Skulls, Crosses, and Bones
The New Houseboat on the River Styx
In an airport, you can pretend to lead an exciting life, packed with adventure and international intrigue. You can pretend that everyone around you are boring businessmen and simple stewardesses. You are somebody. You can pretend.
In a bus terminal, you can leave anything behind you for the price of a one-way ticket. The farther the destination, the faster that bus out-runs your past. It disappears. You can leave.
At a train station, there are still wild places in need of taming. Words that have never been spoken. Worlds undiscovered. Sights unseen. New.
Until you die. When you die, you can’t pretend anymore. You can’t leave. You can’t explore. Predestination is not damnation. Having no destination is damnation.
Samantha fought back these thoughts, these tears, as she pulled out her headphones and looked to the woman on the bench next to her. The woman wore torn polyester and a drooping beehive hairdo. The woman anxiously scanned the buses coming and going. Coming and going. Mostly going.
Samantha looked past the woman to the man sitting on the bench just beyond. The man wore torn flannel and a drooping black cowboy hat. The man cracked his knuckles, pulled his hat down over his eyes and leaned back, asleep.
Sam hopped up to her feet and paced over to the driver of the nearest bus.
“Hi!” She said, sweeter than Saturday sugar. The driver looked down smiling at the thirteen year old. After a few seconds of eye contact with Samantha, the strangest change swept his face. His smile bloomed. Into a smile. Feigned became genuine.
Only now did the driver feel inclined to answer the young lady. “What can I do for you, young lady?”
“This is the bus to Gatlinburg, right?” Sam sheepishly asked.
“I’m so sorry, young lady, but this line hasn’t run to Gatlinburg since long before you were born.”
“I know, but couldn’t you drive the bus there, just this once?” Sam sounded like a seasoned seductress. “I’ll pay you whatever you want.”
The driver was practically in tears as he refused. “I’m so so sorry, dear, but I just can’t.” Turning her down was breaking his heart, and he had no idea why. “It’s just that other people have tickets…I would lose my job…I…can’t.”
The driver’s hand shot out, grabbing the side of the bus to steady himself. He still smiled, feeling true elation. Oddly enough, he also felt as if his throat were full of dirt. His smile grew wild as he struggled to breath. Barely standing, he felt as if the weight of the earth was crushing him, his only hope the bright little voice beside him that chirped, “Please?”
The driver was over-saturated with sensation. Thought was no longer an option. Only the dutiful habits of his job remained as he rasped,“…sorry…”
The crushing weight suddenly ceased. So did the strange feeling of joy. The driver straightened and steadied himself, looking down at the little girl in front of him. Samantha’s smile was gone, too. She slide slightly closer, and with a barely noticeable flick of her wrist pressed a butterfly knife against his crotch.
“If I have to cut you, it’ll only be once. I cut fucking deep. Drive the bus to Gatlinburg right now. No stops.”
The driver’s eyes moved side to side. He turned and began to board the bus, yelling “Gatlinburg! All Aboard!”
At the sound of his voice, the beehive woman on the bench jumped to her feet. She ran across the platform, practically leaping onto the bus as the digital sign on it’s front changed to display it’s new destination. Gatlinburg it was. The bus quickly pulled out. The door closed just behind the woman, and as it did, she dissolved in a blinding burst of light that echoed the eerie smile on her face. Coming and going. Finally going.
Sam spoke aloud, seemingly to herself, “None of the other drivers yelled like that. Dumbass must’ve seen it in a movie.”
She turned and strode back to the sleeping cowboy. Sam stomped hard on his foot and he jumped up, awake.
“Ethan,” she said, “you look really skinny. You haven’t been eating enough. I’ll take you out for pancakes.”