Roadside Assistance

Published by

Breaking Fate Publishing

© 2017 by Breaking Fate Publishing Publishing

  

All Rights Reserved.  No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, without the written permission of the publisher, except where permitted by law.  The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law.  Please purchase only authorized electronic and print editions, and do not participate in or encourage any form of piracy of copyrighted materials.  Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

This is a work of fiction.  Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.  Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.

Please visit us online at http://breakingfatepublishing.com
“Roadside Assistance” is available for purchase as a Kindle Single and in Audio
“Roadside Assistance” is also featured in the Last Exit anthology.

Edited by Kim Young
Cover Art & Design by Jason R. Davis
Copyright © 2017

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The world around him was a dark place, lost in an endless nothingness of gray.  Miles of road had faded away and vanished beyond the short glow of his headlights, but the fog never seemed to end.  Yellow lines flew by on his left, coming from nowhere and disappearing behind him.  The white line to his right was a steady beacon that guided him and kept him on the right path.  Neither could be seen for more than a couple of feet beyond the hood of his truck.

The fog seemed to stretch on forever, and he had no idea how many hours he’d been captured in it.  Curves in the road would suddenly appear and try to catch him off-guard.  They would twist left, then right and, before he realized it, he would be going up another hill.  His truck would accept the challenge of the harsh rise in the earth, and he could hear the roar of the diesel engine growling under his feet.

The latest hill was a long stretch that curved in and out.  His engine was fighting with fury as the RPM’s slowly lowered, until it could go no further without shuddering.  With the engine screaming, he downshifted so the higher gear was released, and there was the quick grab as the lower gear engaged.  The engine steadied, and he continued up the rise.

His speedometer showed that he was now down to thirty miles per hour.  Even at that speed and with the weight in the trailer behind him, it was a fight just to keep the large truck on the road.  His 8-speed transmission, along with the low horsepower engine of the company truck, made the climb almost unbearable.  Even with the throttle open all the way, he was still inching along at a crawl.  He wondered if he’d be able to walk faster.

He reached forward and grabbed his coffee.  The taste was bitter and it had lost much of its heat.  He had filled the cup when he’d started out that morning, but the warm, soothing liquid had soured as it cooled.  He put it back into the holder, and rested his hand back on the gear shift.

He hoped that the mountain would crest soon so he’d be able to shift back into higher gear.

He could feel sleep crusting at the corners of his eyes.  The night seemed like it would last forever, and the fog made the road disappear into nothing.  Fog always felt like that to him.  Even if it was daytime, he’d have to fight to keep his eyes from betraying him.  However, they felt like they were more closed than open at night.

He wished he could just pull off somewhere, step back into the sleeper, and get a few additional hours of shut eye.  He had time so he could afford to do it, but it wasn’t time that kept him from pulling over.  No, it was the damned fog.

He wanted to stop at one of the little emergency pull-offs and tuck himself away because his eyes really needed it.  The lines were moving on him, swaying back and forth, making it harder for him to stay between them.  He would love to just pull off into the haze.  It seemed like it was calling to him, pulling at him.  Sleep was beckoning him and he desired it more than anything.

He just never saw any place to pull off in time for him to stop.  His load was too heavy, and it would take a lot of braking distance.  Being barely able to see past his hood, he wouldn’t be able to stop until he was long past the turn to any of the pull-offs.

Another one came and went, and he watched it pass with longing.  He never thought he could crave anything this badly; it was just sleep.  All he had to do was close his eyes and it would come; he’d be lost to it.

He knew that if he closed his eyes, he’d be dead.  If he was lucky, he’d only get himself killed.  All it would take would be for his eyes to stay closed too long, a gentle drift of the wheel, and he would either roll the truck or be barreling down the side of the mountain.  He knew that his rig would take out the guard rail like it wasn’t even there.  He was driving an eighty thousand pound missile, and the thin piece of metal guarding the side of the road would do little to stop it.

He finally reached the top of the long ascent, and the rig started to speed up because his foot still held the accelerator to the floor.  He got it to the right RPM’s and then slammed it into the next higher gear.  He shifted his way through the gears, getting back to speed now that he was on level ground.  When he finally reached his last gear, he could already feel the truck starting to head back down the hill.

With a flick of a switch, the engine brake roared to life, trying to slow his momentum.  Now, with the truck not going uphill, he had to fight it from going too fast on the downward slope.  His load was heavy, and his engine brake was calling out in frustration, trying to slow the truck down.   He wasn’t sure if he’d missed the sign or if this state just didn’t post the percentage of the grade, but he didn’t know how bad a fight he was in for.  The truck was already speeding faster than he would have liked, and he had no idea just how far the slope descended.

Maybe he would get lucky and it would be a short, straight hill and he’d have nothing to worry about.  His wife had always told him he needed to think more positively.  Maybe he would.  Maybe this hill would start a change in his life, a new him.  When he reached the bottom, he could call her and tell her everything was going to be okay.

His ex-wife.

Things weren’t okay.  They weren’t okay now, and they weren’t ever going to be okay.  A long way up usually meant a long way back down, and he had been climbing that hill for what seemed like an eternity.  In the fog, his perception of time was warped, but he was still pretty confident that it was a long drop.

The truck quickly pushed itself well past the speed he wanted her to go so John pressed down on the brake, but he didn’t want to push down too hard or too fast.  If the road turned out to be slicker than he’d thought, all it would take would be for the rig to slow down too fast before the air brakes on the trailer had even engaged.  Then the nightmare would truly begin.  The rig would jackknife, the trailer would slide down the road past his track and pull him into a spin.  It would be unrecoverable, and his life would be left to the fates. The semi would become deadly to any vehicle in its path.

If he was lucky, he would see the trailer sliding around him in time and would have two options.  He could try and save it by flooring it and trying to outrun the trailer.  He would be going at top speed down a mountain that he didn’t know and he’d still be a danger to those on the road, but he’d have a chance to regain control.  With any luck, he’d come to a runaway ramp and be able to turn off into it.  That way, he and his load would be saved.

There was still a lot of risk, though, and he could be speeding at 80 miles per hour or more.

The other option was sacrifice.  The moment he saw the trailer coming up alongside him in his side mirrors, he could crash the truck.  He could try going left into the median, but that would probably put him in a much faster spin. If he sacrificed himself by turning the wheel to the right, he would take out the rail, but no one else would get hurt…unless there was a house at the bottom of whatever mountain he was going down.

The brakes were a bad option unless he did it just right so, instead of applying hard pressure to slow his speed, he eased his foot down.  It took a second for the air to rush through the lines and the brakes to engage before he felt the rig slowing.  He counted to five, watching as the speedometer roughly matched him.  He slowed one mile per hour for every second he applied the brake.  Once he hit five, he let up on the pressure.

The truck quickly accelerated forward again, picking up speed like he had never even applied the brake.  The engine whined loudly, but John doubted that it could be heard far beyond the fog.  He was convinced that the fog muted sound as well as his sight.  It was easy to believe that he was the last man on earth.  Was he?  It had been so long since he had seen another vehicle.

Again, he pressed the brakes before the truck could gather too much speed, counted to five, and watched the speedometer fall.  He let up and, again, the truck lurched faster down the mountain.

He should have started his descent in a lower gear, he thought.  He knew better.  In this weather, he never should have tried to get the truck back up near the speed limit.  Because he didn’t know how bad the downgrade was going to be, he should have been in a lower gear.  It was stupid to act like everything was fine and he could just float down the hill.  It wasn’t like he was hauling a light load.  No, he was nearly overweight.  There was no way he could take too large of a downgrade without having to take off down a runaway ramp at some point.

He also couldn’t keep applying his brakes this heavily.  He was getting back up to speed nearly as fast as he was taking his foot off the brake.  His brakes would be smoking soon but, if he was lucky, they wouldn’t catch fire. In a way, he’d be lucky if the flames leapt out, blew one or more of the tires, and that would be the end of it.

What did he have left anyway?  Christine?  How long ago was it that she told him she didn’t ever want to see him again?  Two weeks? Or had it been three that he had come home and found her in his bed with another man?  He’d come home and caught her, yet she still had the audacity to kick him out of their house.

He knew it was because she blamed him.  Somehow, somewhere through the years, her love for him had soured into hatred.  He had seen it in her eyes as she screamed at him and chased him out, as though he had been the intruder.

The image of the two of them together still lingered in his mind.  First, she looked at him like a trapped animal.  Then her face changed, and he had seen the hurt in her eyes.  Somewhere inside, he knew that she still loved him, but that hadn’t been enough for her.  She had needed something else, and she hadn’t been getting it from him. The look had been replaced with one of satisfaction, then cold hate.  All the years of their life together had shown through in that instant, and he knew that they were done.

He didn’t want to think about it and, right now, he sure as hell didn’t want the images to invade his concentration.

He let his boot off of the brake, not sure if he could see a flicker of light in his mirror.   With the fog, he had no way of seeing the back lights of the trailer.  If it was sliding around him, he wouldn’t see it until it was too late.

“Fuck it,” he said to the empty truck.

He kept his foot off the brake, and he quickly picked up speed.  He could feel the truck becoming a weapon that, if he decided to target it, he wasn’t one hundred percent sure he had enough control left to aim.

He wouldn’t aim it, though.  He was just tired.  He felt like he just wanted to be done.  He just wanted to let his head fall forward and stay there, his eyes close and stay closed.  He wanted the nothingness, the void outside, to suck him up.

Suddenly, he felt the ground beneath him change.  His descent was slowing.  His speed was still excessive, but was no longer increasing.

His eyes grew heavier.  He hadn’t realized just how much the acceleration had actually revived him.  He reached for his coffee, and again tasted the acrid flavor of what had once been a rich, full-bodied extreme blend from one of the truck stops.  Extreme blend was such a joke.  It would get his heart racing like it was going to explode, but his eyelids would still feel like they were tied to anvils.

The truck reached the speed limit, and he allowed his foot to move back to the gas pedal.  He wasn’t going back up another hill, which was good.

He thought maybe he should just pull off to the shoulder for a while.  He could sleep fifteen minutes.  That would be enough to keep him going.  He just needed a quick power nap.  He could even stay in his seat.

He glanced along the side of the road.  His weariness hungered for rest; it was a tiger wanting to be fed.  He wanted nothing but to fall into a quick coma.

He could, too.  The shoulder had become wide enough for him to pull off.  He doubted any state patrols would stop by in this fog, and he wouldn’t be there long.  Why not?

Why?  For the same reason that he never allowed himself to park on the shoulder when he was tired…because if he did and some idiot happened to hit him, he was still at fault.  Even parked along the side of the road, the truck driver was always at fault. The other driver could be asleep at the wheel or just a bad driver, but the truck driver was always to blame.  If he was lucky, there were no injuries.  Injuries meant criminal charges; deaths meant involuntary homicide, if the driver had a record.  It wasn’t fair, but it was the life of a truck driver.

Drivers lived with the constant fear of mistreatment by the law.  They were always targeted by either a patrol officer who had a chip on his shoulder, or someone out to make their unofficial quota for the month.

John was thankful for the anger that was starting to push back some of the drowsiness.  While distracting him from the road, his thoughts made the weariness lift a little, and he could think about some of the wrongs they had done him.  He could think of why he had to be working for the company he was with now, and that was because of his high CSA score with the DOT.

Who were they to get on him for his past?  Some pieces of it he hadn’t even thought of in years.  Why should they come back to haunt him all this time later?

The company he was forced to work for now, one of the few that didn’t look too closely at driving records and infractions, was also the company that was pushing him to go far beyond what his body was telling him he could handle.

He wiped his eyes of some of the sleep that had crusted there.  He knew it would be back soon, but he wiped it away anyway.  He wanted the sleep gone, he wanted his life gone, he wanted–.

He pulled his hand away from his eyes just in time to see the large alligator teeth standing tall across the lanes of the interstate, all twisted and gnarled shapes of rubber and metal that would bite into his own tires and tear them to shreds.  He didn’t have much time to react, and there wasn’t much he could do anyway.  The blown tire in the road was fresh and if he hit it wrong, his own tires might go.  He wasn’t too worried about the tires on his cab, they could take the punishment, but the tires on the trailer would barely pass an inspection.  They were already filled with notches, and the tread on them was barely at the legal minimum.  If they hit the debris directly, who could say if they would blow? It wasn’t a chance he wanted to take.

He swerved to the right, trying to keep an eye on his trailer.  He didn’t have much time.  He knew that if he was going to keep the tires from hitting the warped rubber and metal in the road, he had to get as far over onto the shoulder as he could.  The debris was covering both lanes so there was no point in trying to go to the left. Even though he had the road all to himself, his instinct was always to go right.  It was precaution.  If he did go left and someone just happened to be passing him, he’d slam them into the median or, in a worst case scenario, send them spiraling into oncoming traffic.

He looked away from the mirror, not sure if he was going to miss the tire or not.  The fog stole his view of the rear of the trailer, and he wasn’t sure if he was going to miss it or not.  It looked like he should, but it was hard to tell.

“Damn! Damn! Damn! Damn!”

He turned his gaze forward and glanced at the shoulder, just in time to see the source of the blown tire in the road…and he was heading right for it.  “Fuck!”

On the shoulder of the road was a large passenger bus, pulled off at a bad angle, its flashers trying to penetrate the fog.  They weren’t doing a good job, and he barely saw it in time to veer back to the left.

His right mirror clipped the back left corner of the bus, shattering.  Hundreds of little shards shot out in a whine of protest, as they left the frame of the mirror and crashed against the passenger window.  Little scratches formed a mosaic patchwork of the world outside, lasting for less than a second.  There was a loud crack, and he barely saw the mirror frame as it smashed into the window.  It suddenly became a spider web, barely able to hold itself together

He could hear the squeal as the corner of his trailer grazed the corner of the bus. The view to his left had disappeared.

With the window a mess and the mirror gone, he had no way of seeing how hard he was about to hit the bus.  He also had no way of knowing if his trailer was going to slide around him, jack-knifing along his flank.  If that happened, the bus would be lost because the trailer would slam against it and push it through the guard rail.

Another sound blasted into the morning air.  His imagination flared with the image of the bus falling, the thought that they were still on a mountain and that the bus was going over a great cliff.   In his mind’s eye, he saw the bus teeter back and forth on the edge for a few moments then, like some grotesque cartoon, slip over the edge.

The tractor made it back onto the road, but he still didn’t have much control over it.  He was turning the wheel frantically, now back to the right.  His foot was off the accelerator, and he had somehow remembered to switch off the engine brake.  Now he was easing it with the air brake, just putting slight pressure on it to keep from causing any more of a skid.

He chanced a look into the driver’s side mirror.  His trailer was still behind him, but it was swaying badly.  It was leaning to the left and looked like it was on the verge of tipping.  If it did that, the tractor would be taken with it and he’d have to rely on good luck to keep him from going over the edge of the shoulder.  The truck would be on its side, and he would be left to the fates until it eventually slid to a stop.

The shoulder past the bus was clear.  He had to fight the truck so he wouldn’t lose control or go over the side.  The road was slanting back up so his speed decreased greatly.  He was thankful that he could slow the truck down and inch up the slope.

The truck came to a stop.  The smell of burnt rubber and burning brakes filled his nostrils.  He didn’t let himself relax, though.  He quickly pulled the two knobs on the dash, and heard the air hiss as it escaped from the lines.  This allowed the parking brake to grab the rig and keep it from going back down the hill.

Then he was out the driver’s door and landing on the ground.  He hadn’t even tried to lower himself because he didn’t have time.  He had hit that bus, and his heart was racing with the thought of all those people falling in a twisted metal coffin of death.

His lungs burned and his chest felt like it wanted to collapse in on itself.  It hurt to breathe, and there were tears escaping the corners of his eyes.  He wasn’t sure if it was from the pain, the worry, or just from the exhaustion that was threatening to come back.

Part of him still felt like this may be a hallucination. The fog still pushed in from all around him; it felt like it was even in his mind.

Maybe he hadn’t even hit a bus.  Maybe he had imagined all of it and he was actually asleep, still at the wheel, rolling over or falling to his own death.

He made it to the back of his trailer.  After seeing nothing wrong with his driver’s side tires, he hurried over to the other side.  Everything was fine so far.

He stopped when he rounded the back corner of the trailer and saw the shredded tires.  Both the outside tires had blown, and now only fragments of rubber were clinging to the metal of the rim.

“Fuck,” he said quietly, as he had a selfish thought…his career was probably over.

He reached into his pants pocket to grab his phone.  He needed to call it in, get the repair crews out, and get both tires fixed.  He also needed the emergency crews in case someone was injured, or even dead, inside the bus.

He patted his pants and was momentarily surprised that he didn’t feel his phone.  Of course it wasn’t there.  He’d been driving and he always emptied his pockets on long trips.  Wallets dug into his ass, and it was hard to answer a phone that was in your pocket.  He often kept both of them in the little recess under his stereo, but he hadn’t thought to grab them.

What about the people on the bus?  He still hadn’t heard anyone call out.  He would have to go back for his cell phone later.  Right now, he had to make sure everyone in the bus was alright.

He could barely see it.  The thick fog kept it well hidden, but he could faintly see the flashing hazard lights.

“Hello!” he called out, as he started to walk towards it.

His heart was starting to slow down and, as he walked toward the bus, his lungs weren’t hurting as much.  He still felt like there was a large weight pressing down on him, but he no longer felt like he was going to pass out.

“Hello!  Is everyone okay?!” he called out again.

As he yelled, it felt like the fog around him soaked up the sound.  He never heard the echo that he would have expected, and there were no morning sounds.  He didn’t hear any birds singing, there were no car sounds along the interstate.  Most valleys had rivers or towns in them, but even those were now silent.  There was no sound at all.  Even his truck, left idling behind him, was growing faint.  It sounded like it was getting farther and farther away.

The hair on the back of his neck was starting to stand on end.  He felt like he was drifting into an episode of the Twilight Zone, and like the world around him was changing.  Maybe he was walking into…what did they call it?  Another dimension.

He tried to laugh at the thought, but could barely crack a smile.  Something wasn’t right here.

He had to work hard to ignore it.  What was he?  Some little boy that let childhood fears take control of him?  Yeah, just keep thinking that, he told himself.

He reached the bus, glad that it hadn’t been pushed over the railing.  It hadn’t even been pushed near the railing.  The loud sound he had heard must have been the explosion of his own tires.  That was at least some good news; he was already starting to feel a little better.

“Hello?  Is everyone alright?!” he yelled again, as he looked from the back of the bus to the open door.  Fog swirled around him, and it seemed thicker here.  It seemed like it was billowing out from the bus itself because inside was a massive wall of gray.

He tried to look through the windows, but couldn’t see a thing.  It seemed like lighter spots spun and twirled within the darker gray, moving in and out of each other.

It was like watching a container of water as food coloring was added.  The colors would at first swirl around each other, then mix together.  The fog, however, wasn’t mixing together.

Where was everyone?

Well, just because it was a passenger bus didn’t mean it had been full.  The bus could’ve been empty.  Okay, then where was the driver?  The door was open so someone had to have survived the accident.

Maybe the driver had been thrown when he hit the bus?  He could’ve been thrown over the guard rail, or he could be somewhere along the pavement.  He was probably hurt, or passed out.  If he’d been thrown when his truck had hit the bus, then he probably had a nasty head injury.

John turned away and looked briefly around at the surroundings.  Well, he might as well get the worst possibility out of the way first.

He stepped over to the guard rail.  It took him a couple of steps to reach it, making him doubt that the driver could’ve been thrown that far.  However, if he had, John didn’t think he would have survived.  When he got to the side, he saw that it wasn’t a metal guard rail.  It was a cement barrier, which meant that they were on a bridge more than likely. If they were on a bridge, it also meant that it was probably hundreds of feet down.  It wasn’t something anyone could have survived, unless they had wings.

Yeah, it was too far to be thrown.  The front of the bus hadn’t been hit that hard and even if he was propelled out of it, the furthest he would have traveled would have been to the base of the barrier.

John turned and looked around at the ground outside the bus.  He couldn’t see very far, but he didn’t see any blood.  He guessed that if the driver had fallen out of the door, he would have been hurt and probably bleeding.  So where the hell was he?

“Hello?!”

He was surprised that there still hadn’t been a single car or truck drive by.  The fog was bad but, even in the worst conditions, there were always a few idiots out driving around.  Tonight he had been one of them, but he couldn’t imagine that no one else was out there.

He walked back to the open door and reached in to grab the metal bar, fumbling to find the step below him.  He couldn’t believe how much thicker the fog was inside of the bus.  He could even feel the coldness as he reached in.  It felt like the inside of the bus was 20 degrees cooler than outside.

As he stepped up onto the first step, a shiver went right through his bones.  He fought to keep it from shaking him, but he actually felt his bones rattle together.  All of this just wasn’t right.

Why was he doing this again?

He had to make sure that, if anyone was in there, they were okay.  He hit the damned bus, he may have hurt someone.  He doubted it now, after seeing how he hadn’t even moved the bus, but that wasn’t to say he hadn’t given someone a heart attack.

However, wouldn’t he have heard someone by now?  He looked down the aisle of the bus, but he couldn’t see anything except the fog that swirled around him.

“Hello?”

He took a step forward and reached his hand to rest it on the front barrier that separated the seats from the front of the bus.  The vinyl was well-padded, and felt like ice to the touch.  Everything was so damned cold.

Just past the barrier, he felt a bone-chilling breeze.  The fog swirled with it and, for a brief second, he could see the shape of a person sitting in the front seat.  Just as fast as he saw it, it was gone, the fog hiding it again. He was left standing there alone

He was sure he had seen it, though.  He hadn’t been able to see any features, but he was sure it looked like a person.   His hand was only about two feet in front of it, and he stood only another two feet above that.  The fog didn’t allow him to see anywhere near that far.  The person could have been a mile away but, in this mess, he never would have been able to tell unless he actually touched it.

If he was there, though, then he would’ve also been able to see him, right?  Why hadn’t he done anything?  Why hadn’t he said anything?  Why hadn’t he responded to him?

“Hello?” he said again, the goose bumps along his arm prickling in the cold, foggy breeze.  The hair on his arm was stiff.  He hadn’t worn his coat because it hadn’t been that cold outside.  He didn’t know that it was going to be like a meat locker in the bus.

He allowed himself to believe that’s why the goose bumps had formed on his arm.  He leaned in as he was reaching out.  He didn’t want to, but some instinct, something deep inside, warned him not to look any closer.  It told him to go, get out of there and run back to his truck, climb back into his cab, and get out of there as fast as his rig would go.

Being involved in a hit-and-run would cost him his job. After this, he would never be able to drive again.  However, he had a feeling that would still be better than anything he was about to find in the fog.

He couldn’t stop himself, though.  The wheels were already in motion.  The momentum was propelling him and, like his truck, once it was up to speed, it was hard to get it to stop.  He was too damned stubborn and bull-headed…add that to the long list of reasons Christine had said she didn’t want him anymore.

It was just a long list of excuses, but he had known there’d been some truth to it.  It didn’t make what she’d done any more forgivable, but maybe he had pushed her.  Maybe he did share some of the responsibility.

His hand touched something hard and frozen.  It felt chiseled, as though it was made out of stone.  It seemed moist, yet frozen at the same time.

He ran his hand along it.  It had bumps along the center, but smooth areas on either side.  The smooth part felt indented and sunken.  He went back to the center and felt another impression.  The surface in this area was soft to the touch and gave a little as he pressed in.  It wasn’t as cold as the other spots; there was actually a little warmth to it.  There was something else there, something that felt doughy on the surface.  Under more pressure, it felt hard beneath that.

When he was close enough to see, he realized that he was touching a man’s open eye! It stared blankly up at him with the expression of death, the features frozen in place. His finger was pushing in on the man’s iris.

John fell back.  His feet tangled beneath him, and he slammed against the barrier. He bounced back, and slammed into the coin collector in the front of the bus.  He felt a stabbing pain that jarred him.  He turned and landed on his side on the hard, rubberized floor.

A hot pain ran along his side, and it felt like he had been clawed on the way down.  He knew he hadn’t scraped it, but it sure felt like it.  He wanted to scream out, but he ground his teeth together to fight it.  Starbursts flashed before his eyes, and he was oblivious to everything else. The pain in his shoulder and head didn’t hurt nearly as much as his side.  He couldn’t believe the intensity of it.

He felt along his back.  He knew he wasn’t cut, but putting his hand there helped to calm the sensation a little.

It slowly faded and he started to pull himself up.  When he twisted to the side, there was a twinge of pain, but he could handle it.

He stood and looked down the length of the bus.  If the first man was dead, was there any point in going the rest of the way?  He doubted there were any survivors; if there were, someone would have called out by now.  He knew he hadn’t been the one to kill that man.  He looked like he had frozen to death.  Who knew how long the bus had been out there?  Maybe they had all died from exposure.

It had been a mild winter, though.  The last day it had been cold enough to even have ice on the roads was four or five days ago, and he didn’t think it had been cold enough to freeze a man. He was pretty sure it has to be colder than 32 degrees for that.  Plus, there was no way these people could have gone undiscovered that long.

But just how sure was he?  He was no doctor, and he wasn’t sure how much traffic was normally out there.  He was more scared than sure, and didn’t trust his own thoughts.

He was done with this.  He turned to leave.  He would drive a few miles down the road and then call it in.  The cops may give him hell, and he may never drive again, but that didn’t matter.  He wasn’t going to stay around there. This shit was just too damned strange.  He had to get out of there.

He saw a light out of the corner of his eye.  Somehow it shone through the darkness of the fog, momentarily blinding him. When he turned, he could see that it was coming from the back of the bus and was moving back and forth.  He couldn’t see the shape of it, but someone had to be doing it.  They must be up and walking around.

“Hello?  I’m here to help.  Come here, I can help you,” he called out. The light shifted.  Though he couldn’t tell if it was coming toward him or not, whoever it was had definitely heard him.  It was reacting to his voice.

“I can help you.  If you need it, I can get you an ambulance,” he said.  He was trying to keep his voice calm, though he could hear it cracking a little.  It was also higher than usual, and was almost like he was trying to calm a baby.

The light didn’t come closer. Instead, he found himself walking towards it.  It was like it was beckoning him.  He had told the person to come to him. Why was he going back there?  However, if the person was hurt, they probably wouldn’t be able to walk.  They had been in an accident, after all.

He still wanted to turn and run, to get out of there and escape whatever horror movie he’d found himself in.  He wasn’t a hero so why was he still walking back there?

He didn’t know.  His feet were no longer obeying him and he couldn’t stop.  The light was calling him, was pulling him, and he was helpless to turn away.

As he slowly made it down the aisle, he saw more shapes in the fog.  The passengers of the bus all sat in their seats like wax figures, motionless, staring blindly off into distant space.   As he walked, he could see them more and more clearly.  As he moved closer to the back of the bus, the air grew cooler, but the fog became thinner.

Halfway down, he was fighting to keep from shivering.  The hair along his neck and arms was frozen.  Even his skin was beginning to hurt from the cold.  His lips were going numb and he could feel his eyes freezing.  He couldn’t explain it, but his whole body was frozen.

The bodies sat motionless in their seats.  Some seats had just one passenger, like the man that had been at the front of the bus, but some seats had two.  Most were adults, but he had seen one woman with a little girl.  The little girl had been asleep in her mother’s lap, with her arms under her head as a pillow, when she died.

He no longer cared about what happened to those in the bus.  He had never really wanted to know, but now he downright didn’t care.  He just wanted out, wanted to get away.  It still wasn’t too late. He could just turn and take off towards the door.

Even if he did, he somehow knew that the door to the bus was closed.  He didn’t know how he knew, but some instinct told him that it was already too late.  The door was closed, and he was stuck there now.

With them.

It didn’t matter.  He couldn’t run because his legs weren’t listening to him anymore.

He neared the back of the bus and the fog started to thin in front of him. When he expected that he would finally see the light and whoever held it, it faded away.  The fog parted around him in a swirl of gray and dark blue.  It pulled back in on itself, faster than the eye could see.

Within two unsteady heartbeats, the fog around him was gone.  It still swirled outside, but it had been sucked away inside and he was left with the darkness.

The only illumination was a slight red glow that ran along the runners on the floor of the bus so that passengers could safely make their way to the bathroom.  He looked at it for a while because he couldn’t help himself.  He felt like a moth, he was so attracted to it.  It led straight into the back, and disappeared past the door to the bathroom.

“Hello?” he heard himself calling out toward the bathroom, as though someone might be in there.  He knew nobody was, but his body seemed to ignore the fact.

Nobody was in the bathroom.  Nobody was in the bus.  He was all alone.  He was all alone with a bus full of corpses.

He thought that should have worried him more and he should have been more afraid, but all he felt was cold and numb.

Suddenly, he heard a noise behind him.

In his mind, he was whirling around to face an attacker, but his body actually moved much slower.  His mind raced, waiting impatiently for his body to catch up.  He already knew what was there, and he was ready for it.

He had already accepted it, and when he turned, he saw them—the passengers.

All those people that he had passed when he walked down the aisle were standing now, their cold, hungry eyes were looking at him; lifeless, yet showing him their desire.

The closest one stepped away from its seat, and walked down the aisle.  The rest of them followed her.  They moved slowly because, well…why should they hurry?  He wasn’t going anywhere.

They’d waited until he was at the back of the bus before they moved so now he was trapped.  He could try to hide in the bathroom, but what would that get him?  He’d maybe last a couple of hours, but they’d probably have the door broken down in a matter of minutes.  They’d waited until he had no way out and there were too many of them between him and the exits.  He was trapped

The windows around him now seemed to steam up, and the air in the bus changed.  It was no longer the ice cold chill that had been running along his skin when he had first come in.  It seemed like it was getting warmer.  Somehow, with the bodies awakened, there was a pulsating heat.

He looked around frantically.  There had to be some way out.  He looked at the window closest to him.  It was all that separated him from the outside world.  He looked at one of the glass panels, and thought that it was cracked in the middle. Then he remembered that passengers could push this window open to let in a little air, but it wasn’t meant to open far enough for someone to get out.  At the most, it looked like it could open to about a six-inch gap. He’s a big guy.  He would need it to open all the way to be able to get through.

The corpses had been walking towards him when he glanced away but, when he looked at them again, they had stopped just a couple feet away and were watching him.  He wondered what they were looking at.  They had him.  Why not just come and finish it?

He looked back at the window, and then over to the one on the other side.  He briefly thought about the other windows in the bus, but they were too far away and there was no way he could get to them. His only chance was these back two.

Did he really think he could escape?  He was actually beginning to believe he could.  After all, he thought he had seen…yes, he had!  There was a small crack in the window to his left.  It had probably happened when his truck had hit the bus.  It wasn’t much but, with the glass already starting to weaken, maybe he could smash the window and get out that way.

It wasn’t a great idea, and he wasn’t relishing jumping out a bus window and landing onto the ground below.  There were a lot of things that could go wrong.  He could jump out the window and get hit by a passing vehicle, for instance.  There still hadn’t been any, but he figured it would be his luck that another car would just happen to come by when he was escaping.

Then there was the fall.  He was a large, fat man, and he wasn’t going to hit the ground softly.  He would probably break an arm or a leg, and maybe a couple of ribs.  It was going to hurt like hell.  Then what?  He’d run to his truck?  He would probably barely be able to move, and he wasn’t sure how fast these things could move.  However, even at a slow walk, he was sure they’d be able to catch him.

He couldn’t think of any other ideas, though.  No matter what he chose, nothing seemed to play out in his favor.  At least if he went for the window, he would have done something.

He looked back at the corpses.  They still stood there watching him.  What the hell were they looking at?  Why were they not rushing him?

Then it occurred to him…he was their food.  They were playing with their damned food.  They were watching him, enjoying his fear.  They were going to wait until they knew he had given up, and then they’d get him.

Well, he wasn’t about to give up.  Death had been a lot easier to accept when it was him choosing to die.  He was sure as hell not going to let someone take that damned decision away from him.

John dashed to the window and slammed his body into it.  His shoulder pounded the glass and he heard a loud crack.  He reeled and bounced back.  No looking behind; he didn’t want to see if they were getting closer.  He was purely focused on the window.  The glass hadn’t broken, but he had heard something give.  Maybe it was breaking away from the frame.

He smashed against it again and the sound of cracking got louder.  He pulled back again.   He was starting to feel pain throbbing in his arm.  The glass still didn’t show any further sign of damage, but there definitely was something happening.  Maybe it was the fiberglass of the outer frame giving way.  He had to keep trying.

He rushed forward again.  This time, he could feel the faint touch of icy fingertips graze his skin.  They’d been closing in, and he’d just avoided their grasp.

He slammed into the window again and heard an audible snapping sound.  An explosion of pain shot up his arm.  Something was very wrong.

As he stumbled back, he saw that the window was still undamaged.  However, his arm wasn’t. Lightning strikes of pain shot from his shoulder to his elbow, but he could no longer feel past that. He looked down and could see the faint outline of bone trying to break through his skin.  He took another stumbling step backward, then his legs gave away.

As he fell, he looked up and could see hands reaching out for him, dead eyes looking down.  On the closest face, he saw a smile touch the corner of its lips.  As he was falling, he could see something red just beyond the corpses, something that he’d missed before.

He hit the ground with teeth rattling force.  Blood was leaking from his mouth and he could feel the stinging pain in his tongue, but it was nothing compared to the pain in his arm.  All of it was making his head swim.

What was it that he’d seen?  The little red thing there by the window, what was it?  Why had it seemed so familiar?

His eyes focused on the red thing again before a face blocked his view. He knew what it was and it made him sick.  At the bottom of the window was the “Emergency” release.  It would have dislodged the window, giving him a chance to escape.

Cold fingers tugged at him.  They were pulling at his injured arm, and he felt warm liquid splashing against his face.  He knew they had pulled his arm off.

He heard a scream.  It was a hideous sound from somewhere in the darkness.  It seemed far away, but echoed.  He could feel it reverberating through him.  He hoped that whoever it was would be okay…

Then the last of his mind slipped away.

 

 

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