The Final Run
“You’re toast, Jack.”
“You wanna run?” the small voice called out. Squinted eyes sat above a perk nose, his lips in a tight line below it.
“Do you ever give up, Lee?”
“Nope,” Lee said, sniffled back nonexistent snot. “So, do you wanna run?”
Oh, man, this isn’t good.
Crashman Jack had seen the lid of the box come off and the two large faces peer in. They were mostly shadows with the light of the hanging sun behind them. He knew what those two faces meant. A run was about to happen. Then he tumbled, head over heels, until he landed on the floor amongst all the other Lego blocks, plenty of them covering him. He tried to push the pieces away, to free himself from beneath the rubble of plastic, but couldn’t.
The least they could have done was put my helmet on.
“I’ve got Crashman,” Lee said and shifted through the brightly colored bricks until he found the Lego figure. He plucked Crashman—a character he had made from Lego figures from other sets—from the pile, and then frowned. “Where’s his helmet?”
“Right here,” Jimmy said, holding it in his palm.
“Give it to me,” Lee said and reached for it.
Jimmy, the older boy by a couple of years, closed his hand before Lee could get the plastic black helmet. “No. You got to pick the driver. I get to pick the helmet.”
“But that’s Crashman Jack’s helmet.”
“Not this time. I’m giving it to the Terminator.”
The Terminator? You’ve got to be kidding me. He’s racing the Terminator?
Crashman turned his head slightly, trying to see the two brothers. He had a good view from where he stood on the floor. Fortunately, Lee, who always chose Crashman, stood him up facing the blocks. The Terminator stood across the room, right next to where Jimmy sat building another monster dragster. He was a “two-block” taller than Crashman, thanks to the added piece to his midsection. Jimmy had also colored his face purple with a marker and drew blood running from his mouth. The Terminator wore Crashman’s helmet.
“You’re toast, Jack,” the Terminator yelled.
Crashman said nothing, but his black line smile creased downward. He turned his head and looked on in horror at the dragster Lee was building. Long thin pieces were connected by other thin pieces. Bricks of fours and eights hung off the frame. Wimpy, small wheels adorned both front and back; there was no tail fin to make the car go straight and no bumper to protect the front of the makeshift dragster. One hit from anything Jimmy built, and the car would explode.
Laughter came from across the room. Crashman looked at his opponent. The Terminator’s purple face held a crooked smile; his eyes slits. One black hand was raised near his head.
“Thanks for the helmet, Crashman,” he said. “Not that you’re ever going to need it again. Not after this run.”
This has got to stop.
Lee heard something. A whisper, maybe? At first he just shook his head, not sure he heard anything at all. He picked up a flat piece, flipped it over and stopped. The voice came again.
Lee, listen to me, Crashman said. Take apart your car and start over. You’ll never win with that thing. You’ll be wiped out and the Terminator will win … again. He wanted to add, ‘and I’ll lose my head,’ but bit back the words.
Lee shook his head and glanced around the room. Jimmy sat cross-legged near the door, his back to Lee, head down. Lee opened his mouth, clamped it shut. Jimmy wouldn’t have spoken to him—at least not nicely. He never did when they were going to run. Too much was on the line: Legos, helmets, mini-figures and sometimes allowances. No, Jimmy hadn’t spoken, at least not to Lee.
Shaking his head, he looked down at the fragile dragster in front of him. That’s not going to work. I can’t beat Jimmy with a stick dragster. Thoughts of how to build a better car spun in his head.
Bigger wheels for the front; even larger ones for the back; a bumper made of four-block pieces and reinforced by a long flat strip on the front; a cab for Crashman to sit in; a tail fin made with a jet tail; a stronger frame made from a wider flat piece, four spaces across and at least twelve spaces to the rear.
Lee stood, walked over to a shelf and grabbed a second box.
“What are you doing?” Jimmy asked.
“I need some extra parts,” Lee answered and sat back down with his back to Jimmy. After dumping the spare Legos on the floor, he sorted through them, found what he needed and began to build. After several minutes of agonizing and scrutinizing his creation, Lee picked Crashman up and set him in the seat.
“We’re not losing this time, Crashman,” he said.
I have a steering wheel.
Crashman smiled at his new ride. Never had Lee built anything so sturdy. The front wheels were large, the back ones wide. There were Lego plates criss-crossed along the bottom and top that held larger plates together. The front had a bumper made of black bricks, a smooth flat piece stretching its width. The white jet tail had been placed at the back just in front of two yellow cylinders that Crashman thought were boosters. Along the middle section of the dragster were blocks and cylinders put together to form a motor. He sat in a gray seat, a windshield in front of him.
And he had a steering wheel.
“You ready?” Jimmy asked.
Lee turned and nodded. “Let’s run.”
Jimmy set the timer on the old stove clock his mother had given them. It was their go signal. At the sound of the long beep the boys would release the cars, rolling them to their destination, smashing them into each other. The first car to lose a wheel or a driver was the loser. Lee had never won.
They swept the remaining Legos out of the way and went to either side of the room. They both made car engine noises, Jimmy being much louder than Lee, as always.
Inside the cab of his new car, Crashman peered over the steering wheel, his thin line eyes creased into arrows of determination; a scowl covered his face. He wore no helmet.
Across the way he could see the Terminator, his smug expression replaced with concern.
Raise the stakes, Crashman whispered.
“Winner takes both cars,” Lee said without hesitation. The moment he said it he wanted to take it back. He clamped a hand over his mouth, his eyes wide.
“That’s fine,” Jimmy said. “I need more Legos, anyway.”
The clock beeped and both boys rolled their cars as hard as they could toward each other.
Crashman held his steering wheel tight as his car propelled forward. Normally, his ride was bumpy, the front tires not high enough off the ground to keep the front end from dragging. This time, the tall wheels left plenty of clearance and the drive was smooth and straight—no chance of Crashman going sideways and getting T-boned. The wind whipped by him, the windshield keeping it mostly out of his face. The collision was violent, probably the most brutal one he had ever been involved in. His car rocked as a piece of the bumper snapped off and he went sideways. The car spun, then flipped over. Several more pieces of Legos popped off, sent soaring through the air. The dragster landed on its side, one back wheel still spinning.
Lee let out a scream as he looked down at the car he had created. He had been certain he would win with this one. It was almost as if Crashman had willed this car to him, for him to build … and it had failed.
Crashman lay on the floor, not moving, not blinking. A slight pain danced where his shoulders and head would have been connected. In his plastic Lego back and running through to the front, another pain pulsed. His midsection had broken in half, the legs severed from the torso. Crashman’s eyes focused on his body, on the two broken pieces he could see.
His thin painted eyes focused in on the wreckage of the two cars. Just beyond the carnage lay the severed head of the Terminator. His helmet—Crashman’s helmet—had popped off and lay only inches from the two shattered cars. The Terminator’s scarred head faced him, his mouth a black line, his eyes twin ex’s.
Did I win? he thought and closed his eyes.
When he awoke, he sat on a shelf near Lee’s bed. The room was dark except for a white night light. He turned his head, moved his hands and legs. Though he hurt, his body was in one piece again. And on his head sat his helmet.
(You can find The Last Run along with 59 other short stories in the massive collection, Beautiful Minds by going here.)