Chapter 1: Speed

Tiny crystals of sunlight danced off broken glass and chrome like fragments of memory. Denver DeLeon’s eyes locked on the shiny rear bumper leaning against a tree, its cracked paint curling around the crusty lesions of rust which had broken through to the surface. Some emery paper, he thought. Some emery paper and primer will fix it. He almost had enough parts now to put together a shell. No frame. But that would come in time, piece by piece.

He had been collecting bottles for two years, taking them to the minimart on Going Street. Whenever he had enough saved up, he’d buy another part from the auto wreckers. The back yard was full of fenders and door panels and nuts and bolts. It drove Mama crazy. You can’t build a car like that, you stupid boy, Mama would say. But Denver knew he could. His daddy had been a mechanic, hadn’t he? At least the one Mama thought was his daddy. That no good Indian, Joe, Mama said. You forget him, you hear. He’s a loser.

But this mechanic thing was in his genes, right? Besides, Denver didn’t have the money to buy a car. Even that piece of Plymouth crap that Bully Caldwell was selling up the street for a hundred and fifty dollars. Runs real good, said Bully. ‘63 Plymouth with pushbutton automatic, overdrive, Dodge slant six under the hood. A real antique in mint condition. Would have thought he was a used car salesman, Bully. Yeah, Denver, got a control panel just like the bridge on the Starship Enterprise.

Every day he walked down the broken sidewalk to the junkyard, past Bully’s, past the crack dealers on Albina, three blocks around Crazy Jones’ house –that seemed like a safe enough distance–across the freeway to Harry’s Auto Wrecking on Interstate. Got any parts for me Harry? Nothing you can afford Denver. Then he’d leave with some spring or grommet that Harry would toss to him and walk on over to the video arcade to play Millennium 3000.

As he walked, deep in thought, he studied the sidewalk, the crumbled pieces of concrete and candy wrappers and hypodermic needles. Sometimes his foot would find a chunk of something solid and he would kick it past the moon thinking, I’m going to fly like that, as fast as the speed of light to Arcturus and back. Everyone is going to be dead and gone two hundred years. I’ll only be sixteen. Everything will be perfect. The girls will all like me because I, Denver DeLeon, know the secret of speed and light. They won’t think I’m trash, ‘cause I’m going to be kick ass. Nobody’s gonna mess with me in my car. No tweaker’s gonna be trying to put crystal in my veins. I already got the speed of light.

Those tiny pieces of sun stirred up memories of a starry night when Denver was just a kid. That night he watched the comet as it dragged its dark tail through his neighborhood, bringing that thing with it. That thing he wanted to forget. And those people in their cars driving by, they didn’t have to see it. They just drove on by like it was nothing. Like it didn’t matter. Ain’t none of my business.

But Denver saw it. He only had his feet. And the thing was right there. He couldn’t run fast enough to get away. It followed him. It had followed him for the past three years. It was still following him, a shadow in each doorway he passed, lurking around every corner, in every alley. He didn’t go out at night anymore. Though his memory of the thing faded in the daylight, he walked faster than he used to down certain streets. Certain streets with wells and crannies and shadows and neglect. Certain streets where that nasty thing might be hiding.

But he would be safe when he had his car, and he could drive. Nothing could catch him, then. So Denver had gone on saving parts and dreaming and waiting for the day when he would sit behind the wheel, when he could snub his nose at everyone, when he could get away for good from that thing that followed him.

Denver watched the tiny pinpoints of light through blurry eyes, trying to remember how far he had come since that night. Trying to remember where he was, now, at this very moment in time, feeling like maybe time didn’t exist at all. Not now, not ever. They seemed like stars, those lights. But his eyes refused to focus. Maybe that star up there was Arcturus, the bright jewel of summer, around which spun strange planets. Maybe behind the stars stood a familiar maple tree and some chrome. Maybe he was sleeping in the back yard again. Brock would beat his butt good if he caught him there. Brock was such an asshole.

But no, he wasn’t in the back yard. He couldn’t be in the back yard.

He remembered seeing Jessica Steiner on the way to Harry’s with her smile and teasing black eyes. Those cute little tits that bounced when she walked. Harry had been gone. He remembered playing Millennium 3000 and saving the Earth from ugly space invaders. He remembered walking back by Bully’s. Was that all this morning? It didn’t seem like it could be. It seemed like it was years ago. Of course, if he was on his way to Arcturus, then it might actually have been moments and years at the same time, depending on perspective.

He felt sleepy and dreamy. He was afraid to dream. He never knew when that shadow would come creeping in. It had already come slithering, hadn’t it? But it wasn’t a dream, was it? The thing had visited. This morning in the kitchen. There on the linoleum floor. Mama get up. Brock, don’t hit me. Please don’t hit me. He had felt the adrenaline rush as he ran out the back door, through the gate, and down the street. It had felt the same that night under the comet. The same adrenaline, the same shadow, the same cold terror. And there it was, devouring Mama where she lay on the floor with that spike in her arm. It had already possessed Brock because he could see its tentacles shooting out of those terrible, angry eyes. In his horror he’d run all the way to Bully’s right past Crazy Jones’ house without even thinking about it. None of Crazy’s little band of nazis had come out to greet him, but if they had, all of them together couldn’t have stopped his momentum.

Bully, he cried. Bully, you gotta help me. Mama. Mama needs help. He ran around the house banging on doors and windows, frantic. Bully, where are you? But the thing had followed him. Its shadow crept around the corner behind him. Where could he hide? He saw a glimmer of a reflection. A reflection on a mirror. Bully’s Plymouth! He darted for it, swung the door open and dived in. He curled up on the front seat, making himself as small as possible. He felt like that frightened kitten Mama brought home that hid under the couch and was finally run over on the street because it panicked and ran the wrong way.

He lay there for several minutes expecting that dark thing to come looming over the windshield. The door couldn’t stop it. It would just melt down like a changeling and seep through the cracks. He waited until the pounding in his chest began to ease. Cautiously, he looked around him, wondering just how he would make his escape. Then he saw them, dangling from the dashboard. The keys.

The keys to the Starship Enterprise.

The stars in Orion sparkled like jewels. They weren’t supposed to twinkle in space, were they? It must be the film over his eyes making everything blurry. He took a deep breath. He was safe now. That thing couldn’t reach him here. Not in his capsule. He had been afraid when it started. He wasn’t sure he could drive it. He had never driven before. But it wasn’t so hard. Not so hard at all. He drove by Crazy Jones’ and laughed and almost ran over one of those nazis in the street. He turned north up Albina and west on Killingsworth past where he first saw that thing. He drove right by the spot and said, ha!

But it must have been there somewhere, waiting for him, because one moment he was sailing over the interstate and the next he was eleven again and standing on the sidewalk under the tail of that comet. The sky was clear and the stars glimmered. At the next intersection, he would stop and walk down Montana, because up on the next block the junkies would be lingering in the doorways and angry black men with liquor on their breath would be standing around outside the bars, and Mama always said, you stay away from that part of the street, do you hear me.

Just as he was about to turn the corner his foot came up against something heavy and soft. Something like the tail of a giant reptile. And then the shadow had descended and the thing bared its teeth, sparkling in the moonlight and he ran and he ran through the dark streets as fast as he could to the safety of home. It had never stopped following him.

It will never stop following me, he thought. Maybe if he went into overdrive and sped warpspeed out of here. Maybe it couldn’t catch him if he did that. Maybe he could be free from it forever. Maybe, out there he could be somebody to make Mama proud. The stars were so bright and shimmering. And he, Denver DeLeon could travel faster than the speed of light.