Banshee? Gordon pondered numbly before licking his lips and settling back into sleep.
Get behind me, Satan. Parker insisted, snoring beneath the dog-eared Bible draped across his face.
Someone move that fucking kettle off the stove, Casey demanded before nestling deeper into Mali's shoulder.
Did someone text me? Mali wondered, then sunk into realms far more lucid.
Sirens?! Joe woke with a start.
The bus came to a slow, jittering halt in the copper-colored dirt along the right shoulder of the road. The desert sun of mid morning warmed the air inside the vehicle, exciting nerves and flushing faces, and beyond the sallow windows, the landscape stretched vast and empty, shimmering with heat. Joe pulled himself from his seat, propped his torso against the headrest, and peered through the back windows. A lone police cruiser pulled in behind them.
"Wake up, kids. The bus driver got pulled over." Joe threw a half-empty bag of Cheetos at Gordon. The bag burst upon impact, showering the Brit in bright orange dust. He didn't seem to notice and continued to dream peacefully.
Frustrated with his sleeping comrades, Joe hoisted himself to his feet and made his way to the front of the bus.
"What's going on?" he asked the driver.
"Sit the fuck down, you cum-sucking shit," the driver said. He opened the door and was beckoned out by the officer. A slew of curses could be heard outside. Evidently, the driver knew the officer's mother.
Joe made his way back down the aisle. He noticed Gordon had propped his feet on his seat, so Joe decided to find a new place to sit. He surveyed his options and found them wanting, so he slid into an empty seat near the front, next to an elderly gentlemen who was lost somewhere inside his headphones.
"Hi," Joe said.
The old man either didn't hear him or ignored him outright.
Joe sighed and rested his head against the seatback, closing his eyes and wishing sleep would find him again.
"Hello," the old man said. Joe peered over and discovered the gentleman was now watching him with glossy, grey eyes. He removed his headphones and extended a withered, curled hand to Joe, which Joe shook instinctively. He smelled of whiskey and rotting produce.
"Hi. Sorry, someone took my seat, and --"
"That's alright, my boy. My name is Jeremiah Platesmith, and yours?"
"Well, Joe, it's a pleasure to have the company. These transistor radios aren't much for good conversation, you know."
"Can you pick up police scanners on that thing? Do you know why we got pulled over?"
The old man laughed from somewhere deep within his bloated gut. "It seems Johnny Law is searching for someone - a murderer, at that. Isn't that exciting?"
"I guess," Joe agreed.
"They seem to think he's on this very bus."
"It's not you, is it?" Joe inquired.
The old man laughed his deep-bellied laugh again and shook his head. "I might ask you the very same question, my boy. What brings you to the middle of the desert?"
"The sleeping circus near the back and I are traveling across the country, telling stories and asking to hear stories in return." He considered his next words carefully, then conceded upon realizing they weren't going anywhere for quite some time. "Do you have any stories?"
"Well," the old man began.
It was a few months after the end of Roosevelts's war. I had returned from overseas and married the girl of my dreams, a sweet girl from Kansas named Mary Anne Flowers. Because of an injury I sustained from a Kraut in Berlin, I couldn't do manual labor and took a job from Mary's father at his pizzeria.
Now, we didn't have cars in those days, so I rode a horse on my deliveries. If you've never seen Kansas, well my boy, you ain't seen mountains. That's God's country, I tell you, sloped and carved with the most magnificent Purple Mountains Majesty you could ever imagine. If only there weren't so many Spics.
But like I was saying, I worked as a lawyer during Carter's administration, pushing paper for the big wigs on Wall Street. This was around the time Martin Luther King was appointed Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, so we had a lot of civil rights issues passing through our hands. We worked day and night to ensure the Berlin Wall fell and blacks and whites could drink from the same fountains peacefully once again.
I got tired of the trade, though. My wife and me, and the kids - all twelve of them, most mine - we packed up and took off for California. I ain't seen some of my kids in a while, you understand? One of them's in a movie all you kids like - whassit called, Citizen Kane? Citizen Kane, that's it. You've seen it, ain't ya? Well, ain't ya?
You know they put ant shit in M&Ms? I know, because I invented them. Preserves the color. Originally we just had black and white M&Ms, but the kids didn't go for it, so we colored them. Kind of like how it was after the Berlin Wall fell: coloreds, everywhere.
It was around this time the first computers were invented, sold to us by the Soviets so they could keep making rockets to send to Mars, and I got a job at a call center in downtown Houston helping people learn to use them. I ain't never used one a day in my life, no sir. Best I could ever tell them was to unplug the fucking thing when they're done, seems to solve the problem right quick.
Like I was saying, that beautiful wife of mine, the wonderful and cheery Miss Sarah Burkington, oh, she's a peach I tell you. Then one day I caught her in bed with another man. Broke my heart, I tell you.
Worst of it was? I could have forgiven her for sleeping with a respectable man - but Jimmy Fucking Carter? Fucking whore.
"Sir?" Joe asked.
"What?" the old man responded, irritated at being interrupted.
"You're absolutely fucking crazy, aren't you?"
"Not as crazy as our resident murderer, son," the old man said, indicating with a gesture the scene outside. The bus driver, red-faced and swollen with alcohol, was charging the police officer, having produced a switchblade from the pocket of his grease-stained trousers. The officer compelled him to halt only once before putting a bullet in his head.
Joe retreated to his comrades, who were waking with the noise of the disturbance outside.
"What the hell 'appened?" Gordon asked, rubbing sleep from his eyes.