Post date: March 24, 2020
“Yes, 911 emergency,” a composed but serious female voice broke over the car’s built-in speakerphone.
“My car won’t stop,” I said. “I’m a paraplegic. I have a baby-blue Driveless Prius that just turned onto the highway, heading eastbound out of Sparks. I’m going almost 65 now. The car was supposed to take me to the grocery store and home again. But as soon as it pulled out onto the main street by my house, it made three circuits around town and then decided to take this detour. I have no idea where it’s going and the control screen appears to be frozen. I don’t know what to do. I have a baby in the back seat.”
“What’s your name, sir?”
“Howard. Howard Carlson.”
“Howard, which way is your car headed?” Apparently, she hadn’t caught the direction the first time.
“Eastbound, on Lincoln Highway.”
“Okay, sir. Are the brakes working?”
“Um. . .” I stared down at my legs, my darn freakin’ useless legs that looked like a couple of sticks draped in denim, despite ten months of physical therapy. I’d already tried slipping my dead left foot over the brake and pushing down on my knee with my hands, but I couldn’t get enough resistance to push down on the pedal. There was nothing else handy I could use to poke at the pedals, and there was no way I would crawl under the steering wheel just to get myself stuck in some painful position while trying to use my hands. “I don’t know. I can’t really reach the pedals. I wasn’t supposed to need full functionality to operate this thing you know? Especially not for a trip to the grocery store.”
“Understood, sir. Are you in any position to manually steer the car?”
I gripped the steering wheel with both hands and attempted to wrestle control away from the autopilot. The wheel was stiff but not impossible to maneuver. The car swerved, and a semi I hadn’t noticed creeping up behind me on my right honked its horn. The sound was so loud I about peed my pants. I yelped and let go of the wheel. The autopilot snapped the car back into the left lane.
As though in some sentient primal response to my near-collision with the semi—or whatever the possessed autopilot was thinking—the combustion engine kicked in with a jolt. Revving filled the ghostly silence once occupied by the cruising electric motor, and the car sped up to 75 . . . 80 . . . 85 . . .
“Sir? Are you still with me?”
I gripped the armrests in a death vice. My voice cracked, “Yeah, I can steer a little, but it’s going too fast. It’s speeding up!”
90 . . . 95 . . . My heart leapt to my throat and I cursed. What was going on? I wanted to close my eyes, to look away and brace myself, but I couldn’t. Not with Teresa in the back seat. I had to stop the car, not wait for it to crash.
“Can you manually get the car into neutral?”
“N—neutral?” I stammered.
“Yes. If you can get it into neutral, you may be able to coast down to a stop.”
“No, you don’t understand. I tried putting the car in neutral several times when I drove around town. I even tried put it in park a couple of times when I came to stoplights so I could pull out the key and kill the engine.” I groped the plastic key head I’d dropped into the cup holder between the front seats, wondering if I should mention that I broke off the most important part of the key in the ignition before I decided to make this call.
“The clutch popped straight back into gear every time and the car kept going. The control panel is completely frozen. I can’t get it to switch from autopilot back to manual control, let alone force it into neutral. And at the speed I’m going now, I don’t want to mess with the gears. I may destroy whatever control I do have. I’m telling you, there’s something wrong with the autopilot. This thing’s gone rogue, and I have no idea what it’s doing or where it’s taking us.”
First Publication © Copyright 2014 by Sarah E. Seeley
Standalone Publication © Copyright 2020 by Sarah E. Seeley
All rights are reserved. Please share a link to this excerpt rather than copying. Thank you!
The original publication of “Driveless” in Leading Edge Magazine, Issue 66 was one of the author's first. This publication allowed the author to obtain affiliate membership in the Horror Writers Association, and she is pleased to release this story independently on various platforms.
Paperback ISBN-13: 9780463839324
Ebook ISBN: 9780463839324
If you liked this excerpt and would like to read more more, you can purchase this story on:
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Paperback Edition (Amazon): Coming Soon
Smashwords (Ebook): https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/1011361