The Big Red's Gang
You become what you see
The mirror showed a reflection that wasn't my own. I should have never removed the duct tape from the cracked rearview mirror. Piercing black eyes leered at me from a scarred windblown face every bit twenty years my senior. The remnants of a blackened bullet hole oozed congealed blood from his forehead and down his face. In shock, I gasped and swerved onto the shoulder of the desert highway.
The red 1967 Dodge Challenger kicked a spray of sand as I cut the wheel back to the two-lane blacktop. Slamming on the brakes, the car skidded to a stop across the white center line. I sprang from the car and ran to the shoulder.
Whistling desert winds carried the high tones while the 340 Six Pack rumbling engine pushed the lows like timpani. I gasped for air as my asthma flared from the sudden stress. I will tell you now; I am a sixteen-year-old wimp, a coward, and a decent short-distance sprinter because of it. I am all bones with zero muscles hiding behind taped-up glasses that seem to stay broken. I needed my inhaler, but it was in my book bag. The bag was on the front seat of the Challenger.
"What the hell was that?" I wheezed and searched up and down the empty highway. Stealing this classic beauty had been too easy. "What have I done?"
Sweat dripped down my face from the one-hundred-degree heat, the primal fear I felt, or both. My chest constricted, and the lack of oxygen motivated me to lurch to the car door and reach across the seat to retrieve my book bag. The door slammed shut, slapped my butt, and I landed face-first on the vinyl seats as the doors locked. The steering wheel turned, and the car rolled to the shoulder and stopped. I scrambled for my inhaler and sucked like a newborn needing his momma. The radio dial slid across the screen.
"Hey punk. Sit up and get your face off of my lap. We've got to talk," a gruff voice blasted through the tinny speakers.
"Who are you? Where are you?' I said.
"Sit up and face the mirror. I don't have all day."
Bewildered, I sat up. The bloodied face with a red bandanna across the forehead stared without blinking from the passenger seat.
"I'm Poppy and you stole my ride, you pimply faced bum. I should pop one in you. There in the back seat is Hole Man and beside him Bunkie. You are now my driver and I've got some debts to collect."
Two men sat in the rear seats. Hole Man shifted his dead eyes and took a drag from a vape when I raised my hand hello. Bunkie, who could have played linebacker for L.A. Rams, folded his ham for arms in forfeit of the Mr. Personality award. I whipped my head toward the rear seats, but no one was there. In the mirror, I could see all three men who had died from gunshots.
"Let's roll. Sit up and put your hands on the wheel," Poppy said.
"I don't want any trouble," I said.
"What's your name?"
"Geez. That name is lame. I'm going to call you Duck."
"All the names in my gang are connected to what they do, Howard the Duck. You've got to learn to duck, Duck," and he laughed. "Take the bandanna on the seat and put it on your head. I'm driving."
My mind raced through all the scenarios. I pulled the door handle, but it wouldn't open. I was trapped. The driver's seat back popped forward and slammed my face into the steering wheel. Starlets danced across my vision in stark pain, warm snotty blood trickled from my nose, and tears flooded my eyes. I wanted to cry but the hardness from my scarred mind after years of abuse prevented it. It was the only dignity I had left.
"I told you to wear the bandanna or I'm going to bash your brains on the dashboard." The seat punched me into the wheel again. With trembling hands, I knotted the gang's icon at the back of my head.
"Welcome to the Big Red's, Duck. We don't deal drugs and are trying to take our community back from those who do."
The Challenger charged forward and cut a sliding one-hundred-and-eighty-degree turn with the tires peeling streams of white smoke.
"I will show you how to drive the beast," Poppy said as the speedometer dial pushed past one hundred and ten mph. The scent of smoke filled the cabin. I looked to the rear to witness Hole Man passing Bunkie a cigarette. I choked and coughed and took a hit from my inhaler that the Doctors said I didn't need.
My mind slowed down from the initial panic, and I assessed my situation. I had stolen a classic muscle car and had been kidnapped by a gang of ghosts. The night prior, I had escaped the violent abuse of my stepfather and had done what I did best, run. Just past midnight with nowhere to sleep. I had spotted the red Challenger in the field beside a rundown house.
The scent of ozone permeated the air, and lightning flashed in the distance, warning me to seek shelter. The car doors were unlocked, and I slipped inside. Aside from the musty odors and the bullet hole-strewn windshield, I had found cover from the storm. The keys were in the ignition as if the owners were begging someone to steal it. When the storm cleared and the sun rose to clear blue skies, I obliged them. I had no idea where I was going.
My mind returned to the present. Is my inhaler faulty? Is there an exhaust leak? Am I delirious? A Ghost car? Come on. The pain and swelling of my nose said otherwise. I found it ironic that I had escaped one beating to receive another. My mistake? I had ignored the innocuous note taped to the rearview mirror, and now I was going to die.
Mirror broken, do not remove duct tape.
Twilight fell as the Challenger cruised into the dark side of town I knew not to venture. Busted streetlights concealed the drug deals, favors, and crime that had crushed the boarded-up storefronts. Two women and a man on the sidewalk froze in place as we rolled slowly by. A skinny kid on the corner stared at me as he raised his cell phone to trigger the alarm to his handlers.
"Hey man. You aren't going to believe this, but Poppy's car is parading down the street with some punk ass teen wearing the colors," he paused, "No, you know I don't touch that stuff."
We pulled into a driveway at the far end of the street and stopped.
"Alright Duck, you're up. Drop your inhaler on the back seat. The nearest drug store is twenty miles away. Knock on the door and tell my sister Maria I want her to bring Buffy to the car. If she resists tell her, 'September 15, 2022, while you were in English class, can never be forgotten.' And wipe the blood off your face I don't want you to scare her."
I pumped a shot from the inhaler and tossed it on the rear seat. The fear of being shot like a rabid dog lost in the wrong neighborhood was real. How could anyone believe my insane story? I wouldn't.
I knocked and Maria opened the door with the novel Jane Eyre in her hand. I recognized her from school though I didn't know her. She was stunning, but our worlds were separated by powers beyond our control. Her weapon was a far cry from the gun I had feared.
"Are you crazy?' she said, "Trying to get yourself killed coming to this side of town?"
She peered out the door.
"What are you doing with my brothers' car? You steal it? Or did my parents give it to you. They've been trying to dump his car for weeks. No one wants it calling it bad juju. The bullet holes don't help."
"Look here, It's a long story about how I got here. Your brother Poppy has a message for you."
"This is a sick idea of a joke," she said as she pushed the door shut.
"September 15, 2022, while you were in English class," I yelled, and the door slowly reopened.
"What did you say?" Maria said.
"Poppy wants you to bring Buffy to the car. He said, "if you resist, tell her, 'September 15, 2022, while you were in English class, can never be forgotten.' I have no idea what he meant."
"This is insane. My brother was killed by a drug gang a month ago because he shut down their illegal business and only he knows about that day. He owned most of the property on the street." she said, "You have one minute to explain what's going on before I call for help. And it's not the police I'm calling. And why are you dancing around?"
I explained the best I could about the last twenty-four hours of my life.
"Either you are as crazy as you look, or you believe what you're saying. I don't think even Charlotte Bronte could have made this story up. Whats your name?"
"Howard, Poppy calls me Duck. Please, can I use your bathroom?" I said. She opened the door, stepped aside, and said, "Howard the Duck?" she laughed, "That sounds like Poppy. Down the hall on the right Duck. No funny stuff."
I returned to the hallway, where she held a miniature white poodle with red bowties on its ears and a bandanna around its neck.
"What's with the dog?"
"This is Buffy, the love of Poppy's life and one of his greatest held secrets. I love literature, but sometimes real life is the greater story. In about five minutes, I'm going to know yours."
We walked to the car. "You have to get in the driver's seat and look in the rearview mirror," I said.
Maria sat on the seat, and Buffy jumped to the passenger's side, yipped in glee, whined, and spun in circles. Maria looked at me in fear but turned to the cracked mirror. I opened the back door and retrieved my inhaler. I waited ten minutes and headed for the street.
"Wait Duck!" Maria said, "Poppy wants you to wait. He said, please."
She ran into the house, returned to the yard, and gave me five one-hundred-dollar bills from a stack of thousands.
"Poppy pays his debts, Duck. He said, Once a Big Red, always a red, remember that."
I returned home to the relative safety of violence known and expected. My stepfather ignored me until one night, when drunk, he found my new cash stash.
"You holding out on me boy? Did you steal this?" as he took a swing at me. Consistent with my gang name, I ducked, snatched the money from his hand, and ran out the front door. He chased me across the yard and into the street. My heaving lungs cloaked the rumbling of an engine until a Red Challenger clipped my stepfather with its front bumper knocking him to the ground. The car slid to a stop, and the reverse light came on. The tires squealed, pumping white smoke from the wheel wells, and Poppy's car thumped over the body in the road. Stopped, shot forward, and ran over my stepfather again.
The car pulled alongside me without a visible driver. I leaned in and saw Poppy's face in the cracked rearview mirror. Hole man and Bunkie waved from the back seat. Buffy yipped at me from the front passenger seat and wagged her tail.
"Once a Big Red always a red, Duck. No one messes with my gang. You will be hearing from me. We’re going to take back our street," Poppy said, and the hotrod shot forward, then stopped and reversed.
"By the way, my sister thought you were cute, go hang out with her and I'm not asking."
The tires kicked sand and pebbles as the Challenger spun out and shot down the street. I could see Poppy's piercing eyes through the back glass reflected in the broken mirror. In the distance, its solid taillight bar flashed bright red as it skidded through a turn and rumbled into the night.
In a moment, fears that had pervaded my sixteen years of life disappeared, and I felt like I belonged somewhere. I tossed the crutch of my inhaler into the bushes, breathed in the cool night air, pulled the red bandanna from my pocket, tied the knot at the back of my head, and headed toward Maria's house.
"I long, as does every human being, to be at home wherever I find myself." - Maya Angelou
*** *** ***
If you enjoyed this, you can read Part 2 by clicking below!
About the Creator
J. S. Wade
Since reading Tolkien in Middle school, I have been fascinated with creating, reading, and hearing art through story’s and music. I am a perpetual student of writing and life.
J. S. Wade owns all work contained here.
Excellent work. Looking forward to reading more!
Compelling and original writing
Creative use of language & vocab
Easy to read and follow
Well-structured & engaging content
Original narrative & well developed characters
Expert insights and opinions
Arguments were carefully researched and presented
Niche topic & fresh perspectives
Heartfelt and relatable
The story invoked strong personal emotions
Zero grammar & spelling mistakes
On-point and relevant
Writing reflected the title & theme
Oh, and congrats on Top Story!! 😍😍
This is sooo well written and suspenseful!! I love how it begins with action and keeps up the pace the whole way through! I’ll definitely be coming back for part II 😍😍 I loved the Duck and Poppy!!
Great to the very end. Well written and believable.
A teenager steals a red Challenger, but when he removes the duct tape from the cracked mirror, he sees the reflection of a scarred, bullet-ridden man who introduces himself as Poppy. Poppy and his ghost gang force the teen to become their driver and collect debts. Despite his fear, the teen learns to drive the beast, and the gang shows him how to take back their community from drug dealers.
Great story. Enjoyed it tremendously! Great characters and very unique - Pernoste
Thank you, Scott Wade, for sharing your thrilling short story "The Big Red's Gang." Your vivid descriptions and engaging plot had me on the edge of my seat from start to finish. Your writing skills are truly impressive, and I appreciate you taking the time to share your work with the world.
Marvelous, vivid, descriptive writing. Will there be more to this story?
Congratulations 🎉 Awesome writing ✨👍
Congratulations on Top Story. This definitely plays on that scary feeling of looking in your rearview mirror.
Good story and congrats on top story If you could read mine, I know what you did
Congratulations on Top Story 🎊
Such an unexpected and appreciated quote to end this great story.
Congrats on the Top Story
Congratulations Scott, New this one was a winner. Top notch and Top story.
Excellent sensory descriptions, great narrative. I really loved the dialogue and the emotions, excellent!! Congratulations on the top story Scott!!!!
Great story, Scott! It has everything, including a bad-ass car. My high school days were in the early 70's and the Challenger was one of the most badd-ass of bad-ass muscle cars back in the day. Congratulations on Top Story! (Did I mention bad-ass?)
I knew it! Congrats on getting top story for this one!
Great writing and congratulations on your Top Story
Wow! This thrilling story had me on the edge of my seat! Good one, Scott!
Great story! Creative and fun read, nice work!
Great story, Scott! I started following you because of what you wrote in your bio about reading Tolkien in middle school; almost anyone that does that is going to have good skills and/or good taste. You proved the rule with this story.
That car model is bad ass!!! I was jealous of seeing the pic and reading the descriptions of how it handled. The story was great! And I really felt how Duck felt when he was truly becoming one of them at the end.
Very creative, you have a great imagination
I loved this one. It had such likeable, well developed characters and exciting action! Go, Big Red!