I love the sound of shattering glass; the shrill, tinny twist of steel raking against steel, the heavy thud of bulky objects colliding. The destruction derby field is my symphony hall and its cacophonous chaos quenches my carnal cravings like nothing else. It was there that I found myself one Saturday afternoon watching senescent, dilapidating vehicles smash into one another all for the sake of violence. It was a particularly enjoyable derby. One car, number 38 it was, put on an impressive display of fender bashing prowess and took the derby in a near flawless victory. Oh, how we cheered for him. We screamed his praises for hours and hours until our throats were raw and lacerated and blood speckled the bleachers.
Once the cars left the smoky, debris strewn field and the crowd finally began to disperse I walked toward my own car dreaming of T-boning other vehicles at every intersection and forcing neighboring drivers off the freeway the entire way home. However I stopped short while walking past the parking area for the derby competitors when I saw car 38 slowing to a stop not more than 500 feet off. I felt compelled to go over and congratulate him on a derby well destroyed and to thank him for the cathartic, therapeutic entertainment he had so generously risked himself to supply me with. I jogged over to his car which would have been very difficult to manage if I suffered from gout. I sincerely feel for people that are afflicted with gout. It seems a terrible nuisance to say the least. Every morning I wake up and thank the gods that I am not a gout sufferer. Oh how wretched my life would be otherwise.
I trotted up to the dusty, concavitous car and knocked on the partially open window to alert the driver to my presence. I was not greeted with a reply, which seemed natural given the state the driver was likely to be in after completing such an event so I lowered my head to peek into the window and issue my praises and gratifications when I was met with a most uncanny site. There in the driver’s seat sat neither man nor woman but a dog. A small dachshund was crouched on the seat with a helmet strapped to his head comically plastering his little ears to his cheeks where they poked out from under it. He stared up at me in alarm with a look of panic in his eyes. We both froze and the surrealism of the moment became as intense as the reek of oil and dirt that hung over the lot.
I took several dazed steps away from the car and tripped blindly over the fender of another car parked near by. I tipped backward and landed splayed over the hood of the inert vehicle. I looked over into the driver’s seat through the smudged windshield and saw there a German shepherd engaging the emergency brake and removing the keys from the ignition. My mind raced as it scrambled for rationalizations of these feverish visions.
I leapt off the hood and onto my feet; my eyes darting from car to car searching desperately for something to bring sense to this madness. I was not so easily soothed for every car in the lot was piloted by a domesticated animal. Poodles, Dobermans, Terriers, and Tabby cats all sitting in the driver’s seats of the cars I had just watched being operated with such great skill and precision. My eyes went back to number 38 and the poor, frightened looking dachshund that still sat in the driver’s seat with his eyes fixed worriedly on me. Such was my disorientation that I began speaking to him. “What’s going on? Why are you in this car? Did someone put you all in these cars after the derby? Where are all the drivers?”
The quivering little fellow offered no reply but only continued to stare unblinkingly up at me. I felt pity for the frightened little creature. He looked so out of his element, so alone on that big, cracked leather seat. “Hey, it’s OK. I won’t hurt you. Are you alright? Would you like to come home with me?” I asked him as tenderly as my frazzled state would permit.
Just then I heard a loud, harsh voice come barking at me over the tops of the cars, “Hey! Who the hell are you?! Whaddya think yer doing here?!” It was the manager of the destruction derby and he was coming my way and fast. “You can’t be back here!” he shouted while he advanced threateningly. I watched the manager approach for a moment, cast one last glance on the dachshund and took off running toward my car before the manager was close enough to put the rusted length of exhaust pipe he was wielding to use.
My mind reeled as the experience washed over me again and again on the drive home. Question after question assaulted me and I had no answers. I felt scared for the animals I had seen in those cars. Could the obvious suspicion be true? Were they being forced to drive in the destruction derby against their wills by the malevolent derby manager? I had to dig into this and do what I could to help these poor, tortured creatures.
Once home I quit my job and told my girlfriend we would have to spend some time apart from one another. I would need all my time and resources at my disposal to come to the aid of these animals before it was too late. I figured I would start with the Humane Society. They should prove to be powerful allies in this fight I thought to myself as I thumbed through the yellow pages which I had dug out of the trash since no one uses phonebooks anymore thanks to the internet however in this instance I hadn’t paid my cable/internet bill in three months and found myself crawling back (literally crawling as I had not taken out the trash in several months and the phonebook was near the bottom of a pile of trash accumulating against the back wall of my kitchen) to the discarded old paper phonebook in order to locate the number for the Humane Society. It took me longer than I had anticipated to locate the number as it was, I presume, erroneously printed in a section for “plumbing/meatdrying” (another reason why the old fashioned phonebook is rightfully going extinct).
I dialed the number and waited patiently for an operator to answer. After a few brief but pleasant moments of Christopher Cross’ “Sailing” I was met with the wispy voice of an elderly woman. I told her that I needed to report a potential case of animal abuse and was placed on hold to be softly admonished to sail toward my dreams for another half a minute before being connected to my new ally. They had an overly kind voice that oozed concern and it asked me what exactly I had seen.
“Well”, I began, “I realize this may sound odd but I witnessed what may have been a large number of dogs and cats, at least a dozen if not more, being forced to drive cars in a destruction derby just earlier today.”
“… Are you sure about this? It does sound a bit… unlikely”, they responded.
“I’m afraid I’m quite sure of it, at least as sure as one can be of such a fantastical sight. But directly after the derby I approached a car just as it was coming to a stop and there was without question a small dog at the wheel as was the case with many of the other cars there.”
“I see… and you’re quite sure of this?”
“Can you attest to being sober at the time?”
“Is there anyone that can possibly corroborate your story?”
This gave me moment to pause. It did indeed sound far fetched and I was aware of no one else that had witnessed it. Certainly the derby manager was no friend in this matter so I was on my own. But I couldn’t allow myself to be deterred. “I was the only witness at the scene but I really must insist that this be looked in to, and soon.”
“Sir, not to cast any doubt on your character as you seem a sharp chap but being a sharp chap you must understand how this must sound. In light of this I am not sure I can send someone to investigate this claim unless you can provide more conclusive evidence of animal cruelty being com—“
“Now see here ma’am! I do indeed, as a sharp chap, understand how this must sound to someone unfamiliar with both me and the scenario however in spite of this I really must insist that, upon my honor as a sharp chap, there are goings-ons at this destruction derby that absolutely must, at all costs be thoroughly investigated immediately!”
“Ma’am? Ma’am are you still there?”
“You really should just let this go, sir.”
“Let it go”, she warned, all the care and concern gone from her voice; replaced with a hollow, foreboding air.
The call had taken a dark turn. “Ma’am, regardless of how off putting this sudden shift in tone is I will not, nay, can not be dissuaded. I will do whatever it takes to have this investigated either by you or someone else.” There was a long pause before she spoke again.
“Meet me at the corner of Drundle and Bofter and we can talk there. Tonight at midnight. Don’t be late”, she said and then immediately hung up. Events had certainly taken an unexpected turn but at least they seemed to be moving forward.
I waited impatiently for the meeting. I paced the filthy, tattered, garbage strewn floors of my apartment replaying everything in my mind: the destruction derby, seeing the dogs in the derby cars, the manager shouting, and the strange phone call. The more I thought about it the more I felt as though I was getting into something that was bigger than I had expected. But I steeled my nerves with a few episodes of classic American Gladiators and headed off to the designated meeting place with a determined mind and a steak knife in my pocket, just in case.
I arrived at the corner a bit early and waited under a street lamp. I then realized that I didn’t even know what this person looked like nor would they know what I looked like. Though I doubted it would matter as the area seemed completely deserted. I glanced at my watch frequently enough that time seemed to barely move.
I heard a car pull up and stop not too far from where I was standing. I glanced over and saw a van but no one got out of it. I didn’t think much of it as this seemed the sort of place where all manner of shifty happenings transpired. And just as this thought triggered the suspicion that, yes, this did seem like a very strange place to meet with a member of the Humane Society I heard a hurried step behind me. Before I could turn around a bag was thrown over my head and I received the most forceful punch in the stomach I have ever been dealt. As I doubled over and wheezed embarrassingly I was caught up by a pair of strong arms, my hands were bound and I was dragged in the direction of the van I had seen just moments before.
I was thrown forcefully into the back of the van and endured a very uncomfortable ride that lasted approximately 20 minutes from what my muddled mind could make out. I slid to and fro across the dirty floor crashing into the doors, walls and what felt to be a steel mesh divider near the middle part of the vans cargo area. I feared I had been kidnapped, though for what purpose I could not imagine. I did not come from a wealthy family, nor did I possess any wealth myself. Perhaps the reasons for my capture were far more nefarious than just acquiring money. I shuddered at the possibilities as they flashed before my mind. Yet even in this state I couldn’t help but think of the animals from whose rescue I had been derailed; perhaps permanently.
Eventually the van came to an abrupt stop causing me to slide forward into the steel meshing again. Footsteps circled round the van and the rear doors were flung open. Those same cruel hands grabbed me by the ankles and dragged me out of the van, across an open space and dropped me onto a loosely jointed wooden chair. My senses were a mess and I was dizzy and disoriented. As of yet neither my captors nor myself had spoken a word since the encounter began. But once my mind cleared enough to form a thought I weakly asked, “Who’s there? Why are you doing this to me? Where am i?”
As soon as these last words crossed my lips the hood was yanked aggressively from my head. It didn’t take long for my eyes to adjust to the light for there was very little in that dark place. All at once I took in the scene. I was in an abandoned industrial building with high ceilings gridded with pipes and ducts, broad walls darkened from years of moisture leaking through deep cracks, and filthy, dust covered floors strewn here and there with old tools, broken machines and scattered rubbish. But there in the midst of it all stood the manager of the destruction derby surrounded by cats and dogs all silently staring at me. The manager’s arms were crossed imposingly over his large chest and his demeanor was grim. He stared hard at me without saying a word. There were several moments of tense silence. I didn’t dare an utterance. I hadn’t any idea what to say at any rate so I waited for him to speak.
“Do you have any idea why you’re here?” the manager asked in a rough voice. He sounded Midwestern. He had a fairly non-regional accent but with just a hint of northeastern inflection.
“I, I don’t think so,” I stuttered out. My mind was still a bit foggy and I didn’t want to give out much information until I started to understand my situation a bit better.
“It’s because you almost ruined everything we’ve worked for. Or at least you were trying to.” I remained silent and looked from the manager across the faces of the animals and back to him. He was waiting for a response and I tried to quickly process what he might have meant by that. Evidently he was upset that I was trying to break up his animal slavery/derby ring.
“That’s right, and I still am!” I replied growing bold as my conviction to help these poor, abused animals surged back. “I am the untiring agent of ruin for all who misuse animals for their own selfish gain and I will never give up my crusade to free them from any imprisonment whether it be at a destruction derby or elsewhere! Fear not my animal friends, for you shall soon be liberated from your foul captor and shall roam forth with me into the—“
“Aw, shut up!” the manager interjected, cutting me off rather rudely in mid-passion. “You don’t have a goddamned clue what you’re talking about!”
“I am afraid that you, sir, are the one whom does not understand what he is talking about! As I said before I will not—“ and again I was cut off as he struck me across the cheek with his open hand sending a sharp slap reverberating through the cavernous building. I am not ashamed that I teared up a bit at this. And perhaps cried a little. Just a whimper, you see but under the circumstances I don’t think that it was either immasculine or inappropriate. He hit me very hard. Have you ever been slapped, full force, by a grown man? I highly doubt it.
As my deep, manly eyes welled with tears I saw the manager drop his guard a bit and within a few moments the intensity broke, he sighed and then spoke with candor and sincerity, “Look buddy, I don’t mean to be too rough on you. I just didn’t realize you were such a pussy at first. I think you mean well but you don’t really know what’s going on. I’m the one saving these animals.”
“What do you mean?” I asked taken aback by the sudden shift in the conversation’s tone.
“All of these little guys were on skid row,” he began, “set to be destroyed in shelters. I got a real soft spot for animals. They never did nothin’ to nobody. So some chump bought his kid that’s allergic to cats a cat for Christmas. Now this poor little fellow has to sit in a filthy cell for months on end til they drag ‘im out to kill ‘im and throw ‘im in a hole with a bunch ‘a other dead cats… it just aint right, you know?”
I nodded in agreement though I don’t think a response was genuinely solicited. He seemed to be talking to himself and his mammalian companions as much as he was to me. I was stunned and touched by this unexpected display of compassion. He continued.
“So I started cleanin’ out the death row cells in shelters in the area but I couldn’t afford to just take care of all these little guys by myself and I couldn’t find places for ‘em neither. So I decided they needed jobs, they had to earn their own keep if they’re gonna survive. Then I remembered that my brother-in-law runs the destruction derby right here in town and had the idea to teach the animals to drive the cars. It was perfect. You can’t see who’s in those things from the stands and no one cares enough about the derby guys to ever pursue talkin’ to ‘em afterward. So I started teachin’ ‘em all to drive. Then the better drivers taught the new guys as I brought ‘em in and now I got a whole team goin.
And lemme tell ya, these little fellas are better than most human derby drivers. I mean hell, at least they’re sober! And with the dogs’ natural instinct to go after cars and the cats’ keen eyesight and sharp reflexes, well, you were there. You saw how well they do, am I right?”
I was getting emotional now and felt a love for this man and these animals that rivaled any other love I had ever felt before. “You are most correct sir. I love derbies and never before had I felt so compelled to make personal contact with one of these derbiests until I saw this little fellow behind the wheel.” I pointed to the small, chocolate colored dachshund that I had locked eyes with just the day before but this time the little fellow looked at me without fear or apprehension and he seemed to smile at me and gave me a subtle nod of recognition and thanks.
“Well I’m glad to hear you say that, pal, ‘cause now we’re comin’ to the tough part. You know now. You’ve seen it all first hand and regardless of the service we’re providing and how much the animals love doin’ this we’d get shut down for sure if the wrong people found out. It was all I could do to get the Humane Society on my side so you can imagine how pissed I was when I heard you was tryin’ to fluff that up for us.
So now you got a choice. You can either join up with us and become part of the project or I bludgeon you to death with this pipe and have Yelpy and Ol’ Hemp here dig you a shallow grave out back. So what’s it gonna be?”
I paused, not because I contemplated whether or not to join this family of intrepid souls but because I felt overwhelmed at the prospect of becoming one of them. I also did not like the look of that pipe in the least. But that did not matter. I would have begged to join them even without the threat of being beaten to death. So with quivering lips and a rapidly swelling cheek I agreed to abandon my current life and become part of the secret pet destruction derby. I was immediately loosed from my bonds and embraced by my new family. We climbed into the van together and left.
“So where are we going?” I asked the manager.
“Back to the derby field.”
“Oh, are we getting right to training tonight?”
“No no, no training tonight. We’re just going home.”
“So we live at the derby field. In the field building or do you have a house near there?”
“Nope, this van is home. We just park there most nights.”
“Oh, so this it. We live in this van?”
“All of us, all together like this?”
“No, nothing. It’s fine. I’m sure it’s, yes, it’s… it’s fine.”
So I curled up in the back of the van that had started as my prison cell and became my beloved home and, surrounded by my new family, slept the night away in a contented state of bliss. Over the coming weeks the animals trained me to drive in the derby. I became rather proficient if I may say so, though I was never able to match Patterson, the little chocolate dachshund that became my teacher and mentor.
I then became a scout, patrolling the animal shelters, rescuing the poor little unfortunates set for destruction and training them to drive the derby. My life had never been richer and my work had never been more rewarding. Until during one derby Patterson was killed in a wreck and when the authorities found his twisted and torn little dog body in the car it led to the subsequent discovery of the project and Gil (the manager) and I were sentenced to jail ourselves and all the remaining animals were replaced in pounds around the city and eventually put down. But you know, it was good while it lasted. And as soon as I am released I plan to adopt a child, name him Patterson and teach him to drive the derby. ”The Patterson the Dog’s Memorial Children’s Destruction Derby”… He would like that.