E. Michael Lewis
If the moonlight bothered Lincoln Colby, you couldn't tell. Though the moon shown through the window of the Greyhound, Lincoln, in the depths of REM sleep, could not see it. He could not see it move across the sky, hazy in the autumnal fog that held Eastern Washington tight in its grip. He could not see how it illuminated the bus: a silver bullet on the gray highway in the charcoal darkness. He didn't feel the bus slow down and exit, pulling to a stop in front of a little bus station lit more by the Chevron across the street than by its own lights. When Lincoln Colby slept, it was the untroubled sleep of the dead.
He was dreaming about the paper he had given at Eastern Washington University the day before. In the dream, all was fine until he realized he was naked. The crowd laughed as he used his leather case (now his pillow) to hide his nakedness, as he searched for something intelligent to say about Charlotte Brönte or Villette. He could feel his lips move, but no sound escaped them.
That's when he felt the hand on his shoulder.
The hand belonged to the bus driver, a hulk of a man whose shadow blocked out the moonlight. The driver said something, but Lincoln could not make it out. He sat up, bringing his hand to his wet Vandyke. He tried to sound polite.
"I'm sorry, what?"
"We'll be stopped here for an hour while I take a break and refuel. You can wait in the station."
Lincoln stretched his lithe body."What time is it?"
The driver had already moved to the front of the bus. Lincoln couldn't tell if the man hadn't heard him or had ignored him.
He grabbed his case and stumbled down the aisle. As he did, he was struck again by the coach's emptiness. Lincoln was the only passenger on this red-eye back to Auburn.
With a whoosh, the door opened.
Fall's chill and the gloomy-looking bus station woke him the rest of the way. It was a squat, one-story affair in dark brick with three single-paned bay windows. All three glared at him, daring him to enter. Florescent lights revealed rows of wooden benches that looked less comfortable than pews. They also revealed that he would be waiting alone. Above the entryway, there was a sign, obviously the name of the town, swinging in the leaf-stirring breeze.
LIBERTY, it read.
With a hiss, the doors rushed closed behind him and the bus roared away, turning into the bright convenience of the Chevron. Its bright lights also illuminated a bar and a general store that doubtless doubled as a post office. Both were shut up tight.
He glanced at his watch: 3:42 am. Glumly, he opened the door.
Inside, it was warm but not inviting. He noted the restrooms, the drinking fountain, the overpriced vending machines and the ticket window. The last was filled with an overweight middle-aged woman engrossed in a novel. She looked a little startled to see him, but quickly gave him a warm smile. She was reading 'Salem's Lot.
Just then, a doorthe men's room dooropened, and out stepped a young lady. That is how Lincoln would have described her. She was, in fact, a tart, too young for her five-inch heels, too slender for her Spandex dress, too blonde for her uneven tan. She smiled at him suddenly and blinked through her eyeshadow. Lincoln misread her smile as an embarrassed one.
He half-smiled in return and walked to the vending machines. Four coins bought him a ginger ale.
Behind him, her heels clicked loudly in the quiet of the station. He took his can and went to sit, only half conscious that she was sitting too, somewhere on the other side of the room. As soon as he sat down, he retrieved his day planner from the interior of his case. In less then eight hours, he'd be before his short fiction class, lecturing on Kafka's"Metamorphosis"he decided to jot down his thoughts so he could plan his approach.
For a moment he thought of his dream and smirked. In reality, he had delivered his paper perfectly to an unenthusiastic and barren auditorium. He was still young, just barely thirty, and he had plenty of time to gain tenure at a university that would publish his doctoral thesis and give him the respect he deserved. Until then, he would attend the conferences, invited or not, even if he wouldn't be home for another four hours, even if he had to lecture on next to no sleep.
From their case, he carefully removed his spectacles and tucked them behind his ears. He glanced up to find the young girl staring at him.
She smiled. It was a flirtatious smile, but also very polite, with lips only, her narrow mouth defined by taillight-red lipstick. Her cheeks were streams of blush; on her lashes, dark spider webs grew. Although she was younger then most of his students, he liked her. Somehow, he almost couldn't help it. He smiled back.
He looked back to his notes, and, with a fountain pen from his jacket, began to scribble. He heard her stand, walk to him, and sit down beside him. Their eyes met again when he looked up.
Her voice, very adult, asked,"Are you traveling alone?"
"Aren't we all?" Lincoln chuckled wryly.
She smiled patiently until he replied,"Yes." Carefully, he added,"You must be as well."
"Passing through," she said flatly. Lincoln nodded as if he understood.
"Going over the pass?" She nodded."The driver is gassing up. He'll be done in an hour."
"It takes an hour to put gas into a Greyhound?"
"I suppose it does, according to the union bylaws." This time she chuckled with him.
"Lincoln Colby," he said, extending his hand.
She held his hand softly, hardly shaking it. Her skin felt delicious. Lincoln pulled away first.
She eyed his lap."What's all that?"
Lincoln blushed furiously until he remembered his day planner. His ears stayed warm as he told her."I'm a teacher," he began."I'm trying to plan my next lecture."
"No, no, they'd eat me alive. I teach English at Green River Community College."
The girl sat up rigidly, glancing sharply around the room. It was clear that she had no interest in English or GRCC. Lincoln cursed himself for being so pompous."What do you do?"
It was her turn to laugh. High and light, it mixed at odd intervals with chords in minor keys. It reminded Lincoln of a twelve-tone opera."That's a silly thing to ask. I don't do anything at all."
"I manage to keep myself entertained, but that's about it." She fumbled her purse open."Cigarette?"
Lincoln declined, fumbling his day planner back into his case, wondering stupidly how his erection looked through his slacks. She lit up, holding her Pall Mall gingerly between her fingers. Exhaling away from him, she seemed much less juvenile.
"So," she started, flicking her ashes neatly onto the floor."Tell me about yourself."
"Not much to tell, I'm afraid." It had been a long time since a woman had asked him anything personal, and Lincoln was badly out of practice.
She exhaled again."What do you do for fun?"
"Me? Oh, not much of anything really. I teach all day and grade papers at night. I write sometimes. Catch the occasional movie. Or go to a conference."
"Oh, they're very exciting," he joked."It's a room full of stuffy old English professors who argue about what such-and-such an author meant in his book a hundred and fifty years ago."
Her laugh was as genuine as her question."Really?"
"No, it's really much more sedate. We get up in front of each other, read our papers, present our research and politely ignore one another." She laughed, the smoke rising from her lungs easily. It dissipated like the fog outside, almost dreamlike. He laughed with her.
He offered her a sip of his ginger ale. She declined."How about you?"
"Sure," he said gently. "What do you do for fun?"
She seemed to be carefully considering her answer. Then she smiled. "Same as you, really. The occasional movie."
"What do you plan to do west of the mountains?"
"I have some family in Auburn. I might stay with them for a while. I'm on my way to Canada."
"Vancouver. Thought I'd check out Seattle on my way through."
"Seattle's a very beautiful city. There's so much to see. Especially with the right person."
Lincoln cringed at his forwardness. To his surprise, she smiled in agreement.
"I bet it is," she said.
Her cigarette expired. She flicked the butt onto the floor where she used her heel to crush it out. He watched her every move, fascinated.
"May I call you 'Link'?" she asked. His eyes washed up her body until they met with hers. They lingered in all the wrong places.
"No one ever has before," he said, dazed.
"Link," she repeated, as if testing it. "Do you like me?"
He was dumbfounded by her directness. His mouth made noise while his mind searched for words. "Iwell, yes, you're quitecharming, I think."
"But do you like me?" She scooted closer to him, letting her hand fall delicately on top of his.
"Well, yes, of course, but it's only that we've just met, and . . ."
"I feel like I've known you forever," she interrupted. She gazed longingly into his eyes, lashes fluttering.
The girl leaned in to kiss him. He would have let her had his Victorian Morality Complex not kicked in.
What the hell are you doing? his mind screamed abruptly. What is wrong with you?
He stood abruptly, feeling her hot breath breeze by his cheek. He was all tense again, like on the bus, but worse, like he had made a mistake before a class. He face flushed; he began to straighten his tie.
She stood up behind him. "What's wrong?" She ran her hand up the back of his tweed jacket.
Lincoln focused on the ticket window. The agent was flipping a page. He turned and the girl was there, close to him, impossibly close. She seemed to be thrusting her chest at him as if her nipples were spikes on an iron maiden.
"Nothing," he muttered.
He felt her fingers winding into his. "Don't you like me?" Her eyes were the Pacific, her voice childlike.
He took a step back, untangling himself from her. "Of course I like you. It's just that we know so little about each other . . ."
"You know what you want from me." She moved close to him again. He backed away from her slowly.
"No, I . . . II don't want that."
She laughed her little laugh, only sharper. "Liar."
Lincoln's brows knit themselves together. "I beg your pardon . . ."
"Liar," she repeated coldly. "I know what you want from me, Lincoln Colby."
"No you don't." Lincoln raised his voice uncontrollably.
"Don't I?" she shouted. Lincoln glanced to the ticket agent, who had just now looked up.
"Don't I?" she said quieter, fiercer. "You don't think that I don't know all about you, Link, all about you in your studio apartment with your dusty books and your magazines and your right hand? You don't think I know about the fuck fantasies you have when you grade some pretty little cunt's essay? You think I can't fucking know you because I'm some white trash whore you met in a bus station?"
She raised her finger to him, looking him straight in the eye. "I know all about you, Lincoln Colby."
He tried to sound cold. "I have never met you before."
She reached up and tightened his tie impossibly tighter, whispering, "I know you."
Lincoln, a stranger to violence, struggled to get away. He walked past her toward the men's room.
She was shouting at him. "Yeah, walk away from me with your dick between your legs, you fucking cocksucker. That'll teach you to offer me money." Then, she added tightly, "This is your last stop."
Those words rang in his ears as he slammed into the men's room. He was before the mirror so quick that it startled him. His fist found the countertop with belated force.
He splashed his face with water and washed his hands before his haggard visage gave way to two urinals, three other sinks and four stalls, all of which greeted him joylessly.
He looked again into the mirror. What the hell had happened out there?
He thought over everything that he had done from the moment he had left the bus, trying desperately to find where things had gone wrong. At this point, he wasn't even sure that what happened out there wasn't his fault.
Lincoln turned and leaned against the counter, his face crimson. How can I face her, he thought, how can I face that ticket agent without her thinking horrible things about me?
That's when he smelled it. Odd smells are not unusual for public restrooms, but Lincoln could tell that this one was different. It wafted underneath his nostrils, competing with Comet and Toilet Duck for attention. It seemed wet, but badly so, sweet, but with bitter undertones. It was nothing he had ever smelled in a restroom before. It reminded him of something . . . he wracked his brains to remember.
In one of the stalls, something moved.
"Hello?" It seemed stupid to say, but he found himself saying it anyway. Nothing stirred.
I know I'm alone in here, he thought. No one else could be in here.
Briefly reassured, he made his way toward the stalls. The scent grew stronger, yet strangely eluded his memory. All their doors stood wide open and empty, except the last. On impulse, he dropped to his knees and was rewarded by the sight of workboots with jeans pulled down around them.
He laughed aloud, thankfully. "Excuse me," he said. "I didn't hear you come in. I thought I was alone."
Lincoln froze. The noise had come from outside the lavatory, yet inside the building. His imagination identified the sound as something from a nightmare. He knew he was right, too.
"Jesus," he mustered, pushing the stall door inward. "Mister, I think we should get the hell . . ."
Lincoln Colby never finished his sentence. Inside the stall was a dead man, his throat cut from ear to ear. His belt was tied around him, holding him cruelly upright. He was red from neck to lap, like a broken crayon. One arm was tucked roughly under a metal bar, the other tucked over his penis, the middle finger pointing toward the water. A slaughterhouse, he thought absurdly. A slaughterhouse.
Lincoln hardly felt his feet move. He was halfway between the street door and the restroom when he stopped.
The room was empty, silent. His briefcase stood where he had left it, along with his ginger ale. All trace of her was gone, except the sharp, pungent smell of smoke.
He had stepped toward his case when he noticed that the ticket window was empty. The door to the booth stood ajar.
Lincoln felt himself moving toward the open door, hypnotized by the smoke and the bittersweet wet smell that lingered in his nostrils. He stopped to listen. His heart would have drowned out a hockey crowd.
The last brave thing Lincoln Colby did was to look inside the ticket booth. He swung his head back when he had seen enough: two sprawled legs, a pool of blood, a Stephen King paperback trying to soak it all up.
The street door opened.
Lincoln spun to face the girl, who had a revolver trained on him. Neither moved.
"Not so smug now, are you, Link?"
He couldn't move. He couldn't think.
She smiled. "Care to dance?"
Lincoln dived for the cover of the wooden benches. Her first shot pierced his right kidney. Landing prostrate on the floor was painless compared to that.
Darkness. Suddenly he could see her: she had rolled him over. She shot him in each kneecap. Lincoln was bereft of feeling.
She took a step closer. He could smell gun oil and Chanel No. 5. She fired one shot into each of his shoulders. Lincoln's eyes were glassy, but he was still in them, he couldn't leave them. The girl stepped over him and squatted down over his chest. As he held the gun barrel against his forehead, he became suddenly aware that she wasn't wearing any underwear.
"My name is Chaos," she said. He tried not to listen, but couldn't stop himself. "Do you fear me?"
Lincoln's mouth was moving, like in his dream, only he heard words come out of it, words he didn't realize that he was saying.
"I fear you," he told her. "I fear you."
She stood up, sighted on Lincoln's forehead, and fired.
In the women's room, the girl freshened up. She even had time to reload her .38 and wash her rusty butterfly knife.
She walked to the ticket booth and clicked off the station's interior lights just as the bus was pulling up. She walked calmly to the street door.
The bus driver opened the door with a whoosh. He had to stop himself from letting out a low whistle.
"Hi there," she said, sugar sweet.
"Hi yourself," he smiled. "You it?"
"'Fraid so." She stepped up the stairs one leg at a time, her Spandex skirt crawling up her thighs as she did. "The other guy decided to stay."
His loss, the driver thought, and found himself saying so.
She smiled shyly. "Does that mean I have to sit up front?"
"Absolutely," the driver replied, closing the door and gunning the engine. "The Cascades are vicious this time of year."
"I'll bet they are," she agreed, leaning forward as he adjusted his mirror.
The Harrow: Original Works of Fantasy and Horror. ISSN: 1528-4271
The Harrow is published by THE HARROW PRESSSM