Friday, January 31, 2014

Taxi


The rain was pouring harder as I rushed to enter the taxi cab I called out for.

"Where to, sir?" the old driver asked.

"Saytali please" I replied.

I sat at the back. It’ll be a long ride to my hometown of Saytali. The place was surrounded by thick forests and murky swamps. All routes heading there were dilapidated by time. Normally, taxi drivers would turn me down whenever I needed to get there especially during this late hour.

Besides the accidents that happen there due to faulty roads and other obstacles, there were also a lot of myths about lurking evil surrounding the area. Many who go through Saytali often recount odd occurrences such as the appearance of fiery spheres of light illuminating in the dark or how electrical gadgets would go haywire. Some people reported witnessing a procession of ghosts blocking their way. A lot of stories also narrate seeing phantom vehicles pass by that vanish into thin air. Others would even add that they saw ghostly or corpse-like passengers in them.

I salute the bravery of this driver.

Rain continued to pour as the driver took a few turns and the building I was at shrinks from a distance. I live in the city. But, my family originated from Saytali. I transferred after graduation and got my own home. The thought of seeing my family after a long while fills me with dread. To make matters worse, I’m running late.

The radio was tuned to the news station. The radio announcer said something about the awful weather and monsoon season. I didn't bother to listen further.

"You okay, sir?" the driver asked.

"Well," I replied while pretending to wipe the droplets off me. "I hope I don't catch a cold."

"Nuh, not that" the driver explained. "You seem pretty pressured."

"Well, yeah I guess" I tried to act calm.

"Don't cha worry. I reckon it will all turn out fine."

“Like this weather.”

The old man laughed.

My attire probably gave the impression of an experienced businessman and I had the look as if I was made in-charge of an important project.

I didn’t want to bring up what I was going through. Me and my family weren’t really in good terms. Loud arguments were a common occurrence in the household. I had bigger dreams elsewhere and I felt that they were holding me back. It’s been a while since I had contact with them only to hear news of a sudden death that entitled me to an inheritance.

Honestly, I didn’t care about what I’m getting. I’m not even sure why I bother myself to get there anyway. Perhaps, it was the urgency in the call that gave me little time to think. Maybe I just want to pay what little respect I have for them after all those years. Or maybe it will give me an opportunity to get even at the funeral.

We passed by a mall that looked rather familiar. Darn, it’s been a while. It was the mall I looked for as a visual landmark to tell me that I’m nearing Saytali. I see a lot of people going through the structure presumably to find shelter from the storm. My eyes were just glued staring outside the taxi window.


"Can you see 'em?" the driver asked.

"See what?”

"Them" he glanced at the crowd. "They're not human."

I paused for a moment. Like, seriously. What the hell is he talking about?

"Then what are they?" I asked the old man. "And how can you tell that they're not human?"

“Let's just say I have my way of knowing" the driver replied proudly.

I looked at the crowd. They seem normal to me. The driver glanced at my reaction through the interior mirror. I heard him chuckle.

Not too long, we’ve already reached the forested areas of Saytali. The ride was getting bumpy. Outside, the heavy storm and lack of any lighting made me feel uneasy. I’ve decided to keep my eyes locked on the road. Better than staring back at something lurking in the forest.

The trip went on for a while in the pouring rain. Suddenly, a creature jumped into view. From a quick glimpse, it looked almost like a bony feral man but walking on all fours. The taxi came to full halt. My head knocked on the seat in-front of me. I heard the creature screech as it runs back to the forest.

“You okay?” the driver asked.

“Yeah” I replied looking at the direction where the creature fled. “That was… odd.”

“Those darn critters just love to jump out when they see light.”

I would like to ask how he’d know that. But, I decided to keep my suspicion quiet. The taxi proceeded with our destination.

We passed by a couple of houses built close to each other. This must be the swamp. I’m still amazed that people could actually live around these parts.

“See those houses?” the driver spoke.

“Yeah?”

“Not all of ‘em are f’real.”

“What makes you say that?”

“We’re near the old cemetery. Even the dead would like a decent home. Oh, drat!”

“Why, what’s wrong?”

“Somethin’ ‘ere’s blockin’ our way!”

I could see a fallen tree right on our path. This day can’t get any worse.

“Great!” I complained.

“No problem, we’ll just take the other route.”

“What other -- oh no, not that one!”

It was no use. We passed through the cemetery. I can’t believe that he convinced me to go through here. As if I could argue further anyway. All of this mess better be worth it when I meet my good-for-nothing family.

“You know,” the driver spoke. “Those people from the mall live nearby.”

“Thanks for the enlightenment” I replied in a snarky tone.

“I’ve ‘eard that these folks pay in gold.”

“Really, now?”

“Tales say that they own a lot. Some even visit cities pretending to be human. Malls are their favourite. Perfect place for mortal souvenirs.”

“Ugh.”

I remember one time when my family took me to the mall as a child. Passing by a kids’ store, I begged for a particular red-colored dinosaur toy. I cried when they told me that I already own too many playthings not counting the ones we just bought. A few months later, they got me the dinosaur toy for my birthday, but it was colored green. I threw it away in rage telling them that it was the worst birthday present ever. I’m not really proud of that. It serves to remind me that maybe I was the real villain to them.

The ride was bumpier than it was on the road. I’ll try not to complain. I could already imagine an army of the dead rising from their graves and dragging the taxi beneath the cold earth. Nothing out of the ordinary happened. But, I can’t help but notice that the driver was saying something. It’s like he was chanting something in a whisper.

“I wonder if we’ll encounter any ghosts” I tried to start a conversation.

He didn’t reply. He seems focused on the road as he continued chanting. We got out of the cemetery and found another road.

“Looks like we got out” I commented. The driver still did not say anything to me. His chanting intensified. The taxi began to speed up. I fell back to my seat. Lightning flashed and thunder boomed forcing me to shout.

“Slow down! The road’s dangerous at these conditions! Are you crazy!?””

The driver paid no attention to me. All those stories about Saytali came to mind. We narrowly missed a few obstacles that would have surely destroyed us. The slippery road also made the turns more frightening.

This is it. This will be my end. And I won’t even get to see my family again.

Unless…

I reached in front and tried to grab the wheels. My interference made the taxi spin around until we hit a nearby tree which halted the vehicle. The driver was knocked out. Taking a deep breath, I tried to come up with a plan. I could just tie this guy up and drive the taxi myself. Yeah, that will work. Hopefully, it isn’t too damaged. But, before I even made my next move, I heard moaning.

I didn’t want to stay for long. I transferred the old man to the other front seat and commandeered my way out. Back on the road, I could see lights from the mirror following us. It was hard to navigate in the storm. The lights behind me were getting closer. Their forms became even clearer. The taxi was now enveloped with the spirits of the dead. In my panic, I tried to shoo them away, but my hands pass right through them. Then, I heard chanting.

The spirits backed off. I looked at the other seat. The old man was awake. He continued with the chant and the dead vanished.

“You should be thankin’ me” he said.

“You summoned those wraiths!”

“What? I tried to stop ‘em from getting’ near us. They’ve been followin’ us since we passed through the cemetery.”

“What are you exactly?”

“A perfectly normal human being” he smiled.

The storm subsided. We switched places and now he’s back to driving. It turns out that his chant was some kind of protective incantation. I guess I really messed things up earlier. At least he didn't give a fuss about it.

“Over there” I pointed at a fancy gate of a mansion. I could see my family gathered waiting for me.

“Your folks sure have good taste” the driver commented on the place.

“Shaman,” I spoke. “I thank you for keeping me safe on my journey.”

“It was no problem. I’ve brought a lot people to Saytali. No biggie.”

“Take this” I handed a few pieces of gold bars to him. “The fare.”

The wizened human was surprised. I thought he figured me out by now. I thanked him again before I entered the gate which seemingly vanished right before him. Souvenirs in hand, I greeted my family.

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