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Marcus Vance is a full-time father; part-time writer, line editor, and weapons consultant for TV. You can connect with him on Twitter (@MarcusCVance) where he discusses the writing craft, swords, and bad jokes at length.

Giant neon koi swam through the intersection, followed by a banner for a dry-cleaning service.
Never could remember what the place's name was, but I always loved driving past Fifth avenue for the fish. Tonight was no different.
My passenger didn't have the same sentiment. "Bloody ugly fish," he muttered after taking a glance up from his phone.
"Sure are," I lied. He didn't look like much of a tipper--what with him sporting a shoddy werewolf bio-graft, muzzle and all--but I couldn't afford to risk losing out.
He tapped away on his phone, an impressive feat with those synthetic claws, while my own phone chimed. Someone wanted a ride right where I was to drop off Mr. Big Bad.
It was raining and three in the morning and I had a wife waiting for me, but one more ride wouldn't hurt.
I clicked accept and dropped the hairy-handed man off at the decent Chinese place. Recommended the beef chow mein, then waited. Sometimes a ride wouldn't show, and that was fine by me; an extra moment to sit in the rain and think.
A few people walked by, but none were my fare. The app said we'd wait two minutes before leaving, but what was another couple of those this late. Early.
Regret seeped in as soon as a couple tapped on the window, waving their phones around to show it was them who ordered me. I'm never one to judge. That synthetic skin snout and fake fur-job the last guy had probably rocked it for someone. But this new fare....
I clicked the doors open and dimmed the lights so I didn't have to look at them too much. Why did those retro movies where some monster wears a person's skin like a disguise have to be in this season? These two must have paid a lot of money for their skin suits that were three sizes too big. Fashion's expensive, and no one would choose to look that bad if it didn't actually look good to someone.
"So, where to?"
They stared at me with eyes that didn't line up with their eye holes. Nobody really got that joke since the destination was already flashing on my car HUD.
I chuckled a little and pulled into the street.
They chittered to themselves. Their language didn't make sense to me, but I wasn't no linguist. However, I'd driven my share of tourists interested in the big city. Couldn't even make an uneducated guess.
"So where you two from? First time visiting here?"
My conversational efforts were met with three seconds of creepy staring. Fair enough. I was paid either way.
I turned my music up just a little and drove down the same stretch of road I drove down before. Came up on Fifth Avenue but the light was green. I slowed down a little hoping it'd turn red, and it did.
For a few seconds, the intersection became an ocean of white and orange and crimson. A neon ecosystem. I breathed it all in. Those fish were the only thing that kept me going sometimes. Well, and the wife.
Green again, no more fish, and I drove away.
"That was beautiful," one of my passengers said in a high-pitched voice.
"Sure is."
"We were starting to think that nothing of beauty existed on this planet."
I chuckled. "Yeah. It sure does feel like that. Sometimes only the little things are worth it."
They stopped talking to me but chittered amongst themselves excitedly for the rest of the trip. Their stop came soon enough; a run-down motel right on the outskirts of town, right before the corporate corn farms took over.
"This is you."
They stepped out of my car, into the rain. The app on my phone flashed RIDE COMPLETE and a hefty tip.
Really hefty.
"Hey, thanks," I called out from my open window.
They stopped and one walked over. She leaned down to look at me. Lightning flashed just as her skin graft sagged and I got a look at a smooth gray eyeball underneath. "No, thank you," she said as the thunder boomed. "We were starting to think there was nothing good here. Nothing worth saving beyond the carbon. But those fish--"
She was cut off as the other person pulled her away with a stern look, but she flashed a quick smile.
I shuddered and rolled up the window. The later it gets, the weirder it gets.
Staying out a little was worth it. I pulled into the intersection to go home. No one else was on the road, but the red signal to leave the motel lasted forever.
An incredibly bright light flashed overhead. I winced, bracing for the thunder.
No sound came, but the orange light drifted up into the sky.
It was beautiful, then it vanished.
The End
This story was first published on Wednesday, April 7th, 2021

Author Comments

I'm on some sort of first contact story writing spree. No idea why. Neon is my attempt at a near-future cyberpunk style version. Hope you enjoyed it!

- Marcus Vance
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