“Gearshift” by Patrick R. Wilson

The car, an older gas-powered Lincoln, rolled up smoothly, making no splash in the curbside puddle. Driver’s face (human, of course, the Others could operate few Earth machines) stared impassively behind the wipers clicking in the drizzle.

In the passenger seat rested a brown paper grocery bag on its side.

The bag contained a box.

An icky tingle ran down Travis Lang’s spine.

He got in the back.

“So, what’s the job?”

“Hold, please.”

Travis held, as directed, his tongue, for the ten-minute drive to the next stop, a seedy apartment one notch sketchier than his own.

“We picking something up?”

“Someone,” Driver said.


“Heeeyyy, lookit who we got here,” Golden Al croaked as he slid into the back next to Travis, followed by a tangy cloud of cigars and whisky. His high, curly blond rug bumped the car frame on his way in and now sat crookedly on his liver-spotted head.

“Looking good, Albert,” Travis said. He didn’t. He looked sloppy and jaundiced.

“You got a clue what this is about?”

“Not yet, Al.”

“You won’t believe it,” Golden Al said, settling in without putting on his seat belt, “but that’s Deborah O’Neil’s boy, used to run around Viv’s after school.”

Travis squinted in the murk. Kid had the willowy-pasty physique of all Drivers, but he looked like Michael O’Neil, all right.

“Big Mikey?” Travis said.

“B.D.K. prefers you call us Driver,” Driver said.

“You used to be stocky. Played football, dint you?” Travis said. “Ain’t that something.”

“That’s what I keep saying ‘bout allll this,” Al groused, indirectly, about the Migration, “Ain’t it something.”

Driver, perhaps sensing hostility from the back seat, withdrew the box — a wooden cigar box, crimson and orange, with a silver entwined A-V logo for Avo Uvezian, from Nicaragua — and, with snappy precision, centered it on the armrest between the front seats.

The passengers paused. A wave of nausea surged through Travis’s core.

“We’re leaving the city,” Driver said, elbow on the box to steady it as they pulled away from the curb. “Heading up Mount Desco.”

“For what?” Golden Al said.

“B.D.K. wants you each to tell me how you weren’t the informant,” Driver said. “Whoever is most convincing, lives.”


Informant. Travis would go to jail before he would snitch. He’d done it before. Missed Emily’s high school years sitting in a cooler rather than turn. He was no snitch.

“Maybe I’ll just wait and talk to B.D.K. directly,” Golden Al said.

Travis, watching Driver’s eyes in the rear-view mirror, sensed that the young man was listening carefully, without prompts, without questions.

“Know what I call ‘em?” Al said, leaning in to Travis’s side and gesturing to the box. “‘Alien gearshifts’.”

It was an insult. “Alien” was a derogatory term for Earth’s New Friends, and “gearshift” made the contents of the box sound like little more than a dumb tool.

Driver didn’t react.

“I can wrap this up quick, Driver,” Golden Al said. “Snitch can’t be me, ‘cause I’ve been out of action for weeks. You want I get into the personal specifics, I hadda get my goddamn prostate removed, if you can believe it. I have records. February the first. Puts you in the hospital for weeks and you ain’t up for nothin’ after. I’m not saying Travis is your guy. But between us two lugnuts you’re toting up the hill, it ain’t me.”

“It ain’t me,” Travis said.

Golden Al raised his hands. “All I’m saying I don’t know what you’ve been up to, Travis, all I’m saying. Your daughter and her kids are in a bad way, I heard, so you gotta keep outta jail to keep supportin’ them.”

“Mikey. Driver, I mean,” Travis said. “How can I show you? It’s proving-a-negative territory.”

The spooky kid glanced in the mirror as acknowledgement, but offered no help. Travis noticed the kid’s eyebrows seemed thinner than he remembered, barely there. Classic Driver side effect, like his dilated pupils and narrow shoulders.

“A month. For a prostatectomy,” Travis said.

“Laid up and drugged up, yeah. But you, Travis Lang, were in town, healthy and free as a robin that month.”

“I haven’t been so much as ticketed in years,” Travis growled. “It was not me.”

Then Driver spoke his first words in forty miles.

“I saw you at Viv’s on Valentine’s Day with your girlfriend, Albert,” Driver said. “You’re lying.”

They turned onto a narrow two-lane, starting the windy ascent up Mount Desco.


Golden Al swallowed, then seemed struck by a sudden inspiration.

“They liken the gearshifts to junkyard Dobermans,” Golden Al said, leaning forward. Travis imagined Driver was getting an earful of whisky breath. “If your freaky mental link is the leash, what happens if the leash gets, swish, cut?”

As he spoke, Golden Al placed his flask between his feet like it was fine china, then latched his seatbelt.

Travis waved his index finger below Driver’s eyeline.

Don’t do it. Do nothing.

The old, guilty rat fool did something.


Golden Al pushed himself backwards into his seat and fired once at Driver’s head, splattering the inside windshield with the gore of rare, specially tuned brains.

Driver’s elbow kicked the cigar box to the front passenger floorboard. It remained closed, nested by brown paper.

As Driver’s body slumped, the car sped up. Travis lunged forward and over Driver (no, Mikey, Deborah O’Neil’s boy), grabbed the greasy-bloody gear stalk, and slammed it into Park. The car stopped dead with a squeal and a groan.

Travis’s ears rang. Then, like he’d been stricken with instant food poisoning, without preamble, Travis retched up the remains of dinner: a cheeseburger, fries, and 12 ounces of Miller Lite.

“Everyone says bullets can’t penetrate ‘em,” Golden Al said. “Let’s see.”

He half-stood and unloaded twice into the box in the front.

The box remained closed, with two new holes like smoking eyes.

Golden Al punched the emergency flashers so they wouldn’t get rear-ended into a ravine, then sat back.

They sat in silence, as the flashers ticked.

I’ve hurt people that had it coming, Travis thought. I could have been a better husband and father. But the job required it. Otherwise, I’ve lived right and provided the best I could. But now it’s upside down. Not just right now. The world.

The family boss is from another goddamn planet.

The fucker beside me I’ve known for thirty years ratted us all out.

I’m in a car with a dead human and a presumably dead alien and I can feel…I’m a brick-through-windows guy, but the spooky Others weirdness I feel sometimes tells me that B.D.K. knows what just happened.

Golden Al laughed with relief.

“The gearshift ain’t movin’,” he said. “So now….”

His gun was on Travis and his face was aglow with delight.


“Put it down, Al,” Travis said. “Muddy mountain road in the rain. We’ll call it an accident.”

“Oh, I will, my old friend, I will.”

Keeping the stubby black pistol trained on Travis, Golden Al unbuckled his seat belt, then reached for his flask. Instead of taking a drink, he shook the booze over Mikey’s body and splashed the rest over the alien gearshift’s box, muttering that he wasn’t scared, but he wasn’t opening it just the same.

Travis had a series of thoughts.

I can’t draw on him fast enough.

I can’t punch him fast enough.

Emily, I wish I could tell you goodbye.

Alien gearshift, you’re weird as fuck, but come on, if you’re alive, git him already.

Emily, I wish I could tell you I am sorry. It’s my fault you are where you are in life and I’m supporting you, but never told you. It’s my fault. Always has been.


And then

Travis had only been stoned a few times in his life. The heavy-headed feeling didn’t appeal, made him lazy and dull.

But just then, he had the same time-stretchy feeling he had when he got stoned.

Travis imagined a vast room, a gymnasium, decorated with yellow and purple streamers, Go Hawks painted on the wall: the basketball court from Emily’s old school. Like a nightmare, he was rushing into it, late for her game.

But the gym was empty. A single overhead light shined down at the other end of the court.

In that light stood Emily, practicing shots from the foul line.

Not Emily now (thirties, Travis would have to do the math to know exactly which thirty), but Emily then, in high school, still clean and healthy, at the point in her life where she most needed a better father and Travis was doing five in Lewisburg rather than take a deal (I’m no snitch).

“He’s about to kill you, Dad,” she said, paying attention to the ball and not him.

Travis went to her side, footstep echoes mingling with the thump thump thump of the bouncing ball.

“I think he killed me already, hun,” Travis said.

“No. Not yet.”

“Want to buddy up?” she asked.

Her shot missed, hit the backboard, and bounced back.

“Not following, hun.”

“I’m in the market for a new buddy,” she said. “And since you can hear me, you and me can be buddies.”

In the car, Travis heard the cigar box shift against the stiff brown bag under it, but Golden Al didn’t notice over his own farewell speech: Sometimes you have to do the last thing in the world you want to do….

While Emily in the gym was saying the exact same thing at the same time.

“… to survive, Dad. So I’ll ask again. Can we buddy up?”

Travis only just then understood he was talking — communicating, thought-exchanging — with the ownerless Other, the attack dog curled up in the Avo Uvezian cigar box.

Fragments of thought came to him, realizations. The ickiness he always felt around them, the nausea…maybe he wasn’t an old Luddite stuck in a pre-Migration mindset. Maybe he was unconsciously resisting.

Resisting the bond he could form with the Others.

Maybe he should stop resisting.


“Yeah, Emily,” Travis said. “Let’s buddy up.”

The high school gym disappeared in a snap.

The nausea stopped.

Shit got real clear.

Can I kill him now? Emily, a voice now, asked.

Yeah, hun.


The cigar box lid flew open with a bang, startling Golden Al. The gym-vision had lasted less time than it took for the snitch to complete his final condolences to Travis.

The creature — Travis assumed it was a creature, it was black and bumpy with an eyeless bulb-head and was shiny, organically, wet, but maybe it was a robot, who knew — slithered out of the box like a shortened, ridged python and, with a dismissive flourish, kicked the grocery bag backwards as if to say, I’m awake, bitches.

The thing rose, uncurling, levitating through some energy focused through its body, now resembling, minus wings, its proper and accepted nickname: Dragonfly.

Golden Al shouted NO and fired at it, missing as it dodged. The slugs shattered the windshield. Torrents of rain split through the spider-webbed safety glass and hammered the Lincoln’s well-maintained interior.

The Dragonfly’s phallic head engorged. Greenish, veiny lines came to the surface, like a time-lapse of a rotting leaf in reverse, while its underside blinked red, reflecting the emergency flashers.

The gymnasium. Emily.

A muted noise like a power line transformer exploding underneath a giant pillow.

A perfect no-rim bucket.

An inky, shimmering pulse enveloped Golden Al, first knocking his wig off, exposing a badly spotted head as hairless as a cue ball, then blasting his old yellow eyeballs to goo, left, right. Albert Moscato screamed, but it was nearly silent, hoarse, his throat wrecked from decades of cigars, before burning from the inside.

The man smelled badly alive, but much worse as he cooked, like a booze-soaked taco wrapped in aluminum foil and nuked in the microwave for an hour.

The Dragonfly hovered over Golden Al’s smoldering corpse. Al’s flesh looked like a marshmallow left in a campfire. Perhaps accidentally, perhaps out of a sense of humor, the Dragonfly pulsed at Al’s wig, blasting it back atop his skull: a jaunty blonde crown atop an ebony century egg.

The Dragonfly turned to look at Travis (it had no eyes but it sure as hell was looking).

Emily turned to him, too.

That good?

“Good. Nice shot.”

As if hearing a summoning whistle, the Dragonfly suddenly whirled towards the front of the car. It wriggled through the hole in the windshield, unbothered by the storm.

Travis looked out the back windshield and saw how close they were to the peak of Mount Desco.

And at the top, silhouetted by the security lights around its compound, the unmistakable, gigantic, lobster-like shadow of B.D.K. rose.

Travis tumbled out of the car and lifted his hands. He struggled to maintain clear vision through the pounding water.

I’m not your snitch,” Travis shouted.

I’ll kill him, yeah? Emily said. Wanna be boss?

Travis looked at Emily in the dream gym. She was just as he remembered. Clear-eyed, mischievous smirky smile, high shiny ponytail.

“No, hun. I’m just a brick-through-a-window guy,” he said. “I’ll take whatever’s coming.”

Okie-fine then, Dad.

Travis noted movement all around him.

Four, seven, nine…at least ten Dragonflies that had apparently been hiding in the dark, surrounding him, all sleepily rose and floated towards B.D.K.

B.D.K. paused, evaluating this drenched, puke-soaked old foot soldier, then turned like a great ship and crawled back towards the compound.

Travis let out his held breath.

Wowee. It almost went wrong for you. Lucky you’re a natural. Real lucky.

“A natural what?”

Driver. You’re promoted, Dad. If you want it.

Travis stared at B.D.K.’s shelled, bare back until its long shadow disappeared over the rise.

You receive a substantial raise, if that’s what you’re wondering, Emily said. And a car, natch.

Travis didn’t move. If he accepted, his life would irreversibly change. He would start losing his eyebrows and his pupils would be dilated most of the time, and he’d get wispy and aloof and friendless like all Drivers. And quitting if he didn’t like it…there was no quitting.

But he could take better care of Emily. The real, thirty-something Emily with two kids and her share of problems whose eyes were no longer clear and whose hair was no longer shiny. Same crooked smile, though.

“Accepted,” Travis said. “What now?”

Tradition dictates that you celebrate with a cozy box of cigars.

“And when I’m done with the cigars….”

I get the cozy box, Emily the Dragonfly said.

Patrick R. Wilson lives in Austin, Texas, with his family and Rottweiler-Dachshund mixes Murray and Emmy. He was recently named a semifinalist in the Screencraft Virtual Pitch Spring 2022 contest and has had stories published online and in print.

Originally published in Dark Recesses Press on July 24, 2022.

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