Blessed Iron

Newsgroups: talk.bizarre
From: Chris Reuter
Subject: Blessed Iron
Organization: spikey, black, hard-edged


    He saw me coming as I rounded the bend, walking up the narrow
gravel road to his weed-covered lot.  Saw the briefcase I was
carrying, grinned and pulled a fluorescent orange and black for-sale
sign from the window of a white 1976 Dodge Charger.
    Everything about his place was ancient and weathered--the gas
pumps, the little convenience store, the garage out back and even the
half-dozen or so used cars he had for sale.
    I handed him the briefcase.  "That one?" I asked, pointing to the
Charger.
    "Yup."
    I stepped to the car and slowly ran the palms of my hands along
its rust-spotted flank, making contact.  Nano from my pores spread
over the surface and began reproducing.  I'd set them to use e-to-m
conversion so they wouldn't have to start consuming the car.
    "It's done?" I asked.
    He had opened the case and randomly plucked out a bundle of bills,
flipping through it to make sure they were all twenties, non-
sequential and circulated.  Thicknesses could tell you if it was the
right amount, give or take a few thousand, but he was doing a spot
check for bundles of blank paper or smaller bills.
    Not that he had any reason to distrust me.  My people always dealt
honestly.  Always.
    "It's blessed," he said.  "It'll take you over."
    I touched the car again.  The nano was surveying the car and
compiling a list of complaints--rust, worn parts, old oil, weak
springs, and so on.  Hardly the best vessel for the journey, but I had
no reason to complain--the blessing was important and the rest I could
fix.
    "What exactly," I asked.  "is blessed?  The frame? The engine?
The transmission?"
    "The iron."
    "Which piece?"
    "All of it. Don't add more, at least not until after you've
crossed over.  Don't remove any if you can help it."
    I touched the car again.  "I'll need to make some repairs."
    "That's allowed," he said.  "Moving the iron around doesn't remove
its blessing."
    Hand still on the car, I set the parameters for that.  The nano
took to the rust, removing the oxygen, tweaking carbon levels and
moving the spare material around to where it was needed.  Soon,
everything would be strong again, and the car could be trusted to take
me over.
    A breakdown would be bad.  When you cross, you drive without
stopping.  Stop partway and you dropped back to reality.  _Whose_
reality, though, was open to debate.
    So you never, _ever_ stopped.
    I opened the door, sat in the driver's seat and adjusted it to a
comfortable position.  The keys were in the ignition and the ownership
papers, already signed, in the glove compartment.
    I had a mind in my pocket.  It looked like a cheap automotive
compass, a clear plastic sphere full of fluid and a floating plastic
dial.  I stuck it to the middle of the dash and held it in place until
it could sink its tendrils into the depths of the car.  The crossing
could take half an hour or it could take months.  In the latter case,
I would need something to take over the driving.
    The car had a tape deck, an ancient Alpine.  I flicked it on, then
twisted the key forward a couple of clicks to give it power.  A blast
of static came through three of the four speakers so I turned it off
again.
    "Does the tape deck work?" I asked, getting out of the car.
    He shrugged.  "Probably."
    It's a pointless little thing, I know, but suddenly I was looking
forward to the trip.  I reached in and grabbed the keys, then headed
toward the store.  Nano and e-to-m would take care of food and water
if I needed it and m-to-e would get rid of my wastes, but I was
suddenly into the whole roadtrip thing and for that I'd need supplies.
    The store was what you'd expect at a gas station out in the middle
of nowhere--dark after the brightness outside, a pitted wooden floor
that sagged just a little when you put your weight on it and thudded
hollowly with each step.  Three aisles, fenced by mismatched shelves,
sectioned the place and a freezer case full of Popsicles and
Drumsticks decorated the outside wall.
    I made a quick sweep of the store, filling my arms with bags of
chips, two-litre Coke bottles and various other sorts of diluted sugar
and salt.  Dumping it all on the counter, I saw the bin of bargain
basement music, cassettes of classic rock compilations and TV theme
songs.  I grabbed a handful and tossed them on the counter as well.
    He looked bemused, watching me do my shopping from behind the
counter.
    "I'm getting into the spirit of the thing," I said.
    He rang it all into the old digital cash register and carefully
put everything into several crisp new plastic bags.
    "You know," I said, paying for my food.  "If you're lying--if the
car isn't blessed, it won't kill me.  And my people deal harshly with
those who try to defraud us.  We deal honestly and we demand the same
in return."
    "I've dealt with your people since before you were a hard-on," he
said wearily.
    "I very much doubt that," I answered.
    He almost said something, then changed his mind.  "Hot or pointy?"
    "What?"
    "The demonstration.  You guys always need to do one and never
bother bringing your own tools."  He rolled his eyes.  "I'd leave
stuff lying around but I get kids in here."
    So much for fear and awe.  And stupid of me for being
surprised--this man had seen hundreds of similar demonstrations.
Still, I couldn't help being disappointed by his impassiveness at the
ritual. "Get me something hot, please," I answered.
    He reached under the counter, pulled out a soldiering torch
screwed to a blue propane cylinder, flicked it alight and handed it to
me.
    I adjusted the flame until it was pale blue, then held it just
under my hand.  "There are those," I intoned, "who think that a failed
crossing is enough to stop us.  They believe that when the road ends,
that we simply plow into the rock beyond.  This is true, but where
they are mistaken is in thinking that this will kill us."  I held the
flame up to my hand until a stream of thick black smoke began to rise
from it.
    The flame stayed trained on that spot for a few minutes, letting
the room fill with the smell of burning meat.  When I finally put the
torch down, the wound healed faster than they eye could follow.  I
showed him my undamaged palm.
    "Now," I continued.  "I'll ask you the question one last time and
if you've lied to me so far, or you're unsure of your abilties, or you
were mistaken earlier, or whatever--if your answer is no--I'll simply
take my money back and leave with no grudges."
    "Uh huh."
    "But if you do lie to me," I continued.  "There's nowhere in this
universe that you will be able to hide from our justice.  Do you
understand?"
    "I understand," he said.  He had the decency to at least put on a
serious face for this part of it.
    "Is the car blessed?"
    "Yes," he said.  "The car is blessed."
    He followed me as I went back to the old Dodge.  I tossed the bags
into the passenger seat and then sat down behind the wheel.  A quick
rummage yielded a cassette labled "Drivin' Music".  I grinned, peeled
the shrinkwrap and took the tape out of the box.  After a quick glance
at the label, I half-inserted it into the deck, one push from playing.
The first song was _Born to be Wild_.
    The nano had finished with the engine and transmission, so the car
started on the first crank.  I was about to close the door when he
said, "This isn't the sort of thing you mess with if you want to be a
fraud."
    "I know," I said with what I thought was a dangerous grin.
    "I started that way," he continued.  "Not to your people, mind--I
had more sense than that.  But there are always the dilettantes, the
moneyed naive who hear it from some unreliable source.  They're easy
marks, they don't pass on the secret and tend to die conveniently if
they don't hit the brakes fast enough.
    "But the thing is, I couldn't lie about it.  I thought I could,
but the universe bent around my words.  The blessing wants to be
invoked and it'll take any opportunity, even if it means making lies
into truths.  When you asked me before if I was sure, that's when the
iron became blessed.  Not anything I did before, but the act of
guaranteeing that it had been done.  That was all."
    I nodded.  It seemed called for.
    "So I'm wondering," he continued.  "Do they really exists?  The
ones that lie about the blessing?"
    "Yes," I said.  "There are _so_ many of them.  Some of them have
even taken up spamming."
    "Oh."  He seemed to mourn the death of his theory, although only
the theory.  Good.
    I asked, "Do you regret it?"
    "Why should I?"  He hefted the briefcase.  "I've got everything I
ever wanted--wealth, prestige and immortality.  I'm happier'n a pig
in shit."
    He slammed the door shut and walked away, briefcase dangling from
one arm, toward the garage.
    I watched him go, then eased the car off the lot.  Fifteen minutes
took me to a paved road and another ten took me to the two-lane
highway that would, a couple of hours north of here, end in a solid
wall of rock.
    Usually.
    I cranked the tape deck to eleven and floored it, breaking a
hundred as the first distorted chords of _Born to be Wild_ made their
way into my back teeth.  Suddenly, briefly, it felt good to be alive
and riding blessed iron.





                            --Chris


...fucking insomniac muse...

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