Lorna squinted in the glare of headlights on wet metal as her wipers pushed sheets of water off the windshield.

“Anal inter…? No, Richard.”

It was a sad commentary that she had once been attracted to this idiot. “A. I. stands for artificial intelligence. And I’m killing it. There’s no money in the budget, and besides, it creeps me out.”

How in the hell had this idiot been promoted over her?

“You promised them that marketing report by Monday.”

She took a long drag on her cigarette and tried to ignore his angry chipmunk voice, which almost overpowered the throaty tones of the digital navigator stuck to her dash.

“Turn right.”

She ignored both the voice and the turn and dialed down the volume.

“Recalculating,” her global positioning system chastised, sounding irritated.

“Go ahead and recalculate, shithead,” she muttered. “Not you, Richard. Look, it’s done. I’m dictating notes for corporate as we speak.”

“Lorna, that trash mouth is one of the reasons you were passed over,” he chided. “I thought you were working on that.”

“I am,” she announced through teeth clenched so hard she bit through her cigarette. Only wiping the acrid bits of tobacco from her tongue kept her from telling him what she thought of him, saving her career for at least another week.

She pulled the headset free of her tangled mass of ebony hair and lit another cigarette off her first. It was a disgusting habit, and one she’d only taken up because she knew Richard hated it. Now, the smoking had stuck.

Unfortunately, so had he.

“Lorna, exit left,” the disembodied voice thundered from the dashboard.

“Sunnuvabiscuit!” She hit the gravel on the side of the road, her heart lodged so high in her throat she could have spit it out onto the faux wood console.

Instead, she took another drag, stubbed out the butt, and stared at the tracking device.

“Great. Richard must have programmed it,” she muttered. “I’ve always wanted to be on a first name basis with my navigation system.”

“This GPS is systematic, hydromatic, ultramatic. It’s Greased Lightning!”

Lorna groaned. “Travolta’s hot, but who wants to listen to Barbarino telling them how to drive?”

“You’re an excellent driver. But, not on Friday, definitely not on Friday.”

“Needs mute feature,” she lamented into her voice recorder. She jabbed a few buttons as she maneuvered her way back into traffic, but since visibility was so poor, she had to weigh her will to live against her aversion to Dustin Hoffman.

It was a close call.

“Turn left,” the device answered, still in the same annoying man-boy voice. “You’re not listening. Definitely not listening.”

Lorna growled at the machine before turning her attention back to her corporate notes. “Voice choice could be a fun feature, but only if the consumer can control it. The constant shuffle of characters is disorienting.”

“Approaching Benjamin Franklin Bridge.”

“Bridge? Zoom out,” she commanded, and the screen on the GPS shrank until a thin line appeared, bracketed by the words ‘Pennsylvania’ and ‘New Jersey.’

“I don’t want to go to New Jersey,” she wailed. “Jersey is a toilet.”

“Welcome to New Jersey,” the voice chirped, this time in a sultry, Kathleen Turner-like voice. “The happiest place on earth.”

“That’s Disneyland, you idiotic piece of crap. People from Jersey only act happy because they’re on antidepressants.”

Cripes. She was so rattled, she was talking to this thing like it might respond. If it shot back some statistics about New Jersey or depression, she was going to throw it out the window.

“Continue East on 30.”

“I’m not going any further into Jersey than I have to. Are you trying to get me killed? If you’re going to do Kathleen Turner, I’d prefer Jessica Rabbit over Serial Mom.” Lorna gripped the wheel and steered toward the exit on her left.

“No white shoes after Labor Day.”

“What did you say?”

The system remained silent.

“Repeat,” Lorna screamed, slapping the side of the GPS. “Repeat, damn it!” She pulled off the highway and careened around the corner before coming to a stop at the curb on the deserted street.

“No right turn onto JFK.”

“You’re just working too hard,” she muttered, hands trembling as she lit another cigarette and tried to convince herself she’d misheard the movie quote. Because there was simply no way this thing could be responding to her.

Or threatening her.

She exhaled a fat cloud of blue smoke.

“No smoking.” Red lights blinded her as a loud honking noise filled the car.

“Disable parental control,” she hollered over the alarm bells as she crushed out the cigarette in the ashtray.

As the car fell silent, she fumbled for the recorder again. “Parental control system must be removed. The first kid to drive off the road when he lights up is going to sue your ass,” she seethed. “I’d hate to see what this thing does if the kid takes his pants off in the back seat.”

“When you kill a man with his pants down, New Jersey is not the place you want to get caught.”

She froze, the recorder tumbling from her hand and onto the passenger side floor mat.

“Stay calm,” she whispered, afraid it might hear her.

She pressed the off button with shaky fingers, then held her breath until the light faded to a pinprick and blinked out. Peace and quiet. Finally. She closed her eyes and leaned back against the leather headrest, willing her pulse to return to normal.

So, it could quote movies. Badly. It had probably been meant as a joke. The thing was programmed to pick up on whatever she was saying and find a suitable quote. Not that this quote fit, exactly. Though death and New Jersey did seem to go together.

It didn’t matter, she thought, eyeing the dark screen with revulsion. It was staying off. If she had to, she’d pad the report to corporate. She’d used the device long enough to know which features were completely asinine and which actually worked.

For instance, it may have been useful in finding her way out of this humanity-forsaken state. She was beginning to regret the decision to exit the relative safety of the highway.

At least the rain had let up, allowing her to see her surroundings more clearly. Broken and boarded row houses rose up before her, their scars of graffiti and hopelessness starkly illuminated in her headlights.

The device blinked to life. “I love a drive in the country, don’t you?”

Lorna stifled a scream and cowered near the door, the handle digging into the small of her back.

“I don’t like to be ignored, Lorna.”

“Great. What is this, the Jewish mother feature? Next it’ll be telling me to eat.” She struggled to keep her voice steady.

“How about some liver with fava beans and a nice Chianti?”

“Can it, psycho, unless you have something helpful to say.” Lorna began jabbing buttons on the screen, ignoring the irrational fear that it might bite off her fingers.

“Take me home,” she commanded.


She lit another cigarette and waited. Stay calm. So, the thing seemed to have a mind of its own and the capability to turn itself on and off. And now it was speaking in the voices of psycho killers. It was still programmed to navigate, right?

“Satellite unavailable.”

“Your product sucks,” she screamed toward the recorder on the floor. “It’s stranded me in Cracktown!”

She detected movement out of the corner of her eye, and swiveled to see three hulking figures heading toward her idling car. Judging from their hulking swaggers, they were either cartoon villains or gang members weighed down by their layers of chains and tattoos.

She shifted into reverse as they stepped into the street a half block down. Heart pounding, she hit the door lock. Instead of the locks engaging, the windows began to lower.

“Hey, you pussywillows!”

Lorna gaped at the GPS, which was pulsating an eerie blue light as it screamed obscenities. She jammed her finger at the off button, breaking her nail.

It refused to respond.

“I’m all alone, you mother pussbuckets! Come and get me!”

“Shut up!” Lorna hissed, spittle flying from her lips as she scrambled to lock the doors and close the windows. Anything to save her from the thugs outside her window who, judging from the size of the knives they’d pulled, had misinterpreted the term pussywillows.

“Are those guns in your pockets, or are you just happy to see me?”

When the men were mere inches from her bumper, she gave up and threw the car in reverse, barely glancing over her shoulder as she sped backward, more afraid of being shot in the head than of crashing. The seemingly possessed device continued to shriek insults until they were around the corner and out of earshot of her would-be assassins.

“You piece of shit,” Lorna gasped, shifting into drive and flooring it. “If you’re trying to kill me, you failed.”

“Reeeeeecalculating,” it hissed.

Without slowing, she ripped the gadget from the dashboard and tossed it into the backseat, where it bounced off the back window and lay silent.

Lorna lit a cigarette and tried to take comfort in the confined darkness of the car as it filled with a soft haze of smoke. She considered the radio, but opted instead for silence, enjoying the soft hiss of her tires on wet pavement. She was leaving this condemned neighborhood, and when she got back to civilization, she would find herself a competent mental health professional.

If she headed north, she’d eventually run into New York. If not, she was sure to find a nice prostitute she could ask for directions.

As long as she was headed away from the knife-wielding maniacs. Now, she only had that bizarre mechanical nightmare in the backseat to worry about.

Blue light flickered in the rear view mirror.

She flexed her hands on the steering wheel and took a deep breath. “Ignore it,” she muttered to herself. “It can’t hurt you.”

Which immediately brought to mind the terrifying mental image of being strangled to death by its cord.

“Stop it!” she screamed.

“Pop quiz, hotshot. Your GPS has become smarter than you. What do you do?”

“Are you threatening me?” She eyed the rearview mirror, half expecting the thing to crawl over the seat back.

“I’ve got your attention now, don’t I, Lorna? In 200 feet, take ramp right.”

“The hell I will.”

“In 100 feet, take ramp right.”

“Screw you, you psychotic piece of trash.”

“Pop quiz, Lorna. Am I really trying to kill you?”

“I’m not listening. You’re just a figment of my imagination.”

“Get on the highway, Lorna.” The voice had taken on a hard edge. “Take the next ramp, Lorna.”

“Stop saying my name!” she shrieked, shooting past the ramp.

“That was your last chance, Lorna,” the husky voice cried, diabolical laughter filling the car. “The overpass is out. What do you do? What do you do?”

She barely had time to register the impact of the plastic barriers the construction crew had set out before her car was airborne on the break in the concrete. It landed and slid into the concrete wall on the other side with a crash that rattled her teeth and discharged her airbag, tossing her head like a tetherball.

Minutes passed, or maybe hours.

She floated in a cloud of pain and semi-consciousness. She longed to escape into the darkness that beckoned, but always that soft, crazy laughter from the backseat yanked her back.

When the emergency vehicles finally arrived, their flashing lights were too similar to her nightmare to bring her any comfort.

“Have you been drinking, ma’am?”

“How did you miss the roadblock?”

“Were you trying to kill yourself?”

“There was…this gang. And my GPS.” She whispered the words through broken teeth and shattered ribs.

“You got one of those? How do you like it?”

Lorna would have laughed if it hadn’t been agony. “I don’t. Tell my boss.”

“Tell him what?”

“The GPS…” She trailed off. It wasn’t worth the effort. They wouldn’t believe her, anyway. She should have recorded it.

Her eyes popped open. “My recorder,” she wheezed. “On the floor. Please find it.” The voice activation would have picked up every psychotic threat, even the crazy laughter that still echoed in her head.

The EMT returned a moment later, cradling the small black device in his gloved hands. He brushed it free of glass before handing it over.

Lorna struggled to push the button through a haze of pain. “…simply wonderful. Shortens travel time considerably. And the artificial intelligence feature really helps personalize the experience. I recommend we rush these through production and get them to our consumers as soon as possible.”

It was her voice coming out of the recorder, but those were not her words.

“Code blue!” she heard him cry, at the same time she felt a terrifying sucking sensation in her chest.

The EMT pried the recorder from her grip. “Don’t worry,” he whispered, patting her hand. “I can tell it’s important. I’ll make sure to get it to your boss.”

As he strapped an oxygen mask to her face, she could still hear faint laughter echoing from the mangled wreck.

# # #

Hands-Free Annihilation by Shannon Schuren
originally published November 30, 2009



Shannon Schuren has been published in Toasted Cheese Literary Journal, The Chick-Lit Review, and Big Pulp, among other venues.

For more of Shannon's work,
visit her Big Pulp author page


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