A Hillsborough Community College Student Publication since 1978.
written by: Mitchell Herrin
An old van sits motionless on the side of the road. In the back, a small child is napping peacefully, worn out from her long day at the park. Up front, a young woman nervously looks on as her husband tries desperately to bring life to the vehicle.
“Come on you piece of junk!” The man spits out as he continues to mercilessly grind the starter. His patience quickly vanishing as each attempt to restart the van ends in failure. He slams his head into the steering wheel in defeat. “Not now, I don’t need this now.”
“Are we out of gas Stephen?” The young woman asks timidly.
Stephen brings his fist crashing into the dashboard, terrifying his passenger and startling awake the child “It has gas Emily!” He snaps at her. Then he turns his head towards the window. “I don’t know what the problem is.”
“Should I call AAA?” Emily asks cautiously, preparing herself for another of Stephen’s outbursts.
He turns slowly to face his wife. “I’m sorry Emily, I didn’t mean to go off like that.” He
Takes her hand and kisses it reassuringly. “Go ahead and make your phone call. I’m going to take a look under the hood.”
“Ok. Good luck,” Emily said as she forced herself to smile. He gently blew her a kiss as he opened the door and slid into the afternoon air leaving Emily to make her call. Stephen was grateful for the escape. He had lost his temper…. again! It always made him feel like shit, especially when he goes off on Emily. Hell, she was only trying to be helpful. He would have to work harder in the future to keep his outbursts in check. All he wanted to do now was get this piece of shit van running and get everyone home.
Opening the hood, he made his obligatory pass over the engine bay. Not being a mechanic, Stephen jiggled as many wires as he dared, hoping it would miraculously start the van. Meanwhile, the young child made her way to the front seats.
“Where’s daddy?” The young voice asks.
Her mother snaps the phone shut. She gives the child a small smile which she hopes will hide the worry from her face. “Hello Emily. Daddy is outside trying to get the van fixed.” Emily looks at her phone. “I tried calling for help, but I cannot get a signal.” She puts the phone away and picks her daughter up and sits her on her lap. “Hopefully we can get this old van started again and we can all go home.”
Marie rested her head on her mother’s shoulder and looked out the window. First, at the hood at where her father would be, then down the road. Something was wrong.
Marie looked at her mother, a very concerned look on her face. “Mommy… I don’t like this place.” She hugged her mother tightly around the neck. The fear choking her voice to a near whisper. “I don’t think we belong here.”
Emily returned her daughter’s hug. “It’s ok honey.” She said trying to sound reassuring. “Daddy should be finished really soon and we’ll all go home.” But Marie’s simple statement had scared her. She had felt the same sense of dread as soon as the car had broken down.
No car, no phone and it was going to start getting dark soon. The more she thought about it the more the dread seemed to close in on them. She pulled her daughter closer for comfort and deep down wondered if they would make it home at all. Between comforting Marie and fighting back her own fear, she didn’t notice Stephen walk to her window.
“Hey Emily. Try starting it now!” Stephen shouted through the closed window causing both girls to scream. “Whoa it’s just me.”
“Sorry I dozed off for a moment… what did you say?”
Stephen took a deep breath, not letting his anger get to him. “Just turn the key and see if it will run.”
Putting her daughter down, she leaned over and gave the key a gentle turn, as if she could sneak up on starting the van. The attempt was laughable as this latest effort finished draining the remaining battery power. The van was just not going to start. But this came as no surprise to Emily. She felt… no she knew the van wouldn’t start. That feeling of dread returned stronger than ever, threatening to push her to the edge of panic
Stephen entered the van and sat down with a thud.
“Daddy!!” Marie welcomed her father’s return by jumping into his arms. “Hey Pumpkin, did you have a good nap?”
Marie nodded excitedly. “Daddy where are we?”
Stephen beamed brightly as he gently put his daughter down. “Well sweetheart, we are almost home.” Then looking at both ladies. “But the van is no longer going to work, so we are going to have to walk the rest of the way.”
“Walk all the way home from here?” Emily asked surprised. “That is an awfully long way. What about a towing company?”
He seemed to ignore her last statement. “There’s have no time to lose. We’ll need to hurry if we want to catch the bus. Marie go and get your coat and Emily, please make sure you have our tickets.”
Now Emily was completely confused. “But the bus stop is at least three miles from here… and what tickets are you talking about?” She wanted to help come up with a better plan than this but he and Marie had already began to make their way up the road. Curiously she reached into her purse. She honestly had no idea what he had meant by tickets. She fumbled through her purse for a moment until she came across a small envelope which contained the tickets. It was only when she took a closer look at the tickets did her blood run cold. The tickets had no dates, no times or destination. Each ticket contained only the individuals name and on the bottom of each the same phrase “Admit one for The Last Bus Tonight”.
Emily caught up to her family and the trio began its long trip to the bus stop. Despite her reservations about walking, she decided to remain quiet for now, lest she get into a shouting match with Stephen. They had promised never to argue in front of Marie and she was grateful he had kept his word (for the most part). In her heart she knew he would never willingly put the family in danger. She was troubled by her talk with Marie in the van. “We don’t belong here.” She had said. The phrase echoed over and over in her mind. Emily tried to convince herself
that she was overreacting, that her daughter was just disoriented being ripped from her nap by Stephen’s tantrum at the wheel. However, she couldn’t squash the nagging feeling that whatever dread coming for them at the van was still following them and before this trip was over it was something they would need to overcome in order to get home.
So they continued down the road. Despite her growing anxiety she did enjoy walking. The long trails lined with beautiful trees and flowering plants made the journey less tedious. They passed by a small stream and came to an old bridge and she remembered back to the time when Stephen had proposed to her. It had been on the bridge near her old apartment. He had been so nervous. Each time he started his carefully prepared proposal a family of ducks would begin to quack and splash in the water below.
He was trying so hard to be sincere but soon found himself in a shouting match with the ducks, who were more than happy to argue back. The whole scene was so ridiculous, she had become breathless from laughing. He simply gave up on his speech and on one knee asked for her hand and from behind tears of both joy and laughter, she accepted. It had been so wonderful, so real. Emily looked around her and besides Stephen and her daughter perched high on his shoulders, everything else here was light years away from real. The sky looked an unearthly shade of grey. All the colors around her were slightly tinted, as if she were wearing sunglasses. The air was breathable but tasted old and stale. Suddenly a thought hit her,
“Must be my allergy medication.” Emily reassured herself. She breathed a sigh of relief then felt pretty silly for not seeing this sooner. This wouldn’t be the first time the medication had utterly destroyed her senses. The spring hay fever was merciless and very strong doses of antihistamines were taken so she could function this time year.
“But I wonder…” Opening her purse she looked into the envelope containing the bus tickets. Almost immediately the feeling of dread returned, closer than before. Emily quickly closed her purse and shut her eyes tight. Allergies or not, something was wrong about this place and she needed to convince Stephen of that.
“Hey there lady!” Stephen called out with the smiling Marie still on his shoulders waving excitedly. “You’re falling behind.”
Her head snapped up as sound of her husband’s voice reached her. A touch disoriented, Emily waited a few moments for the world to refocus before returning her daughter’s smile and wave.
“How did you two get so far ahead?” She yelled out playfully. “Wait for me, I’ll catch up.”
Knees shaking, Emily walked slowly to the top of the bridge, trying to think of the right words to sway Stephen. At times he could be so stubborn. He was one of those individuals who dug in their heels and once they’ve made up their mind, no amount of arguing would change it. She hoped this wouldn’t be one of those times.
By the time she reached the top of the bridge, Stephen had put Marie down and the two were having a very animated conversation. “This is me and mommy watering flowers in the yard.” Marie explained excitedly. “And over here is you coming home from work.” Now that Emily was closer she could see that Marie was giving daddy the picture she had worked so hard on.
Stephen considered the drawing for a moment. “Why is my head so big sweetie?” “That’s not your head… that’s a flower!” She said as if scolding him. “I’m not quite sure what this is supposed to be. Is it another flower?”
“That’s a dog daddy!!”
“But we don’t have a dog.”
Emily turned away shyly. “I know that.” Then she slowly looked back at her father with that sweet, innocent look that all children at that age possess whenever they truly want something. “But my birthday is next month and mommy said this year I was old enough and if it was okay with you that…. maybe I could get a puppy?”
Stephen let the question hang for a moment as he watched his daughter’s beautiful eyes just begging for the answer. “Well…” He started slowly, Marie hanging on his every word. “If mommy said it was okay then you may have a puppy.” The young child shrieked in celebration. “Just remember that getting a dog is a big responsibility and if…” He didn’t get a chance to finish as Marie jumped into his arms and gave him the biggest hug.
“Oh thank you daddy!” The child was simply aglow with delight.
Stephen waited a moment before putting her down. “Now as for this drawing.” He said seriously. Marie looked up at him and waited, wanting nothing more than for daddy to like the picture. “Magnificent! Truly a masterpiece! Marie was smiling from ear to ear. Between that and news of the puppy, she was on cloud nine. “I’ll keep this work of art with me and once we get home this will have a place on the refrigerator. But first we have to get home and that won’t happen unless we catch our bus. Let’s get a move on girls, there is no more time to waste.”
Marie proudly made her way over to where her mother was standing. “Did you hear mommy? Daddy said I can have a puppy!”
Ever since the stop on the bridge, Emily felt as if she were alone in another world. Her family seemed oblivious to the worry and dread that was building within her. Marie was skipping along slightly ahead of both of them, her earlier trepidation in the van all but vanished. Stephen walked on automatically with no slowing or resting, his sole purpose in life had become catching that damned bus. Every time she thought about what would be waiting for them when they reached the bus stop, her fear would go up a notch. Doom closed in around them with each passing step, and she knew if they faced the bus, it would be inescapable. “No.” Emily thought. “I will not let this happen to my family… there has to be better way to get home.”
She looked over to the man she loved and sighed. The determination etched into his face was unmistakable and probably unbreakable. Still she had to try. Emily gently took Stephen’s hand in hers. “Stephen?”
He responded without breaking stride. “Yes honey, what is it?”
“We’ve been walking for hours. Where exactly are we? “What do you mean? We go this way all the time.”
“I’m not sure. Something is just not right about this place.” Emily gathered her thoughts. “No birds singing or insects buzzing around. We haven’t even seen one person riding by on a bike or driving a car. It’s like we are the last people on earth.”
“I have no problem with this. We don’t need any obnoxious people slowing us down.”
“No I mean it.” She turned away shyly. “This place scares me and I don’t know why. But as unsettled as I am now the thought of boarding that bus terrifies me. Please Stephen, let’s find another way home.”
He spun her around and grabbed her shoulders none too gently. “NO! There is no other way home!” His voice was low and growling. “Everything depends on each of us getting on that bus. It is the only way!”
He quickly cut her off. “Let me make this clear.” His hands still holding her shoulders. “The bus coming is the last bus tonight and we will be on it. If we miss it, we will be here until another one arrives and I’m not sure when that will happen. Is that what you propose? To stay in this place until the next bus arrives? To keep your daughter, your family, away from home? Is that what you want Emily?”
She had stopped listening and stared blankly at him as he continued talking, the gears in her head grinding away furiously. Sometimes desperation can lead to the greatest inspiration. “What do you propose?” She flashed back to her memory on the bridge. The proposal! That was it! The memory seemed so close, so real. It was the perfect moment of clarity in this fog bank of a nightmare. All she had to do now was pick the perfect memory.
Emily put her new plan into action. “Would you stop and think for a moment?” she asked calmly. Next she looked ahead to where Marie was picking flowers then back to Stephen. Smiling, Emily reached up and gently caressed his cheek. “Please, if only for your family.”
Stephen stopped reluctantly and crossed his arms, impatience radiating from his face while Emily strolled into the grass. “Remember when we first started dating?” She began. “You took me to this little place called the Yellow House. We had a glass of Chardonnay out on that magnificent balcony overlooking the busy street below. All those couples walking hand in hand below us, just enjoying each other’s company in the late autumn afternoon.
He honestly had no idea what the hell his wife was talking about. Time was wasting so he decided to placate her. “Of course I remember it, why?”
She continued. “Next to holding Marie for the first time, it is the memory I hold most dear. I can clearly see the candlelight reflecting off those beautifully colored yellow walls. I can still taste each bite of our wonderfully prepared dinner. I can still feel you holding me close as we slow danced on the balcony while watching the sunset in the distance. It was the first time you told me, you loved me. It was so perfect….”
Stephen was getting bored. “Is there a point to this story Emily?”
“Our memories are what keep us tethered to reality.” Emily said, now desperate to get her message across. “It was called the Yellow House. A basic but very apt description. Simple things keep us going. Please remember that Stephen.”
“Okay sweetheart, I’ll try.” He looked lovingly at his wife. “Tell you what, let’s get to the bus stop. You have to admit there is nothing for us out here.” Emily was forced to nod in agreement. “Once we get there we will try to find someone to find us another way home.”
Emily wondered if she had actually gotten through him. He seemed to be looking inward for something to hold, something real. Marie came running from the field, flowers gripped tightly in her little hand. She jumped into her father’s arms. The look of terror had returned to her eyes.
“Somebody is out there!” Marie cried out. “Behind us, in the trees.”
“Are you sure pumpkin?” Daddy asked as he looked over to the motionless trees.
She nodded vigorously then leaned in close to whisper in his ear. “I don’t think they like us here daddy.” Marie grabbed him tightly around the neck. “Can we all just go home… please…”
“Okay, okay Marie.” Stephen said. He hoisted his daughter back onto his shoulders then took a long look around. “We should be there very soon. Then we will all board the bus and go home.” He turned to Marie. “Come on honey, let’s go.” And just like that he was on the move
Emily couldn’t believe what she was hearing. Her speech had no effect on her husband. That man was hell-bent on getting all on the bus! She reached into her purse and pulled out the envelope. Just holding the tickets nearly froze her in place with fear. She had to be strong, now more than ever, or face the prospect of losing everything she held dear. “Sorry Stephen.” With that she tossed the tickets on the ground and sped up to catch her family. “But this is for our own good.”
The trio quietly continued their journey along road after eerily deserted road, each alone with their thoughts. Marie still perched upon her father’s shoulders, she was thinking about today’s trip. She absolutely loved going to the park and since the weather had finally turned warm enough, the family had decided to visit White Water Landing to spend the day together. Newly grown grass and young daisies covered the ground as far as she could see. Mommy and daddy had spread out a large blanket and they had all laid back and made shapes out of the clouds. Then she ran around chasing butterflies in the fresh spring air, stopping occasionally to pick a daisy or two, while her parents unpacked a picnic lunch. Between bites of peanut butter and jelly she had talked to them about life in the third grade and how icky all of the boys were and asked if they had seen Ashley’s (her friend from down the street) new, so adorably cute puppy. After lunch they had all walked to the small pond and fed the ducks. Daddy had mumbled something
to mommy about the ducks and she had laughed until she had tears in her eyes. Eventually daddy had laughed too, she had no idea why, but she was pleased to see them both so happy. She had spent the rest of the afternoon basking in both the perfect April day and the love of her parents.
Emily kept a step behind her husband. She was ready to break down crying. To top it off, all of this stress was giving her the worst headache. She silently prayed she would have the strength to defend her family when the time came.
Stephen walked along in silence. It felt like days since they had left the van. More urgently, ever since Emily and her Yellow House speech, nothing about these roads looked familiar. He thought he had made a wrong turn at some point, but his heart told him they were getting close. He turned to look at his wife. She looked so tired and frazzled. Why the hell is she so scared about getting on the bus anyway? Maybe she had taken too much medicine. She did tend to act loopy, almost buzzed, when her allergies acted up and she was forced to take extra pills. Had she taken some pills today? Just then, Marie hugged him around his neck, the flowers picked earlier still clenched in her hand. Daisies… he thought. Daisies… breeze blowing…laughing.. a white bus in the sky? He stared at the bus and wondered why he could actually see the doors close. Why could he hear the hiss of the air brakes? The hum of the engine starting? Stephen slowly looked around him. He was just somewhere else. A place so close, so familiar he could believe he actually existed there at some time. Another roar of an engine, still off in the distance, brought his reality rushing back in.
“That would be our bus!” He said excitedly. “And look!” Stephen pointed. “There’s the bus stop right at the top of the hill.” He grabbed Emily’s wrist and drew her in and hugged her. Then without warning he took off at a slow jog, as not to jostle Marie too much, leaving Emily to catch up once again. “Come on honey! Let’s get moving!”
“So this is it.” Emily thought to herself. Not wanting to be left alone with whatever might be trailing them she followed behind Stephen at a quick walk. Before long she caught up to them at the bus stop. The place looked like the culmination of all her fear. Dreadful, hopeless, and ominous, streetlights coating the whole scene in sickly shades of greyish yellow.
“Let’s have our tickets ready so we don’t keep the driver waiting.” Stephen said happily. Then he took Marie down from his shoulders and waited expectantly for Emily to hand out the
Emily decided to stall for time. “Stephen, you aren’t still considering getting on that bus when it arrives?” She spoke in a low whisper. “Even Marie thinks something is wrong about this place, that we don’t belong here somehow. We need to leave here right now.”
“Emily we’ve been over this already.” She was impressed at how calm he was being. “It has been a long trip and we are all very tired. I’m sure once we get home and have a good night’s rest that everything will be better in the morning.” Stephen perked up as the distinct sound of the bus engine could be getting ever closer. “Please bring out the tickets.”
Knowing she left the ticket behind, Emily still had to go through the motions. She opened her purse and slowly sifted through its contents. “Honey did you take the tickets from my purse? They don’t seem to be in here.”
“You know I don’t go into your purse. Now quit playing and pull out the tickets, the bus is going to be here any minute.”
“Stephen they are just not in here.” Emily said softly. A hiss from air brakes and an engine starting, sounding much closer this time, made them both look up. Stephen reached
over and ripped the purse away from his wife’s hands and unceremoniously dumped its contents on the ground.
“We have to find those tickets! The bus will be here any minute!” His voice now panic stricken as he sifted through random makeup, pills and used tissues. “Help me find them!”
Marie ran into her mother’s arms, frightened at seeing her father like this. Emily hugged her tightly. “Everything is going to be fine Marie… you’ll see.” She went to give her a kiss but stopped cold. Her daughter’s eyes were wide with terror and they were looking at something just over her shoulder. Emily slowly turned around and came face to face with the unexpected. She was expecting some demon or other horrid abomination. Instead it was a group of three uniformed people (One woman and two men). It was great to finally see other people. Emily
was just about to ask them for help finding a way home but once she saw what the woman was carrying her voice failed her. She scampered back and her face formed a look of terror as impressive as her daughter’s.
The woman stepped forward from the group, the family’s tickets held gently in her hand. “I believe these belong to you.” Emily stared dumbfounded at the uniformed woman. Any chance of keeping Stephen off the bus disappeared once those tickets returned. She glanced over at her husband. He was staring at the newcomers expectantly while quickly trying to replace the contents of her purse (except the tissues). It was harder to gauge Marie’s reaction. She no longer seemed afraid of the uniformed group and appeared to be regarding them with a mix of curiosity and recognition.
None of that mattered now. She had failed. She just wasn’t strong enough to save the family she loved so dearly. Emily buried her head in her hands and let the tears flow freely. A moment later, Marie came over and gave her mommy a comforting hug and through bleary eyes looked up to see her daughters smiling face.
“I tried sweetheart.” Emily started as she wiped away her tears. “I tried to find another way home but it didn’t work and when daddy gets those tickets…” Fresh tears formed in her eyes. “We are going to have to get on the bus.”
Marie moved in close and wiped a tear away. “Don’t be scared mommy.” She said softly. Then she turned her attention to the three strangers. “I think these people are here to help us.”
Emily looked skeptical. “How can they help us?”
“I’m not sure mommy. But when they got here, I stopped being scared.” A small smile played across Marie’s face. “I think they are going to take us home.”
Emily allowed hope to creep into her voice. “Oh Marie that would be so wonderful.” She hugged her daughter then lifted her up and gently brushed the hair from her face. “How do you know they will help us?”
“I just do.” She said as she took a seat next to her mother. Emily chuckled softly despite the growing pain in her head.
Emily looked up to the uniformed woman and wondered what would happen next. The answer wasn’t long in coming. The woman handed the tickets over to the taller of her two companions and nodded, then stepped forward and wordlessly took a long look at Emily. Seemingly satisfied, she moved on and did the same to Marie and finally to Stephen. The silence was becoming awkward and uncomfortable. Suddenly the uniformed woman turned and walked back and began a very serious conversation with the two men.
Stephen stood up and approached the group. With the bus only moments away he didn’t have time for politeness. “Thank you miss.” He interrupted. “I thought my wife had lost those
The woman held up her hand to silence him. The tension grew thick as everyone could hear the bus getting ever closer. She stepped over to where Marie was sitting and took one ticket from the three and held it to the sky.
“Marie!” Her words hung in the air. “You may not board the bus!” She proceeded to tear the ticket in two then in two again. Her eyes shined with pleasure as the pieces of paper fluttered silently to the ground. “Sleep now child while I attend to the others.”
Stephen watched in disbelief as his daughter fell unconscious in her mother’s lap. His plan of everyone going home on the bus had come all this way only to be derailed by these unwelcome strangers. “What the hell do you think you’re doing?” He screamed out at the woman, his voice full of rage and venom. As he started to lunge forward, powerful hands held him firm. The two men in uniform stood on both sides of him to make sure he did not disrupt the proceedings.
The woman walked back to Stephen and got right in his face to where their noses nearly touched. “We have some say on who gets on the bus.” She said seriously but smugly. The sound of the bus was nearly on top of them. “Time is growing short. Let’s continue.” With that she took one of the two remaining tickets and focused her attention on Emily. Knowing what
was coming next, he struggled against the grip holding him but it was just too strong. Once again the woman lifted the ticket over her head. “Emily! You may not board the bus.”
Emily watched the pieces of ticket fall on the ground beside her. She suddenly felt very tired. From somewhere above her, she heard the uniformed woman’s voice, “Rest now. I’ll be back shortly to take you home.” Emily lowered her head softly on her daughter’s head and let out a huge sigh of relief. “You hear that Marie?” She asked, taking her daughter’s sleeping hand. “We will be home soon.”
She paused for a moment. Why was Marie’s hand so cold? She gave her daughter a kiss on the cheek and all the horror and dread she had felt during the entire trip balled itself up and hit her full force. My God is she even breathing? In her current state of exhaustion it was impossible to tell. “Stephen! Something is wrong with Marie!” Unfortunately, he was in no condition to help as the two men holding him didn’t look like they were letting go any time soon. Emily tried to get up but was overcome by a blinding pain and collapsed.
“Emily!” Stephen cried out. He then turned his attention to the ringleader of this nightmare. “You bitch!!” He snarled. “What have you done to my family?!”
“I did what was necessary.” The woman stated emotionlessly. “They would have only gotten in the way.” She produced the last ticket from her pocket. “Now it’s your turn.”
He struggled against the grip. “Why are you doing this? Why won’t you let us go home? “You’ll be home soon enough, but I cannot allow you to board the bus.” She was irritated
by the look of distrust coming from Stephen’s face and gave a heavy sigh. “You and your family should consider yourselves lucky. Often we are too late to keep people from boarding the bus. Other times, we cannot… convince them to relinquish their ticket. If it is not destroyed before the bus arrives the named rider must get on.” She slowly walked toward him. “Watching your family today, I was worried that I wouldn’t be able to help any of you. You were so determined to get them onto the bus that they would have followed you despite not wanting to get on. So you can imagine how delightfully surprised I became when your wife simply left the tickets laying on the ground during your walk here.”
Stephen was stunned by this revelation. “You’re lying! Emily would never have done
“Oh really?” She said while looking at the last ticket in her hand. Stephen made a futile
grab at it just as the uniformed woman knew he would. He was rewarded with a solid backhand across his cheek. “You still don’t understand.” Her voice became cold and menacing. “Your wife knew. She practically begged you not to take the family on the bus, to find another way home. Even your young daughter felt out of place here. Even with this knowledge you are still fighting to find a way onto the bus! I bet even now you are trying to figure out a way to free yourself and obtain this ticket.” The shine of bus headlights could be seen approaching in the distance. She took two steps back and raised the ticket over her head. “Let me assure you that will not happen.”
Emily watched helplessly as events unfolded. It was becoming clear that this group of people was not going to let her husband on the bus. That woman was going to tear his ticket
and destroy him like she had done to her and her precious daughter. “No!” Her mind screamed. She faced Marie and whispered in her ear. “I will be strong enough.” It might be too late for them but she could still save her husband. The journey to get on her feet was excruciating. Her neck was an icy rod of fire while her body felt like it was being stung by ten thousand bees. After an eternity, she was standing and ready to assist Stephen.
The uniformed woman smiled triumphantly at Stephen. He saw what was coming and began to struggle again. This could be his chance to save them all. “Stephen!” She continued. “You may not..ugh..” Emily timed her attack perfectly. She used all of her momentum and planted her shoulder square into the back of the uniformed woman, knocking both women to the ground. One of the men let go of Stephen to help his partner and he wasted no time swinging his free fist directly into the face of the other man who was still holding him.
“He’s loose!” The uniformed man shouted as he held a hand over his punched eye. The other turned just in time to receive a haymaker to the jaw. He fell back and Stephen continued to his main target. The uniformed woman was slowly picking herself and he took more pleasure knocking her back down than he should of. The bus roared again. It sounded like it coming from just over the hill. He picked up his ticket, placed it in his pocket, and rushed to his wife’s side.
“Emily! Are you alright?”
Emily didn’t bothering answering. The effort spent in the last few minutes was too much. It was time to rest now. He gently lifted her head up.
“Emily! I….” He searched the ground frantically. “Where is Marie?”
Her eyes looked around listlessly and then to her husband. “Sorry… love…. I wasn’t strong enough after all.” Each word came with great effort. “I’m so tired….just want to sleep…”
“Stay with me! I still have my ticket.” He was getting frantic. “Maybe I can talk to the driver and…”
With the last of her strength she put her finger on Stephen’s lips. “I love you Stephen.” She smiled weakly and passed out. He shook her to keep her awake but it had no effect. “Emily….” He softly kissed her head and gently laid her down. Her head had barely touched the ground before a strong hand touched each shoulder.
“Come on buddy, hand over the ticket.” The man who he had punched in the eye said. Without word or warning, Stephen delivered an elbow firmly into his groin. He quickly turned on his knees and punched the other man in the gut with as much strength as he could muster. Stephen jumped to his feet. He was hoping to buy him some time until the bus arrived but men seemed unaffected by the shots. They gathered themselves and surrounded Stephen on both
Meanwhile, the uniformed woman made it to her feet. She could see the bus coming. It appeared from a thick layer of fog and seemed to be floating towards them. She limped over to Emily’s unconscious form, dropped to one knee and spoke bitterly near her ear. “Death is not the end, only the consequence.” With that Emily’s body faded from this plane to reunite with Marie. Once gone, her focus immediately returned to Stephen.
Stephen was doing his best to fight off the two strangers. He knew if he could keep his ticket away from them until the bus arrived, he would be able to board it. He could see the bus cresting the hill, they all could, and the game of keep away would only last a short time longer.
“You don’t understand!” One of the uniformed men shouted as they continued to square off. “The bus is not what you think! You have to trust us. Just give us your ticket and we’ll take you home.”
“Liars!” Stephen spit out. “Let you “save” me like you saved my wife and daughter! I don’t think so!” Anger consumed him and he was torn between charging the two men and making a break for the bus. He did neither as a strong hand gripped him between his shoulder and collarbone. The hold fulfilled its purpose as Stephen quickly fell to knees, ending his adrenaline fueled fight to board the bus.
The men were on top of him immediately. Despite regaining control, the uniformed woman refused to release her grip. “I told you I would not let you board the bus.” She screamed into the back of his head, the whole time increasing the pressure of her hold. “Well do you believe me now?” Stephen cried out as she continued to tighten her grip. She looked at one of the men. “You! Get me his ticket!” The bus was now only moments away. “And hurry!”
Stephen could do nothing as the uniformed man took the ticket from his pocket. His head slumped forward as the woman released her hold. A wave of hopelessness washed over him.
He had come all this way only to lose everything he held dear. What hurt the most was the knowledge that he would not be on the bus. He wanted bus…needed bus… every fiber of his being told him that he belonged on bus. Fighting off the urge to cry he instead looked the uniformed woman straight in the eye as she performed her ritual.
“Stephen! You may not board the bus!” With that she quickly ripped the ticket in two. The men released their grip on Stephen’s arms and took their place by the uniformed woman’s side just as the bus pulled up. “That was too close gentlemen.” The woman said with great relief. “I thought we were going to lose this man.” Handshakes and hugs followed and Stephen could only stare at the bus as it began to pass by.
Suddenly the brakes screeched and the bus came to a quick stop slightly past the foursome. “What the hell?” The uniformed woman said in complete surprise. There was no reason for the bus to stop since all the tickets had been destroyed. She tried waving the driver
On, but the doors opened anyway. After a few seconds, a tall, grey haired man poked his head out of the door and looked directly at Stephen. “Almost didn’t see you there.” He spoke loudly, so he could be heard over the idling bus. “Get on Stephen, it’s time to go home.”
Stephen was confused. He watched his ticket get torn in two. Realization slowly
dawned on him as he reached into his pocket and pulled out his undamaged ticket. He chucked softly as he waved the ticket triumphantly in the air. Then he directed a mighty middle finger at the woman and her two friends. “Nice try assholes!” He said as he took a bow and backed his way onto the bus.
The uniformed group looked at each other, disbelief painted on each face. The woman slowly put the two pieces of the “ticket” together and what she saw made her jaw hit the floor. It wasn’t the ticket at all but a very colorful picture of a house and family, white clouds and smiling sun, daddy on one half and mommy and daughter on the other.
“You sonofabitch!” She lunged for the open door but strong hands restrained her. “No! It’s too late!” One of the men shouted. The other put a hand on her shoulder. “There is nothing we can do for him now. Let’s go home.”
On the bus, Stephen handed the ticket to the driver. He didn’t want to take a chance of the trio attacking him and trying to take him off the bus. “Those people out there ripped the tickets of my wife and daughter and I was wondering if…” Stephen was cut off as a cold skeletal grip clamped down tightly on his wrist. He turned to confront the driver but what he saw took his voice away. The black cloak, the hollow skull, the sharp scythe. The Reaper in all his glory was now going to take him home. He broke free from the grip and dived for the door, but the driver had already closed it. The last thing the uniformed group saw of Stephen was his pounding on the door trying to escape. His eyes showing the terror of a man whose fate was sealed.
Emily could feel the consciousness slowly creeping into her body. She could hear the hurried shuffling shoes and the murmur of voices surrounding her. Through blurry eyes she saw the flashing of lights and shadows of people moving in the darkness. She had been somewhere else only a moment ago, but couldn’t remember where or even for how long. Her mind wasn’t cooperating as it offered only brief glimpses of her other world adventure.
A long deserted road,
the fields of daisies, holding her daughter’s hand. Emily tried to concentrate harder so she could rescue the images before they faded away. Stephen was with them, he wanted something badly… God what was it? There had been others as well. Uniforms? They wanted something too. That was when the picture of the ticket… the bus ticket, burned appeared. Her memories flooded in and she instinctively tried to sit up and find her family but the excruciating pain bolting through her neck quickly changed her mind.
“Stephen….Marie….” She said weakly.
“This one’s awake!” A voice shouted from above her. “I need you over here doctor!” He knelt close to Emily. “Hang in there ma’am. I know it hurts. Just try not to move. You are going to be alright.”
He left before she could say anything. “He looked familiar. Do I know him from somewhere?” She thought to herself. It only took a moment for the doctor to get there. Emily could only stare in disbelief as she found herself staring into the face of the uniformed woman. The dream she feared was real.
“You?” Was all she could say before she passed out.
The doctor took her hand and gave it a gentle squeeze. “I’m so very sorry.” She then turned to her two techs. “Alright you two, get her into the ambulance. Be careful to keep her still, we have a possible neck injury here.” Once they were inside, she gave a nod to the driver and
the ambulance roared off, sirens gobbling up the night, leaving those remaining to finish writing the accident report.
It is the end of a long shift at the hospital. The doctor and her two technicians leave the building through the sliding glass door. The group walks in silence for a while before one of the men speaks.
“You need to stop beating yourself up every time you lose somebody.” One tech said. “I
know you think you can save everybody but let’s face it, Death is going to win his share.”
“He’s right you know.” The other said. “It is a miracle he was still alive when you got to him. He had lost so much blood.” The tech trailed off remembering today’s events. He gently put his hand on her shoulder. “At least you saved the woman and her child, it could have been much worse today.”
The doctor shook off the hand and turned her back to the other two. “If you two are trying to cheer me up it is not going to work.” Her face took on a pained expression. “I had him… I know I had him back! If he had stayed with me he might have made it!” She took a breath. “But he fought me… he fought for death and won…”
The two men shared a look which the doctor had actually felt. “Listen.” She said as she turned to face them. “If he was beyond my abilities, it wouldn’t bother me so badly but believe me when I say the man wanted something more than his life.”
“And what would that be my good doctor?”
“I’m not sure.” She said deflated. “Who knows what goes through the mind when one is so near death… his wife and little girl are going to be crushed when they get the news.” The doctor fought back tears as she retreated into her world of sadness and self–pity.
They all continued wordlessly to the parking garage where their cars were located. “I’ll take you home tonight doc,” One tech said as he opened the door for her.
“No way!” The other piped up. “It’s my turn to drive her home. Besides she needs someone to cheer her up. Your boring conversational skills will only bring her down further.”
“Now, wait just a minute here…”
“If you boys don’t mind I’d rather be alone. I think I’ll take the bus home tonight.” The doctor cut in, killing the argument before it could escalate any further. “Enjoy your weekend off.” She turned and left quickly.
It was a short distance from the hospital to the bus stop to catch the last bus tonight.