Journey - Winner

Lynda Green

Last Saturday Night


A motley career including clerical, catering and craft work behind her, Lynda now drives a cab in the South West. She has taken many odd people to their destinations, but never a wolf. She writes short stories on many subjects, often with a surreal element as real life does not always charm her. She has been published but never won a major competition, so is delighted with this win. She’s an avid reader, a passionate cook and a moderate allotmenteer.

Last Saturday Night By Lynda Green

You meet all sorts when you drive a taxi for a living. I drove a wolf to Newquay last Saturday night. Not that I knew he was a wolf. I thought he was simply a well dressed, taciturn stranger; after Harry rang to warn me, I thought he could be the escaped felon from Dartmoor. It was only on my way back from Newquay that wolf entered my head, you’ll see why. And before you scratch your head and wonder how I could have not realized, picture this, a dark night, me parked at the back of the taxi rank, well not even the back, beyond back, on the double yellows, where the last street light can’t quite reach. He must have come out from the old people’s flats across the road, or up from the little car park further round.
I had just tuned into Radio 3 thinking how many cabs were in front of me, when the back door was flung open and this guy jumps in and growls ‘Newquay’. Well, I was grateful someone was getting in, that I wouldn’t have to stop start my way to the front of the rank. It was ten minutes past midnight, those of our patrons who think it’s beyond the pale to have to pay double time after midnight had quaffed their last pints and been delivered to their respective homes, swaying gently and swearing loudly, whilst trying to get in their front doors. In the stillness of the night you can hear them.
So, anyway, last Saturday, this man growled Newquay and I half turned and said, you know it’s after twelve and double time and he just grunted, which, at that time of night and after a session on the town, many of our customers do; to be honest some do it twenty four seven.
The half turn afforded me a quick look at him, but all I’d taken in was the long black coat, the upturned lapels, the trilby jammed on a biggish head and the Sahara-coloured suede gloves. It was only a glance after all, and my expectations have never included wolf. Would yours? What I thought was, wow. I’ve always been a sucker for a snazzy dresser; age has not diminished my appreciation of the finely dressed male.
After tailing an irritating police car through town for a couple of miles, it was doing twenty seven miles an hour, for spite one can only assume, I did wonder if my passenger had a bad case of halitosis or whether he’d stepped in something. I wound the window down a couple of inches.
At the lights, behind the police car, I radio’d in, “Rank to Newquay.”
“Good night?” I said conversationally to my passenger, waiting for the lights to change.
He must have dozed off, because I felt him start.  
“Goodnight,” he said, and put his hand on the door handle. “How much?”
“What, no, no, we’re not there yet.”
I did wonder what planet he was on, couldn’t he tell the difference between the dull glow of Mcdonald’s at the traffic lights and the neons of Newquay?
Course, I didn’t say this, and all I got was a low growl as he settled back in his seat.
You’d think I might have wondered a bit then wouldn’t you, what with the growl, the strange smell and his disorientation, you’ll think I’m thick, but you know, in my town, some of our customers are monosyllabic and not too sweet smelling, and they don’t always know where they are, especially after a skinful at the White Hart, or a lock-in at the King’s Head.
The police car and I parted company as the lights glowed green and I picked up speed when I got on the bypass. I gave myself thirty minutes tops to get to Newquay.
Then my phone rang. It was Harry, one of our drivers. Harry looks out for me, reckons women shouldn’t work nights and if they do then they need someone to keep an eye out for them, Harry is my self-appointed personal minder.
“You’re on loud speaker,” I said.  
“Ok,” he said, “Shirl, your sister says hello, I’ve just dropped her off.”
That’s our code for ring me soon as you can.
He sounded concerned.
We drove on in silence. Harry’s tone had worried me, I looked in my mirror, the guy had his head sunk into his chest. I could see he probably had a beard, but at a glance that was all. Apart from a faintly canine odour, there was nothing to suggest lupus.
I kept driving; there wasn’t much on the road. A fox ran out in front of me but I managed to slow down. I heard a whine from the back seat and looking over, saw him twitch a bit. So, we were both jumpy.
A few minutes later, I looked in the mirror. My passenger seemed to be sleeping so I phoned Harry quickly who said that there was a rumour that someone had escaped from Dartmoor and could be heading for Newquay, he was known to have family there.
“You don’t think that’s who you’ve got on board, do you?” he asked.
“No, I don’t know.”
“Stay calm, keep the radio on, I’m sure it’s ok. Did you get the money up front?”
“Oh shit,” I said, which is not a code personal and usually means something has been pointed out to you which you should know and have overlooked.  
Then I dropped the phone because I was tapped on the shoulder. I almost shot out of my skin.
“Could you stop for a minute, please.” It was higher than a growl but lower than the average man.
“What, here?” I croaked.
We were in the middle of nowhere, in a dip. I looked in my mirror, a feral glint danced across it like the Northern Lights. A shiver crawled up my spine and threatened the follicles at the nape of my neck.  
“Just stop the car.”
‘Oh God,’ I thought, it was black out there, not even moonlight, the sort of night you could get murdered.
I realised then that fear, real fear, tastes of blood, like your cheeks are haemorrhaging. I tried to appear calm, and pulled over. Maybe he needed to relieve himself. I wondered whether to just leave him there, but he hadn’t done anything wrong, being hairy wasn’t a crime, nor was halitosis, though I was beginning to think it should be, and then there was the question of the money. So I sat there and watched him push his way through a low hedge. I could see the outline of a bungalow or barn on the horizon.
I decided I’d give him five minutes, it was twelve thirty three. Keep calm, I told myself. Twelve thirty eight. Twelve forty, ok I was off, he’d probably done a runner, probably lived in that bungalow, and I wasn’t about to follow him up there, not on this dark night, not for any amount of money. Then he stumbled out of the hedge and fell heavily into the back seat.
“Sorry,” he sort of slurped.
My heart was pounding as we pulled up outside the Black Cat night club. The meter said £71  
“Just give me fifty,” I said.
I watched him take out a pigskin wallet and count three twenties. He folded them over in the way you do when you don’t want change and passed them to me. He was still wearing the gloves.
The lights of Newquay were behind me when I remembered Harry. I pulled over again.
“It’s me, I’m on the way back, no trouble, he was a bit weird though.”
“Well, it wasn’t the escaped guy,” said Harry, “they’ve picked him up at Bodmin. Glad you’re ok anyway.”
I wasn’t going to admit I’d wondered if I was going to be murdered. I was calming down now.
I was just climbing out of the same dip where we’d stopped when something flapped on the road in front of me and then plastered itself onto my windscreen. I couldn’t see a thing and had to stop the car. Next thing, blue flashing light heading towards me, car breaking, heavy footfall, door yanked open, torch, bright torch.
“Are you alright madam?”
“No, I mean yes, Officer, I think so, I had to stop, couldn’t see in front of me.”
His partner peeled a wrap or a cloak, something in fabric, off my windscreen.
“As long as you’re ok. We are just on the way over to Newquay.”
They melted away, ashen features in the blue neon. But even that steely hue couldn’t disguise the colour of the swirl of fabric draped over the officer’s arm, it was red, red as a Southwest sunset.
That was my lightbulb moment, the odour, the hairy silhouette, the flashing eyes in the mirror. I shivered and wondered if I should run over to the uniforms and share my suspicions.
But how can you say you think you’ve just dropped a wolf in Newquay? I’d be in their car on the way to a nice safe cell, don’t you think? I looked in the back of my cab, it was as it should be, no wiry hair on the seat, no mud on the floor, although, there was something, it was just visible, nearly under the seat. I couldn’t reach it, and thought it was probably a pen or a roll up. Whatever it was, it could wait.
When I reached home I decided to call it a day, and told Harry.
What I didn’t tell him was that I had found something in the cab that closely resembled the remains of a finger, a little finger, perhaps a child’s.

Judges Comments

The universal themes in fairy tales mean that they lend themselves to a wonderfully wide variety of retellings, and 'Last Saturday Night', the winner of WM's Journey Short Story Competition, is a case in point. In this gloriously quirky rendition of Red Riding Hood, Lynda Green offers the reader a taxi driver's noiresque first-person account of driving the wolf in her cab.

Much of what makes it so appealing is the driver's voice, which is dryly humorous and has a down-to-earth authenticity as Lynda's world-weaary driver's eye picks out the foibles and idiosycracies of the late-night passengers. Being an observer as well as a participant in a nocturnal existence, the driver's POV enables Lynda to conjure the oddities of life after dark - a world where daylight norms of behaviour are suspended and a wolf in the back of the cab might not be the most bothersome passenger of the night.

The shift from the 'everyday' nighttime world to the supernatural one is deftly handled, with Lynda neatly tipping the reader over the borderland between 'real' and 'magic' in the course of the driver's journey. The pace of this story is really well controlled, with the driver's increasing fear at their potentially terrifying situation balanced by their incredulity at what's going on. Lynda's making the driver into a believable and sympthetic character roots the story in realism as the narrative tips over into the realms of fairy tale and fantasy.

The reveal at the end is beautifully delivered too - understated, with an atmoshere of noir, giving the precise details that will make the reader shiver, at the same time as locating the origin story. 'Last Saturday Night', is a really enjoyable slice of dark short fiction, and a very worthy winner.



Runner up and shortlisted

The runner up in WM’s Journey Short Story Competition was Alexis Cunningham, Peterborough, Cambs.
You can read her story at:

Also shortlisted were: Terry Baldock, Evesham, Worcs; Sandi Johnson, Scunthorpe, North Lincolnshire; Paul Mantell, Wem, Shropshire; Damien McKeating, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire; Chris Morris, Dundee; Sharon Treganza, Box, Corsham.