Continuing the serialized novella.
THE PASSENGERS ABOARD THE GREYHOUND diesel stared out the windows at the crumpled remains of Orion Nolton who had, minutes before, been seated with them. Nolton’s impatience was his downfall. He’d grown anxious and frustrated with a situation he didn’t and couldn’t possibly understand, and that frustration had cost him his life.
None of the occupants aboard the Indianapolis-bound tri-axle coach had the slightest clue as to what was happening . The road ahead stretched out far into the horizon. The landscape consisted of grassy hillsides strewn with trees, shrubbery, and other foliage. The bus had been stopped for several minutes, though perhaps it had been hours, days, or weeks. None were certain as time had lost its meaning. The sun rose appeared to rise at a moment’s notice. Darkness filled the sky just as swiftly.
Several hypotheses, each different from the other, had been discussed. The only aspect the passengers agreed upon was the blinding flash of light that had precipitated their dilemma.
The 35,000 pound MCI 102DL3 motor coach had been traveling on Interstate 76 at a speed of 68 miles per hour. Its driver, Cornwalus Pepperfield, was a seasoned professional who’d logged over 600,000 miles since joining Greyhound in 1981. At 10:55 p.m. a flash of blinding light engulfed the vehicle. Unconsciousness had claimed all 30 passengers as well as Pepperfield, who’d been among the first to reawaken.
“I don’t know what’s happened,” he’d remarked to the other passengers as consciousness returned, “but we’re not on 76 any more.”
“How can you be so sure,” Agnes Clopper, who was looking forward to discussing her latest sculpture to the Indianapolis Duct Tape Artists Society, inquired.
“Ma’am, I’ve driven this route for years. I know every twist and turn, every bump and bubble, every highway marker and street lamp. This ain’t 76.”
Thirty-two-year-old jazz pianist Nora Fleming, seated in A-6, had proposed a disquieting theory.
“I think we’re all dead. We’ve died and are in some kind of purgatory.”
Emanuel Sanchez, who’d spent twenty-four of his forty-nine years as an ER nurse, shook his head.
“I’ve seen death up close and personal, too often, and lady, this ain’t it. I can feel my heartbeat, my pulse. Not sure where we are, but we’re alive.”
“Radio’s not,” Pepperfield had noted, trying several frequencies.
“Which one of you thieves stole my watch?” Denis Farnhold, a thirty-two-year-old electrician en route to a cousin’s funeral had called out.
In the ensuing minutes, it had become apparent that all watches, as well as phones, were no longer with their owners.
“Bunch of goddam thieves,” Farnhold scoffed.
“Can you start the engine?” 14-year-old Alison Smythe, seated in B-1, had asked, as her mom sat and nervously stared out the window.
“What do ya know about that?” Pepperfield said, as the commuter cruiser’s ignition turned over. By a two to one vote the passengers had agreed that Pepperfield should drive. During this time, no other vehicles had passed. The plan was to drive to a service station where road maps, information, and other people could be found. Pepperfield piloted the vehicle for several hours until its fuel was nearly depleted. Jackson had pulled off to the side of the road.
“This landscape looks the same as it did three hours ago,” he’d remarked.
“The sun will be up soon,” 18-year-old college junior Alexis Marquis, engrossed in an advanced physics texted, had remarked.
The sun had risen an hour later—suddenly, brilliantly. Daylight had filled the sky for several long minutes before night fell sharply once more.
“What’s happening to us?” informaticist Quin Lui asked tensely, pressing his eyeglasses close against a wrinkled face.
Orion Nolton, a forty-four-year-old union pipe fitter had sat quietly since the ordeal had begun. A large, unshaven man prone to claustrophobia and impatience, he’d suddenly stood up and bolted toward the front door of the bus with with dogged determination.
“I want off! Now!”
“We’re in the middle of nowhere,” Pepperfield had answered.
“I don’t care. I want off the bus now! Open the goddam door or I’ll tear it open!”
Several passengers considered trying to convince Orion not to go, but his intimidating size and outright insistence had kept them silent. Seconds later, Pepperfield had reluctantly opened the sedan-styled door. Two passengers, fearful that the outside environment contained no oxygen, had held their breath as Orion stepped down onto the pavement.
“It’s okay,” he’d said. “The air is fine. A faint onion scent, but fine.”
He’d stepped out into the middle of the road. “It’s okay,” he’d shouted to his fellow passengers and proceeded to light a cigarette. The others had remained on the bus, too fearful to leave its presumed safety. In the distance, Orion had heard a sound that could have been a car approaching. He’d squatted down on one knee to gauge a better glimpse of the black horizon. In the distance the glow of headlights had grown ever closer.
“It’s a car! I’ll flag ‘em down!”
The headlights had grown in intensity, and as Orion tossed his cigarette to the ground, he’d suddenly realized that something was very wrong. He’d sprinted back toward the bus, the blinding lights bathing him with terrifying brilliance. He’d had time to see the number “6” and a “Shell Oil” decal on the hood of the formula-1 racer a scant second before it cut him down in mid stride. His large frame had flown into the air. He’d landed on the ground neck first as the roadster surged ahead and vanished.
Several passengers had screamed at sight of the slain man.
“That—that driver—just—just ran him down like an animal!”
“We’ve got to go out there. Maybe he’s still alive.”
But none aboard towering Greyhound was wiling to leave the perceived safety of the bus. Theirs was a different reality now, one based on survival. The survival instinct deemed the bus as safe.
Several feet away and completely out of view of any of the passengers, the Scallion and Mr. Black & Blue stood and stared with mild bemusement at the unfolding tableau. They glanced down at the elaborately constructed platform measuring twenty square feet and upon which the Greyhound, a shadow of its former self, sat idle. Mr. Black & Blue pawed a hand-held remote control which he’d used to navigate the model race car that had slain Orion Nolton. His eyes were wild with excitement, though he remained emotionally subdued from the effects of the Scallion’s hypno-onion. His was the look of a child who had just killed his first insect and had decided it was fun.
“Put the device down,” the Scallion said angrily.
“I’m still playing.”
“Drop it, I said. I’ll not have everyone aboard that vehicle killed for your amusement.”
“This was merely a test of my sub-atomic minimization particle disruption transmitter’s abilities. I’d deem it a success; the combination of my genius and your financial backing. The weapon not only reduced the vehicle and its occupants, but also proportionately shrank their clothing, the gasoline, books, and other objects. Everything in and on the bus was reduced to scale.”
“What you gonna do with the passengers?”
“They’ll remain here in this HO-scale world I’ve constructed for them out of cardboard, plastic, and decorative crepe paper. They won’t be alone for long. For you see…”
The Scallion held the moment for several dramatic pauses that were likely lost on his hypnotized pseudo-ally.
“…this is only the beginning. Soon, every major city on earth, possibly a few of the minor ones such as Medina, will be minimized sub-atomically.”
“Ambitious. But one question: Why’d you steal everyone’s personal stuff?”
“You have your hobbies, I have mine. Let’s leave it at that.”
“Just seems kind of petty is all.”
“I said let’s leave it at that. I’ll be back. While I’m gone, stop switching the lights off and on. You’ll have everyone aboard that bus believing their day of reckoning is at hand. Though I suppose in a way it is.”
NEXT: Our story continues.