It’s been a week since my last post, as I’ve tweaked this next story a few times. I let the inital version ‘stew’ for a few days and when I revisited it I felt it needed a slight change. I hope you enjoy the final outcome.
Before I post the story, I feel it necessary to point you in the following direction: http://www.splitworlds.com/stories/
Emma Newman is an author I’ve had the pleasure of chatting with on Twitter (@EmApocalyptic) and I’ve really enjoyed reading her short stories. Her Split Worlds tales provided the inspiration for what you are about to read, so may I (stubbornly) recommend that, once you are finished here, you go and give the above site a little peruse.
Anyway, here’s this week’s story. As always, I’d love it if you could leave me a small comment below, or send me a tweet with your thoughts.
As the bus pulled up to the stop, Peter looked down and checked his watch: 11:01am, it read. He’d be late again. Stepping to one side before she had even summoned the strength to stand up, he allowed the fragile old lady to enter first. The driver gave him a cheery welcome and took his fare, just as he had done many times before. And just like the many times Peter had used this bus before, the same old people sat in the same old seats. He was used to it all by now.
Here we go again, he thought.
He took his usual seat near the back, just tucked away on the left hand side. He liked being able to have a look around and observe all of the little things happening on the bus, without being seen himself. He was in his own little world, looking out at the real one.
Sat on the opposite side of the bus, at around two o’clock, was a beautiful, petite brunette, who he had admired many times before. He knew her name was Kate, but he wouldn’t introduce himself using this knowledge, as he knew she would not remember him. Being so close to her, but being unable to speak, pained him. But this was not their time, something he had very little of anyway.
And so he shifted his gaze away from Kate and towards the front of the bus. As the bus made its way down the always busy and heavily-populated Frogmoor St, Peter reached forward and gripped the bar in front of him. As the front wheel on the driver’s side dipped down into a small pothole, a collective, audible gasp echoed out around the bus. There were a lot of shocked passengers.
“Sorry, folks!” the driver shouted.
Slouching back down into his seat, Peter turned and stared out of the window, down the road towards the next stop. As the bus slowly pulled up, Peter could make out the faces of people he had seen many times before. The old Indian lady with her basket of fresh fruit and veg, the two young boys who he felt for sure should be in school, the wearied mother and her two small children, and the ragged-looking middle-aged man carrying a laptop and tripod. As the varied group of people took their turns finding a seat, the driver prepared to pull away. But Peter’s gaze remained out of the window.
Five, four, three, two-, he counted down.
As his mind hit ‘one’, a man raced out of the building adjacent to the bus stop. The man dived towards the bus and forced open the door. Panicked, the driver left his seat and attempted to stop the man. As he lurched forward, the man reached inside his jacket, where, nestled inside his belt, was a small firearm.
“Back at the wheel!” he shouted.
The driver froze. He was reaching his twilight years and this was too much for him to take in. Peter knew that John, the driver, had only taken this job as he needed the money to pay his mortgage. He had reached retirement age but couldn’t afford the house he lived in after his wife had passed away. He needed the money and the bus followed a simple enough route, which is what he was after. A nice, simple day’s work, is how he had once described it. Not today.
Stumbling back into his driver’s seat, John lent forward and rested himself on his steering wheel, the large style that only vehicles of a certain size seem to use.
“Drive!” the man ordered John, forcing the butt of the gun into his temple.
The bus screeched away from the stop, at a speed most of its inhabitants had never felt from the vehicle before, John included. But Peter had, and he knew what would happen if this kept up.
Keep it steady, John.
The old Indian women began to scream; gripping tightly to their mother, the two children opposite her quickly followed. The man pulled the gun away from John’s head and approached the old women. Pointing the gun at her chest, he spoke softly:
“Do that again, and I will pull this trigger. Do you understand?”
The woman nodded. The only noise left filling the bus was that of the children, their sobs and cries. The rest of the passengers were in a state of shock, all except Peter. He watched on as the man sat next to the two children, whispering something to them. Again, Peter could not make out what the man had said, but whatever it was, it worked. The children soon stopped crying. He rose from his seat and moved in front of Kate, blocking her from the man’s view.
“Steven, please, stop,” Peter called.
Steven shot up from his seat and stared Peter right in the eyes. He was shocked to hear his name spoken so recognisably. Instinctively, he again raised his gun, pointing it towards his perceived aggressor.
“What did you say?” he asked, clearly agitated.
“Listen, I know about what happened. Please, just relax,” Peter replied.
And he did know, too. Steven had once told him all about it. He had spoken of the argument he had with his girlfriend, of his pushing her away in anger, of the bag she had tripped on which sent her tumbling down the flight of stairs outside their apartment, and the fact he was already on probation. Steven had told him all about it, in a much calmer state than the one he was currently in. But that conversation seemed a world away now.
“Trouble? What the hell do you know about trouble? How the hell do you know my name!?” Steven shouted back.
Peter’s intervention had Steven more on edge than before, his temper slowly rising.
Shit, this isn’t going very well, he thought.
Kate began shifting nervously behind him. He reached back with one hand, placing it reassuringly on her shoulder. He raised his other hand, palm facing forward: a sign that he meant no harm.
“Please, don’t worry about that. Please trust me. I know you don’t want to do this. I know you’re running away from what happened. But it wasn’t your fault. I promise you, I know it wasn’t your fault. Please put the gun away,” Peter reasoned.
But it wasn’t working. Steven strode back to the front end of the bus, where he could keep all of the passengers, especially Peter, in view. His gun still raised, he now pointed it at various people, waving it haphazardly.
“You don’t know anything about me. Any of you! There’s no getting out of this now, I know–”
John leapt from his driver’s seat, grabbing Steven around the throat. Peter watched on helplessly. As the two men fell to the floor, the sound of a gunshot resonated through the vehicle. Peter felt his hand behind him being squeezed tightly. Screams once again filled the air; passengers dived to the floor, seeking cover under their seats, bags, anything they could find.
The bus veered off the road. The small fence at the road’s edge offered no resistance as it gained speed. Plunging down the hill on the other side, it began to tumble. It flipped over. And then again. Its passengers were thrown around like rag dolls. After three full rolls, the bus, now resting on its right hand side, led still. Those still conscious were in a state of shock. So much so, not a single of the dazed passengers noticed that Peter had been shot.
In the moments before their death, it is often said that people see their lives flash before their eyes. All of the meaningful moments in their lives, the good things they have done, all relived before they pass on.
But this did not happen for Peter. He knew better than that by now.
Glancing to his left, he saw the motionless body of Kate; eyes fixed forward, a trickle of blood seeped from her mouth. He still remembered the first time this all happened, and the sadness he felt. He remembered how she tried to fight Steven off and how he had shot her. She was a fighter alright. And so was he. He’d find a way to save her. Even if he had to do this for an eternity, he’d find a way. It just wasn’t going to be this time.
Not again, he mourned, as he once more watched Kate’s eyes close for the final time.
Mustering all of the strength he had left, Peter pulled the amulet he had tied around his neck to his lips. With his dying breath he spoke a short incantation.
A bright white light filled the sky, forcing him to close his eyes tightly. The light was so intense that he still wasn’t used to it; he wasn’t sure he ever would be. After a few seconds the light rescinded and Peter reopened his eyes. He was back at the bus stop. He pulled up his shirt sleeve and checked his watch: 11:01. A new plan of action was already being formulated.
This time, he thought. This time…