By Charles Wiegand

White steam suddenly began billowing out from under the hood. He pulled over to the side of the road and parked the troubled car in the gravel. He sat there for a moment without moving, then turned off the engine and slowly got out of the car. He stood outside the car and looked at it, then he looked up the road.

And he wondered.

He looked at the car again, walked to the front, reached into the chrome grill, found the lever, and pulled on it to release the hood. It popped up so he reached under it and pulled on the next little lever and raised the hood up so it stood on its creaky old springs. Steam poured out from the front of the engine. He stepped back from the car and looked at the steaming radiator.

And he wondered.

He looked at the car and scratched his head. He slowly walked along the side of the car looking at it, folded his arms, then around the back, nodded his head, then back up the other side. He was back in front of the car, and the steam continued to spray out of it.

And he wondered.

He turned and looked up the road in the direction the car was pointing. The road was straight as an arrow as far as his eyes could see. Those eyes could see quite well, actually, and not just because he had good vision, but because the scene in front of him was flat. As in flat as a pancake. Flat as a tabletop. Right out to the horizon. It appeared to be a long way to where that arrow-straight pancake-flat road disappeared. He squinted his eyes and gazed at the emptiness of the distance.

And he wondered.

He looked at the engine, the steam still billowing out of it. He walked around the car, again, and stood at the back. He looked in the direction from which he had driven. It too was perfectly flat all the way to the horizon.

And he wondered.

He slowly walked around to the front of the car again but this time something interrupted his thoughts. He looked at the road as it disappeared in the distance and he thought he saw something. Just a tiny speck of darkness that didn’t match the surroundings. He watched it for a minute, no change; then another minute, no change; and another minute, a slight change. This went on for quite some time.

And he wondered.

His left hand went up to raise his hat, an off-white palm-leaf hat with a wide brim all around, off his head. His right arm went up to wipe his brows, but all he accomplished was to wipe the sweat from his sleeveless arm onto his already sweaty forehead. He thought, A short-sleeved shirt?

And he wondered.

He continued watching the speck in the distance and it very slowly, like at the speed of a snail slowly, made its way up the ribbon of road. It was definitely heading in his direction but how long it would take for that speck to arrive, he had no idea. He waited. He stood in the middle of the road. He watched. He folded his arms and frowned.

And he wondered.

He turned and looked at the car. Steam still rising, but a little less than before. He walked to the passenger side, opened the door, and looked inside. He found no bottles of water. He opened the back passenger-side door and looked inside, no bottles of water there, either. He stepped back to his spot in the middle of the road and looked into the distance. The speck was making progress, definitely in his direction, definitely very slowly. He walked to the trunk and pressed the button to open it but it was locked. He straightened up and looked at the trunk lid, the car, the distance, the speck.

And he wondered.

He walked to the driver’s seat and reached for the keys in the ignition on the opposite of the steering column—no keys. No keys?

And he wondered.

He could hear a sound, a faint and somewhat ugly sound, but a sound of something in the distance. He straightened up, looked up the arrow-straight road, and was sure the speck was getting a little bigger. It wasn’t a truck. It wasn’t a car. The sound couldn’t have been either of those types of vehicles. He watched it as it slowly came into view—and finally, he could see it. It was an ancient John Deere tractor being driven by an ancient man. The Ancient pulled up alongside the stricken car, now with only a puff of steam coming from the radiator, and looked at the man.

The man shouted so he could be heard over the noise of the ancient tractor, “Hey! Can you help me?”

The Ancient didn’t hear the man. Probably because he was partly, or mostly, deaf, and that was probably because of the noise of the ancient tractor.

The man yelled at the Ancient, “Can you turn off that noisy rattling bucket of rust? I need your help!”

The Ancient didn’t hear a word that the man yelled at him. He simply turned his gaze forward, reached to a lever somewhere under or at the bottom of the dashboard, pulled the lever, and continued to drive as slow as a slug down the road.

The man walked alongside the ancient rust-covered tractor, because it was so slow, and he again yelled at the Ancient driving it, “Hey! Hey! Old man! Please! I need your help!” But the Ancient just continued on his way as if the man didn’t exist. The man stopped walking alongside the tractor and stood in the middle of the road. He watched the noisy old machine with its Ancient driver so very slowly move away from him.

And he wondered.

He returned to the front of the car. Then he took two steps back and away from it. Then another step away, then four more steps away, five, six, and soon he was a good 12 steps away from the car. He looked at the car, dark blue with chrome. Lots of chrome. It had been built in the early ’50s. It was all original, all as it should have been when it was new, just a bit dusty.

He walked back to the trunk and tried to open it again, but it was locked. He walked back to the driver’s seat, sat down on it, and reached for the keys. They weren’t in the ignition. He lowered the visor, ran his hand under the seat, between the seat cushion and the seat back, inside the glove box, and on top of the dashboard – no key, or keys, anywhere. He looked around, inside the car, even under the backseat. The keys were nowhere to be found. He sat with both hands on the steering wheel, at a perfect 10 and 2, and stared ahead.

And he wondered.

A minute later, he walked back to the front of the car and gave the radiator cap a quick touch. It was cool enough to remove, so he did. He peered into the radiator and it was vacant of any coolant or water. He looked for a reservoir bottle but there wasn’t one. This old car wouldn’t have one of those, he remembered. He wanted to look in the trunk. He looked all around the car and checked his pockets but couldn’t find any keys anywhere. He stood by the side of the car, and looked into the distance ahead, then behind.

And he wondered.

He turned around and looked at that big bright orange-yellow ball in the sky that was both giving him life and trying to kill him at the same time. He reached up to raise his hat, raised his other arm to wipe his brow, and remembered, no sleeves. No sleeves?

And he wondered.

Where are my sleeves? What happened to my sleeves? Why are they not attached to my shirt? Who could have removed them? How could they have been removed without me knowing? When could they have disappeared?

He started to panic. He yelled at nobody because nobody was around to yell at, “Where are my sleeves?”

He paused for a moment, then yelled again, “Why don’t I have sleeves?”

And he wondered.

His heart started to speed up, his blood pressure started to increase, “Why don’t I have sleeves?” he shouted at the top of his lungs. There was no response. There were no people, no animals, and no sounds of any kind. Only that dastardly hot orange-yellow ball in the afternoon sky trying to kill him.

He started to cry, “Where are my sleeves? I need my sleeves! My forehead is sweating so badly! Sleeves! Sleeves! Sleeves!” he cried into the deafening silence. It didn’t respond.
His heart raced, his lungs pumped air in and out as fast as they could and it wasn’t fast enough! His veins and arteries pushed to their limits and he felt tingly all up and down his legs and arms. His blood pressure was almost sky high! “WHERE ARE MY SLEEVES?” he yelled at the top of his lungs. His heart couldn’t handle it anymore, his lungs had reached beyond their capacity, and he collapsed to the ground in front of the car. He cried. His last words were, “Where are my sleeves?”

Charles is a widower who relocated to Colombia in 2013, three years after the death of his wife of 28 years. He taught English to business people but the pandemic/quarantine ended that, so he retired early. His plan now is to travel starting at the end of September, to travel throughout South America and look for a place to call home. Back in the US, he worked in IT and as a computer tech. He has two sons living in the Seattle area in Washington State.

Charles Wiegand has had six short stories published at the beginning of July 2022 in the Bookiwrote Short Stories and Poetry Anthology published on Amazon in ebook and paperback. These were his first published works. They have also accepted six more of his short stories to be published in their winter edition.

He has also written a novel. It has been professionally edited it three times. He will start sending out query letters to lit agents at the end of July. Charles also has two other novels in the works.

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