Various Works

Roadside Assistance

It was a really hot day, but I took advantage of the opportunity to take a ride. But just as I passed the area I was more familiar with, I found myself stranded -- the car overheated. I could smell the coolant before the explosion of vapor and heat. It would have been a good idea to fix the broken heat gauge, but I figured if I checked the fluid regularly there shouldn’t be a problem. Boy was I wrong.

I also hadn’t stuck with my usual habit of having plenty of snacks and drinks with me. I was OK while I was moving, but sitting for a long while waiting in the middle of nowhere for AAA to get me going again led to me getting dehydrated.

There was a house not too far from where I was stuck. I figured I could make it there without any issue, and I’d be able to see my car when help arrived. But I didn’t realize how close to dehydration I already was.

I walked to the house and knocked on the door. The door opened just a crack, without anyone asking who it was. I figured maybe this was someone who didn’t have much contact with others, or something. As I tried to speak, my words started to slur. I babbled a bit, trying to ask for water but was not able to say it correctly. The door closed just a little, then opened, and there was a bottle of water just… floating there. I hadn't said anything coherent; I guess whoever opened the door knew what I needed.

But it was a small bottle, which I drained quickly. Weakly, I asked if I could have some more water, holding the bottle out in front of me.

The bottle was taken from my hands. It didn’t just float away -- I felt a definite yank, but I didn’t see any hands doing it. At the same time the door opened more widely, which I took as an invitation to come in.

I stepped into what appears to be a kitchen. The door I knocked on must have ben the back door, but the only road near the house was the one I walked from, and there was no driveway by the house. I didn’t see or hear anyone inside. I even checked behind the door and didn’t see anyone there, but right then the door swung closed, and a chair at the kitchen table slid away.

Because of the way I was feeling I assumed this was some kind of hallucination. So in a dream or hallucination I can accept an invitation from people I don’t see, right? So I took the hint and, because I was quite weak, I sat in the well-padded chair. It was quite comfortable… but who was it for?

The bottle that was taken from me was hovering below the kitchen sink, and the water was running. Once the bottle was full, the water switched off and the bottle hovered over to me. It floated right over the table with no problem.

Again I drained the water quickly, starting to regain some strength. I was still weak, though, and quite hot. I could use somewhere to stretch out and sleep.

I heard a latch click behind me. I turned to see a door slide open, by itself, and a light switched on inside the room. There was an overstuffed leather recliner directly opposite me in the next room. Again I took this action, the door opening and light switching on, to be an invitation, and it was definitely an inviting-looking chair.

So I got up and walked into the room. As I approached the chair, I said aloud, “Um, is there any way for me to know when AAA gets here to work on my car?” The blinds are raised, and I could see the car clearly through the window.

I thanked… who- or whatever for all their kindness and hospitality, sat down, and fell out. While asleep, I had a strange dream -- I was right where I had sat down, in a reclining chair, and unseen mouths were licking and sucking my toes.

I accepted it for a while. But as soon as I tried to work out how that could be happening, I woke up. I was still lying in the recliner, but when I looked at my feet I could see, or at least feel, that it was really happening.

Even with all that was happening, it was surreal beyond words to feel tongues and mouths working on my feet, when I couldn't see them.

What's more, my socks and shoes were having their own little party on the floor just beyond the chair’s footrest. They were being played with by black leather gloves. One glove wrapped its fingers around the calf of a filled sock, holding it in place as a loose shoelace dragged its tip around the sock's sole. The other glove was tickling the other filled sock, as two separate shoelaces held the sock in place, each anchored to one side of a shoe while the rest of its length wrapped around the sock. Each sock wiggled its toes and twitched around as if it encased a ticklish foot.

'Hello?" I said, looking at my toes.

The licking stopped. But on each toe that was being sucked, the sucking also stopped but the mouth remained, enclosing the toe in a warm cocoon.

"Oh, um, hi," responded a nervous-sounding feminine voice, from the vicinity of my feet.

I truly didn't know what to say next, but I didn't have to figure anything out right away, because right then a more authoritative-sounding voice made a throat clearing sound.

"Having fun, are we, Carmen?" the second voice said, from the doorway. The socks and gloves playing on the floor fell limp.

"Ella!" the first voice said, and I got the distinct impression of the first voice, "Carmen," being a young woman, or whatever was equivalent for… whatever these were. Ella gave off more of a older "boss'' vibe. All the unseen mouths withdrew from my feet.

"This is very unprofessional of you, Carmen," Ella said. "AAA referred this call for roadside assistance, not for the caller to be your personal plaything."

"Ella?" Carmen countered. "I got to your house and saw a car matching the one the call was for, and I did what I was sent here to do. When I came in to let you know, I saw an unfamiliar man who looked so inviting, and, well. I kinda got lost in the moment."

"And it didn't occur to you that the unfamiliar man might be connected to the unfamiliar car, and that maybe he was the customer?"

A sigh. "Like I said, I wasn't thinking," Carmen replied.

"And sir," Carmen said to me, "I'm truly sorry. This does not represent how Magic Fingers Auto Repair typically treats its customers."

"Or guests in the boss's house," Ella added. "Carmen, he was staggering and incoherent when he knocked on my door. I thought he needed water so I brought it to him, and then I let him come in to lie down, cool off, and get his strength back. Not to be licked and sucked on by you."

Then, to me, Ella said, "Sir, please accept my apology for my associate’s attitude. She doesn't get out of the garage too often, as you might imagine. But we were short-handed today so they had to send her out. Again, I'm truly sorry."

I looked toward the door, where Ella's voice had come from, then back at my feet, where Carmen's had come from, and tried to wrap my mind around the idea that there were people there but for some reason I couldn't see them. Finally I said, "I'm still not convinced that this is really happening, and not just a dream or a hallucination. So it will be kind of hard for me to hold a grudge over something that is happening in my dream."

"But sir," said Ella, "I guess you didn't notice the Magic Fingers truck parked in front of your car outside?"

Only then did I look outside and see the SUV with Magic Fingers Auto Repair on it. I had been too busy looking at my toes and trying to figure out what was going on, and why I couldn't see who was down there licking and sucking on them.

"Nope," I said. "I didn't see anything outside until just now. "

"Well, don't you feel a lot better than you did when you came in?"

And I did. My headache was almost gone, I had cooled off quite a bit, and my tongue didn't feel 10 feet thick, so I could speak coherently. But I still wasn't convinced that this wasn't some kind of fever dream. They don't necessarily end with the fever, do they?

"This could still be just some crazy dream," I said.

"I know a way to find out," Ella said, with a tinge of humor in her voice. I heard some rattling in the next room then the distinct sound of a refrigerator door closing. A few seconds later an ice cube hovered into the room at just about my normal eye level.

"If you're dreaming," Ella said, "then this ice cube against your foot would be sure to wake you up."

"I guess it would," I said, watching it in disbelief as it moved closer to my foot. Just before it made contact it occurred to me that, if this were just a dream, feeling my toes being licked and sucked but not seeing anyone there would probably have been enough to wake me up.

The ice cube moved up and down against my foot. I flinched. Nothing else changed.

"See?" Carmen chimed in. "Not a dream."

"Car-men," Ella said. It was plainly a warning. And the voice came from the doorway, same as earlier. Meaning the ice cube had floated in by itself.

"Sorry, boss," Carmen replied meekly.

"OK," I said evenly, not sure of just what to say but pushing on anyway. "If this is not a dream, then, what is it? What's happening here?"

"What's happening, sir," Ella said, "is me showing concern for a stranger who asked for help. Carmen, why don't you tell him what you did, and I'll pick up where you leave off."

"Well," Carmen started, "there was still a faint fluid trail leading up to where the car was parked, so I checked the coolant first. From the smell I figured he had used premium-brand coolant straight, without mixing it." I nodded. "I checked and also saw the hose that ruptured when the coolant overheated. So I replaced the hose, then filled the radiator and overflow tank with a 50-50 mix of coolant and water." My dad had always told me not to use straight coolant in summer, especially one particular brand, but I guess I forgot.

Carmen continued. "Then I checked all the other fluids and hoses, and everything else seems fine. Oil's about a half-quart low, though. I was coming in to ask Ella about that when I saw you, and…"

"And we know the rest," Ella cut in. "Would you like us to add that oil, sir?"

Disembodied voices that helped me when I needed it are asking permission to help me some more? "Yes, please," I said.

"OK, I'll get on that right now," Carmen said.

"Um, no rush, I guess," I said. I was confused but wouldn't have minded more of the attention being paid to my feet. "I mean, maybe it can wait until I'm about to go?"

"I don't have to go anywhere to take care of it," Carmen said. And sure enough, the SUV's rear doors swung open and a large plastic jug hovered out, along with a funnel. The hood of my car had been propped up the whole time, which led to another question.

"Wait a minute," I said. "How much time passed between me calling and you pulling up here?" It didn't look like much time had passed at all, from my vantage point.

"About ten minutes," Carmen said. "And I've been in here with you for another twenty."

"How were you able to check the radiator that soon after the engine overheated?" I said.

"I have an advantage over most mechanics," Carmen said. "I can get up close and personal with a radiator or a hot pipe in ways your usual mechanics wouldn't even dream of." I could hear the smug tone to her voice.

"That's what I meant earlier when I asked what's happening here," I said. "Sorry for being blunt, but what are you?"

"Suffice it to say that we're different from you," Ella said. "It's not confidential, but I feel like anything else I tell you about us would be too much information."

"Hmm," I said. "Would it have any connection to certain stories that have been in the news lately? Tinfoil hat kinda stuff about aliens, fembots, computers coming to life, crazy stuff like that?"

Ella said, "People come up with all kinds of crazy explanations for things they don't understand, especially if they're afraid of them."

"But long story short, yes," Carmen said. "There is some connection."

"Car-men!" Ella said. "If you're finished tending to the customer's car, please take the truck and go back to the base station. You and I need to have a serious talk."

"O-kay," Carmen said, sounding defeated. Then, from the vicinity of the doorway to the kitchen, Carmen's voice said, "Nice meeting you, sir." I got the impression of someone fighting to keep a straight face. Which doesn't sound like it should present a problem for someone who doesn't have a face…

As the door closed, Ella said again. "I really do apologize for my associate there. She does good work but she's a bit… unruly." I watched as my car's hood closed itself, and then a few moments later, I heard the door open and close again, and my keys hovered into the room to rest on a table top. But the hood didn't even close until after Carmen had pulled off in the SUV. Did Ella bring me my keys?

"You're welcome to relax until you feel comfortable driving again," Ella said. "Would you like anything to eat in the meantime? I've been told I make a mean roast beef sandwich."

"I feel OK," I said, "but I was kinda messed up there. I think I better stay put a while longer. And a roast beef sandwich sounds great."

I heard the fridge open, and saw the meat, bread, condiments, and other things hover over ot the table. Then from my vantage point I got to watch my sandwich make itself.


Later in my car…

I put it in drive, but the wheel began to turn on its own as the car accelerated into traffic.

I heard a giggle. It was Carmen's voice.

"Hi there, sugar toes," she said.

Hands took hold of my wrists and pulled them away from the steering wheel as the car proceeded to drive itself.

"Huh?" I said. "I saw the Magic Fingers truck pull away. Didn't you leave?"

Carmen snorted. "The truck could find its way back without me. I needed to find something else. And I'm sure Ella won't miss me one bit. She probably already had a replacement lined up."


Still later, at Magic Fingers…

"Ella, I see mobile 3 came back on its own. Was there trouble at your place?"

Ella snorted. "No -- at least not with the customer's car. But Carmen got up close and personal with the customer in my house, though."

A gasp. "Inside your house? For real?"

"Yes, really. Poor guy was dehydrated and could hardly talk, so I gave him water and let him come in to cool off and get his strength back." Ella paused. "She snuck up on the guy while he was passed out sleeping and started playing with his feet!"

"Mm-hmm," replied the other voice. "But are you upset because of what Carmen did or because she got to him before you did?"

"I don't know what it is with that girl," Ella said. "But she never came back, and sent the truck back by itself. She must have taken off with the guy. Which isn't surprising at all really. Sounds like just the kind of thing she would do… again."

"'Again'?" The other voice repeated. "Seriously? And you took her back?"

Ella sighed. "I took her back. She's better than most others at figuring out any problem with a car pretty quickly. But this was the last straw. She won't be coming back."


OK, so what happens now?” I said, watching nervously as my car navigated the road on its own. My wrists were being held against the driver’s seat while my feet were held away from the pedals, as the unseen entity, Carmen, who answered my call for roadside assistance, had now taken control of the car with me in it.

Hmm,” her voice replied, with a touch of humor. “I was thinking about picking up where we left off back at Ella’s house. Surely more of you needs attention than just your sweet toes.” She laughed as she mentioned my toes. “Your socks and shoes seemed to be enjoying themselves too. I bet they never got that chance before.”

Um, no, I’m sure they haven’t,” I said, as the car made its way into an exit lane. “Where are you planning to take me?”

Re-laaax,” her voice whispered in my right ear, as unseen lips pecked my neck. “You’re in good hands with Carmen.”

The lips continued lightly kissing my neck as the car pulled to a stop behind other traffic. I’d never seen it navigate itself like this before, steering wheel and pedals all moving themselves as needed without any input from me.

The car turned right and immediately pulled into a parking lot, parallel to a blue panel van. The van’s side door slid open and a large duffel bag hovered out and into my opened trunk, which slammed itself shut.

Looks like you had this all planned,” I said, nervously watching as my car backed itself out of the parking space and pulled out of the lot into traffic.

Kinda,” Carmen said. The invisible lips kissing my neck never let up as her voice spoke. “I was just waiting for the right one to come along, and you were it!” She said that with a giggle, as the hands on my wrists and ankles squeezed to emphasize “it.”

So you don’t normally go around sucking on toes when you get sent on AAA calls,” I said.

Oh, that job was just something to do,” she said. “I was always interested in cars, and figured that AAA would give me the chance to do some repairs, help some folks out, and maybe meet some cute guys and girls in the process.”

So how long--” I started, before there was the blaring sounds of what I could only hope was a smartphone ringing. It was the synth hook from Usher’s song “Yeah!!!”, and I did not have that song on my phone. Neither had there been any music playing.

Hold on,” she said. “I need to take this call.” The tone of her voice changed but otherwise there was no visible sign of a phone conversation, not even a phone.

Hey!” she said. “What’s up?... Yeah, yeah. It was time, don’t you think?... Yup, just like I told you I would. Thanks for leaving my stuff in the van, Ivan. I owe you -- well, now you owe me less.” Then came musical laughter at her little joke. Through all this the lips never let up in their pecking my neck, my cheek, even my ear.

You know how I work,” she said. “Well, you know something about how I work. You help me, I help you. You don’t help me, you pay… Oh come on, it wasn’t that bad. Your girl was just a scaredy-cat. But you upgraded, right?... And I promise you, one of us will find your ex, and make her pay for leaving you. OK, listen, I gotta go. See you soon!” And with that, apparently, the call ended. There was even a little digital chirp at the end.

She sighed, a happy sound that seemed right at home with the persona that was coming together in my head, even though it wasn’t necessary without lungs to expel it. “So much fun to have people who… get it, you know?” she said. Before i could reply, or even figure out if she was looking for a reply, she continued. “You get it, right?”

Um, get what?” I said.

That my kind is not the menace superstitious people make us out to be, some kind of ghost or something,” she said. “I’m just a fun-loving gal who happens to be invisible and not tied to a body. Someone came up with the term digital ghost. I’m not crazy about it, but I guess it kinda fits.”

Well, I didn’t know what to make of those stories, once I found out that they weren’t fake news,” I said. “But I never got the ‘oh no, they’re gonna kill us all’ or ‘they’re gonna take over the world’ vibe.”

So what did you think?” she asked. All the kissing stopped, but the hands holding my wrists and ankles tightened their grip just slightly.

Well, I figured out kinda quick that you weren’t all the same,” I said. The hands loosened their grip. “In time it seemed like you all have all kinds of origin stories. I was pretty sure there were plenty just like you, who just wanna have fun.”

An invisible hand softly gripped my face and turned it toward the empty passenger seat. “That,” she said, “was probably the best answer you could have given.” And with that unseen lips pressed against mine in a real kiss. It lasted only a couple of seconds though.

Oh, my goodness,” her voice said. “I’m great at multitasking, as you can see.” A lone fingertip dragged downward against the right side of my face. “But that is one of the few things that could make me drive off the side of the road. I’d better get you somewhere to stay, and we can maybe continue there. How does that sound?”

Considering her control of the situation, I didn’t think she was really seeking my opinion, but I figured I’d better play along. “Sounds good to me,” I said. “But I have a question.”

Shoot,” she said. “But I reserve the right not to answer.”

OK,” I said. “During your phone call, you said, ‘You help me, I help you. You don’t help me, you pay.’ Am I right to guess there’s not that much difference between the two?”

She burst out in a loud giggle as what felt like an invisible body pressed against me in a hug. Arms wrapped around me from the side, as an unseen face pressed against my cheek. “You really do get it,” she said. Her voice came from the same general vicinity of the passenger seat, not from the unseen face hugging me. “Some people really need to be punished, but I leave that to others. Not my thing,” But when she broke the invisible hug, a hand pressed against the left side of my face, drawing me to the right as unseen lips pecked me on the cheek. Then the hand turned my face to the right again, as the unseen lips kissed mine again. “But I don’t think I’d ever have to punish you.”

I’d do whatever I needed to to prevent that from happening...