Bus of the Dead
Jamieson Wolf Villeneuve
Thick fog rolled along the ground in waves. Clouds of it billowed around Claudia like cloth or cotton candy. A dark sky stood watch over the streets streaked wet with rain, coal black and grey. Lights shimmered in amongst the fog, orbs of light that blinked like eyes when a breeze forced the fog to change position.
It was early in the morning and the sun was still hiding behind its hills and plains, waiting patiently to rise again and reclaim her throne. But there were still a few more hours to daylight. Claudia didn't mind the night however; she welcomed it, wrapped it around her like a warm winter jacket. She felt safe in the dark. She felt anonymous. She craved anonymity like she craved chocolate. Both were her passion.
She was waiting for the number 8 bus, tired but ready to start another day at the office where she sold her soul each and every week. Claudia hated working in the corporate atmosphere, but it paid the bills. Even if she did sacrifice her vision and her art to do it.
She kicked herself in the but mentally for not finishing that canvass last night, but it had been close to midnight and she had had to get up at 5am to get ready to go to work. She stared longingly at the canvass over breakfast, bold slashes of blue, bright flashes of yellow and red. It called to her, begged her to pick up her brushes and her pastels; but she just didn't have the time.
That was the problem with a lot of things these days. It all came down to not having enough time. She remembered when she was able to spend whole days on her art, scratching away with a pencil or a paint brush. Not so anymore. It saddened her to admit that her art had been moved to the back burner, and she made a promise to herself to correct that.
She looked at her watch. Ten past 6 am. The bus was late again. Typical. The streets were terribly quiet without any cars on them either. Claudia shivered and burrowed deeper into her jacket. For the first time in as long as she could remember, Claudia felt afraid. She knew that she could handle herself if it came down to it, but normally standing at a bus stop at all hours of the night didn't bother her one bit. It did today, and perhaps she should have listened to her inner self and gone right home; but a day missed was money out of her pocket and things were tight enough as it was.
Fog rolled along the streets, billowing smoke that snaked across the pavement. Claudia looked up from her book to see a bus approaching her. Finally, she thought, she was freezing her ass off out here. She hated busses in Ottawa. They were either really early or late. Either way you ended up waiting for them.
Instead of the bus displaying the number 8 in orange-yellow lights, the bus had instead a word. This in itself was not unusual; busses regularly had things like "Charter" or "Out of service" displayed. What was strange, though, was the word this bus displayed. It said, simply, "Hope". Great, Claudia thought. Now I'll have to wait longer for the damn bus. She looked at her watch. She wasn't too worried about being late; she always left herself plenty of time to get to work.
She stuck her nose back in her book and stepped back from the curb, so the bus driver would know she didn't want to get on. To her surprise, the bus did stop, the doors opened and the bus driver called out to her: "I'll take you where you need to go." He said.
Claudia blinked in surprise. The bus looked like there was smoke issuing from its open door. Probably more damn fog, Claudia thought. Must be more tired than I thought. "No thanks," she said. "I'm waiting for the number eight."
"I'll take you where you need to go." The driver said again.
Claudia shrugged and figured a warm bus was a warm bus and hopped on. The doors closed behind her and she flipped open her bus pass for the bus driver to see. "No need." He said. "Thanks though." He smiled at her.
She shrugged again and headed down the isle of the bus to find a seat. The bus was pretty full so she ended up sitting beside an older woman who was dressed in an old pink silk dress; her hair was done up in a white bun that rested comfortably at the top of her head and half moon spectacles sat on the end of her nose.
To her left was a man with skin so black, it was darker than dreams itself. He smiled at her, three of his front teeth golden. He wore large, dark sunglasses and smelt faintly of lemons and jasmine.
Claudia looked out the window and saw nothing but blackness. No lights, no Ottawa side walks. Nothing. Just one large, black landscape of nothing. Claudia walked up to the bus driver. "Um, excuse me," she said. "Where exactly are we? I need to get to Hull for seven in the morning."
"We don't talk about time here." The driver said.
"But I need to get to work; my boss is going to be pretty pissed if I don't show up on time."
"That doesn't matter anymore, Claudia."
She gasped. "How did you know my name?"
"I know pretty much everything there is to know." The Driver said. "You're on the Bus of the Dead."
She stood there for what seemed an eternity, not sure she heard correctly. It wasn't until she became aware of a warm pair of hands taking a hold of her that she realized she had lost track of herself. She turned to see the old woman leading her back to her seat.
"Now Harold," the old woman chided, "you don't go spewing it all out in your first breath, now you've scared the poor woman. Just died and all, and you're trying to kill her again."
"But I'm not dead!" Claudia screeched, "What makes you say I'm dead?"
"Calm yourself, dear, calm yourself. My names Eulalee." The old woman smiled. "Let's get you a cuppa tea and calm yourself down."
Claudia was vaguely aware of Eulalee leading her back to her seat and a hot cup of tea being pressed to her lips. Where they had gotten the tea for her was anyone's guess, but she drank it anyway, letting the hot tea scald and burn her mouth. Unfortunately, even when the tears caused by the hot tea cleared, she was still on the bus.
More tea was handed to her. It smelt of honey and cloves. The scent seemed to bring her back to reality. Whatever that was.
"So where am I?"
"It's as Harold told you, dear. You're on the Bus of the Dead. It's a bit melodramatic sounding, I know it, but it's true. I myself have been riding this bus for near thirty years."
Claudia was quiet for a few moments, her head pondering over what she had just been told. Finally, she turned to Eulalee. "So, how long have you been dead?"
"You've been riding the bus for thirty years."
"Not just any bus, dear. This bus. It's where you go when you're not able to cross over."
"Why can't you cross over?"
"I don't know. I guess I will once I figure that out. But I find I'm able to talk to tons of wonderful people this way, staying in limbo. You, for instance."
"But I'm not dead."
"This is the Bus of the Dead. How can you be on it if you haven't died?"
"Wouldn't I remember dying?"
"Of course. Everyone remembers their death."
"Well I don't have a memory of mine."
"Then perhaps you're not dead."
"But you just said-"
"Never mind what I said, listen to what I'm saying. Perhaps you're not dead. The only way to find out is to step off of this bus."
"I'll do that now, then."
Eulalee put a hand on her arm. "You won't want to be doing that."
"Because, if you are dead, this bus is the only thing that keeps you alive. Until you cross over if you ever do. If you step out of this bus as a dead woman, you would melt into nothing. I've seen it happen. The skin goes first. Then the eyes."
"But I was alive when I stepped onto the bus."
"And so is everyone else."
"So where does that leave me?"
"Where ever you want to be."
"Are you always so confusing?"
"The world is naught but confusion, Claudia. Best to remember that."
Claudia thought for a moment. The situation she had found herself in was right out of a novel, or a bad horror movie. She knew that she had been alive when she had stepped onto the bus twenty minutes ago. Or had she been? Would she be on the Bus of the Dead if she was still alive?
"Nothing ventured, nothing gained." Said a voice.
Claudia turned to her left to see the black man smiling at her. "I'm sorry?" she said.
"Nothing ventured, nothing gained. You won't know until you try. I speak from experience."
"Now Claude," Eulalee said. "Don't go confusing the poor girl. She was just making up her mind to stay on the bus."
"Don't put words into her mouth that ain't there, Eulalee. You have a big mouth and it's annoyed me for years. Let the girl decide for herself." Claude turned to her. "Listen, I've been riding this bus for longer than anyone, forty years and then some. I don't remember why I can't cross over and can't say I mind this bus much either. But you have the chance to live, Claudia. To really live. Why would you deny yourself that??"
Claudia, with tears in her eyes, squeezed Claude's hand. "Stop the bus!" she shouted.
"What are you doing?" Eulalee said.
"Learning to live." Claudia replied.
Claudia walked up to the open bus door. She knew that if she was dead, she would be nothing. On the other hand, if she wasn't
She closed her eyes, took a deep breath and stepped out of the bus.
Jamieson Wolf Villeneuve is an Ottawa based writer who has had his work published in a variety of magazines, including Slow Trains Literary Journal, Twilight Times, Mytholog, Clean Sheets Erotica and House of Pain.
He has also had his work published in Susan Sarandon: A True Maverick and Fantasies: A Collection of the World's Greatest Short Stories.
You can find out more from his web site - Jamieson Wolf Villeneuve: an online portfolio.
Published by permission of the author.