Story Excerpt: Untitled Kara Olecki Story

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I wanted to share a little section of a short story that I’ve been working on for about two years. It’s nearly ready for publication, so I figured why not share a bit of it, to get everyone excited? The biggest hurdle left to overcome is titling; I’m notoriously bad at creating a title for my stories because they’re so important, so final. Once that’s been figured out, the story will go live. Wish me luck in this endeavor!

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The atmosphere at the track was as dirty as it was electric. I’m not kidding; the air was literally filled with dirt as the cars flew sideways through the turns and kicked it up. I felt a little silly for wearing makeup because with the layer of dust on my face you couldn’t tell how cute I thought I looked.

A car spun out in the turn and yellow flashing lights illuminated the track. The rest of the field slowed down, and I used the lull in the action to speak with Matt.

“What kind of cars are these again?” I asked, having never seen such funny-looking cars on the road or in the online videos I’d watched to prepare for the night. They looked like…if you put a slice of cake on the ground, gave it wheels and a motor, and put a cage at the top to keep the driver in.

“Sprint cars,” Matt said, taking a bite of hotdog. “All the best drivers in the world get their start in these things. Some of them when they’re just kids.” He held the hotdog towards me. “Wanna bite?”

“No thanks,” I said. I wasn’t sure how to tell him that I didn’t like pork. It was kind of sacrilegious for anyone in the South to not like pork. You know, barbeque and all. “Kids drive these things?”

“If they’re really good,” Matt said. “I’ll admit it’s a lot of car, but if you’re going to end up driving professionally, you might as well climb the ladder as fast as you can.”

“Have you ever raced?”

“No,” he said. “Mom wouldn’t let me. Says it’s too dangerous.”

The cars resumed racing, and I found myself agreeing with Matt’s mom. That’s not to say that I didn’t love it; no, the pure speed and control those racers had while going—what, a hundred miles an hour?—was insane. I was definitely hooked and couldn’t wait to come back in the future. Hold up, Kara. The night’s not over yet. Enjoy the moment.

Twenty laps later, the race was over and the winner spun his car around in faster and faster circles, kind of like how a figure skater spins faster and faster when she tightens her body up. At one point the car’s front wheels left the ground, and my heart must’ve been the only one that skipped a beat because the rest of the people in the stands were whooping and hollering like they had won the race. I looked over at Matt and his arm was in the air, fist pumping, a huge grin on his face. It was still early in this relationship, but I knew I didn’t want it to go anywhere but forward.

After the race, the track shut down for a few moments so they could smooth out the dirt for the feature race. “This is what we came for,” Matt said, opening the program he’d bought at the single souvenir stand and showing me a page showcasing two racers. “The track championship is going to be decided tonight, and one of these guys is going to win it.”

Both of the racers were not that much older than us. The driver on the left, Kane Taylor, has been racing since he was five—I could barely keep my Power Wheels in a straight line at that age—and was looking for his first championship. He was good-looking, with a jawline that could cut glass and a mess of blond hair that extended to his shoulders. He looked like a champion, and I was going to root for him. He drove car number 242 and his sponsor was a local restaurant. He had dreams of racing at the top one day, and…I swear, I’m just reading his bio. I’m not interested in him. Not when Matt is by my side.

The other driver, Spencer Wallace, drove the number 86 and was sponsored by his family’s auto-repair shop. He was more gruff-looking, with a permanent five o’clock shadow and a smugness to his grin that kind of creeped me out. He too wanted to race with the big boys one day, and he was well on his way, having won the previous two track championships.

“Who’s your favorite?” I asked, hoping Matt’s answer was the same as mine. When he said Kane, Internal Kara breathed a sigh of relief.

“What do you think so far?” he asked a moment later, and I dialed back the enthusiasm for fear of scaring him off. He seemed pleased with my reply.

The cars in this race were nothing like the sprint cars that had been on the track before. These cars looked almost like the ones you see on the street, and even had headlights that looked like those on real cars. Matt told me they were just stickers, which made sense, I guess, since if one broke you could easily get a flat tire by running over it.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” the P.A. announcer’s voice blared over the speakers. “It’s time for the feature event, the settling of the championship between Kane Taylor and Spencer Wallace. Which one of them will be holding the trophy when it’s all said and done? Fifty laps to decide it all.”

And they were off.

 

I could see why both drivers were in the running for the title. They were the class of the field, and pretty soon most of the rest of the racers were a lap or more behind to the two of them. Spender held a slight lead, but with twenty laps to go there was still plenty of time for Kane to catch up. Plus, Kane didn’t even have to win the race. Matt told me during one of the cautions that Kane had enough points that he could finish third and still win the title, even if Spencer won.

“Taylor gets a run off the corner and they’re neck and neck!” the announcer said as Kane and Spencer ran side-by-side. “Who’s going to get the lead on the frontstretch? Coming out of turn four, they’re still running two abreast. Down into turn one, Taylor takes a slight lead, but can he make it stick? Yes, he does! He has half a nose on Wallace as they head into turn three. Taylor dives it in deep, but slides up the track—TROUBLE IN TURN 3! Taylor slams into the outside retaining wall head-on and tumbles end-over-end …”

“Oh my God!” I threw my hand over my mouth. Someone behind us swore loudly. Matt’s mouth hung open, his fist stopped mid-air. He put it down.

As the dust settled, we could see that the car was ripped to shreds. It lay on the driver side, and you could see Kane’s helmet through the hole in the roof. Within seconds, a fire truck and ambulance blocked our view and the emergency workers moved quickly.

The rest of the racecars were led off the track, and the P.A. announcer said no more except to tell people to give the scene some space.

“Did you see that?” a guy a couple of rows back from us said loudly. “Spencer took him out on purpose!”

I turned around and saw a heavyset man, beer in hand, pointing to the wreck. “He knew he couldn’t win any other way, so he done wrecked Kane!”

A bunch of others voiced their support.

“Shut up!” said others, among more nasty comments.

“Do you think that’s true?” I asked Matt.

“Spencer’s a rough racer,” he said, shaking his head, “but he wouldn’t do something like that on purpose. From what I saw, Kane got tight in the corner and drove across the front of Spencer’s car.”

“Oh my God,” I repeated.

“I know,” Matt said, wrapping his arms around me. “Racing’s a dangerous sport. But they’re doing everything they can.”

“Did anyone see Kane moving around?” another voice cut across the silence.

“I couldn’t tell.”

“Looked like Waltrip’s wreck at Bristol. You remember that?”

“Mikey walked away. That’s a good sign.”

“Each crash is different, Haley, you know that.”

“But still, let’s not put negativity out there.”

Finally, a voice of reason. Let’s not think the worst has happened. Kane’s a strong guy. He even had a roof over his head and everything, not like the sprint cars. He’ll make it out alive. Still, I didn’t see him moving, either. His head was oddly still when I saw him.

Please God, let him live. Don’t take his life away. Don’t take him. Don’t take him.

Other than the drunks, the stands were quiet for the next ten minutes while firefighters worked on the car. Finally, a stretcher was wheeled across the dirt and then another ten minutes passed.

When they wheeled the stretcher back, what I saw both scared me and filled me with hope. Kane’s left leg was definitely broken, and even though I couldn’t tell what else was wrong I knew he was seriously messed up. Right before they put him into the ambulance, however, he gave a weak thumbs up. The crowd roared.

“Thank you,” I exclaimed, looking to the sky. “Thank you Jesus.”

“Come on,” Matt said, extending his hand. “That’s enough racing for me.”

I took it and we left the track behind.

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