No way this asshole was getting away with it. Not over my dead body if I could help it, but definitely over his.
Rage and adrenaline masking my pain, I wiped the blood from my eyes and wobbled from the alley to the road. I flagged down an empty taxi, then another, then a third, but they all passed me, speeding by as if I didn’t exist. Not a single pedestrian so much as looked my way either. Doubtless they all avoided me because of the blood streaming down my face. Better not to get involved, eh? This goddamned city. Living here would have drained the compassion out of Mother Theresa, I swear.
Meanwhile, thanks to these pitiless assholes, my jacked car, my shiny, new-to-me baby, was disappearing forever in the blur of traffic.
“Gods, give me a fucking break! Just once!” I screamed, pink-red spittle spraying. In a mad rush, I jumped in front of the fourth taxi, hopped in before the driver could protest, and pointed. “Follow that car up there with the black luggage pod on top!”
The driver gave me a confused shrug. By now, of course, my car was nowhere in sight. “Just step on it. My car’s somewhere up ahead, and I want to kill the guy who just stole it!”
He didn’t move the car, just gave me the hairy eyeball in the rearview. With a wince, I pulled out a wad of cash tips from my jeans the jacker hadn’t found in the seconds it took him to pull me out, punch me in the face, then kick me in the ribs before grabbing my wallet and taking off in my Hyundai. I waved the bills where the driver could see them. “Look, I’ll give you a hundred over the fare and pay for a ticket if we get one.”
The man, a dark, meaty guy with a brooding, dark-bearded face and hooded brow, frowned and shook his head. He dug a card out of his breast pocket and handed it to me.
“Jay-sus,” I swore in a singsong under my breath, “I do not have time for this.” I glanced at the card. Raised gold letters on heavy black stock proclaimed, Erra Nergal. Specializing in eleventh-hour wishes and basest desires. I flipped it. Fee obvious.
Was this guy one of those low-end pimps, like in Vegas? I wasn’t sure how the weirdly worded card related to chasing down criminals, and something about his odd name niggled in a bad way, but I played along. We had to get the hell going. “Okay,” I sputtered, swallowing more blood than spit, more beat up than I’d realized. “Whatever. I’ll pay…I’ll do…whatever.”
He nodded, pulled a pair of black leather driving gloves out of his console. He fitted them, finger by finger, with excruciating precision, then wrapped his hands around the wheel like he was readying a fist for a knockout.
He revved the engine, once, twice and within seconds, we were flying.
And by flying, I mean the car lifted off the ground.
“Holy sh…! Fu…!” I panted, scrabbling for the seatbelt.
Once belted, I clutched his seatback, daring to flick my eyes to the mirror. “Seriously, what the…?!” I thought I caught him flash a horrible Cheshire Cat smile, but his face slipped to dark and scowly before I could be certain in the unlit cab. Either way, he said nothing as we rose, then streamed over the cars between us and mine, smooth as a kayak carried by whitewater.
I couldn’t believe there wasn’t pandemonium below us. At least a hundred pedestrians, more, must be seeing this, yet none seemed affected in the least. None, so to speak, gave a flying fuck.
Within seconds, we were hovering above my blue Sonata. “Ohhh, wooow…nooow whaaat?” I sounded and felt like a I was underwater, washed into those rapids.
By way of answer, the taxi dropped, hard and fast, onto the top of my car. A terrible crack resonated in my spleen. I looked out and down to see shards of black plastic from my storage shell shoot out from under the taxi and scatter to the road.
“No! What are you doing! You’ll destroy my car!”
He made the taxi rise again, higher this time, and dropped it like a wrecking ball. Crack-ka-boom!
“God, stop!” I cried, my entire body jarred, my spine and neck and brain jelly. “I said I wanted to get my car back, not destroy my car!”
But had I said that? I thought back to my command after I’d commandeered this taxi.
Follow that car, I’d said.
Step on it, I’d said.
I want to kill that guy, I’d said.
When I’d hopped into Nergal’s taxi, I’d wanted the carjacker dead more than I wanted my car back. More than I’d ceaselessly gnashed my teeth for the last year about not having enough money to finish my master’s degree.
I looked outside again for someone, anyone to help me, but everything and everyone seemed to have vanished into a gray fog. I felt like I was going to pass out. All of this was so surreal, so unreal, and yet it couldn’t be a vision or a nightmare—I felt more awake than I’d ever felt in my life.
“Mr. Nergal, sir. Please,” I whimpered, hoping I could reason with him. “I don’t know what’s going on, but I don’t want the guy killed, not anymore. You can stop now, really.”
He raised a bushy, black caterpillar of a brow, his black-brown eyes glinting, and I hoped this meant he was hearing me instead of what I feared it meant—too bad, so sad.
I was getting what I’d asked for.
The car rose again, third-story high, and dropped, leaving my stomach behind. I’d known it was coming this time and put my head in between my knees like they tell you to do on airplanes before impact. It didn’t help soften the gut-wrenching, bone-breaking landing, but it was better than what was happening to my Sonata. And, I worried, to its soft nougat center--my carjacker.
Again, and again, we rose and fell. Oh, the sounds…the horrible cacophony of destruction, visceral and horrific and brain-pulverizing. The ascent, the drop, the screeching and groaning and shattering…I couldn’t tell if the screaming was me, the car, or, god forbid, the carjacker. I covered my ears to block it all out, but the jarring and pounding fractured my bones, pulverized my cells. It was like reliving a car crash over and over.
“Stop, stop, stop!” I implored when I could catch my breath. But my cries were moot, impotent, screams lost in a hurricane.
The up and down torture continued for god knows how long until finally, everything stopped. And in the strange silence that ensued, my head in my knees, an echo from my aborted ancient Middle Eastern master’s degree pinged, and I remembered why the driver’s name was familiar.
Fighting my rising gorge, I raised my head. “I need to get out,” I whispered. “To see if he’s okay.”
Nergal, eyes flashing moonbeams and arrows, began to laugh, a throw-your-head-back-show-all-your-teeth kind of laugh, a laugh that shook the world, earthquake hard, until the taxi began to fracture, first in seams then in canyons around me, and I knew the dead carjacker was the least of my problems.
I clutched vainly for anything solid, but it all crumbled to desert sand, sifting through my fingers. The bottom of the cab fell away, and I started to slide toward black nothingness below. I turned my agonized gaze back up to the Mesopotamian god of the underworld and inflicted death, of chaos, disease, and conflict, now massive in his terrible, true, lion-bodied form, his eagle wings holding him aloft above me, and in his empyrean eyes I saw everything and knew the truth to the aching root of my soul.
I saw the alley I thought I’d crawled out of, the flashing lights and police, an inert human form under a drape. My shoes poking out from under it.
Oh, god. The people and other cabbies hadn’t ignored me. They hadn’t seen me on the street because I wasn't there. The carjacker had beaten the life out of me and dumped my body in that dark alley. All-consuming wrath had blinded me to my own death, and I’d made a final deal with an obscure underworld god of freaking war and pestilence to help me murder the dude back.
All told, I saw now I hadn’t been the worst person in the world, merely someone who tended to feel the victim, to see the world as out to get me instead of trying to be grateful for the good. But sadly, my life hadn’t ended on a good karmic note. Not at all.
And, to be fair, Nergal’s card hadn’t lied.
The fee was obvious as hell.
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I always like seeing what the forgotten gods are up to :) A taxi is a great metaphor for going to (an) afterlife, and while we didn't really know Nergal's true nature initially, the interaction definitely felt like a deal with the devil. The twist was unexpected and cool, right from the flying cab. I think the emotional journey from outrage to dread to remorse worked out well too. How much do we regret after we do something in the heat of the moment? No mercy for our protagonist here though.
Thank you. I had a lot of fun with this one, I love old gods because they weren't usually all good or all bad, not the black and white duality we moderns have defined our world by,
Awesome, Molly! This was so excellent: the twist, the action, the inner monologue. (Seriously did you make a deal with Nergal to write this amazingly, too?! I need his card! :) Loved it!
Lol, thank you, Wendy! High praise, but I don’t think you need to make a deal with anyone to write well, you’re already amazing yourself. :)
Thanks, very kind. :)