Five Minute Fiction 70
An ongoing weekly experiment where I give myself five minutes to write something. Don’t think about anything. Just write. When done, walk away, coming back later to correct any glaring errors.
This week I had H.P. Lovecraft on the brain…
Where Do Monsters Come From?
Rifling through my pockets I fished out five quarters just as a bus lumbered around the corner and came to a hissing stop in front of me. It was an older sort of bus. Not the typical shiny, tinted glass, natural gas burning sort of vehicle you see every day downtown, but rather one with faded paint, balding tires, and a stenciled destination sign on the front that read “Kingsport”, which was a destination I had never heard of.
The dual doors opened with a faint squeal. I stepped on board and dropped my fare into the money slot which was, again, of an older variety where the change dropped down into a see through glass bottom. As my change landed on a pile of coins I thought I heard the bus driver say something. “Excuse me?” I asked, looking up at the driver who mouthed something through impossibly large lips and eyes that bulged slightly from their sockets.
Again he said something foreign, and I strained my ears to understand. It sounded vaguely like “R’lyeh wgah’nagl”, but I have a terrible ear for accents. Must be Albanian, I told myself. They’re all around this side of town. “I’m sorry,” I told the driver, whose staring eyes blinked slightly out of sync. “I’m not from around here. Car broke down a few blocks away. In fact, I can’t believe I managed to catch a bus. Never seen you guys run this late before.”
“Bus. Late,” the driver aped.
“Yeah, well, at least I won’t be walking home. You headed towards the depot? I live near there.” I said.
“Yeah. Depot,” the strange man replied, vacant eyed.
“Great. I’ll just…just grab a seat,” I said as headed for a seat near the back of the empty bus, save for one passenger seated just behind the driver, his face hidden behind an open newspaper, with a gloved right hand looking like it had an extra cloth digit. Trick of the light, I thought.
“Grab. Seat,” the driver said with a tongue flicking between his lips, the rusty doors sliding closed with a rusty wail behind me. The sudden forward momentum of the bus toppled me into a hard plastic seat near the back.
Two blocks later the bus came to another stop and a laughing couple boarded. Again I heard that guttural “R’lyeh wgah’nagl” phrase exchanged between them. Must be a local greeting of some kind, I said to myself and as the driver and passengers nodded to each other. The bus lurched forward with a jolt, knocking both new passengers into a front seat with a thud and shrieking laughter.
The bus came to another stop two minutes later, where a woman dressed in furs stepped on board. She was holding a baby, and was so engrossed in cooing and rocking the infant that she never bothered to look up at the driver as she passed him and took a seat a few rows from the front. As she turned to sit the swaddled, wriggling infant jostled in her arms. Now, I’m not sure if it was a trick of passing shadows cast from the sodium vapor streetlights or a lack of sleep and too much drink on my part that imprinted this bit of uncertainty on my brain, but I’m almost positive that what peaked out from beneath that warm bundle of blankets for the briefest flash of a moment was the sleek, verdant skin of a wriggling snake. But the cooing of the mother never stopped, and upon sitting she uncovered the soft pink head of her baby and planted a soft kiss on the crown of its head.
One block later the bus once again stopped and a slow, shuffling gentleman was allowed to board. The driver and passenger didn’t say a word, but greeted each other with an odd hand gesture and a strange moment of silence. The silver-haired specter wore a trench coat, but the left collar hung lazily against his shoulder, exposing several lines of nasty, glistening striations running down his neck like raw, deep gouges had been cut into his wrinkled skin with a long blade.
The bus driver didn’t gun the engine as he did before. Instead he waited for the shambling figure to slowly ease into the seat right next to me, keeping a close eye on the tottering presence through his rear view mirror until the elderly passenger softly deposited himself on the hard plastic bench, who then looked up and met the driver’s gaze with a subtle nod of his head. Only then did the bus move forward with a gentle ramping up of speed as if it were now carrying a load of exotic, unstable explosive chemicals.
The old man whispered something. That strange greeting again. “R’lyeh wgah’nagl.”
I turned and saw him staring at me with the empty expression of an old, lonely man who was eating a meal alone in the booth of a crowded diner. “I’m sorry, I don’t speak…Albanian?” I said to him. At this he smiled causing deep, angular gouges to erupt in the skin of his ancient face, like his flesh was splitting apart. His eyes blinked just like the driver’s. Out of sync, one right after the other.
“Ah,” he said, his breath rattling out of his neck in staccato bursts, “a Wanderer. It’s been so long since we’ve seen one of you. Here. So late at night.”
“I’m sorry,” I said, “but you must have me confused with someone else. My car, it broke down at Lexington and Third. I was just lucky enough to catch this bus. Lucky enough…”
“…enough to have exact change for the bus?” the old man said.
“Yeah, actually,” I said, a bit bewildered.
“Funny that, isn’t it? I mean, in this day and age of credit cards, debit cards, plastic, how often do we use cash?” the old man said, shifting slightly in his seat. “Me, for instance. Never use the stuff. Haven’t in many, many years. Too cumbersome. Too pedestrian. Too dirty. If I asked you how much cash you have in your wallet, what would you say?”
“Hey, you aren’t looking to rob me, are you?” I asked with a sly grin.
“Thought never crossed my mind,” he said. “So, without looking, how much money do you have in your wallet right now?”
“Easy. Haven’t been paid in nearly two weeks. I’m living off of credit until Friday,” I said.
“And yet you had exact change on your person for the bus? Nothing more, nothing less?” the man said, grinning, the deep crimson red of his gums gleaming in the glow of streetlights outside.
“Now that you mention it, yeah. When I put on these pants this morning, I don’t recall hearing any change rattling around in the pockets.”
“And yet, here you are,” the man said, still smiling. His oddly small teeth giving me the willies.
The bus began to slow down. It took nearly a block for us to come to a gradual, smooth stop at a very industrial looking part in the meat packing district? I couldn’t quite tell. Never been in this part of the city before. Looking out the windows to my left I could see dozens of train tracks crossing over each other, looking like soft spaghetti that had been dropped on the floor. Each track headed off in wildly different directions. Through the windows to my right all I could see was a dirty, decaying red brick wall.
I could hear the front doors squeak in protest as they opened. The driver looked over his shoulder and spoke aloud that strange foreign phrase. “R’lyeh wgah’nagl!”
The gregarious couple, Mr. Six Fingers, and the cooing fur woman with her squirming bundle of joy silently stood up and exited the bus. The elderly gentleman didn’t budge, instead he kept looking at me with his strange, impersonal smile. “Tell me,” he said, the streetlight glowing off his snowy hair making him look some sort of angelic horror, “if a small miracle saw you this far tonight, what do you say about following me to journey’s end, Wanderer? I’m sure you’ll find what I have to show you…singularly unique. I think one of your caliber would find it interesting.”
Gingerly he stood up, and as he did so his smile disappeared. In its place was the distant look he wore when he first boarded. Inching his way to the front he stepped off the bus, not bothering to look at nor speak to the driver. I sat there for a moment, studying the tangle of train tracks, thoughts of my crappy, busted car suddenly purged from my mind. “What the hell,” I whispered, stood up, and started making my way to the front of the bus.
The driver, hearing me approach, looked over his shoulder, blinked his disturbing blink, and said to me “R’lyeh wgah’nagl”.
“R’lyeh wgah’nagl,” I replied in my best impersonation as I passed him and stepped out into the chill of the night.
To be continued…