It was after midnight and a lone taxi was driving down the dark country roads. In the absence of street lights, the road looked eerily empty as he drove on through the thick billowing fog. The pine trees that lined both sides of the road seemed tall and menacing in the moonlight, like a legion of gigantic humanoid creatures. The road had a spooky history all of its own. For years, there had been a string of terrible accidents that had occurred there. Cars had mysteriously run off the road and either crashed into the trees or slid over the side of the steep cliff. The locals called it The Road of Death because it had taken so many lives. They believed the ghosts of those poor souls haunted the road and many people reported seeing shadowy figures lurking among the trees. Few people dared to drive down the road after dark.
The taxi driver didn’t care. He had somehow decided to shortcut across the valley due west where the slope was at its steepest point. He just kept driving as he hummed along gloomily to the steady patter of rain against his windshield, slowing down now and then to negotiate the dangerous turns. A thick layer of fog was descending from the sloping hills and it covered the road like a grey blanket. He looked up at the night sky. It looked like a terrible storm was brewing. The moon was now retreating into the dark veil of a great cloud, as if finally giving up trying to force itself back into its cheery and brightest facade. The road was even more dangerous when it rained. The tires of a car found it hard to grip the road when it was wet and slippery. Many fatal accidents had happened on a rainy day.
He bulleted around a corner and the valley opened up into a massive forest, where an ancient towering rock formation jutted out from treetops. As the car passed under a thick canopy of the trees, the taxi driver saw the dark silhouette of a man standing by the side of the road up ahead.
“What the hell is he doing out here all alone in the middle of nowhere,” mumbled the driver to himself. “Especially on a night like this.”
He stuck out his hand and waved, flagging down the taxi, his face hidden in the shadow. The taxi driver slowed down and pulled over to the side of the road, coming to a stop right in front of him. The strange man opened the door and climbed into the back seat without even saying a word.
“Where to, Mister?” asked the taxi driver heartily.
“Straight ahead,” said the man dismissively in a hoarse whisper.
The taxi driver nodded and drove off, heading towards the city. The car was moving steadily through the fog, but there was something strange hanging in the air. Whether it was the dark road, the fog, or this mysterious man, the driver couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
“The fog’s getting thicker,” said the taxi driver.
The man just grunted.
“Yes,” said the taxi driver. “It’s a terrible night. I think a storm is coming. May I ask, what were you doing out there all by yourself on a night like this?”
The mysterious man didn’t answer. He just sat there in the backseat, his face hidden in the darkness, his olive green parka jacket smeared with patches of wet dark stains. The taxi driver focused on driving. The fog was now covering the road, making it hard for him to see where he was going. They slowed to a snail’s pace and the atmosphere in the car was eerie and uncomfortable.
“You know, many poor souls have lost their lives on this road,” said the taxi driver again matter-of-factly. “Or that’s what I’ve heard.”
“Yes,” replied the mysterious man curtly, an odd tone in his hoarse deep voice. It seemed he did not feel like being egged into having any sort of unnecessary interaction with the other man. His head drooped to the side as he peered out the tainted window next to him, as if looking somewhere far away.
“There have been many deadly accidents over the years. They say the road is haunted. Can you believe it?” The taxi driver chuckled to himself. “I blame it on excessive drinking and people being a bunch of reckless drivers is all.”
“People die everyday,” answered the man.
“They sure do. My old man used to say that life is like a room full of little burning candles. They burn and burn, melting away slowly. But sometimes a harsh gust of wind comes in and blows some of them out abruptly before they’re done giving out all of their little dimmed light.”
“True. And this road will never rid itself of its bad reputation, now, will it?”
“It’s not likely to.”
The man didn’t say anything to that. He went back to his quiet self. As they drove up a hill that gently sloped down into a river basin, whiling away minutes, an overwhelming silence overtook them once again. The road snaked around the massive rock formation and they were so deep into the dense forest now that they could not possibly see anything else beyond the reach of the glow of the car’s headlights. It was the darkest place in the countryside on moonless nights after the sun sank below the treetops.
“So, what were you doing out there all by yourself, sir?” asked the taxi driver.
“Trying to make it home.”
“From and to where exactly? The closest town is at the edge of the forest about ten kilometers eastward from where you were. Had you been walking then?”
“It just struck me as unusual to run into a person in the middle of nowhere like this.”
“I mean, what would anybody be here for anyway? That said, I happen to know something.”
”I know who you are…” said the taxi driver suddenly in a low voice.
The man shifted uncomfortably in his seat.
“You do?” he replied calmly. It was clear he had been struggling to keep his composure in order to not lose his cool and lash out at the overly friendly and nosey driver.
“A few hours ago, a bank was robbed in the city,” answered the taxi driver. “The thief murdered a security guard and escaped with a large sum of money.”
“Is that so?”
“The thief buried the money under a tall pine tree, deep in the forest. He buried it there because he knew about the ghosts that haunt this road. Whether he believed it or not, it doesn’t matter. He knew his ill-gotten gains would be safe there. He knew nobody would dare to venture into the forest.”
The man in the back seat slowly leaned forward. He pressed his gun against the back of the taxi driver’s head.
“Have you been following me?” he growled. “A fucking nosey cop, aren’t you?”
The taxi driver chuckled. His laughter grew louder and louder until he was cackling like a maniac.
“WHO ARE YOU?” cried the mysterious man.
The taxi driver slowly turned to face his passenger.
The man gasped and stared in horror.
The taxi driver had no face. Instead, there was a gaping hole in his head where his face should have been. Most of the skin and meat had either melted or fallen off. The man could see the inside of the taxi driver’s skull and the rotting skin hanging from his head.
He began screaming and couldn’t stop. He jumped out of the car and ran off into the thick fog, as fast as his feet could carry him. He could still hear the maniacal laughter of the ghostly taxi driver close behind him. The sound of the unearthly laughter echoed across the valley, making its way through the thick fog and floating up the dark hills.
Credit: Eoghan Ferguson
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