The driver, who had wandered off looking for cell service, was nowhere to be found, and the passengers were out of the bus and ready to explore.
“Wait!” Syd shouted, running back into the bus. There was a bit of a ruckus inside, and he came out holding up a carefully selected item from his plethora of books: A Guide to Wilderness Survival.
Lina shook her head. “Syd, this is hardly wilderness. It’s Ohio for heaven’s sake.”
The passengers rambled out in single file, behind Lina, as she led them down a gravel path. Soon, the narrow path opened to a much wider road, and they were able to walk side-by-side, in unity.
Isabella’s guitar was strapped around her shoulders, and Syd tried to balance his survival book on the top of his head. Hugo counted his steps as he walked, and Star poked along slower than the others because of her bare feet – and the fact that she kept stopping to view the clouds.
It wasn’t long before something was stinging her foot. Syd stopped to examine it, and then he fumbled through his book to see if Star had stepped on anything poisonous.
“This is ridiculous,” Lina scolded. “There’s nothing poisonous out here!”
Melody, anxious to carry on, gave Star her boots. She had socks that were thick enough to keep out insects and pebbles, and her feet were tired of being confined. She kind of understood why Star didn’t care for shoes, but in her own ordinary life – they were a necessity.
Lina’s comment about this being Melody’s “first new adventure” had sparked something in her, and she was quite excited now. And the countryside was beautiful. They watched cows eat from rolling green pastures, and passed by cornfields that went on for as far as the eyes could see.
Up the hill further was a string of country houses and barns. They were all painted white, with the exception of one or two. Lina took a fork in the road, which led them in the opposite direction, to a canopy of trees, and then – eventually – a creek.
The group rested quietly for a while, catching their breath and staring at the water. Melody thought about how unusual they all were – compared to her prosaic life, that is. People didn’t talk to each other on the bus that she normally took each day, but the Number 5 was like a home to these passengers, and they treated each other like family.
Each had unique gifts or talents, and an energy that was contagious. Hugo saw math in everything, and Star – full of awe and wonder – loved to watch the sky. Lena, with her long lean legs, was larger than life, but her moves were gentle and unexaggerated. She was witty and outspoken – afraid of nothing – and she had a heart of absolute gold.
Isabella – on the other hand – was oddly quiet, but she could speak with her guitar. Even Syd, ‘the paranoid man’ (a nickname Melody gave him privately – in her mind), was exciting to watch. Perhaps because she was a lot like him in many ways, but with a little less intensity.
Melody remembered her life as a child, and how she used to sing. Her mother encouraged her relentlessly, and drove her around several states for various competitions. She imagined being a star one day – in Nashville or L.A. – but her mother died suddenly, and Melody developed stage fright. Debilitating stage fright. And an impulsive urge to keep her life simple and neat.
So, she finished school, got a job at the local market, and then met Johnny. And so began her ordinary, uneventful life that was literally void of emotions, barring her anger at Johnny for cheating on her.
As everyone settled, Isabella began to strum, Lina started to sway and, without knowing where it came from, Melody found the courage to sing. Face to face with the others, and her fears, she belted out a tune and the passengers went wild.
Thunder began to roar – just as Star had predicted – and rain came pouring down. Everyone ran, in every which way, and Melody found herself alone, peering through the grayness to find the others.
The bus horn honked, and she found her way to it by following the sound. The tow truck driver had arrived and the bus was being loaded. A car was parked behind it, and the bus driver hollered to Melody to get in the car.
“We’ll follow the tow truck in the car,” he yelled, the sound of rain making it hard to hear. “Once we’re at the depot you can transfer to a new bus and get to your destination.”
“What about the others?” Melody shouted as she made her way toward him.
“What?” He asked.
“The other passengers! I lost them by the creek when it started to rain!”
He looked at her strangely, just as he had when she caught him eyeing her in the rearview mirror of the bus. “What in the hell are you talking about?” He said, looking confused. He could see the worry in her eyes, and his voice toned down a notch, to a slightly compassionate level.
“Look lady. I’m not sure what’s going on with you, but you were the only passenger on my bus today. No one else boarded. It’s just you.”
Melody stayed silent on the ride. She was embarrassed, obviously, but she was also sure that she hadn’t imagined those passengers. “This is just weird,” she thought to herself.
But she was dripping wet, and she hadn’t gone on that new adventure alone – she just knew it. And she sang, something that she hadn’t done in years, and it was because of the passengers.
They arrived at the depot quickly. “Why didn’t we just walk here?” she asked the driver. “We were so close.”
“Company policy ma’am.” The driver said. He pointed her to the window where she could pick up her ticket, and then he hurried away.
The woman at the window handed her a boarding ticket for a bus that would get her to work at last. She looked at it for a moment and then handed it back.
“I don’t need this,” she said.
“Give me a one way ticket to Nashville, please.”
Melody waited at the crosswalk, her ticket in hand – knowing that whether the passengers were real or imagined, they had changed her life. She was different, and it was because of them.
Before the light changed, the tow truck went by with the old Number 5, probably on its way to the repair shop.
She watched it drive away, and begin to fade out, and she was sure that she saw Syd, in the rear window, waving goodbye with a smile.
Well, it was longer than I expected and I hope you were able to sit through until the end… and found it enjoyable or entertaining.
I swear I started to lose interest in it today, and I thought “NO, I’m going to finish this.” It’s much different than what my original idea was, but it kind of worked. My initial idea was a cross between the old show Herman’s Head and the movie Fight Club – and the protagonist was an adolescent boy… so as you can see it’s MUCH different than my idea, haha!
The image is a bit simple. I was tired. And Syd there looks a little weird. I moved his arms around and he looks a little like gumby. And then I realized that I’d forgotten about it being hitched to a tow truck, but who cares. Ha! Next time no props in the illustrations, it’s too much. Just people.
That’s about all for now. Time to move on.
Thank you for reading, I hope you found the story or my illustrations fun!