Brisneyland by Night
‘How many kids now?’ I asked.
‘Twenty-five we can identify for sure. But that’s out of a couple of hundred a week. Not all those are ours.’
‘Don’t say ours, Bela. They’re nothing to do with me.’ I looked out the window. My reflection stared back, looking nothing like me. Beyond that I watched the night speed past. I should have been at my next-door neighbour’s eighth birthday party, pretending I didn’t like kids; I shouldn’t have been here discussing the disappeared.
But I was. The purple taxi pulled up outside my house just as I was about to lug a clumsily-wrapped gift out the door. My initial response had involved four-letter words, quite a lot of them, but I knew I’d be going with them. The moment Bela mentioned lost children it was already decided, and I’d quickly dropped the present off next door before climbing into the backseat of what was possibly the world’s most disreputable-looking vehicle.
It was a gypsy cab in every sense of the word: battered and beaten, any white surface reduced to grey, the vinyl of the seat a little sticky. The rubber mats on the floor were so thin as to be almost transparent. I imagined they were the only thing stopping me from seeing Wynnum Road’s bitumen beneath us. Instead of a pine tree-shaped air freshener, a gris-gris hung from the rear view mirror. It wasn’t minty fresh, but then again it didn’t smell bad – cinnamon-y if anything – it just looked bad, a shrivelled rat’s head with dried lavender sticking out of its ears. Scratched along the inside of the doors were protective symbols and sigils even I couldn’t read; a language so old no one knew how to pronounce it anymore. I did the dumb thing and looked a bit closer. Some of the etchings were actually fingernail marks. I didn’t want to linger on that. Bernard Fanning howled out of the speakers behind my head, wanting to wish everyone well yet wondering why someone gave up on him too soon.
There weren’t too many cabs like this in Brisbane, although as the population grew, so did the demand – it wasn’t just people fleeing the southern states who wanted a change, a new start. The general clientele covered Weyrd, wandering Goth, and too-drunk-to-notice Normal. Most times, though, even the drunks thought twice about getting into this kind of vehicle, snapped out of their stupor by the strangeness it exuded. And the driver, he didn’t help.
The eye in the back of his head examined me through thin ginger hair, while the two on his face dealt with the night-time traffic. Ziggi and I knew each other, kind of. Well, more than kind of: we’d been nodding acquaintances for a year or so, but then I’d followed him and Bela into an abandoned house some months back. We were looking for something that shouldn’t have been there – shouldn’t have been in this plane of existence – something with claws and teeth and a bad attitude. Lucky men, I found it first – in the end, I won, but I still had to go hospital afterward. Ziggi had been the one to wrap bandages from the first aid kit around my leg and stem the bleeding, while Bela made phone calls to unlisted numbers. Ziggi had helped save my life and I guessed I should be a bit more gracious. The pain in my leg didn’t make me feel gracious. It made me feel grumpy that I couldn’t drive myself anywhere anymore, or at least not for a long while. So. Ziggi was the kind of guy you could walk into a darkened house with and probably come out alive.