FLASH Fiction Challenge 100 – Day 17
The bus stopped so suddenly that several people were thrown from their seats.
How had the driver not seen the child? His attention had been somewhat divided by his conversation with the two older sisters that always sat directly behind him. The irony was the twins usually always offered him suggestions on safety. Had he noticed the light ahead just turned yellow? Did he have time to stop? Had he seen the young woman driver who had just go in her car half a block ahead?
But the child seemed to come out of nowhere. The driver hadn’t even seen her.
The twins lived together and rode the bus into town twice a week. Tuesdays were shopping days. On Fridays, they liked to go see a matinée at the dollar theater. It didn’t matter which film. It was the thing itself that drew their energy. Together time.
The bus screeched to a stop. The driver was up and out of his seat, down the three padded stairs, and peering under the bus.
“Dispatch, I’m going to need an ambulance at Elm and 15th street. A pedestrian, a child, just stepped in front of my bus. I hit her. I need an ambulance,” Roger says into his tiny radio.
“Roger that. Message received, driver 37. Is she okay? Was she waiting to board?” the dispatch operator asks. The dispatch operator sounds rattled, Roger thinks as he drops to his hands and knees, peers under his bus.
They’ll probably fire me after this, he thinks. It’s not a fair system he thinks. He’s normally a very safe driver. His customer feedback forms are always all filled with glowing praise for Roger. He is personal, courteous, kind, and thoughtful. And most of them included some variation of the word safe. And now this.
Roger’s eyes take several seconds to adapt to the lessened light under the bus.
Then he sees her. She is on her hands and knees, her eyes wide. She looks at him guiltily, like he had caught her doing some forbidden, silly thing.
“Are you okay sweetheart?” he asks her. “Are you hurt at all?”
She looks away for a second. She looks back, shakes her head once.
‘No?’ But he had asked her two questions. They had been instructed this might happen during accidents and they had drilled on not asking too many questions in situations where confusion might arise. But that was a long time ago. He received his first bus license 37 years ago.
Start again, Roger.
“Are you okay darling?” he asks her. She looks at him with concern in her eyes.
Roger almost loses it. The child can’t be older than four.
He lowers himself to the ground, reaches for her.
“I’m just going to help you out from under here, okay? Let me know if any of this hurts, okay?”
“Okay,” she says.
He pulls her as gently as he can into his arms and begins wriggling back out from under the bus.
He feels her growing lighter, but his attention is behind him, keeping an eye for the grate and curb behind him, trying to get them both out safely.
When he is out from under the bus, he realizes his arms are empty. She is no longer there.
He looks back under the bus. She is still lying there. How is that possible?
She smiles at him sadly and offers one tiny wave.
“Tell mama not to worry none, mister … “
Then she slowly dissolves. A ghost.
He sits back on the curb, tries to collect himself.
Stella and Nellie are there. The sisters on their way to see something at the dollar theater on Maple he knows.
They sit down on the curb next to him, one on each side. Stella (or was it, Nellie, he could never remember which twin was which) leans in close.
“No one else on the bus saw anything, Roger,” she whispers.
“But where …” Roger trails off.
The two sisters share a look and something passes between them.
“Tell mama not to worry none, mister … “
“Roger we aren’t twins. We were triplets originally. And that,” Stella or Nellie says gesturing under the bus, “was our sister Beth. She was hit by a bus sixty years ago today. She usually appears on this very route, on the anniversary of her death. Beth was so sweet. God, I miss her so much!”
They sit quietly for a minute. The two sisters missing the third, Roger marveling over the experience of hitting a ghost with his bus.
“Just tell folks it was a squirrel when we get back on the bus,” one of them suggests. And that is what he does.