Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Short Fiction, Fred W. Feldman

The Future of the Automotive Industry
by Frederick W. Feldman

As her dad helped her crawl into the backseat, Kaitlyn saw the big red button with the skull on it again. She kept forgetting that it was there. “Head down,” said her father, and fastened her into the car seat. The straps were too tight, and she wriggled around until he loosened them for her. The car lurched forward and the bumpy ride began. Her mother and father were in the front, and they were murmuring about directions. She didn’t like car rides because she got very bored. Her mother had given her a picture book, but she didn’t feel like reading it. The sunlight flashed across the pages and hurt her eyes. She wanted to know what the button was for.
“Daddy?” she asked. Her mother shushed her. They were still talking about roads. She waited until they quieted down, and then she asked again.
“Daddy, what does this red button do?”
She could see his eyes look at her in the rearview mirror.
“Don’t press that,” he said. “That’s the kill button. If you press it, knives come out and chop up whomever is sitting in the chair.”
“So if I pressed it, it would cut you up?” she asked.
“Into bitty pieces,” he answered.
She was quiet and thought about this for a while. She did not want her father to get chopped up into bitty pieces. She looked over and saw a red button with a skull on it at the base of her mother’s seat, too. She did not want her mother to get chopped up into bitty pieces, either.
“Why are those buttons there?” she asked.
“Well, you can get them without them, but that’s very expensive. It’s just how they make them. You have to be careful. People have died from them, so be very, very careful around them, okay?”
“Okay,” she promised.
“They didn’t use to have them,” said her mother. “I remember riding with my parents, and they didn’t have them then.”
“That’s true,” agreed her father. “I think they started appearing when I was a teenager. It was big news then. A lot of people didn’t like them. Of course, all my friends thought they were exciting and dangerous. Everyone got used to them pretty quickly.”
Kaitlyn didn’t hear her parent’s reminiscences; she had fallen asleep. This fact surprised her when she awoke. She hadn’t planned on falling asleep at all. Now the sun was setting. The first signs of pink had appeared. Huge clouds took up more than their fair share of space in the sky. The highway was long, lined by trees. Cars flew past in both lanes. On the side of the road, immigrants clustered around the foliage and ate the leaves off the branches.
“Are we almost there yet?” she asked her parents.
“Almost,” said her father. “You fell asleep.”
“I know,” she said.
She stared out the window and counted red trucks while the car bumped and hummed. Then she read her picture book for a while. Then the car slowed, and she could feel it. She looked up, and they were driving off the road and pulling onto the grass.
“We’re here,” said her mother.
Her father came around and unbuckled her from the car seat and helped her out. She put her feet onto the grass and a gust of wind hit her, whipping her hair around, and almost pulling her over.
“Look over here,” said her father.
An expansive vista greeted her. They stood at the edge of a peak, and the surf crashed with anger nearly a mile below them. Up here, the wind was harsh, but the view was magnificent. The sky looked bigger than she had ever seen it. The noise of the waves was a distant symphony, grumbling.
The three of them stood silently. Kaitlyn thought the scene looked like something out of a fairy book. Then a rumbling sounded from behind her. She turned around to see a truck drive off the road and zoom, engine blaring, towards them. She thought it was going to hit them, but it passed them on the side and kept going until it flew off the edge of the peak. The wheels kept spinning even as it hung suspended in the air, then it turned slowly end-over-end as it plummeted towards the waves, and met them with a crash.
“Daddy, why did that person go off the edge?” Kaitlyn asked.
“Well, they get paid a lot of money to do that.”
“They get money to do that?”
“Yes, they get money from the car companies to get rid of old cars, and they get a check from the government for population control,” her father explained.
“But don’t they die?” asked Kaitlyn.
“They do, but then they can give their families a better life.”
The family continued admiring the view for a bit, then a rusted sports car flew past them, careened off the edge, and hit the water.
Kaitlyn’s mother said, “I think we should leave now.”

“Agreed, it’s too busy here,” said her father. “Maybe we can find somewhere with less traffic. Everybody in the car!”

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