“Midnight Fare” -A story a day

Here is another for the collection and your pre-football Thanksgiving entertainment. Let me know how you like the ending…

 

 

Midnight Fare

The driver fumbled for his phone, eager to call the number given to him by his dispatcher. Roger Dallingher was anxious to start making money which he would later count in front of his aging wife. She would put the bounty into separate piles to dole out later to other people. That is how it worked and that is all Roger knew, except if he didn’t come home with the right amount, his wife Tina would go on for days about how little Bobby wouldn’t be able to go to camp or Wanda would be without shoes. She might not even make him dinner or let him sleep in the bed if the figure was not correct, so he had to stay out. Roger needed to pound the streets on this hot summer night and stay with the people, stay with the money. He had to fill his back seat to continue getting paid.

“Liberty Urgent Care, how may I help you?”

Roger sighed before responding, thinking of poor people without cell phones trying to pay him an actual fare, let alone tip. “Ah, yeah, this is the driver from A Plus Taxi?” He responded with another question, Roger hated it when other people did that to him, he thought it was a sign of weakness and was unsure why he was doing it now. Roger felt off.

“OK, well, you’re here now are you?”

“Yes sir.”

“Our member will be right out.”

“Member? What is this, a yacht club?” Roger asked out loud after hanging up the phone, he did that more and more towards the end of a long shift. He also realized that he was on the ambulance only side of the facility. His old Crown Victoria lurched and squeaked as it made its way to the “member” side. He saw the guard wave a protective hand, bringing the car in.

The shiny badge ducked away before producing a little old lady with a slow, cautious walk and a brand new sling, set carefully on her left arm. The guard eased her into the back seat.

“Where to ma’am?”

“Well…let’s see now” she looked around her new surroundings, “OK, go to Gadston, yes, and take a right, ah…no, that’s not quite… oh just go out to Gadston, I’ll be able to tell you when we get there.”

“Alright, ma’am.” Roger turned on the meter and rolled out of the parking lot toward Gadston Parkway. The empty restaurants still lit up the sky and left a haze over everything in the humidity. He came to the intersection spoken of and paused his accelerator, waiting for the woman to catch up with her decision.

“Ah, actually, you know what? Just go on straight ahead there, yes.” The woman’s thick accent made her graveled with age voice a little more soothing. She had a deep southern drawl, yet it was proper and kept. “And take a left onto Sulfur Road, yes.” The old woman was marking the time, same as Roger, going through her own directions in her mind. Roger preferred to know where his trips ended so that he could command the vehicle as any professional would, but in this case he obliged her uncertainty.

Recognizing a straight shot for a while, Roger felt it rude not to at least inquire over her injury. He felt that since she was taking a taxi at this hour, she didn’t have anyone to sympathize with her and he sure knew how to pass the uncomfortable time between strangers. Roger also asked because he thought he might even get a better tip.

“Did you break your arm, ma’am?”

“Yes, it’s quite silly. I was putting on my pajamas Saturday night, last night, yes.  I got caught up and fell against my chestnut set of drawers. I went on all day today but realized something must have been wrong by this afternoon, so I went in.”

“Sorry to hear that, ma’am.” Roger’s acceleration slowed again due to indecision, this time, his own. He had thought the next left to be Sulfur Road but didn’t see a street sign to confirm. He cruised past the intersection real slow, not yet committing to the left. He came to a coasting stop just in the middle of the road. No one was out, no one to care. The young man and the old lady were the only two in existence that night for miles. “That might have been Sulfur Road, but it wasn’t marked.” Roger had not felt in line with his own intuition for the past few days, something which he felt necessary for his profession.

“Well…I’m not sure, let’s see here…” She looked around and out of the car as best she could, trying to recognize a landmark amongst the humid haze and the stores that didn’t care at all about their electric bill. “Everything has just changed so much, I don’t recognize anything these days.”

Just then, Roger grabbed a peak at her through the rear-view and noticed the woman’s eyes-they were beautiful, stunning, and as green as the grass on every lawn there ever was. She was an old woman with pale skin, but her eyes gave off just enough of an exotic look to make her unique. Roger knew of old women whose blue eyes faded over the years and turned gray, his mother’s, for example, or even his wife, but this lady was different. Roger began to wonder if all green-eyed people were different like that. He glanced at her red sweater, she sported some typical jewelry for her age, and even though she had been visiting doctors all day, her hair and makeup were still quite perfect.

The driver’s intuition snapped back into focus, he pulled a U-turn as comfortable as he could. “Ah, that was it, don’t worry ma’am, I know where we are.” And just as if they had worked through the problem together, he said with confidence, “Sulfur Road.”

“Ah yes, this is it, isn’t it? Yes, I recognize it now, it’s a wonder how you do this business at night. I’m so glad it’s you…” At that, Roger raised an eyebrow. He heard that kind of before I pass out let me tell you tone from the drunks before. Roger looked in his review mirror hoping she hadn’t fallen off the cliff of drugs and exhaustion in the backseat before giving her address in confidence.

Roger almost swerved clear off the road at what he saw. The woman he had guessed at about seventy was now a serene southern belle in her twenties. Her hair was gorgeous, with a straight part and purposeful curls at the ends. She sat erect, not looking at him, but at the road, lips pursed, with a tad look of concern in her eyes.

Roger’s face snapped forward, he took back ready command of his old Crown Victoria. “Yes driver, in two lights, make a left.” Her voice was not grumbled with age or drugs from the hospital. Her sweet sound swept past her perfect, kissable lips. They were not wrinkled with age around the edges as before. This made Roger’s heart jump, his ears had now confirmed what his eyes had seen. He caught another glimpse, though, only to gain another detail for his mental scrapbook. She wore a string of black pearls on her porcelain neck, her dress of white lace made her brunette curls shine in the night. Roger filled his nose with a deep conscious breath, taking in her classic perfume which filled his once smoky cab. One more sense to confirm his dazzling observations. He dare not speak, nor do anything else but drive. Roger squeezed his hands around ten and two and blinked a few times out the windshield to make sure he was still in control.

“Yes, this- turn here, now- and when you get to an all-way stop, just go on straight through, then make your first right after, yes.” She reassured herself she knew the way, which made Roger know the way too, like a good soldier obeying his orders.

“Yes, ma’am.” He quivered. Roger dare not say anything else, do anything else lest he breaks the spell. Her voice and sweet accent melted his northern ears. He candled in his seat as they approached the four-way. The driver followed her every direction for the next few miles, going through a new neighborhood to an old back road with the houses farther and farther apart.

“Dear, if you could, pull on into the next drive on your right, just a ways down ahead, yes.”

“Alright ma’am,” the driver said, catching glances and feeling her presence. She never looked directly at him in the mirror, allowing herself to be observed. She kept to the distant glare as if driving herself, looking into the turn, even if he wasn’t. The Ford and its two passengers pulled into the long gravel drive. Roger couldn’t see her house by the roadway, great Magnolia trees skirted the property. The driver feared what would happen to her when they reached their destination. He turned down her drive and they crossed over a small bridge traversing a duck pond. The house they finally came to was modest and older with wide porches, chipping and weathered paint-its setting held all the charm.

Roger pulled to the side closest to the front porch, taking in where he was and instinctively put the car into park. He read the meter and turned on the interior light. Delighted Roger found that although he shocked the mood, she was still as beautiful and young as before. He could steal her all in at this moment as she was fumbling through her clutch for the fare. Roger swept himself back to a time he hardly knew. It was 1967 and he was in love at a social with this doll, a true beauty. She had a simple and classic look that women his age now just didn’t understand, Tina definitely didn’t understand.

“Will this do? You’ve been so kind.” She handed him a crisp twenty from the same era as her dress.

“Yes, just fine ma’am.” Roger took the bill from her, not even taking a glance at the once precious bounty. He couldn’t take his eyes off her.

“It has been just a dreadful day, won’t be any better tomorrow I fear.” Roger pulled himself from the chasm of her gorgeous green eyes that pierced his soul and remembered his duty. He hurried to the place he should have been, opening the lady’s door. Just as he pulled her latch he thought his eyes were playing tricks on him again and his heart sank. Gulping down his disappointment, he stood for a moment then assisted the injured woman of seventy with a red sweater out of his backseat.

“There you go,” He strained to get her upright, not because of her weight but he was trying to avoid the injury.

“Oh, you are a nice young man. I’m afraid my purse is still in the car, would you get it for me?” He obeyed, just the same as when she was beautiful. Roger walked her with tenderness to her door but she began having trouble with the key meeting the lock.

“Let me help you there,” he took her keys from her, squinted in the moonlight, unlocked and opened the heavy door.

“Oh dear, thank you so much.” They were close as he reached under her good forearm to brace her as he would his grandmother for that final step. They stood together in the darkness of the foyer, she was at once sturdy on level ground but he was unsure about what to do next. “Would you mind turning on the light over there? You’ve been so kind.”

Roger obeyed. He would do anything to see her young again. As he turned back from the switch, relief filled his veins as he saw her standing there, white lace dress, clutch in hand, staring him right in the eyes with the purpose of anxious and nervous youth. He could smell her, he wanted her. To kiss her meant everything just then and her eyes beckoned him closer. One foot in front of the other, he approached. An awkward gentleman, he almost asked but then thought better of it. Roger took off his driving cap and laid it on the side table. He put one arm around the small of her back and closed his eyes to meet her gentle mouth.

As he made his move, the beautiful southern belle grew and grew in length, meeting the high ceiling with the top of her head. Torso curving, her snake body rose over the puckered up driver. Her dress tore clean off, black pearls scattered across the floor.

Roger opened his eyes, wondering why they hadn’t kissed yet. Instead, he cocked his head up and saw the serpent staring at him from above with those same enchanting green eyes and spiny layers of small razor teeth. Roger just stood there, frozen. The spell she had over him wouldn’t let him even think about running now. With a hiss and a guttural grunt, the serpent opened her mouth shoulder wide. The man just watched, eyes blistering from contact. It was as if this were all happening to someone else. She snapped her large flexible jaws over the top, engulfing half the man in one striking motion. Roger cried out a blood curdle that no one heard. His other half was more labored and took three or four large swallows but the driver’s heels were eventually in the air, taken down to the last. The serpent shuddered a few times to aid quick digestion before morphing back into her youthful, naked beauty. The beautiful, young, naked woman made her way up the creaking wood stairs for a long sleep.

Outside, vines and other predatory vegetation covered the car as the ground beneath slowly sank. The last to protrude was the glowing top light of a known, dangerous profession.

 

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