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The distant hiss of the hydraulic brakes of a bus made Justin cringe. “I hate my life,” he said to himself, knowing he had missed the 7:03. It would be another 13 minutes before the next 3rd Street bus came, which meant he wouldn’t have enough time to stop past Arby’s for breakfast. Maybe the cafeteria in the plant would have a sausage and biscuit left – maybe.
He rounded the corner at Magnolia and looked towards the bus-stop. Rhonda was there – she must have just missed the 7:03 as well. It would be another 20 minutes before the sun came up but he could see her form in the shadows. Justin looked towards Central Park. The numbers guy was over there, in the deep shadows under the trees, hiding from the streetlights, he could hear him shouting. “40 thousand bastards, 60 thousand whores, 120 thousand homosexuals and bisexuals and I have to fight my way through all of them because you won’t tell me what you want!” Justin stepped up his pace, seeing that the numbers guy was headed towards Rhonda.
“He must be off his medication again,” Rhonda told Justin with a smile as he reached her.
“Yep. But it’s only the first week of the month, so he should have been able to afford his pills.”
“He probably sold them,” she said.
The numbers guy was crossing the street to get closer to Justin and Rhonda. “26 thousand bastards, 85 thousand whores, 36 thousand homosexuals and bisexuals, and I have to walk 8000 miles because you won’t tell me what you want me to do!” As the numbers guy walked into the light of the lamppost Justin could see him clearly. His fists were clutched; he was wearing a gray skullcap, a thermal underwear shirt, black-rimmed glasses, jeans and boots. “Jeez!” Justin said, watching him get nearer. “I hate my life.”
“There’s the bus!” whispered Rhonda. Justin turned his head with surprise. It was eight minutes ahead of schedule and it hadn’t been there 10 seconds ago. The lighted sign on the top first flashed: ‘Southern Park' then 'Iroquois Park’.
“That can’t be right, Rhonda,” said Justin. “It can’t go to Southern Park and Iroquois Park…those are two different routes. What the heck?”
The numbers guy walked back across the street like a scared animal, but stood watching as the bus pulled up. “I’m getting on,” said Rhonda climbing aboard.
Justin followed her onto the bus, still puzzled about the flashing sign. They found a couple of seats close to the front and he noticed that some of the people on the bus hid their faces under their hoodies, their bodies turned towards the windows. He figured they must be asleep. There were some who had their heads down, holding their smartphones on their laps, checking them for texts probably.
The bus pulled up to a corner and stopped, waiting for the light to change. An old woman sitting on a bench looked into the bus and her mouth dropped open. She got up and began going from window to window, looking into each one. The bus pulled away. “Crazy old lady,” muttered Justin, shrugging.
He looked outside and saw that the bus was moving into a thick fog. He was watching for roadsigns but the blocks seemed to be getting longer and longer, the fog thicker and thicker. He looked at his reflection in the glass: short scruffy beard – the kind currently in fashion, blue sweat shirt – he smiled at himself, liking what he saw. His eyes wondered over to where Rhonda’s reflection should have been, but he didn’t see her. He looked to his right and yep, there she was. She smiled at him and he smiled back. Sure they were just friends, but who knows what might become of that friendship in the future.
Rhonda took out her flip-phone and began pushing buttons. “That’s weird,” she said. “It’s not working.” The two looked over at a passenger’s phone on the other side of the aisle – its screen was also blank.
Justin began looking around at the other smartphones and tablets aboard the bus, but they were all blank. “None of them are working, but everyone is still looking at them,” said Justin. “What the heck is going on?”
The busdriver pushed on the brakes and the bus jerked a little, pulling towards the curb. “You, kid, get off my bus,” came an angry voice from the driver’s seat.
“What?” asked Justin.
The busdriver stopped the bus, opened the door and turned to face Justin. “What the hell don’t you understand about ‘get the hell off my bus’?” he shouted.
Justin stood up, confused but clear about getting off. “Come on Rhonda, we’ll catch the next one,” he told his friend, grabbing her arm.
“I can’t Justin,” she told him. “I’ve been late twice already this week! I’ll lose my job.”
The driver was standing up now, a huge man, towering over Justin. “I said move!” he shouted.
Justin moved, going down the stairs, onto the curb. He’d catch the next one. The doors closed shut with a hiss and he looked up the windows of the bus. One shape shifted and looked down at him. At first he thought it was smiling at him, but then he realized what he was seeing was the teeth of a skull. Bony fingers pulled back a hoodie and Justin saw empty eye sockets staring back at him.
“Rhonda! Get off the bus!” He began banging on the side of the bus with his fists. “Get off the bus! They’re all dead! Rhonda! Rhonda!” But he was too late - the bus was already leaving him behind. His legs were exhausted. He watched the bus disappear into the fog. Although he was in the road, he stopped and grabbed his knees, breathing heavily. What could he do now?
Suddenly a horn blared at him and he saw the fog had disappeared. A woman in a car was frantically waving for him to get the hell out of the road. He moved to the curb. Forget work! – he started walking towards Rhonda’s place. Maybe she would come back home. He sat there, on her doorstep, off and on for the next eight hours, only leaving at noon to get something to eat.
Justin never saw Rhonda again. He filed a missing person’s report that produced zero results. Someone else rented out her apartment and set her belongings out on the lawn. The neighbors swooped in like vultures to pick over the boxes of clothes and broken dishes.
The old woman at the bus-stop looked up and saw Justin walking towards her. He had been showing up most mornings for three years now - ever since that morning when he had gotten on THAT bus with his lady friend. Daisy looked at him standing there, thinking about the times when the bus had pulled up and the boy had just stood there looking up into the darkness of the interior. She had heard a deep voice pour out through the door, "Not yet" and the young man would move back onto the sidewalk as the bus pulled away. No one else seemed to be able to see the dark bus, but Daisy was used to being able to see what others couldn't see. It had always been that way.
"Good morning," said Daisy to Justin.
Justin simply nodded in her direction, keeping his attention on the street, wondering if the bus would pull up today. He checked his watch. Justin was sick, really sick, the woman could tell. His skin was thin and fragile. He had started living in Central Park, eventually becoming friends with the numbers guy.
He checked his watch again. 7:07 AM - he saw the bus coming, heading north on 3rd Street. This time he could hear the squeal of the brakes as it stopped. The doors parted and Justin looked up into the large face of the driver. "Get on," he said. "It's time."
As Justin boarded the bus he saw Rhonda sitting there, playing with her iphone. She smiled as he sat down. "I missed you," Justin said.
"Me too," she answered. She went back to playing with her iPad. "They got Osama yesterday," she said, pointing to the screen.
"No, that was a while ago..." Justin began, before realizing the timeline had escaped from his mind.
"What?" asked Rhonda, looking at him with those amazing eyes.
"Ah, nothing...nothing..." Justin said slightly confused. He decided to just let it go.
An hour later Daisy wasn't surprised when the police pulled up. Justin's body had been found in Central Park. He had been beaten to death the night before.
Good story, although I have seen very similar stories before, including one on the 2001 series of the Twilight Zone. I guess its a theme that keeps cropping up of the bus to the afterlife.
micheledutcher - Thanks Dogpatch. The basis for this story happened in the Spring when an old woman rushed up to the bus I was riding in and wildly looked at the faces of the people who were riding. I couldn't help but wonder what the heck she was seeing. Creepy!
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