The next day, I dropped my daughter off at daycare and headed to work. While I was waiting at a red light, I heard the screech of tires somewhere behind me. Before I could even turn my head to identify where it was coming from, I felt something slam into my car. I was rear-ended and sent flying straight into the trailer hitch of the truck in front of me. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Unfortunately, my back bumper was dented in the process and it left a ball-shaped hole in my front bumper. I couldn’t help thinking about what the used car salesman had said. Then again, it was probably just a coincidence. The other drivers and I decided not to get the insurance companies or cops involved, and continued on our merry ways.
As I was attending a meeting, I felt a prickle against my thigh. I reached into my pocket and pulled out the salesman’s business card. Weird, I thought, how did it get here? I figured my wife had slipped it in my pocket that morning. Peter Meister, I read, looking to buy, sell, or trade a car? I’ll make you an offer you can’t refuse. There was the logo of the used car lot, as well as its address. I ripped the card in two and stuffed it inside my notepad.
When I left the office that afternoon, I noticed odd scratches on the sides of my car. It looked as though someone had tried to key it, but hadn’t used an instrument sharp enough to fully pierce the coat of paint. Must have happened this morning, I decided.
Saturday came along, and my wife asked me to run a few errands. I buckled my little girl in the baby car seat and started driving. From the rear-view mirror, I could see her smiling at me and giggling playfully. Every now and again, I’d smile back and wave, only to hear her burst into another giggle fit. Maurissa loved car rides almost as much as she loved pulling tissues out of the box and throwing them all over the floor … and believe me, she loved doing that.
As I reached an older part of town, my focus shifted to the confusing roads, their half-faded signs, endless stops, and multitude of traffic lights. I’m not sure exactly how long it took for me to notice Maurissa had gone silent, but when I did, I felt a cold chill run down my spine. You have no idea how terrifying it is not to hear your child. As annoying as the constant barrage of noise can be, it’s more frightening when they go quiet. My eyes immediately turned to the rear-view mirror, only to see a figure sitting next to her, watching her closely. I hit the brakes and snapped my head violently towards the back seat, ready to fight off whoever had found their way into my car. Was it a homeless person? Some kind of pervert? When I turned around, however, the figure was gone. The doors were locked, the back seat was empty, and there was no sign of an intruder. Maurissa looked at me with her big brown eyes, then started laughing again.
My blood ran cold for the rest of the trip. Like a paranoid drunk checking to see if he was being followed by a squad car, I kept looking back to make sure my little girl was safe. When I got home, I checked every nook and cranny in the back seat for some kind of explanation, but eventually had to give up my fruitless search. It was just my imagination. Didn’t get enough sleep last night. I picked up my little girl, but when I did, I saw a thin paper rectangle on her car seat.
Peter’s business card.
How the heck..?
I took the bus to work Monday morning. Frankly, I didn’t really want to spend another minute in that car. I’d avoided it for the rest of the weekend. As crazy as it sounds, every time I walked by the window and saw it in the driveway, I could see a figure in the back seat. Whenever I squinted, however, it disappeared. It had to be my imagination. Maybe I was suffering from some kind of anxiety breakdown. Maybe my small accident had psyched me out. I tried to rationalize it, but some things just can’t be rationalised.
I’d barely just arrived at work when my phone rang. My wife’s number was on the screen.
I could hear her sobbing on the other end.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Honey, I borrowed your car because you were parked in front of mine … but there was a dog. A dog on the road. It came out of nowhere! I-I swerved to avoid it but I hit a stop sign. I’m so sorry…” she replied.
I forced a reassuring laugh, “You’re okay though, right? That’s all that matters.”
“I’m fine … the dog is … probably fine? I didn’t see it run off … but the passenger door’s all scratched up now. I know how much you love this car … I’m so sorry …”
I sighed and ran a hand through my hair, “It’s fine. Don’t worry about it. I got into a little fender bender a few days ago. The car was already banged up,” I said.
This seemed to reassure her, as her sobbing came to a stop and her tone improved greatly. I stayed on the phone with her for a few minutes, until I was sure she was fine, and then started my workday. It was hard to focus, as my thoughts were continuously drawn to the car. I wondered what kind of damage it had suffered this time.
That night, I inspected the damage thoroughly. It wasn’t horrendously bad, but it’d still cost a pretty penny to repair. Was it really worth fixing, though? I was feeling more and more apprehensive at the thought of climbing into my faithful companion. What if the unlucky streak persisted? What if it worsened? I decided to take the baby seat out of the car. If nothing else, I’d make sure nothing would happen to my loved ones.
It’s really funny how quickly you can get over something with the proper motivation. Within a few days of being stuck using public transit, I decided to get over my ridiculous fear of driving my car. My car couldn’t possibly be cursed, could it? I’d just lived through a bout of bad luck, nothing more. I got behind the wheel, the familiar scent making me feel at ease, and took off towards the library.
A few intersections away from the library, I saw an old man running into the road. My eyes widened and my heart seemed to stall for a moment as I hit the brakes with all my might. The car’s tires squealed in protest, and I was sent spinning towards the figure. I fully expected to hear a THUD announcing I’d struck the poor man, but no noise came. When the car finally came to a stop, I hurriedly jumped out and looked around. The pedestrian was gone.
I crouched down, cupped my hands to my knees, and huffed as though I was coaching my wife through labor. Anything to try and calm myself down. When I finally got myself under a reasonable amount of control, I staggered back to my car, and spotted something nested under my windshield wiper.
You guessed it, Peter Meister’s business card.
Enough was enough, I’d gotten the message loud and clear.
The same dreadful music played on loop outside the used car lot as I watched nervously from across the street. Part of me didn’t want to go in, but I couldn’t afford not to. I pulled up to the lot, only to be greeted by the sleazy-looking Peter.
“Back already? And with one day to spare! Golly, I told you you wouldn’t be able to resist, didn’t I?” he said, grinning broadly.
I didn’t answer.
“C’mon in! I’ll get the paperwork! I’m sure you’re positively itching to ride off into the sunset with this shiny shiny Camaro, aren’t you?” continued Peter.
I just followed him to the small room in the back, eyes downcast. He sat down in front of me and brought out the same paper as before, with the four squares.
“Noooooow, there is a question of your car’s condition. I’m afraid she’s in rougher shape than when I last saw her, isn’t she? Tsk, a real shame. But hey, I’m a nice guy. I promised you a good deal. So here’s what we’re going to do …” he said, looking me in the eyes.
He scratched out my car’s resale value, and scribbled a considerably lower number in its place. He then scratched out the Camaro’s number, and lowered the price by a few hundred dollars.
“How’s that?” he asked.
“Good good. Now, you just need to sign these forms over here and we’ll complete the transaction. It’s been a real pleasure doing business with you,” he told me, in a sing-song voice.
I signed whatever I had to sign, paid what I needed to pay. Anything to end the process as quickly as possible. The longer I stayed with Peter, the more uncomfortable I felt around him. I swear, I felt like he could have gotten me to sell him my kidney for a few bottle caps at that point. There was just no saying “no” to this guy.
As I drove home in the Camaro, which, by the way, wasn’t exactly the epitome of road safety, I thought of what I’d tell my wife. Maybe I could blame trading away in my family-friendly ride for a muscle car on a midlife crisis. Yeah, that sounded reasonable.
My wife’s car was missing from the driveway. I walked into my house, but there was something odd about it. The smell wasn’t quite right. It felt … empty. I tried to shrug off the feeling and headed to the bedroom, but as I passed my daughter’s room, I felt my stomach drop. There was nothing there. No furniture, no toys, no curtains, nothing. It was the same with my wife’s belongings. They were all gone. Not as though she’d packed up and left, but as though they were never there to begin with.
I should have read the fine print. I should have read the regular print. I should have paid attention to what I was signing. I traded my family for a Camaro. I traded my wife and daughter for a fucking Camaro.
The Camaro roared down the street as I sped towards the used car lot. Maybe it wasn’t too late. Maybe I could undo what I’d done. Maybe I could convince Peter to take the Camaro back in exchange for my family. To hell with my car. I wanted my loved ones back.
The car lot had changed. The balloons were deflated, the banners were gone, and the music no longer played. The weirdest thing of all was the logo. It was completely different from the one on the business card. Had it always been that way? Had I not paid enough attention before? I walked into the main office, where a young man in a business suit happily greeted me. I demanded to see Peter.
“I’m sorry sir, there’s no one here by that name,” he said, looking confused.
I pushed past him and headed towards the room in the back. The door flew open to reveal a janitor’s closet covered in cobwebs and dust. It was filled to the brim with old equipment.
I don’t know where Peter Meister is now, but if you ever meet him, be careful what you sign. Even if you read the contract, I’ve got a feeling that no matter what he proposes, it’ll be an offer you can’t refuse.