Head of the Pack

By Caleb Holzhausen

I climbed into the driver’s seat of the car. 

Fixing my helmet, I heard a muffled, “Ok kid, you got this! I’ll see you at the finish.”

I didn’t really have a verbal response, and even if I did, he wouldn’t have heard me through my helmet. All I could do was give him a thumbs up and a cheeky grin. The other cars started up, so I took that as my cue to start as well. 

Clutch engaged. Brake engaged. Turn the key. 

I had felt the engine start so many times before. But this time was different. The next two minutes rested on everything I’d learned. 

The car felt cold, as if it was trying to shut me out. Uncomfortable and nervous, I put one hand on the wheel, the other on the stick. The car was like a corpse, cold and hard. I had to use all my strength to simply move the wheel to make sure it wasn’t locked. Like twisting the head of a cadaver. A chill shot up my spine. 

The engine turned over, and over, waiting in idle for me to push it harder than it had ever been before. If I screwed this up it was over. I was over. 

The starting que was linked to the radio; five tones I’d need to hear before the race started. Four of the same pitch, the fifth a significantly different sound.  As the first four rang out they felt as if they were getting farther and farther apart. I knew in my head that the tones would be rhythmically timed, but my overwhelming fear pulled the five seconds into twenty minutes. 


The other drivers revved their engines. I looked around to the ones I could see from my position. The driver next to me shook his head back and forth. Then he looked directly at me, straight through my eyes and into my soul. I’m sure all he saw was fear. I couldn’t hear him, but I could tell he was laughing. Whether it was at me, or just a laugh of insanity it didn’t matter. He had paralyzed me with his gaze. 

It was then I realized these drivers were like a pack of wolves, howling and snarling in preparation for a big hunt. Although there was a big difference between these drivers and wolves. The wolves were in a pack, going on a hunt together, as a team. The drivers, however, were out to hunt each other. It was every wolf for himself. No brotherhood, no mercy. 


As the second tone went off, I did the only thing I knew I could do. Check everything. Gas, oil, RPM, brakes, throttle, clutch. As far as I could tell everything was fine. But the rolling thunder of fear crept even closer now. “What am I missing?” My head whipped around scanning anything and everything in the car. “What is it? There has to be something…” There was nothing wrong with the car. I simply couldn’t convince myself that I was ready. 


Once the race began, it would be smoke-clouded chaos. And if you wreck here, it’s probably over. So, my aim was not to take the lead, but to survive. Getting to the front of the pack was just a bonus if it happened. 


One more second. This moment lasted too long. My thoughts raced through my head. “What led me here? How am I gonna win this? Who am I really? Why do I need to even do this? Is it worth it?” My mind continued to spiral into an abyss of chaos and turmoil.

My eyes danced all over the inside of the car looking for something to focus in on. And then they found it. The speeding ticket she had put on my dash. She always told me I was too fast for normal roads. 

My head shifted into race mode. My mind was blank. Not in the sense that I wasn’t thinking, but that every anxiety, fear, doubt that had come to mind was now pushed out. The cold feeling had gone away, and now I felt a comfortable warmth.

This is who I am. I live for this.”  At least, that’s what she’d told me. 

Suddenly I was aware of the leather seat I was sitting in. I sank into it, as it held me tight, like a mother’s warm hug. This was where I felt safe, behind the wheel of a speed machine. I was home. One hand on the wheel, the other on the stick. I was connected to the car. It was an extension of my own body. Closing my eyes, I finally let myself relax. 


Let’s do this.

I slammed the throttle and dropped the clutch. It wasn’t as smooth as it could’ve been. The sound of rubber sliding on pavement and engines roaring like lions filled the air. It pulled me out of my head. Even though it was mostly muscle memory, I dropped the ball on a clean start. My tires spun. All I could think about was the predators around me. Every wolf out there, howling for blood. I had to get out of the middle of the pack.

As we approached the first turn, I saw an opening. The cars in front of me all went hard into the inside of the turn, slowing down. This was it. My chance to get out. I floored it.

One by one I passed each car. With each one feeling better than the last. I was flying ahead of the pack. I could feel the adrenaline pumping through my veins. The car was ready to win just as much as I was. 

The wolves were all in my rear-view mirror now. For a second, I felt victory. The freedom of the clear road ahead of me. Then came the next turn. 

I hit the brakes and jerked the wheel when, yet again, it was as stiff as a cadaver. I knew as soon as the wheel resisted, my race was over. I could feel the tail end of my car slipping off the road. Suddenly I was facing the pack. They were coming right at me. All I could do was close my eyes and hope they had mercy.

Majoring in Professional and Creative Writing at Purdue isn’t always easy. But a driving passion for written works and expression helps drive me forward. The intricate world that we experience is far too often looked over. In my writing I want to expose those childlike curiosities and wonders that rest inside all of us.

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