5 March, 2000
New York City, U.S.A.
“The Bus to Zion”
Red, Mike and I are sitting on a bench in a grey concrete bus depot along a black asphalt highway that looks like an airport tarmac. It has taken me six days to recover. On the seventh we haul ass across the barren dunes to reach the depot. We’d barely spoken since the Transmogrification. There has been no strength for more words.
The potential means of transport can vary incredibly in this place. Not another vehicle in sight. Enormous deep desert sand dunes surround us although the sands are now rocky and red. A change of wind and the highway depot will be gone. Mike Washington and I are wearing the black pinstripe suits we took from a locker in the depot. The funny hats and implanted jerry curls mean that we’re both dressed as Orthodox Jews.
Mike hands me a lunch box. It says Molly’s Escort Service on it. There’s an image of a stripper in lace with handcuffs on it painted black and red. Something inside it is rather heavy.
“What’s this?” I ask Mike.
“I think I’d rather not.” I say.
“What advice do you give a soldier too afraid to pull the trigger?” asks Mike.
Mike Washington leans against the bus stop wall and pulls a green pack of cigarettes from his pocket. He flips open a gold Zippo lighter and lights it up. He takes a pair of scissors out of his pocket and cuts off his jerry curls. He throws the black hat into the sand.
“You’re the Mr. Pinstripe Suit. You’re the fuckin’ killer,” I respond.
“You said it, not me.” Mike says.
A bus pulls up with Acadian writing on the side. I don’t know what it says. Mike Washington motions for me to get on the bus. The fare card reader is broken and the driver points to sign that has the number 40 and a Mesopotamian letter next to it. Mike hands the driver a wad of various coins in different currencies and the driver shakes his head in annoyance and waves us through with his hand. The bus is packed with people all speaking in different languages. I move to take an open seat in the front of the bus. Mike stops me.
“The Blacks didn’t bleed to sit in the back bus for Jews to get lazy and die near the front.”
“What are you talking about?” I ask Mike
“Always sit in the back of the bus.” Mike states emphatically.
“If you say so.” I respond.
The bus driver shrugs as we cram our way through a wide aisle obstructed by blocking limbs and bags probably best consigned to the bottom of the bus. There’s the redheaded girl taking up several seats stretched out and a bunch of what look like guards around her. She’s even more pregnant. Four guards in brown suits are standing while everyone else is sitting. She’s dead asleep and Mike tells me with his eyes to keep moving. We find two seats in the last row. I put the lunch box on my lap.
“Don’t you wanna know what’s inside?” Mike asks me.
“I already know what’s inside,” I say.
The bus chugs to a start. It drives for a few miles and then clunks to a stop. In a jarring lurch the front of the bus elevates itself on hydraulics. There’s a pause and clank. The bus rockets into the upper atmosphere. Clouds fly by the windows. Not even the children cry out. I see metal steam punk wings extend out the sides of the bus.
“Let go of your nose. You look like an idiot,” he says. He takes out his cigarettes. They were inside my suit pocket.
“You probably can’t….” I begin to say.
He’s already smoking on the omnibus.
“That isn’t just a pregnant girl,” Mike says.
“Huh?” I ask.
“That isn’t a girl at all anymore. If I told you that that wasn’t a pregnant shiela but a ticking time bomb inside a pregnant woman hiding itself? How would you deal with the situation?” Mike says.
“Only you ask questions like that.” I tell him
“It’s a valid question. Think the kid’s yours?”
“Huh? Here’s a better question. Why would I ‘deal with’ anyone? Why would I deal with a pregnant girl in the first place? And it definitely isn’t mine,” I tell Mike.
“She’s the kind of woman that has the potential to spread confusion up and down the aisles,” Mike says.
“Because that’s the kind of broad she is.” Mike says.
I feel a cold sweat and clammy palms. I feel the fear of something too impending to plan properly for.
“I’m not into this today,” I tell Mike.
“And I’m not a reincarnated Warsaw Ghetto fighter babysitting an insolent boy pilgrim either.”
“What kind of name is Mike Washington?”
“It’s a generic American hero name,” I respond.
“Remember when you used to stay up all night letting me write stories for you? Stories about me for Mr. Van Kirk.”
“Yeah…” I stammer.
“You made up a name for me. For the guy you wanted to be. What name was that?” Mike asks me.
“Mike Washington,” I say.
“Yeah. Do you think that’s my name?”
“Who carried you through your ten years of prison hospitals when all you wanted to do was let them program you or die? When you were screaming down in that hole, who did you call out to when you needed to be strong? Me, motherfucker. Me. When the devil whispers your name do you tell yourself it’s the voice of God? Are you having trouble picking sides?”
“You are the fuckin devil!” I spit out.
“Don’t cheapen yourself by thinking that the spiritual dichotomy is as simple as two guys in a room playing chess. And don’t paint a saint a sinner simply because you haven’t read the right books, or know the rules to the great game.”
“Where is this bus going?” I ask, tired of his tirade.
“Someplace the little time bomb inside that woman shouldn’t go. They think they have a virgin but what they really have is a sad and sorry whore from Babylon. The men guarding her don’t even know who they serve. Someone ordered them to seize the mother just like someone ordered me to protect you. We all have our orders, little pilgrim, but that don’t change the fact that you’re still Mr. Pinstripe Suit on a mission.”
“What the fuck does that mean?”
“It’s a lyric from a Big Bad Voodoo Daddy song.”
“I know it is. What does it mean in relation to me?!” I demand.
“Mr. Always-on-the-go,” he sings, “I know you got the answer, and we all wanna know.”
The men in the suits look in our direction. When they talk it sounds like nails scraping across a black board.
“I can’t kill the beast, pilgrim. You may have the answer, but you still don’t know how to fire your weapon and we’re seriously running out of time.”
The eyes of the four men go pitch black. The children on the bus start screaming. One of the bodyguards picks up a small girl who is yelling loudest of all and flings her across the bus. Her head cracks against the windshield. Her dead body hits the ground.
“If I told you we were gonna soon engage in actions that sacrifice innocents for a greater good would you be willing to do it? Some people are gonna have to die to save the whole. You and me, too if necessary.”
I stare at the men with the black eyes and look at my hand. My hand is shaking. I don’t dare open the box.
“Open the box, boy. We don’t have much time,” Mike mutters under his breath.
The other passengers have moved as far away from the four men in the brown suits as they possibly can and are cowering in the back of the omnibus near us.
“Are you still a communist, boy? Are you still one guided by your belief in some collective good?” Mike continues.
I give him a dead blank look.
“The greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people right? Individuals have to sacrifice for the greater good. Sacrifice or be willing to sacrifice others cause we ain’t leaving without her means of production.”
He slaps me on the back and stands up.
“Just remember that you’re the fuckin’ omelet,” Mike yells at me.
The rest happens very quickly. Mike’s cigarette hits the ground. He reaches into his suit pocket and pulls out a golden handgun and takes off down the wide aisle running. Whenever this happens I think in onomatopoeia. Too much Adam West when I was little.
He pushes his way through the crowd and bum rushes one of the brown suits giving a flying kick to one as he shoots another in the face. BLAM! As he lands on top of the man he kicked, he carefully fires quickly point blank at the head of second. BLAM! It explodes like a firecracker in a watermelon. Blood gets on everybody and everything. The passengers are screaming as he darts up the wide aisle, he catches the arm of the third as he reaches for his own gun and turns around and shoots the fourth. BLAM! Mike swings the gun around and brings the barrel down on the face of the third suit he’s caught the arm of. Shit brown blood is all over the place. The last man standing manages to get his pistol out, a German Lugar, and tries to fire at Mike. Mike twists his arm and the man fires haphazardly all over the bus. Several shots hit the driver and the controls. The omnibus lurches into a dive. Mike manages to overpower him and shoots the final bodyguard in the back of the head. BLAM! In less then five seconds my imaginary friend has shot four brown-suited men and his face is covered in their blood. So is the pregnant woman. This is Mike at his most decisive. The pregnant girl is pale and silent. There’s blood splattered running down her face. Her hair is colored with the cheap red die Eastern European women seem to love. Like Jessica Rabbit. The color crimson. I run up to the front. The control panel is covered in the blood and brains of the dead driver. We’re now in free fall.
“If the bus gets to ZION, so help me God, we’ll be in trouble!” Mike yells.
“ZION? Is that where we’ve been going?”
“Open the lunch box and end this situation. Those were not men of flesh. This is not just some frivolous girl. We cannot let this bus get to the City of Lights in one piece,” Mike continues.
“What’s in the box?” I ask again.
“You know what’s in the fucking box.”
I think to myself that my imaginary friend wants me to shoot this pregnant red haired girl and I wonder what that says about my mental health. The holes in the heads of the four brown shirts close up. Slightly groggy they start to get up. Mike, still looking at me, shoots them again quickly without batting an eye. He slides the magazine out of his handgun and drops the empty clip to the floor.
I open the box. There’s a silver plated stethoscope inside.
“You thought there’d be a gun in there?” he smirks. “You don’t know how to shoot. What makes you think I’d give you a gun? Go listen to her heart.”
I place the stethoscope on her right side above the breast.
“Left side, pilgrim.”
I replace it. I hear the rapid thud of a panicked girl’s heart.
The beating heart becomes like a vibration. The heartbeat is transmitting a code. I interpret the code mentally like a black and white comic book. I see Mike, the girl named Red and myself on the flying omnibus. It’s very Roy Lichtenstein.
“What’s your name?” I watch myself say.
“I told you my name is Red. I’m scared. Please don’t kill my child and me. They got inside without my permission and they’ll enter someone else as soon as you kill us,” I watch her say.
“What do you want me to do?”
“Don’t trust anything you hear me say without that stethoscope. It will try and get you two to bring me to Zion. You need to get him out of me before we get there or you’re going to have to kill us both. I trusted him and he got inside me. Please help us.”
“Who got inside you?”
“The laughing devil Clown. Please don’t let your friend kill me and my baby just to stop the beast.”
“Bring…down….the….bus,” she whispers in my ear.
I remove the stethoscope.
“There’s gotta be some other option,” I watch myself say.
“Those things will be up in a minute. Ammunition is finite even in dreams. If you think drinking is bad while pregnant you can be sure sky diving is worse,” Mike says.
“With what fucking parachute?!”
“With the parachutes in our goddamn suits.” Mike yells.
“What about her? What about the other passengers?”
“In AMrika a crisis decision is between Coke and Pepsi. For everyone else it’s about the least worst option.”
“And what’s our least worst option, Mr. Washington!?”
“I shoot out a window and we dive out of a plane with the woman tied to me because if the shoot doesn’t support two people you’re the only person who’s absolutely not expendable for the time being.”
“That sounds like a terrible idea,” the pregnant redhead says.
“All of us dying a flaming, horrible death in a flying bus accident is not exactly on my agenda, sweetheart,” Mike tells her.
“So here’s a better idea. I change out of this suit and she gets her own parachute. You and I can share.”
“I’m under strict orders to keep your altruism from getting us killed,” Mike says.
“I order you to let me give her my parachute.”
“What makes you think I take my orders from you?” He snaps.
The omnibus dips vertically and I nearly fall over and careen down the aisle.
“Time is of the essence boys,” the girl moans.
“This isn’t Terminator, Sebastian. Just because I protect you doesn’t mean I have to listen to you. You have less then a minute to keep some of us alive. Changes of wardrobe are absolutely out of the question.”
With reflexes faster than I’ve ever seen the four men are back up and on top of Mike tearing at his suit, their fingers extending multiple joints wrapping around his body with their screeching screams piercing our ears. Mike struggles to pick up his gun that has been knocked from his hand. Mike kicks the gun in my direction. The four suits strike his face and wrap tentacle fingers around him like a ball of suited male violence. They crash up the aisle and smash directly against the front windshield. The glass strains and cracks.
He lets out a terrific yell. Like a war cry.
The windshield breaks and the five of them fly out the window.
The air sucks through the bus. A passenger tumbles down the aisle and out the window, too. I manage to grab the girl’s arm. I’ve been socialized to grab onto attractive young women in the event of an emergency as if it were protocol. This can’t be very good for the baby. The thing inside her feels nothing. With one hand clutching the girl I empty a few rounds of Mike’s pistol at a side window. The air pressure sucks the shattered glass outside. Holding the little Red head tight I mutter a prayer to a vague conception of a higher power and jump out the window.
There’s a deafening rush of air. I’ve never seen the sky this blue. The bus disappears below me. Out of the corner of my eye I see Mike’s parachute inflated like a great, grey balloon, a brown suited figure hanging off him. A kick sends the brown suit tumbling toward the ground miles below. Where the fuck is the ripcord, I wonder afraid to let go of the girl who has wrapped herself around me with all her strength as we plummet to our deaths. It doesn’t matter, soon enough the blue balloon parachute inflates on its own with a RIP and POP and BANG. Red is wide-eyed and holding onto me still for dear life. I’ve lost my hat. Least of my concerns, I reckon. It’s automated-action adventure time and I’m a good three miles above the desert with Red wrapped around me tight. I wonder what she’ll name the baby.