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.
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
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
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
“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? 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
“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
Or threatening her.
She exhaled a fat cloud of
“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,
“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?
“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
“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
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
“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
As he strapped an oxygen mask
to her face, she could still hear faint laughter echoing
from the mangled wreck.