The hotel flickered on the edge of the city like a TV channel tuning in and out of focus. It appeared against the horizon beyond the skyscrapers and blocks of flats, the lights from bedrooms stacked floor above floor, standing tall amongst the roads that snaked around it. Planes cruised by the building, but the blasts of turbines were a faint hiss from where Joseph stood on the main street, waiting impatiently for his cab.
Finally, his ride pulled up—the driver wound down his window and gave a serene, toothy smile, dried mayonnaise smudged across his week-old stubble.
“I’m Andre,” the driver said, stepping out and taking hold of Joseph’s suitcase.
Joseph yanked it back. “I’d rather keep hold of this, if it’s all the same.”
Andre held up his hands.
Once they were both inside the car, Andre asked, “So, where to, chum?”
Joseph leaned forward and pointed at the hotel, flashing like a mirage across the city.
“Well, never been there,” said Andre, “but we just need to get across the spaghetti junction, and we shall arrive. Piece of cake.”
Andre gently accelerated away and glided into the flow of traffic.
“Let me introduce you to the sprogs.” Andre pointed at some mugshots of his children. “Alan, Davey, and the little one, with the yellow bow, is Savanna. She’s the apple of my eye.”
“Lovely,” said Joseph.
“You got any kids, buddy?”
“Sure, sure. You seem the quiet type. So... silence, I guess.”
Andre picked from a Caesar salad resting in a Tupperware pot on the passenger seat.
“Please hurry, I have an urgent meeting to attend,” said Joseph.
Listen, everyone wants to get somewhere. I do, you do. Please, just relax, and we'll get there.”
A moment passed, and Andre said, “What’s this meeting about anyway, buddy?”
Joseph clutched his bag tight and mumbled the words, “Um, fashion convention.”
Andre sped onto the spaghetti junction, then swerved as a pigeon fluttered above the windscreen. “Stay calm,” he said, to himself and the road.
“Excuse me, but are those wild mushrooms in your salad?” Joseph said.
“I picked them myself,” Andre said proudly.
“How lovely. I used to forage for them as a child. May I try one?”
“Of course, be my guest.”
Joseph scooped up a few and gobbled them whole.
Andre raised a finger to his lips. “Quick question: are you on any kind of medication?”
“Why?” said Joseph, having opened his pillbox and knocked back handfuls of antipsychotics.
“No reason,” Andre said, innocently. “But just so you know, the mushrooms you ate are kinda, well, magical.”
“What are you saying? You spiked me?” Joseph cried.
“Well, I didn’t exactly spike you. You just ate them.”
“Oh, this is not good, not good at all. Wait, turn here. Here!”
“That wasn’t the turning. Don’t worry; I have it all in hand. Allow the peace and love.”
“Look what you’ve done. Now we have to go all the way around again.”
Andre pulled over onto the hard shoulder and swiveled to face Joseph, whose eyes were beginning to bulge.
“Let me explain a few things about me, my background, and how I run this cab. Firstly, if you ingest any hallucinogenic in this vehicle, then that’s your responsibility. Secondly, this is a family space, hence the photos. My family is always with me in spirit, and that brings me to my third, final, and most important point; my car is a haven for tranquillity. So, basically, I’m going to need you to relax.”
“Look, cut the shit, just get me to the hotel. I can still make it in time. God, if only you used sat-nav.”
Andre seethed. “I know the way. I always know the way.”
Joseph popped a couple more pills to tide him over as the edges of his mind unraveled, and things became a little planetary.
An hour later, night had wrapped itself around the sky. Cars illuminated the motorway like spotlights in a theatre.
“Stop,” ordered Joseph, drool oozing down his chin. He kept digging in his suitcase and swallowing panels of pharmaceuticals. “I can walk to the hotel from here.”
“What are you talking about? It’s still miles away.”
“I see it! It’s right there!”
Andre hit the brakes, halting in the middle of the road. Cars honked furiously. He wasn’t fazed. He got out and dragged Joseph from the backseat, hurling him toward the safety barrier. Joseph’s suitcase split open, and clothes spread everywhere across the uneven gravel. There were bras, tights, corsets, high heels, blouses, and miniskirts scattered across the weeds. Joseph held back tears as he scrambled to retrieve his clothes.
“Fashion convention, huh?” said Andre.
“Look away, look away!” Joseph said.
“Oh, look, I'm sorry, okay? What do I care if you wear women’s clothes?”
“Leave me alone now. Please. I can get to the hotel from here.”
“Do you see any hotel?” Andre said, grabbing Joseph by the collar, pointing to an empty skyline.
“Wait,” said Joseph, “I swear it was there.”
Both men scoured the panorama, but the hotel was nowhere to be seen.
“Where have you taken me?” Andre said, up close to Joseph's face.
Joseph locked his suitcase.
“Thought you were a man of compassion,” Joseph sulked.
“Oh, the family spirit?” Andre said, feeling all his extremities vividly. “Those kids aren’t mine. Ripped them out of a magazine. I’m a recovering addict. Godamn these shrooms. They haunt me!”
“I was fine before I met you,” Joseph said.
“Wait, is that the hotel, over there, looking so alive and underwater?” said Andre.
“I think so.”
“It’s beautiful—the light, its aura.”
“Can we go?”
“Yes, I think we should.”
The hotel was glowing like a manifested jewel, and they would reach it, no matter what their differences. After all, it was just so close.
About the Author
Tim Frank’s short stories have been published in over sixty journals, including Bourbon Penn, SPANK the CARP, Intrinsick, Misery Tourism, South Broadway Ghost Society, The Oddville Press, Lowestoft Chronicle, Mad Swirl, Menacing Hedge, and The Fiction Pool.