Pale Horsepower, by Cara Masten DiGirolamo

Death drives a fast car. It’s cream and silver—like a pale horse. When it needs service, she comes here, because we’re the best shop in town. If I could’ve put “Services Death’s BMW” on my signboard and had anyone believe me, I’d’ve done it right off.

Fact is, our shop’s looked out for her vehicle for generations, and I hear my great-grandad used to shoe her horse. When Dad agreed I was taking over the shop, since my brothers were all skipping for Cuba, he sat me down and told me that some nights I’d get a visitor. He’d have a big cream car, and I was to fix it up perfect. No shortcuts, he said, none of your crazy ideas neither. Don’t look at him. You see that big cream car in the drive, and you look at nothing but the car. And you don’t ask for payment. An honor’s an honor.

Now, when my dad got disappeared, and the shop came to me, I wasn’t really in the mood to bow my head to whatever generalissimo was paying us by not throwing us into prison when clearly they’d forgotten their end of the bargain. So when I woke up for no good reason at 2:00 a.m. and saw the cream car in the drive, I stomped right into my shop and said, “So who the fuck are you? And guess how much you’re going to be paying for 2:00 a.m. service!”

Then, of course, I saw her. A girl in a bomber jacket, lighting up a clove as she stepped out of the car. She was tall, skinny as a skeleton, with ash-blonde hair that had to come out of a bottle, but like, an expensive bottle, and knife-blade eyes. She raised an eyebrow at me.

“Huh,” she said. “None of you’ve ever asked me that before. I’m Death. What would you like to be paid?”

The helpless stammering I did at that—What the fuck do you mean, Death?—was a bit embarrassing. But eventually I fixed her car—she’d burnt the fuck out of the transmission, too much stop-and-go these days, she said, and I didn’t have one that would fit, so I offered one of my “specials,” even though Dad had forbidden that. She seemed intrigued, and I rigged her up. Then I figured I knew what I wanted as payment. I asked her when I was going to die.

She looked at me, something about her eyes shimmering out, and winced. “You don’t want to know that.”

The wince was enough for me to guess the answer. “How ’bout you tell me when it’s the last time you’re coming by instead?”

It was enough, knowing I’d get to see her again. I also didn’t have to be scared to say what I thought about the fucking fascists. I was never good at holding my tongue.

Death came in about once a year for servicing, and a few extras. She didn’t mind my “specials” and would grin at me, leaning on the side of the car, as I explained my new idea to soup up her car into a proper deathmobile.

She said no on the afterburners, but I could tell she regretted it.

Then one time she showed up and looked at me, and all the human went out of her face.

I was twenty-eight, pretty healthy, so I could guess I was going to get on the wrong side of a cop or an auto lift. But I would have liked to get more than twenty-eight years. You’re just starting to get over your bullshit at twenty-eight.

I fixed up her car, then started ringing her up at the cash register. I’d never done that before, and she came over to puzzle at my angry typing and the chime of the change drawer.

I shoved the bill at her. “By my accounts, you owe me for six years of services—minus the first, since you paid that off. But you owe my family more than that. Dad serviced your car for maybe twenty years, and granddad too, and then we looked after your horse before that. So you owe me.”

She looked down at the bill, frowning over it. Then she lifted her chin to examine me also. “What do you want?” she asked.

I looked at her. I looked at the car. I looked at my little shop, and my no-more family and no-more future. I thought about asking not to die, getting another ten, twenty, fifty years in this same life. I thought about asking her to look after my people—if any were still around. I thought about asking her to fix this bullshit world—but if Death could make people better, we would be better already.

“I want to go with you,” I said. “Take me in that car. Take me away.”

Startled, she took a step back. “We don’t do that.”

“Well, good job it’s me asking then,” I said. “I’ve never been all that impressed with what’s ‘done.’ Maybe you should try doing something different. Maybe you’d like it.”

I think immortal beings change slowly. But humans change quick, and she’d been hanging out with one for six years. She scowled like she did when she was trying to get her head around a new concept. She’d never quite figured out a lug wrench, no matter how many times I’d shown her how they worked. But this, I thought, just maybe, she might be able to get this.

“You’ll be lonely,” she said.

That was a word I hadn’t heard her say before. I’d asked her once if she was lonely, and she looked like I’d spoken a language she’d never even heard of. But this time she said it like she knew what it meant.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I’ll be with you.”

Death opened the passenger door.

Death drives a fast car. She doesn’t come to my family’s old shop in Miami anymore, but she doesn’t need to, you see. She’s got her own in-house mechanic.

She’s got me.

Cara Masten DiGirolamo is an MFA candidate at the University of British Columbia, an amateur bookbinder, and an instructor in the secret art of Turkish paper marbling. She is a queer writer, a Linguistics PhD, and a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Her fiction can be found in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Fantasy Magazine, Cast of Wonders,, and Daily Science Fiction.

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