The speedometer panel gave the interior of the car a liquid green glow. Doug Meyers ran his palm through his closely trimmed brown hair and gazed ahead as far as the high beams doused the darkness.
The cassette tape played out the final festive verse of Yellow Submarine – the speakers vibrating as Ringo wrapped up his little ditty about how enjoyable life was for he and his friends aboard the yellow vessel.
The lyrics faded into a few moments of dead air. The tape sputtered and hissed, then stumbled into the next song. The speakers crackled with sitar music, followed by John Lennon’s melancholy voice, as he sang about a woman who claimed to know how it felt to be dead. Doug closed his eyes and rubbed his temples with circular motions.
“Can we listen to something from this decade?” Doug said.
Eric hunched closer to the steering wheel and adjusted the volume control knob.
“Do you have a problem with the Beatles?”
Doug glanced at Eric, who straightened his body and leaned back in the driver’s seat. One of Eric’s hands rested in his lap and the other was looped around the steering wheel in a two-fingered grip. Doug squeezed the bridge of his nose between his fingers.
“No, I don’t. I’m sorry. It’s just that we are supposed to be having fun and you’re listening to this.” Doug said.
Eric lifted his hand out of his lap and pushed his wire-framed glasses higher on his nose.
“If you want to have fun, let’s go pick up Rick and Tom.”
“No!” Doug pressed his head against the passenger window and watched the gravel shoulder being sucked behind Eric’s yellow Subaru. Fun with Rick and Tom was always at someone else’s expense. Since Doug was the smallest in the group, that meant him.
The first time, they had locked him in the trunk of a car and left him in a loading zone. They all went out for beers and laughter while Doug spent the night cuddling with a spare tire. He had let that pass after some time as an initiation into their group, and they had apologized and promised never to do it again.
When everything was going fine again, Doug let his guard down and Rick and Tom grabbed him and locked him in a utility locker at the clubhouse. While they were having beers and laughing and bragging about their exploits, Doug’s legs were cramping up and he was vowing to get even with them this time. He gave up on that idea as he spent that dark sweaty night unable to free himself. He realized there were some forces that just couldn’t be beaten. Besides, maybe Rick and Tom would drink themselves into an early grave. That would be revenge enough for him and he wouldn’t even have to get his hands dirty.
Doug turned to Eric, who was holding the steering wheel with both hands and mouthing the words to the song playing from the tape deck. Eric realized that Doug was watching him.
“Look, not every song can be a happy dance tune. I like songs that have meaningful lyrics too,” Eric Said.
“They don’t mean anything. They’re just depressing.” Doug bit at his fingernails, but they had already been bitten down too low for him to extinguish his anxiety. He stared ahead at approaching headlights, miniature dots on the horizon. He glanced down at the cassette deck, then over at Eric.
Eric clicked the low beams on and swayed with the music as he pulled himself back in his seat. Doug took advantage of this opportunity while Eric’s guard was down. He grabbed the volume control knob. His hand was around it before Eric realized what was happening. Eric yanked himself closer to the steering wheel and batted at Doug’s grip.
The Subaru straddled the center stripe as the control knob popped off and hit the floor of the car with a dull thud.
“Now what?” Eric said, as if the answer to life itself was in the plastic control knob that rolled just out of reach in the shin deep darkness of the car’s floorboard.
“Just trying to have fun,” Doug said with a grin.
Doug seized his second opportunity to catch Eric off guard and jabbed at the cassette player buttons. Instead of hitting eject, he accidentally hit fast forward. John Lennon’s voice, now a high-pitched squeal, raced through the song on what sounded like a helium high.
Eric’s glasses slid down the bridge of his nose as he groped for the cassette deck. He hunched over to stop the tape’s reckless forward motion. A bright wave of white light lapped over the interior of the car, sweeping across Doug like a searchlight exposing a prison break. A car horn shrilled then faded like the squawk of distant geese. Eric jerked the wheel reflexively while trying to push his glasses back into place with his other hand.
Doug watched as everything inside the car changed to slow motion, except for the cassette tape still racing toward the end. The car seemed to constrict. Outside, the gravel shoulder raced by, as if taking its cue from the squealing cassette tape. Doug was reminded of nightmares of falling – once the fall had started, there was nothing that could be done, but wait until the ground was inches away and be jolted awake by reality.
“God please wake me up,” Doug whispered, hoping it wasn’t too late for prayer.
Doug saw in his peripheral vision, Eric’s hand move sluggishly to his glasses, then reverse motion and clutch the steering wheel tightly, fighting with the weight of the car. Another flood of white light washed over the interior of the car. Eric yanked the wheel. The Subaru skidded around the headlights and off the road, flattening a path through a patch of tall grass. Doug saw a large oak tree racing toward the Subaru along the headlight beams. He heard the cassette tape reach the end and the button extend. He saw the console spit out the tape, as if it were disgusted with the taste. The Subaru collided with the oak in a final metallic crunch. The car collapsed around him and all was darkness.
Doug opened his eyes to a different kind of darkness – blind darkness void of temperature and sound. As he tried to blink his eyes to focus, he realized that none of his senses were being satisfied. The silence that droned in his head tried to trick his mind into believing it was external, but he recognized the painful ring of complete silence. He had Rick and Tom to thank for that. He tried to feel his way around in the darkness. He felt enclosed, confined on all sides, bit it wasn’t terribly uncomfortable. It was the dense darkness – the unknown that made him want to thrash out in all directions in a claustrophobic panic.
He tried to jerk his body up into a sitting position, but bumped his head, so he laid back down and tried to focus on his surroundings. Give it a little time, he thought and the darkness will evaporate. Everything will be fine, familiar shapes will appear – the empty Coke can on the stereo speaker, the paperback novel sticking out a bookmark tongue, daring to be read. Doug waited for a time, but how long he wasn’t sure. Complete darkness had distorted time also.
Doug raised his numb arm above him and felt an invisible boundary in the dark. He pushed upward with a flattened palm. The darkness answered with a creak, and a flood of warm light and cool air washed over him. Doug sat up slowly, grimacing as dull pain reverberated through his bones.
He tried focusing in the new light, but the edges of his vision were blurred, giving the objects in the unfamiliar room a halo effect. He was in what appeared to be a dimly lit parlor. There were numerous flower arrangements positioned strategically to give the room the breath of life it needed. There were empty metal folding chairs lined up in rows of ten facing him, as if anticipating some kind of show. The musty odor of worn in carpet deodorizer hung over the room like a bad memory and made it difficult to breathe. The only sound was the rapid, rhythmic ticking of a second hand on a wall clock across the room.
Doug concentrated on the face of the clock, but the numbers ran together into one indecipherable tangle of black and white. He shook his head trying to focus, but all he saw was a round shape hanging in the corner of the room like a stereotypical sun in a child’s drawing.
Doug glanced down at the loose fitting suit that draped around his frame and followed it to where it ended at his bare feet. A memory flickered – If you want to have fun, let’s go pick up Rick and Tom. He scanned the empty room. You can take a joke too far and then it stops being funny. I’m going to get Eric for this. I told him I didn’t want anything to do with Rick and Tom anymore.
He swung his legs over the edge and dropped onto the stiff, thin carpet below. He shut the lid, and then turned to face the silent rows of chairs.
“This show has been postponed,” he said. He glanced down at the neatly pressed suit. He craned his neck to look over his shoulder at the back. That explained the draft he felt on his back. It opened like a hospital gown.
“Nice touch.” Yeah, Rick and Tom were jerks, but he had to give them credit for outdoing their previous work on this prank. It was years ahead of being locked in a gym locker. He shook his head to clear the fog. He couldn’t let his anger diminish. He had to pay a visit to Eric before it did. He glanced back down at his bare feet and his anger flared up again.
When Doug arrived at Eric’s house, all of the windows were dark, staring back at him like the hollow sockets of a skull. Eric’s monstrosity of a yellow car was not in the driveway, but he figured it was probably in the garage. He assumed it was late by the way the shadows drooped heavily off the eaves of the house. The cool grass chilled his feet. He curled his toes, trying to warm them. Taking his shoes was the lowest part of this prank. He eased up to Eric’s bedroom window and tapped lightly on the pane of glass with his fingertips.
Eric was dreaming… a stray white cat found its way to Eric’s house. No matter how hard he tried to find it a home, he was unsuccessful. As a last resort, Eric drove the cat out to the country, twenty miles away and left it purring beside the road. Eric sped away glancing in the rear view mirror as the cat shrunk to a tiny dot of a memory behind him before he reached the first curve in the road. When Eric glided into his driveway, the cat was sitting underneath his bedroom window, staring at him with his accusing speckled green eyes. Eric hurried up the front walk. The cat raced toward him and slinked through Eric’s rapid strides. The cat rubbed against Eric’s legs. He had to slow his pace to keep from stumbling. The front walk seemed to increase impossibly in length. The cat’s slinking became audible, like a hand saw trying its best to chew through an obstinate piece of lumber. He could hear the rapid, rhythmic beating of the cat’s heart. Eric tried to brush the cat away with sweep of his foot, and was horrified to see the cat’s white body grossly grafted with Doug’s head in place of its own. It’s deep hollow sockets glared at Eric and let out an excruciating MEOW. Eric tried to brush it away again, this time with more of a kick that a sweep of his foot. The cat’s high-pitched MEOW somehow formed into words…MEOW – “Me -How could you?” Bright green speckled fluid oozed out of the cat’s dark human eye sockets. The cat’s heartbeat increased in volume – a crazy drum solo in the cold winter night…Eric shot up in bed into a sitting position shedding the dream as his eyes opened groggily in the dark familiar surroundings of his room. He fumbled for his glasses and pasted them clumsily on his face. He squinted wearily toward the window expecting to see the familiar black outline of the shrubs that crowded expectantly outside his bedroom window brushing against the glass in the breeze.
Instead, there was a pale almost unrecognizable smudge of a face pressed against the pane. Eric’s skin turned cold. His bowels tightened, then threatened to release. He tried to scream, but only a deep throaty whisper escaped.
“I’m going to get you for this! I can’t believe you did this to me! Doug shouted.
Eric glanced down at his leg in its cast to get his bearings with a dose of reality. The cast was tattooed with the graffiti of best wishes and signatures from friends. He looked in the corner beside his bed at his crutches propped against the wall, and then back to the window.
“It was an accident,” Eric whispered in the darkness. “It was just as much your fault.” Eric’s voice increased slightly in volume but still trembled.
Doug couldn’t hear Eric over his own shouting. His tapping escalated to pounding on the window.
“We’re finished!” Doug’s anger churned from deep within his empty gut and bubbled up until he had to release. How could he once again having fallen victim to the pranks of his peers? “Damn it Eric! At least let me have my shoes back, my feet are freezing.” Doug lifted one of his legs awkwardly with his hands to waist level displaying the pale dirty sole to Eric through the window for added emphasis.
Eric flinched and his blood turned cold in his veins. He groped in the darkness, trying to find something to defend himself from the unwelcome intrusion into his reality. His fingers found a clay flowerpot, a memento from his hospital stay, on his bed side table.
“Go away!” Eric hurled the pot like a baseball at the ghostly image outside of his bedroom window. It shattered one of the window panes and bounced off of Doug’s forehead, opening a dry wound. Doug stumbled backwards and tumbled clumsily over the shrubs.
“You’re dead!” Eric screamed, his voice screeching like long nails across the blackboard sky. He snatched up his battery-powered alarm clock, cocking his arm to throw it next. He glanced over his shoulder at the clock’s face and relaxed his arm as if he had suddenly discovered a value in the cheap clock he hadn’t realized before. He brought it close to his chest with both hands.
Doug struggled to his feet. His stomach sank like a stone in a river. “What did you say?” He said to the window that separated him from Eric. Behind Eric, a hallway light came on. A silhouette cautiously filled the doorway of Eric’s bedroom. Doug took one last glance at Eric clutching the alarm clock, as if it were his only possession, then fled into the night on numb feet, his ribs rattling with every stride.
Doug slowed from a sprint to a trot, then to a slow cautious step when he was a safe distance from Eric’s hysterical ranting. The usual stabbing pain in his side that he had come to expect after running any long distance was absent. He recalled flashes of pastures and startled livestock, faint odors of manure and fresh soil as he had run for his life away from Eric. He remembered glimpses of farms and farmhouses, their warm yellow lights blinking into life as he had passed and snuffed out again like candles in the chilly breeze, while dogs howled at his scent trespassing on their territory.
Doug stopped on the edge of a dirt road beyond the last farm he had seen. Another dog barked after him, then the wind shifted direction and the dog fell silent. Doug gazed up at the glittering night sky. The stars winked at him as if they all shared some dark secret about the vast universe and what lay beyond. Was it true, he wondered, that somebody could find his way home by using the stars as a guide? He glanced down at his feet, then at the empty road that stretched until it was swallowed by the darkness. He shrugged his shoulders at the ridiculous thought. He glanced skyward again. One star was particularly bright. Maybe it wasn’t so ridiculous. He started down the dirt road, its surface was cool and soothed the soles of his feet.
To his left, a scarecrow sprouted above the rows of corn stalks. The cool breeze and the bright moonlight worked together to animate the scarecrow. Its hand-me-down clothes tattered by time and shredded by whatever it had been planted to scare away, fluttered in the breeze giving it the illusion of a living human dancing above the corn.
“Hey neighbor,” a gravely voice, with a hint of sarcasm croaked from the darkness.
Doug spun around to confront the owner of the voice, but he was alone. The voice had faded to a faint octave as if it was coming from a deep hole in the ground. It danced on the wind like a runaway kite.
“What took you so long?” The voice seemed to come from the darkness ahead, then the wind shifted and it was off to his right.
Doug noticed the lattice outline of a chain link fence running parallel to the road. Like the road, it extended until it disappeared into the night. Its rusty gate stood slightly ajar. A blue sign with white lettering which read “Friendship Cemetery” hung against the mesh frame of the gate like a medallion. The sign clinked rhythmically against the gate in the wind.
“Welcome,” a voice battered by a lifetime of cigarettes chuckled from somewhere behind the gate.
Doug jumped and picked up his pace. He told himself it was just the wind playing tricks on him as he took longer, quicker strides.
“Hey, Pardner,” the voice seemed closer, just over his shoulder. “Where do you think you’re going?”
Doug broke into a trot. He felt a chilly breath on the back of his neck. He shot a quick glance over his shoulder for its source, but behind him, there was only the gate with its dancing sign swallowed by the darkness behind him as he plunged deeper into the void ahead.
“Quiet Scout, it’s me,” Doug snapped in a harsh whisper. A growl rumbled from deep in the black hound’s throat. Scout’s ears stood up straight as he sprang forward and let out a low barking yelp.
“Scout, quiet!” Doug was on his hands and knees digging through his mother’s garden. He found the odd shaped rock that looked different than all of the others. It had a blue tint to it and was too round to be a formation of nature. He turned it over in his dirt caked hands and slid the latch on the bottom revealing the copper key.
Scout barked a warning and lunged closer to Doug. He stood up and glared at the dog he had known since he was a young boy. Scout dropped back with his head tucked down low as if expecting a beating. He growled again and gave a final bark, then retreated to the darkness of the yard.
Doug stood, smelling like damp earth in the darkness at the edge of his parents’ bed. His parents’ breathing was labored as they slept restlessly.
“Mom, I’m scared,” Doug said.
Scout growled from outside, beneath the bedroom window.
“I know you are,” she whispered groggily from behind the veil of sleep. “It’ll be fine.”
“I don’t feel right. Can I stay here?” Doug said.
Scout’s growl grew a little stronger.
“I’m sorry. I want you to stay, but you can’t, she whispered almost incoherently.
“But Mom, I don’t know what to do,” Doug said in a trembling whisper.
“It’ll be okay,” his Mom said.
He watched his sleeping parents, seeing their true age for the first time in their labored breathing and the tense expressions on their faces as they dreamed.
“Good night Mom.” Doug said.
“Goodbye,” she said groggily.
Doug crept through the dark hallway, toward the back door. Scout’s growl raced around the house to confront him as he shut the door to everything he had known before.
Doug’s mother was dreaming. A seven-year-old Doug stood in the darkness beside her bed as thunder rumbled outside the bedroom window.
“Mom, I’m scared,” the seven-year old Doug said.
Thunder rolled beneath the bedroom window.
“I know you are,” she whispered. “It’ll be fine.”
“I don’t feel right. Can I stay here?” Doug said.
The thunder grew louder.
“I’m sorry. I want you to stay, but you can’t, she mumbled almost incoherently.
“But Mom, I don’t know what to do,” the young Doug said in a trembling whisper.
“It’ll be okay,” his Mom said.
Doug’s parents’ breathing filled the room as they dreamed.
“Goodbye Mom.” Doug said.
“Good night,” she said groggily.
In her dream she watched helplessly as Doug disappeared into the dark hallway. The thunder rolled with him as if guiding him on his way before exploding into a final thunderous clap.
Doug’s father was jolted out of his sleep by the clap of what had been thunder in his dream, but what he recognized upon waking as the familiar sound of the back door closing. Scout was barking fiercely and growling from deep in his throat. It sound as if he had something or somebody cornered.
Doug’s father bolted from the bed and raced cautiously to the back door. Scout was at the gate still barking at something beyond it. Doug’s father opened the back door slowly.
The dog jumped back from the gate his barking ceased. He trotted over to Doug’s father and licked his hand and wagged his tail rapidly.
“What are you barking at?”
The dog stared at him as if to say, “If you only knew.”
“Well it looks like you scared them off. Good dog.” He noticed the trail of soil from the garden to the back door. The unnatural rock had been tossed on the back patio, its hidden hatch was open and empty. He bent down and picked it up, then glanced back toward the gate where Scout had returned. The dog barked out a warning to any other dog that might be listening, Other dogs answered with distant yelps.
“Good dog,” Doug’s father said as he stepped back inside and shut the door. He wedged one of the chairs from the dining room table between the doorknob and the tile floor. He inched through the darkness back to the bedroom and slid into bed beside his wife. Her body was warm but it shivered in the darkness.
“Are you okay? Do you need another blanket?”
“I dreamed about Doug again,” she said in an exhausted voice.
“It’s okay.” It’s going to be hard to let go,” he said.
“It was different this time. It was so real. He was a kid and there was a storm. He wanted to stay in here with us because he was scared. But I told him to run along and he did. Why didn’t I stop him? She turned away from her husband and pulled a pillow tightly against her body.
“This is going to take time to get through.” He pulled her closer and felt her body trembling and hoped that she could not feel his body trembling too. He had dreamt the same dream as his wife. He kissed her lightly on the back of her neck hoping it would comfort and reassure her. They were unable to sleep until well after the sun came up the next morning.
The junkyard fence seemed to bulge outward, barely containing the contorted and twisted skeletons of wrecked and forgotten cars piled on top of each other like layers of sediment marking the passage of time. Each one of them told a story of how they got here to anyone who took the time to stop, look and listen. The older models were close to the ground. The newer models at the top gestured obscenely at the dark sky. Some of the wrecked cars jutted out of the pile, as if making a final attempt to break free from the mass grave of steel and fiberglass.
Doug stared through the chain link fence over the rows of twisted vehicles that stretched farther than he could see, color after color until the colors seemed to bleed into the indigo horizon. He gripped the fence tightly as the wind kicked up, waking flurries of dust and debris. The red and white KEEP OUT sign attached to the fence by a makeshift wire looped through its top corners vibrated against his chest in the breeze as if it were his own heart. He could hear the ticking and settling of the cars as they seemed anxious to prove that they still had a spark of life left. They seemed to communicate in a secret code amongst themselves.
He gazed across the layers of history confined before him. He tried to put faces with some of the cars and the people who had driven them, lost their innocence in them, lost their lives. A gust of wind brushed past him whistling through the fence and rocking the cars into life. He noticed the yellow shape near the top of the pile. The wind thrashed the license plate which dangled like a loose tooth against what remained of the crumpled bumper. At first he thought he had misread it, so he closed his eyes then reopened them expecting to see just a random scramble of letters and numbers. Instead, he saw what he was afraid he had seen. The familiar NBTWEEN – it was Eric’s personalized plate.
Doug’s knees weakened. He tightened his grip on the fence to support his unsteady legs. He watched a new gust of wind made visible by the swirling dust and debris ripple through the tree tops and cross the street toward him. The wind shoved a tattered newspaper into his pale face. He peeled it away realizing it was an obituary page. He released it not wanting to know any more. The wind snatched it and reversed its direction. It flew across the street like a clumsy black and white bird. It landed on top of one of the swaying trees clutching the greenery with one of its flimsy paper wings. It tried to hang on but was sucked away swirling into the darkness like water down a drain.
Doug dragged his bare feet down the sidewalk. Their dirty white foundations stuck through gaps in his discolored flesh. His hair was tangled, damp and heavy on his neck. He could smell its wet moldy odor. His eyes had lost most of their color and had sunk deep into his dark sockets. His fingernails were long and gray and their moons had yellowed. Pedestrians approaching him hugged the edge of the sidewalk giving him plenty of room to pass. Some of them took a second and even a third look back to assure themselves what they had seen had been real. This reminded Doug of the cold reception Eric had given him when he paid the late night visit a while ago.
He glanced at the broken bank clock across the street. Its numerals were frozen in some kind of electric limbo. A lemon colored car sped by him in the opposite direction, its radio turned up to full volume pumping out a rhythm as it skipped from one lane to the next. Doug glanced down at his feet, then back at the clock. He turned to look for the lemon colored car, but it was gone.
A thin woman with a yellow scarf tied tightly in her gray hair hobbled down the concrete steps of the bank. Her face was flushed and her breathing was short and fast. Still she nodded at Doug and smiled as if he were an old friend, then she sat down on the last step to catch her breath, placing the palm of her hand on her chest. Doug smiled back, his skin dry and tight at the corners of his mouth.
The bus was approaching with a mechanical growl as it strained to pick up speed. Doug took a final glance at the broken bank clock and wondered how he could have ever thought it had all been as simple as only being a prank. He jumped up and limped hurriedly toward the bus stop.
A tall, well groomed man in a blue suit was leaning against the bus stop sign reading a newspaper. Doug staggered up beside him.
“I’m dead.” Doug said.
The man reluctantly peeled himself away from his newspaper and glared at Doug. The man’s eyes narrowed at what he saw. He grimaced, then buried his nose back in his paper.
“I’m dead tired myself, but it’s from working. You ought to try it some time,” the man said from behind his paper.
“I don’t want anything from you,” Doug said. I just wanted to tell someone.
The bus glided to the curb. When the doors opened, the man in the blue suit tucked his paper under his arm and scrambled up the steps. He dropped his change into the slot and rushed to the back of the bus and took refuge behind his paper.
Doug struggled up the steps and was past the first row of seats when the driver turned and yelled.
“Hey! You can’t ride this bus.
A balding man in the front seat pressed against the window and covered his nose with a handkerchief.
“Why not?” Doug said.
“Because you don’t have the fare,” the driver said.
“Get off the bus now,” a voice from the rear of the bus joined in as an ambulance wailed by in the opposite direction toward the bank.
“Get off the bus now!” The driver bellowed over the siren.
Doug descended the steps and the doors closed tightly behind him. He turned and watched as the bus pulled away from the curb and gained speed. It got smaller and smaller until it was just a speck that merged and blended with the swarm of other specks on the freeway.
Doug stood still, his shoulders hunched. The traffic buzzed by yanking at his clothes. Why was everyone in such a hurry? Where did they all think they were going? The buzz of traffic was a hornet’s nest inside his head. He limped to the next side street. He wanted to get as far away from the main thoroughfare as possible. At least until the noise inside his head subsided, then he would take it from there.
When he was about a quarter of a mile away from the main road, the buzzing had almost completely disappeared, except for a distant hum. He turned and glanced back at the main road. The traffic pulsed by at regular intervals.
A bus eased up silently beside Doug and came to a stop. The double doors opened quietly right where he stood. It wasn’t a city bus. The exterior had peeled away to expose a faded coat of paint that mirrored the cloudless sky above. The finger smudged windows were framed by rusty steel rims. The tread on the steps had worn away to reveal the foundation beneath.
The driver set the brake and a whoosh of air escaped. His black hair was tangled and dry and pulled back into a ponytail. His uniform was too large for his body and flat in places where it shouldn’t have been. His large dark sunglasses concealed the top half of his face. The skin around his chin was stretched to its limit. When he spoke, his mouth barely moved.
“Come on in.”
“I don’t have the fare,” Doug said.
“You don’t need any.” The driver’s body creaked and his bones scraped together as he bent over in his seat and picked up an 8-track tape with a gloved hand. The tape had a picture of a shirtless man on its cover. The driver fed the tape into a slot on the console.
“The Doors,” the driver said with a strained grin as he sat back in his seat slowly.
“What?” Doug said.
“I need to shut the doors,” the driver said.
Doug realized he had one foot on the first step, and one foot still on the sidewalk.
“Are you ready?” The driver said.
Doug glanced back toward the main road and the hornet’s nest rekindled in his head. He lifted his other foot and climbed the steps.
The driver adjusted a knob on the console and released the brake. Air whispered through the lines and the doors closed behind Doug.
“Have a seat anywhere,” the driver said, as he adjusted the volume on the console.
The singer’s voice was deep and hypnotic. It echoed off the walls of the bus but none of the passengers looked bothered by this. The singer invited him to take a chance with the rest of the passengers and meet him at the back of the bus.
Doug stumbled when the bus lurched forward, but was able to maintain his balance. He examined the pale faces of the passengers staring silently ahead. He recognized the thin woman with the yellow scarf from the bank steps. The scarf had been removed allowing her long gray hair to flow freely over her shoulders. She smiled in recognition at Doug. The color had faded from her cheeks. She scooted over near the window and motioned with her colorless hand for him to sit down beside her.
Doug sat on the edge of the seat and stared blankly ahead. He noticed the absence of the signal cable that ran the length of the city buses. The gray haired woman reached over and gripped his hand in her own. She dropped the yellow scarf to the floor. The music from the tape deck climaxed into a galloping crescendo of guitar and keyboard until they blended together. When it reached its peak and began to fade away, the singer released his remaining words in a final gasp.
Doug watched the driver bend over and remove the tape from the tape deck. He tossed it on the console and fed another tape into the mouth of the tape deck. The bus accelerated and veered onto an unpaved road. The change in terrain nearly jolted Doug out of his seat. The tape sputtered and hissed, then sitar music echoed through the bus. The woman squeezed Doug’s hand tightly and smiled when the vocalist began to sing in a familiar melancholy voice.
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