It was a cool gray morning when I arrived at The Facility. They were expecting me–I’d booked The Experience yesterday.
“Mr. Backus, welcome. Thrilled to have you at the Test Track for The Experience,” a smiling blonde said as she gave me a sloppy handshake. Weak, I thought. “Can I interest you in a cup of coffee?” she asked. I nodded.
Moments later, I was seated on a plush leather couch as the Keurig brewed my Donut Shop blend. The receptionist handed me a steaming mug and pressed play on the safety video.
“Welcome to the Test Track. We’re so glad you’re here! This Facility is for only the elite few –Owners. As an Owner of one of our exquisite vehicles, it’s clear you have impeccable taste!
Today you’ll be driving three different vehicles on our exciting Test Track! You’ll cherish this extraordinary Experience for years to come.
Be sure to keep your hands and feet inside the vehicle at all times. Seatbelts are required. Please stay on the track. Staff reserve the right to remove you from the course if these simple guidelines are not followed.
Have a great time out there! And thank you for being an Owner.”
Seemed reasonable enough. I set my mug down with a clank and beelined for the bathroom. When I returned, the frowning receptionist was wiping the table with a rag. Some jerk had spilled coffee and not cleared their mug.
“Mr. Backus?” the woman said, turning to face me. “It looks like you didn’t complete the safety waiver online. If you could just sign here…”
She extended a pen toward me, and a document on a gold clipboard. I scrawled my signature and thrust the form back in her hands.
“Let’s go,” I grunted.
“Right this way, sir.”
Her footsteps were silent; my hiking boots clunked and left clods of dirt behind.
“First time, right Mr. Backus?” she said with a generous smile.
I nodded again. I’m not good with people.
We stood in the parking lot and Camille, as the badge on her lanyard said, explained the features of the course to me. The Rocky Ridge, the Surging River, the Endless Forest.
“We really let you test the cars in every condition! You’ll love it.”
“Good, good,” I muttered, shifting my weight from one foot to the other.
Camille’s smile fell. “Is everything alright, sir?”
I contemplated what to say. How did she see me? A lonely white man in his 60s, never married? A widower? Did most men come here alone? Would my son have liked this? I guess I could’ve brought him, it never occurred to me. I feel like I barely know him anymore. It had been too long, I needed to say something, shit.
“All fine, Camille!” I hoped my grimace was close enough to resemble a smile. “Let’s get me in that car.”
She laughed, eyes darting from left to right. Was I making her nervous?
They loaded me into the first car, a sporty little thing with tons of horsepower. I revved the engine a few times and felt a surge of adrenaline that I hadn’t experienced in awhile. Camille waved as I drove off. The first lap should take about 12 minutes.
I grumbled up the Rocky Ridge. The car titled precipitously and my heart beat like mad.
Camille’s voice rang in my ears: “We’ve got a live feed going and you can reach us by radio at any time.” I took a deep breath and found some comfort in that. I squirmed in the squeaky leather seats and pressed the pedal down firmly.
“WOOOO! I feel alive!” I yelled as I came thundering down the other side of Rocky Ridge.
The Surging River was next. I gritted my teeth and floored it. Water rushed around me. I caught my own eye in the rearview mirror. My pupils were huge. I gulped. “Gotta keep pushing,” I said to myself. It felt unnatural but I just kept pushing the gas until we gurgled out on the other side.
“Yee haw!” I yelled. What am I, a cowboy? I cringed to myself and hoped Camille didn’t have an audio feed of my car.
I was home free now, basically. Just gotta get through the Endless Forest, and there’s no way to fuck that up.
I raced into the trees along the narrow path, feeling the greenery crush in on either side. The windows were down but I could barely breathe. I thought of my mom, who I missed every day. Her smothering hugs. She gave me my love of cars, and always got scolded by my father for driving too fast. She would have loved this. I thought about calling my sister, but reminded myself to focus on the road.
I hurtled through the final stretch of trees and into an open field, daffodils and clover everywhere. Had I gone off the course? I didn’t remember a field on the map.
I slowed down. Got out of the car. She was covered in mud. I took a deep breath, different than the one back on Rocky Ridge. The air felt crisper here. I heard bees buzz faintly. A hawk circled lazily overhead. When was the last time I had been in such a calm place?
I picked a daffodil and stared at it closely, the vibrant yellow shocking my eyes.
I should have radioed Camille, or gotten in the car and snaked back through the trees. But every fiber of my being begged me to stay.
I walked and walked deeper into the field. I laid my body down, stretched my legs, wiggled my fingers and toes. The sun warmed me.
I closed my eyes.
I am back in the old Acura with my mom and sister, speeding along the highway. The sky is blue and we are on our way to get ice cream. I am going to get my favorite flavor, Panda Paws. I have everything I want. It won’t get better than this.
Emily Hessney Lynch (she/her) is a short story and memoir writer. Her work has appeared in McSweeney’s, Spellbinder Magazine, Gastropoda Lit, Pastel Pastoral, Sledgehammer Lit, Lilac Magazine, The Plentitudes, and others. She lives in Rochester, NY with her husband and their three rescue dogs. You can follow her on Instagram at @EHL_writes or visit her website: www.ehlwrites.com.