It all started in July of 1991. I had just finished my college semester majoring psychology, and celebrated by passing my driving test and, at long last, receiving my license. Me and my roommate/best friend, Woodrow, were ecstatic, and he agreed to escort me to some local car dealerships to find a cheap set of wheels. He and I, both car buffs, had had a bet since sophomore year, in which each of us would spend no more than $2,500 on a car, and the first one to have his car break down irreparably would have to pay the other the full sum. Woody had already bought himself a tasteful SAAB 900 convertible with his budget, and now that the opportunity had presented itself, I wasted no time in hurrying off to search for a car that would guarantee me the two-and-a-half grand. We started with the town GM dealership, owned by eccentric local Patrick LaSalle. LaSalle was notorious for his voracious spending habits, and everyone knew that he had significant financial troubles. I decided that I could take advantage of his desperation and get some quality wheels at a dirt-cheap price. As soon as he saw a pair of potential customers, Pat ran over and greeted us warmly.
“Welcome back to LaSalle Motors, Woody! And you must be… Jake! That’s it!” he said in his usual frantic tone. “How may I help you two gentlemen?”
“We’re just browsing, thanks,” I said, unfazed by the salesman’s attempts to draw us in. Woody and I strolled over to the lot of pre-owned vehicles, full of the usual dinged-up Geos, Chevrolets, Buicks, Oldsmobiles, GMCs, Pontiacs, et cetera. Finding nothing of interest, we moved on to the red tag section, and I immediately took interest in the first car in the lot- a pristine, 2-year-old, black Isuzu I-Mark, with only 4,500 miles.
Isuzus were famously reliable, and I knew instantly that this would be my best chance.
“I’ll pay $2,200 for the black Isuzu,” I yelled to Pat. Eager to make some profit, he rushed over and instantly began haggling. Amid his frenzied offers, he explained the usual “backstory” of the car, trying to generate interest. Not wanting to hurt his fragile emotions, I pretended to listen, catching snippets of the details. “Only 1 previous owner… Sunday drives only… great value… how about $2,300?” The usual stuff. After just a few minutes, we had settled on exactly the original budget, and after signing the papers, I was finally able to drive alongside my jealous colleague and his soon-to-be-scrap Swedish convertible.
The problems began about 2 months after I had taken it for its first fateful drive. It was a foggy September morning, and I had taken the car out for my weekly shopping trip. I’d been driving for a few minutes when I noticed an odd smell coming from the air vents. It smelled like a fast food joint, and it reminded me of smoked bacon. I figured Woody had put some meat cuts or something on the engine as a practical joke, to make me think my car was drawing to an early demise. I pulled over and vented the engine compartment for a couple of minutes, and sure enough, the smell had stopped once I’d set off again. I came back to our apartment and chewed him out, but he denied knowing about it. I decided to forgive him; after all, he hadn’t done any physical damage to the car.
One week later, I was driving home from my college campus, looking forward to a date that I had scheduled with a girl who shall remain unnamed. I was taking a sharp turn when the car’s engine began making a sputtering sound. I figured it was running low on oil - a task to be tackled tomorrow- but then the sound suddenly morphed into a loud whine. I decided to take a quick detour to a nearby gas station, thinking that the oil had to be near empty, but before I could reach it, the noise became a deafening growl. I immediately pulled over to the side of the road and popped open the hood, peering into the engine block to find what had gone wrong. Perhaps a belt had come loose, I thought. However, no matter how hard I looked, it seemed that the car was perfectly fine. After the date (which was exhilarating, by the way), I stopped at the LaSalle dealership to get an emergency oil change, just in case.
Surprisingly, there were no more incidents with the I-Mark through the end of the year. Better still, Woodrow’s SAAB was looking to be a poor investment; as the convertible roof mechanism had stopped working in October. Things were looking up; I had hooked up with the girl, and I was soon to inherit $2,500. However, it didn’t last. It was a February evening in 1992, and I was talking to my girlfriend on the car phone. We were exchanging some playful banter; as we were planning to move in together. I stopped at a red light and sat back in my chair, talking happily. Suddenly, without warning, the brake was disengaged, and the car launched forward towards the oncoming traffic. Startled, I reached out and swiftly engaged the handbrake, just as the cars in front swerved out of the way. I was greeted by loud horns and people flipping the bird, leaving me still scared stiff in my seat. My girlfriend broke my trance, asking what had happened. I told her the car just had a misfire, and left it at that. That night, I explained the incident to Woody, who I strongly suspected was responsible. Even though he seemed sincere in his concern, I wasn’t fazed. He recommended that I bring the car to his mechanic and personal friend, Vincenzo. I was sure that his friend was instructed to either give a false diagnosis or even break my beloved Isuzu, but the situation was desperate, and Vincenzo had promised to service it free of charge. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse, and the next morning I drove over to the garage where he worked. It was a run-down old place, with rusty oil cans littering the place. A metalflake Mercury Cougar was parked outside. I was greeted by a short, stocky man with a sweaty white vest, whom I assumed was the Vincenzo in question. I explained the situation to him, and he was happy to oblige, saying that the problem would be solved by the next day. He seemed friendly enough, but I kept a close eye on him as I walked away. My last glimpse was of him slowly lifting the engine block out of the car, and an astonished expression on his face. I guessed that the situation was far worse than I had originally thought, and could only hope that Woody’s pal knew what he was doing.
That night, all I could think about was the Isuzu. It was strange; no matter what I thought about to try and induce sleep, the I-Mark would always work its way into the picture. Even when I eventually fell asleep at 1:30 in the morning, the car was still on my mind. I dreamed that I was on an endless, arrow-straight road, walking along the yellow line mindlessly. As I walked, my legs began to morph into wheels, along with my arms. My body slowly took the form of a car, one that I only recognized afterwards was Woody’s SAAB 900. I continued at a constant speed down the road, my eyes becoming headlights that illuminated the darkening road. Then, my I-Mark came into view, rolling alongside me with its driver’s seat empty.
What happened next still terrifies me.
The Isuzu began morphing into a different shape that started out looking human. It sprouted huge, smooth, silvery legs, a chrome torso, and a pair of lustrous arms. It was like a person, coated in liquid silver. However, when the head came into view, all resemblance to anything familiar ceased. It had the basic shape of a skull, but its cranium was disturbingly stretched. Instead of eyes, lines and lines of tiny metal spikes encircled the sockets. It had no nose, just a single, massive, triangular hole. Its mouth faced vertically, and stretched into and below the chin, filled with the same metal spikes, only many, many more of them. I tried to drive away as fast as I could, but the amalgamation that my car had become was keeping up the pace with ease. It wasn’t even walking or rolling; it was just levitating across the road. I was helpless, and within seconds it had caught up. It opened my door and sat calmly in the driver’s seat, staring ahead. Without moving its deformed head, it whispered to me, almost as if into my own ear:
“Let’s go for a ride, Jake.”
Then, the sky turned a sickly red color. The road began to change; it split through the yellow lines to reveal a pulsating, flesh-like surface underneath. The silver figure began to shed its coating, exposing a horribly scarred, pus-filled, blistered skin layer that only served to emphasize its now-glowing eyes. The metal spikes changed into rows of teeth, and from the hole where the nose should have been emerged a deluge of chunks of what I presumed to be human organs. I kept rolling, going faster and faster until a set of headlights came into view. A beige van that I recognize as a Ford Transit was careening towards me, and the horrifying figure began to laugh in the same ear-piercing whine I had heard from my car last September. Suddenly, I zoomed forward at an impossible speed towards my fate. I instantly woke up and leapt from my bed, soaked in sweat. I grabbed my jacket and ran out into the night, with only one goal in mind- to get to my car.
It was 2:30 AM when I finally arrived at Vincenzo’s garage. The light in the service garage was on, illuminating the Isuzu eerily. I assumed Vincenzo was working late to get my car running, or so I hoped. I sighed and thought to myself how unreasonable my reaction was. It was only an irrational nightmare, perhaps inspired by some pent-up desire within me to get back at Woody for ruining my car in the first place. My psychology major was getting the best of me. Still slightly unsettled, I shook it off and approached the garage.
The car was parked over the service trench, but Vincenzo was nowhere to be found. As I peered underneath, my worst suspicions were confirmed: no work had actually been done on the car, which looked the same as it had when I’d first brought it in. The engine block was in the exact same place it had been in yesterday the moment I left. Woody had most likely told Vincenzo to ditch the car and leave it in this state. I lowered the block carefully back into the car, with some help from a nearby instructional manual, and drove off to deliver some well-earned revenge.
As soon as I returned, I found Woody’s SAAB still parked in the lot, with the glitched roof permanently folded down. As I thanked God that the circumstances were in my favor, I reached into the front panel and disconnected the brake pedal from the fluid transfer hose. Then, I rigged the brake so that it would act as if the gas was being pressed, rather crudely, I admit. (The manual was very useful.) Snickering, I stepped into my car and drove off into the night to deal justice to Woody’s accomplice.
I arrived back at Vincenzo’s workshop at about a quarter past 5 in the morning, ready to vandalize or even steal from the mechanic if it meant ensuring my two grand. I stepped out of the car, expecting him to be back by now. After all, Woody had informed me that he lived there, since he couldn’t afford to live anywhere else. I entered the dimly lit garage and knocked on the door to his office, which surprisingly creaked open as soon as I touched it. Strange that he wouldn’t lock it, knowing the circumstances, I thought. I walked in, expecting to find him either lying on his worn couch or standing poised with a weapon. However, he was nowhere to be seen. I knew that something was wrong; upon looking out the window, I realized the Cougar was still parked outside. Just as I reentered the I-Mark, the car phone rang. I picked it up, hearing Woody’s voice talking frantically.
“Jake, where the fuck are you???” he yelled. “I just woke up and got a message from Vincenzo saying it was an emergency, or some shit, and he kept screaming about you and your stupid car!!! Did you run him over or something? What the fuck did you do???” Now I was scared. I was about to explain my situation, but before I could, a deafening blast blocked out Woodrow, who was now shrieking, and the call cut off abruptly.
I sped into the night back the way I’d come, saying to myself, Oh shit, Oh shit, I’ve just killed somebody. It was only minutes before I found the accident by the side of the road, and the totaled remains of a SAAB 900 convertible. My friend lay brutally crushed in the driver’s seat, his skin horribly scorched from the fire erupting from his dashboard.
Not just because my friend had been killed by my own, seemingly innocent prank.
Because the car that he had collided with was a beige Ford Transit.
I sold the Isuzu I-Mark later that week, for the ironic sum of $2,500. The buyer was a collector of GM cars, and was very anxious to add the car to his lot. He seemed nice.
Nobody ever found out the true cause of Woodrow’s death. The van driver who survived the wreck claimed the opposite car sped forward, but the victim’s body showed a blood alcohol level of just 0.05%. He was found not guilty. They blamed it on faulty engineering on SAAB’s part, and lack of safety inspection from LaSalle Motors, and a massive lawsuit went into effect that ultimately was one of the causes of SAAB’s death in 2014.
My girlfriend and I broke up after the accident. She wanted me to cope with the pain on my own, saying that it would be better if nothing got between me and my deceased friend.
I never bought another car again. I remain an avid streetcar rider.
And Patrick LaSalle, the poor old man who sold me that Isuzu, died in late 1993. When the lawsuit threatened to close his dealership, he became distraught and took a sledgehammer to his entire lot. Witnesses report him screaming obscenities at the cars. He then reportedly took his own Geo Spectrum and drove it into the sea. His body was discovered a day later, swollen and blistered from exposure. Experts claim he was driven to suicide by manic depression.