Allison: Hey again, it’s me. After finishing yesterday’s work, I decided that we should take a little break from all of this organizing and sorting stuff to go on a little trip to Santa Fe. We’ve been going at this pretty much non-stop and getting out of this stuffy little room for a bit might do us some good.
Tess: Why don’t you just tell them the truth already instead of lying through your teeth, Alleyway?
Allison: Because I really don’t think you’re entire class needs to know all about my….*sigh* All right, fine, if it’ll get you to stop looking at me like that, I’ll tell you the truth. The actual reason I decided for us to take a detour from our work is that my mother called me yesterday, asking if I could visit her. I’d personally prefer not to but, my father has informed me that she seems to have this delusional idea that he is “stealing me away from her”. So, in a hopeless attempt to keep the peace between the two of them, I decided to go. Tess knows just as well as I do that as soon as I get over there, she’ll try to do everything in her power to prove to me that she is the better parent and I’m going to be miserable. The only positive thing about this is that it’ll get us out of town and hopefully put that weirdo from yesterday out of our minds.
Tess: Yeah, I was definitely getting some vibes off of that creep that I would like to forget. And speaking of getting out of town, we need to get going. Make sure you don’t forget the recorder.
Allison: You’re kidding, right? Didn’t you learn anything from yesterday?
Tess: Don’t worry, it’ll be fine. Most of the people that ride the bus are in their own little worlds anyway.
Allison: Fine, I’ll bring it, if you insist. But, you had better be right or I swear…
Tess: Yeah, yeah, I know, you’ll never forgive me and so on and so forth. Let’s go already!
Allison: Okay, I’m coming!
*On the Bus*
Allison: I’m back and I hope the noise isn’t interfering with this too much. As if the noise from this bus itself wasn’t bad enough, we’ve got some old guy snoring in the seat behind us.
Tess: Would you relax? Everything is going to be fine…
Strange Man: I wouldn’t be so sure about that…
Allison: I’m sorry?
Strange Man: I said, I wouldn’t be so sure about everything being fine. There’s a dark story behind this bus, you know. One that not everyone knows.
Allison: Oh please! You’re just trying to scare us!
Strange Man: Maybe I am…or maybe I’m telling the truth. But who knows? I’m just a random passenger, according to you.
Tess: What kind of story is it?
Allison: Are you seriously going to listen to this guy? He’s probably crazy!
Tess: If it’s something that I can use towards my project then, yeah, I am. It never hurts to have some current research to work with.
Strange Man: A research project, eh? I should have guessed as much from the recorder you have that you’re trying so hard to hide. Don’t look too flustered, I’m probably the only one who noticed. The story I have for you should prove to be quite useful to you two. If you actually want to listen, that is.”
Tess: Well, go on, tell us! Put the recorder closer, Allison. I want to get all of this.
Strange Man: Hm, I knew you wouldn’t be able to resist. Let’s see, where do I begin? It all started a few years ago when I had first started working at the lab. Since I live in Santa Fe, I would have to commute to and from work by bus. It was a pretty basic routine: get up at an ungodly hour of the morning to take the bus to the lab, work a full day, commute all the way back home, go to sleep and do the same thing the next day. It was miserable and I hated every moment of it but, it was a way to earn a living and a good paying one too. I’ve since moved on to a much better line of work but, that’s beside the point.
Usually, the commute home was pretty quiet. There weren’t usually a lot of people riding in the evening and those who did were either too tired to start up a conversation or just didn’t want to talk to anyone. Either option worked just fine for me since I was never in a very talkative mood after work, more so if it had been a rough day. But, there was one evening that I will never forget. Even now, years later, I can remember that ride home down to the second.”
Allison: Well, aren’t you going to continue?
Strange Man: Ah, yes yes, sorry. I got a little lost in thought there for a second. Where were we? Right, the commute home. That day of work was especially difficult for me and when it was over, I was eagerly anticipating getting home and just forgetting all about the miserable day that I had. When I got on the bus, it was filled with the same few people that I was usually joined with. This was a nice comfort to me as I walked down the aisle and took my usual seat: the third row down, by the window on the left. I had done this commute enough times to have my own specific spot that I knew no one would take and they never did.
I placed my bag down on the seat next to me and got settled in as I began my ride home, already feeling some of my stress and annoyance leave me. At this point, any person would assume that my tale would be done and that there wouldn’t be any more to tell. I would get home safely and that would be the end of it, right? Wrong. After we had been driving for a while, I started to wonder why it was taking so long to get to my usual stop. Normally, there is a bit of a delay to be expected just from traffic and having to drop people off along the way. But, that night, there wasn’t too much in the way of delays so, in theory, we should have been able to move along just fine. I decided to just ignore this fact and try to rest my eyes for a bit. I was incredibly tired and, in my mind, that seemed like a reasonable explanation for my impatience at the length of my journey home. So, I let myself drift off, letting the gentle, rocking motion of the bus take me into a deep sleep.
Unfortunately, my sleep didn’t last very long as I was rudely awoken by the sound of the radio being turned on. I blinked a couple times, looking around. To my annoyance, we were still driving and no one had gotten off. I then decided that I was done with whatever game this was and wanted to know what was going on. So, I got up and made my way over to the driver. “Excuse me,” I asked, trying to hide my annoyance as much as possible. “How much longer is it going to take to get to my stop?” Keeping his eyes glued on the road, the driver said. “Please return to your seat, sir. We’ll get there soon.”
With a sigh of frustration, I went back and plopped down on my seat. There had to be some reasonable explanation for this. Maybe the driver was lost or taking a detour because of a road closure. Or maybe he was just a dense moron who thought it was funny to take his passengers on a joy ride around Santa Fe. I decided to go with the latter. As I sat there, fuming and trying to figure out what I was going to do, I noticed another thing that made my situation even more bizarre: the same song was still playing on the radio. The more I listened, the more I realized that it was just one lyric being played over and over again…
“Round and round, with love we’ll find a way just give time, Round and Round…”
So it continued, the same lyric, over and over and over. There was no pause, there was no break, just that same, stupid line, again and again. For a little while, I was able to ignore it and just look out the window, letting my mind wander. But, the more it played, the more annoyed with it I got. I was getting annoyed at this whole evening and this was just making it worse. Looking for some relief, I leaned across the aisle and tapped the guy sitting there on the shoulder and said. “Don’t you wish he would just change the station already?” In reply, I just got a blank stare, like a deer in headlights.
Having had quite enough of this whole situation, I got up and went back to the front of the bus. “If no one else is going to do anything about this, then I will,” I muttered, pushing a button on the radio to get the station to change. But, it was still the same, nothing had changed. I tried the second button, nothing. Third, nothing. “Sir, your radio is broken,” I told the driver. “It won’t let me change the station and the song won’t finish.” All I got was, “Please return to your seat, sir. We’ll get there soon.”
I was about to demand that he stop the bus so that I could get off and walk the rest of the way home when I heard that familiar little ping that chimes whenever someone pulls the string to let the driver know that they would like to get off. I thought the driver was going to just ignore this but, to my surprise, he slowly pulled the bus over and opened the door to let the passenger off. I should have immediately followed but, for some reason, I didn’t. I just stood there in a daze as the man I had tapped on the shoulder walked up, gave me a little wave goodbye, and hopped off the bus.
As I stood there, watching the man start walking down the sidewalk, I could have sworn that I heard the lyrics change to now say:
“Out on the streets, that’s where we’ll meet. You make the night, I always cross the line.”
As we continued driving, I stumbled back to my seat and sat back down, wanting nothing more than to get off of this nightmare of a bus ride and go into my nice warm home. I looked to my left and nearly screamed in shock. What should have been just an empty seat across the aisle from me was now occupied by the same man that had just got dropped off. “What are you yelling about?” he asked in annoyance, glaring at me. “have you lost your mind or something, man?”
“I just…you were….I swear….” I stammered, unable to get my thoughts together enough to make a full sentence. Finally, I was able to get out “Didn’t you just get off the bus?!” The man shook his head. “No, I’ve been on the bus this whole time, just like you. I was having a nice little nap before you rudely woke me up with your screaming.” He looked at me with narrowed eyes. “Are you sure you’re okay?”
“I swear, I just saw you get off!” I said earnestly, desperately wanting him to tell me that I was mistaking him for someone else. “I saw you get off about a half a mile back from here and start walking down the street! That had to have been you!” The man just laughed at me and closed his eyes. “It wasn’t me but, if it’ll make you feel better to think so, then go for it. I’m going back to sleep.”
As he did so, I sat there, head in my hands, trying to make sense of all of this. I knew this couldn’t be real, this had to be a joke. It didn’t make sense for the radio to never stop playing the same song and for people to reappear on the same bus that they woke up on…at least I didn’t think it did. I was having a really hard time grasping what made sense and what didn’t.
As another hour and another mile rolled by, I decided to try to handle my situation logically and observe my fellow passengers. If none of them had the same thing happen to them then, I was just exhausted enough to imagine the same person getting off the bus who never left to begin with. If the same thing did happen, then maybe I was just crazy.
So, I sat there for a few minutes, keeping a close eye on the passengers. After some time had passed, there was that ping again and then, two people got off at the same time. I keenly kept my eye on their seats as the bus continued moving, waiting to see what the results would be. I heard what sounded like a tap on the window to my right. I turned toward the noise and nearly jumped out of my skin when I returned my eyes to the seat and found those two back in it. They appeared to be waking up from a nap. Five minutes went by, the same thing happened. Twenty minutes later, and it happened again.
Now convinced that this wasn’t a joke anymore and terrified beyond belief, I put my head in my hands. What was I suppose to do now? I was stuck on a bus, with a now maddening song playing in the background and passengers that couldn’t get off. Surely, there had to be an end in sight but, it seemed so far off and hopeless at this point.
Right as I thought about calling 911, a desperate last attempt at some sort of a plan, a thought came to me “What if I tried to get off the bus? Would it let me leave or would I end up right where I am now, waking up from a never-ending nightmare?” Anything at this point was worth a try so, I put my jacket on, slung my bag over my shoulder, and, with hope and a prayer, I pulled the string next to me.
The ping chimed and I waited, anxious to see what would happen to me. Sure enough, the bus slowed and pulled over, taking what felt like an eternity to come to a stop. When it finally did, I slowly stood, my hands shaking as I made my way to the front of the bus. I gave the passengers one last look before the door slid open and I walked down the stairs and off the bus, feeling the cool evening breeze on my face.
I stood there for a few seconds with my eyes closed tightly, too afraid to open them and see the inside of that bus and those same passengers again. I listened to the squeak of the bus door and the rumble of the engine as it drove away, my heart pounding in my chest. I couldn’t bring myself to do anything else but stand there, my hands clenched in tight fists.
When the rumble of the bus had faded to very faint hum, I took a deep breath in and opened my eyes. I was surprised to find that, instead of being back on the bus, I was at my usual stop, looking at my house across the street. I was met with the sound of dogs barking in the distance and of cars going by. There was no song playing and there were no rumbles from a bus engine. I was so relieved and happy that I couldn’t help but laugh and cry at the same time. I was free from that horrible nightmare for good.
Tess: Wait, why were you able to get off? What made you so much different from the rest of them.
Strange Man: Trust me, I had that same thought along with several others, none of which gave me any sort of explanation for what happened. I haven’t been able to tell anyone else about this because I know it’ll just sound like some crazy, exhausted guy losing his mind on a bus. Maybe it’ll happen to someone else and they can pick it apart. All I can say is, just be a little extra careful when you ride the bus. The same thing might happen to you too.
Allison: Hey look, we’re here. Oh great, my mother is already waiting for us.
Tess: *laughs* Well, I’m afraid we have to go. It was nice talking to you Mr…
Strange Man: Mr. Swanson. It was nice talking to you young ladies as well. Good luck with that project.
Allison: Come on, let’s go. I need to hide this recorder from Mom. She’s the last person I want asking us questions about it.