In the fall of 1989 I escaped from a penal colony orbiting a distant and uncharted sun on the far side of the galaxy where I’d been imprisoned for the past eight years. At least that’s what I told everyone I met. Anyway, I crash-landed on an alien world called Earth, and that’s how I made friends with Mark O’Neil.
He was a lean, wiry kid about my age, who ran track in his high school days and ate less than a bird. He had a Roman nose and crystal blue eyes, a mop of curly blond hair and an understated laugh. And he didn’t treat me like the alien I felt I was.
His interests lie primarily in music, of which we shared a common taste for Black Sabbath and Metallica, and muscle cars. He’d breathe new life into the tired old street rods he’d buy for pennies on the dollar before selling them for three times what he’d paid, often back to the original owners who were too lazy or just didn’t know how to do the work themselves. I never saw him drive the same car twice. There’d be a Nova one week, a GTO the following week, a Charger after that, and maybe an El Camino or a ’57 Chevy the week after that. He went through cars like cartons of milk.
Mark’s stepmother Nadine, however, was the proud owner of The Singularity. That’s what I called her 1979 Chevy Camaro Z-28 with two speeds — Mach 5, and dead stop. It was a slick black nightmare parked with impunity in the driveway of broad daylight. And aside from the year I spent in deep space on my way to Earth, it was easily the darkest thing I’d ever laid eyes on.
The exterior of this magnificent machine was so smooth, so unbelievably perfect, that I couldn’t seem to actually touch it with my bare hands. The first time I squatted down at eye-level to examine my own reflection, I swore my hand was going right through the surface; I yanked it back, shaking the sensation of frostbite from my fingers. After that, I didn’t dare sit on the hood or lean against it for fear of falling through the car’s exterior and freezing to death in the depths of some lightless parallel universe. After all, I just got here, and was in no hurry to leave.
When The Singularity passed you by, it shook the sunshine from the trees. It ripped the whites from your eyes, tore the air from your lungs and darkened your white blood cells without missing a single bore stroke. That’s how utterly goddamn black this car was. As it vanished into the distance, you could almost hear the high-pitched screams of doomed spirits and tortured souls, trapped for all eternity within the confines of the gleaming prison engine.
The black leather interior — meticulously cleaned, polished, and vacuumed each and every Saturday morning – was so completely devoid of light that you couldn’t be sure if you were actually sitting inside the car at all. Maybe it was just a trick of the light; some strange, roaming void where nothing could exist in the instant it took this high-velocity instrument to roar past you on fattened racing slicks that crackled and sang like lightning on the pavement. The windows were frozen polyhedrons carved from the heart of violent storm clouds so perfectly opaque they could shield your eyes from the blinding flash of a nuclear bomb.
“The bulb in the dome light has to be replaced every few days,” Mark told me once with a straight face. “They all die from acute depression.”
The slightest pressure on the gas pedal resulted in your body being shoved deep into the 5-G bucket seats, as cool night air was being force-fed into your hungry lungs through the half-rolled windows like an adjustable ramjet; an experience which left you gasping partially in fear, and partially in extreme pleasure. The numerous glowing red dials and tachometers of the dashboard lights provided the only light in the car’s interior, lending a Satanic glow to the cockpit as it visually converted the output of the engine’s massive power into pure mathematical value. According to the crimson crescent of Arabic numbers mounted on the dash, there was enough power under the hood to fire a slaughtered goat into the heart of the sun, but you’d never hear more than a menacing rumble when you were buckled in with the doors shut tight.
And one didn’t put mere gas in the tank of The Singularity. Oh, no. Instead you offered a sacrifice and poured in the blood, as the pink slip was rumored to bear the Devil’s mark on the dotted line. I’m telling you, this car was fucking amazing.
We were hurtling aimlessly down a dark country road at the speed of sound one faceless night, void of schedule or purpose. The heavy purr of the engine was churning my blood into champagne while the thrumming, supernatural tones of “Planet Caravan” crawled like sonic ghosts from the German stereo system. It filled the interior of the car with such perfect clarity that I felt as though Tommy Iommi, Geezer Butler, Bill Ward, and John Osbourne were crammed into the back seat for an impromptu jam session, or maybe we were driving them to a party. The smoky mix of guitar and vocals wafted out of the speakers and, as always, a chill ran down my spine. “We sail… through endless skies… stars shine like eyes….”
On and on and on came the road, unfolding and unwinding from some monstrous black spool mounted on the back of a utility truck somewhere just around the next bend. It seemed to appear from nothing, only to be dissolved again by the wide-mouth cones of the headlights. I imagined each broken white line that vanished under us was a pulse of power from some secret generator, designed to feed The Singularity’s engine like the hydrogen scoop of a deep space reconnaissance ship. The Singularity’s taillight thrusters would propel me toward yet another alien world. What I was supposed to do when we got there I didn’t know, and didn’t care. I just knew I never wanted this stretch of road, or this moment in time to end.
“Wow… so, this is life,” I thought to myself. I was starting to feel human at last. Maybe I could fool myself into remembering I’d been born on Earth after all, given enough time and enough of this. I’ve have been happy to close the door on that instant, just lock the door and throw away the key.
“So what do you think of Heather?” Mark’s nonchalant voice cut through my reverie, and my heart leapt up like a sinner in a Baptist tent at the mention of her name. Meanwhile, Tommy, Geezer, Bill, and John had launched into “Fairies Wear Boots.” The title made strange correlations to the subject matter.
The “Heather” in question was Mark’s older cousin, a walking miracle in my eyes; a 21-year-old body carting around a 40-year-old soul. A hard-edged punk of a girl with deep brown eyes, a chiseled jaw line, and shoulder-length blonde hair. She wore heavy boots, bashed-up jeans, black t-shirts, and an Army jacket two-sizes too big, which hung on her narrow, cold-skinned frame in such a way that drove me up a fucking wall.
There was just something about her. I had such a schoolboy crush on this chick, but knew instinctively that she was somewhere way off my radar. Shit, I didn’t have the wattage even to pick her up! I’d wanted to meet her since the first time I saw her at Mark’s house. I just wanted to be with her, you know? I wanted her to sit down with me, hold my hand and tell me I wasn’t alone on this hostile planet. I wanted her to tell me she felt the same way, and that it was okay to be alone, that I wasn’t an alien after all. I admit, I wanted her to fill me in on some other the things I’d been missing out on as well but I couldn’t think of a way to ask her. The whole thing sounded so fucking stupid and Heather was just so damn cool.
Sitting in the Singularity, I realized I was taking a hell of a long time to answer such an easy question. “Do I even have a chance?” I stared out the window ahead, straining for a glimpse of the giant truck that carried the spool of night that unfurled the road that supported the car that contained the suspense that stemmed from the question that Mark posed.
“The outcome doesn’t matter,” I thought to myself. If he laughs and says, “No, not really,” then that possibility wasn’t something I’d had in my pocket when I climbed into The Singularity. So when I left without it, I’d be no worse off. There was going to be a slap. I just knew it, and I braced for impact.
“Actually,” he said presently, “I’m just asking ‘cause I like you. You’re pretty cool. You’re not from around here, and I’d rather have her with someone like you than the dick she’s been seeing.”
“Really.” Holy shit! My voice was calm, but my heart did another flip and banged its head on the ceiling of my throat, swearing loudly.
“Yeah.” Mark reached over and turned down the volume on “Paranoid,” which resulted in four puzzled looks from the World’s Greatest Rock Band in the back seat. “She’s been seeing this weight-lifting douche bag,” he spat, “some… frat boy, thinks he’s Glenn-fucking-Danzig. When Heather came by the house last night, she had a black eye. I wanted to kick his ass, but she defended him, which I don’t really get.”
I winced, partially with sympathy for Heather and partially from picturing my 98-pound friend going toe-to-toe with a beefed-up hair farmer who thought he was God’s gift to an army of brain-damaged, self-mutilating Goth chicks. “Man, why the fuck do girls do shit like that? They always defend the assholes, while the nice guys wait in line.”
“Exactly!” he laughed, thumping the steering wheel for emphasis. “My dad hit the roof and chewed her ass about it. He’s taken care of her since she was little, so she’ll listen to him. I’m just saying. Don’t…” He struggled for the right phrase. “Don’t, like… bank on it, but, well, just keep your options open. My dad likes you, too. He was seriously considering co-signing when you wanted to buy that hearse and your step mom wouldn’t help you.”
“Oh, yeah?” I was pleasantly surprised. The hearse was a sore point with me. Some guy down the street had a restored ’66 Miller-Meteor Cadillac Combo Coach for $5,000. A gift from the universe had fallen smack into my lap and my evil step-snake had flat-out refused to sign! “Get a normal car like everyone elssse,” she hissed at me from the corner of her mouth, because she’s a rotten serpent. “And ssstop wearing ssso much black!” I stared longingly at that car every time I passed in the following weeks, and then one day it was gone.
“Yeah,” Mark said. “He was ready to front you part of the cash and let you work it off cutting grass and helping out around the house.”
“Wow.” I found I couldn’t wipe the shit-eating grin off my face, and the sting of denial faded slightly. There would be other cars, but it was damn hard to make a good impression on Mark’s old man.
Conversation continued, receding into the rear-view mirror as all moments do. Presently, a calloused hand wearing a studded bracelet reached cautiously forward from between the seats, turning the volume up just in time for “War Pigs.”