HAPPY AS LARRY By Eugene Gramelis
He knew it was coming long before he heard it. He also knew it wouldn’t pull over. But that didn’t stop Larry “Bang-Bang” Sweeney from sticking his thumb out.
A semi with green-and-yellow Federal Interstate plates rattled past without so much as batting a break-light.
“Screw you, too!” Sweeney yelled, kicking at the red dust.
He tore the last Four-X from the six-pack, tossed the plastic rings onto the shoulder. When he was done he belched loudly and hurled the empty can in the direction of the departed truck.
The sun was sinking quickly now, and to make matters worse lightning danced silently over the tops of dead trees in the far distance.
Then his luck seemed to change. About fifty metres up the road he spotted a car with its bonnet up.
The car was a light-blue Monaro—a '68 HK.
A man’s surprised head popped out from behind the bonnet.
“What a beauty,” Sweeny whistled, sticking his hand out: “Larry Sweeney. But everyone calls me Bang-Bang.”
The man closed the bonnet and came away from the front of the Monaro. He was tall and skinny and sinewy, dressed in a navy-blue suit. Sweeney noticed the lack of grease marks on the man’s hands.
The stranger took Sweeney’s hand and squeezed. It was like shaking hands with a rubber hose. “Lars.”
“Having some car troubles, Lars?”
The man turned and looked at the Monaro.
“I can take a look at it for you.”
Sweeny managed one step before Lars’s long, wiry arm blocked his path: “That won’t be necessary.”
By now the night sky was as dark and starless as an oil spill. And that lightning was virtually on top of them. A low rumble accompanied each flash. Sweeny didn’t relish the thought of being caught in the middle of a downpour.
He said to Lars, “Is that an American accent I detect?”
The man starred at Sweeny like he was looking at some kind of strange
“I met some Yanks in Afghanistan. Worked on their tanks. That’s how I got my nickname. I’m an ex-army mechanic. Get it? Bang! Bang! with a wrench. Nothing to do with guns. Now you look like a man who’s running late for an important meeting somewhere, am I right?”
The stranger’s shoulders drooped a little. “Where are you headed?”
“Up north. I have an Aunt in Darwin. Thought I’d pay her a visit. Spend some time with her. Maybe even find a job.” This was his standard line when drifting between pubs in major cities. “Make a deal with you. I’ll get your car purring again if you agree to take me to Darwin.”
A small lump seemed to form on the stranger’s brow and run down the side of his face like a bug scurrying just beneath the skin. But it was dark, and Sweeney thought it might have been his imagination; or the effect of too much beer.
“And if you can’t?” Lars asked.
“Then I’ll be a monkey’s uncle.” Sweeny laughed.
Lars didn’t. “Well?”
This guy was serious.
“Trust me,” Sweeny said in a bad, put-on American accent. “If I can’t get that monster under the hood roaring again, I’ll be your goddamn slave for a day.”
The Yank definitely had a screw loose. Sweeny had him pegged as a closet queer, too. But Sweeny wasn’t worried. Old Bang-Bang hadn’t come across a machine he couldn’t fix yet. By morning he’d be knocking the head off a schooner of liquid gold at The Blue Heeler. The mere thought of it made him feel... well, happy as Larry!
Sweeny walked to the front of the Monaro, and this time Lars made no attempt to stop him. “Pull on the lever,” he called out to Lars. A second later, the bonnet popped open. “So how does a Yank end up with an Aussie icon for a ride? And don’t tell me the hire company gave it to you at the airport—“
Sweeney was momentarily blinded by pulsing waves of light radiating from the engine bay. When the fuzzy green splotches hovering in front of his eyes faded, what he found under the bonnet resembled nothing he had ever seen before. He looked up at Lars. “Is this some kind of joke?”
The stranger laughed. It was a weak, quivery laugh that reminded Sweeny of the sound roaches made with their wings. Sweeny began to step away from the car. But in a blur Lars clamped a sinewy hand over Sweeney’s wrist. “I know—it can be a real bummer when you lose a bet.”
Something brown with barbs on it burst through Lars’s skin and stung Sweeney on the palm. “That will make the trip a little more comfortable,” Lars informed him.
Already Sweeney was starting to feel woozy; a sensation not unlike euphoria swept over him. Lars led Sweeney to the rear of the Monaro and propped him up in the back seat. A moment later, Lars sat in the front and shut the door. He turned the ignition and the dashboard lit up. Whatever powered this vehicle barely made a sound.
“What do you know?” Lars feigned surprise. “It fixed itself. The new model does that. I did try to warn you, but you primates are too full of ego to listen to reason.”
“Where are you taking me?”
“To your slave quarters, of course.” Suddenly the Monaro lurched forward forcing Sweeney deep into the seat. Lars gave the dashboard a pat. “This thing does a thousand light-years to the gallon.”
“I’d like to see a Ford do that,” Sweeney said in a daze. He looked behind him and saw the Earth shrinking in the rear window. Slave for a day! Then again, at least it was just a day. “You’ll bring me back when I’ve served my time, right?”
“Sure,” Lars said, turning around to face him. “A bet’s a bet.” Lars winked. But not like any creature Sweeney had seen before. A thin, transparent film slid vertically across his eye, like a sliding door. “You might want to send your Aunt a postcard when we get to our destination, though. Let her know that she’ll have to manage without you for a while.”
“But why? I’ll be back by tomorrow.”
“Didn’t I tell you? I can be so forgetful sometimes.” Lars’s voice filled with that raspy roach-wing chortle. ”On my world, one day is the equivalent of three hundred Earth years.”
"Eugene Gramelis is a widely-published, award-winning author of suspense and dark fiction. When not writing, he practises law as a barrister in Sydney, Australia, where he resides with his beautiful wife and three gorgeous children. He invites you to walk with him at http://gramelis.blogspot.com"