Pray this doesn’t happen to you…
Word Count: 964
The bus was half full. The usual folks surrounded her inside the bus, their faces solemn, going or coming from work, their minds elsewhere. She sat with her head leaned against the cool glass, watching cars and people and their hustle and bustle, feeling soporific. The deep hum of the engine filled the silence around them, comforting, enveloping, lulling, and peaceful. The hum turned to a purr and a hiss, and she briefly closed her eyes, feeling rather than seeing the bus doors open and new people drifting on. She sighed, relaxed and fell into a dream.
She was racing across a lawn, hot sun over her head, sweat on her brow. Her arms pumped and just before she leapt into cool sweet waters a voice loomed into her brain, grabbed her by the ears, and pulled her to consciousness.
Her eyes flipped open, her body shrinking away from the smiling young man that sat beside her. Her body felt achy, shocked awake, on guard. His words rang in her ears.
“Huh?” She was embarrassed, knew he was looking at a wide-eyed startled woman, caught sleeping. She felt foolish, pulled her shawl more tightly around her.
“I said, “Would you rather know the moment of your death, or would you prefer to simply be gone, without knowing how it came about?”
She blinked at him. She really had heard him right the first time.
She swallowed, uncomfortable, looking around her trying to meet one of the other passenger’s eyes, and failing that turned back to the young man. “That’s a dreadful question.”
He nodded, smiling wider, nonchalant.
“I mean, that’s insane. Who would ask that of a…well, a stranger?”
He shrugged, patting at his pockets, finding a handkerchief and handing it to her. “You have a little something–right there–”
She reddened, wiping at her mouth with one sleeve.
The young man continued. “I find it rather more interesting than how about those Royals, you know?”
She gave him a blank look.
“Baseball,” he prompted. “See, you’re bored already.”
“Is this a…pick up line, of some sort?” She sized him up, seeing him with new eyes.
He was attractive, younger than her but only by a few years. He wore a stylish hat covering thick brown hair, a wool suit, but it was different, somehow. It looked new but it wasn’t contemporary at all. It looked more like a–
“Are you an actor or something?”
He shook his head, his smile suddenly strained. “Not really, no.” It was his turn to examine her, sadness tinged his eyes. She leaned back in her seat, settling her hands in her lap self-consciously. After a moment he said, “I just like to ask interesting questions of interesting people.”
She was stymied. “Well, if you aren’t an actor, then who are you?”
“I’m Jack.” He took out a pocket watch, looked at it, sighed. “Unfortunately, I–”
“No! Wait. I mean…” She took a deep breath. “Melinda. My name is Melinda Carlisle.” But she didn’t have his attention anymore. He was looking out the window ahead of them, anxious.
He stood up slowly, patting his pockets absentmindedly. “Well, Melinda, it appears that we are out of time. It was a pleasure–”
She interrupted him, feeling anxious herself, not wanting this strange young man to give up on her. Feeling that it was important to connect with him but not knowing why. “I would want to know–” she said. “I mean, if it was possible, I would rather know, than not know.” She shrugged, tried smiling.
He paused, frowned ever so briefly. “All right, then.” He sat back down, pocket watch in hand. He stared into her eyes, and she felt self conscious again. She could hear him winding his watch and glanced down at his fingers and saw the dial turning counter clockwise, an odd direction for a pocket watch.
Her ears popped suddenly, and she looked back up at him and then down at his watch. He had turned it over and the hands of the watch were ever so slowly turning backward. How could that be?
The sun shone through the dust motes in the air, moving whimsically in the air. Next to Melinda’s seat a woman was in the throes of a deep cough, but without sound. Her eyes squeezed shut, one hand pressed on her chest. Until suddenly she wasn’t coughing at all and she leaned calmly back and Melinda realized that the woman was moving backward, not properly forward. Everyone was moving ever so slowly backward. Everyone except herself and the strange young man. She shook her head in wonderment, and turned back to Jack.
He was no longer smiling, his face was serious, his eyes kind.
“You’re going to die today, Melinda, along with some of your fellow bus mates.” He reached out a hand and took hers carefully. “You will feel no pain, your neck instantly breaking when this bus passes over that bridge up ahead,” he pointed with one finger, “and gets pushed over the side.”
She couldn’t speak, couldn’t breath, her breath as frozen as the time around her. She closed her eyes, heart pounding.
She heard his whisper. “You’re going to a better place…”
It was the last thing she heard.
Time resumed with a pop in her ears, and she glanced out the window seeing the reflection of a terrified woman in the glass, her face, her eyes. She tried to stand, she couldn’t move her legs. Her mouth opened, her tongue frozen in her mouth. Whipping her head around she saw that Jack was gone, the warmth of his hand lingering in hers, or maybe he had never been there. Suddenly, she doubted her sanity.
Up ahead loomed the bridge.