Carl

Photo by Alex McCarthy on Unsplash.

He sits in my passenger seat. He sniffs and makes the pinchy face I hate. I pretend I don’t see it.

“Hell of a game last night? Am I right?”

“Yeah, I guess.”

“You didn’t watch it? The Eagles were on fire!”

He must know I’m still playing catch-up with how he screwed me on the Peterson account.

“No, I had to work late last night.”

He flicks the lock button repeatedly. I suspect he knows how much this annoys me.

“Hey, man, I’m sorry about what happened with Charlie; he assumed all of it, man. I want you to know how sorry I am. He just assumed it had been my idea. I should’ve corrected him immediately, but…, I’m weak, bro.”

“Forget about it. It’s water under the bridge.”

The guy can’t even say my name.

“Are you sure? I can, no; I will fix this…, today. Right after the staff meeting.”

I must be careful here. Carl must believe I’ve forgiven him.

“Let it go. I have.”

 I sigh with what I hope is enough irritation.

“How’s your espresso? I made it myself. Diane bought me a new machine for our anniversary.”

He takes another sip. I pray I put in enough of the syrup he likes to cover the taste of the other stuff.

“Dude, why don’t you buy a new car?”

The question begins with classic Carl snark, but by the time he hits “new,” he remembers taking credit for my work. The question floats away unanswered, and he returns to flicking the lock button.

I can sense him wanting to apologize again; I let the silence simmer for a beat.

“I could do that.” I enunciate each word, driving home the fact that his betrayal had left me with some financial woes. I want him to think I’m calculating the costs of a new car.

“But I like this car and besides, I can fix this one up. It’s not so bad.”

“Yeah? I never pegged you as the mechanically inclined type, Hank.”

Perfect.

“I might surprise you, Carl.”

Magick is vastly more complicated than mechanics, you insufferable dolt.

He takes another sip of his coffee.

“It’s not too sweet, is it?”

“Not at all. It’s okay, it’s good, not too sweet at all.”

He tilts the cup and swallows, then sets the empty mug in the center console.

“Oh, hey, I got this recently. I hope I didn’t get robbed, but I thought it looked cool.”

I pull out the box. It’s a perfect replica of the As Seen on TV products. I probably spent as much time on the box design as on the potion and incantation.

Carl takes the box and studies it. For today’s ritual to work, he must read the paragraph on the back of the box, out loud.

I turn left on Stemmons and glance at him. He’s still looking at the front of the box.

“Look at the back. Read that first paragraph. That sounds promising, right?”

I’m not sure it has to be read aloud, but I am enjoying this. He reads to himself.

“Out loud, please.” 

My ‘please’ is loaded with guilt; he owes me.

He looks at me, considers it a beat, then says, “Sure.”

He reads it all. He doesn’t even question the three sentences of Latin that appear in the middle.

Carl hands the box back to me, then with more empathy than I thought he could muster, he says, “Hank, you must know resetting your odometer doesn’t make your car new again.”

I pry open the box, pull the plastic tool out of the box, and plug it into the USB port.

“Oh, yea of little faith.”

I scroll through the trip meters on my dashboard. I press and hold the reset button, and the totals reset to zero.

“See? It’s like those miles never happened.”

“Hank…,”

“Look. The fuel gauge has even gone back up to full.”

“Hank…,”

“No. Shut up, Carl.”

I say it calmly, but he recoils as if slapped.

“Now, for the grand finale: the total miles driven. Watch this, Carl.”

The espresso should be almost done with its job by now.

I scroll to the total vehicle miles. The display includes a new button now:

RESET ALL MILES, YES/no?

“Hank, it’s not going…,”

“Shut up, please? I paid $49.99 for this. Hell, the lead in your drink was only eight bucks.”

I stop at the light at Lemon. I look over at Carl. He looks washed out and pale. He looks like he might puke, probably a lot of that in his future.

“But Hank, it’s a scam. You know that.”

“A scam?” I say, sounding shocked.

He nods once. Droplets of sweat appear on his forehead.

“No,” I say, as though I were considering it.

“No,” I say again with certainty. “What I must know, what I should’ve known, is that you would stab me in the back, take credit for my work. Carl, you’re a liar. You’ve always been a miserable narcissistic prick. You’ll probably die a self-absorbed prick, is my guess.”

Carl looks at me. His face is a mask of pure confusion. He knows this situation isn’t right. This isn’t how Hank acts; Hank is just a pawn for him to exploit, take advantage of and never make waves. Somehow, this is all wrong, and he knows it.

“Now, shut up and watch.”

I press ‘YES,’ on the touch display.

The odometer rewinds the miles backward.

Oh, joy. I was afraid it would just instantly jump to zero.

The odometer pauses at 115,013 miles.

“Look, Carl, look.”

The crack in my windshield un-cracks itself from left to right. The scattered dents on my hood audibly pop out of existence.

The odometer pauses at 65,077 miles. It is rewinding faster now.

“It’s happening, Carl.”

I stop for the light on Greenville. He’s in a bad way, shaking and shivering.

“I hope I got the recipe right, Carl. You still have 57,019 miles to go, buddy.”

He says something that’s barely a whisper.

“Speak up, Carl. I can’t hear you.”

I lean towards him.

“What’s happening, Hank?”

“Magick with a ‘k’ is happening, Carl. You’ve wronged me for the last time. My car is aging backward, and you, thanks to the espresso, the incantation you read, and that,” I say, pointing at the probe, “Are aging at an accelerated rate.”

“So, you killed me, poisoned me? To make your car new again?”

I laugh at this.

“That’s not how this works, partner. It’s an exchange of entropy for suffering. Whether you die or not is up to you.”

“But I’ll tell…,”

Carl falls silent when I laugh again. Tears are running down my cheeks. He sounds like a child.

“Carl, look in the mirror, buddy. No one is going to believe you.”

He flips the visor down and studies his expression in the tiny mirror. His jaw drops.

His formerly lustrous, thick black hair is gone. In its place is a damp, sweaty mop of white hair.

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