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The Challenger, Chapter 1: Knock Knock

Copyright 2014, J Jackson Bentley

The house echoed with emptiness, every sound hollow, every room cold, despite the heat outside. Loneliness is such a sad affair, according to a Carpenters’ song, and it is sad and a little depressing. When you are young you think the noise will never end, that the children will never leave and you will never have time alone. You will. Empty nesters, they call us, appropriate and cruelly descriptive.

The nest is even emptier than usual when your wife is the mother of four, the grandmother of eight; those roles carry the heavy burden of responsibility during the summer vacation, when kids are not at school but their parents are at work. Grandma watches, engages, entertains and keeps little ones safe and happy. Grandpa gets home from work and cooks a meal in the microwave and eats, whilst the wheels spin hopefully for an excitable medical records controller from Wichita on Wheel of Fortune, America’s game. Grandpa’s game.

I heard the growl of a muscle car outside. It seemed close. It was already loud but it grew louder still. One could be persuaded that it was pulling onto the gravel driveway of the house. It was a house that boasted of its seclusion, a house where the friendly neighbours were a convenient mile distant, a suitable distance for friendly neighbours. The engine cut out and by the time I reached the door the knocker was lifted and dropped to mark the arrival of a visitor. I unlocked the door and looked through the spyhole. A young man stood nervously on the other side of the door. I opened the door and he smiled.

“Mr Dillon, my name is Grant Schiller and I believe I may have found something that belongs to you.” I clearly looked puzzled because he stepped back and invited me to look on my driveway. I took a step outside so that I could see past the tree, and there in the driveway was a pristine 1960’s Dodge Challenger, just like the one I’d owned as a kid exactly forty years before.
“Please take a closer look,” the young man invited.

As I moved closer I could see the tags. This was the car I had owned, oh so briefly, when I was nineteen years old. I walked around the car and admired the original paintwork, which was rich and deep, thoroughly waxed and shining as if in the showroom. My fingertips traced its curves and contours as I walked around the car, just as they had done in 1974 when I first set eyes on it. The shining black beast looked as aggressive and as ready for a fight as had it all those years ago. It was forty now, I was fifty nine, both of us too old for fighting but both still emitting a sneering aggression when pushed.

I opened the door. The interior looked simple and somewhat barren when compared to modern cars. Straight backed ribbed leather seats in black, three dials and a steering wheel that could have been taken from a tractor, it was so large. Nonetheless, it was beautiful, crazy beautiful, and I almost fell into the seat, feeling all of the passion and adoration the two door car had stirred in me decades before.

The odometer read 13,765 miles, second or third time around I assumed. The interior was not worn at all. Perhaps it had been restored. I opened the glove box and almost feinted with shock when the original handbook came into view, and on top of it a Polaroid photograph of a graduate, a girl, seventeen, shy, pretty and now a grandmother. That Polaroid was faded now, but it had been taped to the dash as soon as it was taken. I hadn’t seen that for forty years, either.

“I need to explain,” Grant Schiller said.

I hardly heard him. I was already lost in memories of days past.

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