A Horse With No Name

Bird of Prey

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I'm trying to write a novel...just for kicks. It has an automotive theme, and this is the chapter I introduce the firebird. Main Charactor is a 17 year old boy named Carl.

It had only been too easy for the bird to kill its prey. Fishing with dynamite, really. And she wasn’t even a real bird. She was a Pontiac Formula Firehawk, One of the last ones off of the line and one of the fastest ones Pontiac had built. Men who work around machines will tell you that if you take a hundred identical machines, 4 or 5 won’t work all that well at all. Lemons some call them. Others merely cuss at them as they have to go back for a fourth service call to fix them. About 85 or 90 will be about average, or competent. 4 or 5 will be noticeably above average. Then there is the one in a hundred that is special, where everything comes together just right and the magic of a machine being more than the sum of its parts takes on a new meaning.

She was the one in a hundred, capable of performing seemingly flawlessly under the harshest of pressure. Four national SCCA Solo II autocross championships were in her past, and plenty of kills were seemingly in her future. She had the patina, the look and the feel of a soldier that has served at D day or the Battle of the Bulge, battle hardened and full of more than a few not so minor scars.

Instead of killing Nazi’s she’d merely humbled Porsches and BMW’s, however.

Friendship was sometimes the same way, and Carl’s friendship with Brent was the one in a hundred. They had raced each other karting, and had shot each other silly on the paintball field. Plus they both ran track at school. An easy friendship had formed, and the two grew up sharing in the perils of the seductive smells of gasoline and perfume. They celebrated victories together and hung together when she said no or they had been beaten by a few thousandths of a second at the track. Racing and love were both brutal, especially when you were a teenaged boy. Carl was seventeen and Brent was still sixteen.

The car really belonged to Brent’s father, and the boy seldom got to drive it. Really, she was too valuable to risk. Men have written poems and odes to weapons, but the Bird’s real legacy had been the tire marks that had been left on the pavement in the autocrosses at Dalton field. One didn’t risk a car like that by being careless with it.

But a perfect September evening had seen Brent’s father relent. The boys had picked up a couple of girls, which would have had promise if they hadn’t been Brent’s twelve year old cousin Britney and her thirteen year old friend. It was too beautiful an evening to worry about details though. Cruising around with the stereo on and picking up Cokes from McDonalds had been the order of the day. After a week of harsh athletic practices and teachers who thought their class was the only class that mattered they deserved this.

“So, tell me, you’ve kissed a boy.” That would be Brent, teasing Britney.

“I’ve never kissed a boy and you know that!”

For Carl, joining in the game was like the bird killing it’s automotive prey. Just too easy. “Yes, you have. Names and details Britney, names and details.”

“You wouldn’t know him anyways.” Chelsea piped in. The thirteen year old would know, and this was getting a little too juicy.

“Who says we wouldn’t know him” Shot back from the boys in the front seats. “We know all kinds of guys, don’t we bro.”

“We sure do.”

“I have not kissed a guy, I swear!”

“Then you’ve kissed a girl?” Carl knew he’d get Britney with that one.

“Oh, yuck, NO!” came the response from the back seat with way to much laughter.

Chelsea thought for a moment. “You kissed Tabitha’s little sister good night when you tucked her in the other night. You have kissed a girl.”

“She’s only seven, it wasn’t that kind of a kiss and that doesn’t count.” Britney was combing her hair now, and Carl could see through the rear view mirror that she was getting slightly flustered. He’d change the subject. Having fun was one thing, being a jerk was another.

They were driving out west of town, out past New Rome. Route 40 ran fairly straight, and had been originally the road used by many of the travelers heading out west to begin a new life. The sun was setting in the west, putting an amber glow on the four teenaged faces in the ‘bird. Life was good. The stereo was kicking. Besides, they were only running twenty over the limit.

They stopped for the light at the next small town, a village really. While they were sitting there, a Mustang Cobra rolled up to the left of them. Carl was sitting in the passenger seat kind of mindlessly going back over track practice in his mind. Had he been paying attention, he would have perhaps talked Brent out of racing.

The Firebird shot forward like a cheetah launched from a catepault. Seventy was on the speedometer before Carl even had a chance to look over, and they were passed a hundred before he had a chance to catch the paper cup that had just spilled coke all over his lap.

“Brent, slow down!” Carl knew it was going to be impossible to talk sense into Brent. The same don’t back down mentality that worked so well with paintball, school athletics, and video games was potentially fatal here. Given how fast they were building speed, surviving until Monday’s running practice as anything other than a thousand separate pieces scattered over route 40 was seeming less and less likely.

Four car lengths was the margin of victory.

The Bird had her prey but the guys in the other car weren’t at all happy. They each had about four inches and forty pounds on Brent and Carl, and the mood from the other car indicated things could get ugly fast. Both cars had pulled onto a side road, hoping to avoid the police if anyone had called this one in. Which someone undoubtedly had.

“Run you boys again?” It came out from the Mustang as more of a command than a request. Carl wasn’t stupid, and he knew when people were itching for a serious fight.

“Your little sister going to be sorry that her precious Mustang got beat by a man’s car?” Brent was also in full moron mode, and that was exactly the wrong thing to say. Both guys got out of the Mustang, and by the way they walked something in the back of Carl’s mind suggested that they were probably armed.

“My little sisters Mustang is about to own your ass, kid. Right here, right now. Heads up. Unless you boys want to settle this face to face.”

Carl wanted to get out of the car and find someplace safe. Preferably in Tibet. But by now the girls were pushing Brent to race. How could Britney, who seemed to smart, be unaware of the threat of the other guys? It was too much of a fluke to think that Brent would back down. Not in front of his younger cousin, her friend, and two older guys.

But to Carl, getting out of the car was now impossible. He was the oldest one here, and whatever happened, he was responsible. Passenger side seatbelt went tight. He was going to watch out for his friends, even if it meant his life.

“We need someone to start us.”

“I will.” Carl wanted to scream at Chelsea, tell her not to get out of the car, that these guys were no good. Carl saw the look in the eyes of the Mustang guys as Chelsea crawled out of the back seat in her short skirt. It would have helped if she had looked younger or been less of a natural flirt.

Chelsea stood in front of and between the two cars, both of her arms raised in the air. The sound of motors filled the night like the sound of weapons fire on a battle field.

Carl had stood on the deck of an aircraft carrier once and watched fighters take off over the ocean, fighting for altitude and airspeed. When the Firebird launched Carl swore it moved forward with the same force as that damned plane. The road wasn’t perfectly level here, and Brent was working the Firebird to keep it pointed straight as they approached what seemed like warp speed. Britney was sitting in back, laughing her ass off.

Five car lengths this time. Almost no contest.

They rolled back to pick up Chelsea, the Mustang rolling behind like a puppy that had been beaten with a stick. Carl was thinking of how to diffuse the situation, because he was sure things were going to go very wrong as soon as both cars stopped.

Brent opened his door to let Chelsea in, and the other guys motioned for Carl to get out. He wished he’d taken marshal arts instead of track. Or carried a gun, preferably something with enough power to knock a water buffalo on its ass.

The four guys stood face to face in the setting sun, and Carl thought if he ever filmed a western this would be exactly how the final showdown would go. He was scanning the motions of the guys, looking for a gun or a knife or some sort of signal that it was on.

“Nice race. Sorry we lost. We’ll try to bring a better game last time. Sure is a damned fast car you boys have.”

Brent reached out and shook the hand of the larger of the two guys. “Thanks. Pretty sweet Mustang actually. It’s an 02, right?”

“An 01. And don’t think it’s going to be this easy next time. We’d better split before the man gets here with the lights and sirens. Be seein’ you around.”

The Firebird cruised around for another forty minutes, the girls in back chattering to Brent about what a hero he was and how much fun they had. Brent was eating up the attention. Starting to drive faster and faster as they went down more twisted and rutted roads. Testosterone poisoning, Carl thought.

He finally worked over his rage, and spoke. “Brent, that was the dumbest thing I’ve ever seen you do. Seriously, seriously, stupid.” It was dark now, and the cool night air took some of the tension out of Carl’s body.

“What could have gone wrong?” He was trying to act confident but Carl could hear doubt in Brent’s answer. Like so many things in life, he’d regain his senses by morning.

“Push it Brent!” Britney again. Carl wished he could get her to just shut the hell up.

“Sure thing little lady.” The Firebird leapt out into the darkness like ink out of a broken pen. The car came up off of the road a little bit as they crested a small hill. Something in front of them on the road moved. Brent tried to correct for it, but it was too late. Carl heard a bad thump and a painful scream as the car drove over something large.

Whatever they hit wasn’t human. Brent’s mouth hung open as the car rolled to a stop.

Both boys got out of the car and swore at the same time. Brent wanted to run, but Carl told him they were going back. A small bridge sat under the Firebird. Carl knew what he had to do. He wrestled the keys out of Brent’s hand and threw them into the creek below.

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

Steel doors shut, locking Carl into his fate. He was amazed at how all government buildings tended to feel the same. Concrete cinder block with paint in the same marshmallow off white color, white tile floors, and metal desks. His face fell into his hands, and his body shook.

“Wow. Drink this black?” A mug found itself in the boy’s hands. But it moved around like a can in a paint shaker.

“Sure.”

“Let me get this straight…” Coach looked down at Carl, repeating the story and asking questions. For a guy who was so harsh in front of the team when he gave pep talks, he was a pretty good ear when things went bad. He repeated the story back, careful to ask questions when needed. “…and then you guys took the dog’s body back to its owner.”

“Yeah.”

“Well, let me put it to you this way. The whole racing on the street thing is stupid, but I would be wasting my time trying to beat that into your head since we already agree.” Coach took a drink from his mug and walked to the window of the athletic office. “What impressed me is why you stayed with the car and the younger girls. I could think of lots of other ways to do things, but then I’m a fifty year old man sitting in an office. Thirty years of experience and the calm of looking at things from the outside mean that I can think of them.” He turned away from the window. “Everyone is a coach on Monday morning after the meet is over. People have told me my whole life what I should have done the weekend before.”

Carl looked up. This wasn’t what he expected.

“In thirty plus years of coaching, there have been probably less than twenty guys I’ve been truly proud of. Carl, you are one of those guys. Even before this. You study hard, work hard, and treat people with respect. When people say student athlete it’s people like you I think of.”

He was glad he’d decided to talk this over with the older man.

“Your Friday night activities were stupid. But you tried to do what was right. Throwing the keys away was great thinking. Don’t know if I’d have thought of that.”

Carl let the tension out of his body. Deep down he loved his coach, even if he was tough. Because he respected results and coach delivered. They’d won a tough meet on Saturday, and Carl was all about winning also.

“But you’re not off of the hook yet, kid. You’re not in jail, and not being charged. The family that owned the dog forgave you guys. But I want you to set an example.”

“An example?”

“Yeah, an example.” Coach grabbed a post it note and pulled up something on the laptop on his desk. “Put something back. Here. This phone number is to a no-kill rescue shelter that takes care of dogs no one else will take care of. You’re going to skip practice two days a week and work here as a volunteer until you graduate next year.”

He looked at his coach, not sure of what to think. “What about physical conditioning?”

“Carl, your one of the few people who I don’t have to worry about. You can make it up running before school.” The coffee mug went down onto the table as the older man looked out the window. “But this is ninety percent Brent’s fault and ten percent your fault. You need to learn to worry about the ten percent.”

“What’s this shelter like?”

“Pretty good, really. My daughter volunteers once in awhile. Would you please do this one thing for me? I’m asking as a friend, not telling. But I think it’s the right thing to do.”

“You’ve got a Deal”

When Coach shook Carl’s hand, he felt a new level of respect. It was almost as if he was leaving boyhood behind and approaching whatever it means to be a man.

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Nicely written.

Good flow and sense of pace with details that make it accessible as "real".

Keep going, this is a fine start.

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I noticed a couple of sudden changes in the action, which broke up the flow for me, but otherwise, I like what you've got so far.

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Biggest issue I see is where the Mustang guys back down. Kind of an awkward transition. And the car just kind of "find's" itself on a bridge, which I find needs improvement...

Thanks for the feedback!

I've got more written, I'll post later.

Edited by 66Stang
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