Thanks for the Ride
The night was cold. It was the type that you'd expect a week before Halloween, the cold breeze cutting through a light jacket like a scalpel through flesh, chilling to the bone. A heavier coat, like an extra layer of fat, would have been sufficient, but Chris didn't have that luxury. It had been a perfect mid 70's when he'd left for the bar, sun still barely visible over the horizon, but during his hours there, a storm front had rolled in.
He stood, huddled in his jean jacket, under the awning of the Blue Fin Bar. Behind him, the blue neon tubing folded into the shape of a shark fin hummed steadily. Mixed with the equally bright red neon of the OPEN sign sitting in the lower corner of the window, the area in front of the bar was coated in a magenta glow. Beyond the protection of the small cloth overhang, a light drizzle fell silently, soaking everything it touched. The overhang collected the rainwater, coalescing it into large drops that fell in front of him, landing with small explosions in the puddles that had formed on the sidewalk. A gust of wind, chilled by the storm, blew through him. He turned the collar of his jacket up against the back of his neck, raising his shoulders for an extra bit of protection.
"Come on," he muttered to himself, tilting his phone away from his chest where he held it. On the screen, the Uber app showed the formless silhouette of his driver's car now only three blocks away, stationary. Chris scowled at the screen, willing the image of the car to move. After a moment, it did, jumping an entire block in a split second.
Another gust of wind, stronger this time, blew under the awning from the right. Chris turned, facing his back to the assault, and looked down the rain soaked street. A block away, two points of light were heading in his direction, reflections bouncing from every wet surface they touched. In the darkness of the night, he couldn’t make out the model of the car behind the lights, but glancing down at his phone again, he assumed it was his ride. He watched the pinpoints of light widen as the car crept down the road, it’s tires making that sticky static noise of rubber on wet pavement. As the wind rustled the denim collar against his neck, the car — a dark colored sedan — pulled up to the curb in front of him. In the mix of rain and the glow of the bar lights, it seemed coated in a fresh, dripping coat of blood. Chris shivered.
The passenger window of the gore covered sedan slowly lowered, and from inside the dark cabin came a voice, low and rough.
Chris locked his phone and dropped it into the pocket of his jeans, pulling the denim jacket tighter around him. He took two steps forward, leaning down to peer into the car. The driver was silhouetted against the lights of the building behind him, the type of black figure that you would see on TV when someone's identity needed to be hidden.
“That’s me,” he said as the rain dampened his jacket. He tried to feign a smile at the driver but was unsure if they’d even noticed.
“I’m your Uber,” the figure said, rolling the window up even as the words were still drifting out through the opening.
Chris looked to either side. No one was out in this miserable weather, no cars were in sight on the street, and the sidewalks were barren, the only movement coming from puddles rippling with the rain. He glanced back at the bar, the dry pavement and red-blue glow of the lights seemed like a lifetime ago. Taking a deep breath, he stepped forward and grabbed the handle of the back door. It was cold and wet in his hand, moisture seeping its way through the cracks of his fingers, like a dead fish pulled from an icy bath. He pulled the handle and the door popped open with an audible click.
He was hoping for the glow of interior lights to settle his nerves, but as he moved to climb into the back seat, they still hadn’t come on. Settling onto the seat, the cold leather upholstery leaked through his jeans, chilling his skin. He shivered again, pulling the door closed.
"Headed to Oak Lawn," the figure in the front seat said, more a statement than a question. In the enclosed space of the car's interior, it's voice was even more rough, almost rattling the windows with it's bass.
Chris leaned back in the seat, glancing up at the rearview mirror. "That's right," he said, catching a glimpse of the driver's eyes in the reflection. They were dark, almost black points, like a shark's eyes, and they were staring directly at him. Chris swallowed, the noise loud in his own ears. He wondered if the driver had heard it. He hoped he hadn't.
"Off we go then," the deep, growling voice from the front said, and with that, the car lurched forward.
As they made their way down the street, the soundtrack consisted of tires running on rain soaked streets, and the steady thump of Chris's heart in his ears. The Uber app had said the trip was estimated at fifteen minutes. Chris was new to the area, so he had no idea if that estimate was correct, but he hoped it was. The faster the trip was over, the better, at least as far as he was concerned. He took a deep breath, running his hands over the pockets of his jeans.
“So, how long have you been doing Uber?” Chris asked.
The sound of wet pavement answered back, the car rolling to a stop at the corner of the block.
Finally, a growl came from the front seat, “About a year.”
Chris nodded, more for himself than anything, cupping his hands in his lap. The car rolled through the intersection and continued it’s trip down the road. They passed under a streetlight, Chris watching the figure in the front seat, trying to discern any details about them. The light passed over the car, illuminating the interior — a sleek black leather — but the angle and roof of the car cast a dark shadow over the driver still. Chris let out a puff of breath from his nose. The car continued it’s steady slosh down the road.
“Are you familiar with this area, like, do you live around here?” Chris asked, leaning forward a bit in the back seat.
This time, the silence was longer. They travelled almost 4 blocks, taking a right turn at the next stop sign, before the shadow in the front seat spoke again.
Chris sighed, shifting positions to the middle of the backseat, the chilled leather cutting through his jeans again. He put hands on both interior shoulders of the driver and passenger seats. The car turned again, left this time, heading toward a deserted industrial area, large factory buildings and empty parking lots. The road became uneven, trading the sticky wet noise for the slosh of puddles occasionally.
The driver glanced into the mirror again, locking eyes with Chris. The black, dead eyes from before were still there, but the area around the eyes had softened a bit. Chris squinted at them, searching them for a hint of what may have changed. The car crept down the empty road, eventually turning into one of the barren parking lots in front of a large warehouse. It rolled to the front of the building, hidden behind a few abandoned semi-trailers, and slowed to a stop. Chris gripped the passenger seat tightly, fingers digging into the cold leather. His left hand slid from the other seat shoulder and to his inside jacket pocket.
The driver's phone made a small chirping noise.
“Are you sure this is the right address?” The gravelly voice asked.
For the first time, the figure's head turned to face Chris. The rustle of leather was loud in the silent car, now stopped. With Chris’s new position between the seats, he could finally make out some details about the driver. He was a middle aged man with a goatee and a soft face, smile lines around his eyes, which actually seemed to be a dark green when not hidden by the mirror's reflection.
Chris smiled at the man, his right hand coming from underneath his jacket.
“I’m sure, this is where destiny has brought us tonight.”
The man’s brow furrowed, and he tilted his head a bit, giving Chris a curious look.
In a flash, Chris’s right hand, balled into a fist, jumped from his chest to the man’s neck. The switchblade, reversed so the blade was protruding from the bottom, glinted in the dim light of the parking lot. The blade entered the man’s neck on the left side, skin taught from turning to face him. The warmth was instant. His hand was coated in blood, warm and slick, before the man could even react. When he did react, it was a slow opening of his mouth and a gurgle, which produced more blood, dribbling down his chin in streaks. In the darkness of the car, it looked black.
Chris smiled, locking eyes with the man, and pulling his hand toward himself, expanding the wound in his neck. The trickle of blood became a spout, coating his hand, the dashboard, and the inside of the windshield in the hot, slippery liquid. Steam drifted from it as it sprayed across the front of the car.
Chris watched the man’s eyes, leaning forward and squinting in the darkness. They were wide and wild, now the eyes of a zebra being chased by a lion. They blinked at him, disbelieving.
“Thanks for the ride, I really needed this.”