Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Bus Stop

I've got a few things coming up soon: my short story "Buster" will hopefully be available for online purchase this week, I have a short story in an anthology from Sky Warrior Press called Healing Waves (a charity anthology for Japan) and another in Pill Hill Press' Daily Flash 2012: 366 Days of Flash Fiction (Leap year!). Both anthologies should be out in November sometime.

Here's another unpublished story from the Wayback Machine (seriously, this one 1s at least 14 years old). You know how some people just don't seem comfortable in their own skins? I've met a couple like that. Like they're trying really hard to pretend to be human.

I still like the idea of this story, but if I use it again the actual writing will be totally different.

So right after I got out of college I had this crappy little apartment over on Fifth and Elm. I worked at a bookstore halfway across town and I took the bus to work every day. It was cheaper than paying for car insurance.

There were some people that always rode the same bus I did. You know how it is. We’d all stand there freezing in the winter, and we huddled together under the shelter when it rained. You smile and nod at each other, and when someone doesn’t show in the morning you wonder if they’re okay.

One guy never seemed like he belonged there. I mean, he was there from my first day on the job, but he never really fit with the people at the bus stop. He was a little guy, probably 5”5, bald with a fringe of white hair around his ears. He was always reading a newspaper. He was there when I got to the stop, no matter how early I left the apartment. Every single day he wore a black suit with a maroon tie that looked like it had been ironed. His shoes shone and his briefcase looked brand new all the time.

It was hard to tell how old he was. There was something kind of weird about him. He looked fake, if you know what I mean. His flesh looked shiny, like someone who’s been burned badly, but it was more than that. He didn’t fit into his skin. Like it was a little loose in places, like right above his collar, but too tight over his nose. I never got a good look at his eyes, but I think they were black. He had big fuzzy eyebrows like caterpillars that looked like they were going to jump off his face and attack you.

Every day this guy got on the bus with me and sat in the seat behind the driver and read the paper, never looking up. I got off the bus before he did, so I don’t know where he worked.

This went on for about a year, and me and that guy and a couple of other people were there every single day. I got used to him.

Then one day, something totally crazy happened.

The bus came a few minutes late and we all climbed on. I sat in the front next to the window, across from and a few seats back from the weird guy. The sun wasn’t completely up yet, and I was watching the sky turn pink and red and orange as it rose. About eight blocks from where I got on we stopped again, and a few more people came on the bus. There was a fat lady, and a teenager with a bunch of face piercings, and a chick with a little kid. And an old man. The old man was wearing a black suit and a maroon tie, and he was carrying a newspaper. And I swear to you my eyes just about popped out of my skull. He looked exactly, and I mean exactly, like the guy at my bus stop. Shiny fake skin, bald head, everything. Even the evil caterpillar eyebrows.

But my weird guy was already on the bus, behind the driver, face buried in the newspaper. The new weird guy sat in the seat across from him and began to read his newspaper. I thought the driver would say something, or at least stare, but he closed the door and drove on like nothing happened. My weird guy didn’t even glance up, and neither did the new one. Everyone else on the bus was just reading or dozing or whatever they were doing before. No one seemed to notice the identical guys up front. Not a single person did a double take or stared. Only me.

By this time I was on my knees, staring over the back of the seat in front of me. It was so messed up. I looked back and forth until I knew for certain that those guys could have been twins, or clones. I dropped to the floor and squinted. Even their socks were the same argyle pattern.

I climbed back into my seat. Did they really not notice each other? Maybe they were twins who weren’t speaking and now by some coincidence they started riding the same bus. Maybe they were clones, and neither even knew the other existed. I kept making up stories to explain them. None of the new passengers even noticed them.

For about four or five stops I watched them. Neither of them ever looked up, or seemed to feel me staring.

We got to the stop right before mine. I was pissed, I thought they would sit there, oblivious, until I had to get off too, and I’d miss it when they actually noticed each other. But right after the people got off and on and the bus started moving again, they both suddenly folded their newspapers shut with identical snapping sounds. They raised their heads at the exact same time, and looked at each other.

Yes! My brain screamed. Finally! I sat up straighter so I could see their reactions.

But it was a huge disappointment. They regarded each other calmly, like Zen masters or something, for a few seconds. Then all at once they swiveled their heads around so their gazes were locked on me.

Me. At first I didn’t realize it was me they were staring at, and I glanced at the back of the bus to see what they were watching. There was nothing strange there, so I looked back, and they were still staring at me. My spinal fluid turned to ice, I swear, it was like being watched by a pair of giant insects. Their eyes were all black and shiny and just...malevolent, kind of. But I couldn’t turn away from them either. It was freaky. They knew I’d noticed them. So I guess they decided to notice me, too.

They kept staring with those insect eyes for six blocks, until we got to my stop. When the bus finally sighed to a halt at the intersection I was about to drown in relief, because I mean it, those guys were seriously unnerving. I stood up and God, my knees were shaking. I tried to act as casual as I could, like I didn’t even know those guys were there. I just slung my backpack over my shoulders and went to the front of the bus, and waited behind the line until the door folded open. I was so busy being not- freaked out that I didn’t realize the men had gotten off, too. Not until I heard them step down on the sidewalk behind me.

I started walking before the bus pulled away. I heard them following me, those shiny shoes clicked on the pavement like heels. I kept telling myself I wasn’t scared, even though I was panting like a dog. In a few seconds I’d be at work. They couldn’t do anything to me there.

I was almost there, only a few steps from the green awning of my store when I felt a hand grip my shoulder so hard it hurt. Like if it was the mechanical hand of that guy in Army of Darkness. And then this old dude, who was probably like fifty years older than me, shoved me into that alley between the Irish pub and the lamp store. That alley was really, really dark and narrow and smelled like garbage. He pushed me hard enough that I landed on the ground. I lay there with my backpack poking into my shoulders and stared up at these two guys leaning over me, like mad scientists from a horror movie or something. And their eyes were all black, so you couldn’t even tell where the pupils were or where the irises ended. Like praying mantises. They didn’t move. And I was so scared at that point I couldn’t say anything. Finally one spoke. I don’t know which one, if it was my guy or the new one.

“He saw us. He knows.” The loose skin around his neck wiggled.

“He’s the only one. It’s easily taken care of.”

“It would never have happened if you had been more diligent.”

“It’s impossible to find our assignments in this ridiculous central colony.”

Even though these guys were totally freaking me out, I still noticed that they talked funny, sort of metallic and halting, like if a snake learned to talk. It was right about then that I figured out what they really were, and it was like my spine was full of antifreeze or something.

“Only this one noticed. Those creatures so rarely even look at each other. We can terminate him, and the plan will proceed.” Was it my guy, or the new one? I couldn’t tell. Whichever one it was, I nearly peed my pants when I heard that.

My voice came out all squeaky, and my lips felt numb. “Whoa, guys, wait a sec-”

They kept going as if I hadn’t said anything.

“It may be more advantageous to allow him to live. The others will not believe him. With every denial, their own belief in these things will fade. He will be outcast, and our infiltration will continue.”

Outcast sounded pretty crappy, but it was better than being terminated. I nodded as well as I could, with my skull all squished up in my backpack like it was.

“There must be no more mistakes. We must remain in our designated areas and not be seen together. If he noticed, there will be others. Not many. But we must be careful.”

“I agree.”

So before I knew what was happening these creepy guys both leaned over me at the same time, with these weird plastic-y hands grabbing at me. I opened my mouth to scream but nothing came out. They snatched at my hands- man, it was like being touched by dry ice- and hauled me up and brushed me off. One of them grabbed my shoulder. They walked me out of the alley and back to the street and a marched me down to the store like drill sergeants. One of them opened the door, and the other one shoved me inside.

And I swear to God, when they turned to leave I saw the skin on the neck of one guy kind of ride up, like too-short pants legs, and underneath it was glittery and black and kind of hard-looking. And then they were gone, just like that, and my boss was standing there asking what was my excuse for being late this morning?

That’s exactly how it happened. I remember everything, especially the end part about the skin and the insect shell. I think this is really important information that every American- hell, everyone in the world- needs to know. So I would really appreciate it if you would print this in your magazine. I don’t expect any payment or anything, but it would be kind of nice since you can’t make much money lobbying Congress to look into this stuff, and my job at Skyline Chili doesn’t pay much.

Anyway, thanks for your time and please consider printing my story.

The End

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