Reddit Writing Prompt: You buy a used car. After turning on the radio you discover it receives a radio station that can’t be picked up on any other radios you try.
I’m feeling pretty good about this buy. Bank loan would only approve me for a car valued at 120% of the asking price, so Hondas were out… really wanted a Honda, too. Still, the dark blue Hyundai Elantra GT with some surface rust would fit the bill nicely as a daily commuter that I can tinker with.
I pull away from the dealership, the smell of ArmorAll filling my nostrils, masking the true smell lying in wait to reveal itself slowly over the next few weeks. So goes the plight of the pre-owned vehicle purchaser.
As the main road drifts into the onramp for the freeway, I miss fourth gear and lurch forward as it gets cranked into second. I correct myself without losing too much speed, looking around in embarrassment as if the other drivers were judging me with the scorn reserved for a fart in public.
To mask this minor moment, I flip the radio on. Lights come on, numbers fill the digital screen, but no audio comes forth. Hit the scan dial, nothing. It dawns on me that though I scrutinized the mechanical soundness of the machine, I didn’t check the bells and whistles so closely. No worries… this was a project car after all. Just one more thing for me to make perfectly and uniquely my own.
The buttons and knobs continue being molested since I have an hour drive home and nothing better to do. As I approach the last end of the FM dial before it rounds the horn again, I hear a flicker of static. Not enough to catch the auto scan, so I press the manual button, changing the frequency one small decimal point at a time. Finally, I can hear voices coming through, some slight static, but nothing horrible. Enough to fill the silence, which is welcome in any form aside from televangelist. I swear, one “brimstone” and this ride will be a quiet one.
No mention of God or damnation, instead it seemed to be a traffic report. I had made my way well clear of the city and was now on the smaller section of freeway that cuts across rural western NY. The promise of gas and golden arches were plentiful though scarcely much else.
There were two male voices delivering statistics of familiar roads and landmarks, but nothing very relevant to my commute yet. The company is nice, but is turning into background noise for me rather quickly. I pull off around Geneseo to see about a bite to eat for the ride home. Denny’s. That’ll do.
Just as my hand is turning the key in the ignition, I hear the voice mention “86 Dansville”. My fingers are too good at jumping the gun and the radio goes dead as the engine stops. I turn the key again and find the station gone – just static. Shit. That’s just my luck, my main road home potentially bottlenecked.
I hop out of the car and notice the green minivan next to me is occupied by a sole driver, waiting expectantly, perhaps for his passenger to finish their business in the restaurant. I approach the open window.
“Hello, can I help you?”
“Could you do me a favor and turn to 107.7? I heard a whisper of a traffic thing and it’s my only way home.”
The driver looked at me dubiously for a heartbeat, then resigned and adjusted his radio. Silence.
“I got nothing,” he said. “Sure it was 107.7? Never heard of that one before.”
“I’m sure, it was kinda weak though. Thanks anyway.”
He nodded his head dismissively.
“If there’s something going on,” I thought, “maybe I should just beeline it for home and get there before things get seriously backed up. It’s only 15 minutes away.”
Feeling decent about this plan, I hop back in my car and continue the journey. The radio remained on, but silent. I drove down the road, heading back for the freeway. The onramp welcomed me, I shifted properly this time, and as soon as all four wheels were firmly on I-86, the voices sprang out at me, startling me nearly to an audible “Eep.”
“The 390 northbound is looking pretty good for this time of day, nothing too major to report.”, said Voice One
“Nothing besides a little bit of slowing around the 490 downtown area either.”, Voice Two chimes in.
Get to Dansville, I thought. If I have to take side roads, I need to know sooner than later.
My last opportunity for a sideroad in Sonyea came and went. I was locked into going through Dansville. All ahead of me… nothing. Clear roads. A truck here and there. My exit was just a few minutes away.
“Must have been nothing huge”, I thought.
“And to continue our coverage of the accident on I-86 Southbound all the way down in Dansville, police and firefighters are working at clearing the wreckage of that five car pileup.”
I continue looking around, nothing.
Voice One continued, “Police are beginning to set up detours at the Sonyea exit to reroute traffic.”
Great, walled off from behind, too. Must be bad. Where, though? Maybe past my exit on the ass end of Dansville?
“… We’re still getting information on the nature of the cause of the pileup, but it does appear the police have confirmed at least one casualty from the initial vehicle, a blue hatchback.”
Just as a semi truck was coming up behind me, the steering wheel jerked from my hands, a strong force sending me veering into the guardrail. Just before the truck hit me, before everything went into deafening blackness, Voice Two came back on the radio.