by Brian Jackson
As soon as I heard the fat bellows of Dad’s snoring I climbed out my window and shimmied down the frosty drainpipe on the side of our house. I paused to make sure I hadn’t made too much noise, then sneaked around to the front. It was barely one in the morning, but the grass was already frozen, and there was no moon and no light. Jake’s black Mustang was idling in the street, a panther crouching in the grass. Perfect. Dark car, dark night, dark deeds. Just perfect.
So we crept off into the night to smash pumpkins. We carefully idled down Zenith Avenue until we passed Judge Carson’s place. His house loomed out of the darkness like the Judge himself, the professional joy killer, baby-sitting the neighborhood, making sure nobody’s out having fun on Halloween night. Then Jake gunned the engine to a horrible roar. Old farts living within a five-mile radius had heart attacks in their sleep. Jake revved the engine a few times more just to make sure everyone knew his car was wicked bad, then he popped the clutch. The tires squealed. We raced out of my neighborhood.
Jake wrenched the wheel and we skidded onto the highway going seventy miles an hour. I thought the tires would bust off the axles, but Jake knew his baby, and he cuddled up to the wheel and toed the gas all the way down to hell.
The business district slept; the glass towers and strip malls whizzed by like the shadows of canyon walls. Everything floated in a peaceful slumber except Denny’s—the freaks congregated there for All Hallow’s Mass, taking a sacrament of blueberry pancakes. We all have our rituals when the lights go out. Oingo Boingo blasted through the Mustang’s jerry-rigged stereo, with Elfman’s macabre caroling: “It’s the hour of the wolf and I don’t wanna die.”
Even though it was beastly cold, I rolled down the window to let out a barbaric, primal scream into the night. Bright neon signs in bar windows hummed in reply. I leaned out the window and let the freezing breeze whip my head around; I opened my mouth and imitated those astronaut films about G-force, with cheeks and lips flapping. Jake cackled at me and swerved the Mustang all over the highway, into the near-empty lanes of oncoming traffic, swerving back out, jacking the wheel back and forth like a drunken sailor. Maybe he was drunk. Didn’t matter. Nothing really matters when you’re seventeen, raging into the night to smash pumpkins. The tires squealed back at us in delight.
We roared through a few red lights and flipped around a corner so fast that I just knew we would roll that puppy right into a light post, smash our brains all over the dash. We giggled at the rush of danger and death. Jake straightened us out, put his head out the window and howled at the clouds and stars.
I grabbed at his sweatshirt and pulled him back in. “Do you know where you’re going, Robbie Racer?”
He laughed. “No. Does it matter, my brotha? Okay, I don’t. Where?”
“Turn left up here on Stockton. And don’t freakin’ kill us or I’m going to be really disappointed.” I pointed up at the next stoplight.
“He lives in the Avenues with the richie-richies?” he asked, checking out the rich neighborhood racing by on the left. “Huh. Figures.”
He had the Mustang roaring at ninety miles an hour in a forty-five. The bolts rattled like a paint agitator.
As we thundered closer, the light at Stockton changed from yellow to red. I thought Jake was going to stop, but he stepped on the brake only long enough to keep us from tumbling over, then yanked the wheel to the left. We skidded left through the intersection with a shudder and flew straight into oncoming traffic, into blinding headlights. My heart stopped as a Coke truck slammed on its brakes, swerving off the road into a huge oak tree. Jake swerved back into the right hand lane and stuck his head out the window again, shouting at the sleeping mansions:
“ONE OF YOUSE RICH PUNKS CALL AN AMBULANCE!” He pulled his head back in. “Okay, navigator. Where?”
I was still panting about that Coke truck almost plowing us. “Turn on the third street, I think. I think it’s Today. Souffle. Kool-Aid. Man, why can’t I remember?” I’ve only been to the principal’s house once, and I was chased off the property before I could get the garden hose tied around his car. But that’s what levity is all about. Getting chased off someone’s property.
Jake, still shaking with laughter, scoped the green street signs on the corners of streets. “Could it be Good Day? Right here, check it out.”
“That’s it. Turn here.” I pointed down the quiet street we were passing on my right. Good Day. It’s the lamest name for a street I’d ever heard.
Jake slammed on the brakes and sent me reeling, head over backside, into the dashboard. He jerked the wheel to the right and sped down Good Day. It was a mile-long road just crammed with fat mansions on each side. The homes were sparkly like palaces, with huge lawns that had to be mowed with those sit-down jobs. There were lousy dead cherry blossom trees all over the place. Even their curbs looked expensive, for cryin’. Some yards had huge palace walls around them so poor white-trash folk like us couldn’t get in and kidnap their curly-haired, long-legged, filthy-spoiled daughters—who we wouldn’t kidnap anyway, even if they begged us to. I told Jake to slow down so I could see across their lawns to the porch to see if they had left their jack-o-lanterns out. Like fools, they had.
Then began the frenzy. The engine roared, Jake roared, Elfman roared: “No one, no one, no one lives forever!” and I gripped the dashboard like death. Jake held down the car horn with one hand and jerked the wheel around with the other. We leapt over curbs onto the front lawns of kids we knew from school: prom queens, chess dorks, metal shop grease monkeys, guys we ditched school with, girls we hated, girls we loved—we didn’t discriminate. Jake would slide to a stop by the porch and I’d jump out and smash their jack-o-lanterns on the driveway. I’d jump back in and we’d get up on the big lawns and spin out, spitting frozen dirt and grass all over the place, leaving scars of black track on the sidewalks and driveways, barreling over skeletal bushes, flying back over the curb, roaring into the shadows. Euphoria. Or hysteria, maybe. But all kinds of wicked fun. Lights began to click on sporadically in our wake.
We screeched to a stop in front of Principal Crum’s mighty pad, which was smaller than the rest of the palaces on Good Day. They probably don’t pay principals jack-and-a-half. He had tacky wood butterflies attached to the front of his house and a sign hanging on the door that said, “Welcome Friends.” We were friends. We felt welcome. I hopped out, ran across the crunchy lawn, picked up one of his sagging jack-o-lanterns and threw it into the street. It made a deliciously squishy sound and scattered into a thousand pieces. The second one had a toothy mouth that grinned right at me when I picked it up. I ran over to Principal Crum’s Caddy and heaved it onto the windshield. The toothy grin squished into soft pumpkin chunks that started oozing down the glass. A light came on somewhere in the house; I heard soft shuffling. I tore across the lawn through the darkness, slid over the top of the Mustang like The Dukes of Hazard and jumped in.
The principal’s front door opened; light knifed across the lawn through the dark to our car. There was poor ol’ Principal Crum in robe and slippers, framed in the doorway like an apparition. Jake shouted a salutation out the window:
“NIGHTY NIGHT, FRANKIE CRUMMY BUMMY!” He gave Dr. Franklin W. Crum the “you’re number one,” ground the stick into first, and popped the clutch. We peeled out, leaving two black, beastly scars for at least fifty feet. We thundered down the homestretch of Good Day.
We were halfway down Good Day when Jake leaned to the side a bit and said, calmly, “Look in the rearview mirror, champ.” I looked.
A white Mustang cop car was charging down Good Day—lights flashing—like the wrath of the Almighty, bearing down on us.
I shouldn’t have, but I did. I freaked. I started shouting into Jake’s ear, “Go go go go go!” He threw his weight on the gas and downshifted to second. We lurched, the engine freaked out for a moment like a swarm of angry bees. Jake, the master of his machine, nuzzled up to the wheel and bore down on the dash as if he could push the car faster with his body. We bounded down to the end of Good Day, tearing fresh scars onto another street. Flashing by like a dream, I could have sworn the street sign read “Puberty.”
Then the cop had to show off. The sirens started whining.
With the white cop car howling at our backsides, we hammered down streets and up lanes in the maze of the Avenues. This cop kept a steady relentless chase. My heart pounded like a piston in my chest. This guy was crazy to follow Jake, who didn’t even sniff about killing us all in a high-speed chase. We had ourselves a psycho cop barking right up our tailpipe. If I had had the presence of mind, I would have wondered if he’d been sleeping in the K-Mart parking lot at the time dispatch had crackled out at him. Wicked good driver for just waking up, though.
Jake was better. He tore that tramp of a Mustang like a dogfighter jet. He had both hands in a white-knuckled grip on the wheel—now a sobered sailor at the helm—and all his weight forward in the seat; his face solid with either fear or deadly intensity; I couldn’t tell and couldn’t have cared less. He jerked the wheel left, right, over curbs, up unfamiliar streets. I slid back and forth over the vinyl seat, rammed my head into the frame, gripped the dash until my fingers about fell off. I pointed at roads in a frenzy: “Turn here, Jake, here, no no no, here! GO JAKE! Can’t you go?!” Sixty-six miles an hour in the sleepy suburbs. We were losing the cop. Must have been a rent-a-cop. We blasted over a richie’s front lawn to cut a corner and jumped off the curb in a clutter-thump of metal and tire. Jake swerved purposely to pommel one of those big black garbage tubs. It soared through the air like a bomber and dumped its muck all over the driveway of a house on the right. The cop wasn’t behind us anymore, but we could hear the siren. Jake, the fighter pilot, turned down another unfamiliar street and gunned it up to seventy.
It was a dead end.
Jake slowed down, staring straight ahead. I held my breath and felt hot panic springing up in my guts. We rolled to a stop right in front of two huge cement barricades blocking an old dirt road that led into a field. Dust swirled all around us. The police siren sounded off in the distance as if a thousand dogs were getting ran over. Danny Elfman and the Mystic Knights of Oingo Boingo had changed their tune on the stereo: “Walk on two legs, not on four. Walk on four legs breaks the law. What happens when you break the law? What happens . . . when the rules aren’t fair? We all know where we go from there! TO THE HOUSE OF PAIN!!” I reached over and turned it off.
“Oh no Jake, no.” I had my hands on the dash, my arms stiff as woodplanks. I stared at the barricades like a deer in the lights of a Peterbilt. “What are we going to do, Jake, what are we gonna do?” Instant thoughts of Dad and jail and permanent record made my face flare and my stomach twist up. “We gotta get out of here, we gotta get out!”
Turning his head slowly, he looked over at me, like all action had suddenly been suspended in slow-mo. He had a crooked smile on his face.
“Oh, ye of little faith,” he said. It was almost a whisper. “Ain’t nobody gonna pen us in, my sweet brotha.”
Oh no, I thought. This psycho is going to ram us into the barricades.
But he didn’t. He turned off the lights. We crept into the driveway of the last house on the right before the dead end. The siren seemed closer, or further away, I couldn’t tell. Pulse thumped in my temples. I had no idea what he was doing. Like a shadow, we crept down the driveway into the backyard. There was a chain-link fence and a few bare apple trees. No way out.
So Jake, that insatiable lunatic, that dogfighter of pumpkin smashing, made a way out.
He slammed on the gas once again and tore us right through the fence like an angry elephant. The fence posts ripped out of the ground and the metal mesh bent underneath us, scraping and scratching at the belly of the car. We hit the utility road and charged into the freedom of the open field. Jake cackled and stormed down on the accelerator, fueled by the speed, quickened by the danger of the night. He laughed and hollered and did a little car seat boogie. I nearly wet my jeans about that cop. I couldn’t get my legs to stop shaking. The bumpy dirt road rattled the car so violently I thought my teeth would grind into powder. My head throbbed at all the bobbing.
We rolled to the bottom of Zenith Avenue with Jake’s Mustang purring and rumbling, a cat from the kill. I got out, legs still shaking, a sailor stepping onto land after five months at sea. Jake leaned over and rolled down the window.
“Thank you so very much for the lovely evening,” he said in a slinky, girly voice. “Really, I had a pleasant time. How’s about a good night smoochie?” He stuck his tongue out and wiggled it around.
“Yeah, whatever.” My head pounded like engine rods. “I’m going to bed. I don’t feel so freakin’ great.” I started to walk off.
“Hey,” he called out, “did I force you to come play with me tonight, Billy Boy? Huh? Man, don’t you know that anything worth doin’ gots to be done sneakin’ around in the night? You’re lucky I’m here to show boring turds like you how to live, baby.” I ignored him and kept walking. “PUT THAT IN YOUR CORNCOB, BILLY BOY! SLEEP TIGHT, BILLY BOY!” I swear he was trying to wake up the world. I heard the Mustang roll and rumble away until every other peaceful chirp and sway sounded loud and grating in my head. Shut up, crickets.
I walked down Zenith in the dark, past the stern, frowning darkness of Judge Carson’s place. The moon had come up from behind the Rocky Mountains. It peeked down in a condemning glow, the all-seeing eye, making everything indigo; a perfect light poured down onto my driveway where the scattered remains of my family’s pumpkins were spread out all over in dark orange glops. Not only had the jerks smashed them, they had stomped them into the cement with their boots. Looked like someone had puked up ten gallons of cooked squash. I cursed, kicked a smooshy pile across the driveway into the street. Pumpkin slime dripped off the toe of my hiking boot. My stomach twisted at the thought of Dad, grumpy as all get-out, waking me up at the unmerciful crack of dawn to clean up this mess. It’s your delinquent friends, he’d say.
Tired, sick, I climbed up the drainpipe on the side of our house. My boots were so slippery with pumpkin goop and the pipe was so frosty that I almost slipped and fell five times. Somewhere in the distant jungle of suburbia I heard the roaring of a car and a police siren.