The car came screeching into Manuel’s garage pockmarked with bullet holes and leaking fluid.

“Hey!” he cried. “Hey, you can’t drive in here like that! I’m not that kind of mechanic!”

The driver’s side door flew open to reveal a woman cradling a man’s head on her lap. He had clearly been shot several times and was not breathing.

“H-holy shit!” Manual gasped.

“You’ve got to help us…please…” the woman wheezed.

“I’ll…I’ll call 911,” Manuel said, fumbling for his cell.

“No time, no time!” the woman said. “I need you to do it yourself. Fix him yourself.”

“What? I don’t know any first aid…I don’t even know CPR!”

The woman grasped at her companion’s chest…and opened it, revealing a whirring array of planetary gears and pistons not unlike a sophisticated Northstar V8. “Fix him…please…”

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One of the toughest things about taking to the open road is that there’s often no way to tell who is a safe and responsible driver and who is a dangerous loon with a 2-ton hunk of steel at their beck and call. As such, I’ve prepared the following guide for public service purposes. Make sure you stay well clear of…

Cars Obviously Bought For Teenagers By Their Parents
You see these a lot in college towns–Mommy and Daddy couldn’t possibly send little Krissy Mae to school without a car, so they bought her a Chevy Silverado with a custom pink pain job. Or maybe Daddy, thinking back to the rustbucket he had to drive before making his bones at the firm, buys his son Brayden his own hot rod red or mustard yellow sports car. The key here isn’t just that teenagers are bad drivers; it’s that teens who are privileged and never had to deal with the consequences of their actions are such bad drivers they make the rest of their species look safe. A young kid in a car they obviously couldn’t afford is the sign to watch for, but custom paint jobs are a good shortcut. All those teen-driven pink cars on the road have a Daddy’s Girl behind the wheel, since they aren’t old enough to have earned it through Mary Kay.

Cars With More Bumper Stickers Than Bumper
People who like to inflict their views on random passersby are not always shy about inflicting other things on them as well. Like vehicular manslaughter. This one cuts across all political spectrums and belief systems. People with hippie leftist communist Maoist stickers about saving the extinct Tasmanian tiger and whatnot are statistically speaking more likely to be high while driving, which results in impairment as well as questionable music choices. And the right-wing stickers, the ones with gun-toting eagles bursting through Confederate flags…well, they’re probably drunk, which is the rough equivalent of being stoned in terms of impaired judgement. And they’re heavily armed, which means perceived roadside slights might be met with deadly force, where the lefties can only hurl their bong at you.

Cars With Dealer Stickers
Either the person is test driving or they just bought the dang thing. Even if they didn’t total their last ride, they still have no idea how much brake pressure there is between “hard stop” and “gentle slowing.”

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It was inevitable, really.

The parking spaces on Fraternity Row were perpendicular to the road and had been zoned in the late 1970s for tiny late 1970s cars. Instead they were regularly occupied by enormous extended-cab extended bed pickup trucks, the kind that could carry half a farm in back and pull the other half in a trailer. The fact that the kids driving them were all at least three generations removed from anything resembling farm work was immaterial–their parents had bought the trucks to keep their kids safe, even at the expense of everyone else.

Since the trucks were never used to carry anything besides furniture at move-in and move-out, the kids tended to leave the trailer hitches in, which added another six to twelve inches to their already bloated length. Throw in opposing traffic that was always late for class and backed up and, well, it was inevitable.

So when I stood by the side of the road looking at the side of my car, which had been ripped open can opener style by a trailer hitch hanging off of a massive truck whose rear end was at least two feet outside the lines…well, it wasn’t an accident.

It was fate.

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“How does that happen?” said Mr. Gruenfeld, the morning’s newspaper in hand. “How do they catch someone with 2,300 rare turtles for the illegal pet trade when they’re coming into the country? Don’t you think someone would notice when they were leaving wherever they came from?”

Republic of San Martin, two days earlier

“Excuse me, sir,” said one of the Sanmartinese airport guards. “Your cargo pants seem to be…moving.”

“Oh, that’s just my medical condition. I have something that clears it right up.” The guy proffered a roll of colorful Sanmartinese currency.

“I feel better already,” said the guard. “Have a nice flight.”

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[Sad music plays. SPOKESMAN looks mournfully at the camera.]

SPOKESMAN: I thought it was safe. I mean, I did it behind the wheel and all my friends did. But then came the accident.

[SPOKESMAN holds up a used kleenex.]

SPOKEMAN: This is the booger I was picking when I got in the crash that changed my life. My legs had to be amputated below the butt, there’s a steel rod where my spine used to be, and I sent a bus full of Roman Catholic nuns into the gulch off Sharkwater Bay.

NARRATOR: Drivers picking their noses are 1 billion times more likely to get in an automobile accident, and drivers looking for someplace inconspicuous to wipe boogers are 1 trillion times more likely to cause murder and mayhem on a Michael Bay scale.

SPOKESMAN: Pull off the road if you have to, or just wait. No booger is worth mass slaughter and alien leg syndrome.

[Camera zooms in on used kleenex.]

NARRATOR: Your life is worth more than a bucket of warn snot. Don’t pick and drive.

This post is parody, but the campaign against texting and driving is a good thing and deserves your support.

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Kapteynport had, at once time, been a center of trade and commerce. At the mouth of the River Barnard, it was a key artery in bringing trade from the inland cities to the colonies. That had changed when the river mouth silted up and it changed course–the trade now flowed through Maanenburg. But Kapteynport had maintained a low-key prosperity of a sort with its fishing fleet, enough that the grand old buildings from the old days could be maintained and occupied after a fashion.

That all changed on the day the Black Ship arrived at the bay mouth.

Larger ships still called occasionally to take on salted fish or when the wharfs of Maanenburg were full, but the appearance of a tar-black carrack was still unusual. Aside from the white of its furled sails, every inch of the vessel–even its lines–was as if blackened by pitch. Stranger even than that was its position: anchored within the sheltering arms of the cove but not anywhere close to the docks.

After it had been there for nearly a week, a group of townsfolk boarded it and found the ship to be deserted, without so much as a nail aboard that wasn’t part of the blackened timbers. No further parties were sent, as every last member of the boarding party was stricken dead within a week, either by illness or an unfortunate accident. That, and the subsequent failure of the next month’s fishing, led the citizens of Kapteynport to conclude that the black ship was a cursed vessel.

Many abandoned the town, but others resolved to rid themselves of the curse. Volunteers cut the anchor line and attempted to tow the ship away, but their vessel foundered before much headway could be made, as did its replacement. Despite the calm waters and nearness to shore, there were no survivors from either wreck. A final attempt had desperate Kapteynporters flinging lit torches onto the ship, which burned for hours without incurring any visible damage.

The conflagration that swept through town less than 48 hours later led to Kapteynport’s final and total abandonment.

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Dale’s Remote Piloted Drone loomed large on Cam’s viewscreen, attached to one of the many pieces of icy debris that made up planet HD 11765d’s ring.

“Cam and Ev,” Dale’s voice said. “I wouldn’t have figured you two to be the ones to find me.” His transmission was a nightmare of static and interference, with no video link. With a start, Cam realized that he was transmitting from his RPD to theirs rather than simply linking to their pilot stations on Earth, which was a lot more reliable and less expensive.

“Switch to a earthbound link, will you?” Ev said. Her image on the left of Cam’s screen was scowling. “I can barely hear you.”

“No,” Dale cried. “I’m totally off the grid here, at least as much as that’s possible. I’ve hacked my RPD to pieces to keep their prying eyes away, and I’m not letting them listen in on an earthbound link.”

“Who’s ‘them,’ Dale?” said Cam. “The government that set up the remote relay network? The company that you leased your RPD from? The people buying the mineral and colonization rights you’re charting and selling? This whole thing has always been about listening in. It’s the only way to cash in.”

“Wrong!” Dale cried. “Wrong. I’m on the cusp of something big, Cam. Really big. If they knew…knew for sure…they’d disconnect me.”

“Big whoop,” Ev said. “You’d lose your RPD and have to get a job on Earth instead of sitting in your apartment hooked up all the time.”

“No…that’s not it at all,” Dale said. “If what I’ve found is true, they can erase me as surely and completely as you trashing a bad song. If what I’ve found is true…there isn’t an Earth to go back to, at least not one we’ll ever be able to reach.”

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This post is part of the January 2013 Blog Chain at Absolute Write. This month’s prompt is “the number 13”.

They were there almost every time Dr. Rajab Sizdah drove by: an overweight couple, shabbily dressed, behind the wheel of an old van parked on the corner of 13th Street and Cambridge Drive. Dr. Sizdah, in his immaculate Mercedes, couldn’t help but wrinkle his nose at the piles of used tissues and fast food wrappers accumulated on their dash.

The fact that the pair was parked in a narrow street just before the entrance to the doctor’s gated community was another annoyance. Sizdah would have to inch by them every time, and if there was another car coming he’d have to stop, often in mid-turn, to let them by. He’d stare daggers at every inch of the filthy old Fiat Tredici van when that happened, from the peeling roof paint to the THR 1313 license plate, even as the pockmarked occupants looked past him as if they were staking out the veterinarian across the street.

When he complained about it to his receptionist at the ophthalmology clinic, or the doorman at the community gate, Dr. Sizdah would always become irate when his listener fixated on the unluckiness of a car with a 13 license plate parked on 13th Street. Sizdah didn’t have the patience for such superstitious nonsense; his family had left Persia in 1980 to escape that sort of ignorance. But on the few times he’d been irritated enough to report the slovenly Tredici for illegal parking, the police could never locate it.

On the second Sunday in January, Dr. Sizdah was returning late from an emergency surgery when, much to his annoyance, the van and its unsavory occupants were in their usual position. The doctor idly reflected that they must have a serious grudge against the veterinarian before he began his turn; too late he noticed that there was a Lincoln coming the other way, forcing him to once again stop halfway out of his lane and glare at the obstructive Fiat while the other car lazily glided by.

Dr. Sizdah didn’t see the black Silverado coming around the bend ahead of him, and it’s safe to say that the Silverado didn’t see him.

After the collision, when the doctor was lying bloodied on the pavement surrounded by broken glass, he was surprised to see the ugly, fat man and woman leaning their greasy heads over him instead of the hoped-for paramedics.

“We’ve been waiting for you for a long time,” the man said.

“A very long time,” added the woman. They took Dr. Sizdah by the shoulders and began to drag him away.

The good doctor was never seen again.

Check out this month’s other bloggers, all of whom have posted or will post their own responses:
Ralph Pines
Amanda R

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Ever wonder how the tollbooth attendants get into their booths when there’s no door? They used to use a ladder to climb to a crawlspace above or below the turnpike or hidden doors carefully machined into each booth, but those were cumbersome solutions, especially given how hard it is to find attendants to work the late shift to say nothing about the danger of being pasted by an oncoming car.

Now they’re born there and only let go after they’ve earned a million dollars for the city.

Every turnpike booth is fitted with a GesteCo BioWomb™ that produces a pod to fill every vacancy, with workers born at the physical age of eighteen with training and procedures already implanted in the cerebral cortex. They’re ready for business the moment the pod bursts and the patented BioGel™ drains through a sluice in the floor. Each booth is equipped with a TV tuned to city programming, a counter with their total money earned to date (less taxes and fees), and a tray that is filled with nutrient-rich GesteCo Replace-A-Meal™ paste three times a day. A colostomy tube does the rest.

Thanks to state and city ordinances, after the million dollars is earned, the attendant is flushed out of the booth through the sluice, landing penniless in a nearby storm drain. Most, weak and overweight after decades of inactivity, are quickly run down by motorists or eaten by wolves; the maimed survivors generally find work as cybernetic street sweepers. Many of the lucky few that survive intact opt to go into city politics.

A fresh pod is provided to replace them, and the cycle begins anew.

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Airports were such seas of harried and unfriendly faces. Maya was shy at the best of times, but in major airports she tended to look at the floor while hurrying from gate to gate rather than risk getting a nasty look from someone having a bad day. It occasionally disconcerted other people, but on the other hand she tended to find a lot of change on the floor, even if it was often too hazardous to retrieve.

Raleigh-Durham wasn’t the worst offender among the airports she frequented; that was O’Hare, or as she sometimes called it, O’Harried. But with a divorced parent on either coast and a scholarship to Southern Michigan’s pharmacy program, airports were an unfortunate necessity of life, as were the frequent layovers at various hubs.

Near Gate A13, Maya noticed an earring on the floor near one of the peoplemoving sidewalks crowded with those who probably could have used the exercise. It looked like costume jewelry, with three bright crystal beads around a central wire and a bangle of black-veined red at the end. Maya thought of picking it up and turning it in to the docent at the nearby Super Executive Platinum Club, but the swarm of people about it, and the notion–somewhat irrational, in light of that interesting bangle of stone–that it was a cheap fake. She passed, and continued her downlooking way toward distant Gate A113.

After passing about three harried families shouting in foreign tongues, Maya came into an open patch between throngs across from the River Rock Books by Gate A31. She was startled to see, nestled between a discarded ticket stub and a gum-filled wrapper, the earring’s twin. Curled up around itself and dusty, but unmistakable.

“Huh,” Maya said to herself. “If I’d picked up the other one I’d have a set. Oh well; who cares about an earring on the floor anyway?”

Eighteen gates later, she nearly collided with the hurrying form of a man in a kilt. Maya muttered a passive-aggressive threat and continued on her way. Ulberth the Stone-Shaper of Dumfries did the same, frantically searching the ground. How could he have been so careless?

The Chaos Earrings were lost, and the fate of the universal balance hung on their safe recovery from the Raleigh-Durham airport’s cheap tiles.

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