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Metallic Amalgamation by Conner Pendry

Midnight Oil

by Teigan Edwards

The lights cutting streaks into the pavement, the car humming when I pause at the start of the track, the gray bleachers the only thing protruding from the otherwise dismissive darkness. They ground me when my head aches under the oppressive weight of his voice in my ear. They center me when my eyes grasp for every detail of the track even days before race day. I feel like I can think. Like I can breathe here. 

"An hour on the track becomes a night, becomes a century."


          An hour on the track becomes a night, becomes a century. Time slows and jumps and fluctuates between sleeping and hyperventilating. Two minutes fill the space of a second, a decade. I lose myself and the voices and the burning, bleeding need to move in the hum of the engine, the lure of the void. And when it all settles down, when the car finally stops and my brain finds itself again, the slate is washed clean.

          A part of me wants to drive, to see if I could do it despite my fear. But Jessie is in the trunk, and I don’t want to be the karma that finally gets him killed. And, more selfishly, my head is too alive. To drive I need quiet, and right now I’m all noise – change the oil before the race on Sunday, go faster, faster, keep the first turn in mind but not so much that you’re in your head on the second. I want – need – to go so fast my world stands still, and Jessie is the only one who’ll drive like that on a whim in the middle of the night.

          Just so long as it’s on a nice, safe race track.

          I step out, not bothering to shut the door behind me, and pop the trunk. Jessie grins up at me in the bright light, arms up as if I’ll punch him. I might. Not because I’m impatient – though I am impatient, thrumming with the kind of dopamine only the sleepless ingest – but because he’s my brother, and he’d let me. His round glasses glint from their unstable perch too far down his nose.

          “Game time.”

          “Heck, yeah.”

          He rolls out and starts for the driver’s side, smirking back at me. I roll my eyes to make a point. But he just smiles wider.

          He has this way about him. The kind that says he does his math homework before he goes out street racing and brings the groceries in with one hand, his phone open in the other. The kind that gets into fights with everyone. Fights that everyone, himself included, knows he can’t win. But he squares up anyway, a smile on his face.

          I slide into the passenger’s seat. The leather isn’t worn the same way as in the driver’s. The smell is too much like my race engineer – hot coffee and motor oil – from when I gave him a ride home on the way to pick up Jessie.

          One of his hands is already molded onto the steering wheel. The other adjusts the phone connector and volume knobs. He whoops when his favorite techno track blares through the speakers.  

          The car pulses with it. He switches to drive and floors the gas without a second in between for me to snatch at a breath. I make an involuntary, shapeless noise. The track runs under us, from us. Gray and black and blinding white.

          The speed is lovely, violent, seething. Outside the windows, a river of strobe lights rushes by. Clubs can’t compete. Dreams of it can’t live up to the real thing. It’s like being drugged and drunk and only half-disillusioned of a lucid dream. I can move, but moving feels wrong. Like shifting positions on one of those centripetal force rides at the fair.

          We’re spinning. We’re flying. We’re going as fast as I ever dare to go in broad daylight surrounded by my team.

          My gut burns but finally not in the way it does when I have to run the same turn a dozen times in one afternoon. I grab the armrest when I’m pressed further back into my seat. I’d close my eyes, but it’d be like closing them to monsters in the dark. I’m so still that I can feel my heart quaking in my chest, the only muscle that’s anything but taut. I’m a passenger on a reanimated train I can’t jump out of. I want to grab the parking brake, but I couldn’t hurt Jessie like that, and I can’t trust the car to stop just because it’s told. We need to slow down or we’ll miss a turn and spin out through the chain link fence and into the unseen woods. Every second is the last and yet every next second comes. My fingers twitch against my restraint. I clench my stomach to hold onto the way it churns, to push through it to the other, blissful side and keep gripping the door of this metal animal, its brain at my side, shouting over the music.

          He’ll stop if I ask him. The knowledge of my choice in it all is comforting. And I would ask. I would. If I didn’t have a race this week. If the rush, like a cold shower only without the sting, didn’t feel quite so good. If he didn’t have that look in his eyes – glued to his seat but smiling through the pain, smiling like he does in photos of us from high school. Like he does by the finish line when he wins a late-night race. Like he used to in the car on school nights.

          I almost died for that look, once. But I haven’t. Not yet.


          In high school, just before Jessie went off to state college, we’d take Cooper Highway north. It was dead except for us. Pine trees are stacked atop one another by the shoulders. No one used it late at night after the bigger interstate was built a few miles over.

          Beyond the windows, the world was leached of color, but we were brighter than we’d ever been. Jessie’s music and the headlights ate away at my brain’s insufferable conviction to stay awake.

          It wasn’t races that kept me up then. It was college and an early morning job and Friday afternoons helping the pit crew set up for race day. My budding fear of driving in the dark was fed by race track horror stories and hours of analyzing crash videos. But I needed to be awake, and to be awake I needed to sleep, and to sleep I needed to drown.


About the Writer...

Teigan Edwards is a senior creative writer at the South Carolina Governor’s School for the Arts and Humanities. She has been enthralled by stories since she was a young girl and her mother sat her down every night to read.

About the Artist...

Conner Pendry is a sculpture major at Douglas Anderson with a focus in metalwork through processes such as welding, grinding and soldering. He is completing his sustained investigation for AP 3-D Art & Design based around exploring how metal can be unified into interesting compositions through a variety of techniques.

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