A fine drizzle fell from the leaden sky, coating the glass partitions of the bus stop. Dampening the usual routine on a weekday morning, bustling lanes of traffic and pedestrians urgently trying to get somewhere, as soon as possible.
I’d normally take a car-for-hire to the station, but a last-minute call meant I was out the door with half a breakfast bar in one hand, with the other stabbing at the sleeve of my designer raincoat. I had an important presentation due, and if I didn’t make it, there would be hell to pay at work.
Sitting at the bus stop, the peristaltic movement of traffic was making me a bit motion-sick, so I focused on my feet. I had jammed them into the first shoes available. The tops were slightly scuffed, and to my dismay I realized the left sock was the wrong color. Oh bother, this always happens when I’m in a rush.
The slowly winding river of cars opened up just enough for the large bulk of the F8 bus, an express that would take me right to the heart of downtown, avoiding all the time-wasting turnabouts and speed-restricted zones. I stepped up to the faded stripes on the embarkment step, ready to board, when a gaunt man elbowed his way in front of me, large black hat dripping water on my feet.
Bloody rude, I thought. But I kept it to myself, not wanting a scene that would escalate into an argument instead of getting on the bus. He wore a coat that had no emblem or trendy designer name on the back, the seams themselves didn’t even look stitched together. It had more of a gradual transition from one panel to the next. Whoever he was, he had an excellent tailor.
Battered and scratched doors slid aside, wind burnished plastic gleaming with water. Orange and white reflective tape catching the headlights and refocusing it into an optic blast of jarring colors. Stepping aboard, I waited for the rude man to swipe his TransCard and move along. Repeating the ritual, I sat in the first available seat.
Right next to him. Damn and blast. Fine. At least we’d be moving soon.
The bus was full, as it usually was this early in the morning. I closed my eyes, trying to get a bit of shut-eye.
“You shouldn’t be here.”
I opened my eyes, to find the thin man staring at me with an accusatory look.
“What? This is a public bus.”, I couldn’t be bothered to talk to insane people, but he was right next to me.
“This bus isn’t going to make it. I suggest you get off now.”
I blinked. He was absolutely serious. Or crazy, I couldn’t tell.
“I’m staying, thank you. I have an appointment to keep.”
Closing my eyes again, I hoped he would shut up so I could have a brief nap.
“Fine. Have it your way. But you won’t like it.”
I screwed my eyes shut even tighter, willing the intrusion away.
A loud noise, a cross between the screeching of a tire and a heavy WUMP of crushing metal rang from the front. I could feel the entire bus shake and shimmy as the rear axle began sliding out of kilter. I opened my eyes, in time to see a wave of flame burst from the driver’s console.
I could feel the heat, but in a dream-like way. Something reassuring about it, even though everyone around me was screaming and flailing. I was going to get up and help them, but a thin bony hand clamped down on my arm.
“You’d better stay seated.”
The man was no longer wearing a simple black coat and pants, they had changed somehow, a large cowled hood covering his head, only the bleached white of his bony jaw showing. I looked down, and his fingers were only bones. Bones that were firmly wrapped around my arm. I couldn’t move.
The wave of flame danced among the seats in slow motion. Intertwined with the blurred gestures of passengers frantically trying to extinguish themselves. It was like watching a film, but inexplicably accelerated with slowly morphing frames blending into each other.
So this is how death is. How abstract. I felt no pain, the flames roiled around us, melting the plastic of the seats. Cascading images searing themselves into my brain. I couldn’t shut my eyes, or look away. It was horrible.
Time sped up, and I was thrown from the wreck in a fast arc amongst flaming debri and shattered windows. Landing softly as a feather, I lay sprawled on the grassy shoulder with rain pattering on my forehead.
“I won’t be doing that again.”
I looked up, still speechless, at the hooded skeletal figure above me.
“Stubborn humans. When I say leave, you damn well better LEAVE. Lucky for you, it wasn’t your time.”
He turned with a broad sweep of his cloak, like a passing thunderstorm.
Pausing, taking out his scythe, adjusting the blade.
“I reap what is sown. From now until eternity.”
Death stomped back to the bus, visibly annoyed.
I think I’ll just walk the rest of the way…