Sleep wouldn't come, despite exhaustion's best efforts to beat me senseless.
Senseless. That's the word I wanted to use, how this made no sense at all, but sadly it did make sense, in a sick kind of way. I didn't believe in curses, or in cars that thirsted for the blood of the innocent, but what I believed didn't matter. What was important was that Mandy believed it, believed in it so strongly that she would go to jail just to escape ownership of the Yellow Peril. She had called the police the moment I had rounded the corner, just so that ownership would revert to me.
But not me specifically. No, I was just the first person who happened to drive off with it.
The entire situation stank of desperation, but there was no need for that. If she had wanted to sell the Peril so badly, why had she advertised that it was cursed and scare off potential buyers?
Two possibilities presented themselves. One, she believed that the terms of the curse were such that ownership could not be transferred without full disclosure or else it would revert back to her; Two, her conscience dictated that she couldn't foist it off on someone who didn't know it was cursed.
But the devil is in the details, as they say, and I kept coming back to the simple truth that she hadn't disclosed the full details of the curse. She'd simply said that it thirsted and left it at that. Yet coyness wasn't in her character. If she were crazy, she'd know the details, even if she invented them herself. If she was superstitious, she'd have followed the classic terms of a Faustian bargain, which she hadn't done.
Because, dammit, I still didn't know how to put gas in that thing.
Crazy things seem sensible with a lack of sleep, and it was under such circumstances that I resolved to figure out what, exactly, was going on with that car, even if I had to take it apart by hand. And so, armed with a motley collection of tools that had seen better days, I went down to my apartment's parking garage, and in the pre-dawn hours lit orange by sodium lights that clicked and buzzed like locusts, I crawled under the Yellow Peril to take a good long look at that gas tank.
There are times in life where you don't realize how foolish you are until you've fully committed to the act. There are times when you suddenly become aware of the imminent possibility of death. And then there are the times that are both, and usually those involve being cornered by a wild or dangerous animal. This is the unreasoning fear that seized me as I lay there, in my sweatclothes, cold concrete floor against my back as I looked up at the five-ton behemoth above me.
I became very aware of all the bolts, rivets, and welds that held the metal in place. I became aware that if any of them failed, there was an excellent chance that something large and heavy would fall and strike me. I could be knocked unconscious and bleed to death, or suffocate, or drown in oil, or any number of similarly unpleasant fates.
I suddenly recalled the flower on the bumper, and how I was sure it hadn't been there the previous day. I had dismissed it as my mind playing tricks on me, fatigue and the lingering effects of police interrogation. But now, the Hummer lurking above me like some great metal predator, I felt very afraid, as if even now, another decal might be blooming on that vast yellow expanse above my head, one more victim whose corpse would feed the daisies.
I am not proud of what happened next, but it's part of the story.
I don't know how long I lay there, paralyzed with that fear, but when I resolved to put it from my mind and raised my wrench, the car seemed to shift ever so slightly. If it were a house, it would have been the faint creaking noise of the structure settling on its foundation. In this case, the suspension creaked ever so slightly, possibly as the metal cooled, but a primordial fear gripped me and in that instant I was an ignorant savage and the Yellow Peril was a slavering beast, perhaps a saber-toothed tiger, legs tensing as it readied to pounce.
I screamed. I screamed like a little girl, loud and long, and clambered out from under the beast, skinning my knees and tearing my clothes on its undercarriage, and I ran back up to my apartment, tools abandoned and forgotten, to lock myself in my bathroom.
When exhaustion finally took me, I was ridiculously grateful for being on the third floor, because I knew that a Hummer couldn't make it up the stairs or into the elevator. I clung to this knowledge like a monster-proof blanket.