Night Man is Waiting
The dispatch computer pinged twice.
Night Man is waiting.
The driver reached across, tapped the screen to dismiss the message then swung left onto a side street. Julia frowned.
“Is this the way?”
The cab driver glanced in the mirror and nodded. The street was one-way and the cars that lined either side accentuated its narrowness. Julia began to feel uneasy. They were heading east and the studio was north, across the bridge.
“Are you sure this is right?”
The cab driver nodded again, “Diversion.” Julia hadn’t seen any signs about a diversion, but then again, if there was one thing you got used to driving around Vancouver it was construction.
The car turned right at the next junction, back onto a main street, and Julia relaxed again, relieved she had chosen LadyBug Taxis. Their bright pink VW Beetles might be an eyesore, but Julia was glad of their women-only policy. A few minutes later, as Julia checked for the fifth time that her demo CD was still in her pocket, the cab turned left into a narrow alley and began to accelerate, bouncing uncomfortably across the potholes that peppered the road.
“Hey! Where are you going?” asked Julia. The driver ignored her. “Okay, stop the car; right now!”
A cardboard box careened off the hood of the car as the driver accelerated again and Julia screamed as they burst out of the alleyway onto a busy street. Tires shrieked from the cars that swerved to avoid hitting the cab as it skipped across the road and into another alleyway.
Julia clutched her seatbelt as the car hurtled down the alley, lurching from side to side and leaving a cascade of fast food wrappers in its wake.
“For fuck’s sake, slow down!”
The cab driver glanced at Julia in the mirror, her eyes glistening.
As the car broke out of the alley and plunged across another junction, Julia reached for her cell phone. She had dialled the first number when the driver hit her across the face with the back of her hand. Julia grunted, dropping the phone as she was knocked back in the seat. Her vision faded for a second and she fought to stop herself from blacking out. She could feel the heat building in her cheek where she’d been hit.
As the car raced on, Julia reached down to the floor of the cab, trying to find her phone. Her fingers had just found it when the driver stamped on the brakes and swerved to the left. There was a wet crunch as the car hit something, then Julia was thrown forward, her seatbelt snapping tight as the car slammed into a wall. The windscreen shattered, showering the inside of the car with glass as the airbags deployed.
Rolling back into her seat, Julia flinched at the icy shards of pain knifing through her shoulder where the seatbelt had saved her. The car was silent, apart from a quiet hissing coming from somewhere in the engine. A few moments later, the door latches popped open.
There was no movement from the front of the car; the driver lay slumped over the remains of the airbag. Silently praying her shoulder wasn’t broken, Julia reached across and unclipped her seatbelt.
Metal ground against metal as Julia pushed open the door and slid out of the cab. Stumbling to her feet she staggered across the alley and leant heavily against the wall, watching for movement from the cab. Steam was seeping out of the engine, wrapping itself around the crushed front end of the car and obscuring her view, but she could make out a shadow moving around inside. Clinging to the wall and trying to ignore the irregular mound of clothes lying on the ground behind the car, Julia began to make her way back towards the main road.
When she got there, a bright yellow cab pulled up to the curb. The driver stepped out of the car and called to her.
“Excuse me, Miss? Are you okay?”
Julia weaved unsteadily towards the car, “There’s…There’s been an accident. There’s someone back there. Someone got hit…”
Julia pitched forward towards the car. She felt arms around her, then softness as someone slid her into back of the cab.
Julia lay in the darkness, rocked awake by the gentle movement of the car. For a moment she wondered why her bed was moving, until the night’s events came flooding back to her. She sat up, flinching as her shoulder complained at the sudden movement. Nausea washed over her and she pressed her head against the cool glass and closed her eyes.
“Take it easy, Miss. You’ve had quite a night.”
Julia tried to speak, then thought better of it.
Julia cracked opened her eyes and peered out into the darkness at the streets sliding by.
“Where are we?” she mumbled.
The car shifted and Julia felt a hand on her shoulder.
“Miss? It’s time.”
Julia nodded and slid out of the car. Her legs were shaking and she closed her eyes and leant back against the side of the vehicle.
The cab driver spoke again, louder this time, harsher, “We have to go. It’s time.”
Another car pulled up nearby and Julia opened her eyes. It was a LadyBug cab and Julia stared at it for several seconds until she realized the woman inside was screaming.
The cab driver reached for Julia’s arm, “Come on, let’s go.”
Julia pulled away, looking around frantically for help. She had expected to be outside the hospital; instead she was on a beach she didn’t recognize. Dozens, perhaps hundreds of taxis were parked around her, packing the beach as far as she could see. Most of them were yellow like the one she’d arrived in but there were others; several of the pink LadyBug cabs, maybe even the entire fleet, plus pockets of black-top and all-white taxis, and some Julia didn’t recognize. All across the sands, cab drivers were pulling their crying and screaming passengers from cars or dragging them across the sand towards the ocean.
Julia turned and ran straight into the woman who had been driving the LadyBug cab she’d been in earlier. Her face was bruised and battered from the crash and there was blood seeping from a cut in her forehead. The woman grabbed Julia’s shoulders and smashed her forehead into her face. Julia crumpled to the ground.
The beach was lit by the headlamps of the cabs that formed a ragged semi-circle around the edge of the water. Julia was kneeling on the ground. Someone, presumably the cab driver who had brought her here, was holding her hair, twisting it tighter each time she shifted position, as though daring her to try and escape again. Her hand had been stepped on; her fingers were cut and bleeding and one was bent at an unnatural angle. She tried to move it, sending waves of pain through her arm. She cried out. The hand that was holding her twisted again, pulling her upwards. She struggled to her feet, unsteady on the shifting sands. She felt a push against her back and she began to shuffle forward.
There were dozens of people ahead of her, both men and women. Some were crying and screaming, others moved quietly towards whatever fate awaited them. Each one was accompanied by a captor, some of them armed with knives or the occasional gun; others simply using their fists to quell any resistance. As Julia watched, one of the passengers broke free and began to run across the sand towards her. He barely made it twenty feet before someone hit him across the face with a crowbar. Finally, Julia began to cry.
The passengers were gradually being herded towards the ocean, funnelled into a single line that led into the water. As she got nearer to the head of the line, Julia could make out the shape of a man standing in the water, waves lapping at his waist. His bleached white skin, bloated with water and criss-crossed with ice blue veins was clothed in seaweed that shifted and twisted around him as though affected by the currents of the ocean he was standing in. Behind him, the sky was black, starless, and Julia imagined his shadow rising up to cover the sky. As each of the passengers reached him, he placed one hand on their head and slowly pushed them down into the water. A few seconds later they were gone.
Pushing through the water towards him, Julia’s gaze was drawn to the glassy blackness of the lidless eyes nestled in his face. As he stared at her, she felt the pain in her hand increase sharply, then vanish. Gradually, the sounds from the beach behind her faded to nothing.
Julia felt his hand touch her head and closed her eyes.