The Ghost OnBoard
By Jeffrey Bishop
The latest automotive technology is eternal.
Tell Time: 8 minutes 30 seconds
Scare Rating: 2/5 Ghosts
On Maggie’s 16th birthday, her dad took her to buy a car. He’d scoured the newspaper for weeks prior, searching for the perfect vehicle: a late-model car in good condition, with low mileage, good reliability, faithfully maintained and with excellent safety features. The holy grail among such cars was the “Sunday-morning driver” — the car that some little old lady owned for just a few years and only used to get to and from the grocery store and church a few times a week. Impossible though it would seem, such a car might be out there waiting for him to find for his little girl.
That car doesn’t really exist, but for a dad like Maggie’s, it’s the standard against which all used car buys were held.
But could it be? Could he have found just such a car? The vehicle that they were going to see that Sunday afternoon had the following ad:
For sale: one used sedan. Low miles and great condition. Stored in a garage, well maintained and lovingly cared for. Sporty but safe — an ideal car for a young new driver. Must sell — priced to move.
Maggie and her dad almost didn’t respond to the ad — it seemed too good to be true. But when they arrived at the residence of its former owner, there it sat in the driveway, gleaming in the early afternoon sunlight.
While Maggie climbed into the driver’s seat to check out the interior features, her dad chatted up the seller, trying to get the real scoop on the car.
“My aunt loved this car,” said the seller in response to the dad’s interrogations. “She’d never driven before my uncle died. She learned to drive at 55! She drove his old car for 10 years before it finally gave out. When she bought this one three years ago, she fell in love with it — she loved the comfort, the styling and all the other modern conveniences and technology of the modern automobile.
“She didn’t drive it much by our standards today; that’s why the miles are so low. But she drove it when she had the need or even a good excuse to drive, and I don’t think she was much happier any other place than inside this car.”
Maggie’s dad liked the story, but wasn’t fully convinced. “So why are you selling the car? And why for such a low price?” he asked.
The man paused — no, hesitated — before finally answering with a sigh. “My aunt died in the car. Behind the wheel. She’d just pulled into the stall at the grocery store and put it into park when she passed away. They say that she had a smile on her face and two hands on the wheel. She must have been there all morning, because rigor mortis had set in, and the EMTs had to pry her hands off the steering wheel.
“Frankly, although I loved my Aunt Esther, I’m a bit creeped out by the notion of driving in the car that she died in. I’m just hoping to offer it at a low enough price that the buyer is able to overlook that. I hope you understand why I was reluctant to tell you.”
Maggie’s dad was just about to respond — to walk away from the deal — when he heard Maggie start the engine and call out to them, “Dad, this car is great! Let’s take it for a test drive!”
Although he was still bothered by the seller’s story, Maggie’s dad assented to a test drive, and the trio piled into the used car and took a quick drive around town. Using her new skills acquired through high school driver’s ed class, Maggie — a careful and skilled driver — deftly piloted the machine through the city square, onto the highway for a high-speed test, then back to the drive where they’d started.
The car ran well, and the look of joy on Maggie’s face as she drove almost clinched it. What sealed the deal for dad was seeing the other potential buyers waiting to check out the car as they approached the man’s house.
“Do you like it, honey?” he asked his daughter as she stopped the car and pulled the emergency brake.
“I love it, Daddy!”
Having driven in the car, Maggie’s father had overcome some of his initial skeevies over the car’s back story, and was equally motivated by his daughter’s enthusiasm and by the sudden appearance of competitors for the deal.
“Then we’ll take it.” he said.
Maggie loved that car every bit as much as did its former owner. She drove it a bit more, perhaps, using it to get to and from school and her cheer practices and other activities. She took care of the car the way her dad taught her, by keeping it clean and maintained regularly. And the car took care of her, too, insofar as it smoothly and reliably got her where she needed to go, with economy and style.
The car proved to be extremely safe, too, owing as much to Maggie’s careful and attentive driving as to the features of the car. However, there was one night that Maggie did run into trouble in the vehicle.
On this evening, the teen had been at the university library, studying for a term paper at that institution’s well-stocked stacks. She was tired when she pointed her car toward home, and not especially familiar with the winding country roads she had to travel. The fog was lifting in the fields to either side of the road, and Maggie was more than a little spooked and anxious to get home.
As she rounded a corner, a ground hog sauntered into her headlights. Maggie braked hard and swerved, anxious to dodge the innocent critter. Her well-intentioned move doomed her. With her hands firmly gripped at 10 o’clock and 2 o’clock on the steering wheel, the car nonetheless left the road and into a rain-swollen pond at the side of the highway.
The car hit the surface of the water nose-first. Its airbags deployed, protecting Maggie, but also stunning her. She didn’t fully grasp what had happened to her until she felt the cold water climbing up her legs, quickly soaking her jeans as the car sank deeper into the water. Immediately in a panic, she drew her legs up to the seat, screaming while she fumbled with the door handle. The door didn’t budge, due of the water pressure against it.
Maggie was still screaming and slapping her hands against the glass window when she noticed a blue light glowing on the rear view mirror, and heard a clear voice calling her name.
“Maggie! Maggie!” called a woman’s voice, seemingly from a speaker near the mirror.
“I know you’re in trouble, Maggie. I can help you, but you’ve got to calm down and listen to me!” said the voice. The blue light ebbed in rhythm with the voice.
Maggie relaxed somewhat at the soothing sound of the voice and at the glowing blue light before her. “This must be the car’s OnBoard safety system!” she thought to herself. “Daddy must have programmed it for me.”
“Oh thank God!” she burst out loud, clearly relieved. “I’m so glad I’m not alone. What can I do?”
“Open the glove box. Press the yellow button in it.” The reply was soothing, firm and confident, all at the same time.
By now, the water was up over the seats, as the car’s heavy engine pulled it nose-first into the lake. Maggie sloshed across to the passenger’s feet to follow the voice’s instruction.
She heard a loud clunk from the back of the car. “What was that?” she asked.
“That was just the trunk, Maggie,” the voice replied. “That’s how you’re going to get out of the car. Climb into the back and pull down the back seat. Then crawl into the trunk. Once there, just push up the trunk lid and jump out.
“The water’s deep and it’s cold,” the disembodied voice added, “but you can do this! Be brave! Help is on the way.”
Maggie did as she was instructed. But she paused as she was about to enter the car’s cavernous trunk.
“Who are you? What’s you’re name?” she asked the voice.
“My name is Esther, dear,” the voice replied. “Now go!”
“Thank you, Esther.” said Maggie. Then she quickly clambered into the trunk and raised the lid as instructed. With the edge of the lake in clear view in the starlight, Maggie focused her sights on it before she jumped into the cold water. As she swam toward the shoreline, she saw the lights of approaching vehicles on the highway. One of them was flashing blue and red. More help had indeed arrived!
Less than 30 minutes later, Maggie was sitting on the back tailgate of an ambulance with a warm blanket wrapped around her. Medics had checked her out and confirmed she was uninjured. Her dad had arrived and sat beside her, giving her comfort and listening as the deputy sheriff took statements from the girl for his accident report.
“So after you realized the doors were stuck shut, you figured out how get out through the trunk?” asked the deputy.
“No,” Maggie said, “at that point I was a mess — I didn’t have a clue how to get out of the car . I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for Esther, from OnBoard.”
“OnBoard? You mean the auto safety and security monitoring system?” asked the deputy, who was plainly incredulous.
“That’s right,” was Maggie’s simple reply.
Maggie’s dad was also perplexed by his daughter’s assertion. He wrapped the blanket more tightly around his daughter before stepping away from the ambulance with the deputy.
“Mister, I’m so glad for you that your little girl is safe,” said the deputy when they were out of Maggie’s hearing. “”I don’t know who this Esther is. But I know one thing for certain: that make, model and year car did not have OnBoard on board.”
“I think you’re right,” said the father, remembering the name of the seller’s aunt. “But she loves that car. Do you suppose we’ll be able to pull it out of this lake for her?”
~ by The Ghost Writer on March 18, 2012.