The Midnight Special

“Now what you need is some old coat hangers. Put 'em in your trunk in case you get the midnight special.”1

“I still don't know what you mean.”

“You will, and you'll need those coat hangers to wake you up if it comes.”


“Just get the coat hangers. And they have to be the right kind.”

“Yeah, yeah.”

“Wire, not plastic.”

“I get it!”

“Good luck.”


I hung up the phone. Did I have any? I checked the closet. Mostly plastic but three or four wire. I sighed and pulled sweaters and dress shirts off. Then I went out to the Prius, put the hangers in the trunk, got in the driver's seat, and pressed the ignition.

“Let the midnight special, shine it's light on-” I shut the music off. My employer had put a CD in the car with one song on it. The coordinates were already entered in the nav system. I started the drive and arrived two hours later. It was 10:13PM. The night shone silver in the pavement and puddles but for the wash of the hard white fluorescent streetlight. I leaned the seat back and expected to sleep through it.

I woke to the hangers rattling in the trunk. I blinked groggily. A hot orange-red light flashed and burned over the silver and white. I was sweating and I could see the heat crinkling the paint on the hood of the car. The instrument panel flashed and scrolled and the doors opened and locked and the coat hangers rattled and pushed against the unlocked trunk hatch and flew up. It was over in an instant.

“Did it work?”

“You could say so.”

“I told you it would work. I knew that was the spot.”

“No you didn't.”

“Did you see it?”

“I didn't look. It was too fast.”

“Not even through the sunroof?”

I did not answer because I did not want to admit that I had been too scared. It had felt like the sun was above me, and everyone knows you don't look at the sun.

“Now what you need is a Go Pro. Put it in a polycarbonate box, point it up, and let it record all night. You still got the coat hangers?”

“They rattled out of the trunk.”

“Jeezus. Get some more. And be ready this time.”

“I'll try.”

“Do or do not-”

I hung up and went to Wal-Mart in a hurry. It was 5:03pm on a Wednesday night. She would be on the last hour of her shift and more apt to kill it talking to a stranger. I didn't even check to see if Wal-Mart had Go-Pros and coat hangers and polycarbonate boxes. Why did I think of myself as a stranger even though I knew her middle name and that her grandma was in the hospital? It was because I knew it from Facebook.



“That'll be $301.23.” Her voice cascaded down my spine like resonant water as I stared at her name tag: Rosa.

“You have a beautiful voice, Rosa.”

She looked at me. “Thanks, that'll be $301.23”

I paid and left. She must have had a bad shift. I thought about her reaction and how to interpret the look she gave me for the rest of the month. I was still thinking about it on the night the midnight special came again. The coat hangers rattled me awake and I realized our mistake. The Go Pro jumped and skipped and then took the box with it into the sky.

“Now what you need is a 2x4x6, some wood screws and a drill, and maybe a dozen sand bags. Oh, and two new Go Pros and two boxes.”

“And what do I do with all that?”

I screwed the Go Pros to the 2x4x6. The sandbags weighed the Prius down so much that the bottom of the bumper almost scraped the wood.

“Okay, but I don't want to be in the car if the midnight special comes and sucks everything up.”

Then I got out of the car and walked to a brand-new Prius my employer had parked behind an abandoned barn three miles away.

“Why the hell are you paying me for this?”

“Don't you want to get paid?”

“What if I said no?”

“You won't.”

As I drove the new Prius to the burnt Prius, I wondered why I did not just say no and get a job at Wal-Mart. I had looked at the want-ads on Craig's List for a joke and now here I was, door to door with a Prius full of sandbags on a 2x4x6 because a stranger who paid me by cash drops insisted on absurd stipulations.

“You've got to have the cars touching though, scratch the paint if you have to.”


“They have to be less than 10mm apart, so the easiest way to make sure is to just scratch em' up next to each other.”

“I don't understand.”

“Just park close enough to-”

“No, no. I just don't understand why you're paying me to do this. It doesn't make any sense and it seems like a waste.”

“You've seen the midnight special right?”

“Actually I haven't.”

“It'll set you free.”

But that night the midnight special did not come, nor the next night, nor the next. And my employer concluded it must have moved somewhere else, maybe Oregon, and I had done such a good job here would I mind moving? I could keep the newer Prius and all expenses would be paid and there might even be a raise in my future if I kept it up.

So I moved and we chased the midnight special all over Oregon and Washington and Idaho and Texas and NYC and Missouri and North Dakota, and we always got close and there was always someone I considered saying no to my employer for, but I never did and the midnight special never set me free.

1: I overheard almost this exact sentence while walking on my street. The only change I made was from “a midnight special” to “the midnight special.” It was spoken by a man who was talking on his phone as he rode past us. Had to think a lot about the uses of coat hangers for this one, but I also enjoyed learning about the history of the song “The Midnight Special.” It is thought to have originated among prisoners in the American South who saw the “ever loving light” of the midnight train at night. If the light shone on you as the train passed, you were supposed to be freed the next day. While writing this, I listened a lot to the version recorded by Leadbelly.

#MidnightSpecial #Fiction #ShortStory

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