The Impala Chronicles (Forty-some Years In A Life), Chapter 8
August 9, 1974: Along The Way
“It seems to me I could live my life / A lot better than I think I am / I guess that’s why they call me / they call me the working man / They call me the working man / I guess that’s what I am!”
John’s voice carried up through the open window and Mary rolled her eyes in fond exasperation as she set down her pen. She couldn’t understand how a man who loved music and could make engines sing nonetheless couldn’t carry a tune in a bucket – or in John’s case, a tool kit. Whatever key Rush was singing in, John was shoving a totally different one into the same lock with cheerful gusto while he tinkered with the Impala, his version of a relaxing Friday evening.
It was so normal, she loved it.
Normal had been her watchword for the year. Last year it had been fear and grief, and she still wasn’t beyond that yet, but she desperately wanted to escape into normal. She wasn’t a hunter anymore. Oh, she still kept a journal, but she tried to keep it to normal things, as if it were some ordinary woman’s diary: recording a night out with John at the movies; remarking on the strangeness of Daylight Saving Time beginning in January instead of April and spending 45 minutes in a line waiting for gas, all courtesy of the gas crisis; commenting on the unbelievable Watergate craziness that had culminated today in Nixon’s resignation taking effect and Gerald Ford being sworn in as President. Not exactly ordinary things, some of them, but not supernatural, either.
But no matter how hard she tried to dodge, the hunter world kept finding her out. Oh, she’d flat-out refused to cooperate with her uncle when he’d wanted to probe into her parents’ deaths, and her insistence on staying entirely away from the family business had driven a wedge between her and her uncles, aunts, and cousins, but she had nightmares of yellow eyes in her father’s face. Even knowing that demons had to play by the rules, she kept expecting and fearing that something bad would be around every corner. It had taken the better part of a year for her to stop salting her windows and thresholds, and only marrying John and moving in with him had brought that to a stop. But the demon was as good as his word, and nothing supernatural sought her out. She was left alone.
Still, she couldn’t help but read the news with a hunter’s eye. She’d been terrified back on April 3 and 4 when the super outbreak of tornadoes hit. Over 125 tornadoes in 24 hours, hitting 13 states and one province in Canada, killing over 300 people – nothing like it had ever happened before, and it smacked of the unnatural. It also didn’t escape her that Kansas, despite its normal propensity for thunderstorms and tornadoes, was totally untouched by that outbreak, almost as if the storms intentionally had passed them by.
Almost as if a demon had designated her home state a safe zone.
And there were some other connections she couldn’t escape, like the letter lying beside her journal on the desk. Even though it had no return address, she’d guessed who it was from even before she’d opened it by the Colorado postmark. She’d been careful to open it only when she was alone. Inside were clipped-out copies of three newspaper articles – one on the tornadoes, one on the on-air suicide of a television news announcer in Florida who shot herself in the head during a broadcast just last month, and one from some medical journal noting the progress of a huge smallpox epidemic in India. There was no letter; just a scrap of paper with a few words scrawled on it: Sulfur found. Something’s happening. Guard yourself. There was no signature, but there didn’t have to be.
She would never forget Daniel Elkins. He’d turned up a couple of days after her parents died, an average-looking man in ranching clothes with blue eyes, short reddish-blond hair, and a beard clipped short and neat. He’d nodded gravely at her from outside her door, and said, “I’m sorry for your loss. I was told you’d have my gun?”
She’d found it lying on the ground beside the Pinto after she’d persuaded John to go call for help. She’d known she’d have to clean up the site before the police got there, and besides – she wondered herself exactly what had happened. After the demon left, she’d seen Dean Van Halen – whatever his real name was – standing next to the gold Pinto with a long-barreled gun in his hands; then John had gasped back to life and drawn her attention. When she’d looked back again, she’d seen only the car, its lights on and engine running. She’d fed John a line about a stranger having attacked them. She apologized to Dean in her mind, but didn’t think he’d hold it against her; he was a hunter, he knew the score. After John reluctantly agreed to leave her with her father’s body to go find a telephone, she had walked over to the Pinto, and the antique revolver was the first thing she’d seen. As soon as she picked it up and saw the octagonal barrel and the Latin engraving, she knew what the gun had to be, and why Dean had brought it to the Walsh house back when the horror of the night had first begun. The story of the Colt had been one of her favorite bedtime tales ever since her parents had started teaching her to watch out for ghosts and goblins as well as human strangers. How and why Dean had just disappeared, and why he hadn’t taken the gun with him, she didn’t understand, but she’d hidden the gun well away from the road in the hollow of a tree. She’d retrieved it the second night afterward, too well aware of its value to be comfortable leaving it in the open, and hidden it in plain sight as just part of her Dad’s gun collection.
She’d handed it to Elkins without a word, knowing without doubt that it belonged to him, and watched him check the chambers, counting bullets. When he raised an eyebrow at her, finding all the bullets still loaded, she shrugged.
“He couldn’t get a shot,” she’d said. “The demon left its hosts too fast.”
He’d nodded again, understanding all she didn’t say.
“I’m sorry. For you, and for him” He’d turned to leave, but then paused for a moment added, “I understand losing family. There’s nothing harder. Tell him – no hard feelings.”
She hadn’t asked him what he meant, and he’d simply turned and left before she could tell him that she didn’t think she’d see Dean again, not after the way he’d vanished, especially since she’d never look for him or any other hunter. She’d never contacted Elkins, but he’d sent notes twice now, both times to the right name at the right address, even though she’d moved twice and gotten married and changed her name in the interim.
She wouldn’t answer this one, either.
Outside the window, the music changed to Bad Company, and she winced for more than just John’s off-key rendition.
“Walkin’ down this rocky road / Wondering where my life is leading / Rolling on to the bitter end. / Finding out along the way / What it takes to keep love living / You should know how it feels, my friend …”
The sound of John’s voice changed; he was coming into the house, still singing. She tucked the letter away and closed her journal, and turned in time to see him sticking his head around the doorframe, pitching the lines directly to her.
“I’m ready for love / Oh, baby, I’m ready for love. / Ready for love / Oh, baby, I’m ready for love …” John let the music trail off suggestively, waggling his eyebrows, and grinned, wheedling. “Wanna go for a ride, pretty lady? My other baby is ready for company; the Impala is purrr-fect tonight. It’s a great night for a cruise …”
Outside, the radio kept playing. Now I’m on my feet again / Better things are bound to happen / All my dues surely must be paid / Many miles and many tears / Times were hard but now they’re changing / You should know that I’m not afraid …
She held out her hands and he pulled her to her feet, dancing her to the door. His arms were strong and his steps were sure; his dancing, unlike his singing, was like his mechanic’s skills – polished and smooth. She followed his lead without effort, and it occurred to her that in his arms, even though he wasn’t a hunter, even with all he didn’t know, she wasn’t afraid. She started singing with him as he swept her down the stairs to the car.
“I’m ready for love …”
Author’s Note: The unprecedented April 3, 1974 Super Outbreak of tornadoes was very real. It also wasn’t remotely supernatural in origin, but I couldn’t resist using it that way. For accounts of the real thing, check the website created to commemorate the storm (http://www.april31974.com/index.html). The on-air suicide of Christine Chubbuck, news announcer for WXLT-TV (now WWSB) in Sarasota, Florida, was also very real and made the national news, and I apologize for implying supernatural causes.
The thing I remember best about 1974 was how fast the Nixon house of cards crumbled, and the surreal experience of seeing a U.S. President resign for the first and only time in history to avoid being impeached. I remember being royally pissed that Ford, in September, pardoned Nixon for any crimes he may have committed while in office. Others involved in Watergate were sentenced to prison, but Nixon walked. To me, that was just wrong.
On the technological end of things, a Universal Product Code (UPC) was scanned for the very first time in June. They’re ubiquitous now, but they weren’t back then!
The icon on this one, by the way, is by crazypandabear . Thanks!!