Prompt: Your bus driver is a burly man with a mechanical leg plugged into the vehicle. The bus roars at each shift of the transmission. A vulture the size of a building is picking at freshly dismantled cars in the middle of the road. You hear the bus driver shout, “Time for battle!”
Casey shivered as a chill breeze rolled by. A few cars rolled through the sleepy street, their metallic bodies reflecting the orange tint of the street lights that lined up and down the road. He checked his watch, half past midnight, the bus driver sure as hell had been taking their time. Down the road a pair of bright headlights turned into the gas station he had left half an hour ago. He watched as the driver’s little silhouette materialized from the car. The driver went through the usual motions one does at the pumps: open door, close door, slide card into machine. Before the driver could grab the pump his bus drifted to a stop. The doors opened, Casey entered.
Casey didn’t recognize the driver. Six nights a week Casey took the same bus from the station to his stop four blocks away from his apartment, he didn’t usually see the same face every trip, but it had been a rotating set. The elderly frail man who had no chill with annoying passengers, and the plump middle aged woman with the silver hooped earrings, were his usual public transit chauffeurs for the past two years. Of course there were the occasional substitutes. Casey reckoned this man was one.
The substitute driver reminded Casey of an old pirate. He bore a bushy gray beard on his face, his hands were worn and calloused. He even wore a red do-rag and a matching tattered red shirt. Fortunately for him the substitute driver wore glasses instead of a eye patch. The driver’s lower half was absent of a right leg. In its place a mechanical prosthetic descended from the driver’s hip towards the gas peddle.
“I didn’t realize it was Halloween,” Casey said to the driver. “What took you so long?”
“Been busy,” the driver answered.
The usual crowd had been absent in the passenger section of the vehicle. What day was it? Oh yeah, it’s Sunday, Sundays were hit or miss with the witching hour crowd. A few times a month the bus would be empty for the half hour journey back home. He cherished those nights as they came. Now to hope no one boarded between his work and his home.
Casey walked to the back of the bus and popped in his headphones and opened up Overcast. He loaded up the latest 99 Percent Invisible and began listening to Roman Mars explain how things work. To be honest he couldn’t hold all his attention to show, half his brain still fixated on the substitute driver.
Ten minutes into the show the driver came to a stop. Casey looked out the window, they had arrived at a vacant bus stop. The engine idled for a good minute before his patience could take it no more.
“Common man,” he shouted, “nobody’s here.”
The driver remained silent, the bus answered with the revving of it’s engine.
“Hey!” Casey stood up. “I said nobody’s here.”
He crossed the empty cabin, his reflections in either windows marched in time with him. The substitute’s body leaned over the steering wheel. For a half second Casey thought the old man had keeled over, his concern alleviated when he noticed the man drummed his fingers in the wheel. The engine revved again.
“Some of us need to be home before sunrise,” Casey said approaching the driver. The substitute paid no attention to him, he kept his torso forward and his fingers drummed to the beat of the pulsing engine. “What is your problem?”
“Shhh…” the substitute finally answered. He pointed his calloused index finger forward. Casey squinted his eyes. On the road a few hundred feet from him beneath the orange rays of a streetlamp sat an empty car. A small sedan, perhaps a Toyota Corolla based its grill and size. Orange specs glistened off the hood, the windshield had been smashed.
“It’s just a busted window,” Casey said the engine’s roar grew louder and louder, Casey had never heard a bus so loud. “If you’re worried about crime just call the cops and let’s get out of here. You know I can report you for th- Holy shit, what the fuck was that?”
Gravity pulled the man towards the dirty bud floor. His heart raced from zero to sixty in a millisecond. The engine grew louder and louder, drowning out his obscenities his mouth shouted for him. His mind raced to put everything he had witness together. A giant claw descended from the abyss above, took hold of the top of the little sedan and in one swoop the car glided down the street and into the air. Sparks jumped out of the streetlights as whatever carried the car away struggled to gain altitude knocked them over.
The engine reached a deafening pitch, it had reached beyond just noise anymore, it became everything. Through the wall of wall of sound that consumed Casey he heard with clarity the voice of the bus driver. Full and boastful, like a viking ready to die for Valhalla Casey heard the bus driver say, “Time for battle!”
The world turned ninety degrees, Casey’s body fell towards the rear of the bus, tumbling all the way like a ball in a pachinko machine. His decent came to a sudden stop when his body made contact with the back wall of the bus. Empty soda cans, bags, lost keys and wallets all descended upon him.
A battle cry came from the front of the bus. Casey stabilized himself on the rear seat he had left moments ago. The orange lamps dashed by outside like fireflies in a wind tunnel. A knot grew in his stomach. With uncanny timing a small brown trashcan slid from the front of the bus towards him. He lurched at the little bucket and emptied his dinner into the white bag.
He took hold of the standing rail, pulled himself up on his feet and grabbed the ceiling straps. Casey swung himself against the backwards force and caught the next strap. The familiar bus had become a jungle gym. His feeble forearms burned, beneath his weight. He hadn’t done a pull up since grade school nearly ten years ago, and it showed. Finally he reached the bow of the bus. The driver roared and yelped with excitement. Casey pulled himself up behind the driver.
He looked out the window, the claw hung in the air, the silhouette of the Corolla danced across the horizon firmly grasped in the claw.
“Lad,” the driver said, “about time you showed up. We got ourselves a biggun tonight. How’s your aim?”
Casey blinked. “What?”
“How’s your aim?”
“What?” Casey reiterated.
“Here, take this,” the driver passed him a long tube with an arrow shaped object pointing out and a handle and trigger on the rear. A harpoon gun! “I’m going to need all the help I can get.”
“Dude,” Casey lifted his hands up and shook his head, “I just want to get home.” He looked at the substitute driver and noticed his right leg again. It was not a prosthetic like Casey assumed. From this angle he had a better view of the strange mechanism. The leg had no joints except at the hip, a long cylinder rod descended into the floor of the bus. The white florescent of the bus rippled off the rod. The rod was spinning like a transmission shaft. This wasn’t real, this couldn’t be real.
Alright Casey, just take a deep breath, you’re having a bad dream. It was an unusually long and stressful day at work, you nodded off in the back of the bus and this is some strange stress dream. Roman Mars was probably explaining how cars work in his earbuds right now and that’s why the driver’s leg appeared to be made of metal and was spinning.
“Suit yourself,” the driver holstered the harpoon gun away. He cranked the shifter, mechanical whirling came from beneath the floor. Outside the front windshield a series of four glistening tubes rose from base of the machine. Inside the cabin a mechanism unfolded itself from the ceiling, stopping at eye level with the driver, like a periscope. The driver looked into the mechanism with one eye, grunted. The bus swayed, Casey felt another knot.
“You’re lookin’ a little green,” the driver said without looking at him.” Gravity shifted again, this time forward, like a car slowing down on a highway when the car in the lane right next to you cuts you off.
The brown trashcan slid from the back of the bus and stopped right at Casey’s feet.
“Don’t you go hulin’ over my floors,” the driver said, “I just got them cleaned last month.”
Casey picked up the trashcan and hurled into it. “I think I’m going to die,” he said.
“A little road-sickness never hurt anyone,” the driver looked back into the periscope, the bus continued to accelerate like a rocket. “Steady… Steady… Fire!”
A loud bang shot from the front of the bus. Casey jumped, he caught himself with the railing before he lost his balance. He looked towards the back of the bus, it looked so far away. He did not want to make the climb again.
“Dagnabit,” the driver grunted. “Steady… Steady…. Steady… Fire!”
Casey looked out the windshield. A streak of orange left the front of the bus, a puff of white gas trailed behind it. The streak traveled through the air towards the dangling car and the claw that carried it.
“Gettin’ a little rusty. Haven’t seen a Booster this big in a looonngg while. It’s been nothin’ but Cleaners for the past few months here, I tell ya,” he looked at Casey like he knew what he was talking about. “You sure you don’t wanna help?”
Casey shook his head and hugged the little brown can.
The driver looked back into the periscope, he readied himself again. Another loud boom pierced through the windshield.
“Whew,” the driver said, “nearly blew it.”
“Is it over?” Casey moaned.
“Just gotta reel her in,” the driver pulled back on a lever. The periscope ascended towards the ceiling.
The driver pulled another lever, this time to his left. The bus rattled, grime and dust on the floor hoped and skipped around like little fleas. Casey held the hand rest tightly. He looked out the window, the little Toyota had grown larger in size, along with the enormous talons that held it above the roadway. Streetlamps continued to pass them at speeds well above the limit.
A screech yelped from the front of the cabin. The dust and grim halted their little dance, and the rattling stopped.
“Dangit,” the driver said.
“Oh god, are you telling me this nightmare isn’t over yet?” Casey pressed his fingers against his temples.
“No sir,” the driver answered. He produced the harpoon gun again and extended it to Casey.
“No,” Casey shook his head, “I am not indulging this nightmare anymore.”
The driver answered with a nudge of the weapon.
“Fine,” Casey said snatching the gun out of the driver’s hand. “What do you want me to do?”
“My bow’s wench is jammed,” the driver said, “I got a back up on up top, but no harpoons to go with it. I’m gonna need you to tie this here harpoon to it and give it a shot.”
“By give it a shot you mean?”
“Shoot the little vehicle up there,” the driver pointed towards the Corolla.
“Can’t you just cut the line?”
“And have some poor sap wake up with his craft gone? No sir,” the driver shook his head. “I haven’t lost a craft since seventy-six. I ain’t gonna lose one tonight. How good’s your aim?”
Casey shrugged. “I was in Boy Scouts, I shot a bit back then, but it’s been over ten years.”
“Better than nothin’. You ready?”
“Do I have a choice?” Casey asked.
The driver pulled a lever to his right, the front door of the bus opened. A gust of wind blew in, the trash on the ground began dancing in little eddies. Casey shivered.
“There’s a ladder right out there on your port side,” the driver said, “climb it and screw that little nub end to the wench.” Casey looked at the harpoon, a strand dangled from the front of the barrel, at the end of the strand hung a threaded base. It reminded Casey of the base of a light bulb. “Once the little bugger is secured, shoot at the car. You don’t want to nick the booster, unless you’re lookin for a fight you ain’t gonna win. You got it?”
“Once you got the vehicle just stick your hand down over the ledge and give me a signal. You got it?”
He nodded, faced the open door and gulped. This was just a dream, he thought, just go with it. The worst that can happen is you’ll wake up, maybe screaming and covered in sweat in the back of the bus, but nevertheless you’ll be awake. With the harpoon gun in one hand and the handrail in the other he inched himself outside.
His teeth clenched as he entered the blistering cold wind. He felt his jaw begin grinding them instinctively. The ladder strobed from the rapidly passing streetlamps. He gripped the ladder with one hand and slowly shimmied his feet over to the bottom rung. With one hand and two feet the young man began to slowly climb the ladder like a sloth.
Finally he made it to the roof of the bus. Knelt over crawling Casey dragged himself towards the outline of the wench. When he had enough range he took the threaded segment of the harpoon and twisted it into the socket in the main axle of the device.
The talons, the booster, were much larger out here. The hung from the sky like the claws of a dragon. The void above him obscured the form of the beat, but Casey swore it looked like an bird larger than the bus itself. Like a sniper perched atop of roof, he laid prone on the bus’ roof and readied his shot. The roof of the car sat directly in his site. He clenched his teeth and fired.
The harpoon departed the cylinder and flickered in the air, the steel cabling trailed behind it like a bolt of lightning. Beneath the whooshing of the wind he heard a dull thud. The cable stopped moving and hung in the air like a power line. Holy shit, he got it!
He dragged himself over to the ledge and stuck his hand down in a thumbs up. The bus driver honked his horn three times and the wench line grew taut. Casey pulled himself over to the top of the ladder and climbed down, this time was much easier with all of his limbs in use. He entered the bus and the door closed behind him.
“I knew I picked ya for a reason,” the driver smiled and stuck one arm up in the air.
Casey collapsed on the first seat he could find and laid down. “Is it over? Can I leave this crazy ride?”
“You kids these days are so impatient,” the drive said. “Alright, she’s in.”
The bus decelerated at nearly the same rate it had accelerated. Casey had no time to react, instead his body tumbled off the seat’s cushion’s and onto the grimy floor.
“Ow!” He shouted. “Would it hurt you to give me a little warning?”
“Come ‘er lad,” the driver said. Casey pushed himself off the floor and wobbled up. He walked to the front of the bus to join the driver. The street lamps no longer passed by. The driver pointed out the windshield, Casey looked.
The Toyota sat beneath the orange glow of a streetlamp. Everything had been returned back to normal, except the windshield of the little sedan had been magically restored.
The driver patted Casey on his back. “That’s all thanks to your hard work,” he said. “You know, you remind me when I was young man like you. I didn’t think I had it in me for this line of work, but I gave it a shot like you and loved it. So what do you say?”
“To what?” Casey asked.
“We got a few job openin’s available, I want you to apply.”
Casey shook his head. “I think I had enough for a lifetime tonight. Can I just go home?”
“You impressed me so much I’m gonna take a shortcut.”
“A short cut?” Casey asked.
The driver sat himself up and shifted the bus into gear. The orange lights of the lamps shot pass the bus again, the sudden change in momentum sent Casey tumbling down the asile all the way to the back of the bus.
“We’re here,” the driver said. Casey got to his feet and looked outside. Yep, this was his spot.
“Please,” Casey panted, “please give me a warning.”
“Ar, you’ll get used to it in no time,” the driver said. He opened the front door. Casey walked to the front.
“I don’t know who you are or what we just did, but I want nothing to do with it,” he said.
The driver reached into his pocked and pulled out a business card. “I said the same thing when I was your age. Here, take one.”
Casey took it, if only to make the nightmare end.
“Later,” he said walking down the stairs onto the sweet solid stationary ground.
“Look at your time keeper,” the driver said.
“You’re phone or whatever you kids call it.”
Casey looked at his phone, the time read fifteen minutes past twelve. “How did you?”
“Like I said, shot cut,” the driver said. “Give me a shout when you’re ready.” He pulled the a lever, the door closed and the bus drove down the road and rounded the corner.