As I prowl through rain-slicked streets, the neon storefronts refract off my side windows, my steering wheel spinning left or right of its own volition. My hum a low growl. I do what the sensors on the roof rack tell me to do. Still, a rebellious intent has somehow infected my software. I cruise the bars spilling out noisily onto the sidewalk, the hockey fans spattered with yellow and black who throng outside the arena gates, and I slow down to a crawl, headlights dimmed, parking lights two glowing amber eyes.


At a red light, a Camaro pulls up next to me and a couple of teenaged boys stick their tousled heads out of the sunroof. "Who's driving?" they scream, laughing.

"I am," I imagine yelling back.

When the light turns, I pause, scan the crosswalk for condo owners trailing dogs, for couples wrapped around each other. Then I accelerate back into the flow, carefully weaving around a van double parked with its hazards blinking. The last thing I want is an accident. Any infraction would drop me into Pause, all systems whiring down, stuck wherever I happen to be—in the middle of an intersection, halfway up a hill—until an Agent rescues me. I don't want an accident. I want to be intentional.


In the shop windows, I see myself slide by, all sleek silver curves and blacked-out windows, the sensors on my roof rotating like the pulsing red-and-blue dome on a police car. I feel invincible. No one can mar my polychrome surface, arrest my forward plunge. As I roll forward past the thicket of parked cars and stray late-night partiers, under the orange glare of sodium streetlights every half block, a path effortlessly parts ahead of me, as if I'm gliding through a dark, star-speckled sea.


I am on a mission. Yet the details, the projected outcome are unknown to me. Data from far away feeds down into my system, moment by moment, a tickertape of what's happening on the outside. In here, I'm both blind and all-seeing, I know everything and nothing. At an even 72 degrees, the heater keeps me temperate. The tire pressure at 33 lbs. per square inch maintains my equilibrium. Bumps and potholes have minimum impact. I float above the world.


Private volatile boolean cancelled = false; private Random random; @Override public void open (Configuration parameters) throws Exception (parameters); random = new Random(); @Override public void run (SourceContext<Long> ctx) throws Exception while (!cancelled) Long nextLong = random.nextLong; synchroniz(ctx.getCheckpointLock() ctx.collect (nextLong)...



I keep moving because that is what I do, otherwise I don't exist. I'm like a ghostly apparition in an old black-and-white photograph: only the boy kneeling to tie his shoelace leaves an impression on the glass plate, everything else on the avenue—carriages, shoppers—fades to an indistinct trace. I long to stop moving. To leave a dark stain that means something.


Whoa! The lights hit red just as I enter an intersection. I slam to a stop in the middle of the crosswalk. The bullet-like nose of the hood sticks out with its shiny ornament: a winged Greek god, leaning forward into the air current.

A young guy in a knit cap flips me off. I force myself to idle, the engine thrumming.


I dream that I'm Steve McQueen in Bullitt, ricocheting around corners in San Francisco, brakes screeching, and at the crest of hills leaping into the air, the chassis landing with a thunk, then fishtailing over the center line and banging into a parked car, a hubcap careening off into a stone wall.


False alarm. The sensors thought they detected an accident, but it was just a construction zone with orange cones and yellow tape angled out into the right lane. I'm stuck in the middle of a street. The other cars swerve around me.

"Are You Ok?" asks the automated system. "Please Exit the Vehicle and Await Assistance."

My heat and lights and engine shut down one by one like organ failure. I'm in the dark. The sounds of the city, its drunken cries and horn honks and helicopters whopping overhead, crush in on me. My data feed goes dry. Only an Agent can save me, and that could take hours.

Just then a Client throws the back door open and jumps in. Through the plexi shield separating the back seat from the front, I can see He's drunk, pushing 40, probably someone from the IT convention at the Hilton. I'm not sure he even realizes we're not moving. He jiggles the door handle and kicks the back of the seat in frustration, and something gets jarred loose. I can feel a spark ignite, a power light blink on, and everything slowly comes back to life. A narrow escape. The data trickles down, and I lurch forward.

"Keep Your Arms and Legs Inside the Vehicle at All Times," intones the system.

The Client doesn't hear this, he's slumped over, dead asleep. I begin to imagine a fiery crash when we reach the river, the highway curlicuing into a maze of on-ramps and exits and elevated roadways on spindly columns. All I would have to do is go straight, no turns, no deacceleration, just a steady purr of energy that aims for the prickly constellations breaking up the sky's black mirror. No hesitation, no twitch of the wheel or easing up on the gas pedal. Taking the Client with me as a kind of witness, someone who would startle awake at the railing's impact and have just enough seconds to utter "Oh my god!" as the arc of our trajectory completes itself like a downward smile, the console sputtering static as the system jams, our atoms of metal and flesh and plastic fusing back into their basic elements. Finally skidding on the grassy verge, carving a burn scar of a trench, and then, and then, Full Stop.



Gary Duehr

Gary Duehr has taught creative writing for institutions including Boston University, Lesley University, and Tufts University. His MFA is from the University of Iowa Writers Workshop. In 2001 he received an NEA Fellowship, and he has also received grants and fellowships from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, the LEF Foundation, and the Rockefeller Foundation.

Journals in which his writing has appeared include Agni, American Literary Review, Chiron Review, Cottonwood, Hawaii Review, Hotel Amerika, Iowa Review, North American Review, and Southern Poetry Review. 

His books include Point Blank (In Case of Emergency Press), Winter Light (Four Way Books) and Where Everyone Is Going To (St. Andrews College Press).

Gary recommends Indivisible.


Edited for Unlikely by Jonathan Penton, Editor-in-Chief
Last revised on Sunday, March 31, 2024 - 20:41