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An Interesting Bus Trip

Grant Barnes

Rupert awoke from his shallow doze with a start, at first unsure of where he was. Bleak realization drifted over him a moment later, however; the faded vinyl beneath him, slick with his own sweat, and the somehow self-satisfied glare of the driver in the rear-vision mirror convinced him of his location effectively enough. Much to his dismay, Rupert was still on the bus. The comforting oblivion of sleep had baited and eluded him over the past days, dulling his senses and blunting his mind. His T-shirt, an ancient compilation of cheap cotton extolling the virtues of Queen, was thick and grimy against his skin. Rupert's odor had taken up permanent residence in his clothes. One of his sneakers was had gone AWOL during his vague slumber, and he was slightly amused to see that it had mysteriously relocated itself to the seat across the isle, perched in a forlorn and defiant manner. Rupert snatched it from the seat and ended its protest against shoe-conformity for the time being.

           The bus was a lurching, coughing beast searching the Michigan back roads for a place to die. With a belch and a weary roar, the vehicle plunged over the asphalt serpent that slithered its way through the mild hills in erratic curves and twists. Judging from the dreary condition of the bus and the overall stickiness of its interior, Rupert believed it had lived a long, full life and was ready for its existence in this plane to draw to a close. He wished it well. Rupert briefly wondered under what circumstances he had become a occupant of the bus, and where exactly he had obtained a ticket, but he didn't give the subject too much thought; since early childhood, he had been plagued by strange lapses during which he said and did things he would have no recollection of later. He had long since learned to live with its impeding presence and considered it to be more an exciting and unpredictable facet of his personality rather than an affliction that could prove very dangerous. As he recalled, it had indeed caused some trouble in the past, but he the specifics of these occasions were lost to him. Recording and recalling memories weren't his greatest talents, but that didn't much bother him; Rupert Saunders lived for the moment. The driver moved up a gear and the engine's constant splutter increased accordingly. Rupert glanced up and was not surprised to see that the piggish eyes of the bus' cruel master were once again framed in the rear-vision mirror and locked directly on him. From what Rupert could remember of the journey, the driver's reflected eyes hadn't unfastened themselves from him at all, and this unnerved him considerably. He speculated over what might be happening in the driver's heavy clump of a brain, and found that there were no possibilities that he found pleasant. The last few days had blurred considerably in Rupert's mind and he was certain of only one thing; he hated the bus driver. Why would his abhorrent gaze never leave him be? Why did the bastard's bloodshot eyes and the awful fragment of face around them never leave the rear-vision mirror? It was unnatural and torturous.

           One of the few events of the trip that had clung to Rupert's thoughts was the occasion when he had decided to stretch out on the back seat, in the hope that he could give his uneasy mind some rest. He had lain there for some time, always in the same position, until finally the nullifying embrace of sleep began to close around him. And it was at the precise moment when his consciousness passed from reality into darkness that the sweaty mass in the driver's seat chose to slur his near-incomprehensible protest. It was a guttural surge of poorly-formed words, an abomination of the English language, and Rupert still wasn't entirely sure of what he had shouted. Something about getting his feet off the seat, although it was more the growl of a predator than a sentence. The beastly command snatched him from the gateway of sleep with all the subtlety of an atomic bomb. At first he was confused and groggy, but then dark realization swept over him; the driver had waited until Rupert captured the priceless prize of momentary slumber and had then destroyed it. The mind games the hog behind the wheel was playing sickened Rupert and wreaked havoc upon him. It made Rupert mad.

           Aside from Rupert and his nemesis, the bus was empty. The noise of blundering engine was relatively numbed inside the bus, and it was quiet. Too quiet, if you asked Rupert. The vehicle had been vacant for as long as he could remember and if the driver knew different, he wasn't talking. Empty rows of plush pink seats spread out before him like pews in a church, and to Rupert is seemed as though there were millions of them. The rear-vision mirror and the terrible eyes within watched over all, a dark god in a forgotten monastery. Rupert was the only worshiper left to honor it. He had an idea that the fat tumor who drove the bus had some interesting plans for Rupert, yes indeed. Evil practically oozed from his slouched form. His steely glare whispered of dark horizons.

           Endless hours passed like black, rain-filled clouds, drifting languidly and wearily, charged with negativity and fat with potential storms. The eyes in the mirror continued their restless watch without sign of fatigue or mercy. Rupert imagined the horrid grin that lay just out of his view. The driver was making no attempt to hide his utter contempt for Rupert, and this both frightened and enraged the lone traveler. Each time the driver cleared his throat or changed gears or shifted his immense bulk, Rupert's hatred grew. And he found that just as the driver was undoubtedly plotting his death, he was plotting the driver's, and that was just fine with him.

           Days and nights, weeks, months, years. Rupert wondered vaguely if he was in hell. The bus clattered over endless roads skirted by remorseless pine, through landscapes that remained identical to those past. He slowly removed the lace from his left sneaker, careful to keep the operation out of the driver's view. He hoped to God that his captor couldn't read his thoughts, because if he could, all would be for naught. Running his finger over the length of shoelace, Rupert stared out the bus' grime-caked window and witnessed a discrepancy in the monotony of his surroundings. A sign tore past, but its speed did nothing to stop him from reading and understanding it. Rourke's Chance, twelve miles, but it may as well have read Rupert's Chance, twelve miles, for he knew that this was to be his only opportunity for escape.

           The twelve miles passed surely enough, but Rupert didn't know whether it had taken fleeting minutes or eternal hours. That wasn't important now, though; the time had come to escape the void-like universe of the bus and reenter the safety of reality. Indignantly, the bus turned from the purgatorial pine track and into a more cultivated section of Michigan. Soft green fields ran along either side of the road, some painstakingly plowed and ready for new life, others already teeming with crops of various earthy hues, a few barren and abandoned by both man and nature. Behind them, the pine loomed and glowered like jagged overlords. Up ahead in the distance, buildings were geometrical silhouettes set against the bloody pseudo-sphere of the dying sun. Rourke's Chance, population 403, proclaimed a somber wooden sign. Rupert felt a tinge of excitement course through his body, accompanied by a not entirely unpleasant flutter in his stomach. Excitement and fear, he understood, were two very similar emotions. Twilight. Shadows become sinister elongated parodies of their owners. Light becomes thick and hazy, like smoke. Silence reigns as conventional nature prepares for nervous sleep and day loses its glorious throne to night.

           The bus in which Rupert Saunders traveled passed into the small township of Rourke's Chance during this hallowed time, inadvertently entering a nightmare few could comprehend. Rupert stood in the isle as the dark orange light filtered in through the windows. He clutched the shoelace tightly in his left fist. The eyes in the mirror watched intently as he walked towards the driver of the bus, preparing for his moment of triumph. The driver brought the bus' guttural growl down to a slight splutter as he approached. The vehicle's speed slowed considerably.

           "Gettin' off here?" the driver asked, his hate masked by casual, idiot indifference.

           Rupert didn't answer. Instead he completed the last few steps between him and the present bane of his existence.

           The driver pivoted the quivering chunk of adipose tissue that was his body onwards Rupert, the exact grin he had imagined plastered across his fleshy face. Rupert's animal fury all but dominated him now.

           "I said," leered the driver, "Are ya gettin' off or ain't ya?"

           Rupert seized the driver's uniform collar in one hand and a fistful of his greasy black hair in the other and hauled him from his chair, being sure to throw him down into the isle as hard as he possibly could. The driver fell face-forward onto the dirty floor with a soft grunt and within moments Rupert was upon him. In the instant that Rupert pinned the odious bus driver down, the few fleeting fragments left of his rational mind made a desperate plea.

           For a couple of seconds, Rupert saw that the man beneath him was just a man, and that he had never leered or plotted or tortured him with bizarre mind games.

           A plastic badge on the front of his shirt read "John," he noticed with regret. The whimpering imploring for release rose from his quarry in a near-incoherent jumble, and Rupert realized that he was wrong, had always been wrong. But then the whimpers became audacious laughter as the more abundant part of his psyche kicked in, the part that chanted "kill him kill him kill him" in an endless stream, and Rupert complied.

           As he straddled the writhing driver, Rupert unrolled his shoelace and gripped either end with each hand, a makeshift garrote. With a single swooping motion, the shoelace was around the driver's flabby neck and Rupert found that he was pulling it as tightly as he could, strangling holy hell out of him. The (whimpers? laughter?) became dry chokes. The sour stench of the driver's terrified sweat filled Rupert's nostrils; the smell of victory. His knuckles went white in response to the raw force he was exerting and blood seeped from under the driver's oily jowls as the shoelace began to cut into his skin. The driver's thrashing became stronger and more desperate and his gargling retches grew in severity. Rupert was vaguely aware that he himself had began to cry out like an primal animal. Finally, the movement under him ceased. Rupert did not.

           The driver had been dead for nearly ten minutes when the shoelace finally broke and Rupert tumbled from the body. He examined the remains of the shoelace and found that it was still salvageable. He tossed the smaller length aside and began to re-thread the usable piece back into his left sneaker, carefully and slowly. He tied the knot with similar precision; it wouldn't at all be proper for him to trip and fall as a result of minor carelessness.

           The dead driver slumped in the isle, his hands lying pale and lifeless near where they had spent their last moments scrabbling at the murderous shoelace. Blood pooled around his head like a grotesque halo.

           As he began to leave, Rupert's vision inadvertently fell upon on the rear-view mirror. He gasped with fear.

           The eyes were still there. They glared at him with the same sense of blatant disdain as they always had, burning his mind and scouring his soul. Without thinking, Rupert tore the mirror from its moorings. He was repulsed by the feel of it; it seemed to crawl and slither under his hands like a mass of snakes. With a scream of fear and disgust, he dashed it apart on a horizontal steel pole that stood as a balance aid when the bus was in motion. Slivers of jagged mirror-glass winked silver as every frenzied strike splashed them from the frame. Once he had reduced the rear-vision mirror to a sightless eyes, he hurled the frame to the floor and stomped it until it was an unrecognizable plastic mess. Relief washed over Rupert as he looked down at the humble debris, and he knew that it could never torture him again.

           Stepping out of the bus and into the cool Michigan evening, Rupert felt free. The lace in one of his sneakers was short and mysteriously crimson but impeccably knotted. He began to walk down the main street of Rourke's Chance, not questioning why the streets were empty and every building on the road was devoid of light or sound or even a wisp of smoke from a chimney. With the bus behind him, the rear-vision mirror in pieces and the demonic driver cooling in the isle, Rupert began to wonder if they ever existed at all. He felt moderately sure that they did. He also wondered whether the journey had taken decades or mere minutes, and while the threads of his sanity screamed that he had only come from the next town, the rest of his mind assured him that it had been millennia, that he was right in killing the driver and destroying the hateful eyes, right right right. He broke into a swagger as he continued ahead, uncertain of where he was going but feeling damn fine about it.

About the Author (click here) © 1999 Grant Barnes, all rights reserved
 appears here by permission

Author Notes

           "An Interesting Bus Trip" came about over a period of several days, and was written to be part of the prologue for a novel (still in the very early stages) entitled Dawn of the Child. The piece at WriteGallery introduces Rupert Saunders (who is to be the among the novel's chief villains) and details his descent into the hellish township of Rourke's Chance.

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