Montana Midnight

Story by Jesse DeStasio
Artwork by Ian Ameling
The sun was setting over Death Valley,
granting a small reprieve from a day
that easily exceeded 120 degrees.

The impromptu racetrack was abuzz
with various technicians, eager news reporters,
and crew members. Despite the frantic energy
in the air, Montana Midnight strutted towards his car un-phased.
His pit boss threw a jacket sleeve over him rather violently,
Montana balanced to avoid spilling
 his beverage in the mug. He cradled it almost
like he was protecting a baby from a pack of wolves. 
“Can I have the mug?” the pit boss asked,
knowing the answer in advance.
“Fuck. off.”
Montana said in a manner that was
simultaneously joking and deadly. 
“We’ve fitted the vest with the computer sensors
those video game people gave us.
They’ll have a full read out of all your
muscle contractions and bio readings
during the jump. Just...ah...try not to sweat,” 
His pit boss joked. 
Montana said nothing.
A few seconds later another tech plunked
the mug from his hand, and before
he could protest, handed Montana his helmet. 
Suiting up, Montana felt the weight of the extra electronics,
tried to memorize the milliseconds
they added to his movement.
Some software company out of the UK
was paying good money for this stunt,
hoping to glean some data their programmers
could use to make a more realistic arcade game.
Montana was too embarrassed to admit the money
they were offering was dearly needed.
This was a lifeline.
A chance to make things right.
He couldn’t fuck this up.

Montana hopped into the car through
the window, never missing an
opportunity for a little showmanship.
Out of earshot, the tech dumped Montana’s
mug out and shot the pit boss a pained look.
“He’s drunk isn’t he? Does he even still have a license?”

“Watch it, Peters. We work for him. He says he’s fine, then he’s fine."
Inside the car, Montana went through his
normal ritual of checking his straps, dials, and gauges.
Last part of the ritual was tracing his finger
over the tattered black and white
drawing tapped to his center console. 
The crude artwork was giving him
an intense tightness in his chest,
the kind the whiskey usually dulled.
Suddenly feeling unbearably anxious,
Montana turned the key and gunned it hard,
to the surprise of everyone around the car.
“Why are you letting him do this?” The tech asked,
keeping his voice down so the software people couldn’t hear.
“This guy was the best stunt driver in the world, now he’s going to be hawking atarti games?” 
“He needs the money.
Ex-wife’s taking him to the cleaners.
She even took their kid.”
The pit boss offered grimly. 
It was immediately clear Montana did not have his wits about him. 
He was going too fast,
and the crew was starting to panic. 
Behind the wheel, Montana was not his steely self.
Sweat was trickling down him, stinging his eyes.
At least, he thought it was sweat.
It could’ve been tears.
Something was rumbling deep inside of him,
he felt like a beast was trying to claw
it’s way between the cracks in his sanity.
The car banked sharply right, one of the wheels spinning off....
Montana overcompensated, heading right for a craggy rock wall...
Every member of the pit crew held their breath
as the car arched upwards in what felt like slow motion...
Sparks, flames, and glass danced in the darkening sky.
The pile of wreckage slammed
into the ground unceremoniously. 
The tech kept calling Montana’s name
over the headset, but the pit boss knew...
no one was walking out of that crash. 

                                                                        To Be Continued in Turbo Atoll....