The Unwelcome Passenger

August 16, 2007

“Shit. Shit. Shit.”

Thirty-seven minutes left before the Vehicle Emissions Testing center closed; a slip of paper rested in Colin’s passenger seat notifying him of his need to bring in his vehicle, with today’s date listed as the last day he could do so without penalty.

Oh, if he didn’t get it done today, it would result in anything severe – an extra fifteen dollar charge was hardly world-breaking. But for Colin, it was the principle of the thing – he had put it off, and put it off, and put it off, and was gonna be damned if he missed it on the last day.

The notice was ruffled by the wind as the car sped along the highway. Colin knew it was an unlikely, almost infinitesimal chance of the wind carrying out the barely-opened window, but he worried nonetheless. At the same time, however, he was grateful that the car itself seemed to be holding together – two weeks ago it had been belching black smoke whenever he passed 50. He had taken it into the shop to be looked at, but as always happened, the problem vanished once the mechanic took a look.

Still, as long as it stayed vanished, that was fine by him – and thus far, his car had been on its best behavior.

He gave a sigh of relief as he arrived with twenty-five minutes to spare, and no line ahead of him. He pulled up to the testing zone, answered the questions the man on duty barked at him, paid the fourteen dollar fee, and then exited the car into the resting booth while they ran the tests.

It was nice and calm and peaceful in the booth. No noise from the outside, nice cool air and comfortable seats. He was surprised and pleased by the accommodations, and directed his attention out the window to see how his car was doing.

All seemed well, at first. He saw them fiddling with the gas cap, checking the car’s system, and then driving it a few yards forward, over a bump.

Then they placed the device on top of the car. He couldn’t really describe it – a small cylinder with a light (currently green) on one side. It touched the car – seemed to stick, almost like a magnet – and the light turned red. And then the smoke erupted from the car.

It billowed out on all sides, writhing like a living thing. Colin couldn’t here a thing – damn fine windows, on the booth – but he could see the maintenance worker shouting, and then another worker running over with what looked like a fire extinguisher that was pouring out steam and light. The booth’s windows shook, almost like something was roaring in pain – and then the smoke boiled away, and the car was still and peaceful again.

The worker gestured for Colin to leave the booth, which he did. “What… what the hell just happened?”

His voice was, admittedly, more accusatory than it should have been, but in his defense, he had just born witness to a very peculiar sight. The worker glanced at him with a frown. “Don’t you take that tone with me, son. By rights I’m supposed to fail ya, for having a smoke demon in your car… but possessed vehicles can be tricky to deal with, so I’m willing to give you a pass, if you can keep a civil tongue in your mouth.”

Colin most certainly did not want to fail, and immediately shut his yap before replying. After a moment to gather his thoughts, he said, “I’m sorry, that was just… surreal. A demon? In my car?”

“Happens more often than you think. Gremlins in the tires, demons in the engine, spirits trapped in the windows – flying along down the road, it’s easy to pick up an unwelcome passenger. This was a clever one, too – tried to hide, it did. Just not well enough – don’t worry, it’s done and gone. Here’s your papers.”

Colin managed to give a friendly nod in response, to take his papers from the workers, and to drive his vehicle – quietly, at ten below the speed limit, and with no unwelcome passengers – all the way home.

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