In honor of Carmageddon and the closing of the 405, I’ve dug out an old story. This was originally published in CHIMERAWORLD 4 in 2006. While I’d had a few magazine articles published and some short films made before this, “405” is the first piece of fiction I’d ever sold. While I’d like to think I’ve become a much better writer since then, I still think this story is fun and sums up how most of us feel when stuck in gridlock traffic.
And for a real horror story on the Los Angeles freeway system, read about the time a lunatic pulled a pistol on me in traffic: LOS ANGELES AND ROAD RAGE ARE LIKE PB&J.
Here’s the story. Hope you enjoy!
Brad C. Hodson
Los Angeles,CA – Over one hundred died and sixty more were wounded today when a case of road rage sparked a riot. “Today was the worst case of its kind that we’ve ever seen,” commented Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa. “We must all work together to find a way to deal with these issues of aggression.”
* * *
“Move, goddamnit. MOVE!”
Daniel pressed his horn again. The cars stuck in line behind him followed suit. Finally, the truck finished merging toward the exit ramp.
“About damn time.”
It was this way everyday. His commute was about the closest thing to Hell that he could imagine. Up at six so he could leave by seven and get to work by nine. Then off at six to be home by eight. For many commuters in a big city, this was normal. But Daniel lived exactly thirty-two miles from work.
Thirty-two miles. Two hours each way. It was enough to drive him to homicide.
Welcome to Los Angeles, the voice in his head chuckled. That was how it got its rocks off. That voice found all of Daniel’s stress to be hilarious.
His fingers drummed against the steering wheel. He had been staring at the sports car in front of him, some red Italian model with a name that he couldn’t even begin to pronounce, for the last hour. The license plate read “IH8TRFC.” How witty.
You hate traffic? Try experiencing it inside of a six thousand dollar compact with no air conditioning, fuckstick.
Up ahead he could see the domino effect of brake lights disappearing. IH8TRFC’s lights vanished and Daniel let off the brakes. A hundred cars lurched forward five feet before slamming on their brakes again.
Daniel growled. He stuck his head out the window to see what was obstructing traffic. Nothing was visible—just metal and rubber as far as the eye could see. The lines of cars disappeared around theGettyCenter, briefly reappearing before vanishing again over the hill.
Why aren’t we moving? Give me a reason. I just want to get home.
Of course there was no discernible reason. The 405 was notorious for its traffic. It was the clogged artery of Los Angeles. Instead of cholesterol, it was idiots in tricked out Honda Civics and soccer moms in minivans.
L.A. is headed for a heart attack.
Unfortunately there really wasn’t any other way to get from Manhattan Beach to the San Fernando Valley. Everyone that he had met since moving to L.A. had tried to force on him their favorite back roads—Sepulveda, the canyons, La Brea, whatever. At this time of the day they were just as bad.
Hell, Sepulveda doesn’t need much more traffic to be worse than the 405.
* * *
City health officials are blaming the incident on a rise of I.E.D. cases. I.E.D.—or Intermittent Explosive Disorder—is an uncommon disorder of the brain characterized by explosive outbursts of behavior (throwing, breaking things, inflicting physical harm on others) that is disproportional to the provocation and is believed to be the cause of most cases of “road rage.” It is an impulse control disorder in the same class of disorders as pyromania and kleptomania and is sometimes often linked to temporal lobe epilepsy.
“It’s not understood what the underlying cause of I.E.D. is,” said Dr. Allen Pasquale, a professor of Psychiatric Studies at UCLA. “It’s most likely genetic, but there could be several environmental factors as well. Judging from the myriad cases of ‘road rage,’ it could be possible that overexposure to a number of chemicals, from car exhaust to the rubber used on tires, can trigger I.E.D.”
* * *
Daniel stared out his window at the posh Beverly Hills office buildings that dotted the side of the road. He needed a new job. The gym just didn’t pay nearly enough to justify this drive. And then there was the current price of gas. Just the thought of what he was spending every month on fuel made his stomach churn.
He wished he had had the luxury of finding a place a little closer to work, but Manhattan Beach was much more expensive than North Hollywood. Once you got outside of the beach communities, you hit nothing but low-rent, rundown, crime ridden neighborhoods. Then there wasBeverly Hills(also too expensive) and, finally, the Valley. The Valley was the area that Goldilocks would have chosen: not too expensive, not too crime ridden. It was just right.
His cell phone rang. He hit the speaker button. “Daniel here.”
“Hey, man. It’s Jay.” Jay was his next door neighbor and, aside from his wife, really the only person outside of work that Daniel knew here. “I just thought I’d see what you and Kari were doing tonight. Thought you guys might want to grab a beer or something.”
“You have no idea how much I need to get a beer tonight.” Traffic lurched forward again. “I should be home in about- MOTHER FUCKER!” A motorcycle sped over in front of Daniel, almost clipping his front bumper.
“What? Daniel? Are you okay?” Jay’s voice was tinny and robotic from the tiny speaker.
“Yeah, I’m—this asshole just about wrecked his motorcycle into me.”
“Are you on the 405? You should’ve taken Sepulveda, man.”
Daniel sighed. “Let me call you back.” He clicked the phone off and laid on his horn. The leather clad biker in front of him glanced over his shoulder. Daniel threw his hands up in the air.
The biker gave him the finger and turned back around.
Daniel ground his teeth together and hit his steering wheel. “COCKSUCKERMOTHERFUCKER BITCH ASS PIECE OFDOGTURDSHITFESTASSFUCK!”
The heat was getting to him. He felt heavy. Flush. His skin coated with grease. His breath coming out in hot, dry heaves. The hot smell of plastic and dust baking in the sun. Fingers tingling, sweat dripping down his brow and into his eyes, all he wanted to do was kick the biker in the back, feel the man’s spine crack and bend beneath his shoe leather. He wanted him to taste pavement.
His cell phone rang again.
* * *
Whatever the cause may be, there have been a startling number of I.E.D. related riots throughout the United States this year. Three weeks ago, thirteen people were left dead when a “road riot” erupted inNew York’s Holland Tunnel.Seattlehas seen three such riots occur within a four month span. Other incidents have been reported in Knoxville, TN and Birmingham, AL. The incident onLos Angeles’ 405 Freeway, however, is the worst to date.
* * *
He glanced down at the green LCD screen on his phone. “Unknown Caller” flashed back up at him.
Probably a bill collector. He decided to let his voice mail get it.
But after the usual five rings, the voice mail didn’t pick up. The phone just kept ringing. Six rings, then seven. On the eleventh ring, Daniel threw his hands into the air.
“WHO IS THIS?!?!”
“Daniel Blanchett.” The voice sounded familiar. It must be the credit card company, or the car insurance.
“He’s not here right now. May I take a message?”
The voice chuckled. “Daniel, don’t play games with me. I know you’re here because I’m here.”
He looked around at the cars around him. He didn’t recognize any of them. “And who are you?”
“The better question is: what should we do about this damn traffic?”
Daniel laughed. “You got a few dozen grenades, pal?”
The voice didn’t laugh back.
“No, I’m afraid not. I do have something else that would be useful to you, though.”
“Look, I signed the California ‘Do Not Call’ registry and I would appreciate it if you never called this number again.” He clicked his phone off. Telemarketers. Probably selling GPS or something.
The phone rang again. He silenced it.
“It’s rude to hang up on someone, you know.”
Daniel whirled around to look in his back seat, but no one was there. He looked out both of his windows and into his side mirrors. The voice sounded like it was in the car with him.
It must be the stress.
He looked into the backseat again, positive he would catch someone. It was still empty.
He turned back around and caught sight of someone in his rearview. He adjusted it, expecting to see someone outside the car, but there was only steel and chrome and asphalt.
As he moved it back in place he caught his own reflection and had to stop.
In his reflection, he had no eyes. Just two empty sockets covered in bloody scar tissue.
The reflection smiled at him. “Welcome toLos Angeles,” it said.
Daniel screamed and turned the mirror away. The woman in the convertible next to him glanced over before hitting the switch that put her top up.
“Fine, fine. Don’t look at me, then.”
“Who… what are you?” Daniel’s voice shook. Am I losing it?
“You’re not crazy, Daniel. At least not yet.”
“Then what the hell are you?”
It chuckled again. “You know me, Daniel. I’m the voice that always whispers in your head, the one with all the wisecracks and bad advice.”
“What are you doing in my fucking mirror?”
“Well, that’s a hard one to explain. Something about the bending of light and alternate dimensions and… well. I really don’t know. The point, Daniel, is that you are about to burst.”
“From the stress. Your heart can’t take much more of it. You’ve got to let off some steam, my friend, or it’s going to be the end of you.”
Daniel put his head in his hands. He was on the verge of tears. “What should I do?” This is ridiculous, he thought. Then: But it’s probably true.
“Yoga might be good. But that’s later. For now, you need to get out from behind the wheel. Let someone else drive for a change. You deal with this shit day in and day out. Bumper to bumper traffic that’s stopped for no discernable reason whatsoever. I mean, theoretically the interstate goes on forever, right? So why the hell is traffic just at a dead stop? It doesn’t make sense.
“And then there’re assholes like Mr. Hell’s Angels here. These pricks just weave in and out of traffic, in and out, not paying any attention, not taking into account any safety precautions. It’s ridiculous. Don’t these people understand that driving is dangerous? You’re speeding along at sixty miles an hour in a two ton piece of metal. You might as well be driving a fucking missile. But do they get that? Nooooooo….”
Daniel slumped down in his seat and tried to remember everything that he had eaten. Had something gone bad? Was he sick and having some kind of hallucination brought on by a rotten avocado?
“I am not food poisoning, Danny Boy.”
“I just want to go home,” Daniel whined.
“Good. Great. Then we’ll get home. All I want is for you to take the backseat for a bit and let me drive. I’m here for you, man.”
Daniel nodded his head. A tear finally escaped from his right eye. “Okay, okay. You can drive.”
“You’ve made the right choice here, Daniel. Never forget that.”
The rearview mirror exploded and everything went black.
* * *
Daniel was in a tunnel somewhere. It was long and damp, pitch black aside from a single light shining in the distance. It was small, nothing more than a pinprick, but he raced for it. Wherever he was, he didn’t want to lose the light. And so he ran.
It seemed like days. The light grew in small spurts as he sprinted toward it. It was the size of a flashlight, then a headlight. It was a spotlight, and then the size of a room. When he finally reached it, he was surprised to find that it encompassed everything.
Distant screams and what sounded like horns honking echoed in the depths of the light. He wasn’t sure if he should, but he stepped into it.
* * *
Daniel was surprised to find himself still behind the wheel of the car. The car was tilted at an angle, the horizon ramping downhill. He must have hit a pothole or something when he zoned out. He tried to turn the wheel back, but his arms wouldn’t move. His legs refused to release the pedals. His head wouldn’t even turn. The smell of burnt rubber assaulted his nose.
“You said I could drive, Danny,” his mouth said. “Just enjoy the ride.”
* * *
An unidentified witness called the event an “absolute nightmare. It was like everyone gave in to the weight of rage and frustration that hung in the air, the accumulation of twenty years of stalled traffic on this patch of freeway.”
* * *
Hundreds of people answered their cell phones or checked their rearview mirrors at once.
The little grey Kia was first. The driver screamed and floored it, smashing into a motorcyclist in front of him. The biker flew from his bike, the little car rolling right over him. Once on top, the driver pressed the gas and brake at the same time, columns of smoke and the smell of burnt rubber rising into the air as his tires ground into the biker’s face. Then he yelled “I hate traffic, too!” and slammed into the sports car in front of him.
A blonde woman in a BMW convertible was next. Some Beverly Hills trophy wife, more plastic than flesh, put it into reverse and crashed into the pickup truck behind her. The truck’s airbags went off, busting the driver’s nose open. Then the woman put it in drive and rammed into the van in front of her. The van lost control and slammed into the concrete median with a deafening crunch.
Another car crashed into a school bus stuck on the off ramp. Then a delivery truck slammed into the bus’s side. Twenty or thirty people jumped out of their cars and ran over to the bus, screaming, and began rocking it. Another truck killed three of them as it ran into the side of the bus, finally tipping it over and sending it rolling down the hill.
Men with tire irons attacked windshields. Some woman was throwing road flares into drivers’ faces. Sirens went off as cop cars flew up the shoulder of the road. One of them was crushed into the guard rail as a tractor trailer careened into its side. The rest screeched to a halt as officers poured from them like insects. They laughed wildly and just started shooting.
Cars without drivers roared to life. A grey Hummer sped across an overturned motorcycle, leaping into the air and crashing down on a Lotus. The Lotus squealed its tires, begging for mercy, but the Hummer had none to give. Mercy was a human emotion. All that the cars knew was rage.
The police cars must have been tired of their drivers’ tyranny. As the officers fired their weapons, their cruisers kicked into gear and sped over them. Then they reversed the motion, running over them again. Forward, reverse, forward, reverse. They kept at this until a parked flatbed decided to play demolition derby with the law.
Two minivans squared off. They flashed their lights and honked their horns at each other. After a moment of this bizarre ritual, they rammed each other head on. Their tires kicked smoke up into the air as they fought with each other for dominance of this piece of concrete. One finally triumphed over the other, pushing his opponent into the path of a large truck. It drove around its territory in a small circle, daring any other automobiles to try and take its prize. It didn’t take long before another challenger appeared, flashing its lights and honking.
Below the interstate onlookers were shocked that their own automobiles sped toward the on ramp. Blood, metal, rust, and oil painted the road. A few people tried to flee their cars, but the automatic locks didn’t seem to work. One woman was killed by her rising window as she tried to shimmy out of the car.
An explosion rocked the freeway when a news helicopter kamikazed the Oscar Meyer Weiner truck.
* * *
“One minute we were all driving and the next minute things just spiraled out of control,” said Daniel Blanchett, one of the survivors of today’s riot. “I don’t know how it started, but people that on edge just don’t need to be driving in this kind of traffic.”
The 405 Freeway will be shut down between LAX and the Getty Center for the remainder of the week as crews work around the clock to remove wrecked automobiles and clean up the debris. The California Highway Patrol advises citizens to useSepulveda Blvdas an alternate route.