George should’ve known something was wrong when he saw the clerk was a hunchback. He didn’t have anything against hunchbacks, but this guy just gave off the wrong vibe. He had mean little eyes.
He sat behind a long receptionist desk. His nametag, pinned to a faded blue button-up shirt, read “Mickey.” He could have been thirty or fifty.
George saw the hunchback through the shop’s front window as he parked out front. He walked in and a little Christmas bell on a length of yarn jingled as it hit the smudged glass of the door.
The reception room was tiny. A few random metal chairs stood under the window on the right side of the door. The counter ran the length of the room, and there was a mud-crusted dark blue rug on the floor. A closed door, also blue, was behind Mickey. The place smelled like oil and sweat. A rickety old metal fan ran in one corner, squeaking as it oscillated.
“What do you need?” Mickey asked. His voice was crotchety, nasal. He had been writing something down when George came in. Now he dropped the pen he was using and regarded George with his squinty eyes.
George didn’t like him right away.
“I’m looking for a distribulator cap for a 68 Scepter,” George said.
You should have just ordered it offline, he told himself.
“That’s an old car,” Mickey said. “They’ll be way towards the back, if we got any at all. Just keep walking down the center aisle and when you get to the 60s start in either side. Haven’t been back there in years. Couldn’t tell you for sure. Go have a look though. Might be one.”
“You don’t know for sure? Aren’t you supposed to know for sure?”
“I just work at the counter, buddy,” said Mickey. He squinted more. The tiny hump rose up off his spine, creating a small tent behind his head, making his shoulders look bigger than they were.
Mickey got up and waddled over to the far end of the desk. George half expected him to drag a foot. Mickey pawed through a stack of dog-eared prints, moved a useless old radio onto a cart loaded with tools behind him, and came back with a large red marker.
“Q and Lobby are out back junkin some Dodges,” he said. “You can get help from them if you want it, though I doubt they’ll want to go all the way back with you for a car as rare as a Scepter.”
He took the cap off the marker.
“Let’s see your hand.”
“Gotta mark ya.”
George slowly extended his hand palm down, berating himself for being cheap and not just ponying up the 6 grand it would’ve taken to buy the part online. It was expensive, but lord would it be easier than hoofing it around in a junkyard owned by a grumpy old hunchback. But when you were restoring a classic most people hadn’t even heard of, you had to be frugal. Especially when you managed a pharmacy and had a family to support.
Mickey slashed a dark red x on the back of George’s hand.
“Let’s em know you’re supposed to be back there,” he said, as if it wasn’t obvious. He dropped the marker on the counter and sat down again.
“I figured,” said George.
“Go round back and start walkin. Center aisle. Cars are organized by year, most recent are closest. The sixties are back past the treeline. Q and Lobby are in the garage but like I said, they probably won’t fancy headin all the way back into the woods for a car as rare as a Scepter.”
“Great,” said George. “Thanks.”
He let the door slam on his way out, hearing the bell give its joyless rattle as it met the glass. He took one last look at the barren, dusty parking lot and the dirt road that ran in front of it. His Impala cooled in its parking spot next to an oil stain in the dust. It had been an hour’s drive here.
It was a warm June day. The sky looked overcast in the distance. The fuzzy grey at the horizon tapered off to a cotton white as George looked higher. The sun tried to burn through it all. The air was still.
There were two huge pole barns behind the reception building. Big and metal and covered in peeling blue paint. The metal walls were sagging with age, giving the barns a stooped, warped look. They seemed to be some fifty feet tall by thirty feet wide.
In between them was a messy courtyard littered with junked cars and car parts. The muddy ground looked chewed up.
Beyond the garages, the land sloped off down to the junkyard — two hundred acres of car remains, stretching as far as the eye could see.
They weren’t lying in the ad,” George thought. “It really is the biggest one I’ve ever seen.” There had to be a working cap in there somewhere. He hoped Q and Lobby were more pleasant than Mickey.
There was some sort of machinery roaring in the barn to his right. George walked towards it, taking care to keep his shoes reasonably clean in the soft mud.
The huge sliding door was open.
George poked his head in.
Overhead hanging florescent lights gave brilliant luminosity to the interior of the barn. There were also lights on stands in the four corners. The cement floor looked damp and was full of twisted metal scraps. There were tools hanging everywhere on the walls, on hooks and on shelves.
Two men, one skinny and the other muscle-bound, were bent over the open hood of a pick-up that looked like it had been stepped on by an angry giant. The cab roof was flattened and appeared to have teeth marks in it. The windshield was a twinkling sheet of shattered glass. The hood leaned against the nearest wall. The tires, headlights, radiator and grill looked like they had not only been removed, but ripped out, possibly with bare hands.
The men had welder’s masks on and long black welder’s mitts. They were holding a strange looking saw to the engine block. Sparks spat out from the spinning blade as it ate into the metal.
What the hell kind of saw is that? thought George as he watched. Must have diamond lining the edges to bite through the engine like that.
The skinny man held the saw, and the other man had his hands around whatever piece it was they were taking out. He looked up at George. George nodded at him, seeing his reflection in the guy’s visor. The big man nodded back, then looked down again.
George stood in the doorway, waiting to be addressed. The saw was extremely loud. There was no way he would be heard if he yelled. He decided to try anyway.
“EXCUSE ME!” he shouted over the din. Neither one of the men appeared to hear him. He pounded the open door with his fist. The men still didn’t look up.
Then, the one with the saw let his finger off the trigger, and the room was instantly silent, save the heavy breathing of the bigger man as the free engine dropped into his arms. He gave a tremendous lurch and lifted the whole engine block out of the car.
“Can I get some help?” asked George, uneasy at the sight of one guy lifting an entire engine block out of a car with his own two hands.
“Help with what?” asked the skinny one. He flipped his visor up. His face was ratty and greasy. The big man staggered over to the pile behind the pick up and set block down and turned around.
George noticed their name tags. The big one was Q. The small one was Lobby.
“Mickey said you guys might be able to help me with a distribulator cap on a 68 Scepter.”
Q flipped his visor up and George started.
Q’s face was hideously deformed, with two buggy eyes pointing in different directions. One of his eyes appeared to missing a lid, and his upper lip looked like a botched cleft palate surgery. He was fat, balding, with a giant chin and a bulging forehead. His mouth was a half-smile, half sneer. He blinked at George, his eyes threatening to pop out of his face.
“Here, let’s just see your hand,” said Lobby. George held out his fist and Lobby examined it.
George felt a unmistakable sense of revulsion at Lobby’s touch, as if he’d just jammed his hand into a bag of rotting food. Then Lobby let go and the feeling was gone.
Lobby looked through his stringy black bangs at George and then up into his eyes. He smiled. His teeth were straight and yellow.
“You’re fine,” he said. “What are you looking for? Distrubulator cap for a Scepter? That’s a walk buddy. We’ll take the cart.”
What about the Fender?” said Q.
“We’ve got all night. Take your break.”
“Ok,” said Q.
He gave George a reproachful look. George realized he’d been staring and jerked his face away.
“I ain’t gonna eat your or anything,” Q said. “Was born like this.”
“Oh,” said George. “Sorry.”
Q had already turned and walked off.
Lobby turned the lights off and led George out to a small golf cart parked alongside the barn.
“This used to be a farm, you know. These here barns were storage areas for harvest.”
They took a seat on the golf cart and Lobby turned a key in the ignition. The motor kicked on. It sounded like a lawnmower, the noise harsh and overbearing.
“Scepter, huh? I know there’s at least a couple back there,” yelled Lobby over the motor. George felt relief at Lobby’s confidence. He was a creepy guy, but if George could just get the damn cap and be off, it’d all be worth it. “That’s an old car, though. Rare, too.”
“Yeah, I’m restoring one,” said George.
“You don’t say.”
The trip back took at least fifteen minutes, Lobby roaring along the muddy paths. They passed row after row.
“Scepters are back here,” said Lobby. “Pretty sure…”
He made some turns, made some twists. Soon, George had lost his way.
The cars were arranged in rows and stacks. The stacks kept getting taller the farther back they went. Soon the stacks almost blotted out the sun. They traveled along the chewed up muddy paths with tufts of yellow grass sticking out on the corners and between the cars.
George looked up at the stacks where the faces of the cars were smushed on top of each other. The stacks looked to be 10, 20 cars high. How had they stacked them that high? George hadn’t seen any cranes, and even so, balancing them like that would be extremely hard.
He was about to say something, but Lobby spoke up again as they made another turn.
“If you come across a Scepter on a bottom row, we’ll just let Q know and he’ll come open it up for you.”
There was a tremendous roaring as they turned another corner, louder than the cart.
Lobby let the cart coast to a stop. The roaring around the corner was intense. George winced at it.
“There’s some Scepters over that way,” said Lobby, pointing at the nearest rows.
“What’s that noise?”
Lobby responded, but George couldn’t hear. It sounded like Lobby had said, “Ozzy.”
Lobby tapped George on the shoulder, nudging him out of the cart. George felt that same nauseous feeling of revulsion at Lobby’s touch, and stepped off the cart, not wanting to be next to Lobby any more.
He made his way across the mud tracks to the rows that Lobby had been pointing at. He looked around but didn’t see anything resembling a Scepter. He didn’t recognize any of these cars. They didn’t even look like they were from the 60s. He couldn’t tell what era they were from.
The clanking and roaring from around the corner was getting louder. It sounded like Q’s buzz saw, but harsher and louder.
“I don’t see any — “ George said, turning around, but then Lobby’s cart gave a tremendous lurch and Lobby tore off at a speed that George never would’ve thought possible for a shitty little go-kart. He was gone in seconds around a corner, not even looking back.
“HEY,” yelled George. He ran after the cart. But Lobby was nowhere to be seen, completely gone.
George turned and started towards the loud machine noises, figuring he could ask the guys driving it for directions. It was time to get out of here. What a fucking hassle. He’d just buy the goddamn cap online and be done with it.
The noises sounded like a generator and something else. Something organic. It was a low, diesel rumbling that then climbed in decibels to a smooth, full-throated roar and back down again. Almost animal.
It was nearly around the nearest stack of cars now, and George could see puffs of black smoke shooting out from behind the rows ahead of him. Whatever it was, it was big, the size of a truck. It would fill the row of cars completely.
All at once, George got an unmistakable sense of dread from the thing. His lizard brain was freaking out.
Then, George had the sensation of being pulled backwards, and then he was in darkness.
“Shh,” said a voice. “He’ll go away in a minute.”
Indeed, the roaring and clanking grew to a crescendo and then subsided after another minute or so.
There was a flare, and George found himself staring into a face that was half man, half machine.
The man half had a white beard and friendly, crooked eyes. His right eye was a head lamp bulb sticking out of the socket and glowing a faint yellow. There was a metal plate affixed to the right side of his head, which George realized was part of a fender.
He had a metal hand fixed out of engine parts, forming three rudimentary fingers.
He extended this hand.
“Hi, I’m Kermit,” he said.
George shook Kermit’s mechanical hand. It was warm.
“What brings you to the junkyard?”
“Uh… Distribulator cap for a 68 Scepter.”
“A Scepter? I’ve never even seen one of those in real life! Awesome. Well, come on, we gotta get back to the garage.”
Kermit started off and George had no choice but to follow.
I really should’ve just ordered it online, he grumbled to himself.
Kermit lead George through narrow aisles between the stacks of cars, holding the flare out in front of him.
They came to an old Crown Vic and Kermit opened the trunk.
“Gonna have to crouch for a bit here.”
Inside the trunk, there was a tunnel leading down into the dirt below the Crown Vic. Kermit jumped in and helped George down. They crouched and shuffled their way along the tunnel, Kermit’s glowing eye leading the way.
Just as George’s claustrophobia was beginning to act up, they emerged in a large underground chamber made of car interiors. There were two car seats over by a console with a flip down TV in one section of the round room. The ceiling was made of interior upholstery, the floor was dirt, covered with floor mats.
“Just in time for dinner,” Kermit said, running over to a stove made out of an engine and an exhaust pipe. There was a covered pot hissing steam on top of it.
Kermit served the two of them what looked like squirrel, on hubcaps. George didn’t touch his. They sat at a table made of a hood, on car seats.
“What was that thing?” George asked.
“That’s Jawsy,” said Kermit. “He’s looking for the diamond engine. He eats anyone who comes in here. He thinks they’re trying to find it before him.”
“He eats anyone?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Kermit. “I’ve learned to avoid him, but Lobby and Q bring people back here all the time. Jawsy eats all of them.”
“Yeah, I know. But it’s only because he thinks they want the diamond engine. It’s not personal. Don’t know why Q and Lobby do it, though.”
“The diamond engine?”
“Yeah, years ago when this place was built, they got a car in that had a engine made entirely of diamond. That’s what I’m looking for too. Been looking for forty years. Can’t leave yet. Still haven’t found it, otherwise I’d be outta here by now.”
“Do you know the way out?”
“Oh, yeah,” said Kermit. “Just go back the way you came.”
“But I don’t know where that is.”
Kermit chewed his squirrel and grease ran down his chin. He shrugged.
“Then I guess you’re fucked.”
“I have a family.”
“I did, too,” said Kermit. “Don’t worry, you get used to it. And maybe we’ll find the diamond engine together. It’s so valuable, splitting it won’t bother me none.”
George set down his hubcap with the roasted rodent corpse on it.
“I appreciate you saving me from the, the — the thing back there, but I gotta get going.”
“Nowhere to go right now.”
“Cause it’ll be night soon. And Jawsy rules the junkyard at night. He rules during the day, too, but he’ll find you at night even easier.”
“What exactly is Jawsy?”
“The thing. The thing you heard earlier.”
“Yeah, but what is he? Is he a person?”
“He’s a monster. Steam shovel like thing. A guy used to control him but he’s been dead for years now. Now it’s just Jawsy. Q and Lobby feed him so he’ll leave them alone. He’s got huge mouth and a huge appetite. He’ll gobble you up before you even know what’s what. And like I said, he hunts best at night.”
George was done with all this. It was time to go.
“How will it be night?” he asked impatiently. “I just got here not half an hour ago. It was 2 o’clock when I got here.”
“Look for yourself,” said Kermit.
A piece of the wall over the hood-table was a door with a crank window covered with some black substance. Kermit reached over from his chair and cranked the window down.
George looked out the window and peered into the evening sky. The sun was indeed setting. He’d been here for hours already. It felt like twenty minutes.
“Oh, God,” he said. Jessica and the kids would be wondering where he was. And he had work in the morning.
He pulled out his phone and wasn’t surprised at all to see he was getting no service. In fact, not only was he getting no service, his phone’s screen was all wonky. It looked like the phone had kernel panic, even though George was pretty sure that didn’t happen to phones. The main screen was all pixelated and janky. The only thing readable was the No Service in the upper left corner. Even the time was fucked up — the numbers weren’t numbers at all.
“Fuck,” said George.
“Look,” said Kermit. “I know it’s a bitch. But you gotta stick with me. I think this junkyard is stuck between dimensions or something. But don’t worry, I’ll get us outta here for sure.”
“How long did you say you’ve been down here?”
“30 years or so, maybe longer.”
“Yeah, I gotta go,” said George. “Thanks anyway.” He got up and headed towards the way they’d come in.
“I’ll avoid him. If you can do it, so can I.”
“I only avoid him cause I ain’t marked.”
Kermit pointed to George’s fist and the red X.
“He sees that. It draws him to you.”
“Can I wash it off?”
“Nope. And you’ll never fight him off.”
“I don’t care. I have to go.”
Kermit looked disappointed.
“A lot of people have done this. None of them have come back.”
“I’ll take my chances.”
Kermit shrugged and crunched into the skull of his roasted rodent. George cringed. Kermit pointed to a door across the chamber.
“There’s the way out,” he said, chewing. What looked like oil dripped down his stubbly chin. “Leads out to the middle of an aisle. Get out and follow the tires til you get to the main road. Head north, if you can find it. After that you’re on your own. Good luck to ya.”
George said thanks to Kermit and walked through the doors. It was cool outside. George looked up.
The cars were stacked on each other in improbable ways. Fender to fender, upright, slanted, impossible angles. It was a Dr. Seussian nightmare. And the stacks went extremely high. It was nerve wracking. They looked like they’d all topple down on you at the slightest disturbance.
He couldn’t hear Jawsy. He couldn’t hear anything except a light night breeze whooshing through the stacks.
He bent down at a small puddle of water and tried to scrub off the red X. He scrubbed and scrubbed, but it remained.
“Dammit,” thought George.
There was a path of large, monster truck-sized tires with tall weeds growing up through them lain along the row George stood in. George followed the tires until he came upon the muddy road.
He looked out, saw nothing. He took a step out into the road.
Almost immediately, lights were upon him. George turned, and there was Jawsy.
Jawsy was indeed an enormous, living, steam shovel-like beast, a huge maw of razor blades his most prominent feature, the size of a front loader’s shovel. His eyes were two headlights on either side of the end effector. He ran on two tank treads on a body that was so splattered with filth and blood that George couldn’t tell what color he was. His neck was hydraulic, pistons and pumps supporting a two jointed metal arm.
He roared at George like a dragon. Steam and smoke and diesel clouds billowed. George saw there was a small cab on Jawsie’s back, but the driver inside was as limp as foam rubber, a dead husk.
There wasn’t much else to do except one thing. George ran, and Jawsie pursued him.
He could feel Jawsy’s huge mouth, reeking of diesel, clamping shut behind him, always only a few inches. He could feel the hot diesel air that Jawsy exhaled. Jawsy’s roar filled the world.
George’s legs flew and his arms pumped. He hadn’t run this hard since high school.
He tried cutting in between a row of cars, but Jawsy swung his huge head and knocked them asunder.
The cars rained down and George turtled up on the ground. He screamed, feeling his way into one of the giant tires and covering himself.
This is it, he thought.
But then, the world stopped falling apart. There was only the noise of Jawsy’s idling engine.
He turned over and saw Jawsy standing over him. He realized Jawsy was looking at something else, something nearby.
George turned and looked for himself.
There was an old hot rod racing car with an engine sticking out of its open hood not ten feet away, exposed by Jawsy trying to get at George.
No, it wasn’t just a car. It was a Scepter. A 68 Scepter. And inside it was the diamond engine.
George stared at it. The engine was made of pure diamond, and it sparkled in Jawsy’s headlights.
Jawsy looked at the Scepter. He looked at George.
He bent downward. George screamed.
Hank walked into the reception building and saw that the clerk was a mean-looking hunchback.
“What do you need?” the guy asked. Really gruff. Hank didn’t like him right away.
“Air hose for a 71 Mustang,” said Hank.
“Think we got some of those,” said the hunchback. His nametag read ‘Mickey’. He held out a red marker.
“Here, give me your hand. Gotta mark ya.”