Vampire Cabbie - Chapter 9


Diary of a Mad Cabbie

"What the fuck is going on here, Al?"

"You are partially correct," I answered.

"Which part?" she snapped.

"Your mere presence here should provide the answer. One of usis insane, but neither I nor Frank are failing to tell the truth."

Nicole glanced at the door, seeming ready to abandon this entire escapade, but thought better of it. "Look, I want to believe you...."

"I can assure you, I am neither a liar, nor am I insane."

She studied me a moment. "If you're not lying, if you're not crazy - but what you tried to tell me, thatwas crazy."

I shrugged. "In a secular, materialistic world, yes, what I had attempted to tell you was crazy, was unbelievable, but tell me, Nicole, given a choice as to who you would believe is insane, who would it be? Me or Frank Nelson?"

"I don't know." Her voice cut like rapiers. "Christ, for all I know, this is just some joke between the two of you."

"I can assure you, we are not in league. More than likely, this fellow does wish to see me come to harm." A thought passed across my consciousness, and it made me laugh; amusing how the thought of hospitality could have come to me at such a time. But at least I then knew that she was not likely to betray me. Otherwise, she would not have visited me at my abode. "Please forgive me. I have been remiss as a host. Would you like something to drink? You must be parched."

"Yeah. Sure." My civility seemed to smooth her tone.

"What exactly did Frank say at the membership meeting?" I disappeared into the kitchen. Nicole followed, certainly to make sure that her drink would not be laced with something she would rather not ingest. I opened the refrigerator, but found it empty.

"Tap water is fine." She looked over my shoulder, inspecting the refrigerator, most likely curious as to the complete lack of contents. "It was toward the end of the meeting. The time when anyone who wants to speak about anything can. Frank stands up and says he's gotta warn us about this menace that would suck the life from all of us. He starts telling us about how a few months ago, this strange creature started bugging him. It came to him in his dreams, and it even started coming to his window at night. Then finally, the thing stopped bothering him, until recently. But he said he outsmarted it, tricked it into revealing its true form to him, but the thing doesn't know it did - "

"Until now," I interrupted, handing her a glass full of cold water.

"Whatever. Anyway, he says it's you. That this strange creature is a vampire, and it's you, and it's come for him and for everybody, but he'll get it first. He even showed us pictures."

"Pictures?"

She took a long sip of water. "Yeah, but by that time, he'd been pretty much shouted down. He tried to show people these pictures, but no one was listening anymore."

"Did you see these pictures? What did they look like?"

Nicole drained her glass. I refilled it and handed it back to her, then motioned for her to have a seat at the folding table covered with two week's worth ofThe Wall Street Journal .

"Thanks," she said, taking a seat.

"You were a bit overwrought. I trust you feel better now." I took a seat, but made a point of not sitting too close.

"Yes." She smiled, though she most likely did not really want to. "Anyway, Frank's pictures didn't look like much. All they showed was some guy with a woman, but you can't really see the guy, just pants and a black leather jacket standing up by themselves."

I arose and retrieved my leather jacket from the closet. "Did it look something like this?"

"A zillion leathers look like that."

Having hung up the jacket, I returned to my seat. "I can assure you that there is no deception in my words, Nicole. Iam a vampire."

She rolled her eyes. "I mean, that's nuts." She shook her head. "Jeez, you don't seem crazy, but Christ! Youare talking crazy. C'mon, Al. How the hell can you expect me to believe that?"

I shook my head sadly. "Secular materialism. There is a whole universe out there you people refuse to acknowledge."

"Nice words, Al, but they're only words."

Her bravado was commendable. She dared me to prove to her what I really was without knowing if indeed such a revelation would be dangerous. Of course, if I was lying, the danger would be relatively minimal. Being not much smaller than I, she most likely believed she could fight her way out of my apartment largely intact. Undernormal circumstances, that would most likely be true.

"I want you to watch very carefully." I lifted my upper lip and showed her my teeth. "They look like yours, do they not?"

"Yeah." She studied me closely. "You pretty much look like anybody else. You're just very pale, but so's a lot of people. Hell, Jack Williams, he drives only late night shifts, never gets up before six. He's paler than you."

I opened my senses, casting adrift the sensory filter that is usually present to keep me from a constant state of hunger. Quickly, her scent washed over me, not her perfume, but the very smell of her flesh, the very bouquet of her being. Her beating heart pounded loudly inside my skull.

Long, pointed fangs slid from their housings. I struggled not to look into her eyes, not to fall into the vortex of all that blood coursing through her body.

I could feel my own blood pumping through me, my head pulsating. My breathing labored, grew louder. Just a moment more, just as long as my discipline could stand this test before I might drown in an ocean of her scent and her hot, steaming blood.

"Oh my fucking God," she gasped, her voice sounding shaky and distant.

I took a long, deep breath. My heart slowed. Fangs retracted into their housings.

Nicole stared at me, shock and fear registering on her face. Her heart beat rapidly, her sweat grew acrid, and her body tensed, as if she might bolt toward the door.

"Do not worry," I reassured her. "I will not harm you."

"After what I just saw, I can't say I believe you."

"All you saw was a clear illustration that Plato presents a more sophisticated and real view of the world than Aristotle."

She laughed dryly, then grabbed her glass, went into the kitchen for more water then quickly returned to her seat, her eyes only leaving me when the kitchen wall separated the two of us. "Christ, this is so fucking unbelievable." Her breath having finally returned, she sounded much more calm. "I felt like I was starting to get to know you, so it was difficult to swallow what you were saying, but - and you really aren't going to hurt me?"

"No. That is the last thing I want to do."

She nodded, apparently believing me. "So, what does this have to do with Frank?"

"Upon arriving here inMadison , Frank was the one who picked me up at the airport. When we reached our destination, he was so kind to provide sustenance."

Nicole's eyes opened wide. "You attacked him? Sucked his blood? You sucked his blood and he survived? He didn't turn into a vampire?"

"Hollywood." I spat the word from my mouth like a substantial gob of phlegm. "I am not a killer, and my bite does not transform one into a vampire. I merely try to sustain myself while causing as little pain and anguish as possible to those who act as my donors."

"Without consent," she added sharply.

"No, but with a mere meeting of the eyes, I can, in effect, hypnotize a person so they never know what happened to them, and I only take a very small amount. Not even a pint."

"If you hypnotize your victims, how do you explain Frank?"

"On very rare occasions, the effect will not be permanent." I related the incident in the bathroom, which had apparently triggered his recall.

Nicole glanced thoughtfully at the ceiling. "So, what are you going to do about it?"

"I willdo nothing."

"Al, you gotta do something. Isn't this situation dangerous?"

"Potentially, but what would you have me do?"

"I don't know. Something. Anything."

"Action will only exacerbate the situation. No one will believe him. Eventually, he will probably cease to believe it himself."

"It'd be nice to think so, but you weren't at that membership meeting. He seemed pretty convinced." She paused, studying her long, graceful fingers. "What if you 'hypnotized' him again? Maybe you might push it right out of his head."

I shook my head. "Ill-advised. Such action would bring undo attention to the situation. Besides, if he is as convinced as you say, even I would find it difficult to control Frank's mind. He would fight me and most likely win."

Nicole rose. I wondered how the shock had affected her. Though she seemed reasonably comfortable with this revelation, it would take her some time to truly come to grips with it.

"Look," she said calmly, "I'm just trying to help. But it looks like you don't want any help, so I'm just going to leave you alone." Quickly, she was out the door, but this time she did not slam it behind her.

As she left, I started to open my mouth to speak, but she was gone before I could tell her that she should take her father's book.

****

My two days off passed as I pondered the circumstances, still unwilling to take action. Nicole had offered reasonable arguments, but certainly she did not have the benefit of 1,000 years of experience, nor could such a young person understand that rash action will generally result in undesired results.

Upon arriving for my next scheduled shift, I found a waybill envelope with my name on it tacked upon the bulletin board next to the time clock. Inside was a set of plastic vampire fangs made for children to wear on All Hallows' Eve and a note that read, "You can't hide. I know what you are."

I folded the note then secreted it and the fangs within the pocket of my leather jacket and stepped inside the dispatch office to receive a cab.

"Got a nice sled for you, Al," Maggie said. Nicole's auburn-haired Celtic friend was answering phones. "Eighty-eight, waiting just for you. Nicest cab in the fleet. A real thoroughbred."

"Excellent," I replied. "Have we been busy today?"

"Not bad. No snow coming this week, but the weather's still crappy. Good for business."

"I am anxiously awaiting." I took the key and turned to leave.

"Just a second, Al. Maureen wants to see you. She's upstairs."

"Thank you," I said, leaving and climbing the stairs, hiding my displeasure at this summons. I did not need any more trouble than I already possessed. What errors in judgment had I possibly made? Had one of my passenger's been upset by an action or lack thereof on my part?

Maureen sat behind her desk, which was clear except for oneManila folder. When I crossed her threshold, she rose, bearing not the casual appearance I had seen before. She wore a ruffled, high neck blouse and a navy blue skirt. A matching blazer hung on a rack behind her.

"Al. Come in." She motioned toward a chair in front of her desk, then looked herself up and down. "Yeah, had a meeting with the Wisconsin Taxi Association today. A bunch of living stereotypes, all fat guys smoking big cigars. They don't take me very seriously, being a woman, but they seem to like the work I've been doing setting up an insurance mutual that'll save us from those bloodsuckers who've been overcharging for our liability insurance for so many years. Please, have a seat. And close the door." She paused until we were sealed within her office. "You weren't at the membership meeting this Saturday."

A statement of fact that sounded like an accusation. I did not know attendance was mandatory, but I did know it does not take the wisdom of Solomon to determine who really holds the reins of power at this alleged cooperative. "I had no idea attendance was mandatory," I replied.

"It's not," the general manager replied. "It's good to have as many people at a membership meeting as possible, but no onehas to be there." She dropped her forearms on the desk and leaned forward. "There's something very serious I need to talk to discuss with you."

So, this is when the cooperative mask is removed, revealing the true face, the true nature of the creature's state of being. Everyone is equal, but some are more equal than others. And this woman, who has the power of life and death, who holds my fate in her hands, was about to demonstrate just that because I was not being a good enough cooperative member.

"Al, I want you to know that as long as I'm general manager, no form of harassment will be tolerated."

Suddenly, I found myself confused. I squeezed the fangs in my pocket and nodded, simply answering "Uh huh," just as the Americans do.

Maureen held up theManila folder. It bore the name Frank Nelson. "You know about the statement Frank Nelson made at the membership meeting, don't you?"

"Yes."

"He's getting a four-point letter for that, but I'm talking to you now because I want to know if he has in any way harassed you personally. Have there been any incidents between you and him?"

My mind raced. The fingers in my pocket tore the fangs into two mangled pieces. Perhaps, I should just handle this situation myself and not get anyone else involved in order to avoid calling too much attention to myself. However, if Maureen chose to intervene, maybe it would be best to simply let her do as she wished.

Maureen leaned forward and her voice softened. "Look, Al, you don't have to be afraid of him. If there's been other problems, I'll write a twelve-point letter. Maybe the letter might get overturned by the Appeals Committee, but as far as I'm concerned, you say the word, and he's gone."

I suddenly felt myself genuinely touched by her concern. How ridiculous that I had believed she was about to issue me a letter of discipline. No, she really wanted to help. I must really learn to be less the Tory.

She held her peace. It occurred to me that she knew there had to have been some kind of incident between Nelson and myself, and if I denied that such an occurrence had taken place, that would call more attention to the situation than would be prudent. Finally, I related the incident in the bathroom and showed her the note and the fangs or rather the mangled remains.

Maureen shook her head sadly at the story's completion. "Okay, Al. He's gone." She leaned back in her chair and tipped her head up toward the ceiling. "I never like firing anybody, and I was really hoping Frank was going to work out, but he's sick, and he needs professional help."

"I am afraid I have no idea of what it is you are talking about."

The general manager laid a hand on the folder. "I'm not really supposed to tell you this because it's a confidential, personnel matter, but this does involve you, and besides, you could hear about it from several other people. Hell, Kern was there when it happened."

"When what happened?"

"A few months ago, Frank totally went off his nut. We don't really know exactly what happened, but one night in late November, he fell through a second-story window. He was okay, just cut up a bit, but when Kern found him, he was babbling about some glowing creature coming to him through his windows. Kern was nearby because Frank had called the dispatch office asking if a cab could come by and check if someone was messing around outside his window.

"Well, Frank spent some time atMendotaMental Hospital . They let him out a month ago. He said he was okay and needed a job. Hell, we were glad to hire him back and help him if we could. I guess he needs more help than we can give. I hope he gets it."

"Yes, and so do I." Indeed, but what kind of help? Those Dr. Frankensteins, who consider themselves so damned qualified to manipulate the human mind, could not comprehend the giant worm that had planted itself inside Frank's head. Their alleged help would do nothing but exacerbate his agitated state. I rose from my chair and thanked Maureen for her attention.

Descending the stairs, thoughts rushed through me. Was it truly time to take action? If so, what would be the best manner in which handle this situation?

Clearly, more information was needed. If only I was not scheduled to work the next five days; some intelligence gathering would be useful if only the time was available.

Kern appeared at the bottom of the stairs bearing his usual smiling countenance, though his expression was softer than usual, and there was a certain peculiarity to the way he looked at me. Clearly, he looked concerned.

"Hey, Al," he said. Al, not Count. Hewas concerned. "How's it going?"

"Well, I just met with the boss," I replied with a sardonic grin, "and I have survived."

"You're the boss, Al," Kern countered. "We're a co-op. Maureen works for us."

"Indeed. And an excellent job she does."

"She met with you about Frank. He's history, isn't he?"

I nodded. "Frank has been discharged."

"I knew something happened between the two of you. Must've been pretty nasty."

"Sufficiently nasty."

Kern shook his head sadly. "Well, he's pretty loony-tunes. He can go be crazy someplace else."

"Maureen said you know something about it."

Kern repeated the story pretty much as Maureen had told it,

except his version seemed a bit more vivid, down to a detailed description of the cuts covering Frank's face and arms and how the blood squirted rhythmically from sliced arteries.

"Just a little warning," Kern said, stepping out of my way. "Frank's on his way here. He's scheduled to work tonight, but I guess he won't be doing his shift. You probably don't wanna be here when he gets here."

"No. Thank you for the warning."

His grin spread fully across his face. "Glad to help. And if you need anything, let me know. Don't worry, it's gonna be all right."

Indeed. I yearned to share Kern's confidence, but he most likely would not be quite so optimistic if he knew all there was to know.

****

At shift's end, Nicole found me in the parking lot as I walked to my car, ready to depart after a fair but uneventful shift. "I'm meeting you at your apartment," she said.

I voiced protest, but she would hear none of it.

"I have information," she answered.

"What information?"

She reached into her rucksack and pulled out a spiral notebook. "It's Frank's diary."

"Where did you get that?" My voice sounded a bit frantic and for good reason; this form of theft could be just the thing to push Frank over the edge, as if his firing might not be sufficient enough to do just that.

"His motel. He's staying at this really sleazy place. God, you should see it. A fucking pigsty. Trash and used food containers everywhere. The place stank of cigarettes, stale beer and his dirty laundry. Gross! But what was real creepy was there were all these flowers made out of plastic beads set up on the dresser, all arranged in neat, symmetrical rows. Oh, and I got these too." She handed me a pair of dark, grainy photographs. "Thatis you, isn't it? Your pants, your leather jacket?"

"Yes."

"Who's the woman?" She pointed at the plump blonde holding one of the jacket's arms.

"A prostitute."

"Great!" Her reply sounded irritated. "Look, I don't wanna bother with that now - "

"You should not have done this, Nicole. He was fired today. Surely, he will notice that these items have been pilfered. How did you get in there anyway?"

"I told the desk clerk I was Frank's sister. And I gave him five bucks." She paused. "Look, it's too late to worry about this now. You gotta read this diary."

She was right. "You know where I live. I will see you there shortly."

****

"This guy's really sick, Al," Nicole said, sipping the Russian Caravan tea I had brewed. After her last visit, it seemed reasonable to keep some refreshments around the apartment. "You gotta check this out."

I sat and she pushed the diary across the table.

"It's hard to tell when he wrote these entries," she said, "but it seems they cover the time after you attacked him and before he went to Mendota. It covers a little bit of his time inside and then almost up to the present."

I nodded and opened to the first entry, dated November 29, just a week after my arrival. "Have to say it was simply a case of being in the right place at the right time. Got lucky and hooked an out-of-towner toward the end of a twelve-hour hack shift.Janesville . Forty miles of highway, a buck-twenty per mile of easy money. Good old cab sixty-six. Always did bring me luck, mostly good.

"'On the way back, bum-fuck nowhere, pitch dark except the reflected glow of my headlights, nothing but road stretching out in front, grassy median and oncoming lanes to my left and forest all over the place. All alone, not even any truckers for company.

"'That's when I saw it. Just a quick flash, a glimmer and shimmer, a quick glimpse of something out there, running or jumping in the median. Something doing something, that's all I can say. It was there, then it wasn't.

"'The thing had two legs and two arms and a head, kinda like a glowing teenage kid, just smooth without any real features and sorta glowing. Vaguely luminescent - glow color, but not exactly glowing, like maybe you wouldn't want to try to read by it.

"'Well, I just can't stop thinking about it. The sight of this creature has become an obsession very quickly. It sounds crazy, but I know I saw it. I wish I knew what the hell it was.

"'I thought about asking some of my friends, the ones I was pretty sure wouldn't laugh. Only problem was I wasn't sure who'd laugh and who wouldn't. The next night, I was sitting by myself at the bar at the Pinckney Street Hide-Away, stewing about this whole thing, feeling frustrated about not having anyone to talk to about this. Then, I saw Greta. She'd believe me. Hell, she's a Born Again Pagan, or at least that's what that button of hers says.

"'So, I told her the whole story, about how I was unsure on the one hand, but knew I'd see something, maybe even a quick glimpse across dimensions, or something like that.

"'Greta lit a cigarette and took a deep drag. She nodded thoughtfully in what looked like agreement. Then, she told me about the time when she was a teenager, and her parents were gone for the weekend, and she walked into their bedroom around dusk and saw something standing in the room. She said she knows it was really there, but can never be certain because she was so frightened she sprinted out of the house to a neighbor's as fast as she could.

"'I really like Greta and felt really grateful until I realized she was talking way too loud, and that asshole Jon overheard and came over by us to give us a bunch of shit.

"'Jon told Greta her eyes were just playing tricks. Greta responded by blowing smoke in his face. Jon, in an exaggerated motion, waved the smoke away from his face and called her a flake. Greta called Jon arrogant and pig-headed. Then Jack, another friend who'd been shooting stick with Jon, stepped between the two. He grabbed a smoke from Greta's pack that was sitting on the bar, lit it and glared at me through a cloud of smoke, thanking me for sharing my experience with them so the thing will come after all of us and not just me. His voice dripped with sarcasm. Everyone laughed, even Greta.

"'I hesitated, then joined the laughter. Embarrassed, yes. I shut up, let the conversation meander elsewhere, let the subject drop and just pretended to forget about the whole thing.

"'Just pretended, but I just couldn't stop thinking about that creature. I thought about it until bar time. I thought about it on the way home. Thought about it while watching a little TV before bed.

"'Then, I dreamed about it. Dreamt I was driving back fromJanesville in old sixty-six. Dead of night, real dark - pitch black, clear, crisp, chilly night, bare sliver of a moon and a sky full of stars. I was driving sixty-six down the highway. Miles and miles, and there were no other cars around. Just me. Then, I saw a shimmering in the distance. I punched the gas and closed in on the shimmering, which began taking shape.

"'Then, I was right behind the thing. Well, not exactly right behind it. I was in the left lane, and there it was, right there in the median, running, its two legs a yellow blur. I sped up and pulled within twenty feet of the thing so it was actually in my headlights. I could see it had a head like a bowling ball sitting atop an otherwise slender body. And it was human-shaped, like some guy in a rubber suit.

"'But I only saw its back. I tried speeding up, but sixty-six just couldn't seem to go any faster, just couldn't get close enough to see more than the creature's backside. Then, I woke up. This is really weird.'"

"Pretty fucking bizarre," Nicole said, having seen that I had finished the first entry. "Amazing how obsessed the guy got. Did you actually do this to him, or was he just a ticking, nutty-nut time-bomb waiting to explode?"

"Perhaps, a little of both."

"Hmm." She finished her tea and grabbed the diary. "Do you have any more. This is real nice."

"Certainly." I took her cup and went to the kitchen to make more tea.

"Hey, listen to this," she shouted. "Fuckin' weird. He keeps dreaming about this stupid thing, but never gets a good look until this one night: 'Then, I floored it and was actually able to pull even with the thing. Hell, there it was, running right alongside the cab. I could see it did look like a guy in a yellow rubber suit, but there was no bulge between its legs. And its headwas shaped just like a bowling ball, but smooth with no nose or mouth and only round bits of coal for eyes, like some really abominable snow-dude.

"'Weird thing though, I drove alongside the thing for a couple miles, and it just ignored me. I stared at it, hell, admired it, the way its slender legs were a blur of motion, like Wile E. Coyote when he stumbles off a cliff and tries to run back to terra firma.

"'But I didn't want to be ignored! I tapped the horn. Leaned on the mother. For what felt like forever.

"'It turned, and I saw what I'd thought was an expressionless face, but it wasn't. Those simple, black button eyes seemed to stare through me, vaguely transmitting a feeling of being pissed off.

"'Suddenly, I was wide awake, sitting bolt upright in bed, my stomach muscles so tight they hurt. Something tells me there's something a little abnormal about this, but I know it's real. I just wish there was a way to find out.'"

I leaned against the refrigerator waiting for the water to boil, wondering about the creature he described, hoping it was not what it seemed it might be.

"How long does he have those dreams?" I shouted.

"For awhile, then they come true," Nicole answered. "Apparently, the cab company had retired sixty-six. Good riddance, that thing was a death trap. Anyway, he was able to buy it when old cabs were auctioned off, then he went out searching for the thing, just like in his dream. Geez, this guy can wax poetic. Listen to this. 'With the night off and it being black as pitch even in the city, with just a bare sliver of a moon and the black velvet sky pierced everywhere by millions of pinholes of light, I decided it would be a good night to go hunting for the creature.

"'When I maneuvered sixty-six out of the city, the sky opened to absolute crystal clarity, and the stars layered themselves so thickly that the constellations themselves were obscured. The night itself was like tar, sucking, hell, devouring the paltry glow of my headlights, as if it were laughing at me for trying to light up the road ten feet in front of me.

"'It felt just like the dream. Somewhere around Edgerton and I was thinking it strange that I hadn't seen another vehicle for several miles. Then, I saw something shimmer a bit at the end of the horizon. I punched the accelerator and watched the gas gauge and speedometer needles lurch in opposite directions.

"'At first, the shimmer seemed to stay at the edge of my sight, but as six-six lumbered forward faster and faster, the shimmer finally seemed to get closer.

"'Up ahead, I watched the shimmer disappear over a steep rise. Double-six followed, struggling up the summit, then hurtling down the other side. The road leveled, and six-six steadied at a cool 80 miles per, shaking a bit, creaking like the bulkheads in those shipwreck movies, but hugging the road tight.

"'And there it was, just a few hundred yards ahead, running on the wide, grassy median. I let up on the gas slightly and moved into the left lane for a closer look.

"'The creature's luminescence made it visible, plain as day, revealing to me uniform yellow-white skin, covering a smooth, symmetrical body with that perfect, bowling ball head.

"'I punched the gas, pulled even with the thing and drove alongside for awhile, but the creature would speed up, andsixty-six , not to let some alien kick her ass, matched its speed. Yeah, maybe the creature could run like an organic super-conductor, but sixty-six packs a vee-eight, three-sixty with a four-barrel carb. And a Smith and Wesson sure as shit beats four aces.

"'We played this game of chase, while the creature also played a game of pretending I wasn't there, until it finally turned its head toward me, showing me eyes, but no real face - no nose and only wrinkles converging where a mouth would be.

"'But those eyes, those blank, black coal eyes spoke clearly to me, saying yes, I'm pissed off.

"'It stared, and I stared back, feeling its message but unable to turn away.

"'And almost not noticing the sharp curve in the road. Sixty-six almost flew into a ditch. As it was, I flew into the far right lane and cut the wheel barely in time. When I finally straightened the car, the creature was gone.'"

I handed Nicole the cup of tea, and she took a tentative sip, her throat obviously parched after her recitation.

"Here, let me have a look at that," I said.

"Sure. That thing gives me the creeps, and yourlight and airy look here doesn't help make me any less creeped out."

Indeed! Regardless if the creature was real or merely a product of Frank's imagination, either alternative was frightening, especially to the uninitiated. I started reading where Nicole had stopped:

"'Well, if there was any doubt about what I saw that first night on the way back fromJanesville , it was gone. This time, it was there plain as day. But now, it was gone, and double-six was rushing us to the next exit. Nothing to do but go home, hit the hay and think of what to do next. Maybe mount a camera on sixty-six, take pix of the thing, show Mister Empiricist Jon, sell them to the supermarket tabloids for big bucks.

"'My mind was reeling with infinite possibilities when, with about two miles between us and the next exit, I saw a distant shimmering up ahead. Then, not so distant and not shimmering, but a glowing blob, glowing and growing, getting bigger and bigger as sixty-six gobbled up the road in front of me.

"'I eased up on the gas. Watched the blob rush toward me, take definition. Sprout one, two legs. Arms. A head. Coal eyes growing larger, larger, until the road, the night disappeared, and nothing but glowing yellow and huge black circles filled the windshield.

"'I slammed on the brakes, felt the back-end fish-tail. An inhuman squeal filled the air. Was it me or the screeching tires?

"'And the entire car was engulfed by glowing yellow. A chill like dry ice passed over me so quickly I hardly felt it, but I did, and a memory of it stuck, like the way dry ice peels skin off bones.

"'Then nothing. Just me and old sixty-six sitting stationary out there alone in the blackness, no sound except six-six's steady chug-chugging and my pounding heart.

"'Treat a good cab like a lady and she'll always get you home. Like any good cab, double-six kept her head, found the next exit, turned us around and took us back toward town at a nice, safe sixty miles per hour.

"'In defensive driving, they train you to check the rear view mirror a couple times per minute, even when there's no other vehicles on the road, even all alone on a nice, private little highway, nothing but me and good old sixty-six.

"'And some glowing creature out there someplace.

"'I checked the rear view mirror. Nothing. I stared at the road ahead. Nothing. Well, road and darkness and trees mostly bare, almost all their leaves torn off by a sharp December wind.

"'Headlights from behind sparkled in the rear view mirror. I glanced up. Not a pair of headlights! A single, Cyclopean eye sparkling from the distance! Shimmering, splintering into a thousand filaments with a light at the end of each.

"'The shimmering mass grew as I watched. I punched the gas, checked the mirror, studied the shimmer.

"'Floored it. I heard a thump, felt six-six shudder, then roar! She obeyed, responded to my will, propelling me forward as I watched the shimmer in the mirror shrink. Then grow! First, the same size as before, then bigger, just a little bigger, still like radioactive tentacles, still not big enough for me to tell what the hell they were.

"'With that Police Intercepter engine opened full throttle, we were flying, sixty-six guiding us forward while I watched our backs, waiting for the shimmering to make its move.

"'Light flashed in front of me. The shimmer was just a diversion. A pair of shimmers in front. Bright red eyes glowering at me. Eyes!

"'No! Taillights. Impact coming!

"'I cut the wheel sharply to the left. Swerved, passed and flew onto the left shoulder. Barely enough time to brake and cut the wheel to the right to keep from flying off the road. The trucker honked as I eased to a stop. I glanced over in time to see him flip me off.

"'There was this screaming inside my head. I looked ahead at the lights of town. The stars were invisible, washed away by the lights of civilization. And the rear view mirror - well it was dark, the shimmer gone. Gone, but it was there. But was it still there and just hidden or was it just hiding for now? Was it scared of civilization - our civilization - or did it use civilization as camouflage?

"'I drove home slowly. It was three-thirty in the morning when I finally parked good ol' six-six. The adrenaline finally gone, I was worn out. What do I do now? Well, there wasn't anything to do until morning, and I was beat, so I stripped, hit the lights and crawled under the covers, for awhile fidgeting and shifting, trying to find the warm spot in the bed while waiting for the electric blanket to kick in.

"'Almost asleep, then a chill washed over me, pulling my shoulders up to my ears. I curled into a tighter ball, pulled the covers tighter about me. Then, I felt the chill

again.

"'A chill and something telling me to look toward the window. I'd try to ignore it, but the chill began settling into my bones, turning into a dull ache. And my head was buzzing with a voice that wasn't mine, telling me, telling me to look, look, look toward the window.

"'I turned, opened my eyes and looked toward the window.

"'And there it was, glowing and glaring, that bowling ball head and those coal eyes staring at me.

"'I backed up, pulled the covers up to my chest, until my back struck the wall. My breath left me like I'd been punched in the stomach.

"'I'd say I opened my mouth to scream, but nothing came out. I'd say I stared, too paralyzed, too frozen to move 'cuz the cold was freezing me inside and out. I'd say all that stuff, but it's so damn clich¨¦d!

"'So, I'll just say I finally sat up, then leaped off the bed, sprinted across my little efficiency, scooped up the phone, dived into the bathroom and slammed the door.

"'There's no windows in the bathroom.

"'Damn near hyperventilating, I picked up the phone and called the cab company. My hand was shaking so much, it took several tries to get the right number. Finally, I heard the Dexter's voice on the other end. Reality! I settled a bit.

"'I was glad it was Dexter. He's one of the more sane and competent of our dispatchers.

"'I tried to sound calm, but I could hear my voice shaking. I told him I thought there was something outside my window and asked him if he could send a cab over to take a quick look. He said sure and put me on hold.

"'I just said ten-four and fought the urge to tell him to hurry. Instead, I just held the phone, squeezed it in my hand just to feel the hard plastic dig into my soft flesh, while yanking some slack out of the phone cord so I could stretch the line far enough to allow me to sit on the toilet seat, pressing the phone to my ear, listening to the silence, my eyes darting from side to side.

"'I was real happy when I'd found this place. Got it for a song, and I was especially happy about how light and airy it was.

"'All those windows.

"'Windows on three of the four sides of the efficiency. Three on one side. Two on the other two. Windows everywhere.

"'I listened to the silence and stared at the cold ceramic tiles between my bare feet.

"'Nothing there, Dexter said after what felt like forever. He'd sent Kern who was less than a mile away. Kern gave it a good, close look but didn't see anything.

"'I thanked Dexter. He asked if I needed the cops. I thanked him again and hung up.

"'I wanted to laugh at myself, but there wasn't as much as a giggle inside. Fine, just leave the bathroom. Can't stay there all night. If I didn't leave right then, I'd never leave. I'd have to live in my bathroom. Have meals delivered there. Buy a computer and have it installed right on top of the toilet tank. I'd work out of my home, right in the bathroom. I'd never leave 'cuz I'd have everything I'd need literally right at my fingertips.

"'I laughed at that image and kept laughing as I threw open the bathroom door and quickly scanned the windows. Nothing there. Still, I wasn't going to take any chances. Dug extra blankets from my closet and tacked them up over the windows. If I can't see it, it's not there, right?

"'Wrongo!

"'I flicked off the lights and crawled back into bed, rearranged the blankets and shifted until I found the warm spot. Nice and warm. Toasty. Then, a chill.

"'Damn, damn, damn. My eyes snapped open, and I stared at the blanket that covered the shades that covered the windows. Opaque nothingness, but my friend was there. There underneath all the layers. Invisible, but I could feel its presence.

"'Damn! I bolted into the bathroom and sat on the toilet seat staring at the tiles, wondering how much money I could make doing computer work at home. In my bathroom.

"'I figured there'd be a way to figure this out tomorrow, but for now I had to survive the night. But how? Then...inspiration.

"'I couldn't live with my guest. Couldn't run from it. But maybe I could enable myself to ignore the bastard, at least temporarily. I remembered the bottle of rum left over from a small Halloween party I'd had. I carefully opened the bathroom door, stared at the windowless wall and moved toward the pantry where I'd last seen the bottle.

"'Salvation! The bottle was still half full!

"'I gripped the bottle tightly and walked backward toward the bathroom, carefully staring at a dirt spot on the windowless wall. Before I knew it, I was sitting on the toilet seat, wringing the dead soldier's skinny neck, my head spinning. The rum had burned at first, but got smoother with each swig until there was none left, and I even craved just a little bit more, just to make things feel just a little smoother.

"'I kicked the bathroom door open, then stood and stumbled over the threshold. I straightened and felt the whole room spin. Took a careful step, then another. I felt fine, I thought, and took a couple less careful steps, tripped over a boot and tumbled forward, falling face first right beneaththe window, the big one directly across from my bed. I reached a hand forward and gripped the molding below the window, pulled myself up to my knees, my nose inches away from the blanket.

"'Couldn't see anything, but damn, I felt cold, colder than I'd ever felt in my whole life. Cold, then hot as drunken anger washed over me. I grabbed the blanket and tore it away from the window frame, leaving me face to face with a familiar shape, plainly visible through the shade.

"'I stared at the bastard. I swear I could see those terrible eyes staring back at me. Staring at me!

"'My hand pulled the shade until it was taut, then let go, sending it flying, leaving me face to face, eyeball to eyeball with those blank eyes.

"'What do you want from me?I shouted.Why are you doing this? What did I ever do to you?

"'A shrieking exploded inside my head. Stomach muscles contracted, then convulsed. I fell backward. After that, I don't know. All I remember was waking up lying on my back, my legs bent underneath me, dizzy, head pounding like a motherfucker. I reached back, touched the back of my head and winced with pain. Vomit was everywhere. On the window, the molding, all over me.

"'And through the vomit-splattered window, I could still see the bowling ball head, the coal eyes staring at me.

"'I struggled to stand on wobbly legs and stared right back at the creature.What the hell did I ever do to you? I shouted. Before the creature could respond, I charged, my arms outstretched, hands reaching right for its throat.

"'I crashed through the window, felt fangs of glass bite into my arms. But I was going to get that thing. I was going to get that thing. My hands inches away from the creature's throat, right there, right there....

"'And that's all I remember. They say Kern found me on the front lawn. Covered with blood and vomit, a few broken bones, but otherwise none too worse for wear.

"'No, I didn't feel the impact, only the shrieking inside my head, the constant echo of the creature's reply:

"'You invaded my privacy, so I invade yours.

"'And that was that. Now, I sleep in a room with no windows, but I still see the creature. See it in my dreams, but this time it's different. I don't find the creature in my dreams, it finds me. Comes to me in my dreams and just stares at me.

"'Dreams are windows, I guess. I guess I'm just kind of screwed.'"

Is it scared of civilization or does it use civilization as camouflage?

I rubbed my eyes after completing that long entry. When my eyes focused, Nicole was staring at me.

"This mean anything, Al?"

"Nothing, just ramblings."

"Don't give me that bullshit." She played with her empty tea cup. "You're like totally engrossed. What's it all about?"

"I cannot be certain."

"But there's something, isn't there?"

The woman certainly was perceptive. I was not sure whether I wanted to share it with her, but it seemed she would not allow any option other than total disclosure.      

"Mortals," I began, "see their world as an aggregation of three-dimensional objects and fail to see anything outside of that limited spatial concept. They see not a fourth dimension. For them, time is a strictly linear construct, hopelessly rooted in the present, where past and future exist merely as states relative to the present."

"Uh, huh," Nicole said. "I presume this has something to do with the topic at hand?"

I nodded. "Yes. You see, mortals fail to see the dimensions between dimensions, the three-dimensional worlds not very different from their own that exist quite literally right in front of their eyes."

"And that's what Frank saw?" Nicole walked into the kitchen. "Go on, I'm listening. If I drink any more tea, I'll float away, but I wanna hear this, and I think I'm gonna need some more caffeine. Besides, I don't think I'm gonna want to sleep tonight. So, what does this have to do with Frank?"

"Frank's 'creature'was real. It exists in the realities of many civilizations all over the world and has been called many names. Perhaps, Western Civilization would call it a gremlin, which oddly, in your lexicon, is defined as a 'mythical creature' simply because this industrialized, technology-based society is too mired in empirical thought to believe what the eyes do not always see."

"Gremlins? Jesus Christ, you gotta be kidding. How did he get to see one of those?"

"A moment of shared consciousness - "

"Shared consciousness? You're talking about when you bit him. Is that what happens? People go off their nut?"

"No. I feel what they feel, and they feel what I feel. It goes both ways, but the effect is short-lived, and normally they do not remember any of it."

"But Frank did."

"My senses are more acute than yours, Nicole. I see things you cannot. Frank got a glimpse of this creature as a direct by-product of my actions. Mere remote coincidence let Frank be in the right place at the right time to glimpse a creature that is really quite harmless. They just tend to be a bit puckish sometimes."

The sound of boiling water emanated from the kitchen. Nicole, empty cup in hand, looked at me from across the threshold, eyebrows scrunched downward. "Not harmless, Al. Obviously, not harmless. Don't think for a second that it was harmless."

"The creature itselfis harmless - "

"Bullshit, just look at - "

"Please listen and try to control the histrionics. Frank only glimpsed the creature briefly, but imagine it like this: You are in a dark room with a closed door separating you from the bright light on the other side. The door is opened a mere crack, allowing the tiniest sliver of light to pass the threshold. But imagine how bright that tiny sliver of light would seem from within that dark room. Yet, it is still a mere sliver of reality, folded as it were, but you unfold it, and there is an entire dimension. Frank only saw a tiny sliver of the creature's being, but it was enough to crash through his perceptual limitations."

Nicole gasped, almost dropping the cup, not even noticing the whistling of the teapot. "Christ, that'd be enough to make a person crazy."

"Indeed. It would."

"It'd be like dropping acid without knowing it. Everything looks different, but you don't know why. You just think you've lost your mind. Christ, how would anyone deal with it?" She poured herself another cup of tea. "Shit, oughta make a whole pot. I really don't think I want to sleep tonight."

"Under the circumstances, I would not blame you."

She returned to the table. "Christ, the therapists tried to help him, but there wasn't a damn thing they could do for him."

"No, not while operating under such a materialistic paradigm."

"But he needs help, Al. Maybe you could talk to him. Help him."

"If he's not so far gone that he wouldn't accept help."

"You gotta do something. Thisis your fault. You do know that don't you?"

"Yes, I understand."

"You better understand." Nicole picked up the diary and fondled it between sips of tea. "He resisted the therapy at first, thought he might fool them by cooperating with their efforts. Even willingly took part in occupational therapy. That's where the flowers come in. Finally, they convinced him he'd only been having delusions. Probably, by then, the dreams had stopped. Your creature must've gotten bored. They let him out of Mendota, and he came back to work at Co-op Cab. He was fine until he saw you again. He talks about some altercation between you and him in the bathroom where he saw you in the mirror, but didn't really see you. From the way he rambles after that, it seems that incident started to push him over the edge, but he still wasn't sure. He talks about not really believing what he'd seen, that it wasn't real, that he was creating alternative realities to act out an unwillingness to take responsibility for his own failings. He almost believed it, but then the dreams came back. Listen to this entry. It's dated March fifteenth, not even two weeks ago:

"'Goddamned asshole psychotherapists!

"'They said I was having delusions. They said I had to let go of these delusions, and then the dreams would stop. Well, the dreams stopped, but that creature is still out there, only it's taken a different form. Fucking psychotherapists. Don't know shit.

"'I know this because the truth came in a dream.    

"'I'm sitting in my cab, in the cab stand at the east-side Greyhound depot, waiting for the call that'll give me the late-shift clean sweep. I'd drawn a four o'clock end-time, as opposed to knocking off at two - bar-time. But I've got experience. I'd been in the right cab stand for the guy who goes from the near south-side to theHillFarmsOfficeBuilding , which set me up for the woman from the deep southwest-side to the state office building off the Square. Then, I slide a few blocks east to post up at the Skinny Dog for Cletus. He'll get in the cab and say work and nothing more. The meter'll run nine bucks, he'll hand me a ten, and I can call it night.

"'It's deadly quiet, as if a neutron bomb exploded.

"'Out of the corner of my eye, a yellow blur flashes past. I ignore it. It's late, and my imagination is getting the better of me. The creature has left me alone. It no longer invades my dreams.

"'There's a rap at the window. I feel a jolt from the base of my spine to the top of my head. I turn and see a face. It's familiar, a fellow driver. It's that guy, fucking Euro-faggot named Al Ludinsky or Raminsky or something Eurofagopean like that. Has this real stupid accent.'"

Nicole laughed loudly. "Just like Maggie said. You sure you're not gay?"

I frowned. "Please continue."

"'What's he doing here? It's three-fucking-thirty in the goddamned morning. He's not driving. Why isn't he home asleep?

"'I roll down the window. His face glows bright yellow in the halogen lights outside the bus depot. He asks if I have any money for a cash advance. Sure, no problem, I say. We do that all the time.

"'I reach for a charge slip to record the advance. I face him again. He's smiling, showing lots of teeth. I see a pair of sharp fangs. I see two black eyes staring at me. Then, nothing but black. There's a sharp sting against my neck, a pair of sharp stings piecing my flesh. I hear a soft sucking sound. I feel my strength draining from me. I feel my life draining -

"'Just a dream? No way. No fuckin' way.

"'I've been haunted by faces staring through clear panes of glass: An alien face, bright yellow, round like a bowling ball, with round lumps of coal for eyes, no nose and no mouth; and a human face that's not human, whose skin is too white, whose teeth are too sharp, whose image cannot be seen in a mirror.

"'Mirror! Glass!

"'Windows! Illusion!

"'The faces aren't important. One is a true form. One is a clever disguise that so carelessly reveals its true nature.

"'Glass, that's what's important - the window between the implied and the inferred. It can be shattered!

"'They all said I was crazy, but I'll show them. Just have to get the evidence. I've got a special camera, with special film and special infra-red gadgets, gizmos, thingamabobs and thingeegiggees.

"'I was the hunter, then became the hunted. Now, the hunted will become the hunter once again.'"

Nicole shut the diary and slid it across the table. "There's one more entry. It's real short. He must've written it after the membership meeting. He's raving at that point, about how we're all fools not to heed his warning, but he would show us all."

"This is all my fault."

"Damn right - "

There was a loud thud just outside my apartment door which literally jolted Nicole out of her chair.

Then, there was an insistent rapping at the door.