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The night air was still and black under a moonless sky, and the thick humidity seemed to hold everything in the forest in its place. A rustling bush shook the silence. A bloodcurdling scream shattered it. Through the thicket burst a young girl of no more than 20. She sprinted furiously away from the brush she had just left. Her face was cut, her eyes frantic. Blood and tears mixed with sweat poured from her cheeks onto the old, lacy, faded white ceremonial nightgown she wore.
The terrified girl chugged across the clearing, both hands balled in front of her, bound together by rope. She struggled to free herself from the binds as she kept moving. Panic gripped her entirely, like a giant fist clenched around her. It felt incapacitating, but the fear of incapacitation kept her moving, kept her thrashing unevenly forward, away from the pure terror and unthinkable pain that pursued her.
The girl continued to run through the forest. Her breaths were short and erratic. Her sides burned, and her bare feet had been cut badly by the sticks and branches on the forest floor. Still, she moved with determination.
The same bush she ran through moments before now cracked and broke as a giant body emerged forcefully from it. The creature released a barbaric roar, which echoed somewhere behind the girl. The beastly man’s heavy-footed but quick pursuit resumed, and “The Releaser,” as the whispers she made out earlier in the darkness had called him, barreled toward her. The fist clenched tighter around her body. She threw herself forward, through the mental barrier.
“The road is up ahead,” she thought. “It must be!”
Her ride to the secluded, old mansion had been hazy. She knew now that the old man in the car must have drugged her. Her last memory before reawakening on the stone altar in the mansion’s basement, where she was surrounded by cloaked men and women concealed by masks and chanting in backwards Aramaic as a Nickelback guitar solo played, was the turn from the main road onto the old dirt one that led to the mansion. Visions of the basement, and the corpse of what she came to find out was a male prostitute the cult had used to lure her into the car from the nightclub, swirled in her head, haunting and mocking her. The twisted, satisfied smile on the dead face of Donatello–if that was even his real name and not one the cult fabricated to sell the sexy racecar driver façade that ultimately led her back to the mansion–was seared into her mind. He was sacrificed to Cthulhu willingly. She would not be.
Suddenly, the girl’s feet gave from under her and she began to tumble. The ground had shifted. It sloped steeply downward and she tumbled violently to the bottom. A metal post finally stopped her momentum and she lay for a moment in agonizing pain. Her ribs were cracked. Her breath was gone. She gasped at the thick, humid air, desperately trying to regain her strength. After a few moments, her lungs finally refilled. Without wasting another second, she pulled herself up and freed her wrists from the rope.
When she got up, she saw it–her eyes widened. The main road. She leapt over the guardrail she had crashed into and ran onto the shoulder. Miraculously, a car was coming. She flailed her arms desperately to get its attention. It was a taxicab. There was no time to waste. The cab pulled up alongside the girl and the Pakistani man driving it rolled down his window.
“Where are you going?” he demanded.
“Please, please,” the girl exhaled desperately. “Take me anywhere. I just escaped from–I don’t know what. They’re trying to kill me! Please help me. I need a ride!”
“You have cash?” the driver asked flatly.
“Wh–what?” the girl asked incredulously.
“This is cash only.”
“I don’t have cash, but please! I need a ride. And actually, by some miracle, I managed to hang on to my debit card, so I can pay you. Please. I need a ride or I’m going to die!” she pleaded.
“No. I don’t take card!”
“I can see the machine in your car! They’re going to kill me if you don’t give me a ride!” she cried in disbelief.
“Machine is broken!”
“I’M GOING TO DIE! FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, PLEASE!” she begged.
It was only a momentary sensation of cold. Quick and odd, unlike anything she had ever felt before. Sharp, but more of a mere feeling than a specific pain. Then, the cab, its driver, and everything else began to blur, and what little light that was left in the dark night faded to nothing. The girl’s head slid off her shoulders and onto the ground. A fountain of blood shot out of her neck and into the air. Behind her stood The Releaser, his machete now stained red with the girl’s blood, his mask askew from the swing, and his erect penis protruding out from his naked body. The girl’s headless body slunk to the ground, and as it did, The Releaser let out a deep, thunderously evil laugh. Finally, he pulled off his mask and turned to the cab driver.
“Hey, uh, you think I can get a ride? Back to a mansion about two miles that way?” he asked, pointing.
“You have cash?” demanded the cab driver.
“Yes, sir, I do,” The Releaser said.
He reached into his asshole, pulled out a rolled up $20 bill soaked in ass sweat from the dogged pursuit and humidity, and handed it to the cab driver.
“Okay, get in. I take you,” the cab driver said.
The Releaser opened the back door of the cab, hopped in, and the taxi drove back toward the mansion.
P.S.: A big thanks to Uber and Lyft for ignoring the Austin City Council’s bullshit and finally setting up shop in Austin. I very much look forward to the local cab companies either beginning to act like real, competent businesses who give even an ounce of a shit about their customers, or getting destroyed by better business models and superior service.