by Steven Cuffari
I got on the bus like every night and was greeted with the stern face of my least favorite bus driver in the world. For some reason, he hated me. Or everyone. He never failed to close doors in my face, shout obscenities at me and offer nothing but contempt.
I took a seat directly behind him and began to read a book. Throughout the ride, I would look up as the bus stopped and watch as another passenger got off. The bus driver was in rare form that night. He managed to commit unspeakable acts of rudeness, callousness and outright douchebaggery. Being the sympathetic person that I am, I shook my head in condemnation and did nothing. That is, until it was almost my stop.
A little old lady who I had seen many times before was getting onto the bus very slowly. I could hear from where I sat that the bus driver was getting frustrated with her, and he mumbled something about being late. Just as the little old lady got her walker on the first step, the bus driver cursed her and closed the doors, knocking her down. I heard her scream in pain as the bus began to pull away. Then I had to at least say something.
“What are you doing?” I asked him.
He snapped his head back and looked at me with the most menacing face I had ever seen. He abruptly stopped the bus in the middle of the street, and I almost fell into the stairwell. He hit the switch for the doors, and they hissed open. As I regained my balance, he got up and grabbed me. He was so strong, unbelievably strong. He dragged me to the back of the bus, lifting me off the floor at times. When we got to the back door, he shouted, “Exit through the rear doors please!” and all but threw me from the bus. Then he tossed my bag in my face and flipped me off.
I watched in awe as the doors closed and the bus left. I looked around the desolate area in which he had left me and thought that I should go help the woman. But when I saw a taxi approaching, I couldn’t resist taking the path of least resistance. I hailed it and got in.
“You’re my savior. 51st and Lexington, please.”
“You got it,” said the driver.
As we drove we caught up to the bus, and as luck would have it, we stayed behind it for several blocks. I couldn’t help thinking about what the bus driver had done to that poor little old lady. I thought about how he just left her there in pain, and I began to feel an itch for revenge.
Finally, the bus turned a corner, and my taxi caught a red light. I watched as it turned into a seemingly abandoned building. It didn’t look like the MTA at all. So just as the light turned green, I told the taxi driver to let me out.
“Right here is fine,” I said.
“But we’re still twenty blocks away.”
“It’s okay. Right here is fine.” I handed him a ten and told him to keep the change. I got out and walked toward the street where the bus had gone and was startled when I heard the taxi’s tires screech. I looked back as it pulled away, but kept walking.
I turned the corner cautiously and tried to stay in the shadows as I approached the abandoned building. Its ancient brick walls were weathered and crumbling. When I looked inside, there was no sight of the bus. There was only a corridor lined with disintegrating archways leading into darknesses which I am now grateful to have never seen. It gave me the chills even then. Still, I crept inside.
The corridor led me to a courtyard that was completely empty and open to the sky. I could see that there had been something there in the past. Footprints of structures were all that remained. The ground was wet, which was odd since it had not rained in days. But it meant nothing to me at the time.
Finally, I heard voices coming from one of the archways, and I was compelled to follow them. There was a light coming from the glassless window of a room inside. I crouched beneath it and listened.
“You have collected enough specimens, Randolph, you may return home now.” He spoke as a leader might to speak to a subordinate.
“Thank you, sir. It means a lot to me to finally get off this stinking rock.”
The true topic of their conversation eluded me until much later. I was so curious to know what they were talking about that I needed to see them. I carefully peeked in through the window and saw that it was the bus driver. He was standing in front of another man who was also dressed as a bus driver.
“I’ll remove your uniform now, and we can start the procedure to send you home,” said the leader.
I was confused as I watched and listened. My confusion turned into dreadful understanding when the leader traced a pattern on the bus driver’s forehead as if he were some sort of priest making a blessing. The bus driver’s skin began to disintegrate around him, at first melting, then evaporating and finally turning to dust in a cloud around him. I watched, wide-eyed with curiosity. The haze began to clear and suddenly, it was gone. Standing before me then was a creature so hideous that I gasped and ducked back beneath the window.
“What was that?” said the leader.
I heard a gurgled response from what I believed to be the bus driver, and then the sloshy sound of footsteps coming toward me. I closed my eyes and held my breath praying to any god that would listen. I was paralyzed. But to my surprise, the sounds and the voices stopped, and I slowly allowed myself to breath again. But I screamed in horror when I opened my eyes to see the bulbous, fleshy thing before me.
It reached out for me with what I can only call arms that seemed to crackle like bones being broken in reverse. It put its makeshift form around me and looked at me with what I can only call eyes, that seemed to organize themselves ad hoc to watch me as I squealed and trembled in horror. It watched me with joy, and soon the unmistakable sound of laughter began to echo in my ears from some part of its shape.
The next thing I knew I was here. But I’m not sure I know what “I” and “here” mean anymore. I tell myself stories about myself over and over hoping that I don’t forget who or what I am. It’s all slipping away.
What I believe now is that these bus drivers had taken over the abandoned building to conduct experiments on humans. When my bus driver caught me spying, he decided to take me home as a disembodied pet.
I sit here day in and day out, always conscious and seeing, hearing, unable to move, and I see my globular owner pass by. It often stops to admire me, its pet. But I don’t understand what joy it gets from it. Sometimes, some reflective surface passes before what I can only call my eyes, and I see myself. I, or what I believe to be left of “I”, am relegated to a glass box filled with amorphous, colorful smoke. As far as I can tell, I am the smoke. Seeing my owner as its true self still makes my mind shudder. And I regret, with what I have left of that concept, ever having gotten out of that taxi.