Nothing but a Wyrm (part 1)

(Part 1 of 3 installments.  This one is set in Adelaide.  Adelaideans will immediately realize that this story was written some time ago… the freeway no longer has a Devil’s Elbow, nor does it pass by the Eagle on the Hill servo.  Taxi drivers, too, will be able to date it – I haven’t kept up with the changes in technology since my stint behind the wheel, back in the day, cruising the Adelaide Streets by night.  But Adelaide still feels like the right place for Wyrm.  As Salman Rushdie once remarked: “Adelaide is the perfect setting for a horror story.”  Not that Wyrm is horror, mind you…  )

Tuesday night.

Adelaide is quiet at the best of times, but on Tuesday nights most cabbies, if you ask them, will give you an emphatic but accurate post-mortem.

“Dead! This is the pits! You call this life? Sitting out here all night … for what? One job every two hours – if you’re lucky!”

Yet chances are you will find them still there Tuesday week, Tuesday year, still waiting, still complaining about the lack of work.

Seems to come with the job description.

On this particular Tuesday night the row of taxis outside the Adelaide Casino had moved very slowly indeed. By 1:30 a.m. it had ossified completely and only a few determined or desperate characters persisted: cursing, smoking and braving a fruitless vigil.

It was a cold night so most had their engines idling and their heaters pumping dry hot air into their cabins. Short pillars of exhaust steam separated each vehicle so that the row of cars looked like a surreal procession queuing up for some arcane ritual, waiting on some otherworldly sign of favour or direction.

Nothing but a Wyrm

Most of the drivers slouched over the morning paper either looking for alternative employment or hunting through the used car columns for upgrades they probably could not afford. One was unashamedly asleep, waiting to be prodded into abrupt wakefulness by the horn of the car behind him.

Another, the seventh from the front, sat quite still, face buried in a book.

The book looked like an old bible, a thick and decrepit volume that seriously considered collapsing into a pile of dust each time he turned a page. He did this carefully therefore, with reverence, with love even.

“War and Peace?” asked a restless comrade who, for the sake of fuel economy, kept warm by pacing up and down along the deserted pavement.

The driver of the seventh car looked up from his book briefly, smiled absently, and slowly wound his window up. He seemed only distantly aware of the other muttering insults against him as he moved on to the next car, undoubtedly to launch into a diatribe about bad manners.  The reader of ancient books paid no heed.  With religious care, he turned another page and studied the writing with a frown.

Outside a mist had risen to form ghostly halos around the lamp-posts and streetlights. A pair of mounted police rode past on magnificent grey stallions. The sound of their hooves struck down onto the pavement echoed hollow a midst the cloister-like vaults of the old Railway Station.

He looked up and watched them intently as they went by, a wistful expression seeping from his eyes, from the corners of his mouth.

He followed the cops with his gaze until they disappeared beyond the grey walls, the sound of their passing fading into the distance like a reminder of another place, of a time long gone.

He looked down at the book now closed on his lap: another disappointment.

He sighed resignedly, opened the door, and walked to the rear of the vehicle.

Opening the boot, he placed the book carefully in a cardboard box and from the same he retrieved another volume, even more dilapidated than the first.

Back in the warmth of the cabin, he peered avidly at what was left of the cover of his new prize. Etched faintly on the old leather were the remains of a large seven-pointed star enclosed within a pentagram, which in turn was enclosed by a circle. Each of the seven points drew the eye away from the centre, towards seven letters or symbols.

Above the pattern, the title of the work was quite illegible, while at the bottom of the cover the name, Cornelius Agrippa, could still be made out.

This should be good, he thought, and just as he opened the front cover, tongue moistening his lips with anticipation, the back door of the taxi opened.

He closed the book, put it down on the passenger seat, and glared in the rear-vision.

Iridescent red hair lifted to reveal the features of a tired young woman.

Strong nose, stubborn, petulant lips. Intelligent, wild, eyes.

“Good morning,” he offered, feeling suddenly accommodating despite himself, “and where would you like to go on this fine Wednesday morning?”

“Spare me,” she countered, the huskiness in her voice more suggestive of laryngitis than flirtatiousness. “Until I get some sleep this is still Tuesday.”

She smiled with a hint of effort. “Strathalbyn. Please.”

He turned around to look at her directly.

“Strathalbyn?” he enunciated. “You’re not pulling my leg, are you? That would be very cruel on a night like tonight.”

Another smile played on her lips, brief, ghost-like.

“I’m not. Actually I’d much rather go to Melbourne – or even Sydney – but just for tonight Strathalbyn it will have to be.”

There was a tap at her window. ‘War and Peace’ himself was standing there trying to smile at her and frown at him, both at once. She wound the window down a fraction and fixed him with a questioning look.

“Lady,” he intoned, unctuous, priest-like, “There are drivers further up that have been waiting hours for a fare; do you mind going up to the first cab on the…?”

“Actually, I do mind,” she cut him off and gave him a smile that was completely at odds with the coolness of her tone. “I like this car, I like this driver, and I’m sitting down. It’s late, I’m tired, and I’m not getting out for anybody.”

As she wound her window shut, the driver moved the gearshift into reverse, flicked a wave at ‘War and Peace’, and as soon as he had enough clearance, pulled out onto the deserted street.

( Part Two continues soon… )

Leave A Reply (5 comments so far)

  1. Jan
    8 years ago

    I love “Wyrm”. As an ex Adelaide taxi-driver in the 1980’s and 90’s, I can relate to your story only too well. I’m glad “she” wasn’t a passenger of mine, although a trip to Strath would have been excellent!


    Claudio Silvano Reply:

    Hey Jan, yeah me too. It was a great ride while it lasted. The fun started to go out of it for me the more technology started to creep in. I used to love the old way of ‘bidding’ for a job by hollering into the microphone in order to be heard by the operator. 20 cars, all doing it AT THE SAME TIME! Hmm, come to think of it, I prefer writing about it… : )


  2. John McQuade
    8 years ago

    You have me hooked haha


  3. Sandy
    8 years ago

    Great start!
    Nice writing.


  4. Robert
    8 years ago

    Bring on part two!


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Posted 15 December 2017

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