From Inside a Ford Pinto

aiden james


Oats clicked on the blinker of his brown Ford Pinto and turned a hard left down the alleyway between Thorn and Chester Street. The headlights shook against tin garbage cans and reflected back onto the Pinto’s pea-green hood as Lenny lit his second cigarette in a fresh chain and jammed the car-lighter back into the center console. 

“Six hundred and sixteen bucks, Oats! Six hundred and sixteen God-damned dollars!” 

“I know… I know alright! Just let me think for a second, Lenny!.. Would, ya? And, stop breathing your breath in my face. It smells like a fucking dog fart.”

“Why don’t you think about how we’re going to get to Cincinnati from Dixon on six hundred and sixteen bucks?” Another loft of Lenny’s garbage breath cut through the freezing coupe and lashed against Oats’ face in a disappearing fog. “Tommy’s gonna kill us. Tommy, the fucking, ‘I’ll scissor your eye’s out with my finger claws’ Tommy. He shot-out his own front window with a shotgun and jumped two stories into the front yard without flinching. What do you think he’s gonna do to us if he finds us? I thought he was gonna catch up to the god-damned car!”  Lenny flicked his cigarette’s ash onto the car’s floor that was littered in McDonalds wrappers and loose change, stamping the droppings into an olive-green floormat that was only wide enough to catch half of it. Dirty half-tied laces on his Converse All-Stars flapped in single looped knots. 

 “How was I supposed to know that he sleeps in a fucking closet? What kind of…”

“Shut it!” Lenny said, slapping the back of Oats’ hood covered head to keep him from speaking. His cigarette’s cherry split in half on the impact and a slice of it landed in the crotch of Oats’ torn jeans. 

Oats frantically patted at the burning ash that ate away at his armor, smushing it into his jeans with his right palm.

“Animal…” He said, flinching. 

 Lenny raised his clenched fist to Oats’ face. “Shut it, Oats!” 

Oats turned the steering wheel hard right and the Pinto squealed out of the alleyway. “Sleeps in the closet?” The bottom of the muffler scraped and sparked along a small hill of asphalt that led onto Meyer Street. “Naked!…” he continued, as the car sped away.

“He wouldn’t be home, you said. In it to win it, you said. In it to win it, Oats!” Lenny scrunched the top his tan cabbie-hat and left it ajar. His voice had risen into old man war talk over the past four minutes and it wasn’t showing a sign of stopping anytime soon. “Why did I ever listen to you? I knew you’d fuck us somehow. You fuck-up!” 

It was cold in the Pinto. Even with the heater on full blast the tiny vents only blew out at the corners by the doors, and the warm air barely managed to wisp at their ears before dying off. 

“We’ll be fine, we just got to get to Cincinnati Larry’s.” Oats said, brushing a thick layer of sweat from the top of his forehead with the sleeve of his JNCO hoodie. 

“Cincinnati Larry! Here we go! Whoop-dee-fucking-do. Cincinnati Larry.  Have you ever even met Cincinnati Larry, or did you make him up too? Maybe, we can visit Buffalo Bob while we’re out and about? Or maybe, the Abamadable Snow Man. Hell, we can swing by The Haunted Woods and smoke a joint with the

Swamp Thing if you’re up to it.”

 Oats grabbed the back of his neck like it needed oiled. “It’s abominable.” 

 “What is?” Lenny barked back.

“It’s abominable, not abamadable. You said adamadable.”    Lenny cupped his hands together and placed them around his mouth to form a bullhorn that would blast Oats with more of his garbage-breath. “I don’t give a shit.” He put his hands back down and looked straight ahead. “Do you even know Cincinnati?

…You.. Fuck!”

Oats’ head pushed to the front of the windshield searching for something just ahead of the headlights and out of his line of sight. “Yes, for the thirtieth time. He was married to my friend

Tim’s aunt Suzie for a couple of years.”

“Oh, thank god… Your friend Tim’s aunt Suzie. I thought you were gonna say something stupid, Oatsy.” Lenny reached into the backseat, shaking his hips through the Pinto’s mid-section. The springs inside the front seat’s cushion creaked and ribbitted like a bullfrog on a lily pad on a hot Summers night as he bounced back into place and clicked on the overhead light. A black handbag shined in his hands. Smooth black-snakeskin strips formed the sides of it. “Do you think the skins real,” he asked, looking it over like it was a puzzle with a few pieces missing. 

He pulled apart two black-leather hoop handles that were crisscrossed across the top of it and slid a flat, long, silver zipper down its middle. A knife carved from a leg bone that looked like it was around when Christ died poked out from the top of the bag.

Thin leather strands interlinked across its bottom to form a handle grip that counter-weighed a sharp crescent-moon blade. 

Lenny started to list off the bag’s contents. “A knife from the dark ages, six hundred and sixteen dollars rapped in red gum bands, a leather book with blood smeared on every fucking page, and a hundred white sticky notes with names and addresses on them. Who the hell did we rob Oats? Jack the Ripper?” 

He grabbed a fistful of the sticky notes and held them up in the middle of the Pinto. Each one had the same pattern of writing on them. A name, an address, and a number between 1 and 10. Most of the numbers where under 10 and closer to 6. Two of the notes had zeros on them with a matching address underneath. He shuffled through the pile of notes like a racetrack addict looking for a winning ticket in a stack of losers. He endlessly came up short and stuffed them back into the bag. 

A thick glass vial rolled outward from the bag’s corner as it bashed around on the floor.  He picked the vial out of the bag’s bottom and held it to the dome light. A pinkish-red liquid glimmered with the composition of salted tears. Something thicker was in the middle. It looks like a piece of stringy watermelon pulp that’s still fat in its middle, Lenny thought.

“What the hell is that? Oats asked.

“How the fuck am I supposed to know? Some kind of demon sperm or some shit.” Oats said, looking closer at the vial. 

“It looks like blood, sweat, tears, and cum all rolled up into one package.” Oats said.

“Well… I think your right there, Oatsy. I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you take a sip and tell me? You look like you’ve been around a lot of cock.”

“Fuck you, Lenny. I nailed your sister.”

Oats did nail Lenny’s sister, Lizzy Baker. He did it on a hot and sweaty August night in her shitty 2-bedroom apartment in South Dixon. They could hear the neighbors talking through the walls the entire time and the bathroom was so old that it didn’t have a shower head to wash himself off afterwards. She was his 3rd and final lay the last week that the good ecstasy was going around Dixon. He caught the last of it and bought it all out. It was the fastest grand he’d ever made. 2 days and 17 hours later, the entire stash of 100 pills was gone. He was so high during those two and a half days that he could only remember Oats’ sister’s flabby breasts with saucer nipples at the bottoms.

“And I’m not proud of it.” Oats said.

“Fuck you, Oats,” Lenny said, uncorking the vile and sticking it up to his nose. He sniffed at the edge of it, inhaling hard and fast. He dog-ticked four times and then stilled up. An 8-year-old girl began to scream for her life inside of his mind. One of her arms was smashed thin from the elbow down and half of her hair had been yanked out from the top of her head. Lenny thought of burnt barbies and squinted hard in an attempt to zap his brain back to normal. He looked back up again; she was sitting next to him in the car and staring back at him for help with an, I don’t understand; please don’t smash my arm in with your hammer, look on her face.       

Lenny’s heart was beating rapidly. He was fussing with the vial’s cap and after several failed attempts he managed to get it back on successfully, only spilling a few drops onto the center console. The vial of pink fluid dropped into the bag and he looked away from the little girl, somehow aroused by the terror. 

Leather strips at the end of his jacket’s left arm started to jimmy and shake. The strips grew larger in the vibrations and with a few more jiggles they’d managed to turn themselves into 20 long worms that were sprouting hundreds of small legs from their sides in an attempt to crawl under his jacket’s cuff and ascend his arm. The crawling sensations changed to burrowing as Lenny swatted furiously at his forearm in an attempt to smash them dead. His right eye widened and glared a laser beam’s red from the middle. 6 seconds of comatose and incoherent mumbling later, and the burrowing feelings started to recede as the half-dead girl returned back into his mind. He dog-ticked back out of the spell and jammed the bag shut in an attempt to hide the terror away. 

The bag flung from his lap and into the back seat. A long hard bulge stuck out from the center of his tight Levi’s, and a tingling heroin sensation flooded over his body in a rolling wave.

“What the hell’s the matter Lenny?” Oats was saying. Lenny looked at him confused, watching a black-edged smile wiggle up the right-side of his pale face. Oats’ voice was changing from deep bass to squeaky treble, and then back to deep bass again. “What the hell’s the matter, Lenny?” Oats asked again.

“Who the hell did we rob, Oats?” Lenny said, sounding like he survived a drowning.

“I don’t know. Jimmy said that this guy Tommy would have 50k for him by Tuesday.”

Lenny looked at Oats again and his worming smile had fallen back into a small frown. His heart beat fast as he spoke.

“Jimmy? The fucking hunchback from Dixon?” 

“Ya, that Jimmy.” 

Oats had overheard Jimmy talking to Tony Penchelo over the thudding music at the Bad Nintendo while he snorted a line of coke off the backside of a toilet in a dingy bathroom stall. 

“I overheard him talking in the parking lot of the Nintendo,” Oats lied. “Jimmy said that Tommy on Railroad Street would have 50k for him by Tuesday night. That it was all in a black bag on the bedroom dresser at his house. He lives at the end of my block and he’s never home during the evenings. Not a light for two years straight. I thought it was a sure thing,” he said, trying to swallow unsuccessfully.

“50K, or fifty names, Oats? Cause there’s 50 fucking names in this bag.” Lenny threw the roll of bills wrapped in red gum-bands, that added up to 616 dollars, at Oats’ chest. “Use it for gas when we get to the end of Evans Run and get a carton of cigarettes and a case of beer,” he said, doing math on his fingers.

Oats could feel his face starting to boil. He checked his appearance in the rearview mirror as he clicked on the high beams and then gazed even deeper out of the front window. Lenny looked him over. Beads of sweat were running down the sides of Oats’ face as he wiped them away again. 

“You look like Doc Holiday at the end of Tombstone.”

 Oats smirked against his will. “Doc Holiday died at the end of Tombstone.” 

 “That’s what I’m saying. You look like one of Hole’s used condoms.”

 “Courtney Love?” Oats asked, already sure of the answer.

 “Ya, if that’s the bitch that killed Kurt Cobain.”

Oats would normally argue such a crudely constructed statement, but a pain had erupted on the right side of his brain and was blurring his vision at the tops of his eyeballs and making him motion sick in the process. The pinto swerved toward an opposing car’s path and jagged back into the right lane. A white Camaro turned sideways and disappeared over the hillside.

“I thought it was all cash, Lenny. I didn’t have time to check. There was something else in the closet. Something else… before Tommy came after me.

“What the fuck are you talking about, Oats?” Lenny struck the car’s dash with a hammer-fist.

Oats gripped the steering wheel like he was trying to ring water out of it. “I don’t know, ok?” It was dark in there, and I couldn’t see 2 feet in front of my face. All the windows were blacked out from the inside and someone was chained to the fucking bed naked. It looked at me. It fucking looked at me man.” 

What looked at you!” Lenny yelled.

Oats paused and tried to find the right words to answer the question with. “A monster…” The words surprised him as they came out. “A hog… A fucking demon hog.  A monster, hog, demon-wolf… with half of its fucking face missing…  It smiled at me… It was just hanging there upside down… watching me, man!”

Lenny’s look of shock crumbled away like dried bread crust that’s been stepped on by a fat man after lunch and the top of his left lip curled back in rising sternness. “If you’re trying to tell me that a fucking Man-Bear-Pig thwarted your fool-proof heist, I swear to fucking god I’m gonna kill you myself, Oats!” 

He pulled a cheap revolver with a broken handle held together with silver duct tape out of his coat’s pocket and clicked the hammer back, pointing the contraption at Oats’ head. “I swear to fucking god, Oats.”

Oats had robbed 15 homes, impregnated 2 teenage girls, smashed in Caleb Cortez’s forehead permanently with a brick, and stabbed a Seattle Seahawk’s fan in the gut with a boot knife that he won at a county fair since he dropped out of North Dixon High. Of all of the things he did do by the time he hit 21, the one thing he didn’t do was tear up, and in that moment, he began to cry. 

“It fucking bit me! I don’t know how. It fucking got me, Lenny!” He put his hand over his mouth and started to cough like a fifteen-year-old that hit a homemade pot-pipe crafted from his dad’s toolbox with loose sockets covered in grease. A hand rose to the dome light and he checked it over.

“What are you talking about, Oats? There’s nothing wrong with you.” Lenny said, still high from the sniff. He thought about the drops that spilled from the vial, still wet and laying on the center console. He thought harder about tasting them with his tongue in pure discovery. He didn’t know what he had sniffed, but it was strong and surging through him in release.


The Pinto crept toward the roadside that had changed from the city-sidewalks and chain-link fences of  Dixon and came to a slow-rolling stop along a stretch of unlit highway on the city’s outskirts that was guarded only by tall pine trees that stretched into what seemed like infinity behind silver guard rails. The guard rail on the passenger’s side was bent in at the end and Lenny wandered why he never got to see any of the good stuff. 

Oats had leaned forward and was trying to reach around his neck with his right arm and touch his left shoulder. After failing twice, he began tugging at the sides of his black hoodie with his right hand in slow upward jerks. By the time he had finished pulling the sweatshirt over his head, half of a bowling ball was visibly missing from where his left shoulder blade used to be, and a bulge was sticking out from the side of his underfed stomach.

Lenny let loose a scream somewhere between a small child’s on Christmas morning and a very tiny woman about to be run over by a semi-truck upon the sight of the missing portion and jumped out from the passenger side door with the motions of a poorly conceived cartoon character high on illicit drugs. He covered his mouth and spun in slow circles along the side of the road in prolonged shock.

“Is it bad?” Oats asked.

Lenny kept spinning as he answered. “Is it bad? Half your fucking shoulder’s missing! How are you still driving?”

“Stop messing with me, man. It can’t be missing. I don’t feel anything.” 

Lenny’s spinning stopped and he walked back toward the Pinto, ripped the rearview mirror off the windshield in one solid downward yank, and handed it to Oats. Oats held the mirror above his left shoulder and stared for a moment.

“What the fuck, Lenny… Lenny? What the fuck?” Oats muttered, looking at the reflection of the hole in the mirror.

Lenny covered his dropped open mouth with his hands. “How are you not dead right now, man?” He asked through his fingers in disbelief.

Oats looked at Lenny head-on for the first time since they had sped away from Tommy’s dark unlit house on Railroad Street and Lenny saw the entirety of his face. The left side of it had defaulted from the gum line and eye socket, and the skin around them had begun to droop downward like a giant double chin. 12 dime sized black mushrooms with pink tips had overtaken the areas where the skin used to meet the muscle and Lenny vomited beside the open car door at the sight of the things. 

A white gelatin had formed inside of Oats’ shoulder crater that reminded Lenny of marshmallows floating in a cup of hot chocolate. He couldn’t tell under the dim light of the overhead, but the stuff seemed to be alive and feeding on the fleshy parts that were still there.  


As he was carried past the passenger door of the Pinto, which he expected to open for him, and past the rear of the car, Oats started to wonder where he was heading and his cries of

“What the fuck, Lenny?” changed to a slurred “hosss…piddle..”  Lenny carried Oats to the side of the highway and sat him in the tall grass below one of the towering pines on a sloping hill behind the bent guard rail. 

Oats still had the rearview mirror in is hand and continued to whine behind the edge of the highway. “My, babes…My kids, Lenny,” he was trying to say in hysterics as Lenny pulled out a zippo lighter with the words “WDVE rocks” written across the front of it in black and gold lettering. He struck the flint and held the flame to Oats’ face. 

His face was rippled like a ninety-year-old woman’s skin after a three hour bath and all but peeled away at the sides. More of the pink mushrooms had poked out from underneath the edging on the sides of his face. Lenny poked at the bloated mess of flesh on Oats’ face with his pointer finger and it tore away at the motion, landing in Oats’ lap with a soggy plop.  

A field of mushrooms sprang outward from where the wrinkled mess was, and Oats’ spine gave way with a loud pop that dropped him lifelessly to his side. The sides of his stomach burst open upon the downward impact and several-more thick plots of mushrooms ruptured outward from the long tears left behind. 

Oats finished the dead man’s maneuver by letting out a volatile bowl movement that smelt ten times worse than Lenny’s rotten garbage breath and was louder than the moose calls he used on hunting trips to the farm with his Uncle Dencer. 

Lenny fought against the smells, picking the roll of six hundred and sixteen dollars wrapped in a red gum-band out of the loose hoodie with shaking hands and clawing his way back up the side of the highway in gasps and burps that were calling back up the rest of what he ate for lunch at Mable’s Diner on 10th Street with them. He had already passed the hamburger and supposed it was the cheesy fries that he was vomiting out in clumps along the Pintos front end as he pawed toward the driver side door.


He thought of Dixon as he sped off into the night, the failure he’d become, and the deceased man whose car he was driving across state lines. He thought of the rush from the vial that had worn away like Oats’ face, and the drops of red left over on the center console. Cincinnati still sounded good to him although he had given up on Oats’ friend Tim’s aunt Suzie’s ex-husband Larry.  

He licked at the drops on the console in an impulse, brushing by them like a raccoon in a trash heap or a dog to the floor after snack time. The half-dead girl crossed his vision and he jiggled and shook toward Ohio. 


Aiden James is a fiction and screenwriter. His work has been printed in the Mid-Town Reader and he won the Sassaman Award for Outstanding Creative Writing in 2020.