“My hour is almost come when I to sulfurous and tormenting flames must render up myself..”
– Shakespeare, Hamlet
Jakob walked along the stone path through the cemetery, making a mental note of the directions to his father’s plot, should he ever decide to return.
He opened the cab door and slid in behind the steering wheel, sensing immediately that someone was watching him. The hair on the nape of his neck stood on end and he had an immediate sense of dread.
Gazing up into the rear view mirror, he saw a face staring back at him. The initial shock that someone else was in the car gave way to terror when he recognized him as his own father. Much to the amusement of Luca Drever, Jakob spun around in his seat and stared wide eyed at the dead man in his back seat.
“Your not dead.” Jakob sputtered.
“No.” The elder Drever replied. “I am quite dead.”
“I don’t understand.”
The elder smiled. “Of course you don’t.” Then he handed Jakob two quarters. “Drive.”
Jakob stared at the coins. “Where am I supposed to drive?”
“Take me home.” Luca told his son. “And I’ll explain things along the way.”
Jakob spun around and put on his seat belt. He turned the key and the cab sprung to life, it’s meticulously cared for engine purring as it did the day it was rolled of the assembly line. He watched his father in the rear view mirror as he placed the car in gear and started off.
“Turn on the meter.” His father commanded and Jakob did.
Jakob was taking this far better than he thought he should have been. His dead father was in the back seat of his Checker cab, but there was something familiar about it; it somehow didn’t seem out of the ordinary. They didn’t manage to drive more than a block before Jakob erupted, “What’s going on?”
“Little difficult to explain in one trip.” The other answered, “But I’ll do my best.”
Jakob didn’t respond but waited, his eyes darting back and forth from road to his father and back again.
“Our family has a long history,” the elder began. “We have performed Livery services for many generations. Your Grandfather drove the very same cab you are now driving up until he passed on. Before him, your Great Grandfather drove a 1934 Austin Taxi and before that we operated a stage coach.”
“So we have been taxi drivers for a whole lot of years,” Jakob interrupted. “When did we start coming back from the dead?”
The elder laughed. “We don’t come back from the dead.”
“Then tell me how my dead father is in his former taxi cab.”
Luca stopped laughing and leaned forward over the seat. “I may be dead, but I still have feelings, you know.”
Jakob started to apologize but was stopped short by the ghost of his father. “It’s really quite simple, son. We don’t come back from the dead; we carry them. We are, or in my case were, psychopomps.”
“Psycho what?” Jakob considered checking his cab for hidden microphones and cameras; This had to be some sort of joke.
“We carry the dead across the divide.”
“I don’t get it.” He performed a quick check under the sun visor and reached across to open the glove box. “What divide?”
Luca sighed in frustration before he continued, “We carry them across the River Styx and into Purgatory.”
“Wait.” Jakob looked up into the rear view mirror once again. “You were Death?”
“No.” Luca laughed “Death is a bit older and not quite as friendly. I was a ferryman. All your forefathers were Ferrymen. It was our responsibility to carry souls across the threshold. And now it is yours.”
“Now it’s mine? What’s mine?”
“The responsibility. The honor.”
Jakob started to stop the cab and spin around in his seat.
“Don’t you stop this cab, Jakob Drever.” His father instructed in a commanding voice he hasn’t heard since he was ten.
“Yes, Sir.” was his only reply. He turned his body back around and stuck his foot back onto the gas petal. He looked up in the mirror. “So I have to spend my days driving dead people to Purgatory?”
“It’s actually called Bedlam by those in the know.”
“In the know? How many people are in the know?”
“Lots. More than you would guess. More than I would care to.” He leaned back in his seat and seemed somewhat disappointed; though in what, one could only guess. “It’s somewhat of a cottage industry right now.”
“So is talking to a dead man.”
“True.” Jakob took the same familiar left he has always taken onto stage road, when he is immediately struck with the idea that he had already made that turn. He glanced at the road signs and they all seemed correct, but something wasn’t right. Where was the theater? The KFC?
His father patted his son’s shoulder. “It’s alright if you get a little… confused. It’s all part of the process.”
“The way to Bedlam is on no map, my boy. In order to get there you must first become lost.”
Jakob was more confused now than ever. “Well how can someone become lost on purpose?”
“No time to explain all the details I’m afraid.” His father leaned back in his seat. “I do have a schedule to keep.”
“A schedule to keep?”
Luca laughed. “Being dead isn’t the end of life.”
“What if I don’t want to transport the dead?” Jakob thought driving a taxi might be fun. Driving the dead to and from appointments seemed to be a bit more than he bargained for.
Luca thought for a moment. “I’ve never considered it myself though I can understand your hesitation. My father was a bit more forthright about his occupation, so I was prepared for the transition and the demands. I’m afraid I’ve done a rather poor job as a father and as a mentor.” His eyes refused to shed a tear. Up until today, he had never known why the dead he had transported never cried.
They were incapable of it.
“I, like many before me, thought I had more time.”
“That’s alright.” Jakob sputtered. “We can do better this time.”
“I’m afraid there is no this time.”
“What? Why? We’ve done so badly. We can make up for it.”
Jakob lost his way several more times, the road seemed to go off in directions it never had before, but he slowly made his way back to his old neighborhood.
“You must never seek me out.” The elder interjected. “What’s done is done. We must now live and die with the choices we have made.”
“Well that’s a horrible thing.” Jakob clenched the steering wheel, suddenly angry once again at his father.
“Simply know that I love you and always have. Know that I am proud of you.”
“You could have told me sooner.”
“Oh,” His father spouted loudly, “I almost forgot to warn you about Hexley…” He stopped and looked out the window at the street as it passed by. “Home sweet home.” He announced,
Jakob stopped the car in front of an old apartment building, aging but in good condition. He then spun around and waited for his father to continue. Luca had taken on a new look about himself; looking suddenly much smaller; timid and unsure. Jakob prodded him. “What about Mr. Hexley?”
“Thomas Hexley. You were about to say something about him.”
“I have no idea what you are talking about, son.” But the word son didn’t have the same connotation. It was flat; unloving; merely the term for a younger man. “This is my stop, right?”
“This is home, yeah”
“Thank you for the ride. What do I owe you?” The man began fumbling through his pockets.
Jakob glanced up at the meter and found that it read fifty cents. He rubbed at the the two quarters he still held in his hand. “You’ve already paid.”
“Yes, Sir.” A tear began forming in Jakob’s eye.
The small man slid to the far side of the cab and opened the door. “Thanks again.”
“My pleasure.” Jakob smiled as he held back the sobs he knew were on the way.
It another moment, his father was out of the car and gone.
“I love you too.” Jakob uttered as he broke down into sobs; the snot dripping, hyperventilating, exhaustive sobs you have as a child.
The phone rang six times before it was finally picked up, manned by someone who had obviously just woken up. “Hello?” She yawned into her receiver.
“Um.. Hi.” Jakob stuttered. He hadn’t expected a woman to answer; nor did he expect her to sound so sultry. “I was trying to reach Thomas Hexley…”
“One moment.” She spoke softly.
The phone was silent for some time, leaving Jakob to believe that the man was asleep. He was just beginning to feel bad when the plain, older gentleman answered the phone with a similarly unremarkable voice. “Mr. Drever,” He cooed. “To what do I owe this late night pleasure?”
“Well,” Jakob thought he had prepared himself properly for this conversation, but he was suddenly nervous. “I just had my first fare.”
“It was my father.”
“Oh… “ A short silence on the other end of the line. “That must have been awkward.”
“I’m sure you have questions.”