By D. Andell
Joel did not like taking the late bus. Due to the nature of his job as a film projectionist, he was used to working nights, but was usually out no later then 10 o’clock which tended to keep a few more passengers on the bus which, in turn, left Joel feeling slightly more comfortable. Tonight, however, was one of those rare occasions where the theater played one of their late, late shows and it was either walk or take your chances with the late bus.
Joel was seriously starting to debate with himself whether or not walking was the better option. He could feel the eyes of the man behind him digging into him like a pick-axe. He had sheepishly watched the big man board the bus just minutes after he had, and had lowered his own gaze when the man glared with dark eyes back at him.
Joel had never been mugged, and he prided himself on not ever having anything worth being mugged for. He worked a fairly menial job and was generally not a man of extravagant tastes, so he had always laughed at the idea of anyone ever trying to steal his wallet or hold him up for some loose change, half a pack of cigarettes, and a bus pass. He wasn’t laughing tonight though. Tonight he was terrified.
He shuffled around in his seat, as if his half-hearted and strategically retarded attempt at a serpentine maneuver would shake the brutish mans gaze. He continued to feel the jackhammer on the back of his skull and knew that it hadn’t.
He looked around the bus for some form of assistance from anyone, but aside from himself, the bus driver, and the beast behind him, the bus was empty. He glanced up towards the elderly bus driver, sadly acknowledging what little help he would be to him. He wondered for a moment, a foolish fantasy, if the old man had a gun in a lock box up front like they do on airplanes, but he doubted it. Even if there was a gun up there, Joel thought, the old man was probably more a danger to himself then to the man sitting behind him.
Joel was on his own, and he knew it. All he could do was wait out his bus stop and pray the man didn’t follow. He looked out the window to get a better idea of where he was and how much longer he would have to sit quietly while his stomach tied itself into Christmas bows. The bus turned the corner at the pharmacy, which meant it would follow the bend past the nursing home and up to the other pharmacy (why the town needed two pharmacies within two blocks of each other had always perplexed him) then down to Main Street. His stop was about halfway down from there. He tried to stay still and ignore his impending sense of dread, but found that trying to look unafraid only made you shake even harder.
The shaking started in his knees, and by the time they passed the second pharmacy, it had worked its way up his torso. His arms were shaking by the time they pulled onto Main Street, and by the time they were approaching Joel’s stop, his hands were shaking so badly that he could barely pull the cord to request a stop.
The bus skidded to a halt, diminishing all hope in Joel’s eyes of making a discreet exit. He shot his shaking hands out to grab the guard rail so he wouldn’t tumble forward and make a further spectacle of himself. Once the bus had come to a complete stop, Joel stood, as calmly as possible, and began to make his way to the front of the bus. He held his breath the whole way, expecting to hear the creek of the big mans seat as he got up to follow him. He reached the bus driver, who looked at him concerned, yet still cheerfully.
Joel was right about the old man probably being more harm to himself then help to Joel. His skin wrinkled, his eyes sunken back in his skull hidden behind thick-lensed glasses. Even his uniform, with its tattered, machine-stitched name badge, let the world know that “Willy,” was well beyond his prime.
Joel smiled at the man before descending the stairs and hoping out onto the side of the road. He continued to hold his breath as the bus doors slide closed behind him, and he didn’t let out until he heard the engine kick to life, and the bus slowly pull away.
He watched it go for a minute, allowing his breathing to return to normal in the cold winter air, before crossing the street into the outskirts of his subdivision.
He followed the curve of the road until it led him to the opening of the old walking trail. Normally he would navigate the twists and turns of his neighborhood to get back to his house, but it was late, he was tired, and he knew full well that the trail would cut a good ten minutes off his walk. He stood at its entrance, looking into the darkness where the tree line started and blocked out all light but a dim glimmer of the moon. He reached into his coat pocket and fumbled out his pack of cigarettes. He pulled a single one from the box, placed it in his lips, and lit it. He took a long, hard drag and stepped into the darkness.
The big man watched the young man shuffle his way to the front of the bus. He watched him look at the bus driver with those scared deer eyes and watched the bus driver look back at him with an ancient, concerned look. He watched him drop down the stairs and hop out onto the side of the road, back stiff as a board.
The bus doors closed and the bus rambled on ahead, and he watched. He let the bus go about a block when he reached up and pulled the stop chord. The bus slowed and stopped, and he lifted his sizeable frame and ambled toward the door. He looked at the feeble old man as he reached the door. The bus driver stared strait ahead out to the road as if looking at the man would turn him to dust. The man climbed down the steps and off the bus, the doors slid closed behind him, and the bus roared off, getting as far away from him as possible.
The man began to back track, slowly but with purpose. He cut the distance quickly, turning down the street the young man had. He stood quietly behind a row of pine trees as he watched the young man stand outside an entrance to a wooded trail. He watched the man fumble with a cigarette, light it, and step onto the path and into the darkened woods. The man smiled to himself, then he walked away from the pine trees and toward the path, following him in.
The man crept up to the entrance to the path, and off in the distance he could see the lit end of the young man’s cigarette glowing in the darkness. He proceeded in slowly, not wanting to alert his prey. A few feet in, he slid on a patch of ice that the sun of the day missed. He regained balance quickly, cursing himself for being so sloppy. Up ahead, he could still see the smoldering red-orange tip moving slowly through the woods, the young man heard nothing and continued his journey unaware of his malevolent companion. The man continued on as well, watching his footing this time, but keeping an eye on the burning ember ahead.
He moved quickly, wanting to close the distance before the young man could reach the end of the trail. Thankfully, the young man expected nothing, so he was taking his time through the woods, making it easier for the man to catch up. From the look of the ember, the young man couldn’t have been more than a couple of yards away. From his coat, the man pulled a long hunting knife. Not the most elegant of weapons, but it got the job done. He continued to close the distance until he was right on top of the young man. He raised the blade, ready to slide it around and across the young man’s throat. With his other hand, he placed it on the young man’s shoulder, and grinned a wide, toothy smile.
Joel groaned as he pulled himself up from the frozen forest floor. He shook his head, clearing the mental cob webs, and tried to piece together what happened. He looked up the slope of the hill to walking trail above. He remembered walking onto the trail and slipping on a patch of ice near the entrance. From there it was a mixture of arms and legs as he went down the slope and into the woods. He stood, still slightly dazed, and began climbing up the hill towards the trail. Once on the top, he turned to continue his trip home, but slipped again. Luckily, this time he caught himself. He looked onward, down the trail. To hell with this, he thought, and he turned back towards the entrance and headed out. He was almost out when he heard a loud snap and then a rustling sound from further down the trail. He waited for a second, but heard nothing more. He continued his way out of the woods and towards the streets to take the safe way home.
The trail itself winds through the backwoods, connecting the north and south ends of town. Between those ends is just under two miles of curving, secluded hiking trail. Inside its tree-lined walls, you can view the sheer beauty of nature without any signs of the busy world outside. On the flip side of the coin, no one out in the busy world can see what goes on inside its well shrouded kingdom. To say it plainly, on the trail in the dead of night, no one can hear you scream.
The wooded trail exits out into a quaint little community park. The baseball and soccer fields are slightly over grown, their seasons long since over. Only a few, meager lights illuminate the closed park. In the shadows at the top of the hill there is a stirring as if something large was being dragged down the hill toward the park. Slowly, the sound is accompanied by a form, lit up not only by the dim park lights, but by the strong lights of a parked and waiting bus. Willy drags the beast of a man down the hill, casually flips open one of the storage compartments, and shoves him inside. Once the storage compartment is sealed tight, the old bus driver pulls an old rag from his back pocket and wipes away at his blood soaked hands. He runs his forearm across his forehead, wiping away a thin sheet of sweat before it can freeze in the cold winter air. He reaches into the front pocket of his uniform, pulls out a pack of cigarettes and lights one. He takes a long drag, then smiles to himself. He takes another long drag before flipping the cigarette out onto the frozen ball fields. He pulls his weary frame up the steps and onto the bus, and in moments, he is gone, out to finish his route.No tags for this post.