This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
by Joshua Allen
Vin was reading Winter's Tale the night it happened. He didn't mean to be; it was a class assignment. The man was all the way in the cab before Vin even noticed him. Clearing his throat, Vin picked up his clipboard. "Where you headed?" Vin said from the driver's seat of his cab. "Iowa," the man in the back of the cab replied. The engine sputtered. Vin gave it a little gas. He was parked in front of a strip of bars on the Illinois side of the Mississippi River. The bars were all closed, dark, and empty. A single streetlamp half a block away and the bare red bulb signaling the entrance to the police station were the only sources of light outside the cab. It was one of those nights that left you feeling greasy. Vin was still waiting for a better answer. "Where in Iowa?" Vin finally said. He tried to adjust mirror so he could better see the young man sitting behind him. The glare from the dome light was blotting out any finer details. All he saw was dark skin and sweat.
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Couldn't have been a horny stripper, just off work, slick and shiny, too tired to worry about Vin ogling her. God forbid. "Are you familiar with the vicinity around the high school?" "What street?" Vin tapped his pen on his clipboard. "Tucker, uh, Tucker and Grand, I believe. Does that sound appropriate?" Appropriate? Runner. If Vin had been in a worse mood, he'd have thrown the guy out of his cab right then. It took him a full count of ten to decide not to. Vin had been wrong before, and if not, let him try to run. Vin put the cab into drive and started across the bridge that spanned the mile-wide river and dumped all cars, wary and unwary alike, into Iowa. He was halfway across before picked up his mike. "Korey? This is Three. I got one going to Tucker and Grand." "10-4," his dispatcher replied. Once the cab was across the river, Vin flipped his right blinker on and cruised toward the turning lane at the lighted intersection. "Can you go straight?" the fare asked. "I thought you said Grand and Tucker." "I believe it's quicker to go straight."
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"Cheaper to turn right." Vin tapped the meter. "It charges distance, not time." "I want to stop by a friend's house--see if a...a lady friend is home." Vin swerved out of the turning lane, then stopped at the red light. He checked his rearview again. There was a little more illumination from the outside now, but not many more details for Vin to make out. The kid didn't look like a bad sort, necessarily. There was a certain intelligence in his expression. Vin trusted intelligent people. The kid suddenly started looking around like he'd heard something. Then he leaned up in between the seats, ducking so he could see the traffic light. He sat back and began beating out a tune with his toe. To get him to shut up, Vin asked, "What's your name, man?" "Alex." "You from here?" Vin asked. The guy started drumming the same song on his thigh using his fingers as drumsticks. "Not explicitly." Evasiveness. Vin didn't care how many five dollar words Alex tossed around, Vin could smell a runner a mile away. "Where you from, then?" The kid puckered his lips, as though figuring a math problem in his head. "Many myriad places."
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Vin sucked his teeth. Ask a simple question. "But where were you born and raised?" "You know, I have never lived in any place more than five years." The kid ducked low when a cop passed going the other way. Vin's hackles went up, goose bumps pimpled his bare arms. The kid straightened. "Midwest, primarily." "Iowa?" Vin asked "If it suits you. Take this exit." "You want the next exit," Vin insisted. "No, here. My friend lives right around here." Vin grimaced. More likely, the kid lived right around here and was going to bolt. Vin exited and started up a street still quite a ways from either Grand or Tucker. "I don't know the street, but do you know that place where the road kind of ends? There's a ditch there. Kinda place a boy might lose something and never find it again. Her house is right around there," the young man said. "Marshall Street. Used to spill on to the highway, but they raised the highway up about a hundred feet." "Yes. Marshall." Vin glanced in his rear view. The kid bit his fingernails. Vin smirked, though the kid didn't see. I'm onto you dude. Vin knew that Marshall was a quiet street. Dark. Lots of places to hide for a runner.
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The kid crossed his legs, rested his hand on his knee. Vin wasn't fooled by the display of prissiness. Vin turned left, followed the curve of Cressview, then left into what looked like someone's driveway, except for the offangle street sign. Then left one block before Waterton, where the old YMCA sat waiting for developers or a wrecking ball. Finally, he took another left onto Marshall, which was buried so deep in the strange hillscape of the town, it felt like it was nearly underground. The street ran downhill and then seemed to smash into the side of an abutting hill. But that hill hadn't always been there, they had imported dirt and rock from the county quarry to raise the highway up a hundred feet for reasons Vin had never entirely understood. Vin stopped short of the row of reflectors across the guardrail. He could hear cars zooming past out of sight on highway. Beyond the line of reflective barriers was a deep ravine with a creek running through it that Vin and his brother used to go crawdad hunting in. Their grandmother had lived not to far away, on the other side of the highway. He and his brother had used the culvert as a fort. The only house on Marshall was dark. Not even a porch light. Vin picked up his clipboard. He pressed his side of his boot against the door so he could feel the precise location of
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his jackknife. He did this every time he stopped, just out of habit, but more urgently when he sensed that he had a runner. Vin felt the pain in his back right under the ribs on the right side. His back had been bugging him a lot lately; the kidney on that side probably had a nice sized stone growing. He leaned forward and reached back to massage the soft flesh above his kidney and instead his finger came back stung. Vin looked at the blood on his finger, mesmerized. He heard a metal on metal scrape behind him and the pain momentarily ceased. Something warm and wet slid down into the crack of his ass. The guy in the back opened his door. Cold air flooded in. I've been stabbed. He was calm about it. Easy. You had to be. Vin reached into his boot and dug out his jackknife. His father had given it to him years ago for hunting. Vin flipped open the blade, his door flew open under its own power, and there stood the young man. The kid held what looked like a long, thin bread knife, except it snaked up like no bread knife Vin had ever seen. It looked like something you'd see in a movie set in some other time and place. Space, maybe. Or a world that existed before recorded history. If Vin hadn't been half asleep in Illinois past bar closing time when the kid got in, he would have easily seen it then.
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Vin took a swipe with his jackknife, but he was in a position of weakness. The kid skipped back out of the way. Vin came out of the cab, thrusting, but the kid twisted like a skilled matador. He came back with a hard upward cut through Vin's coat that bit into his chest, swiping up across the thin flesh covering his collar bone. The wound, though shallow, burned deeply. Vin lost his breath. He vision blurred. Poison. The kid was fighting dirty. Vin fell to his knee, struggling to keep his balance. He tried to thrust again. Stab faster, he commanded himself, but his body didn't respond. The kid's knife was unfairly quick. No, Vin thought. One more second. Please. Vin felt his throat bloom open and blood spill down the front of his shirt. The jackknife dropped from Vin's hand. He sat down hard on the curb. His shirt beneath his coat was soaked with thick blood. It coated his hand and the front of his coat. It wasn't spraying though. Wasn't that supposed to be a good thing? The kid stood there, watching his handiwork. Vin had been wrong, though. This was no kid. He looked human in the same way a gargoyle looked like a bird. Something dark floated in his eyes and hovered around his scalp, like stink lines in a comic, only real and evil.
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The kid smirked, started cleaning his nails with the point of his wicked blade. "I was in school, once. PhD," the kid said. "Not that you care. Got bored. I read one too many books, I guess. Amazing what you can learn from books." Despite the wound, Vin managed to say, "I used to have dreams too, you know?" The words came through his lips, but the air that fed them seemed to come from his mind rather than his chest. "Sure. You're a grease monkey," the kid said. A puff of blue smoke came out of the kid's mouth when he laughed. Vin squeezed the parted flesh on his throat with his fingers, trying to keep the blood from leaving him too fast. "I like to work with my hands as well as my mind. I was going to go to graduate school. Be a teacher," Vin said, pushing the words out with his mind air. "Bullshit." "English. Shakespeare and Ben Jonson were my favorites." The kid pointed at the abyssal ravine, "The way to dusty death. Out, out, brief candle! Life's but a walking shadow." Vin struggled to understand, wanted to ask the kid to tell him what he meant. Anything for one more second of life. "Well, I apologize, good sir. I hadn't known you were a fellow scholar. Perhaps that is what keeps your mortal coil wound so tightly."
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Vin refused to die though the blood wouldn't stop, and he had ceased being able to move. The kid or old man or thing watched, interested to see how Vin would react to dying. Vin realized that he was done. He removed his fingers from his throat, letting his blood flow freely. He locked eyes with the man, who smiled, obviously amused. "Good night, sweet prince," the man said. Vin fell back into the dirt. He hadn't meant to, but there he was. What's happening now? "It took you a long time, Vin. You should be proud." "I guess so," Vin managed to squeeze out with his mind oxygen. "How did dying feel?" Vin tried to shake his head. I'm not dead yet, asshole. "It's bullshit." "Poetic. I'm taking your wallet. Do you have any objections? Man's gotta eat when he's alive." The man's hands pawed at Vin's pockets, but he couldn't see him. The man's hand briefly squeezed Vin's balls, and Vin couldn't even slap the mischievous hand away. Vin felt a warm breath on his ear, as close as a lover. "I'll probably just buy more books. You understand, fellow scholar." A laugh. A cloud of blue smoke puffed from the man's
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mouth and blotted the night sky for a moment. "I'm going to roll you down the hill, Vincent. They won't find you down there. Nobody ever finds what you lose down there." Vin still could not see the guy. He could see nothing but the stars. Until he felt himself jostled to a stop, he hadn't realized he'd started moving. Laughter sounded in the distance. Pain was everywhere, but mostly in his back. Vin's face came to rest on something hard and rough. It stank like a rotten animal passed on the highway. He couldn't see it. He was blind. He remembered when he was a boy, playing in this ravine with his older brother. How they'd dreamed then of tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow. He'd lost a GI Joe action figure in the creek once. Cried about it for three days, to the delight of his brother. Then a Matchbox car. Then a few other things. So many things he'd lost in this very ravine, sacrifices to the nymphs so that he could grow up and not have to live the kind of life where college was such a struggle for him and driving a cab came as easy as snow on a steel-bright February day. After what felt like a very long sleep, Vin opened his eyes. The sky was dark blue, clouds blotted the sun. Vin touched the wound on his neck. It hurt, but the hurt was far away, and it had stopped bleeding, so he was going to be all right. Can't kill old Vin that easy.
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Vin pulled himself to his feet. He fell to a knee, grabbing his back. His shirt was stiff with dried blood. He tried to determine where the crust of blood ended. It was well below his butt cheek, down to the crook of his knee. He felt the same as he had when he and his brother had gotten into a clay slinging fight in this very creek as boys. The clay had half baked on him in the sun by the time he'd gotten home. His mother had yelled and told him not to amount to anything. Vin didn't struggle to break the crust of blood for fear that he would open the wounds. He looked up the hill above him. It was tall, maybe a hundred yards to the top, and steep. His cab was still sitting there, doors neatly closed. Empty. Vin reached into his boot. The knife was gone. Fuck it. Vin was done driving a cab. He needed to put more effort into graduate school. And teachers didn't need jackknives. Vin looked at the hill again. It was a long way up with a stab wound. He took a tentative step up, pulling his body behind him. His right leg felt like a tree branch strapped to his hip. How long had he been down here? Vin fell to his stomach and began to claw his way up, a method he found easier than trying to walk. By the time he got to the top of the ravine, the sun was just starting to set. He
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had remembered it being night when he'd come here to rest, but that night seemed as far away as the pain in his throat. The cab had quit running, but the keys were still in it. Vin twisted the key. The car started up. Vin wondered what he looked like. But before he could check, he smashed the rear view mirror with nothing but his fist. He directed the side mirrors down so that he could only see the asphalt directly below them. He frowned, unsure why he had done that. Vin looked around. Where had that runner gone? Vin picked up his two-way radio mike, "Korey? Three." His voice was hoarse, scratchy. A result of his wound, no doubt. "Three? Where the hell have you been? Holy Jesus, you go missing for two--" Vin suddenly kicked the two-way and kept smashing it under his boot sole until the piercing squeal stopped. The voice coming out of it scared him. Korey. He wondered what that word meant. His guts felt like ice. Vin hung the mike, with its cord now dangling free on the other end, back on the hook affixed to his dashboard. "I was going to be a teacher," Vin croaked to the empty cab. He looked at his hands. They were gray. One fingernail was missing. And a pinky, Vin realized with a start.
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Teeth marks scored the skin where his pinky had been. Must have gotten hungry. Vin laughed and shook his head. What else could you do? He put his car in drive. He drove around town. He kept turning and driving and turning and driving. He wondered how long he could go before someone would stop him. Surely someone was looking for him. What about that runner? He was almost certain that he owed that young man something. He wondered where he had gotten off to. Six o'clock passed, and no one had stopped him. It was pitch dark thirty minutes later. Seven o'clock came and went. Nothing. Winter was almost here, Vin knew, but he wondered what that meant. It no longer seemed to make sense. "Winter," he said, trying to put the sound together with a thought. "Wwwwwinter. Wwwwwwwwwwwinterstale." He smiled. That was something. His nose seemed to make the sound just to tease his ears. It felt good to say. It made his face vibrate. Vin drove downtown, staying on the Iowa side where the cops didn't come and the buildings were red and blooming, like blood. It was seven o'clock. There couldn't be many people needing a cab yet, but what the hell, right? Might as well make some cash.
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It was routine for him. He had thought those same thoughts so many times before they were hard-wired. "Cash," he said. "C-c-c-c-c-c-c-cash." That one rattled his chest. He didn't like it as much as "Wwwwwwwwinterstale." On main street, a young man with a girl in a dress clinging to his arm hailed for the cab as Vin passed. Vin's left foot smashed the brake. His right foot kept the gas pedal depressed. The car roared, but stopped. The guy got in the back, girl still on his arm. "Attenborough and Sixteenth, Dude." Main street was dark. Most of the bars were open but not yet in full swing. Vin tried a smile. "C-c-c-c-c-cash." "Yeah, Dude, I got plenty. You know your rear view is broken? Pretty sure that's illegal." "Wwwwwwwinter?" The guy in the back seat went silent. Vin released his left foot and the car took off. Vin hit the door lock button and then flipped a switch so that the doors would stay locked. Safety first. The thought of that young man from the other night crossed his mind again, but then he remembered the girl in his back seat right now. He turned to look at her.
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"Dude, what the fuck happened to your neck?" The guy was grabbing for his door handle, wiggling it back and forth to make it work. Vin ignored him. The girl was short, plump. She looked delicious. Vin licked the drool off his lips. He had never thought about eating such young, tender flesh before. But now that he had the thought in his mind, it wouldn't go away. His teeth would go into her right breast like it was made of butter. He would pull the fatty tissue free from her bones. The girl shook her head. "I'm a graduate student." She screamed the words as though they were magic. "You can't do this. I'm almost done. I'm going to teach kids." He didn't like bones, he decided. He wouldn't eat them. He'd throw them into the back seat. Or the trunk. "Please, sir. Let me out. I swear to God we won't rat you out," the guy said. "Wwwwwwwwinter...wwwwwinterstale." The girl brightened. Big tears swelled in her eyes. "Yes. Winter's Tale. I'm an English major. Yes. Please let me go. Please, Shakespeare would tell you to let me go." Vin turned his attention back to the road. Safety. First. No, the bones would only stink up his cab. "Take the fucking girl. Let me live!"
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Vin became dimly aware of something striking his head. He brushed away the guy in the back with a swipe of his hand. The guy's neck snapped with a crack. He fell to the floorboards. No problem. The flesh would still be warm when Vin got where he was going. "Wwwwwwwwinterestale." He would throw the bones into a ravine he knew, a deep abyss where no one ever found what you lose down there, where he and his brother used to play kids stuff with buckets and no mops because that was before their dreams had fallen apart. Where the dust departed. "Please, God, mister. Don't kill me. I just want to live. "Wwwwwwwwinterstale," Vin said to himself. Yes. That boy he used to know was still trapped down there in that ravine. Maybe the boy could use those bones to the help him find something he had been looking for. Something warm and bright that felt a lot like life. XXX