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An Early Ford Mustang
    by Eric James Stone

An Early Ford Mustang
Artwork by Anselmo Alliegro

Unfamiliar keys in hand, Brad looked at the ketchup-red 1968 Mustang convertible in Uncle Fritz's garage. Then he re-read the note that accompanied the bequest: Maybe now you won't be late for everything. I trust you will be a responsible driver. But be careful of the curse.

Brad understood the first part. His girlfriend, Denise, joked he would be late for his own funeral, while Uncle Fritz had never been late. If anything, Uncle Fritz had been early to his own funeral, dying at only fifty-eight. He'd owned the Mustang over forty of those years.

And the bit about being a responsible driver was obviously a veiled reference to the time Brad had gotten drunk at a party in high school and had stumbled out of his friend's house to go home. Just as Brad was trying rather unsuccessfully to unlock his car door, Uncle Fritz happened to drive past and recognize him. On the way home, he'd gotten an earful about the perils of drunk driving. Since then, Brad had kept his promise never to drive drunk, and as far as he knew, Uncle Fritz had kept his promise to never mention the incident to Brad's parents.

But the part about the curse had to be a joke. If Uncle Fritz believed the Mustang was cursed, why did he drive it everywhere? Maybe he meant not to drive with the top down -- Uncle Fritz's skin had really taken a beating, so he'd looked more like seventy-eight than fifty-eight.

After putting the note in a back pocket, Brad unlocked the door and got in. The Mustang started right up with a smooth roar. Uncle Fritz had kept the car in great shape despite its age.

"Hey, baby," he said, patting the dashboard, "Whaddaya say we go for a spin?"

After forty-five minutes aimlessly cruising on the highway, Brad looked at his watch and realized he was supposed to pick up Denise in five minutes. She knew him well enough to not actually expect him for another fifteen minutes after that, but he was a good forty miles away by now, so he would be late even by his usual standards. He pulled out his cell phone and dialed her number.

"Hey, I lost track of time," he told her. "Won't get there until seven-thirty or so. But I got something cool to show you."

Denise sighed. "Fine. See you when you get here." She clicked off.

He took the Mustang up to eighty-five on the freeway, and luckily there were no cops. When he pulled up to the curb beside Denise's apartment building, his watch read 7:28.

When Denise answered the door, she grinned. "So you were kidding about being late. I think this is the first time you've ever arrived on time."

"What?" Brad checked his watch again: 7:29. "Your watch must be slow. It's 7:30."

"No, Jeopardy just finished. It's seven o'clock."

Brad pulled out his cell phone and checked its clock. Denise was right. "Huh. Wonder how that happened." He reset his watch to seven. "Now let me show you the car I inherited from my uncle."

The next morning, Brad overslept, which was not unusual. He rushed out the door seven minutes before his ten o'clock class, and after an eleven-minute drive to campus and six minutes to park and get to the classroom, he somehow managed to walk in the door just before the bell rang. The wall clock said it was ten o'clock sharp; Brad's watch said it was ten after.

As the professor droned on about some Greek philosopher, Brad wondered if there was something about the Mustang that made his watch run fast. Maybe that's what Uncle Fritz meant about a curse.

After a week with the Mustang, Brad had no doubts: the car was magic. He didn't have a clue how it worked, but no matter where he was going, he never arrived late if he drove the car. Somehow the car seemed to know where he was going and when he needed to be there.

His watch always showed him to be as late as he thought he was; but according to everyone else's clocks, he was always on time. Since his cell phone updated its time from the phone company network, it agreed with everyone else.

No wonder Uncle Fritz had never been late. Then, in a flash of insight, Brad realized what the curse was: he was living his life measured by the seconds on his watch, and they were ticking away faster than the rest of the world's.

He thought back to Uncle Fritz's funeral. Only fifty-eight years old, his uncle had looked twenty years older.

That won't happen to me, Brad decided. And the next morning he tried an experiment. He woke up early and drove off to his ten o'clock class at 9:40.

Without rushing, he arrived at the classroom a couple of minutes before the bell. His watch agreed with the wall clock.

If I only use the Mustang's power for emergencies, Brad thought, I can live a lot longer than Uncle Fritz. What a fool Uncle Fritz had been to waste so much of his life by leaving late to things. If he had just left on time, he would rarely have had to use the Mustang's magic to arrive on time.

Uncle Fritz really should have been a more responsible driver.

His cell phone's ring interrupted his studying. He didn't recognize the number. "Hello?"

"Brad, this is Denise's mom. She was driving home from work and . . ." Her voice broke. "I'm at the hospital with her. You'd better come down."

Brad's heart lurched as he stood and headed for the door. "How is she?"

"She's in a coma, but . . . the doctors say she could die at any time."

"I'll be there as soon as I can." He rushed down the steps, yanked open the Mustang's door, climbed in, and put the key in the ignition.

And froze.

The magic of the Mustang could get him to the hospital before Denise died, he was sure of that. But he didn't want to arrive just in time to see her die.

He had a sudden memory of Uncle Fritz in the car, the night he almost drove drunk. Uncle Fritz had patted the dashboard and said, "Good thing we happened to drive by. You could have been killed."

Had it really just been a coincidence that Uncle Fritz arrived just in time to stop him?

How powerful was the magic?

"Hey, baby," Brad said, patting the dashboard. "Let's go pick Denise up before she leaves work and take her out for a surprise romantic dinner."

"I must say, I like the new, prompt Brad," said Denise after the waiter took their orders.

Brad just grinned at her, grateful that she was here with him, alive. And he finally understood what Uncle Fritz meant by the curse: now that he had this power to save people he cared about from tragedy, he had the responsibility to use it.

I trust you will be a responsible driver, the note had said. Brad would live up to that trust.

Denise let out an exaggerated sigh. "But I guess I can't say you'll be late for your own funeral any more."

"No," said Brad. "No, I'll be early."

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