Conor Cawley: Mystery Car

Based on true events

It was two in the morning. I knew it was two in the morning, because that’s what time my stupid brain woke me up every night. Not to pee, or pace around, or even take part in the time honored tradition of a midnight snack. As far as I could tell, it was mostly just to piss me off. For weeks, my brain had become a useless alarm clock, poised to ruin any chance at a good night’s rest with a 2am jolt to the body that felt like a taser between the shoulder blades.

In my sleepy stupor, I walked to the bathroom to try to pee anyway, knowing it was a futile effort before my feet hit the off-colored carpet. On my way back, I walked past my side of the bed, past my sleeping wife, drew back a single piece of the white-slatted window blinds, and looked outside, like I had done a thousand times in the last few weeks.

It was still there. Mocking me.

Two weeks ago, someone had carelessly parked their white Chevy Malibu in the fire lane directly across the street from the back window of our apartment. Not entirely uncommon, if not for the fact that the car — in addition to blocking the undeniably important lane reserved for firemen and women to use in the event of a fire — was facing the wrong way.

That’s right, the car was front bumper-to-front bumper with an entire row of correctly-facing parked cars, an affront to the civil engineers that put their blood, sweat, and tears into the calculated design of Strongs Drive in Venice, California. The awkward placement would be considered an OCD nightmare, and after two weeks, had begun tugging on my sleeplessly fragile mental health.

Tonight felt different though.

Sitting by the window with my drowsy head poking through the white, vertical window blinds, I was compelled to watch a bit longer. A force, an urge, and deep-seeded desire washed over me and I couldn’t pull myself away from the window, trapped by the banality of a mid-range coupe parked illegally for the better part of a fortnight.

Much to my inner monologue’s chagrin, the car just sat there. As it had done for the previous two weeks, the car solemnly, stagnantly refused to be interesting, an out-of-place monument to the disappointing nature of the world. The car didn’t even have a vanity license plate, just three letters and four numbers, firmly driving home the message that this car was not intriguing, not exciting, and in no way a respite from the conventionality of everyday life.

Dejected, I crawled back into bed. I did my best to fall back asleep, but the urge persisted. I just laid there, wide-eyed, staring at the white-speckled ceiling, waiting for any and every sound outside to spur my ineffectual imagination to conjure some kind of climax, some kind of ending to this aimless saga.

Then I heard it. Every four or fives seconds, a faint but unmistakable thumping. No sane person in the world would’ve been able to pick it up out of the cacophony of police sirens and ocean waves in Venice Beach, but my brain was far from sane at this point.

I flung myself out of bed, my heart pounding out of my chest. I pushed the blinds out of the way, the loud clacking and clipping miraculously not waking my sleeping wife, as I stared diligently and deranged at the boring, white Chevy Malibu sitting across the street.

But it was nothing. The car continued its morose, mediocre existence, sitting idly in its incorrect locale. The thumping sound had faded to a dull beat that I now realized at the window could’ve easily just been an exacerbated heartbeat in the my ears from overstimulation and under-sleep.

Convinced of my growing insanity, I got back into bed, determined to ignore any and all external stimuli to the contrary, shutting my eyes and closing my ears until I was actually able to fall asleep.

And eventually I did.


The next morning, I was feeling sane again. The deranged, sleepless maniac from the night before — the one that assumed a boring, everyday white Chevy Malibu was the source of some global conspiracy — had dissolved with the rising sun, leaving behind the normal, sensible individual that works from home and plays video games in his spare time.

“Can you take the trash out?” My wife was up much earlier than I was, and in her preparation for the day, had discovered the leftover chicken had gone bad and was stinking up the entire apartment.

I tied up the top of the back, and lugged it down the two flights of precarious stairs, and out to the back door. After unlocking the gate and awkwardly launching the trash bag into the slightly-too-tall bin, I turned and saw the boring, everyday, banal white Chevy Malibu.

It looked much less menacing in the light of day, still parked aimlessly in its unsuitable parking spot, in the face of legal ramifications. I walked over to it. Not to investigate it, but rather to take in the pathetic ineptitude of a vehicle that had tormented me just hours before. This meek, meaningless car would have no bearing on my life from here on out, and you can take that to the bank.

As I turned to walk back into my apartment, a chill shot through my previously tased shoulder blades. The hair on the back of my neck stood at attention like it was welcoming a royal family, as I heard a familiar sound in my ears. Not familiar like a family member, but familiar like a nightmare you had as a child that had reared its ugly as an adult.

I couldn’t have heard it. I didn’t hear it. My cruel, cruel brain is pulling a trick on me again, like it did in the cold, cold hours of the night.

I stand frozen in the middle of the street, afraid to turn around, but I do anyway, because I have to know. I have to know if the car is as mysterious, as perplexing, as truly, truly interesting as I’ve wanted it to be.

As I turn, it still just sits there. Quiet. Normal. But as I walk up to it, I hear it again. The faint, unmistakable sound I was sure I heard last night. And it came from inside the trunk.

“Thump… thump… thump.”


  1. This sort of thing is seen and heard all the time in Seattle. It is parking hell. What you are hearing is the sound of the demons who reside under the hoods of vehicles whose owners are afflicted with Demonic Stupid Park, or DSP, a mind disorder impacting 1 in 5 here in the Emerald City.

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