The Ghost Car

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He got out of the car. It softly chimed at him, reminding him to close the door behind him.

He did so and barely noticed the empty, self-driving vehicle roll away into the vast city night.

“Welcome, welcome,” the man at the front door gushed, a hint of red wine on his lips, “Come inside. The drinks are in the fridge and on bar, help yourself to anything. Gimme a shout if you need anything, otherwise, most people are chilling in the lounge and around the pool outside…”

He nodded and shook the host’s hand, thanking him for the invite. He grabbed a beer from the fridge and became part of the nightly noise of society.

***

“No way!” the tipsy lady exclaimed, clutching her mobile phone in one hand and her glass of wine in the other, “But I heard a better one. You guys ever heard of the Ghost Car?”

Murmurs rippled through the throng of people in various states of intoxication. There were some confused looks and plenty of shaking heads with a chuckle or a giggle or two.

“So, my girlfriend works in a call center and she says that her boss told her that one of their clients does the big data for one of these tech businesses. She says that one day they picked up an anomaly and they’ve been tracking it ever since. It’s the–” she paused just a little bit for effect, “Ghost Car!”

She unconsciously checked her phone while taking a sip of the wine in her hand. A couple more heads had turned her way now and everyone was waiting for her to continue.

She swallowed her sip and giggled before going on.

“So you guys remember when the ride-hailing apps all went autonomous and driverless, right? Must be like ten or fifteen years ago now. Well, in between the asset recalls, upgrades and switches of models and software, one of the fleet’s cars disappeared. Or fell through the cracks. Or something. It was a full self-driving, solar-powered electric car and even self-repairing using those autonomous auto-shops. No one can find this thing anymore, yet the data keeps streaming in some corrupted form or something, so they know that it’s out there.”

She paused again, scanning the crowd while sipping her wine again.

“They say that it still drives around out there, its neuro-network learning and its GPS still navigating, but no one has been able to hail it or find it or, even, say inside it in like almost two decades! Or, at least, no one who has ever come back…!”

She chuckled and added, “How random and scary is that?” before taking another sip of her now-empty wine.

There was scattered laughter at this while others looked perturbed. The girl giggled and checked her phone again before stumbling back off to the kitchen.

***

“Thanks for coming,” the host gushed again, decidedly more red wine on his lips that when he had first opened the door, “Was so, so lovely seeing you. You really come over again. This was fun. Anyway, hey, get home safe now.”

He smiled and shook the host’s hand. He was also feeling quite tipsy now.

“Absolutely awesome night! Don’t worry about me, my rides coming now. I won’t be driving, in fact, no one will!”

They both laughed at this, though the joke had gotten old about a decade ago.

“Whoa, shit,” the host exclaimed, pointing behind him, “Your rides already here. I didn’t see it coming! That was so fast. And silent. Really silent…”

“Yeah, these damn electric engines are so quiet,” he muttered, glancing at the app on his phone, “That’s strange. Says my ride isn’t here yet. Anyway, I may as well jump in.”

He stepped out around the car and pulled the door open. It was strangely heavy and stiff. Perhaps this was an older model car? Though, he hardly noticed, waving his goodbyes at the host for one final good impression.

It was only when he was inside and the car was rolling off that he noticed the dust. Everything was caked in layers of thick dust and even the air had a strange, musty smell. Was that a scratch in the inside door panel? Had someone tried to claw their way out?

His head was spinning and his heart started pounding. It was at this moment that he reached for the door and found that it had been locked.

In fact, all the doors had been locked.

By now the car was on the highway and going too fast to do anything else but sit back and wait. Almost like the car sensed this and its old-school radio clicked on. He did not recognize the song, but some old rock ballade was being sung about a guy who could not get any satisfaction.

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