me, or if that was really his name. It didn’t matter much now, I told myself, ‘cause I was bound to be dead by mornin’ for sure. The car went on for what seemed about an hour and then we stopped.
The driver got out of the car, and I could hear his steps in loose gravel. A key in the trunk lock, and then up went the deck lid, and I found myself looking into the eyes of Death himself.
“Had to involve yourself there,” he hissed, and snatched me clear of the trunk, dropping me at his feet.
Death was wearing his blacktooth grin, but he’d somehow forgotten to remove the squashed derby. Gave him a comical appearance.
“You was all gapin’ at my car here, and well, I couldn't just let you run your mouth about it,” He said, walking around to the other side of the car. I wanted to turn my head but shards of pain shot through my temple when I tried. I grunted and shifted my weight off my bruised hip.
“I…I wouldn’t tell anyone,” I said, gasping for air. I think he’d broken a few ribs besides brained me.
“You would too! I saw you thinkin’ about those colors and what they meant. You just lying to get away!”
I never realized just what a simpleton Death really was. He was really kinda pathetic and I started laughing. I didn’t stop when he kicked me to shut me up. I think I was cracking.
“It’s all good. That phone call saved me another four hundred years of rent,” He said, and I grew quiet, interested in such a strange explanation. Or maybe he was thanking me.
“I put it on payments, but…”
He looked down on me, his empty eye sockets filling with fire.
"Yeah, I should pay you,” He said, and I felt a cold stillness enter my body.
I took off my derby as I stepped in past the squat old woman. She was nice to let me use her phone, but I could already tell she was looking at my car. I sighed as I dialed the now familiar numbers, knowing that that car would be death of many before I was done.
Somehow, the Man Upstairs must’ve thought the car a good punishment for alertin’ his Christian babies. Couldn’t cover it up. Couldn’t hide it. Damned thing was as bright as the Aurora Borealis.
It was bait, only attractin' good souls. Tasty souls. I'd become a grunt, a gatherer of spiritual essence, all that joo-joo. Made the payments on that lovely piece o' property Beezulbub was rentin' from You-Know-Who. Still, there was a certain appeal to being the apprentice to Old Splitfoot himself.
At least I know there’s a good corner in hell reserved for me.