Alrighty, I’ve got another short story for ya. Enjoy it with a nice cup of coffee. Also please let me know if you feel God reveals anything to you in particular as you read the story. Let me know how it impacts you.
I never trust a cabbie. At least not since my Maw stormed in one night screaming about the idiot who took every turn but the one she needed to get home.
“Joe,” she had fumed and gripped my face like a vise. “Those damn drivers will take you anywhere but where you need to go. They want every last nickel you got. Don’t trust ‘em.”
“Yes, Maw,” I’d stammered. I knew better than to ask any more questions when she was twisted up like that. I called her grandma once and she almost knocked my two front teeth into the back of my throat. That’s how I came to call her, Maw; and whistle just a bit on my s’s. But she raised me so I put up with it.
I flicked a rain drop off my nose and sighed. Sometimes life in the city conflicted with Maw’s timeless wisdom. I whistled for a cab and glanced up. The gathering gray clouds let me know walking wasn’t an option. I’d paid too much for my suit for that nonsense.
At least I didn’t have to wait long. The yellow cab stopped at the curb and the driver leaned over. “Need a lift?”
I rolled my eyes. Never trust ‘em because they’re idiots probably would’ve been just as wise. “Actually, I just wanted to know if I could borrow a cup of sugar.”
The driver grumbled something and motioned for me to get in the back. “Where to?”
“10th and central,” I told him as I slid across the torn seat cushion. “And that’s a five-turn max. Any more than that and you can shut off the meter. I’ve walked this route a million times so don’t mess with me.”
The cabbie held up his hands to appease me and I eyed a small crack in the window glass. “You should fix your cab.”
“Yeah, sure,” he scoffed. “Just a few more fares like this and I’ll have enough.”
I peered at his ID pasted to the glass separating us. “Michael?”
I narrowed one eye and tried to remember the last time I’d caught a cab from someone not named Mohammed. I tapped the glass. “No last name or ID number?”
“You planning on writing me a letter?”
I shifted against the lumpy seat. “Complaint is more likely. You stuff these seats with potatoes?”
“There was no guarantee the ride would be comfortable.”
The next few blocks passed in silence. I glanced up at the sky that seemed to be getting darker. It figured. Sunshine wasn’t something I’d seen a lot of lately. I tried to rub the tired out of my eyes and mentally prepare for the meeting scheduled for later this morning. My billables were down for a law firm with a long history of success. Dead weight wasn’t tolerated. I sighed and ran a hand through my thick hair that was graying way to quickly. Dead weight. Is that what I’d become?
“You alright back there?”
I noticed two large, brown eyes staring at me through the rear-view mirror. “Fine,” I spat. “Mind your business.”
“Ah,” Michael chirped. “I’ve seen that look before – the hatred of a hopeless routine mixed the fear someone’s going to rip it away from you. Quite the paradox.”
“This look like a dear diary moment to you?” I shot back.
He ignored my volley. “Mr. big shot, eh? Doing the same thing day after day gaining in some ways but losing in every way that really matters.” He shrugged. “Until one day you’re just losing everything.”
I felt the fire of indignation ignite in my belly. “Who do you think—”
“You wanna let this guy in?”
“Huh?” I turned my attention to the window. We’d stopped at a red light and a tall man in a very white suit already had a hand on the door.
“It’s up to you,” Michael told me.
“No, I don’t want to let him in,” I answered. “Are you out of your mind?”
Michael shrugged and waved the man off. I watched him fall back a few steps and then lower his head to the window and grin. His eyes were very dark, almost black, which set off the white of his suit and teeth. A strange feeling of excitement was growing in the pit of my stomach almost like one might get if they were being handed a blank check with no limit. I don’t know why but I felt like the man could turn my life around. “Wait a sec,” I shouted.
Michael twisted to face me. “You sure?”
“Yeah, let him in.”
Michael hesitated for a moment before muttering, “You’re the boss.” He waved the stranger over who opened the door and slid next to me in one smooth motion.
“Smart man,” he declared with a full-blown hurricane of superiority. “Peoples lives are always better with me in it.”
I would have laughed him out of the cab if I didn’t believe him. His cologne was strong enough to make my head spin. “Who are you?”
“I’m the answer to your problems,” he assured. “Your boss is pissed and he’s gonna fire your ass. You deserve it too cause of the way you’ve been screwing everything up.”
I stiffened. “Now wait just a—”
“I’ve got a few ideas though. Gonna save your job and get you that office in the corner with that stupid view of the river you love.” He rapped the widow with his knuckle. “God I hate nature.” His lips twisted into a sneer. “Unless it’s dead. That I can work with.”
“Joe,” Michael blurted. “You don’t have to listen to this guy.”
“Shut up and drive the cab,” the man threw back. “Joe here wants his life to get better not worse. Who else is going to do that for this pitiful schmuck? You? Gimme a break.”
“Joe,” Michael said again with enough sincerity to grab my attention. “All he’s offering is some convoluted, twisted scheme that will bury you in the end. You’ve been down this road before. It’s cost you every single time. How much more are you willing to lose?”
I felt the blood leave my face. “How do you know that?”
“Oh, we all know about poor little Joey,” the stranger mocked. “Dead parents, mean grandma, bullied, cheated, jailed; blah-blah-blah.” He poked me in the arm hard enough to make me flinch. “All them things taught you to trust in yourself. Look out for number one and crush whoever’s in your way. And look where it got you,” he boomed. “Top floor of the biggest law firm in the city and a blink away from partner. You just need to listen to me for the final step.”
I was nodding along before I’d realized it. The man had me. I’ve been around some great salesmen but he’s by far the best I’ve ever seen. It was like I signed the purchase agreement before he even got into the cab. Michaels voice suddenly broke into my reflection.
“I can take you a new way.”
“I can take you a new way,” Michael repeated. “One that will bring Ann and Carson back into your life. You think you’ve lost them forever. That’s because you have been traveling the same road your whole life. But I can take you a new way.”
The earth titled. If there was ever a secret weapon it was those two names. I closed my eyes and fell back to a night with clouds that hid the moon and every star. “I can’t take it anymore,” Ann had screamed. “I’m taking Carson to my mothers.” Two crashes followed those words – the door slamming shut and the bottle of bourbon I’d hurled at the wall. I hadn’t seen either of them since.
“How dare you talk about them,” I snarled.
“Aren’t you tired of this…life?” Michael asked. “Of having to throw off 200 pounds of heaviness just to drag yourself out of bed every morning.”
I was but I wouldn’t admit it. Ann…Carson. I couldn’t stop a spec of hope from infiltrating my voice. “Can you really take me to them?”
“Yes,” Michael assured. “I’ll have to introduce you to a few friends of mine first but I promise that you will stand in front of them once again.”
“Are you actually listening to this crap?” the man beside me roared. “Family…they’re the kind of disease that will keep you from what you want. She left you! Hey, look at me.” He patted his chest. “The answers to your dreams are right here.”
I buried my face in my hands. “Maybe I haven’t been honest about what I really want.”
“What’d you say, boy? I oughta—”
“Joe,” Michael broke in. “You need to tell me what you want.”
I teetered on the edge of my next decision. Somehow the cab had driven me to the crossroads of life and death. But which direction was life? Ann’s smiling face and Carson’s boyish grin appeared in my mind. They would be ten years older now. I felt my heart strain as if trying to breathe.
“Take me to them,” I managed through a sob. “I want to live again.”
The stranger uttered a disgusted sound and pounded his fist into the seat. “Are you kidding me you little—”
The explosion turned my ears into bells and I instinctively covered my head. The thick odor of gunpowder choked off my scream.
“It’s about time,” I heard Michael mutter. I lowered my arms to find the stranger slumped toward the window and Michael pulling back his pistol. I blinked a few times trying to figure out if I was imagining the way Michael was glowing. “Been waiting to do that ever since you let him in. Push him out the door would you please? There’s no room for death in my cab.”
“Y, you want me to push him out into the street?”
“Don’t worry, no one will notice him.”
I trembled but I obeyed. The dead man was heavy but I got him out with a grunt. I did take notice of the strange absence of blood. A trail of black smoke from the hole in his head offered the only evidence of foul play. Though I had a feeling the only foul thing was now lying in the street.
“Sorry about all that,” Michael apologized when I was finished. “Things are always a little messy when someone decides to truly live for the first time. Some things have to die. There’s no other way. But death is no longer a part of who you are and it won’t be as long as you listen to the man I’m about to introduce you to. Now, come on up here to the front seat. I’ve been holding it for you for a very long time.”
Jesse and Kara Birkey
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