A response to Heather Hansen's "3 Words" in Flashy Fiction.
Holding a strawberry shake, Brad kicked the rock along the shoulder imagining that he discarded the memories of Azelle with each kick, but her bombshell, she already had a date for the prom, played over and over in high rotation like a new hit single. An engine whined and Brad turned curious at who drove a manual transmission anymore these days and why they drove in too low a gear, but the cars halogen lights blinded him as the car raced past blowing a wind of dust, gasoline, and pesticides from the cornfields. Slamming on the brakes, the car stopped. And then crept backwards, the red tail lights illuminating the Porsche's tail. A man wearing an oxford shirt, the neck loose, leaned out the window.
"Hey, where are you headed?"
Brad studied the man's stubble-filled face beneath black curly hair, and paused before answering. "Home, over by the old river road."
Without hesitation, almost before Brad had finished his words, the man said, "I'm going that way. You want a ride?"
"Sure." The Porsche's handle felt smooth and cool in the night air.
The radio played They Might Be Giants on an oldies channel, as the man punched the gas squealing the tires. "Why are you out so late?"
"Working on a deadline for the school newspaper," said Brad. Also trying to work up the nerve to ask Azelle to the prom. But, he didn't need to go to the prom. Especially not to see Azelle hang on someone else's arm.
"You didn't answer my question," said the driver.
"I'm sorry, I missed it." Brad bumped into the air as they sped over a hill.
"Do you want to be a beta tester?"
"Weren't you listening?" asked the driver. "We're turning the old McAllister Farm into a sort of amusement park. We can stop on the way."
Brad didn't recall any construction at the McAllister Farm. The light from the dash cast blocky shadows across the driver's face. "Now? It's late."
"It won't take long, besides you've saved time with this ride."
"Is this just a bribe?"
"Oh no, I couldn't leave you walking. If you don't want to try, say so and I'll drop you off by the old river road. Of course, you did say you worked late on the school newspaper, didn't you?"
"Yeah," said Brad.
"Well..." The driver drawled out the word stretching it as they leaned into a curve. "We aren't going to have many beta testers, you can have an exclusive on the story."
"No one's even heard of this thing."
"Too early," said the driver. "You've got to time the publicity. We're almost at that sweet point where we'll promote everywhere. And you'll have the exclusive report on it. Everyone will want to read that."
"They will?" Brad imagined Azelle's smile as she reviewed the numbers of their sold out issue with his cover story.
"Absolutely. So you will beta test the ride?"
"Okay," said Brad.
Looking up, the driver spun the wheel off the road sliding the car skipping across a mowed field to stop with the headlights catching green blades of grass. Outside, he coughed on the dust in the air. Ahead of them, rows of corn husks marched along the horizon. "What is this? A corn maze?"
"No," said the man as he popped the trunk of the Porsche. He took out what looked like a Band-Aid, unrolling the paper backing to extend the adhesive towards Brad.
"What is this?" Brad backed away from the man.
"It's a silk circuit," said the man placing it on Brad's wrist. "It'll jack you into the virtual world."
Brad rolled his eyes but ended up squinting as a bright light drowned away the shadowed corn husks and resolved into a steamboat deck, two wheels thwapping from the sides of the boat as black steam rose from the steam stacks. A man in a white jacket with silver buttons looking like he belonged in one of his sister's Jane Austen movies, sat at a table eating lobster. Brad walked along the deck coming to the edge and saw that they approached the river banks a Ferris wheel turning as the sky went from bright day to the dim purple hues of evening. Anticipating, Brad leaned against the rails knowing that sometimes the best story came from a chance encounter.