Chapter 1, Version B: Hobgoblin
Ryan jerked the center lever down and pumped the brakes when the car, he looked back at it, no—he would hardly call that thing a car. More like a spiky ball of cut glass and barbed wire—what they would refer to as a Ratrod in the shop—Dirty Bomb painted on the side, cut in front of him, spraying sand over his cracked windshield. For an instant, Ryan saw the driver’s deformed face through a tiny hole that had been blasted in the Dirty Bomb’s frame. Fat, lidless eyes wide, bulging cheeks that looked like he had stuffed himself before the race and forgotten to swallow. Then his face vanished as the vehicle picked up speed. Ryan jammed the left lever forward and dropped the pedal to the floor. The Hobgoblin lurched ahead over the sand dune.
A large shadow appeared over the sand to his left. The shadow grew darker until Ryan swerved to the right to avoid a massive tank-like vehicle that crashed down from the sky, lost for a moment in a wall of sand. The words MR. GOLIATH spray-painted haphazardly onto the side of the tank. The driver, an ugly hog Ryan recognized from the meat plant, sat in a metal chair atop the vehicle, enclosed by roll bars and shatterproof glass. He swiveled to get a look at Ryan. His voice roared over the loudspeaker, ‘I’m gonna turn you ta dust, you little son of a-,’ Ryan flipped a switch and the words fizzled out, but the driver’s lips kept moving, muscles bulging to the point of bursting. Ryan could almost smell the stench of dead meat on him.
He chuckled to himself as he thought about hog-face boiling inside his bubble of glass and steel, sweat sizzling over his forehead, burning his eyes.
Thinking of the heat made Ryan aware of the sweltering sunrays pouring through his own windshield. It wasn’t always the track or the other racers that killed. The elements had their own way of dealing with them; the races were just as much a test of stamina as they were of skill. Ryan had seen plenty of scrappers pass out from the heat, their cars swerving recklessly in the center of the track before hitting the buzzlines and powering down. He wrenched upward on a latch and vents groaned open. Blasts of warm air pushed against his face, blowing his hair back.
Ryan glimpsed the Hobgoblin in the shimmering side of Mr. Goliath. His tiny vehicle was a quarter the size of the tank and built for speed, with black smoke pulsing from the triple exhausts in the rear, the blindingly ugly face of a goblin painted on the side by his
brother. Six off-road tires with tread eight inches thick spun crazily, spitting sand into the air. The roof of the Hobgoblin was triple layered, made from old highway signs and reinforced steel beams. Even with all the safety mechanisms, Ryan still marveled at how mangled it appeared in the reflection. Dents and holes all along the side, an entire tireguard torn off just two minutes into the race. Built from junkyard scraps. A Frankenstein vehicle. He felt the entire frame vibrating, struggling to push him on to the finish line.
The Hobgoblin’s reflection traveling on the side of Mr. Goliath disappeared. A panel on the side of the tank-like vehicle slid open. Ryan squinted his eyes at the black hole, trying to see inside the guts of the vehicle, when a series of cannons drew their heads out like vicious dogs’ heads.
Ryan’s eyes went wide and he jammed the right lever forward and the left lever back and the Hobgoblin swung to the side. All six wheels changed direction, still rolling heavily in the same direction as the tank, keeping pace.
The cannons fired; flame burst from the metal mouths as shrapnel spewed out to the left and right of the Hobgoblin, piercing the door, cracking a corner of the windshield and tearing off some of the roof’s metal protection. Ryan’s arm jerked instinctively. He looked down at the inch long blade quivering just below his elbow. Blood bubbled from where it where it had cut into his skin.
The rest of the shrapnel continued past his vehicle into the sand. He saw the pig- faced driver squeal in anger. Without taking his eyes off him, Ryan slammed both levers forward. The Hobgoblin’s wheels changed direction once again so that they faced Mr. Goliath, and before the driver had time to react, the Hobgoblin was scaling the sloped side of the tank, coming closer to the shatterproof dome. The driver’s face changed from anger to fear as the six massive tires rolled towards him.
Two spiked cylinders lowered from the goblin’s chassis, digging into the Goliath’s crevices, tearing into its thick metal exterior. The Hobgoblin began clambering up the side of the vehicle with wheels spinning rapidly, swaying as Mr. Goliath tried to shake it off.
The roll bars sank beneath the weight of the Hobgoblin, crushing the driver whose screams still lingered in the air. The spiked cylinders lifted into the chassis as Ryan launched off the tank and landed back in the track, leaving the massive piece of dead metal as a roadblock.
In the upper right corner of the Hobgoblin’s compartment, built small to fit Ryan’s slight frame, a face appeared over a grimy square disk. Ryan cast it a quick glance. The lips on the face moved. The delayed words followed seconds later. ‘You gotta catch up to that Rat. We’ve never lost this track.’
Ryan squeezed down the trigger on the right lever, the Hobgoblin slid sideways into the narrow tunnel of Petri’s Pass. Up ahead, the Dirty Bomb, with all its spikes and thorny sides, blended with the sharp terrain.
Stay in the center. Don’t think about going near the edge.
Edward showed his shifting Adam’s apple as he took a long gulp from his oversized flask. He spoke quickly, not wanting to waste any time. ‘Three miles ahead you come to a lake on the left. Keep beside it and when Kemp spins to stick you with Dirty, smack the yellow button on the dash.’
‘What’s it do?’
‘Just do it. Good luck, brother.’ The square disk reverted to its normal shade of dirty silver.
Ryan and the Hobgoblin burst out from the pass onto an open dune. Blue quivering lines ran along the right side of the track. He drifted a little to the left, careful to avoid them. A single touch from a buzzline and a vehicle lost all power.
Ryan grabbed something protruding from the floorboard that looked like an emergency break and wrenched back on it, ejecting the Hobgoblin’s two middle wheels that spiraled off somewhere into the dunes. He could almost hear Edward in the tent, watching him on one of the two tattered, floating gravscreens, moaning about the wasted resources.
With the loss of weight, the Hobgoblin picked up speed. The finger on the broken speedometer spun like a confused stargazer before settling back down to zero. The Hobgoblin was rapidly gaining on the Dirty Bomb. Less than a minute now. ‘Come on, baby, come on,’ as black smoke warped the sky behind him.
Kemp wiped sweat and blood from his lips with his bulbous hand, shuddering slightly as he stared down at the black liquid glistening over his distorted fingers. He dropped the shifter to seventh gear, leaving black bloody residue on the lever, and knocked out the
tinted paneling that served as a one way window. Not a single mirror on the entire Dirty Bomb. The one reprieve he had from his deformity was that he never had to look himself in the face. He stuck his head out and peered back at Ryan who was gaining rapidly. Something resembling a tire skittered across the sand. Kemp whipped his head back inside, snarling, a cold feeling growing in his stomach. He thought Mr. Goliath would have stopped Ryan. Slowed him down at the very least. Nothing to worry about, though: now he wouldn’t have to share his winnings with that reeking meat packer.
A frayed necklace, crafted by a child’s hand, hung from a notch beside the passenger door. It tapped against the window, twirling and pirouetting in the wind like a ballerina.
Kemp looked back at Ryan once more. The usual black exhaust had turned red as the goblin chugged over the dunes, swerving left and right to dodge old carcasses of demolished vehicles. That red smoke meant one thing: Ed had installed an Overloader into the goblin’s engine. Kemp hadn’t heard of an Overloader being used for over a year. Most mechanics had trashed them for Nitrous Oxide when they realized how volatile they could be, liable to give out, or worse—explode. They were tampering with old technology. Well, Ed had been tampering at least. The legendary Ed, the most sought after gearhead outside the city. Too bad the only person he would build for was Ryan. One build from Ed, and Kemp would be able to win enough money to escape those freezing, dank corridors he called home.
There was no stopping Ryan from catching up with him. Kemp jabbed a pedal on the floorboard with his left foot. Spinning buzz saws extended from beneath the Dirty Bomb, zipping through the air in a circular motion. He glanced at the fully loaded Dualshot vibrating in the passenger seat. If worse comes to worse.
Just before the Hobgoblin passed him on the left, Kemp cranked the wheel and dug out, buzz saws zipping side to side on their rickety arms. He smiled when he noticed Ryan slowing down, keeping his distance, searching for a way past him. At this point, speed was all Ryan had going for him. The Dirty Bomb was too dangerous, but it couldn’t compete with the goblin when it came to speed. Both vehicles rounded the corner. Up ahead was the finish line covered in a hot haze and flanked by bleachers and two gravscreens that glowed red against the sky. The lake shimmered on their left.
Ryan plunged into Overload once more, using the remainder of the goblin’s energy. Red tendrils streaked behind him, visible from the bleachers, and the goblin roared beside the Dirty Bomb. Kemp looked over at Ryan, small and sunburned, barely visible through the cracked windshield. Kemp licked his dried and crusted lips. His tongue clung to the roof of his mouth. He mashed a button on the controlboard. Rusted spikes
extended from the doorframe. The buzz saws nicked the side of the Hobgoblin, sending sparks into the air. Ryan swerved. Kemp pulled away. He might not be able to outrace the goblin, but he knew it couldn’t take a full on hit, not in the state it was in. Another smile lit his lips. Adrenaline pumped through his tainted blood. He pounded the pedal to the floor and slammed a lever on the roof, firing up the Nitrous. The Dirty Bomb burst forward. Spiked tires ground into the dirt as buckets of smoke poured from the exhaust. In the middle of the burst, Kemp squeezed the lever on his left and pulled back hard. The Dirty Bomb skidded forward in a semi-circle as his front left wheel braked and swiveled 180 degrees. Using up the last of the Nitrous, Kemp rocketed towards the Hobgoblin. His pale, small eyes never left Ryan’s face that appeared distorted behind the cracked windshield.
Ryan gritted his teeth, took a quick breath and tightened his body for impact. He smacked the yellow button with his palm. Oiled servos whirred to life as the entire roof slid off the side of the goblin, creating a make-shift ramp. It was too late for the Dirty Bomb to slow down. A shadow covered Ryan’s face and the Dirty Bomb was launched into the air. Ryan ducked and turned his head to see the spiked ball plunging sideways into the lake. Water funneled into the air as muddy waves rolled to the shore.
Ryan let out a howl and with fist held up blew past the finish line to the screams and cheers of the spectators and gamblers all hunched up in the bleachers. The Hobgoblin streaked across the gravscreen with dust and black smoke in its wake. Ryan jammed the levers backwards then forward, and the goblin spun into a three-sixty. The world blurred before his eyes and the crowd’s cheers grew louder.
Edward stood in the pit waving him down with a meaty hand clutching a flask. Ryan pulled next to him and leapt out. ‘How was that?’ He shadowboxed with the air in front of Ed. Most of the crowd had begun moving down from the bleachers to push against the cinderblock barriers, some to get closer to Ryan while others watched the gravscreens for any news of Kemp’s accident.
Ed raised his voice over the noise of the crowd and pulled Ryan closer with one arm over his shoulder. ‘Was a good race, brother. You’re damn quick, no denyin’ that.’ His drunken lips smacked together as he pushed Ryan away and took another pull from the flask.
A kid leapt over the barrier and raced over to Ryan with a small booklet and pen. He stopped at Ryan’s leg, only coming up as high as his waist, and said excitedly, ‘Can you sign this for me?’
Ryan knelt down and took the pen and booklet. ‘What’s the name?’
Ryan scribbled his name along with a short almost illegible note for the boy, then handed him his autograph book.
‘Thanks!’ the boy shoved the book into his pocket and sprinted back towards the barrier where his friends watched, jealous of his bravery; the boy glancing back every few feet to beam at Ryan.
Ed watched the kid scale the cinderblock barrier, before he pushed past a photographer to take a look at the Hobgoblin in its worn state, turned to scrap after racing all day. He pointed at Ryan with the flask and sat a hand on the steaming hood. ‘Look what you’ve done to her. Is it too much to ask bring ‘er back in one piece?’ Ed kicked the empty space between the front and back tires. ‘And with six tires.’
‘I needed the speed. That’s what wins races, if I recall correctly.’
‘That, and a fistful of cash, which we happen to have now. ‘Nuff to fix goblin up for the race at the peaks, with a little left over for celebrating.’
Ryan bent down beside the Hobgoblin and wrapped his fingers around the piece of metal stuck in the door. He began jimmying it out. Photographers’ cameras flashed in the already blinding light. ‘What’d you have in mind?’
‘I don’t know about you, but I’m treatin’ myself at the Hound. I’d say we earned it.’
Ryan wrenched out the piece of shrapnel and stood with it tight in his fingers. He leaned against the door, looking past the dispersing crowd to the bleachers that were almost empty. Several pitmen were dragging some drunks off the railing. Their empty bottles rolled around their feet, clattering down the steps and shattering against the landing next to a small figure that sat alone on the front row of the bleachers wearing a sackcloth hood, with feet and hands wrapped in dirty rags.
A rickety Care-Car came screeching along the track and pulled into the pit behind the one the Hobgoblin was stationed in. People pointed at the vehicle and conversation picked up once again, discussing Kemp’s fate. Ryan looked away from the hooded person and watched the medic scramble out of the Care-Car and run around the back. Kemp hobbled out, sopping wet and covered in his own blood. He looked like an oversized, mutated newborn. His deep brows and puffed out cheeks glistened as liquid streaked down them. He groped to the railing and laid his chunky hand covered with
boils on the edge. He glanced up at Ryan and Ed with eyes that burned with hatred and disgust.
The cloaked figure appeared beside him. It opened the gate and crouched beside Kemp, taking his arm and draping it over a shoulder. Ryan’s eyes remained fixed on them, rubbing his thumb over the piece of shrapnel. Kemp’s helper glanced up at him, the hood slipped down slightly, and he was able to glimpse her face. Eyes like a cat’s, much larger than normal, and skin so pale and clear it glowed. She blinked twice, thin eyelids shuttering up and down over the cat-eyes, then she turned her attention back to Kemp and helped him hobble down the length of the bleachers. Her tiny body supported his weight. Blood and water sprinkled the ground behind them as spit flew from the mouths of the spectators hurling insults at him. Kemp and the girl shoved through the crowd and disappeared into a corridor leading to a locker room.
‘Who was that?’ Ryan tilted his head towards the corridor.
Ed glanced over. ‘Don’t know. I didn’t see her during the race.’
Ryan stared after them, hoping the girl would appear once more, this time with her hood down so he could see her entire face and those big, moon eyes. The water and blood was drying up in the sun, leaving dark stains on the cement. A rough hand jabbed his shoulder.
‘C’mon,’ Ed said. ‘We gotta get the goblin back to the shop.’
Ryan nodded without taking his eyes from the corridor. People still called down the long hallway, hoping their insults would reach Kemp. ‘Yeah, sure,’ he said slowly. ‘Let’s get her back.’
Ed backed the wrecking truck to the front of the Hobgoblin, forcing through those in the crowd that had scaled the barrier and were milling around the track searching for souvenirs. He reached a hand out of the window and patted the doorframe. Ryan understood the cue and wound the chain from the back of the truck to the goblin’s front axle. Once it was latched into place, he called out, ‘All good,’ to Ed. The chain went taut and heaved the Hobgoblin forward into the bed of the wrecker. Soon it had dragged it all the way inside and Ryan slammed the tailgate shut and joined Ed in the cab. Ed downed the remainder of the flask and tossed it in the backseat. Ryan dropped the piece of shrapnel out the window for a souvenir-hunter to collect, and they pulled out of the pit and into the empty track, heading in the direction of Mr. Goliath’s remains to see what they could scavenge.
Like Chapter 1? Please support the Kickstarter!