The Black Bug
By Michael Spitzkoff
I gripped the football with my left hand, leveraging it with my right when I heard that sound... the muffled sound, like a locust, coming from a black 1960 Volkswagen Beetle. The Black Bug. I was tossing the football around with my friend Roger one summer evening in late June of 1984. The aroma of mesquite was in the air from the steak, hamburgers and hotdogs my father was grilling for dinner that night.
At that time our house was directly across from a vast desert which covered most of north Phoenix, Arizona. The desert was the Bug's playground, engulfing everything—including young Kyle last summer—that got in its way.
Kyle was just a couple years older than myself and ventured out into the desert one day on his motorbike. He disappeared until several months later, when he was found in a dried up wash bed, deep within the desert. His decomposed body was found accidently by some neighborhood kids riding their bikes. The police reported it as an accident, but folks in our community knew better. This was just another unfortunate run-in with the Black Bug. Everyone around had their theories as to who or what was driving the Bug, but not a soul knew for sure what lay behind the dirty windshield.Legend has it that the Bug personally marked its prey, but that's ridiculous of course. That summer, I often felt I was to be its next victim.
The Black Bug had already made a half a dozen passes down our street that evening, and I anticipated a few more before that night was over. My father had just cooked the last of the food on the grill, and had started to walk inside the house holding his tray.
“Dinner is going to be ready pretty soon, so why don’t you two wash up,” my father said to Roger and I.
“We’ll be just a few minutes dad,” I replied as he walked inside the house.
“Let me show you my range,” my friend Roger said, wanting to show off his arm.
“My yard isn’t long enough for that stuff,” I said. My back yard had just small patch of grass on one end and a good sized swimming pool on the other end.
“Okay then lets go to the front,” Roger suggested.
I looked around for a second and thought about it. “All right, but we have to be quick. Dinner is almost ready.”
“It’ll be quick, don’t worry,” Roger assured me.
We made our way out through the side gate and into the front yard. It was a quiet residential neighborhood at the time, and we didn't get much traffic down our street. Roger ran toward the street as I got ready to throw the football, and suddenly I heard that buzzing sound. The Bug came racing out from nowhere and nearly ran Roger over. It flipped a u-turn.
“Get out of there!” I yelled to Roger. He was already in no man's land, standing frozen in the middle of the street as the Bug did donuts around him. I wanted to help but I was just as scared as my friend. The Bug drove up onto the sidewalk and slammed on its brakes, stopping between Roger and me. We both stood there in fear, not knowing what to do. The Bug revved its engine, as if taunting us. Time was suspended and those few seconds, standing in the hot sun, felt like an eternity. I gathered myself and just as I was about to make a run for it the Bug peeled out of there, launching itself down the street. It got to the corner and screeched to a sudden stop.
I ran to Roger, who was still frozen in place. “Jesus, are you okay?”
Suddenly the Bug blared its horn loudly and continuously, piercing our ears. It peeled out again, leaving a cloud of smoke down the street. The honking sound of its horn echoed throughout the neighborhood. Roger and I ran into the house as fast as we could. My mother and father were in the kitchen, almost done preparing dinner. We entered the kitchen sweating profusely and trying to catch our breath.
"What's wrong?" my mother asked.
"It was that car, the Black Bug! It trapped us on the street outside!" I said, still out of breath.
"It did what?" my father asked.
"It cornered Roger outside on the street and wouldn't let him by," I tried to explain.
"I've had just about enough of that car!" my father said angrily as he walked over to the phone. "I'm going to call the police."
The police showed up soon after. Roger was still a little rattled from the incident, standing in our walkway out front while my father conversed with the officers. Of course the Black Bug was nowhere to be found. Roger slept over that night and needless to say, he and I stayed inside the house. We played some games on the Atari and watched a couple of movies we had rented from the video store. Finally we went to bed at my parents' demand.
I woke up in the middle of the night to a high-pitched locust sound reverberating outside. Roger, who was sleeping on the floor next to my bed, had already been woken by the sound.
"It's out there," Roger said in fearful accents. "I think its been driving up and down the street." The sound become more intense and our curiosity kicked in. The window in my room directly faced the street giving us a good view of the outside. Roger and I kneeled down by the window, which was covered with a curtain.
"I dare you to look outside," Roger said.
"I'll look if you look."
We both grabbed one side of the curtain and I counted to three. "One, two, three!" Both of us slid the curtain away and looked outside. There was no sign of the Bug but the sound was getting closer. All of a sudden the car came flying down the street and sounded its horn. We were so surprised we jolted backward on the floor.
"Wow, that was scary," I said nervously, as the sound became fainter and fainter. The Bug was getting further away.
"I think we made it mad," Roger said.
"I don't know, but I'm not looking out that window anymore!" I said.
Throughout the rest of that night we heard the sound of the Bug periodically, but in the morning it stopped completely. The rest of the week was quiet until the holiday.
The day before the fourth of July came, and everyone was ready to celebrate. That evening I decided to meet a group of friends at the park up the street. We were all big on soccer at the time so a bunch of us would get together and form two teams. The park was the perfect place to sooth our competitive needs because it had a soccer field, and it was within walking distance. Our group would meet every few weeks to play a few games. It was Roger and I with four other guys against six other neighborhood boys. We were still overly cautious about the Black Bug, and looked around nervously as we walked onto the field. My parents, and the other neighborhood parents, were a bit skeptical about letting us kids out of their sight after hearing about what had happened to Roger and me, but they decided there was safety in numbers. Moreover, my friend David parents were watching their infant child at a nearby playground.
It was about forty-five minutes into our game and my team was kicking butt. I was running up the field, receiving a pass from a teammate and poised to score another goal. Suddenly the Black Bug sounded , louder than ever, its horn blasting throughout the neighborhood. The game ceased and all my friends stood there, panicking, looking for it. But the Bug was nowhere to be seen, only the loud piercing sound of its horn. The sound became louder and louder and everyone became terrified.
“Let’s get out of here!” my friend David yelled. Like a herd of antelope frightened by a cheetah, everyone broke for the street as the Bug crashed through the side of the fence separating the park from the desert. We scattered for our lives as the car swerved in front of my fleeing friends, nearly hitting two kids on the other team. A huge dust cloud kicked up from the Bug, which was circling around us. Out of the corner of my eye I saw David’s parents holding their baby and running toward their son, who was now in the middle of the group. Roger and I broke left, fleeing toward the street to my house. The Bug gunned its engine a few hundred yards up in front of us and did a 180 degree turn in one swift motion. We could hardly see through the thick dust cloud, but Roger and I found our bearings and made it to the street. I heard the Bug accelerate once more and as I fled I tried to locate the car, but I couldn't see anything. It was every man for himself now as I ran for my life down the street, eventually coming out of the wall of dust. I lost sight of Roger, who had fallen behind me. I was too scared to help him. A hundred feet from my house, just when I felt safe, I glanced back just as the Bug shot out of the dust, which was now beginning to settle. It raced past Roger, just missing him, and jolted toward me. I made it to my front lawn but the Bug drove up onto my property, nearly hitting me. It skidded back off my lawn, showering me with gravel and dirt. I stared as the Bug drove down the street, gleefully letting off its horn. Roger caught up to me and we just stood on my lawn in shock.
Independence day came and everyone from the neighborhood was preparing for the huge fireworks display at a ranch several miles away. But tonight my parents wouldn't let me out of their sight. Dusk was coming and father fired up the grill, expecting a few families from the neighborhood to show up. The plan was to cook the food and then shuttle it to the park because it had the best view of the fireworks display.
It was an hour or so before the fireworks. We were done eating, the adults were sitting on their lounge chairs chatting, and we were hanging out on the playground several hundred yards away. Mr. Howl, Chandler's dad, walked up to us, asking for volunteers to go to his house to carry some chairs back to the park. Chandler wanted to show me his new Spiderman comic so I volunteered to help.
Mr. Howl's house was two blocks up the street from the park. We saw a row of streetlights out on the second block from the park, making it extremely dark with almost no visibility. Mr. Howl's house was six houses down at the center of the block. It was an eerie feeling walking down the dark street, and then we felt it. A feeling of being followed, and then a low-toned noise of rubber tires rolling along the black top not far behind us. I looked back and just then two round headlights almost blinded me. There was the sound of an engine accelerating and then the screeching of tires. The Black Bug gunned it toward us. Chandler and I took off running. Mr. Howl stood there trying to protect us from getting hit.
“Keep running!” Mr. Howl shouted.
The Black Bug slammed into Mr. Howl, who was thrown over the other side of the car. I heard the impact of his body hitting the street. Chandler and I wove through his neighbor's front yard, yelling for our lives, but no one was around to hear us. The Bug ran over bushes and plants on people's front yards as it finally caught us, slamming into Chandler and knocking him down near his own mailbox. I made it to the Howl's front pathway as the Bug cornered me near the door. It revved it’s engine, unmoving, with headlights beaming. I couldn’t move and I didn't know what to do because I was completely petrified. Suddenly my brain went into action and I scrambled to my left, trampling through the Howl's flower garden and leaping over a little wall leading to the driveway. The Bug backed out of the walkway and went after me. I booked it up the street, the Bug not far behind. Just as I swung around the corner to the left, a cop car patrolling the neighborhood came rolling up the street. I ran up on the sidewalk and the Black Bug shot past me with the cop car after it with sirens blazing. I stopped, watching the chase, trying to catch my breath. My heart was racing a million beats a minute. I heard more police sirens in the distance, and just as a police car pulled up to the curb to see if I was all right, there was a loud bang almost like an explosion. Flames rose above the houses in the neighborhood, coming from the desert. I could hear all kinds of commotion coming from the policeman’s radio.
Shortly after, the police found my parents who were still at the park, and brought them to the Howl’s house, which was blocked off with crime scene tape. As the police took my statement, people from miles away stood there behind the crime tape, trying to catch a glimpse of the scene. The fireworks display started soon after that, but most of us around the neighborhood weren’t in the mood to celebrate.
My friend Chandler survived the hit, but he had to spend three months in the hospital and do six months of physical therapy. Unfortunately Mr. Howl didn’t survive the fatal blow. I was happy to make it out alive but sad for my friend and his family. No one knows what happened to the Black Bug after that night. The police chased after it for blocks, causing it to explode from an onslaught of gunfire. But the police were unable to find any trace of wreckage from the vehicle. It had exploded and then vanished into thin air.
Several nights later I was sitting up in bed, thinking of all that had happened to me, and feeling unsettled. I had a strange feeling that the Bug was still around and very close. I couldn’t take it anymore so I jumped out of bed and walked to the window. I stood there and paused for a second, staring at the curtains which I always kept closed. Reluctantly, I grabbed the string to release the curtain. In one swift motion I yanked it open and there stood the Black Bug right outside my window, facing me. It flipped its high beams at me, illuminating my room, and sounded its loud piercing horn. I yelled out in fear and just as I turned away from the light my parents came racing into the room.
I jerked upward on my bed, drenched in sweat, trying to catch my breath. It had just been a dream but it seemed so real. It was obvious that I was still traumatized from what happened.
Over time the nightmares gradually receded. I’m grown up now with a family of my own, but I still think about the summer of 84. Sometimes I sit up late at night, hearing the muffled locust sound which used to haunt my dreams. Of course it's just the soft murmur of cicadas and grasshoppers outside my window. Or is it? I often tell my kids about that summer and warn them to always beware of the Black VW Bug, because you never know when or where it might be lurking. You can never be too careful. Perhaps it's down your street right now.