He never imagined that he would experience fear. It should have been a sombre occasion and yet, when the team had raised the velvety cloth in a flash of chromed metallic-blue, Cutts felt the lining of his guts scream out to escape through his belly. He stood calcified for a moment, dead-eyed and expressionless.
Axel, the pit leader, read the awkward looks of his team.
“So... do you like it?”
Cutts emitted a low “umm”, buying time to think of a reply.
“It's... well... so, you kept the number then?” He hadn't meant to broach the subject so soon, but it was an elephant in the room that was going to be addressed sooner or later. It was the number that had caused his intestines to perform a backflip.
Thirteen. Duckett's number.
Axel stumbled over his words for an answer. He didn't expect Cutts to cartwheel around the pit with joy but, surely, it wouldn't have been unreasonable to expect a little gratitude.
“Well, you know, it only seemed fitting. It was his legacy, of course.” Cutts held back a grimace. He had been explicitly against the idea from the beginning. He had gone to the point of requesting that the Championship Committee strongly consider retiring the number. Apparently, he was – to quote their letter – being “unnecessarily superstitious”.
“It was the constructor's idea”, Axel continued, “they thought that you'd be proud to keep the legend alive.” Ah yes, who could forget the mythos of Kramer Duckett. The press had nicknamed him “the Man who tempted Fate”, but it was another title that had stuck through the ages; “the Omen”. Cutts had always sneered at the moniker. Duckett embraced it. He was reckless by design. Cutting in front of opponents on hard bends and barely missing their front wing, accelerating at full throttle and only just braking in time to make that turn, ghosting up on the inside of a driver's blind spot at top speed. And all because of that damned number.
Duckett had just signed a contract to have his number merchandised into a men's cologne that morning, the day that fate finally came to collect what was owed. Cutts had been third driver, still weening himself off of his training wheels. He remembered how guarded he had been, out there on the circuit, Duckett chastising him afterwards on his conservative performance.
“You'll never get picked driving like old people make love,” Duckett chided after she had been left in the parc ferme. Within the hour, the car would be transformed into crumpled metal, the stands filled with the aroma of synthetic materials melting into burnt flesh, rainbow-coloured pools of fuel coursing their own escape from the ravaged carbon-fibre shell.
Cutts looked upon the resurrected car, superimposing the damage from his memory onto the newly restored paint, envisioning the bold ivory “13” charred and partially bubbling in the heat of the flames. And that was before they pulled him out.
“WARM UP LAP IN FIVE MINUTES. ALL DRIVERS TO GRID POSTION. REPEAT, ALL DRIVERS TO GRID POSITION.” The announcement pulled Cutts out of his stupor.
“Alright everyone, you heard it. On the double!” Axel clapped twice and the team scattered in an organised chaos. Cutts hesitated, slipping his gloves on, his attention meanwhile lingering on the digital clock erected on the pit board. The lap was scheduled for one pm. Thirteen hundred hours. A year to the day, he ruminated, right down to the minute.
Axel's hand landed gently on his shoulder.
“Anything else you want to say? While we've got a minute.” Cutts stared into Axel's eyes, finding in them a strange eagerness. Does he feel it too? If only they could talk.
“I've got nothing”, Cutts grunted.
“There's no shame, you know, if you wanted Jackson or Haywood to take your place. We'd get it.”
Cutts chewed the inside of his cheek. His eyes darted to the board. Three minutes left. Not enough time to kit up another driver. They both knew it. But Cutts was somewhat grateful for Axel trying to save face. Even if it all was irreversible.
“I'll take my chances.” It had intended to be jovial. The tone, instead, caused Axel's hand to retreat methodically.
“Better get in... two minutes!” He barked out the last words, causing the team to scramble. Cutts nodded, placing a hand for the first time on the shell of the car, preparing to haul himself in. His fingers twitched inside his glove as if the outside of the car had transmitted static into his hand.
Inside the hollow cavern that he could feel carved out in his brain, he thought he could hear Duckett's voice chuckling. He mounted the car and slid into position. They brought the helmet down, ceremoniously placing it over his head, and with a simple click the neck support was attached to the metal loop protruding from behind the helmet.
Cutts smacked his tongue for some much-needed saliva, his mouth suddenly drying up. Axel gave a thumbs-up in his peripheral vision. Time for the engine to fire up. Cutts readied his hand on the start-up button. He glanced one more time at the pit board.
One minute left.
You don't have to go out like him. Leave now. Let Jackson do it. You don't have to do this, even though you think you have to.
Cutts stroked the button, reminiscing over one last detail. When Duckett had jeered at him that day. When Cutts had seen red and, against Grand Prix rules, entered the parc ferme. When he had decided to borrow Axel's multitool. When he had taken the serrated saw to the brake lines...
Duckett would never have known until that penultimate second. Neither would Cutts.
“What are you waiting for? Move out!” Axel's voice pierced through the helmet's mic.
The number thirteen hundred appeared on the pit board.
Cutts braced himself as he pressed the button and the car engine whined into existence.
About the author
In the words of Rod Serling; I never chose to write, I succumbed to it. I wrote my first story when I was nine for a school assignment and have never stopped. If you love the macabre, then consider my work submitted for your approval.