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Stort Stories : by Trisha Johnson
 
red light

 

“Red Light.”

“Goddammit!” he screamed as he stood on the brakes, bringing the Blazer to a shuddering halt. He slammed his fist into the steering wheel and glared at the red stoplight. “I swear the ‘mothers’ do that on purpose,” he growled.

It wasn’t the smartest thing he could have said, but it was understandable that he should have said it. Like every other day of the working week, he was driving that stretch of the Santa Monica Boulevard, between ‘Wilshire’ and ‘San Vincente’, where stoplights conspire to impede your progress every hundred yards or less? You know, where you pass the Beverley Hills Police Department on the right? That building that looks more like something an Arabian Prince would have had built to house his harem than a police station?
 
The light changed.

He gripped the steering wheel so tight his knuckles turned white and buried the accelerator. Tires squealed. The truck in the rear view mirror diminished in size so quickly, he imagined, for a moment, he was in a drag racer. Then, the approaching green light got his attention.

It seemed to taunt him… Watching him. Waiting.

Sixty feet.

Fifty feet.

Forty.

Thirty-five…

Thirty-four…

RED!

For a moment he thought of running it, but a police cruiser was sat waiting on the cross street. The tires squealed as he hit the brakes hard, bringing the Blazer to a stop a couple of feet past the white line. The cop stared at him for a few seconds. His stomach felt like he hadn’t eaten for a week. The cop turned the wheel and drove off in the direction he was headed.

The light changed. The cop was crawling along… daring him to push it. He barely touched the accelerator. The Blazer slowly eased up to thirty. The cop was passing the next stop light. He lifted. The light changed to red. As he watched, the cop turned off at the next intersection. He blipped the accelerator, putting the Blazer on notice he’d be asking for maximum power any time now.

Any time now!

He drummed his fingers on the wheel.

Any time now!

He pushed back into his seat, needlessly checked he was in ‘Drive’, blipped the accelerator once more, and verified the belt was snug across his chest.

Any time now!

“Come on, will ya?” he screamed.

The radio suddenly faded and went quiet. He looked at it, noticing the clock. The second digit was frozen at twenty-one. He felt weightless. He sensed he was being pulled from his seat and into that red glow. He was moving at incredible speed, through what seemed to be a series of narrow tunnels. He screamed, but made no sound. He reached an intersection and turned right without slowing down. It was as if every molecule in his body was free to move independently. He didn’t so much bend around the right-angled corner, as flow around it. Then he snapped left, stopped, started, stopped, and turned right. It was chaotic and made no sense. He blinked as something came rushing at him and turned away at the last moment.

He traveled for what seemed to be quite a while, retracing his path several times, stopping frequently to avoid certain collision with other… Other what? It was as if he was made of pure energy, with only two states - stationary and full speed – and he seemed to move from one state to the other and back in the blink of an eye.

Suddenly, he was standing in a small room. Well, not a room, exactly. More a space defined by packets of energy that seemed to be moving through conduits in a highly ordered manner. He recalled seeing a movie clip of trains rolling through a freight yard, but speeded up, like one of those time-lapse sequences they do of the sun passing across the sky, or a flower bud opening? The way the trains move, stop, to let other trains pass, and then go on their way shows there’s intelligence at work, but a viewer can’t seem to see that when it happens at normal speed. He knew he was in the presence of an intelligence, though what sort of intelligence he had no idea.

Suddenly, he had no toes. Then he had no feet. Then his legs, below the knee, vanished! Then the rest of his legs disappeared. His lower body went next, followed by his chest and lastly his head. Then his head re-materialized on top of his reassembled body. He felt a powerful mind probing his.

“Where am I?”

The words, ‘central processing’, entered his mind.

“Where?

“Central processing,” entered his mind a second time.

“What the hell am I doing here?” he yelled.

The thought, “Program execution suspended for sixteen nano-seconds,” entered his mind.

He panicked. “Let me out of here,” he screamed.

“Three… Two… One… Seventy-see-sixteen to red. Sixty-dee-six to yellow… Two… One… Sixty-dee-six to red. Three… Two… One… Seventy-dee-six to yellow. Two… One… Seventy-see-sixteen to yellow… Start timer three-seven-nine… Sixty-dee-six to green. Two… One… Seventy-see-sixteen to green. Resume program execution in….five… four… interrupt… Start timer five-oh-four. Resume program execution in… three… two… one. Program override, authentication, six, two, six, seven, dee, nine…”

Somehow he knew the lights along Pico Boulevard were changing to let a fire truck through.

He watched spellbound as the central processor ran stoplights for two thousand square city blocks. He realized it wasn’t random, now. Nor was it personal. It was pre-programmed, inflexible. There was an almost divine order, here, and if he could just watch for a while, he knew it would be revealed to him in all its awesome complexity.

He was rushing through the tunnels once more. But he wasn’t afraid, this time! He knew where he was headed.

Horns blared!

Someone was banging on the side window.

“You okay, buddy?” some called.

He became aware of the feel of the steering wheel, the pressure of the seat on his buttocks. The music grew louder. He turned and smiled politely at the concerned stranger, then  pressed gently on the accelerator. The Blazer eased forward, its front tires just kissing the white line. The lights changed. He accelerated, smiling, as ahead of him the next light cycled to red… and changed to green just in time for him to pass unhindered. He lifted a touch on the accelerator. The next light turned to green just as he was six feet from the white line.

He laughed out loud.

He was at peace with the world. And he would never, ever, catch another red light!

* * * * * * * *

 
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