Receiving a reward for resolving network outages hardly surprised Craig Bartlett, but receiving a measly free pass for a car wash? Lame-O.
He’d proved himself the best, after all. He sent Marvin and Todd home and told them to come back after they’d Googled network troubleshooting. Craig chuckled to himself, remembering how he put one hand behind him and said, “Look. I can get this fixed with one hand behind my back. Have you guys even logged in, yet?”
Phantasmic Car Wash was right around the corner, so right after work Craig collected his girlfriend, Holly, who worked in Acquisitions, and took her in his Monterey Blue Pearl 2012 Nissan 370Z for the freebie.
“You just washed it Tuesday,” she said.
“Nothing’s too good for Bessie. Besides, that was just a basic wash. Check out the free pass.” Craig pulled it out of the visor’s mirror flap and handed it to her. “It says ‘full treatment,’ baby.”
They pulled up to the cashier’s station, and he handed the attendant the pass. She looked at it and frowned. “Sir, I want to make sure you know to keep your doors and windows closed at all times. No matter what you see, don’t open them. You could be harmed.”
“Duh,” said Craig. “I’ve been through a carwash before.”
The attendant wrinkled her nose. “Go ahead, then.”
He pulled up and followed the line until his tire sank into the front wheel pull, which engaged and pulled them inside. He turned off the car, but pressed the button again to give them power. Holly turned on the radio, a hard rock station, and Craig recognized Seether, but not the song.
The presoak detergents spattered over the car, covering the windows completely. and when the suds thinned, dozens of snarling gremlins, spiky teeth dripping with saliva, stared at them through the glass and pulled at the edges. Craig yelled, holly screamed, and they both lunged over the console, smashing their heads together.
Craig grabbed ahold of Holly and pulled her close. “For the love of God, what’s…”
The mitter curtain wagged back and forth over the front of the car, and as it swept over, the gremlins dropped off, but the strips began to curl and eyes blinked at the ends of them, mouths biting at the car, clonking and clanking as they tried to bite into it. They went for the door handles, and Craig let go of Holly and frantically hit the lock button.
“Back us out,” said Holly.
“I can’t see well enough. I could get us jammed in tight.” Craig patted her hand. “We’re going to ride this out.”
On the other side of the mitter curtain, one of the gremlins hopped on the hood, but when the foam sprayed down on him, it came alive, encircling it’s neck and squeezing it off. The little monster tumbled backward off the hood. The foam covered their windows so they couldn’t see anything, but it swirled and thrashed in an unnatural way.
“That lizard munchkin thing is underneath us now,” said Holly.
“Don’t worry,” said Craig. “If it could get in that way, it would have already.” He cupped her jaw. “We’ll get through this. Remember what the attendant said? I thought it was odd at the time, but she obviously knew what was going to happen. So keep your head, and don’t open the door. We’ll be okay.”
Then Craig noticed that some of the foam seeped into the window on Holly’s side. It formed into little fingers and extended out towards her. He grabbed Holly and pulled her up onto the console’s bin. “Watch out,” he said, pointing to the foam. He worked the window controls to see if he could get a tighter seal, but there was no movement.
Suddenly tentacles covered with suckers battered the car, swinging around a roller. Some came loose attached to octopus heads, reaching behind, trying door handles, front and back, and slithering at the edges of the windows.
“Easy,” said Craig.
“I’m not a horse,” said Holly. “And there’s nothing easy about this. What the hell?”
“Stay calm. Nothing seems to be able to get to us, so far.”
They got past the tentacles, only a few holding on, but an onslaught of power sprayers forced them off. Things seemed to get better until the water in the sprayers turned to blood, which sent Holly into hysterics, and made Craig’s spine seize. “Hold on,” he said. “Hold on.”
The high-pressure blood stopped, and the car went under a rinse arch that flushed it away, but then came the wax applicator. The wax went on in bright colors that swirled into streaky wraiths, their mouths open wide in horrendous wailing.
“I can’t. I can’t. I can’t,” said Holly. She broke away from Craig and opened the door.
“No!” said Craig, but it was too late. Foam-covered tentacles oozed in, and a couple gremlins pulled themselves onto the rocker panel. “She said not to open the door!” he yelled. He pulled Holly out of her seat and crammed her into the driver-side door, at the same time unbuckling himself. He punched one gremlin that had scrabbled onto the passenger seat, sending him tumbling out. He scooted onto the console and reached for the door.
A tentacle snapped around him like a whip and squeezed. He swore he heard his bones crack, but he tore at it with his fingers. The other gremlin dripped saliva onto his seat, and the foam oozed across his carpet.
“Ooh. They’re making a mess of your car,” said Holly. Craig was pretty sure she was talking through her shock. If she’d been clear-headed, she would have followed it with fun-loving derision. But the thought hit Craig hard, and he got angry.
He bashed the tentacle against the dashboard, loosening it so he could unwrap it with his free hand. The gremlin jumped up and tried to bite him, but he pulled the tentacle in the path of its chomp. Its teeth sunk deep into the tentacle, which lurched and writhed. He smashed the gremlin’s nose, grabbed its ear, and threw it out, pulling the tentacle with it and smacking into another gremlin that just appeared.
“Get the hell out of my car.” He stretched for the handle and slammed it shut, only a little foam left, but it oozed inexorably toward them.
“It’s still coming,” said Holly.
“I see that,” said Craig. “I think we’ll be through this thing before it reaches us, though, and we can bail when we get outside. Wax covered the car, and the foam took the shape of a few Yeti crabs, legs pulling itself forward and speeding up its progress.
“It’s coming faster,” said Holly.
“Hold on,” said Craig. “He reached in back for a thick Cisco book to smack the things back. As they passed through another mitter curtain and rinse arch, he smacked at the closest one, but didn’t slow it down. He was vaguely aware of the blow dryer, and when direct sunlight shone through the windows, the foam crabs hardened, cracked into pieces, crumbled to dust, and faded away.
Craig maneuvered the car to a parking slot outside. They both stared at passing traffic for a few minutes, collecting their nerve.
“Tomorrow I drive,” said Holly.
The next day at work, Craig’s boss peaked into his cubicle with a big smirk. “Learn your lesson?” he asked.
“What do you mean?” asked Craig.
His boss tilted his head down in a clear show of pity. “The ‘full treatment’ at Phantasmic Car Wash is a humbling experience. Teach you a lesson for being so arrogant yesterday.”
“Huh,” said Craig. “I kept my head, comforted my girlfriend, kicked a few gremlins’ asses, and tore up a nasty tentacled creature. Came out of it in decent shape.” Craig gave him a smug grin of his own. “I’m feeling pretty badass about now.”
His boss grimaced. “Get to work.”
“Will do,” he said. Having a clean car always put him in a good mood. “I wonder how Phantasmic’s detailing is.”