So, I was going to wait until “Flash Fiction Friday” to make this post, but, well, I don’t want to! We just got our confirmation e-mails that our Challenge #2 stories into the Flash Fiction Challenge have been accepted, which means that we can officially share our stories with the world and, more specifically, each other. Woo! (Also, *cough cough*, even though I’m posting this late Tuesday night, please consider it to be Wednesday’s blog post *cough cough*.)
So, my first challenge was a little difficult, requiring me to write an action/adventure story set in a sewer, while incorporating a canteen somewhere. That challenge wound up getting me 10 points (out of a possible 15), so I was pretty happy and you can read that story here if you’d like.
This challenge was a complete change-up. The genre was “ghost story”, the setting was “a school bus”, and somewhere in the story I was required to incorporate “a dirty bag of laundry”.
Honestly? I pretty much had the idea figured out right away, but it was surprisingly difficult to stick to the 1000 word limit! With the first challenge I just had to trim a little, but this story required some major hacking and rewriting, so I hope I managed to keep the overall story in one piece!
Anyway, without further ado, please enjoy “The Intermediaries”…
It was just like the bus he’d taken to school as a child.
Gary stopped short and stared. The big yellow limo with “School Bus” printed on the front was abandoned alongside the cliff, sitting silent, looking almost lonely. Some of its windows were smashed and its tires were flat, but it struck Gary because it was familiar – the only familiar thing in this town.
“School buses are the same everywhere,” he mumbled.
He found his feet moving forward, the black garbage bag he carried crinkling along through the grass behind him, half-forgotten in this strange moment of nostalgia. “It’s open,” he felt compelled to tell the bus as he absently stroked the faded yellow door. He was onboard and sitting in his favorite spot – dead middle on the left side – without even thinking.
It was dirty, decrepit, and smelled like the wildlife had had their way with it, but right then it felt strangely like sanctuary.
He dropped the garbage bag on floor and stared at his cell. He thought about calling Karen, but he just couldn’t do it. He’d stormed from the house an hour ago after punching the busted washing machine and screaming that this shit-town probably didn’t even have a Laundromat. Karen had cried after him, but he’d run off with his bag of damp-but-dirty clothes before she could catch up.
And he hadn’t wanted her to, because he hated Karen for making him move to this town. Part of him understood why she’d jumped at the chance to become her hometown’s much-needed doctor, but the selfish part of him dwelled on everything he’d given up. There were no sports bars here, no Friday-night poker… There wasn’t even a damn video-game store, and the internet was too spotty for online multiplayer anyway. Plus the fact that he’d given up a job he enjoyed to move to a hellhole where the largest employer was the million-year-old pulp mill.
He had no prospects, no hobbies, and he hated this middle-of-nowhere backwater and his fiancé for convincing him to come here. If he couldn’t convince her to change her mind and move back to the city he didn’t know what he was going to do.
“What’s wrong, mister?”
Gary jumped up so fast his heart almost didn’t catch up with him.
The boy standing at the front of the bus couldn’t have been more than 7 and was miserably pale. Without a hint of a smile on his face he pushed a mop of messy black hair back from his eyes and stared a hole through Gary.
The hell did he come from?
“Hey kid,” Gary coughed. Forcing himself to smile he gestured to the rapidly darkening sky outside. “What are you doing out here so late?”
The boy shrugged. His gaze was strangely intense. “I come here every night,” he offered.
Gary raised his eyebrows in disapproval. Less than twenty feet away was a cliff with a good forty drop. “Your parents okay with you playing out here?”
Another non-committal shrug. “They don’t know I come.”
Gary shifted his weight from foot to foot. This kid’s creepy. He told himself he was being foolish, but he reached for his bag all the same. “Well,” he said a little too quickly, “guess I’ll be going then.”
He stepped forward, but the boy stepped to meet him and stared up into his eyes. “Don’t take her away,” he begged.
The sudden intensity of the sentence made Gary’s skin feel cold. “Wh-what?”
The boy took another step toward Gary, forcing the man to step back. He reached up to grasp the fabric of his turtleneck and pulled it down to reveal a thick white bandage soaked through with red. “Do you know how this happened?” the boy asked. “The nurse tried to help, but there was no doctor to close up the cuts.” His big brown eyes looked up at Gary with innocence and accusation. “Now we have a doctor but you want to go back where you came from and take her away.”
Gary gaped, floundering. “H-how do you-?” He stumbled against a seat as he stepped back further.
“The doctor could’ve saved him,” said a lilting voice. Gary whirled around, the garbage bag crinkling, to find a teenager behind him. She was pressing bloody gauze against a gaping wound in her head. “She might’ve saved me too.”
Gary’s hand went to his mouth to stop the scream, but it escaped when a set of small hands grabbed his arm. A little blond girl with half her teeth missing and her shoulder pushed back at a horrifying angle fixed her blue eyes on him. “Or me,” she whispered through her shattered mouth.
Gary thought one of the children had shrieked, but the sound came from his own throat. He swung the garbage bag at the girl but it went right through her, striking the seat and exploding against the cracked leather.
He didn’t remember running, but suddenly he was at the closed door, beating on it with another scream on his lips as the engine revved to life and the old beast began to creep forward. Behind him the bus driver growled, “I lost eighteen kids that day, and my own lost their father. Some of us might’ve survived if we’d had a real doctor.”
Gary’s gaze was wild, tear-filled, unfocused. He saw seats filled with bleeding, broken children, a driver whose face was peppered with glass, and a cliff moving inexorably toward them all.
“No! No, please, let me off! God, please, no!”
It happened in the blink of an eye, but seemed to last forever. Gravity inside the bus vanished. Children’s shrieks split the air. Gary’s heart stopped beating and all the life went out of his body.
And then he struck the ground and lay there, weeping openly amongst the grass and dirty socks.
A long time later, shaking almost too hard to push the buttons, he dialed Karen’s cell.
“H-honey…? I… I’ve changed my mind…”