LET ME TELL YOU ABOUT MY SAAB IV
Let me tell you about my Saab. I stole it from a chieftain of the moleman species, a vicious conqueror who enslaved my meagre settlement and planned to gut me for transplants to prolong his failing body. His name was Stonebeak. He and his witch doctor would ride on chariots drawn by mutated centipedes past the tunnels where I destroyed my once-strong back breaking rocks. My hands shook on the jackhammer. My sinus was swollen with earth. Stonebeak's witch doctor crept behind me with a sharpened femur, poking my flanks and observing my reflexes. I knew the boss always switched organs on the first high tide of the season. I knew that the date was fast approaching.
Stonebeak's love of collecting surface cars was famous in the tunnels. We'd heard the revving of his Daihatsus as we lay locked in our dormitories, the snarl rattling through the metal ducting. We’d smelled the acrid puff of burning diesel seeping under doors. They would be my escape. Over many weeks I siphoned kerosene from the tunnel borer and smuggled it home in tiny sachets. I picked beetle shells out of my daily bowl of insects and stashed them in a skull under my bunk. When the time came I combined the ingredients and melted the chitin into a hard shellac lockpick. With shaking hands I cracked the lock. I said a prayer for my fellow workers, daubed wet mud on my face for camouflage and clicked the door shut behind me.
Stonebeak’s warren extended four kilometres below the surface and was made up of over a thousand kilometres of tunnel. Each day it grew bigger. The tunnels stretched from the lake floor to the canyons. There were marketplaces and dungeons. There were burrows upon burrows, rows upon rows, each filled with glistening pink molemen, hairless and nude, blue eyed and buck toothed. Their hideousness was matched by their violence. A moleman would wake up one morning and slit his own throat out of spite, thrashing his legs with rage as he drowned in blood. A moleman loved biting and kicking and fighting above all else. To escape I would need to be seen by none of them. A moleman would eat you before it reported you to guards. And I had no idea where Stonebeak’s garages were.
I crept up the dormitory tunnel to the main thoroughfare, where drunken moleman guards, savage with poisoned moonshine, murdered each other and minced the dead bodies in portable shredders. They laughed at the dead. The dead were weak. I crouched beside a burned out tractor and pushed it slowly towards the onramp to InterTunnel 1. As the sounds of revelry faded behind me I gave the tractor a push. It careened down the ramp and I heard a satisfying crash as a moleman truck ploughed into it. I skidded down the dirt slope and hauled the dazed driver out of the truck. He had a sawn-off in the cabin. I gave him a long kiss goodnight with the shotgun butt and left him draped over the tractor.
As I put the truck into gear there was a movement in the passenger seat. It was a molechild. A girl. I could tell because she lacked the distinctive fleshy collar of the males. She looked fearfully at me. “Was that your daddy?” I asked her.
“Yes,” she spat. “He was a son of a bitch. Where you goin’?”
I pointed up. “Mole truck’ll never take you there,” she sniggered. The trucks lost power close to the surface. It was how Stonebeak prevented molemen from leaving.
“No fucking shit,” I told her. “That’s why I’m going to steal one of Stonebeak’s surface cars. Do you know where he lives?”
She nodded with satisfaction. I hit the gas. We rolled down the InterTunnel past black hole after black hole. “Here,” said Molegirl, and we hit an offramp. It was paved with smooth concrete. The tunnels became less bare. There were lanterns and rock carvings. We passed quiet molemen villas, their round front doors a rich brown in the truck’s headlights. Only the wealthy had front doors. Worker molemen had bare earth burrows.
As we steered uneasily around a quiet circuit there was a flash of light ahead. Bad news. It was surface daytime. The moles slept lightly and would instinctively smash through walls if woken suddenly. They hated that. Lights on a residential street meant one thing: a trap. I swerved to the side, threw the truck into reverse and smashed the back end into the front door of a nearby burrow. Just in time. A mortar exploded on the concrete where I’d just been. Molegirl shrieked with savage delight. I swerved around the crater and gunned the engine. I’d need to find another way to Stonebeak’s garage. I burned back out to InterTunnel 1 and took the next exit. My plan was to loop around and find the other end of the circuit I’d just been on. The ramp went up and up. I passed a waterlock that led up to the lakebed. I kept driving. The bare dirt tunnel led to tarmac. The rattle of the truck was replaced by a smooth whir. The road opened up into a wide roundabout. In the centre was a jagged lump of obsidian. On one side, pale green lanterns hung above luxurious oak double doors. Unbelievable. I’d done it: I was at Stonebeak’s mansion. On the other side of the roundabout short driveways led to wide holes set side by side. This was it. I slammed my foot on the accelerator and crashed through the door of the first. My head whipped forward and back. I saw stars. Dizzily, I backed the truck out and climbed down. I staggered forward to the driver’s seat of a 1983 Mitsubishi Lancer. Beautiful car. I tried to turn the ignition but it choked and fell silent. I heard the groan of heavy machinery behind me. I heard the roar of Stonebeak, half asleep and enraged, as he staggered out of his burrow and saw the devastation. In a panic I tried to haul open the door of the next garage burrow along. Locked. I heard the thunk and click of Stonebeak loading a mortar into its launcher and crabwalked my aching, whiplashed body behind the Mitsubishi.
The blast threw me against the back wall of the burrow. There was a flare as the Mitsubishi caught fire. The door of the burrow next door swung loosely on its hinges. I hauled myself inside to find a beautifully restored, glossy black Saab 900 Turbo. An incredible marriage of style and engineering. I paused a moment to take in the view. Then I slipped into the driver’s seat. Molegirl dived through the passenger window. The key was in the ignition. I peeled out of the garage and careened straight into Stonebeak and the car stopped. We were directly on top of him, but he was huge. A full-grown moleman chief. 600 kilos of bone and muscle. The Saab’s wheels were in the air. He screamed as I revved the engine and the tyres burned him, then he reached through the window and tore off Molegirl’s door. As he reached inside she went to work. In a few moments she’d bitten off three of his fingers. Blood hosed around the interior. She grabbed the shotgun, leaned out and fired under the car. Stonebeak slumped. The car tipped slowly and slid down onto its side.
Molegirl’s forearm was pinned underneath the car. The Saab’s back wheels spun helplessly in the air. She smiled, then grimaced, as she used the vicious claws on her free hand to drag the car further out from Stonebeak’s corpse. The wheels bounced down onto the ground.
Her forearm was a pulp of bone and blood. Her moist pink face had turned grey. She rolled out of the car and lay on the stone driveway. I could hear the wail of guard trucks converging on us through the tunnels.
“Get back in if you want to live!” I called desperately to her. “I don’t,” she said. She reloaded Stonebeak’s mortar and fired it at his house, then again, then again. There was a rumble as the cavern collapsed but it was already in my rearview mirror. I hit the InterTunnel again, 200 kilometres an hour, up, up, always up, weaving around the patrols, untouchable, towards the surface, towards daylight, towards home. That’s how I got my Saab.