Authors: Jaden Kilmer
Act One: Rigor Mortis
The bus hits a speedbump and the window rattles against my head. The glass is cold. The chill seeps through my hoodie and into my head. It’s been raining all day long, but now it starts to pick up with fat globs of raindrops slamming against the window, as if they’re trying to grab my attention. I drown them out by turning up the volume on my iPod. The Smiths get a little louder and I close my eyes.
Another bump in the road. The window vibrates against the side of my head again. I wonder if these rattle-prone windows are intentional, to prevent people from sleeping for too long and missing their stop. It’s not that late, only around four, but the clouds and rain have sucked most of the sunlight away and it wouldn’t be hard to fool yourself into thinking the time to be much later than it is.
There’s a red light up ahead. The bus screeches to a stop and the passengers jerk forward for a moment before settling back into their seats.
I remember the word from my physics lecture just this morning. The tendency of an object to continue its momentum against opposing forces. I don’t want to be an engineer, so exactly what usefulness this bit of knowledge serves me, I don’t know. I guess so I know why those people jerked forwards as the bus stopped?
My eyes drift down to the sleeves on my sweatshirt. The ends are beginning to fray and tear from use. I absently pick at the biggest hole. It’s big enough to fit my index finger.
“Next stop: Noyes,” says the voice on the loudspeaker.
It’s not my stop. It won’t be for a while. An older man gets up from the back of the bus and comes down the aisle. He’s on the larger side and my messenger bag sticks out too far for him to pass by. I hook my foot around the strap and pull it towards me so he can go through.
“Thanks, miss.” He smiles. He’s missing teeth. His breath smells like some sort of alcohol and I’m glad he’s off.
I press my head against the window again and try to sleep. I’ve taken this route often enough to know that this next stretch of road is relatively bump free. If I’m going to sleep at all, now’s my chance.
Even through the hoodie, my arms are getting goosebumps. I pull them back into the body of the sweatshirt and cross them tight against my chest for warmth. Johnny Marr’s guitar fades out and the song changes to one of my favorites: “That Joke Isn’t Funny Anymore.” A slower track, well timed for my sleeping endeavor. It’s also softer, though, and doesn’t quite drown out the rain and other conversations as well as the previous one did.
“I mean, why
we have a football team?” says a man. “I mean, we’re just as big as like, Oakland, and they have a team for basically everything.”
“Well, we’ve got the Trailblazers. That’s something,” says another.
“Yeah, but who watches the
“And the Timbers.”
“The soccer team.”
“We have a soccer team?”
“How do you not know about the Timbers?”
I care nothing for sports. I bring the volume up full blast, focusing on the words of the song, always strangely haunting and cryptic.
It was dark as I drove the point home
And on cold leather seats
Well, it suddenly struck me
I just might die with a smile on my face, after all
I've seen this happen in other people's lives
And now it's happening in mine
All of a sudden, there’s a massive thud and the bus clatters to a stop. It’s abrupt enough to send other passengers sprawling forwards into the backs of the seats in front of them. The bus driver stumbles out the door and whips out his cell phone, and the passengers closer to the front of the bus have expressions of horror and- on more than a couple- nausea. I rise and make my way over closer to the front.
“What’s going on?” I ask a woman.
“I don’t know. I... I hope we didn’t hit something,” she says.
I grab my messenger bag from beneath my seat and hop out the doors. The bus driver is crouched down, cell phone to his ear. There’s a man on the ground beside him. His limbs are all bent the wrong way and his neck looks like it has snapped. My brain yells at me to get back inside, but like a nightmare, I’m too scared to move.
“Yes. Bus 10. No, not breathing. Looks like he’s... looks like he’s dead,” the bus driver says into his cell phone. “I didn’t even see him coming. Like he came from nowhere... no I don’t know if it was suicide. Seems like a horrible way to go, honestly.”
My eyes find the front of the bus. All three bikes perched on the front had been mangled by the impact and the entire front of the bus had cratered. One headlight was blown out. The other shines a ray of light refracted by the sheets of rain. I know there was a lot of force going on here, but the damage just seems oddly severe. I think to myself perhaps inertia or some other term I learned in physics would explain it. Though if there is one, I’ve forgotten it.
I hear the muffled cry of a siren in the distance. A low, melancholy wail piercing through the sounds of the city. I can’t tell if it’s an ambulance, fire truck, or police car. I hope it’s the ambulance for the man lying beside the bus. Otherwise, that means there’s another person dead or dying in this city.
There’s movement out of the corner of my eye. I can’t tell for sure, but I could’ve sworn I saw the man’s arm twitching, like a dead bug. I watch the body for a little while longer, but it remains lifeless. It’s time to get back on the bus, I tell myself. The rain is soaking through my hoodie, and there’s nothing else to see here.
And then it happens.
The man’s limbs all snap back into place at once with a sickening cracking sound. He snaps his own neck back in place and leaps to his feet. He grabs the bus driver by the shoulders and screams at him: “WHY. WON’T. I. DIE?”
The bus driver can only begin, but not end, his questions. “I... what.. I.. how...?”
The man looks directly into the bus driver’s eyes and appears to whisper something to him. He shoves the bus driver away and takes off faster than I’ve ever seen a man run, slipping through the curtain of rain.
“What was that?” I ask the driver.
“What was what?”
“I don’t know what you mean.” Then, his eyes find the bus, and it’s like he’s seeing it for the first time. “How... how did that happen?”
“You don’t know?”
“No... It’s getting cold. I should... I should get back inside and call for help. I think... I think someone’s been hurt.”
The conversation’s not going anywhere. My fingers beginning to numb from the rain and my blonde hair has probably been stained brown. I don’t have the patience to run around in circles with him. I rub my arms to try to fight the cold a bit and start walking. My house is many blocks away, but that’s not where I’m going.
I pull out my phone and text my friend Dodger:
Coming over. cold. have coffee ready.
Thirty seconds later, a response.
The scene outside the bus runs through my head, a video stuck on replay. As I walk to Dodger’s, I see the man get up, snap his neck back into place, and scream “why won’t I die” five more times. It never makes any more sense.
My messenger bag bumps against my right leg as I walk. I find myself hoping my books haven’t gotten wet, as if
the worst thing that’s happened in the last ten minutes. The rain shows no signs of letting up. Rivulets of rainwater gush off gutters. If I look down, the puddles will double as mirrors. A truck speeds by and the tires kick up a puddle into a wave which I scurry away from just in time. I look up at the sky, and feel as if the sun has abandoned us.
Dodger’s apartment. The front door is crafted from a reddish-brown type of wood I can’t identify. An iron knocker crafted in the shape of a lion greets me. I bypass the archaic knocker for the doorbell. Dodger’s pet labrador retriever barks.
“Yeah, yeah! I got it, Bruce. Shh! It’s just Scout.”
The door opens. Dodger greets me with short, blue hair and a perfect smile.
“Hey! You look like hell...” she says.
“Come in. Please. Take the hoodie off. Let me get your coffee.”
I take off my hoodie and place it on her coat rack. Bruce comes running over to me and buries his head into my thigh, tail wagging.
“Hey, dude! How are you?” I ask in that high-pitched voice people reserve for dogs and babies. I scruff the top of his head and behind his ear and he licks my cheek. “Awww you’re such a good boy, Bruce!”
“I swear he likes you more than me,” says Dodger, mug of coffee in her hand.
“That was quick.”
“You’re welcome, by the way.”
I take the mug and chuckle.
“So Scout, why you here? What’s eating you?”
I’m in mid-sip when the question comes, and accidentally burn my tongue as I answer. “Mmm. Yes. Okay. Craziest thing happened today on the bus. You have to hear this.”
“Spill.” She plops onto a couch and pats the cushion next to her. “I like stories.”
I sit, taking care not to spill my coffee. “Okay so I’m on the way home, right? And I’m trying to get some sleep on the bus. And all of a sudden there’s a huge
at the front of the bus.”
“Oh my god did it crash? Was the driver fried or something?”
She meant drunk. Dodger would do this thing where she speaks using archaic words and sayings like ‘bee’s knees’ or ‘everything’s Jake.’ Over the few months I’ve known her, I’ve come to know what most of them mean. Probably slang from whatever state she lived in before Oregon.
“Sorta. Not really.” I say. “There was... a man. And nobody saw him coming but it’s like he just jumped in front of the bus. And, and, it looked like the man was dead, of course...”
“Well I’d imagine.”
“But he wasn’t. He gets up, and I swear Dodger he cracks his bones back into place, he screams at the bus driver and he runs away.”
“Ha, okay good one. You slay me, Scout. Almost got me there.”
“No I swear! I got out of the bus to see what happened, and the bus driver’s there kneeling by what I
is a dead guy and all of a sudden he gets up, screams ‘why won’t I die’ and takes off running. Oh! And the driver didn’t even remember what happened! That was the scariest part! He didn’t even remember why the bus had been damaged.”
“Wait, hold up. Bus damaged from colliding with a person?”
“Yes. Looked like it went toe-to-toe with a car. But it wasn’t a car. It was a man.”
All levity drains from her face. Dodger’s expression turns to horror.
“You okay, Dodger?”
pause. “Scout, if you’re warmed up, I think it’s best if you go home now.”
“Scout. Please. Take my hoodie if yours isn’t dry yet.”
“Dodger please, what’s wrong?”
“I just need some time here. Text me as soon as you get home.”
I hate when Dodger does this. She has this quirk where she could turn this bubbly, warm personality into one that seemed more like an adult’s. Dark, brooding, serious and no-nonsense.
“Okay,” I say, taking her hoodie off the rack. I’m about to step out the door when I’m suddenly reminded of a question I had been meaning to ask her for a long time. “Dodger, where are your parents?”
“It’s just, I’ve never seen them. And every time I come over they’re not here.”
“I guess I’m the one who’s more ‘away.’ I moved out of their place last year to live on my own.”
“I don’t understand. You’re fifteen, you can’t live on your own.”
“Maybe one day, you will.” She flashes this knowing smile and I think to myself again that she really has
teeth. Her smiles are so pretty. Even when she’s being annoyingly cryptic.
“One day,” I say, stepping outside into the storm again. The rain is letting up; a sliver of sunlight pierces through the clouds. But only for a moment, and then it’s snuffed out like a candle. The wind picks up and swirls the rain about as it falls to the ground. I walk over to the nearest bus stop, about a block away. There’s a sign next to the steel bench listing the arrival times. Wiping away droplets of rain, I find the next bus comes in fifteen minutes. I slide my messenger bag beneath the bench and plug in to my music again.
Several minutes pass by. As Morissey starts to sarcastically mourn his girlfriend in a coma, a tall, gruff man in a leather jacket tries to get my attention.
“Sorry, what?” I ask, flicking out an earbud.