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The Taxi Driver

Jeff climbed out of the driving rain and into the taxi to find that the driver was a pigeon. A giant pigeon, in fact. He hesitated, debated getting out and then, in a dazed sort of way, gave the address.

“My God, I thought we’d never get a cab,” Jeff’s girlfriend, Katrina said, climbing in after him and shaking the water off her coat like a retriever. She hadn’t even looked up yet. Jeff nudged her and she looked up, gave a kind of strangled scream and then tried to cough to cover it up. It failed absurdly.

“That’s a pigeon,” she whispered through clenched teeth, as if Jeff couldn’t tell.

“What do you want me to do about it? I’m not going to go find you another cab in this weather.”

“What if it’s dirty? They’re called flying rats, you know.”

“Hey, don’t be specist,” Jeff said. The pigeon-driver honked at a jaywalker, pulled around a truck and turned left.

“Does it know where to go?” Katrina asked. Jeff noticed she was clutching his arm, like she was afraid of getting attacked.

“It seems to be going there,” he said. “It probably flies all around the city anyway. Probably it knows the city better than we do.” He hoped it wasn’t rude to say it. He didn’t want to be specist.

“Do you think it understands us?” Katrina whispered. Her voice was even softer.

“I told it where to go and it started going. Either it understands or it’s psychic.”

They stopped at a red light and the pigeon down-shifted. It was having a hard time doing it, having only wings and no hands. It managed, somehow. Jeff could not imagine it was comfortable.

“Why would a pigeon want to be taxi driver?” he wondered, still whispering.

“Who wants to be a taxi driver?” Katrina said. “Everyone’s gotta earn money to live.”

“Yeah, but why doesn’t it do something else?”

“Like what?”

“Like be a flying courier or something.”

She actually smacked him on the arm. “That is so specist of you! Saying that just because it’s a pigeon it has to do something with flying.”

“Well, why not? That’s what it’s good at, right?”

“Well, you’re good at doing dishes. You want to be a housekeeper?”

Jeff looked at the pigeon again. Its left wing was squashed against the door in an uncomfortable way. It could put it out the window, if it wasn’t raining so hard.

“Well, as long as it gets us home, that’s all I care about,” he said finally.

There was a pause. The rain drummed incessantly on the cab roof. The windshield was getting fogged up and the pigeon driver kept reaching up to wipe it off. The windshield was streaked with feather marks.

“You should talk to it,” Katrina said.

“Why? What would I say?”

“I don’t know, but you’re never going to have this chance again. How many pigeon taxi drivers could there be? Come on, ask it something.”

“I am not going to ask it anything. You ask it something, if you’re so interested. Anyway, it might not talk.”

“You said it understands. Why wouldn’t it talk?”

“It’s not the same. Look, I’m not going to talk to it. What would I say?”

“Ask it where it’s from. It’s not from here, I’m sure. Maybe it’s got a family back home, like a clutch of eggs and a wife pigeon or something.” Katrina sniffed. “I’m getting stuffed up. I think I’m allergic to it.”

“We’re almost home.”

She sniffed again. “Just ask it a question. You’ll regret it if you don’t.”

“No. If you’ve been secretly studying Pigeon and want to give it a crack, be my guest. Otherwise, let it go.”

Katrina gave a small noise of exasperation but was silent until they got home. As soon as the car stopped in front of the building, she opened the door and bolted towards the front entrance, not even waiting for the umbrella.

Jeff looked at the meter: $8.50. The pigeon driver didn’t say anything, but Jeff could see it looking in the rearview mirror, waiting. He pulled out a ten.

“Thanks for the lift. Keep the change.”

The pigeon gave a deep cooing sound, like he’d heard from birds on the street, but deeper. It was such a common sound and yet so alien in that situation that Jeff lost his nerve. He dropped the bill into the front passenger seat and bolted out of the cab too. The cab drove away, turning the corner at the end of the block and disappearing from sight.

“I feel like we should say something to someone,” Jeff said as he joined Katrina in the front steps.

“Well, I guess being a taxi driver is okay,” she said. “Maybe if they become doctors.”


A Morning Cup of Danger

A wise man once said that danger is like a fine wine but to Brad it was more like strong coffee: it was a good way to wake up in the morning.

He had recently given up coffee for the same reason an alcoholic gives up keg stands or a gambler gives up Las Vegas: a total lack of moderation. He would drink four cups before work, six cups during work and another four to six cups after work. After a while, he got the impression that this was probably not the healthiest habit—something about the way his doctor kept shouting it at him.

Quitting coffee cold turkey was like eating a grenade: painful and messy. Three days later, Brad’s head pounded like a pile driver, and he felt drugged on the way to work.

“How have you been doing these days, post coffee?” Brad’s co-worker Terrence asked. Brad looked up hopefully; he had only heard the word “coffee”.

“Urghh…” he said finally.

“If you want to really wake up, you should ride in my carpool,” Terrence said. “Sid the janitor insists on driving most of the time, and riding with him is like taking a rollercoaster with no seatbelts. It’s scary, is what I’m saying.”

“Do you think I could?” Brad asked. “Ride in your carpool, I mean?”

Terrence stared at him. “I was just kidding, but yeah, if you really want to. There’s always room in that carpool. I think I hold the record for the longest anyone’s ridden with Sid, and that’s only been about a month. The crazy thing is, he has never had an accident—not even a fender bender or scratched paint. No one can figure it out. Still, not many people can take the intensity for long.”

Brad nodded. “I think I need this. Sign me up.”

The next day, they met at the train station. As usual, Sid was driving. He said he felt uncomfortable being a passenger.

“If you want the maximum effect, sit up front,” Terrence whispered. He jumped in the back seat before Brad could say anything.

Sid had a passion for tropical fish, and rarely talked about anything else. “Do you know anything about tropical fish?” he asked Brad as he whipped left out of the parking lot without checking traffic. He was already eating a donut with one hand, and pulling at the wheel with the other, weaving in and out of morning rush hour traffic without slowing or signaling.

“I’m thinking of getting some Kaudern’s cardinal fish. They start at about 25 bucks, so I probably can’t get more than three. Hold on.” Sid pulled out his phone and glanced at the screen, steering with his knees.

Brad saw the brakes lights of the Chevy Tahoe ahead of them go on, but Sid was still accelerating towards it, frowning at the phone and muttering something about a dentist appointment. At the last minute, he glanced up, dropped the phone on the floor and jerked the car to the right, just missing the Tahoe and cutting off a dump truck in the next lane. He reached down and felt around on the floor for the phone while the car drifted towards the shoulder, still doing 70 miles an hour. They hit the rumble strip just as Sid got the phone and he pulled the car back the other way, overcompensating and almost slamming into the car in the left lane. Brad braced for the rending screech of metal but there was nothing and Sid brought the car into their lane.

“Anyway,” he said in the same tedious tone, “the tank I have is a 64-gallon frameless aquarium with a hyper flow water pump …”

Brad felt like he was truly alive. This was the most alert he had been since giving up coffee. Twenty more minutes of tropical fish lecture and near-death incidents, they arrived at work with Brad awake and ready for the day.

“That was amazing!” Brad said to Terrence later in their office. “It’s like he’s a perfect balance of incompetence and luck. How does he do it, living on that knife edge between safety and utter annihilation all the time?”

“I don’t know, but I don’t think you’ll be able to stand it very long,” Terrence said. “I’ll give you two weeks before it all starts to get to you.”

But it didn’t get to Brad. He rode with Sid every day and arrived at work, awake and ready to work. If anything, the effect of Sid’s insane driving dulled over time. Two months after he had started riding with Sid, Brad confessed this to Terrence.

“I don’t know, but it’s not the same anymore,” he said. “Like yesterday, when Sid hit that patch of ice going 90 miles an hour, did a complete spin in front of the snowblower and just missed going over the embankment into the river. Honestly, it didn’t do that much for me. I mean, yeah, it was dangerous and all, but where’s the thrill?”

Terrence laughed, a little uneasily. “Well, I suppose it could always be more dangerous.”

“Do you mean like drugging Sid or loosening up the bolts on his wheels?” Brad asked. “I thought of that, but getting up early and going by Sid’s house every morning—it seems like so much work.” Terrence gave a little nervous laugh and bolted out of Brad’s office.

Two days later, Brad got an envelope from his doctor. Inside were two pieces of paper. The first was a note that said: Your co-worker told me about your situation. I hope this helps.

The second paper was a prescription for one cup of coffee, taken (orally) every morning.

 

Epilogue

Brad stopped riding with Sid every day. He found that one cup of coffee was enough to keep him functional and employed. Every so often, he would ride with Sid for the same reason other people go to an amusement park. Sid never got in an accident, and later changed careers to become a demolition derby driver. He attained legendary status as the only driver in the history of the sport to never lose a car.


The Long Ride Home

The darkness enveloped me on all sides like a shroud of fear. Leaves, twisting and shuddering in the night breeze, fled across my path as I steered my bike down the quickly darkening lane. Streetlights gleamed periodically through the gloom. It was becoming foggy.

Strange, I thought. They said that fog almost never appeared in that area. In fact, it was the first time I had ever seen fog this thick and cold. A sense of panic crept over me with clutching fingers as the mist settled around me. My bike was already dripping with condensation and I was damp from the fog and an anxious sweat. My hands were becoming numb from the wet steel handlebars and I was getting tired.

The turnoff to my driveway should be somewhere up ahead. It was taking longer than I had remembered. Maybe I had already passed it, obscured by trees, darkness and the mist that now blanketed everything. I had only lived in the area for two weeks and I had never gone much farther down the lane beyond my house.  Something had always restrained me, a small tugging in my heart to do something else that had always seemed more important.

Suddenly, as if pulled by a preternatural sense, I turned to see two small points of light piercing the gloom some ways behind me. Headlights. An irrational terror seized me, as if those lights were the roving eyes of a beast that was searching me out. I looked wildly for a place to hide, to escape.  The trees seemed to draw closer to the sides of the road, blocking any passage through them. Retreat was out of the question. The only way was forward. If only I could reach my driveway before those lights overtook me.  I slammed the bike into a higher gear and started to pedal harder. The sleek frame sped along the slick asphalt.

I was being silly, I realized. The headlights behind me most likely belonged to a farmer, driving home from the store. I started to slow my pace until I looked back at the lights again, much closer now. Those pale, unrelenting beams bored straight into my mind, melting all logic and rational thought as they went. Adrenaline flooded my veins and again I was off like a shot. My muscles were aching and I was dragging in breaths in ragged gasps.

The car was closing fast; my last burst of energy had made little difference. At any moment it might overtake me. Then, at the last moment, it appeared:  my driveway, like a tunnel in the trees on the right. The brakes let out an indignant shriek from the water, and gravel flew as I skidded recklessly into the driveway seconds before the car roared past. I took a deep breath and turned to go up to the house.

With a start, I noticed for the first time the tall iron-wrought gate that now barred my way. Beyond it, row upon row upon countless row of bone-white gravestones rose like broken teeth out of the fog.

This was not my driveway.


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