The 1992 Nissan Sentra sat idling at the stoplight, a slight knocking sound coming from beneath the hood. The windows were rolled down, and an undersized spare tire was attached to the left rear wheel, making the car sag a little in that direction.
Gene Hawkins was soaked in sweat, his white T-shirt sticking to the driver’s side bucket. He shifted into neutral, revved the motor, and the knocking knocked faster.
“Sounds like I need to get the valves adjusted, Teddy,” he said.
The big junkyard dog sitting in the passenger’s seat turned and gave Gene a slobbering grin of agreement, then poked his head back out the window.
Gene knew nothing about valves or how to adjust them. It was just something he’d heard the fellows at Shuler’s Amoco say while they sat around outside the office and drank Pepsi-Colas. That car needs “a valve adjustment,” “timing belt replaced,” “a new alternator.” Things like that.
“Hey, Numb Nuts! Put a real wheel on that piece of junk.”
Gene looked across the street and saw Eddie Todd standing on the corner. He was wearing a Hawaiian shirt, baggy cargo shorts, and red, high-top Chucks. His face glowed pink from the heat, and his lanky blonde hair was plastered to his head.
“Come on, Ed. Get in,” Gene yelled back.
“Why? Where you going?”
“Just get in. Hurry up.”
Eddie checked for traffic then jogged over to the gray, sun-bleached Nissan.
“Teddy, get in the back seat,” Gene said, and the old dog grunted his disapproval but squeezed between the buckets anyway. The light turned green just as Eddie slammed the door.
“Hey there, Theodore,” he said. “You doing all right, boy?” Eddie reached into the backseat and scratched the dog’s anvil-sized head. Theodore’s big tail whacked the seat in appreciation.
“Where we going?” Eddie asked.
“Some place real important,” Gene said as he gunned the Nissan and shifted into second. They picked up speed down Main Street, passing storefronts and parallel parking spots, both mostly empty. Gene shifted into third, and the motor hammered harder.
“I don’t think we’ll make it,” Eddie said. “This thing sounds awful.”
“I need to get the valves adjusted,” Gene said.
“Get the valves adjusted? You need a motor transplant. When’s the last time you changed the oil?”
“It’s not the oil. It burns a little oil, but it’s not the oil.”
“You oughtta check it anyway.”
They rolled past the last of the Main Street shops, crossed over the Interstate, and in a matter of minutes were cruising open country highway.
Gene wiped the sweat from his forehead and exhaled loudly.
“Hot, ain’t it?” Eddie said.
“You don’t know the half of it,” said Gene.
“I do know the half of it. It’s supposed to get up to one-oh-seven today.”
“It’s a hundred and forty in this car right now.”
“What? It can’t be a hundred and forty,” Eddie said. “We’d be roasting.”
“We are roasting, Ed. And it’s going to get worse very, very soon.”
“When? This afternoon?” Eddie liked to wind Gene up.
“Maybe,” Gene muttered.
“What are you talking about, global warming?”
“It’s not just global warming, man. It’s the end times, the planet is dying.”
They passed soybean fields, long stretches of pine forest, and the occasional pickup truck going the other way. All the while Gene jabbered about droughts, deforestation, and weird carbon cycles in the ocean. Eddie just sat there looking out the windshield.
“You’ve been talking to Bennie again, haven’t you?” he finally said.
Bennie was Bennie Shuler, son of Lynwood Shuler, who owned the Amoco station. Bennie made 1400 on the SAT, but Lynwood wouldn’t let him go to college because of all those liberal professors.
“Yeah, I’ve been talking to Bennie,” Gene said. “He’s pretty smart, but it’s not just Bennie.” He paused for a second then turned and faced Eddie, his face glistening with sweat. “Ed,” he said. “I’ve been sent a message. In a dream. It was so vivid.”
“A message? From who?”
“God, maybe. Mother Nature. Carl Sagan. I don’t know.”
“What did this message say?”
“It showed me the way, Ed. It showed me how to save us from what’s coming.”
Eddie was getting a little worried. He knew Gene had been walking a fine line ever since high school graduation, but he wasn’t prepared for this. He had to admit, however, it felt hotter in the car than it did a few minutes ago. Could it really be 140 degrees?
Gene took his foot off the gas and switched on the left turn signal, although there wasn’t another car in sight. He turned onto State Highway 12 and gunned the Nissan. The centrifugal force shifted Theodore across the backseat so he stuck his head out the window behind Eddie.
“You still haven’t told me where we’re going,” Eddie said.
“It’s a beautiful place, Ed. You’re going to have a rapturous experience, I’m telling you.”
“Rapturous?” Eddie was really worried now.
They came to a long bridge over swamps and thick undergrowth. As they neared the end of the bridge, Gene suddenly stopped the car in the middle of the highway and switched off the ignition. The silence was deafening in the absence of the Nissan’s knocking motor.
“Get out of the car and take your clothes off,” Gene said.
“What?” Eddie said.
Gene got out, slammed the door, started removing his clothes and throwing them through the open window. When he was completely naked, he opened the back door, and Teddy bounded onto the highway.
“What’s going on?” Eddie shouted. He got out of the car and stood by the open door.
Gene walked across the road and climbed onto the bridge railing. He put both hands around his private parts … and jumped.
“Gene!” screamed Eddie, and he ran around the car to the railing. He got there just in time to see Gene’s head pop to the surface of the cool, jet-black waters of Bear Creek.
“Whoooo!” Gene spluttered. Praise be to the creek! I am saved!”
Theodore trotted around the end of the bridge and scampered down the bank like he’d done it a dozen times. Eddie grinned and watched the dog splash into the water and paddle out to Gene.
Eddie quickly peeled off his Hawaiian shirt, cargo shorts, tighty-whiteys and bright-red Chucks. He climbed atop the thick concrete railing, cupped his crotch, and leaped.
For the next two seconds, Eddie was weightless. Then he was saved, too.