Shuddersome Shorts

Tales of Eerie Terror

#20


In the spirit of the season, may we present a little Christmas curio, a holiday homily, a yuletide yarn...no monsters this time, but supernatural all the same, and an ending bound to give you a shiver when a lonely taxi driver picks up his...


Last Fare on a Christmas Eve

By Jeffrey Blair Latta




The snow was coming down with considerable enthusiasm when I picked up my fare. My shift was over, so I could have driven on without a qualm. The dispatch hadn't reported him, so either he hadn't called for a cab or else he had called for some other company. Nevertheless, I was happy to oblige. After all, it was Christmas, right? And if I could make some poor guy's night a little less soggy, and at the same time, move in on the competition, that was A-okay by me.

I cranked the wheel to the left and managed a U-turn that just about carried me into someone's living room. The snowploughs wouldn't get to this part of town until dawn, so traction was non-existent. At least Bambi was fitted with her winter tires -- or so they'd told me.

He was standing on the corner, looking very much like he wished he wasn't. He was a young guy, barely old enough to shave. Large white flakes studded his hair like coconut on a Christmas log. His glasses had slid to the tip of his cheery-hued nose and now perched precariously like a skier in serious trouble. A second more and they would have fallen off all together. Apparently, he felt that that fate was preferable to dragging his hands from the cosy sanctuary of his pockets.

Bambi ground to a stop a couple of metres beyond him, sounding more like she was riding over a layer of Lego than of new-fallen snow. I leaned over and yanked on the doorhandle. This door never opened -- it gave. And, with a metallic groan, it gave outward, swinging wide until stopped (with a frighteningly final thwump) by the snowbank.

"Need a ride?" I called, wondering if I could ever get the door free again with anything short of the Jaws-of-Life.

There came a soft "chud, chud, chud" and the guy slipped in beside me, panting more from cold than from the run. His feet were encased in large blocks of snow, which he carefully knocked off before pulling them in after him.

"Thanks a lot," he gasped. "I was beginning to think my taxi would never arrive."

After three strenuous tugs, he managed to close the door. I didn't bother to point out that his taxi still hadn't arrived.

"Where to?" I asked, starting the meter and (with a prayer) racing the tires, until Bambi succeeded in slipping and sliding her way out of the deep snow near the curb.

He didn't answer immediately, so I figured that he hadn't heard me.

"Where're you headed?" I said again. He looked at me this time, but he still didn't answer. I opened my mouth to ask a third (and final) time, when I was suddenly struck by his less than useful clothing. "You're not exactly dressed for the weather, are you? You on your way to a wedding or something?"

He looked down at his dress shoes, quietly wallowing in a puddle of melted snow. Then his eyes moved up his black pants and he held up his arms to give them the once-over. He gave a kind of staccato laugh, that just barely slipped through his chattering teeth.

"I knew I'd forget something. I'm just so nervous."

Then his eyes made like saucers and he frantically unbuttoned his jacket. A sigh of relief, and he gently drew his fragile charge into the intermittent street lighting that flashed by overhead.

"Ooooh," I said, as understanding dawned. "It must be for someone pretty special. You took more care of that rose than you did of yourself. Now, are you going to tell me where she lives, or shall we just drive around all night and hope she can run fast?"

"I don't know," he moaned, indecisively. "Oh, never mind! Just take me back! I can't go though with this!"

"Can't go through with it!" I laughed. "I'd say that standing in the snow dressed like that was probably the worst part. Now, come on. Where're we headed?"

"Maple," he responded, none-too-eagerly. "She lives at 405 Maple."

"Well, that's a fine thing. Here I've been going the wrong way." I banked right, fish-tailed onto the sidewalk, completed the U-ey and headed for Maple. "I'll tell you what. Since this is Christmas, and since I'm such a sucker for young-love, I won't even charge you the extra. Oh, now what's wrong?!"

He was trying hard to hide it, but it wasn't hard to tell. He was crying.

"I just can't go through with it!" he exclaimed.

"And why not?"

"I don't know. She's just so...beautiful. No...gorgeous! No...wonderful. No..."

"I bleed for you, I really do."

"But what if I make a fool of myself?" he cried. "What if she slams the door in my face?"

"Aaaah," I aaahed. "So this isn't exactly a date as such? Mayhap more comparable to a ritual sacrifice? Lamb to the slaughter, that sort of thing?" I handed him my handkerchief -- the one I hadn't used in a few weeks.

"Thanks," he mumbled, dabbing at his eyes with the corner. "I'm sorry."

"Apology noted and filed. So, what's the story? Where did you meet this wonderful, gorgeous, beautiful enchantress? What's her name, age, vital statistics?"

"Her name is...Linda."

He said it like maybe he was expecting a violin accompaniment. No doubt about it -- this boy was smitten.

"I see her at my father's store," he continued. "She comes in every few days in between classes, to get a drink, to buy some candy. I've heard her talking to her friends. That's how I know her name...Linda."

"Yes, yes. We've already heard the name part. But you say you've heard her talking to her friends. And, by that, you mean, you're not one of those friends?"

"No! She doesn't even know I exist!"

The sprinkler started again.

"Okay," I consoled. "Let's take this one hurdle at a time. How's the competition?"

"What?"

"Does she already have male companionship and, if so, is his name Bruno?"

He laughed. "No. She doesn't have a boyfriend."

"That's good. Because you don't look like you could handle a brawl right now. How is she for money? Are her parents the sort who might ask you to use the servant entrance?"

"She lives by herself," he answered. "Her parents live in Vancouver and I don't think that they're rich or anything like that."

"My but aren't we the master eavesdropper," I laughed, easing on the brake for a red light. Obviously I wasn't in the habit of stopping for minor nuisances like red lights, but this particular fare had caught my interest and I figured it couldn't hurt to take my time. "It sounds to me like you're looking at a clear field. The only obstacle would seem to be your own less than monstrous ego."

The light turned green and I pressured the pedal. Bad move. The wheels spun furiously and the tail wagged from side to side as I fought to keep from ending up as a lawn ornament.

"Easy, Bambi," I coaxed. "Steady girl. Polar bears do this for fun." Somewhere under the slush, rubber contacted pavement and we were off again. "Bambi may not look like much," I laughed, "but she's got it where it counts."

"Bambi?" he asked.

"Uh huh. Yeah. One of the drivers -- a guy from England -- once said, 'She's a real dear, but don't try her on the ice'."

"Ah."

"It sounded funnier when he said it. So, now, tell me: what's this girl of yours look like -- diagnostically, I mean?"

He gave a long drawnout sigh and one could almost see those little neurons sputtering away as they reproduced his love in all her wondrous, glorious, beauteous self, courtesy of the mind's eye.

"Alabaster," he whispered, in a way that made alabaster sound like something I might have wanted if I'd known what it was.

"Er, and...?"

"And hair like black silk, no!...like an ink fountain, flowing over her ivory shoulders. And eyes green as glass, and deep and dark like --"

"Pools?"

"Yes! That's it, like two deep, dark pools."

"Hm."

I wasn't particularly bowled over by his original choice of metaphors, but I was having a hard time keeping to the road just the same. It wasn't so much that his description conjured up erotica galore. Rather, they acted like a sort of mental catalyst, bringing to mind a certain someone whom I had been trying to forget. Yes, hair like an ink fountain and shoulders like ivory -- that was her, all right. And probably a heap of alabaster thrown in, too. Sigh.

"And here we are," I said, easing up to the curb and turning off the meter. "405 Maple. Your princess awaits."

But he didn't make a move. Which didn't really surprise me. I knew just how he was feeling.

"You know," I said, when it became evident that nothing short of spontaneous combustion was going to move him, "I'll tell you a secret."

He turned to looked at me with hopeful eyes, as if he expected maybe a machismo tablet or something.

"See, I know exactly how you're feeling right now."

"You do?"

"Sure. You think I like working on Christmas eve? Think I get off on driving everyone else home from everyone else's parties? I normally take the dayshift. I just took tonight because no one else wanted it and...well, I was afraid to stay home alone. I knew I would just start thinking about... Tina."

Darn but if now I hadn't said it like I expected violins!

"Who's Tina?" he asked.

"Only the best argument yet against test-tube babies," I pined. "Only God's proof of His divine goodness and the neatest thing since those little miniature earphones. Only the most curvaceous creature since Madonna -- and Tina would never have married Sean Penn in the first place!"

"And?" he asked, impatiently.

"And?! And?!!!" I exclaimed. "And...she doesn't know I exist." I banged my head against the steering wheel causing the horn to make a pathetic little bneep. "Every day I see her at work. She's the day-dispatch. I hear her voice on the radio, hour after hour. 'Call for Sunnybrook. Anybody near Dale? Mrs. Grigglemink is waiting for her ride.' God! Even when she says Grigglemink my pulse throbs! It's hell, do you hear me?! Hell!!!"

"Er, so what happened?" he asked, a little nervously.

"What happened? Nothing happened! That's the whole point." I shook my head sadly. "I see her there everyday, seated in her booth. And everyday I walk on by -- afraid she might reject me. Afraid she might already be married to someone named Bruno. But, as Christmas was coming, I promised myself that I would talk to her. I'd start out with something simple, nothing pushy -- 'Hi, your chair comfortable?'. Then I'd work my way up to asking her the biggy -- 'Say, I'm not doing anything this Christmas Eve. Want to reproduce?' or words to that effect."

"And you didn't."

"No. I just couldn't get up the nerve. So, here I am, driving Bambi on what should be a night of getting together. Picturing her at some party with some guy who isn't me."

"And you're saying that I shouldn't let that happen to me? That, if I do, I'll end up as pathetically miserable as you are?"

"What? Oh, yeah. I guess so."

He looked out the window at the cosy little house of his love. A light was on in the living room. It was a most inviting light. Finally, he nodded.

"I'll do it," he said, with grim determination. He forced open the door and stepped out into a puddle, but didn't notice. "Thank you," he said. "Thank you for giving me the courage."

He started up the walk, but then rushed back. I thought maybe the spell had broken, but he was still smiling. He leaned in the door which he hadn't bothered to close.

"The girl you were talking about? You say her name is Tina?" he asked.

"Yeah."

He thought about that for a moment. "That is a nice name."

And once more he was away, this time having closed the door. I watched him as he reached the house and rang the bell. The door opened almost immediately, but I couldn't see the wonderful, glorious, beautiful Linda. I couldn't tell what he was saying, either, but whatever it was, it did the trick. I sighed myself, as the door closed behind him.

"Well, Bambi," I said, "I guess my deed is done. Let's go drive off a bridge, shall we?"

It was then that I noticed the rose on the seat beside me. In his excitement, he had forgotten his precious gift. Needless to say, I was torn by indecision. Obviously he was doing just fine without the rose. But, on the other hand, it was a great excuse for getting a glimpse of this Linda person. So, I snatched up the flower, climbed from the cab and skittered up to the house.

The bell chimed at my touch. I seemed to have to wait a lot longer than he had had to. Maybe she was busy, I mentally (and childishly) giggled. Then, with a click and a swish, the door opened. And there she stood. Ink hair and ivory shoulders.

"T-T-T-Tina," I gasped, in disbelief. Fierce hands of betrayal gripped my windpipe. Some sort of borrowing creature went to work in my gut. Confusion, anger, despair. But all that came to the surface was a kind of polite cough. "The other fellow," I explained, with composure that would have done Clint Eastwood proud, "he forgot his rose."

"What other fellow?" she asked in that voice that could make Grigglemink sound like something best done with doors closed. "I'm all alone. Want to come in, Rick?"

Anyway, to discretely summarize, she arrived late for work the next morning. We were married, had two children, and I could end with that, except that the reader probably has at least one little query that deserves a response. After all, who was the guy in my cab and who let him in without Tina knowing? And where had he gone to?

Well, I'm afraid I can't answer those questions. Not really. I suppose that ultimately I'd have to just put it down to the Magic of Christmas. But I will give you a hint as to my thoughts on the subject. You see, in our house at 405 Maple, on the mantel over the fireplace, there sits a portrait nicely framed with gold. It is a picture of a man and woman, both of whom had departed this world before I had met Tina. The woman I don't recognize, though she does look very much like Tina. The man? A little bit older, probably a lot wiser. But it's him, all right. I have no doubt about that. In the bottom right hand corner of the photograph is a scrawled message:

"Tina. May you find as much happiness in life as your mother and I have found with each other. And may you never lack the courage to pursue whatever your heart desires."

And every Christmas I place a rose beneath that portrait...even if he didn't need it.


The End.

And Merry Christmas!




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Last Fare on a Christmas Eve is copyright 1999, by Jeffrey Blair Latta. It may not be copied or used for any commercial purpose except for short excerpts used for reviews. (Obviously, you can copy it or print it out if you want to read it!)