Yesterday it was $100, 000, so I looked to my friend Matt, who was giving me a ride home, and joked, "Hey, we're not going home -- we're gonna find this guy. That'll pay for grad school!" And then some.
It was a real wake-up call demonstrating how reliant we now are on the internet and cell phones and plastic cards. One of my friends, bless his heart, spent 90 minutes trying to get cash from ATMs all over town to pay for gas to drive to school. When he went directly to a bank a cop standing guard outside told him that he couldn't enter because there had been a security breach, but that he didn't know any more than that. My poor friend was convinced that DC had been nuked.
I think I was just as frightened, however for an entirely different reason. I felt I had caused it.
About a week ago I finished a first draft of a short story I'd written on a whim -- a sort of Sci Fi "What if?" tale that came to me while I was bored one bus ride. I'm going to share the opening of the story. You'll see why.
Serenity looked straight in front of her as the bus bounced and rattled towards downtown
Her eyes lingered on the girl in the seat in front of her, watching as she rooted around in her backpack, admiring her the thinness of her flaxen hair tied up in an elegantly messy knot, the beads of her earrings, the smooth tequila tan of her skin, and wondered what it would be like to be blond and to know you were beautiful.
Serenity’s heart caught in her chest when the bus jolted and rattled and she instinctively rested a hand on the back of Theodore’s head to press him to her. She looked out the waterstained window. The cloud nebula was darker than before, churning. She caught a flash of light below the mass, then another. Lightening. She glanced around at the other passengers. A man in a suit shifted and read the paper. A woman ate an apple and checked her e-mail on her laptop. The driver focused on the road ahead. Serenity rose, holding onto the back of the seat before her, spurred by a sudden need to get away from her seat. To get out of the bus.
A few people glanced at her as she rested her palms against their seats, shuffling forward on the unsteady rubber. She saw another flash from below the cloud and glanced behind her, holding onto one of the vinyl straps that hung from the luggage rack. A few passengers blinked at her but none noticed the sky. No one ever noticed the sky anymore because no one looked up.
The bus driver saw her out of the corner of his eye. “Can I help you?”
She pivoted to face him.
“Are you getting off at the Caltrain Station?”
“Yes,” Serenity cleared her throat. “I’m going to
The driver nodded. “We should be there in about – ”
“I want to get off at the next stop.”
The driver glanced to her. “You just have to tug on the cord – ”
A clap sharper and swifter than thunder sounded and the bus jolted with a violent flash of bonewhite. Gasps sounded from the passengers as they were jilted and screens went black with dying hums. Serenity’s knuckles were white around the strap.
“Everyone okay?” the driver hollered as he navigated the freeway.
“What was that?” a woman asked.
Serenity sank down until she touched the floor, scooting herself behind a large suitcase that sat in the wheelchair space. Theodore had awoken and fussed.
“I think we were hit,” a man answered.
Serenity lightly bounced her son, attempting to calm him, her eyes on his chubby cheeks as he squinted and blinked.
“That was crazy,” another man said. “I never thought – ”
There was another clap as lightening struck the road ahead. Serenity closed her eyes against the flash. The noises of the passengers around her were drowned out by a boom that wrenched metal from socket as another bolt cleaved a car ahead of them, sending the vehicle careening into the windshield of the bus. Serenity could hear the groan and tear and screech of monstrous metal as the suitcase pressed against her. The floor vibrated from the tires and she knew that they were still moving forward, then there was another crunch and bang of collision, then a tinny hissing as her gravity shifted. She managed to catch herself as the bus lilted before it slowed.
She felt the meat of her palm begin to sting and when the bus had nearly stopped, she straightened and glanced to her hand. A shard of glass the size of the curve of her fingernail was embedded in her skin. Theodore pressed into her left breast as he strained against her, causing her to gasp. Horns were blazing outside and someone on the bus was groaning. She kicked the suitcase aside and it toppled off of her, glass tinkling in its wake. Serenity blinked in the darkness of the windshield being clogged by cars, the ceiling smashed down so low that she couldn’t stand.
Light was still filtering in from the windows and her eyes adjusted enough to make out the mangled, detached arm of the driver lying amongst the shattered glass on the floor. She felt bile sour her throat as one of the lifeless fingers curled. She couldn’t see the rest of the driver but blood seeped from the metal. There was another groan from the back of the bus and she struggled to rise, her arm snaking Theodore’s spine as she shuffled. She kicked away as much glass as she could, knowing it would stab right through the flimsy soles of her flip flops, then hunched her way further down the aisle.
The left half of the bus had been torn off against the concrete lane divider, having wrenched half of the passengers out with it. Theodore was crying now and Serenity was able to straighten. The clap and bang of the flashing light continued outside and Serenity glanced over the remaining passengers. Something tickled her toes and she took a few hasty steps backwards when she saw blood pooling in the aisle. Her nostrils flared as she noticed some of the blood trickling from the blond girl’s head. The young Nordic woman lay at a grotesque angle, her broken neck laying her cheek against her breast, and Serenity coughed as she began to gag.
She clutched Theodore to her as she lurched forward to vomit, the pink and bubbly contents of her stomach settling into the blood. She wiped at her lips after several dry heaves, then forced herself to straighten. Her voice croaked. “Is anyone alive?” She listened for a response, furtively glancing to what was left of the other passengers. The groaning had stopped. Serenity forced more steadiness into her voice. “Is anyone alive?”
There was no response. Theodore’s cheeks were getting rosy from his sobbing and she noticed his diaper bag resting on a nearby seat. She picked it up and slung it over her shoulder before making her way to the emergency exit window one row down. The luggage rack had broken loose and the pole had been rammed clear through the seats, including the one she’d been sitting in minutes before. For a long moment she couldn’t look away from the aluminum pole through cheap upholstery until she realized she was shaking and Theodore was clawing at the v-neck of her dress. She awkwardly angled over the pole and wrenched the red handle of the exit. The side of the bus opened and she stumbled outside.
That was long, I know, and still needs work, but here's why yesterday frightened me:
Serenity had just left her mother's house, my mom had just dropped me off at the bus stop. When I tried to call my mom to let her know I got on the bus okay, the call wouldn't go through. I didn't think much at the time and sent her a text. Then more people on the bus began to talk to strangers, asking if their phones were working. Two beautiful blonde girls (I think they were sisters) were seated in front of me, in the aisle beside my seat, and were panicking since they were on their way to the airport and couldn't get a hold of either of their parents. I looked down -- I was wearing a dress and cheap immitation ugs. We were stuck in mountain traffic as it stormed. We eventually passed two gruesome accidents where people lay bleeding. I hope they were okay. One of the cars had been thrown all the way over the lane divider.
The situation was so similar to my story that I felt like I needed to protect the blond girls just in case I had somehow brought this upon them!
The battery power on my phone was ticking away, draining as it tried to connect and receive messages. When I finally did get a message it was from a friend in Las Vegas (hi, Ajla!) then later another from my mom, sounding very worried since I hadn't confirmed that I was on the bus and okay. I'd told her about a rape story that should make anyone's blood boil and it had gotten her paranoid, the poor thing.
Luckily all has ended well (the internet is obviously working again!) but wow. I told the blond girl about the beginning of my story and she laughed, saying "Now I know who to blame!"
"Yeah," I said. "That stupid brunette on the bus!"