(Melvin; how it all began)
He came out of nowhere, big and dark, stepping straight into the road.
Mike hit his brakes, swerving madly. A massive head loomed at the window.
'I… I'm off-duty…,' Mike babbled.
The front passenger door clicked open. 'I'll pay double…no, treble,' the big man growled. The springs creaked, and he was sitting inside.
Now Mike noticed the long, flowing robes… and… snakes alive! He knew that face. The whole day it had been staring at him from posters and billboards all over town. This was unreal! What was this geezer doing here?
Treble the fare!
'Where to?' Mike set his taxi meter running.
'Just drive,' rumbled his passenger. 'Out-of-town. Far away.'
Mike couldn't contain his curiosity.
'Here, aren't you His Holiness The Divine Light Ezekiel Eventide? Shouldn't you be in one of them chauffeured limousines?'
Like most taxi drivers, Mike had a tendency to be rather direct.
What Mike didn't know was that he only had less than an hour to live.
'I am. And you're right, my son,' sighed his passenger as he smoothed back his luxurious mane of thick, brown hair. 'Trouble is, I get so fed up with it. I long to be normal. Not have people swarming all over me. And that audience was so demanding tonight. You wouldn't believe the things they expected me to do for them. Why can't people just be happy!'
'Right….I get it,' Mike murmured politely. But he didn't really get it. He wished he had a rich, bass voice like His Holiness did. That serene face, so tanned and beautiful. And that heavenly aroma of incense and fine wines that wafted off him. Why, he himself would have given his right arm to be surrounded by adoring disciples and servile flunkies. Sure beat the hell out of being a lonely taxi driver!
'Like you, I'm off-duty, okay?' His Holiness went on. 'So I'd feel more relaxed if you called me Zak. And you are….?'
'Good. Now, Mike. Take us out into the country where the air is sweet. Under the moon and stars let nature's sweet balm cool our heated brows and all that…by the way, I thought I saw….' His Holiness twisted around in his seat to look in the back of Mike's taxi….' by the power of 10,000 celestial prayer wheels, what do we have here?' he murmured.
'It's my son, Melvin,' Mike explained. 'His mum died and he has to stay in a Care Home. It's only at weekends when I'm not working that I am able to take him home.'
Secure and comfy, in a little well in the middle of a large pile of cushions, lay a tiny baby. Above, from the roof of the taxi, dangled an infant's mobile of plastic grasshoppers and ducks. 'Nice to meet you, Melvin.' The holy man reached out and took Melvin's clenched fist in an improvised handshake. The baby rewarded him with a toothless smile. 'How sad for you,' his Holiness whispered to Mike.
Mike shook his head.
'No, it's okay. He'll come to live with me one day. I've got plans, see. We'll be well off. Melvin will have it good.'
'That's nice to hear. So, what are these plans, Mike ?'
'You'll just laugh at me…er…Zak.'
'No, I won't. I never laugh at people's hopes and dreams. What kind of holy man would that make me!'
By now they were travelling down a narrow, dark road, well out of town. Actually they could have been on the moon, judging by how quiet it was everywhere.
'Um…okay, my dream,' Mike began uncertainly. 'I know this bloke who's got this 1959 Cadillac Eldorado. It's got tailfins high enough to make vapour trails on a foggy night. It has ruby-red bullet tail-lights, jewel patterned grilles and matching deck panels with wide, whitewall tyres. The owner's getting old and wants to sell it to someone who'll keep it running. I'm saving up for it.'
His Holiness Zak looked puzzled.
'I'm sure it'll be nice to look at and drive,' he replied slowly, 'but won't your dream end once its novelty has worn off?'
'Far from it.' Mike was well into his stride now. 'It'll be my taxi. Imagine three taxis coming towards you. Which one would you hire, one of two ordinary workhorses or a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado?'
'Hmmmm…I can see your point.' His Holiness looked impressed. 'A good business move.'
'That's not all. Imagine the girls who want a ride in it. I'm hoping one of them might click with me. It would be nice for Melvin to have a mum again.'
'I can see you've given it a lot of thought. It's a good dream, hang on to it.'
'Look….' Mike reached into the glove compartment and pulled out a small cardboard box. Resting it on the steering wheel he drew out a shiny object and held it out for his passenger's inspection. 'It's a scale model of a 1959 Cadillac Eldorado,' he announced proudly.
His Holiness held the little car between forefinger and thumb. 'It's beautiful,' he breathed. 'So beautiful.'
On impulse he switched on the cabin light and leaned back to hold the car out to Melvin. The baby immediately grabbed it as the cabin light twinkled on its faithfully reproduced chrome bodywork. His Holiness laughed. Melvin waved his new toy to and fro in one tiny clenched fist.
Reaching out, His Holiness gave the mobile hanging over Melvin a little push. Ducks and grasshoppers skittered around gaily. Melvin stared up, utterly entranced. He could see them more clearly with the light on.
Mike however, began having trouble seeing down the dark road up ahead. He knew he'd have to switch the cabin light off to see better. But Melvin and Zak were having so much fun……so when it happened, it happened very fast and there was nothing he could do about it.
Without warning a huge farm tractor pulled out of a side road and into his path. There was an almighty crash. Then silence, except for the ticking sound of cooling metal.
Mike tried to move but the pain was unbearable. The frightened face of a man who had to be the tractor driver loomed in his window. The man took out a mobile 'phone. His hands were trembling so much that it took him three tries to dial properly.
Mike tried to look over his seat to where Melvin lay, but it hurt so much that he almost passed out.
'You okay?' he managed to gasp at his Holiness. There was no reply. Tears of utter desolation ran down Mike's face. 'I don't know how my Melvin is,' he moaned. 'He's all I've got. You're a holy man, Zak. Aren't you blokes supposed to help when bad things happen?'
The seconds ticked by while Mike waited. The geezer was obviously dead, he decided. Just then His Holiness Zach stirred and opened his eyes irritably, as if he had been dragged unwillingly from a place where he had just been settling down.
'Young Melvin is fine, Mike.' His Holiness answered.
'Wha.....how do you know?'
'Believe me, I can feel him here in your taxi. He's in no pain. Unlike you and I, my friend. I think we are rather badly hurt.'
This passenger was a famous holy man, thought Mike. He had gifts and powers that perhaps only a handful of people on the planet possessed.
'I'm worried, Zak…Your Holiness.' A dark mist ebbed in and out of Mike's vision. 'If I die then Melvin will be left all alone. There'll be no one to look after him.'
'He'll be looked after at the Care Home,' His Holiness replied reasonably.
'But I'm his real dad. No, I failed. I promised Becky I'd always be there for him. Your Holiness, you're a great man. You've worked miracles for people, I read it in the papers. Can't you do something… like, a little bit extra…for Melvin? Please?'
The silence stretched until Mike thought that his Holiness must have slipped quietly away to his heavenly abode again.
Then he heard a cough.
'Of course I can do something extra. It's what I do best, isn't it? Right, here goes….'
His Holiness opened his eyes very wide. A strange, thrumming sound filled the air like 1000 rubber bands twanged at once. Through the cushions pressing against the back of his seat Mike felt a sudden jolt, as if someone had kicked him. Baby Melvin's breath snatched in his throat and he began to cry. Mike turned towards his passenger, unmindful of the pain.
'What have we done to him? He's crying. You've hurt him, you monster!' His Holiness did not reply. He just sat there with his eyes closed. A lot of noise began. Someone with a power tool was trying to cut their way in from above. The ghostly outlines of helmeted firemen appeared all around. 'What have you done to my son?' Mike went on sobbing over and over again.
Metal screeched against metal. The ducks and grasshoppers on the plastic mobile clicked wildly against each other. Gloved hands were reaching down through the sliced open roof of the taxi. Mike felt someone gently grasp his shoulders. Another pair of arms came down and took hold of His Holiness. There was a muffled curse. Mike looked up. The fireman who had tried to extricate His Holiness took off his helmet and mopped his heavily lined forehead. Slowly he wiped his hands on his fluorescent jacket.
'This one's had it, mate,' he grunted to his companion. Must have copped a shard of glass. His head's almost rolled clear off his shoulders. Died instantly, I reckon.'
A long time later Mike awoke in hospital. A nurse sat reading a book beside him.
'My son…' Mike got out through lips that felt like sandpaper.
The nurse looked up and smiled brightly.
'Your son is fine, Mr Jakes. Not a scratch on him. He was surrounded by so many cushions, you see.'
Mike let out a great sigh of relief.
A few seconds later the nurse realised that Mike's chest had not risen again. The equipment attached to him set up a deafening clamour. Mike, however had already gone, and was unable to return despite everyone's best efforts.
Meanwhile little Mel lay in his cot, looking up at the blank hospital ceiling, wondering where all his ducks and grasshoppers had gone.
Somewhere far behind, in his clear brown eyes, a shadow moved across furtively.