Saturday, August 5, 2017

Death Race to Urbana, Part Two

My mom and I talked for 10 minutes. She told me about my brother, I told her about Rachel, and she asked about my business. I didn’t mention my current job. She always wanted me to be an accountant like my dad. We ended with “I love you,” and I went back to concentrating on the road ahead and behind.
            I called Rachel again. “I just want to stay on the line in case anything happens. We don’t have to talk. If I start screaming, assume the worst.”
            “Don’t you dare get killed. We have tickets for The Book of Mormon next week.”
            “I have my seatbelt on. I’ll be fine.” I wished I believed it.
            Just past Kankakee something swished by my window. Too fast to see. A bird? Smaller than the flying dinosaur. I tensed up again, clutching the wheel tight.
            Who were the Raen? What was Russo’s side called? I thought dealing with vampire kings and queens were bad, but at least they couldn’t bring down an actual apocalypse.
            Maybe Randall Russo was just suffering from dementia. It was the first time in my life I’d ever hoped for that, but it was better than—
            Then something hit my windshield.
            “What?” Rachel shouted. I must have yelled.
            It skittered across the glass, then darted up into the air again.
            “A bat.” I checked my rearview mirror. “It just hit my windshield. And—”
            Thump. Another one. And then another. One slammed into the window next to me, bounced off, and flew away.
            I fought to breathe without hyperventilating as more and more bats hit my windshield. Fortunately they couldn’t grab onto anything, so they rolled off right off and circled away,. But more came back. If enough of them kept leaping at the screen it wouldn’t matter if they fell off. I wouldn’t be able to see the highway.
            Rachel was talking but I couldn’t bother listening to her right now. I turned on my windshield wipers and the washer. That knocked some of the bats away, but the wipers gave them something to grab onto. Damn it!
            In half a minute the wipers wouldn’t move, jammed by the swarm of bats hanging onto them. Hitting the washer scared some of them away, but more came back.
            I could see part of the road through them, and none of them could find a hold on my rear window. Unfortunately, a bunch of them managed to perch on my side mirrors, clutching against the wind as I hit 90 mph.
            A minivan passed on my left. If the driver saw any bats, he didn’t react. Maybe only I could see them. The same way the dinosaur had disappeared when it hit the overpass.
            I honked the horn. No effect. Flashed my brights. No effect. Just more and more bats flying at my car.
            “Tom!” Rachel’s shouting finally got through to me. “Ground Control to Major Tom! Listen to me!”
            “Sorry. What?” My heart was pounding again. If I made it to Urbana without a heart attack I’d have to ask my doctor for blood pressure meds. “What?”
            “Bats use echolocation to get around!”
            “So what? I can’t even whistle!”
            “I think I can send a signal through the phone that’ll mess with their radar. But you’ll have to open your window.”
            Open the . . .? That would let them inside—at least a few of them. I’m not too squeamish about spiders and snakes and other things. But the thought of bats flying around my shoulders and over my head gripped me with terror.
            But driving like this for even a few more miles would probably get me killed.
            “Okay.” I swallowed. “Let’s try it. If it doesn’t work, I lo—”
            “Shut up. I’m turning it on right now.”
            I hit the pedal, going up to 110 again. The bats had to be flying around for this to work. Right? I hoped so. So I held the wheel with one hand and turned my phone’s volume up to the max with the other. Then I switched hands and put a finger on the window control.
            I hesitated, my throat dry. I couldn’t hear anything from the phone. But I wouldn’t, would I?
            So I gritted my teeth and forced myself to take the window down an inch, hoping the bats couldn’t squeeze though. Then I somehow managed to shift hands again without crashing and hold the phone up across my shoulder at the crack in the window while gripping the wheel, my knuckles trembling.
            I heard skittering noises outside the window. One bat stuck its wing through the opening, then darted off into the night. Another forced part of its head inside and got stuck. But others flew away. In a moment the side window was clear.
            I used the edge of the phone to push the trapped bat outside. I hit the accelerator again, hoping a higher speed would make flying harder for the bats once their radar was jammed.
            It worked.
Not all at once. But the bats on my side mirror dropped away. One of them hit the pavement and flew off in a circle. On the windshield, my wipers started moving again. Slowly at first, then moving faster as more and more bats left.
            I wanted to tell Rachel it was working, but I wasn’t sure if my voice would interrupt the signal and bring the bats back again. So I kept my mouth shut and kept my hand on the wheel and hit 120. Then 130.
I veered around a station wagon. The driver flipped a finger at me as I left him behind.
 I wasn’t sure the Honda could even take the speed—I’d never hit it this fast before—but in a few miles the bats were gone. I saw a cloud behind me, a whirlwind of dark shapes, but none of them followed me anymore. And the road ahead was clear.
            For the moment.
            “It worked.” I slipped the phone back into the holder. “It worked!
            “Of course it did.” But with the volume up to 11, I could hear Rachel’s sigh of relief.

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