Written by Chad Boudreau
The bus driver was waiting.
Not that Devon noticed, so intently was he staring at the dead body lying at his feet. The car had come seemingly from nowhere. Only the shriek of its axle grinding against concrete as it jumped the curb had announced its arrival. Devon was quick. He was young, in good shape. He had finished running and regained his breath before he even remembered getting out of the way.
The older man was not so lucky, not so quick. When the instinct for survival had released its hold on Devon and sight and sound and movement became his to control once again, he found himself standing ankle-deep in a muddy puddle, a broken form sprawled at his water-covered feet.
It was hard for Devon to take his eyes off the dead man. He was having an increasingly difficult time remembering the man as he was only moments ago, standing beside him at the bus stop, a cigarette in one hand and a bright yellow umbrella in the other. The man had said ‘hello’ when he stepped up from behind Devon, emerging out of the gray gloom of falling night to stand in the light of the streetlamp. The older man took a drag from his cigarette. From the corner of his eye, Devon saw its red tip flare.
Then there was the shriek of metal, and something dark and large with glaring eyes was jumping the curb and a heartbeat later, the older man was dead, and Devon was standing in a puddle.
It started to rain again.
“Get on the bus.”
After leaping the curb, the car had cut across the sidewalk. The bus stop sign cracked against the hood of the car, was flung into the air and landed on the road. The driver must have tried to swerve away from the older man, or perhaps some trick of physics turned the car slightly, but the man was clipped by the rear corner of the car, sent roughly up and then down. His yellow umbrella lay not far from one outstretched hand. Even now the wind tugged its nylon.
The car stopped by the streetlamp. The engine fell quiet. The rain made the only sound, the pitter-patter of drops on a metallic body. The driver was a gray lump slumped over the wheel.
“Get on the bus.”
The bus had arrived. Devon had not heard it approach, had not heard the squeal of wet brakes, the hiss of the door opening. But the door was open, pale light reaching out into the gloom. The driver was looking at Devon. If he noticed the dead man at Devon’s feet or the broken remains of the car, he gave no sign. His face was blank, his eyes almost as lifeless as those of the older man staring at the gray sky. Rain splashed on the dead man’s eyeballs and pooled slowly in his sockets.
Devon wanted to tell the driver he couldn’t get on the bus. He wanted to tell him there was a dead man at his feet. He wanted to tell him he had to wait for the police to arrive. There would be statements to make. The police would have questions. It was Devon’s duty to stay there and make those statements.
“You don’t need to stay.”
Devon didn’t believe that.
“Trust me. You don’t need to stay.”
Devon was not convinced.
“There are other people to take care of this now. They’re coming right now as I speak. They will take care of everything and I guarantee the police won’t be asking you any questions. It’s time for you to get on the bus.”
There were people coming. Devon saw them spilling out of the one of the university buildings, a small group of students and staff. Some stayed just outside the door, standing in the rain. Others were approaching quickly, running to help.
It didn’t make sense and Devon turned back to tell the driver so.
“I’m laying down the truth as things are now. You can believe me. It’s time for you to get on the bus.”
Then the bus driver reached out and touched the back of Devon’s shoulder and gave him a little push. He reached out across the distance between Devon and the bus, reached out without leaving his seat and pushed Devon forward, a little push, but one that was firm enough to get him moving.
Devon lifted his foot and was on the bus, standing at the top of the steps. He turned to find a seat and found himself already seated in the middle of the bus.
The world outside was gray, a swirling gray that hugged the bus, brushed the windows and hid what lie beyond. It looked cold, unforgiving and Devon didn’t like it. It wasn’t the world he had left behind.
“It’s not the world you left behind,” said the driver. His hands were steady on the wheel. His eyes fixed on a road Devon could not see.
Devon didn’t understand. He was about to say so when the driver spoke once again.
“It’s all gone,” said the driver, and Devon knew that to be the truth. It was the one thing he knew was the truth, and it brought with it a realization. Just a realization, nothing else. No emotions.
Devon opened his mouth to give voice but the driver already confirmed it with a slow nod of his head.
He was sitting in the seat directly in front of Devon now, turned around in that seat, looking at him with those blank eyes. Devon looked over the driver’s shoulder and saw there was no one at the front of the bus. The steering wheel remained steady.
Devon responded with a nod of his own. He thought of a question, not that he got a chance to ask it.
“This,” replied the driver.
Devon didn’t wait this time. He wanted to reply that ‘this’ could not be all that was left for him. A world of gray fog. A bus and unasked questions. He wanted to say these things, but the driver was already speaking.
And before Devon could ask what ‘this’ was, the reply was coming.
“Memory. That is what lies out there.” The driver motioned with a flicker of his hand, a quick, fluttering movement Devon wasn’t sure he saw. But he looked out the bus window to the where the gray fog was crawling past. Not that he sensed movement. The world outside was moving, sliding past the bus. The destination was coming to them.
“Memory is all you are now,” said the driver.
Another question surfaced and went unanswered as the driver replied.
“Nothing is forever. Not even memory. In time, even memories fade, when those who remember have stopped remembering.”
The driver stopped then, and the bus was silent. Devon realized the world had been silent since the bus pulled up. The only sound had been the driver’s voice. Not that the driver spoke any words. His mouth never opened. His lips were nothing but thin lines of flesh only slightly less ashen than his ashen features. All colors were dull, drained and not quite real.
The driver spoke again, responding to a comment that was only just taking form in Devon’s mind.
“Taken before your time? Taken in your youth? So young? So much to live for?” The driver’s hand flickered toward the window once again. The movement was a blur. “You had what all these others had.”
As Devon watched, the fog seethed and swirled. One small gray bubble formed and burst, the fog parting to reveal an image against a white background so bright it filled Devon’s vision.
An elderly man was sitting in an elderly chair, the flickering light of the television news creating deep shadows on a grandfather face. That face was slack, mouth slightly open and eyes unseeing.
Another gray bubble burst, revealing more white.
“You had what she had.”
A crib occupied by a small motionless form. A mobile of plastic farm animals stirred slowly in an unfelt breeze.
“And what he had.”
Rain pooled slowly in a dead man’s eyes.
A dark shape slumped over the steering wheel of a car.
Devon took his eyes away, and another question was taking form.
“Yes,” said the driver, “You are out there.”
And so Devon saw. The gray fog parted once more, blown apart by a bubble that formed and burst.
There was white and then there was a person face down in the mud. Devon’s hair was wet from the rain, flecked with the brownest muck. All other colors were muted, his jacket a blue-black-green that shouldn’t exist. The contents of his backpack were spilled in an oddly neat line stretching beyond his head. The wind fluttered the pages that had not quite yet soaked up the wet.
“That’s someone’s memory,” said the driver. The image disappeared into the fog.
Devon felt nothing. He had felt nothing since coming to this place. A question wanted to be asked and was answered before it was.
“Yes,” was all the driver said.
Not a question this time, but a statement. It would be a plea if Devon was still capable of emotion, which he wasn’t.
The driver responded to that unvoiced statement with a simple gesture. His hand didn’t seem to move, but eventually the gesture was done.
Bubbles and white.
He was short, shorter than anyone in the class, with a few hairs on the top of head peeking up on their own as if to look around. He was trying to keep his eyes forward; trying to act like he was at ease, but it was obvious he wasn’t. His walk was stiff, his eyes too rigid. She could tell he was new to the school.
His hair bounced whenever he moved. He ran his hand across the top of his head, checking for those stray hairs that had a habit of popping up. He took the first ball that was near his hand, tested the weight and moved up to the line in one smooth motion. All the pins went down and he did a little dance that caught her by surprise and made her heart soar.
He was nervous, and she knew her own nervousness could be seen in her own features.
He focused on her eyes as he slid his body on top of hers. Their flesh touched and he jerked back involuntarily. She gave him one of her small smiles, and then he lowered himself once again. Her eyes closed and she sucked back her breath as heat pierced her, and his body was shaking madly even as he began to move for the first time. His arms gave out and his head rested on her naked chest. Her breath ruffled the hair at the top of his head, the hair that she was patting down with one small hand.
He was funny, creating laughter at just the right moments. He had big, brown eyes that held so much. He took a deep breath that she heard, leaned into her shoulder and said ‘yes’, looking at the sidewalk beneath his feet instead of into her eyes.
“For the longest time when we first started going out, you would never look me in the eye,” she said, with a smile. He nodded and squeezed her hand and looked into her eyes.
He leaned in and they kissed as they did so many times, him standing out on the stoop, she inside the door still in her giant pajamas. A simple farewell.
A white light grew behind those figures on the porch. The kiss was so slow, lasting an age and a little beyond. He saw himself, his lips meeting hers and yet he was looking in, distanced. But he wasn’t on the bus, there was no bus, just white and an age full of tenderness and fondness, lips touching. He was there watching this scene, without body, and he felt.
The shock of it knocked him back. The white exploded and gray flooded in. Devon was on the bus again, the driver in front of him, unseeing eyes still pointed in his direction. Devon had felt. He knew that for certain, but he had no memory.
He had a question and it was answered as it formed.
“You have no memories now,” said the driver. “Out there are the memories of others, those that knew you, and those that were closest to you. Those memories are out there, but they can draw you in. These memories can bring back feelings, emotions, memories of your own.
“The memories of others are fresh, strong, full of emotion and thought. They will fade in time, recalled less and less, no longer carrying vivid emotion, and as they fade so will you. It is the way of things.”
Devon wanted to ask how much time he had, but the driver was already answering.
“There is no time. Minutes, years, centuries and seconds are all out there.” The driver waved his hand, the movement so slow Devon never saw it happen.
There was silence. No time passed.
Devon had felt. He wanted to feel again. He had no memory, but he knew he had felt. He turned to the window. The swirling gray was so close. Bubbles began to form.
“Memories fade as new ones are formed. If you keep pulling the memories to the surface those that possess the memories cannot move on…” But the rest Devon did not hear. The words were lost as bubbles exploded and white flowed forth.
He was standing up on the hill, in between two trees. She raised the camera and he smiled.
“It’s not the sound of waves I like,” he said, hands tucked into his hooded gray sweater, cheeks and nose red from the wind. “It’s the sound of the rocks rolling against each other as the waves go back out. Just listen to that sound. You don’t get much better than that.”
Holding hands with a silent sky of stars overhead. Laughter after tears. Tender kisses beneath the blankets. Walks in the frosty air.
Devon felt it all, and he remembered.
And in a house in which the sun rarely shone, an old woman sat alone in a chair, eyes distant and wet with memories that would not fade.