When Cars Grew Taller
by Kallirroe Agelopoulou
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
I took leave from work and started early in the morning, at the exact moment when I knew only Elijah the one-eyed would be on shift. He’d never see me going up, that was for sure. And if I had learned anything about the drivers on these roads — all except her — they wouldn’t pay attention, not even if their grandmother caught fire in the middle of the street. No one would notice me. No one would even care.
Like Jack on his beanstalk I started to climb, not knowing where I’d end up, with nothing but the hope of some invisible magic to hold me. The structure was so big that I didn’t feel I was actually climbing a tree, it was more like making my way through the vegetation of some extraterrestrial hill.
Now and then I rested between alien foliage. It was more comfortable than I had expected. I had long ago lost sight of the barbed wire; there was nothing around the tree, nothing around me as I continued the ascent — just pissed-off birds flying all around, waiting for me to climb a little farther up so they could finally return to their nests. I continued ousting random winged chirp-chirpers before the smell stopped me.
Cooked meat. It made my mouth water. I climbed with greater haste, I could make out smoke rising through the rubble. When a face jumped out in front of me, I almost fell from the tree in surprise. I managed to recover my balance and immediately took another look. The man stretched out his hand, offered a piece of roasted bird with a smile.
“My name is John.”
He didn’t seem so scary anymore. We ate in silence until I asked the obvious question. “How long—”
“Almost a year. Want some water?”
I was probably staring at him, because he was quick to add, “It’s rainwater. The purest there is.”
I gulped it down from a coolant reservoir. “How did you get here?”
“The same way you did, I guess. It’s better than down. I have food, water... And heat. Look!”
He showed me the car batteries he had connected with dozens of things: a razor, a portable kitchenette, even a huge air-conditioning system that was wedged deep within metal bumpers. The good thing about this place, he said, is that there were spare parts everywhere.
We slept on velvet seats under a plastic tent, the air conditioner pounding over our heads. In the morning, he made me tea from what greenery he had planted inside a gutted wheel.
“Will you go higher? Why don’t you stay a little longer?”
I didn’t tell him the truth. “I want to see the view from up there.” I hesitated for a moment, but I asked him anyway: “Have you been higher? What’s it like? Are there birds there? Large birds?”
“I have no idea. I’m fine where I am. There was someone else, my pal George, we climbed together but he continued up two months ago. I haven’t seen him since.”
Before I left, I had to ask one more thing. “Where’s the toilet?”
He unearthed a large metal pipe from somewhere and gave it to me solemnly. Like he was reenacting some particularly dirty dance move, he pushed at the tube’s opening with his pelvis a couple of times, till I caught the meaning.
“Aim far away from the tree!”
I had just discovered the drainage system of these impossible heights. I made a conscious decision not to think of how many craps must have landed right beside me when I still had my feet on the ground, while I was stuck working in the cubicles.
I veered the pipe away from the tolls, away from poor, half-blinded Elijah, and I relieved myself.
Shortly afterwards, John stopped me. Out of an inflated pocket he pulled a huge bag of dried meat.
“Take this. And be careful. It will be colder up there. If you see George, tell him I said hi.”
I thanked him and started on my way up again. Step by step, I was approaching the top. The birds got sparser and sparser until they disappeared completely, as I had suspected.
I carefully sneaked a peek down. From where I stood, the road I had spent most of my life on flowed like a tiny gray creek. The tolls were completely lost, nothing but a dot among countless others.
I vaguely remembered the physics lessons I had taken in high school. Was there oxygen here? Shouldn’t I be dizzy? How come I didn’t feel strange? Cold?
“We made it this way. So that you would be able to climb.”
I was hearing voices. The symptoms had begun.
“Do not be afraid. You’re so close.”
The words reached inside my head so clearly, they seemed to bypass my ears completely. I braved a question: “George?”
The laughter thickened, as though reverberating on countless invisible walls inside my skull. “Continue the journey and soon you’ll have your own wings. Come quickly, and you’ll see.”
The voice went away. I took a piece of meat out of my pocket and started munching. There were only two possibilities. Either I was going crazy or I had just spoken to some higher power. Since nobody was around to listen, I could come out and say it. “God. I just spoke to God.”
I had come looking for angels, and it seemed I had found them. If it wasn’t true, if I was simply going crazy... Still, I didn’t wanna go back. I could only keep going up, as high as I could. I hadn’t brought the wings along, but I felt them on my back now, strengthening my determination. I easily made way through the mess, thousands of miles high. And soon I saw it.
* * *
A particularly large, bright cloud seemed to block the road ahead. Only it didn’t really block anything. It was the end of the road for me.
The voice in my head was waiting there, incarnate, floating cross-legged on fluffiness, like some really weird, post-modern Buddha. Upon his shoulders wide wings spread ethereal, mingled with the countless clouds surrounding him. There was light everywhere. “Welcome!”
The question escaped me before I could really think about it. “Are you God?”
“Huh? No, of course not. He has more important things to do. I’m here to welcome you. Well then. Identity? Title deeds?”
Now there was something that I definitely didn’t expect to find at these altitudes, so far away from the world I knew. Tolls, again. As I did for so many years, he too had to ensure that I paid before I could pass.
I answered honestly. “What?”
He repeated the words slowly, as he would to a child. “Titles. For the car. It’s yours, right?”
It took me a while to figure out what he was talking about. I had spent so much time on my way up here, I had forgotten what it was exactly I was climbing onto.
“No. A woman came out of the car right before it started... to rise.”
“You climbed on another’s car. This is a very serious offense. Each driver has their own destiny. You do not own her good deeds, her clear conscience.”
“But it was abandoned, I never knew...”
He huffed and looked at me conspiratorially. “The truth is that the process is still in its infancy. Mass rising hasn’t started yet. We foresaw there would be people in your exact situation. Just give me your licence plate number, I’ll see what I can do.”
“Well, I don’t drive.”
“Oh, I’m sorry.” He began reciting the new commandments in a style much less imposing than anyone could have imagined. “Every salvation requires at least one car. You can climb if someone gives you a ride. Up to four people per driver.”
“But this is ridiculous.”
His eye twitched. “Those are the rules.” Before he was gone he turned to warn me, condescendingly. “Between us, as soon as you get down, go get a driver’s license. Rent a car if you can’t buy one. Soon everyone will leave this mortal coil. You might make it, in the nick of time.”
The light was switched off and I was left alone among the clouds, the wind blowing all around. I didn’t have many options left, I just started going down.
I met John again. He looked at me with sad eyes as I finished telling him my story. “I don’t have a car either,” he said. Suddenly it dawned on him. He turned to me with renewed hope: “What if I get parts from this one? What happens if I make a car from another’s car?”
I didn’t know what to tell him. Was it considered stealing, even if you were only getting something you needed from all sorts of things that nobody used? I had never been religious; all the different sects, all the rules confused me so much that I didn’t really try any of them.
“I’ll go for it,” John finally decided. “There’s nothing else I can do.”
I kept going down, until I reached the ground again. For good this time. They noticed me coming, my colleagues, they strained their necks to look outside their narrow cubicles, bemused. I didn’t explain anything to them, I didn’t talk to anyone.
Back at my house I rested upon the wings for one last time. I knew I would never see them again in all their glory, part of a floating body.
The next day I was back to work.
* * *
I thought about it, to go learn how to drive, give myself a chance. But I didn’t. The events unravelled quickly. Cars all over the world began to spew their guts, spread out to the heavens.
They took people with them. Others braved the impossible heights to find them, expecting corpses. The truth they discovered spread like a virus.
I saw the crowds in the next few days, preparing for the rise, gathering friends and relatives, searching for the right spot — at the fields, on open highways or right in front of their homes. Sitting, waiting for their turn, waving knowingly at strangers in adjacent vehicles. People timidly approaching one another, just before their world disappeared.
And when that moment came, when finally all the cars in the world grew taller, I was left all alone.
Well, not exactly all alone. There were always others, without anyone in the world, with countless failed driving tests under their belts, or the ones that didn’t even try. The atheists. There were always bad people. No, I was definitely not alone. But I had no job, no purpose. There were no more cars. Tolls and their booths were a forgotten concept.
Still, I came to sit in my small room from time to time. Under the shade of not only a single “tree” anymore. There were many more around, but I still faced only the one I had climbed upon, the same vertical anomaly that had attracted me in the first place. And one day I saw the woman staring at the same heights as I, catching my gaze, walking toward me. That old dog trailed behind her, wiggling its tail — happy, as only dogs can be.
Copyright © 2014 by Kallirroe Agelopoulou