I awake to primal screaming, the shrill panicked wails of a child emerging into a dark and frightening place, and I look at my watch. It is 1 a.m. I am on a bus and at first I think I am still dreaming because everything outside the misty windows is surreal and ghostly white. The bus is creeping along through a solid wall of fog that would make Stephen King proud. The only monsters are the semi-trucks whooshing past in the fast lane while we creep along in the slow lane with blinkers flashing so we make a good target. The kid in the back is still screaming, very artfully, and I wish I had lungs like that. All of us are awake now, rousing slowly from our collapsed postures like zombies sensing new kills. When the screams stop for a moment we fold down again, sagging back into painful slumber; when the kid wails anew we jerk upright and shake our heads and sniff the air for the living one. We’ve all been on the bus a long time. No one should mess with our sleeping, it’s a Rule. It’s a Rule of the Bus.
The kid screams, again and again until he runs out of air for a minute, and then a new cycle begins. First there is just enough quiet time for us to believe that it is finished, and I and the others in the Zombie herd sink back to the edge of peaceful hungry oblivion; then the kid wails in a way that awakens the last vestiges of human emotion in us and we are angry for this, all we want is deep deep sleep and the kid is in the way.
Slowly, we turn. Momma senses this as she, too, awakens, and tells Billy to shush. We all respond in silent Zombie moans, “Yessss! Billleeee! Hussshhhh!” but Billy seems encouraged by all the attention and wails in even more primal ways, offending our deepest natures. Then he realizes Momma has turned also, she has no sympathy left at all, she is one of us, and he screams with renewed vigorous horror.
I entertain myself during the screams by thinking what I might do if I were a parent in this situation. Fortunately I have never been a parent, people like me are too creative for this job. My best idea was to enlist the aid of the other passengers, and then on a prearranged signal we would all scream in the most horrifying pants-shitting howls we could muster, and from then on whenever Billy found himself in a new situation he would simply freeze and turn ghostly-white and quiver in silence. I had another solution but my zombie brain was too rotted and leaky to hold onto it, all I remember is that it was very good.
Meanwhile, Billy seems even more panicked now that he knows Momma has lost all sympathy and joined the zombie herd. Yesssss, Billyyyy! Beeee afraaaaid! Many of us on this bus are not good people, we are here only because life has doomed us to it. Some of us have killed hundreds of thousands of people, Billy! We won’t hesitate to do another little tiny one like you, so just shut the fuck up!
But just at the critical moment, the bus driver interrupts with the cheery announcement that we are somewhere in Kansas and approaching a rest stop, and the bus turns into a tiny downtown area with street lamps that whizz past us like happy ghostly UFO’s. Billy looks out the fog-shrouded windows and says silently, Oh! Squirrel! and forgets his screaming.
As we approach this tiny mecca of colorful signs and racks of caffeinated drinks and hot servings of bad hamburgers and lifeless french fries, I turn to my seat partner and say the first things I’ve ever said to him. “I’ve had my quota of screaming now,” I say with a smile that smells like dried meat and cheese snack crackers. “It’s always nice when the screams stop so early in the morning.”
He laughs nervously and goes quickly out for a soda while I check my body and find that I don’t need to pee for another few hours and sink back into the undead slime of the Greyhound bus seat. I’ve been on the bus for two days already, if I count my time in the bus station at Butte, Montana. I find it mildly amusing that I am now talking like a serial killer, because I’ve been in a confined space with 45 other people for long enough that I truly believe they need some weeding out.
I was not always this sort of person. Two days previous I was a pretty normal guy spending a few days helping a friend with her goat farm. Then I got on the bus. Perhaps I was always like this, and this is how I discovered my true nature, but I prefer to think that Greyhound and other bus companies did this to me.