To say she was a beauty would have been a lie, but to my best friend Rick it was love at first sight. I remember the first day he saw her. It was back in 1976, and it began as an ordinary day at school. It was before the bell rang for first period, and I was as usual, loitering around the doors of the cafeteria, as that was where the student lounge was; and more importantly the pop machines. You couldn't stand to hear mono-tone Hatfield, the history teacher, without a good belt of cola. I was just downing the last of my Dr. Pepper when Rick walked through the doors. He shook his head and mumbled "Man I have got to get a car." I don't know if he was just talking to himself or if he meant for me to answer, but I took a chance.
"What's biting you, old man?" I said as I tossed the metal can into the trash.
"You know what it's like to have your old man drop you off for date? He replied as he brushed his long chestnut locks out of his face. "My old man?" Rick's father was a foreman at the shoe factory in town, who would best be described as Frankenstein meets Ward Cleaver. He dressed like Beaver's dad…suit and tie, but he had stare that could scare young children, and often did. Not a cool look back in the seventies. "He freaked Nancy out." Rick added. "I might as well become a damn monkey!"
"The word is monk." I said. "So why don't you buy Johnny's car. It's for sale." Johnny had a 1969 Chevelle Super Sport Coal Black with red flames. With a 427-ci Corvette powerplant, and dual ram intake and carbs sticking up through the hood, it was without a doubt the fastest car in town.
"Yeah man as soon as I change my name to Rockufeller." He said. "He wants three grand for that thing." Now three grand may not sound like much, but to a teenager in the 1970's it might as well have been three hundred thousand.
"I did see an old Firebird on the bus this morning. It was sitting out in a field under a tree. It was a little……"
Rick burst in his eyes widening for a Firebird was his dream car. "Really where? What kind?"
"Oh man." I replied. "You don't want it…It is in bad shape. Paint is gone….and one of the hood scoops is …."
"It's got scoops?" I could see his brain flashing the words RAM AIR. I told him that it was out on the edge of town and that I would take him out there right after school. All day long he was posed like a hungry cat, waiting, just waiting for that last bell to ring. By the time I got to my car in the parking lot Rick was already standing there waiting. "Come on man! Let's go get my bird."
It was only a short drive to the edge of town where the car was. But it must have seemed as if we were crossing Kansas to Rick. He squirmed and twisted in the seat, and when we got there he bolted from the car and ran to it. It was a bright red Firebird 400 coupe. To say it gleamed would have been a lie., The shine was still there, but it was hiding under a decaying mass of grass seed and tree sap. Rick's eyes could not open wide enough to soak in what he was seeing. He brushed the dust from the side glass and then cupped his hands over his eyes and looked inside. "Oh man!" He said with glee, " A four speed." He lifted the hood and a pair of mice that had taken up residence in the air cleaner scampered down the fender and into grass that was growing up around the Pontiac. "Oh man! I could have some fun with this."
"My boy sure enough did." I heard some one say behind me. It was the old farmer. His face was drawn, and nature's artistic talent had drawn lines on his forehead and curled the ends of his mouth down. "That was my boy's old car. Till he got killed." " Oh no!" I thought it's going to be one of those stories. You know the one the son has a car, goes to Vietnam gets killed, and someone buys the car. "Yep, I bought that for him new." The old man continued. "Got it for him in his sophomore year. Then he was killed in it the night he graduated. Hit a damn tree."
"This car hit a tree?" I asked with disbelief. I had looked the car over besides the tree sap and being an apartment complex for rodents, the only damage I saw was a small dent in the fender on the passenger's side. The old farmer nodded his head.
"They say the car is haunted." He added. My puzzled look must have asked the question, as I didn't say a word. He begin telling me how his son ran over old lady O'Hara's cat. Now rumors has it that Old lady O'Hara is a witch, she is as old as anyone can remember yet she looks like she's in her early sixties. She had never been married, at least that anyone could remember, and she lived in an old two story house on 13th street. She lived there with her cats. "He ran over one of one her cats. Then she put a spell on this car. That on a great day of celebration the driver shall die."
Hey, I am Irish. And I believe him. I looked over at Rick who had the door open and was looking inside the car. "Will she run?" He asked then without a moment of hesitation. He added "it don't matter I'll take her. How much do you want for her?"
"Did you hear what I said?" The farmer asked.
"Yeah! Yeah man. A witch I know. How much?"
"How much you got in your pocket.?"
Rick had just gotten paid. He worked down at Thomas Drive-in flipping burgers. He cracked open his wallet and said "I got a hundred and fifty."
"That's enough." The farmer said. And with that he handed Rick the keys. But he drew them back at the last moment and then added. "But you beware of the changes that are to occur."
Rick got in and with just a little effort the car fired up. The next morning, I was just pulling into the school parking lot, when I heard the rumble of dual exhaust fill the air. I looked over at the bright shiny 1968 Firebird pulled up next to me. The chrome Crager mags gleamed in the sun. The white top was spotless, as was the paint. "Hey what happen to the dent?" I asked as Rick as he stepped out of the car.
"It popped right out." He said. He was wearing dark sunglasses, the mirror type. He stood up and glance over the school yard, and saw Debra Jo, the head cheerleader and homecoming queen, standing next to the gym doors. He pulled down his glasses and flashed her a smile. Which she returned.
"What are you doing?" I said "That is Mike Samson's girlfriend. Mike's last name fit him. He was big and tough, the quarterback of the varsity football team. No one, but no one dared to breathe the same air he did let alone look at Debbie.
Rick shut the door and turn to me and said "Hey if I have to take care of Mike I will. Right now I am going to see if Debbie would like to have some Oysters Rockafeller."
Oysters Rockerfeller? What kind of teenager would eat that. I watched as Rick strolled across the yard, all the guys were giving him the thumbs up, and girls….I hadn't seen that much smiling since the last Miss USA pageant. He strolled right up to Debbie and leaned over her, bracing himself on the wall. I watched as she cooed with every word he said. I couldn't believe my eyes! He was the big man on campus.
Mike appeared. "What are you doing with this nerd?" He snarled at her.
"Hey she is looking for some class, since being with a bum like you." Rick snapped back.
"I am gonna pound your ass." Mike growled as he grabbed Rick by the collar. I knew Rick was in trouble. I should have let him take the beating that he deserved but hey we had known each other since kindergarten. I jumped up and ran across the yard, but I wasn't even half way there, when Rick with one hit dropped Mike to the ground. The mighty Samson had fallen and didn't get back up. He was out cold.
As Rick walked into the school with his arm around Debbie and a crowd cheering behind him, I glanced over towards the football field, which was next to the gym, and I saw her. Old Lady O'Hara standing there stroking a big black cat. Then she glanced over to the Firebird, my eyes couldn't help but follow. I couldn't have looked at the car more then a second then when I turned back she was gone.
Things changed that day. Rick was now one of the cool crowd. He join the football team. Made all state. He was elected student body president. And he and Debbie were voted the cutest couple . And he was offered a full scholarship. Though Rick never ditched me, we were never quite the friends we use to be. Then came graduation night. After his speech, we all journeyed down to the lake to watch the sunrise the next morning. "Hey let's take my car." I said. But Rick insisted that he take his Firebird. "Okay, I said,. I'll follow you." We hadn't gotten more than five miles from town- Rick was just beginning to round the corner; it was not a sharp turn. But suddenly there was a blow out. Rick's Firebird swung over hard to the right and darted off the road and down into a group of trees. I slammed on the brakes, and came to screeching stop. I jumped out of my car and raced down the hill. I could hear Debbie's cries coming from the Firebird. Then I saw it. The car had missed every tree but one, the car had come to rest on the edge of a maple tree. There was only one small dent in the side of the fender on the passenger's side. I swallowed hard and felt a sickening wave overtake me. I knew it even before it was announced. Rick was dead. Killed on a great day of celebration.
That has many years ago, that all happen. And just recently I happen to be driving by the other day,. and I drove by that old farmers house. And there, parked under that tree was Rick's old Firebird., covered in a goo of tree sap. And there standing next to it was old Lady O'Hara petting that cat. Waiting for the next victim. Now if your out roaming around the backwoods of the Ozarks, and you happen to come across a red Firebird sitting under a tree, don't say you haven't been warned.