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Thread: Cabbed

  1. #1

    Cabbed

    Cabbed

    Death was in the man's eyes as he stood stock-still on the street, caught like a fat white rabbit in the taxicab's headlights. Dan knew it too, and he screamed as the driver jammed on the brakes impossibly late, tires squealing as they locked up and began to skid across the hot cement.

    Dan had never seen such reckless abandon, such speed as these drivers displayed, and yet so few accidents. He'd been in and out of the city a number of times, each one a struggle as a held tight to the door handle and tried hard not to watch the world whizzing by. Comfort, even in small measure, came with familiarity, but mercies could be washed away in an instant by bodies bouncing up and over the white hoods of cars for hire.

    Even the cabby seemed resigned, quiet in those few moments as the doomed man approached.

    Fortunately, the cab itself appeared unaware of the pedestrian's incoming demise and stopped a full six inches short of the man's stocky frame, wisps of yellowed spoke curling up and out from its hood as the full weight of the car slammed forward.

    Narrowly avoiding his own collision with the dashboard, Dan looked up to see the street crossing man shrug his shoulders and shamble away into the night, no anger on his face. A tourist, but a damned bold one in Dan's estimation, and more foolish than he would have believed possible to be out alone in the city. Next to him, the cabby was smacking at the steering wheel, cursing in Spanish at the car; it had prevented a fatality but was now refusing to start – the former meant avoiding a potential prison term for its operator, the latter meant losing a fare, and it was apparent which one the driver considered more important.

    Pulling back hard on the door handle, Dan was almost out and onto the street before the cab roared back to life and the cabby started chewing out promises in broken English. Though getting out seemed the more sensible option, doing so would mean not only convincing the driver to stop, but taking his chances in the city's narrow streets on his own. Away from the shopping district, he was just another short, white, target for the locals, and there was the possibility of a mugging or kidnap, not to mention death at the business end of a gun or a car's grill.

    “Lesser of two evils,” he thought as the avenues whipped by, each one fractured with a hundred guilt-ridden TV charity images. Dirty children and lean dogs, playing together in littered streets, backed by dirt-floor houses and snapping clothes on a line had him running a list in his head of first-world platitudes about evil governments and the distribution of wealth, but at least the burden of his relative plenty was enough to push the face of the nearly-departed out of his head.

    There was a sound from the cab, part protest and part mechanical ailment, and the rusted bullet began to shake. Five blocks more passed, three thanks only to a slight decline in the road, before the cabby finally curbed the beast, jamming the shifter into first and wrenching up the parking break.

    “A second, a second,” the man said, pulling the hood lever and hopping out of the car. Dan was no expert in engines but a part of him advocated a quick exit, even if it was only to see how badly he was now screwed. A more rational part advanced staying put as his safest bet, especially given the two hand-spans that lay between the sun and the western horizon.

    With a deep breath, Dan settled back into his seat and tried to catalog what he could see rationally, tried to take the opportunity to observe culture from a shorter distance, only a thin pane of glass separating him from its ebb and flow.

    It was the bright blue awning that caught his eye, branded with the name of a local soft drink company. The snapping pennants were next, followed inevitably by the spidery metal structures that took up the bulk of a city block.

    A carnival, machines rusted and old, but new to the area based on the heavy trailers that lined the roadway, and the state of partial completion many of the larger rides were in. Not yet in business, the carnival must have just moved in, offering the locals a chance at wares typically reserved for tourists.

    Dan hated carnivals. Carnies aside, they had a smell, a savor that was both unpleasant and desperate, and here, in the creeping dusk, he had trouble keeping himself under control. He'd given his room number to a white-shirted guard when he left hotel property, so presumably someone would know if he didn't return, but help was a long way off. He pounded on the windshield, fist hammering out a staccato rhythm to match his heart.

    There was jolt as the hood fell, jarred loose by his frantic pounding and revealing a street devoid of life.

    Dan pulled up hard on the door handle and leapt out of the car, racing around the hood and hoping that somehow the vehicular problem had led the cabby underneath his vehicle, but only black asphalt stared back.

    Behind him, a ride's long arm creaked in the low breeze and Dan began to run. He would not die in an amusement park, a rich tourist cut down by some local gang or vicious thug. He would not die, unknown and unaccounted for on a street whose name he couldn't pronounce. The highway was nearby; he could hear it. The highway couldn't be far; he would make it.

    Pavement disappeared under his feet as he ran, pulled on by the sound of speeding cars. He was almost there. Almost there. Almost there.

    There was a screeching sound as he rounded a corner and he stopped, stock-still on the street like a fat white rabbit caught in the taxicab's headlights.
    - Rem

    Fan of the written word.
    Writer by trade and by fate.
    Author - One Day, One Thousand blog project.

  2. #2
    Inexplicably Undiscovered
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    Hi Rem,
    I saw this story in the queue and thought that yours fooly would weigh in on it, mainly because it hasn't generated any comments (so far.) Since you've spent time and effort offering this to us, I can imagine how frustrating it is to have to wait to receive feedback . (Believe me, I know the feeling--my threads are full of cobwebs!)

    Allow me to offer some comments, suggestions, and criticism, which, as always you should take with the proverbial grain of salt.

    When a posting on the Short Story Forum passes my personal test ("You Know I'll Stop Reading When. . .") I first try to get a general sense of what's going on in the story re: the plot, character, and theme. Equally important is the technique or specific ways the story is expressed.

    First I'll give you my impression of the overview. I think the story's main focus is not the driver or Dan (from whose point of view we get the story) but the title vehicle itself. The cab evidently has a vindictive mind of its own, "possessed," perhaps derivative of Stephen King's novel about the demonic car, Christine. In the back of your mind you may have had an unconscious memory of the name of an alt-rock band from a decade past, "Deathcab for Cutie." It's okay to borrow plots and themes from "pre-existing" works but they have to be really, really different from the original. In this case the more recent story is pretty much the same thing, though-- a motor vehicle that deliberately runs people down. Again, it's all right to choose that as a plot, as long as you give it a spin that is entirely brand new.

    You get an "A" for good intentions for attempting to open in a compelling way. The way it begins, however, is you'll forgive the pun--a "dead giveaway." The reader is given too much of a clue as to how the story will conclude by the very first word! We'd prefer an opening that holds back a little bit, a more subtle hint; otherwise the rest of the story is anti-climactic.

    Even though you do have a human character for P.O.V., Dan, he's seems like a stick figure or a man made out of cardboard. A "straw man" is the word, I think --a male counterpart to the sexy young things in horror movies who appear on screen only to be chopped up by some madman or chewed by some zombie. Dan's observations are, as far as I can tell, fairly prosaic. Certainly he's frightened, but the point is anyone would be. So I wonder if you can ask yourself--why Dan? What does this character bring to the story that no one else can?

    His comments/"musings" are a bit abstract. Just when we see a sentence that promises to "show" more than "tell"-- "Dirty children and mean dogs. . ." the image becomes ruined by a ponderous "had him running a list in his head of first world platitudes. . ." Really? He's in a death cab and his mind turns to social philosophy?

    Similarly, the allusion to the carnival seems to come out of nowhere. Its appearance doesn't really add that much to the story; the carnival could just as easily be a parade, a street fair, a bunch of pushcart vendors on the street. That it's part of the neighborhood ambience isn't enough to qualify it as a symbol. Neither does Dan's refusal to "die at a carnival. Also, the carnival could present an opportunity for more specific images (other than the blue tarp)-- sounds, smells, sights of a tawdry traveling show.

    This section as well as the other parts of the story show me what I believe to be the major flaw of the story-- the tone is far too distant, aloof. Despite the explicit danger and mayhem, the story lacks immediacy and urgency. Why is that, you may very well ask. The answer is -- get ready for Auntie's broken record --the story "tells" rather
    than "shows."

    Although they could be expressed more vibrantly, your sentences structure is okay. There are a couple of awkward instances, and some places where there are -- not "dangling participles" but "misplaced modifiers," where the description does not refer to the last previous line:

    "man's stocky frame, wisps of yellowed smoke curling off the hood." (Incidentally,you don't need the "-ed" in "yellow." The word "yellowed" usually describes an item, a newspaper clipping,say, that has become discolored by age.)

    "He would not die in the park, a rich tourist cut down."

    Your prose definitely does not lack any redeeming qualities. For instance, "nearly departed" is a clever word play on "dearly departed."

    I also appreciate your effort to put the story in a "frame," in which it begins and ends in the very same way. This is ambitious because it is an attempt to intertwinine form with content, underscoring the notion that what this particular cab is doing, it does the same way, over and over again.

    Again, you'll want to substitute the opening word. Also maybe you can also think of an alternative, less "pedestrian" metaphor for the "fat white rabbit caught in the headlights," as it is too much like the "deer in the headlights" phrase which has been a --forgive me! --"pedestrian" cliché since the
    1980s.


    I sincerely hope you don't take this criticism harshly! I wouldn't have spent the last 30 minutes on your story if I didn't think you have potential as a writer. I enjoyed your earlier story about the "Tax Man."

    Also, I hope you'll post some more offerings.

    Good luck.

    Auntie
    Last edited by AuntShecky; 04-07-2011 at 02:04 PM.

  3. #3
    Thanks for the feedback - it is appreciated. Constructive criticism like this is the only way we can hope to improve our skills so I'm glad you posted, and that you took the time to so throughly read and evaluate my story.

    Thanks again!
    - Rem

    Fan of the written word.
    Writer by trade and by fate.
    Author - One Day, One Thousand blog project.

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