Why is a hearse coming my way? It was getting late and the streets were dark, but I could still make out the shape of the old Cadillac hearse as it rolled up to me and stopped. Then, to my amazement and surprise the driver's window came down and a voice asked, "want to go for a ride?" I recognized the voice. This was not the voice of an undertaker; it was the voice of a friend.
"Where did you get this car, Kelly?" "You like it?" he replied, "I got it from a colored funeral home over in San Augustine, she's my new runner." Even though Kelly was barely eighteen years old he was a veteran moonshine runner. He was more or less born into the business. His father and uncles had all been moonshiners, but Kelly was a driver, hauling the illegal cargo from the source of manufacture to the place of consumption.
"Look at this motor," he said as he got out of the hearse and opened the hood. I could already tell that it was no ordinary coffin carrier by the deep rumbling sound coming from the dual exhaust and glass pack mufflers. "Look at the size of that engine!" he exclaimed. The motor was a big Cadillac power plant, but I could see the handy work of Kelly and his family on it. It had a hand fabricated exhaust system and a race style carburetor. The biggest change in the motor was a supercharger, a device that forced more air into the motor and dramatically raised the horsepower.
Kelly closed the hood and asked again, "you want to go for a ride?" Normally, I would never willing ride in a hearse, nor would I get in any vehicle with Kelly, but I was curious and felt a little wild that night. "Sure," I replied, "where you want to go?" "No where really, I just want to show you want this girl will do." That was a big red flag and I should have headed that warning. Kelly lived on adrenaline rushes and cigarettes. He was wild and lived life to the extreme. I was usually much more cautious, I enjoyed life, I didn't have to live life on the edge as Kelly did. I did not want to be involved in federal crimes however, and asked if he was running tonight. " No," he replied, "I'm just out for fun tonight."
Good sence left me as I got into the passenger side of the old hearse. I looked behind us, and there was nothing. The vehicle had been designed to carry large boxes, not people. Now it hauled cases of whiskey. "You know this thing handles real good," Kelly said as he started to zip out of town. " To be as big as it is, we really didn't have to do much to the suspension to get it to take turns well, and when you put a hundred gallons of shine in the back, it really sets down and has good traction.
Kelly was lighting another cigarette as we excelerated. We were now driving down the backcountry roads that Kelly knew so well. He drove almost effortlessly, with one hand on the steering wheel and the other flicking ashes. I didn't have the courage to look at the speedometer and see how fast we were going, I knew we were going very fast because the way the trees and mailboxes seemed to blend together as we passed them. As we sped over these winding country roads, I became more and more nervous. I didn't even like the roller coasters they had at the state fair, and I knew that there was a certain level of safety on those rides.
"Can we slow down a little?" I asked, as we almost ran off the road taking a curve. "Slow down? Why do you want to slow down?" Kelly seemed almost offended. " This thing really drives better the faster you go." By now I was gripping the door and the dash board so hard that my knuckles were turning white. Kelly continued to smile and tell me about the things that he had done to modify his new machine. He continued to talk, but I stopped listening. I was now exclusively concentrating on somehow getting through this ride alive.
"Oh boy! I hope that wasn't a cop." Kelly didn't even start to slow down as he looked at the brake lights shining in the mirror. "Yep, it's a cop, hold on!" He reached over a flipped a toggle switch on his dash and floored the gas pedal. "What's the toggle switch for?" I asked. "It cuts off the lights in the back of the car, that way they can't get my license number and they don't know when I am braking." "We are in an old hearse, how tough is that to identify?" I thought.
We didn't need any cloaking device then. By the time the cop car could stop and try to turn to chase us we were long gone. Kelly continued to fly down the back roads with his rear lights turned off, and I continued to pray to get out of this alive. "How ironic," I thought, "I will die in a hearse." I could barely open my eyes and the speed at which we were going seemed to force me back into the seat. I had put my seat belt on earlier, but that was just so my body wouldn't be mangled beyond recognition when we crashed.
I was starting to relax when I saw the lights on the sheriff's car coming towards us. Kelly never blinked an eye; he opened up his car a little more and blew right past the cop car. This one was turning and getting prepared for a chase, and he had friends. Up the road another car had pulled across the road to form a roadblock. I didn't know which was worse, death from a crash, or explaining to my parents why I was I jail for running from the law. Neither was appealing.
Kelly slammed on the breaks and turned the steering wheel to cause a radical slide, just like one would see on a good chase movie. He finally straightened up pointing the opposite direction. I had to close my eyes then to keep from having a heart attack. I opened them again because of the bright lights from the cop car coming towards us. Kelly was not scared at all. He swerved into the ditch and flew, yes flew, onto an old logging road that was next to the county road. How he knew it was there I still don't know.
We headed down the logging road away from the chasing cars. Kelly then slammed on the brakes and spun completely around in the dirt trail, and back into a small area completely covered from view. We watched in the dark as the cops drove by looking for us and then gave up their search. I was breathless; Kelly just sat there calm and collected, and lit another smoke.
"Take me back to town!" I said as we pulled back out on the road. "Why, don't you want to have some fun?" Kelly was picking at me. "No, I want to live," I told him. "Do you really want to live?" he asked, "or just breathe. If you want to live let's ride around some more." "No, I don't want to cheat death anymore," I responded, "I just want to go home and try to get some sleep. You have wore me out!"
I rode in the hearse back to town, got out and drove home, slowly. Kelly roared off into the night, and I never saw him again. The hearse was a little too easy to spot, and he got tired of constantly running from the local law. He started running shine in a surrounding county, but he didn't know the roads there as well as he knew those around his home. When he crashed the police estimated that he was going over a hundred miles an hour. He was flung from the car and died instantly. "What a waste," the preacher said, " to be called home at such and early age. He had so much life ahead of him."
Kelly lived more that night than I would live in thirty years. He was born to be a runner, to always race and to win. It wasn't a waste for him to die that way; he just finally lost his race.