We are all stories in the end.
Your heart will stop, your breath will cease, your flesh will rot, but your story? It will live on and on, in the memories of those around you, in the dozens upon dozens of little echoes you left in your old apartment, in the corner of the local bar, in the scars you left while living on Earth.
Then again, I personally wouldn’t know. I’ve never been on Earth, you see, but though I suppose that’s Somewhere, it’s certainly neither here nor there.
Instead, let me tell you about a passing conversation.
Two people sit at a bus stop. What they look like isn’t important. Neither are their names.
The one on the left holds a paper in their left hand, the thin sheet gently folding in their grip. The one on the right is drumming their right-hand fingers on the bench’s armrest, the rhythmic tapping a soothing lullaby.
Their free hands rest at their sides on the bench, their fingers merely inches away from touching.
“Aren’t you scared?” asks the one on the right.
“Scared? Scared of what?”
“Of being alive.”
Of Bridges and Buses
Our story begins and will end with a lonely young woman standing on a bridge under the night sky. I’ve always loved bridges. These places of transition that one treads over to get from one destination to the next. Every great story, I think, should start on a bridge.
This particular bridge was as old as the streets it connected, and its concrete was as cold and empty as the bottom of the lake it overlooked. There was nothing of note on this bridge. I suppose that by saying that, I’m actually giving it some importance, which would be the kindest thing one had ever done for this bridge so dull it hadn’t even been worthy of a name.
On that night, a young woman by the name of Sophia stood on it, her pale ink-stained hands gripping the freezing guardrail rather tight.
Everything about her was not just unkempt and disregarded, but muted: her black hair, tied up in a loose, messy bun, the dyed blue streaks she got every month as faded as her blue eyes; the torn lavender backpack loosely hanging from her shoulder which badly hid her wrinkled, untucked shirt that had been fully white once, but was now dirtied here and there after wiping glasses with six years worth of scratches. Sophia, plainly put, did not care anymore about anything.
It was through these outdated lenses that she frowned down at the river, her thoughts submerged within the 1976 Buick rusting down below, its interiors rumored to be a sanctuary for fish and a watery grave for the unfortunate conductor.
She doubted the conductor was actually still there, but she always wondered about it, nonetheless. What would it feel like, she thought, to sink to the bottom and never come out.
In truth, the reason she fixated so much on the river was so as not to think about the closed envelope resting on the guardrail, a few inches away from her hand.
Her name was written on it. A very pretty name, in my opinion, but one that she considered to be alien. Foreign. A name that she felt did not match the person peering back from the water.
“It’s what I want,” she said, a whisper drowned out by the passing cars. “So I should just do it. Right?”
And yet, how many times had she asked herself that before? How many times more? When would it stop?
She pushed up her glasses and looked up at the night sky, blacker than black. After a moment, she returned her gaze to the river and stood on the tip of her toes, leaning over as much as she could. Leaning and leaning so much that one might fear she’d fall in.
But before an accident could happen, she moved back and instead crossed her arms over the guardrail, rested her forehead on them, and sighed.
A silly thing to say, for she did not believe in Gods, but it was still comforting. The idea that something out there, above all humans, was somehow responsible. Watching over them like the light suddenly shining over her, accompanied by a rhythmic buzzing sound.
Now, allow me to tell you a fact about Sophia.
Sophia had a fantastic memory. She also stood at this bridge for more than a few minutes every night during her walks. She knew its cracks and its stains, and the pawprint a dog had left in the wet cement years ago.
What I’m trying to say is she knew this bridge very, very well.
So, surely you’ll understand why she was more than surprised when she turned around and saw a bus stop a few feet away, dimly lit by a flickering lamp post.
She blinked at first. Then rubbed her eyes to make sure her vision wasn’t somehow failing her. Then, when she looked again, the bus stop was still there.
She stepped away from the railing and stared at the bus stop, still confused but surprisingly unafraid. Not as one would expect after an entire bus stop just appeared out of thin air.
She was odd like that. It’s precisely one of the reasons we chose her.
In any case, she stared at it. Maybe it had always been there, somehow. Maybe the stress and failures of her life had finally led her to lose her mind!
She glanced back to the envelope, still waiting on the railing, and after a moment’s hesitation, made her way towards the bus stop. Her first instinct was to look at the paper schedule, its corners flapping in the breeze. Surprisingly, it was empty save for a simple message very elegantly written, if I say so myself.
Which I do say. Because I wrote it.
Welcome To The Bus Stop To Somewhere.
Sophia absorbed this.
She turned and walked towards the lightbox featuring an ugly advert decorated in neon colors and fonts that would make typographers shudder. It looked like it had been done by a child, really, like something one would see in a children’s TV commercial or, perhaps more accurately, a Geocities 90’s website. It was certainly something.
THE LAST RESORT, HOTEL AND SPA, it said. WE’RE LOOKING TO HIRE STAFF FOR OUR HOTEL, AND YOU’RE THE PERFECT FIT!
She laughed bitterly, staring at her faded reflection on the glass.
“Right. College dropout who can’t even hold a fast-food job. Stellar employee, right there.”
The advert rolled over, now depicting a small kitchen and a chef with a question mark for a face.
COOKING POSITIONS AVAILABLE! it said next. NO DEGREE REQUIRED!
Sophia frowned. Nice, she thought. Now, this sign’s taunting me.
Finally, the advert rolled over one last time, depicting a smiling short, plump bald man in a concierge uniform, proudly adjusting his bowtie.
WE’LL TAKE ANYONE! said the advert, which I said sounded desperate, but when does anyone ever listen to me?
CALL 238-375-433* AT ANY TIME, it pleaded next. REALLY.
She stared at the sign for a minute that seemed eternal, the word ANYONE reflecting on her glasses, until finally, she made a choice.
“You know what? Fine.” she muttered, fishing her cellphone out of her pocket. “What they really need is a graphic designer.”
She dialed the number, put the phone to her ear, then waited and waited until finally, the velvety voice of a man chimed.
“…Hi. Uh. Sorry for the time, but—Is this The Last Resort? My name is Sophia Majorelle. I’m calling about a job posting?”
“Oh, yes, yes! That’s us! Wonderful! I suppose you’ll need to be interviewed right away, won’t you? We’re nearly done picking up guests, so we can pick you up as well.”
“Pick me up? What do you mean—” A dial tone interrupted her. “Hello? Are you there? Hello?… Great, thanks.”
Frustrated, the poor dear hung up the phone and shoved it in her pocket. Nice. Great, she thought. Really just great.
She turned away from the advert only to notice that the elegant text on the paper schedule had changed.
Thank you for calling. Please, do take a seat.
She didn’t, which was rude of her after I’d so politely offered it. Her eyes widened as I continued the one-sided conversation.
Or not. That’s quite alright. The bus will arrive shortly, regardless. Best of luck with your interview, dear.
Not a second later, a deafening honk caught her attention, and Sophia turned round to find a yellow bus rolling up and coming to a screeching stop right in front of her.
Much like the bridge and even the bus stop itself, the bus looked worn. Aged. As all old things are. But it has charm, I think, despite the faded paint and scratched windows.
It came to a stop right in front of Sophia, the doors opening up with a great exhale. In the dim interior, she could make out the shape of the driver, waving from the inside.
“I’m here, I’m here!” he exclaimed, almost melodically so.
He hurriedly descended from the bus and cleared his throat, smiling apologetically. The driver-slash-interviewer-apparently was, and I say this kindly, a caricature of an elderly man. Short and plump, he wore a black suit that contrasted nicely with his long white beard kept neat and in place with a simple but elegant red bowtie. What drew you in, however, were his eyes. They peered at you, twinkling with the disarming kindness that comes with being the one taking people home after a long, long day.
“Terribly sorry, traffic was absolutely horrendous!” he exclaimed, flustered. “I do beg your pardon for being late.”
She stared at him, rather unsure of what to do or say, until a voice spoke.
Just like the bus stop earlier before, a man had now appeared behind Sophia, startling her out of her skin. Thin and gangly, a great weariness clouded his eyes.
“Been waiting for this a long time,” he said quietly. “Don’t mind waiting a little more.”
“Hello! You’re Sophia, no?” the driver asked her jovially, stepping aside as the man climbed onto the bus. “You called asking for a job interview?” He gestured her in. “Come in, come in! Or else the cold will get in before you!”
There’s so many things one could do in this situation. Obviously, one would think the first would be to not get inside a strange bus filled with even stranger drivers offering some odd job in a hotel you’d never heard of.
That would be sensible, you’d think. Smart people with a shred of self-preservation would think that.
So, that said, Sophia quickly did as instructed and climbed into the bus, the doors closing behind her. To her credit, she felt some manner of relief when she saw a good dozen passengers already seated inside.
“Sit, sit!” said the driver, gesturing to an empty seat close to the front. “I’ll start the interview shortly.”
While the driver got back to his driving, Sophia took a minute to look at the other passengers, trying to ascertain what exactly was going on. At first glance, they seemed to be people of all walks of life, just normal individuals going about their normal lives.
But then, the more she stared, the more she observed, the more she noticed a stillness permeated the air. Though, stillness may not be the word I’m looking for. Sadness isn’t it, either.
To be in that bus was to be in that moment between one thing and the next. Those few seconds or minutes or hours of quietness that come after a storm but before one has to get up and get going. The moment nestled between an ending and a new beginning.
But I digress. The story of these people doesn’t matter to us now. Their story has ended. Sophia’s has just begun.
“You’re the one interviewing me?” she asked the driver.
“Mr. Bones, at your service!” he exclaimed, very briefly glancing her way. “I’m the bones of The Last Resort, you could say. The finest hotel you’ll ever see!”
“This is the first time I’ve ever heard of it. Where is it?”
She frowned, not amused. “Somewhere.”
“East of Somewhere, to be precise,” he continued. “We thought of putting it West of Over There, but we like the fog from the Somewhere mountains more. Has more of a presence, I think. Regardless, I really rather think you’ll like it!”
He was insane. He must be. The words he was saying individually made sense, but as a whole? Oh no, no, no.
“Right.” She looked back, sure that someone else must have heard his nonsense, but no one seemed perturbed. The woman sitting behind her actually smiled pleasantly at her. O-kay. She looked back to the driver. “Err…”
“Here, here!” the driver continued, turning back briefly to wave some papers at Sophia with his plump, little fingers. “Fill this in, won’t you, please?”
She got up to fetch the papers and then sat back down, examining them briefly. It seemed to be fairly standard things, such as her name, her address, education, emergency contacts, etc… However, it also delved into more bizarre things such as her favorite color, if she was open to try out several jobs (with matching pay), did she like top bunk or bottom bunk, and what would be the ideal bowtie in her opinion.
Do I really need this job? she thought to herself, ultimately deciding that yes, she did. Hopefully, this was just a very odd hotel and not… well…
Whatever, she thought. It’s not like there’s anything better for me.
She opened her backpack and fetched her pencil case, taking out markers until she found her ball-point pen.
“Ah, an artiste!” the driver noted, watching her through the rearview mirror. He chuckled and stroked his beard. “I am one too, you know!”
Sophia stared at him. “Uhh. Cool?”
“It is cool!” he exclaimed, mostly to himself.
Ignoring him, she focused on the papers again, filling in information here and there.
“Do you have any questions?” he asked a few minutes later, having walked over to her and peering down at the papers. He gestured to her name at the top. “Oh! You’ve excellent penmanship.”
“Thanks,” she said absentmindedly.
“Oh, excuse me,” the woman sitting behind her chimed to the driver. “How long have you had this job?”
“This job? Driving you all, you mean?” he asked, and when she nodded, he continued, “Ah! For a long time now, but this is in fact my very last shift!” He placed his arm on Sophia’s backrest and leaned on it, grinning proudly. “I’ve just been promoted to concierge!”
The woman clapped. “Oh, how wonderful!”
“Indeed, indeed!” he continued. “I’ve always enjoyed driving you all, but I’m ready for the change.”
It was that last sentence that caught Sophia’s attention. Her eyes drifted to the soon-to-be-former-driver, who she now realized was, in fact, not driving the still running bus. Her sudden scream startled both the woman and the driver, them and several other people gawking at her as she shot towards the window, covering herself with her arms and bracing for the crash.
“My goodness, what’s wrong?” he exclaimed, concerned.
“What’s wrong?!” Sophia gasped. “We’re all going to die!”
“…Die?” asked the woman, her tone so confused that it forced Sophia to look up and realize that… everything was fine?
She looked to the window, her heaving chest relaxing as she saw the bus continue to drive itself completely normally, even coming to a full stop at red light and activating its turn signal.
“Ooooh!” the driver said, laughing jovially. “Dear girl, did you think—?”
“Jesus wept,” Sophia muttered, clutching her hand against her chest. Once the panic had faded, embarrassment replaced it and she did her best to clear her throat and move on. “Sorry,” she said, avoiding the amused gazes by burning holes into the papers. “I didn’t know buses this old could be self-driving…”
The driver blinked. “Self-driving? It’s not self-driving. The dear Lady is driving, of course.”
Sophia’s eyes flickered to the empty driver’s seat and then back to him. Then again another time just to really drive home the point.
“The Lady,” he replied, patiently. He adjusted his bowtie. “Your potential future employer, if you take the job!”
“Where is she?” asked the woman eagerly, looking around as Sophia continued to re-examine whether she’d gone mad or not.
“You can’t see her, I’m afraid,” the driver explained. “But rest assured, she’s here.” He gestured to the bus. “She’s everywhere, like a spirit! Quite magical like that, she is.”
And I was.
“Speaking of which,” he continued, his brow furrowing as he looked towards the outside. “I think she’s taken a wrong turn somewhere. Errrr…” He shuffled off, only briefly glancing at Sophia. “Carry on with the interview!”
What the fuck is going on, Sophia thought, and thought it again when the ceilight lights buzzed off and on a few times with a loud eerie crackle.
“So,” the chatty woman asked behind Sophia, “what’s your name again?”
Sophia turned around and I imagine Chatty must have been surprised to hear someone’s name was a high-pitched yelp. You and I know her name is Sophia, clearly, but Sophia herself was having a hard time articulating it due to the fact that the woman…
Well, she was no longer a woman.
Chatty had transformed into a… how shall I describe this? A short cartoonish blue ghostly blob with no defining features beyond beady black eyes and ghostly stumps for arms.
Thankfully, Chatty wasn’t too overly concerned by Sophia’s terrified expression, the poor dear wholly pressed against the opposite seat rest.
“I’m Isabelle,” Chatty Isabelle continued, resting her arms on Sophia’s backrest. “It’s nice to meet you! This your first time, too?”
“Pfffft!” a grumpy manly voice snorted, drawing Sophia’s attention to yet another ghost blob—red, this time—seated a few seats away. “It’s everyone’s first time, ya’ fuzzball!”
It was at this precise moment, her hand slammed against her mouth, that Sophia realized every single person in that bus had transformed into ghosts of all different shapes and colors.
That’s a lie, of course. Sophia was still a gangly skinny human-shaped twenty-four year old who turned an even whiter shade of white when the driver walked over to reveal he had transformed too, but not into a ghostly blob, oh my no!
Gustave Bartholomew Bones, professionally known as Mister Bones, was now a towering skeleton in a black suit with a red bowtie, frowning at his bus’ inhabitants.
“Well then,” he said, perplexed, “that wasn’t supposed to happen yet.” He turned to Sophia, and at her stricken gawking expression, he looked to his now literally boney hands and frowned further. “Ah. This wasn’t supposed to happen yet, either.”
He looked back at her, nervously.
She looked back at him, terrified.
“You look very handsome!” Chatty exclaimed, lacking any social awareness whatsoever.
Mister Bones grinned at her, not one to ignore flatteries. “Why, thank you!” He offered her a little bow. “I try my best.”
“Oh my God,” Sophia whispered, harrowed. “I’m dead.”
“No,” Mister Bones replied at once. He seemed intent to say more, but was interrupted by the bus coming to a complete stop. His eyes flitted towards the window and whatever he saw made him rub his temple. “For goodness’ sake, why is nothing going right?”
A thick fog surrounded the bus, and looking through the window, Sophia noticed the misty shadow of a person standing outside. She watched as the person made their way towards the front of the bus, only to loudly knock exactly three times.
Without a word to Sophia or anyone else, Mister Bones made his way to the driver’s seat and after pulling a lever, the front doors opened up, filling the bus with the thick foggy mist.
It’s the Grim Reaper, Sophia thought immediately. Sure, there was a skeleton over there, and he was quite literally some sort of ferryman, but he was far too posh and polite to be the Grim Reaper.
The figure currently walking up the bus, however, seemed ready and able to reap Sophia’s soul.
And funnily enough…
Funnily enough, when Sophia would reflect on this moment some time later, she would realize that as much as she was terrified, it wasn’t being dead she was afraid of. She was relieved, in fact, deep deep within her, that it happened without pain.
“Well, well, well,” said the stranger, her breathy voice sending shivers down Sophia’s spine.
Her long black boots stepped into view, framing a tight white pantsuit that felt right out of a modeling advert meant to make you stop and stare. Which Sophia was, indeed, staring at, along with the swashbuckling long red coat that framed the young woman’s upper body, opened wide enough to reveal brown skin peeking under a yellow shirt and the hilt of a sword.
“Guess I’ll be joining this ship tonight, won’t I, folks?” she continued, her long hair tucked under a tricorn hat that seemed to tilt on all its own to match her smirk.
The woman’s eyes traveled the length of the bus, all the way until they landed on the gawking Sophia. The rude staring didn’t seem to bother Death, though. In fact, it amused her, her grin widening as she unsheathed her sword and pointed it straight at Sophia.
“So,” she said, coolly, “you must be the new girl.”
When Sophia had woken up that morning, she’d expected her day to go on like all the other days. That is to say, a blurry, muted mess she tried not to think about and instead just dragged herself through until sleep time came.
In fact, she’d still felt asleep during most of the day! As though everything happening to her, from the bus to the ghosts to the skeleton man were all just some dream she needed to drag herself through.
But now, however, then and there, staring at the sharpened edge of death’s literal sword, she suddenly felt truly and fully awake. Everything felt very different, frantic and breathing and urgent, and she was now overwhelmed by one pulsing, flabbergasted thought:
Holy smokes, she thought, Death is a fucking pirate cosplayer.
The pirate woman moved towards Sophia and lowered the sword only when she was standing right in front of her. Sophia’s eyes clung to the blade, having a hard time not imagining how easily it could cut through skin.
“Careful, Miss,” the woman said, oozing charm, as she noticed Sophia gazing at the blade, “don’t want to get hurt enough you’ll join the other fine folks on the bus on a one-way trip to death.”
Sophia snapped back to reality.
“Wait,” she said, looking at the woman, “aren’t I already dead?”
For the first time, the stranger’s cool dropped. “Wait, what?” she asked, perplexed. “Dead?”
“Yes. Dead. Aren’t I?” She pointed to a nearby soul and ignored his scoff as she elaborated, “Dead like him. Because he’s dead, right? I’m dead, too.”
The stranger blinked, her sword clanging as the tip landed on the floor. “Uhhhhhhh, what?” She looked back to Mister Bones, who was awkwardly standing by the door, taping his index fingers together. “Uhm?”
“Ah! Yes! Ha ha!” He cleared his throat and adjusted his bowtie. “I was going to explain but your theatrics got a bit in the way so I really didn’t have the time and—” He cleared his throat again and politely said, “We got here a little bit faster than I expected, so she has no idea what’s going on. Indeed.”
One, two, three seconds passed before the strange woman’s façade completely dropped as she exclaimed:
“Dude! Are you serious?!”
“I was trying to explain!” he protested. “But your theatrics—”
“Oh my GOD!” she interrupted before turning to Sophia, terribly contrite. “Oh my God, I’m so sorry. I’m going to kill him. Hang on. Just… ” She turned to the rest of the passengers and cleared her throat. “Hi, everyone! That was it for your in-bus entertainment! I will be taking only compliments!” After a few curtsies to a lackluster handful of claps, she continued: “We will now be departing for your final destination, so sit tight and enjoy the ride!”
As soon as the bus began to move, the woman sat on the seat next to Sophia and smiled apologetically.
“Hi! Again. I’m sorry. This is really embarrassing. How are you doing?”
“Honestly,” Sophia said, “I don’t know.”
The woman laughed, clearly trying her best to seem as cool as she did a few minutes ago. “Oh! Oh. Haha! I see.” Clearly, she did not know what to say, or how to respond, but she valiantly tried anyway. “I’m Ramona, by the way,” she said quickly, as if that was important in the grand scheme of things, which it was. She extended her hand. “What’s your name?”
Sophia did not shake her hand.
Ramona nonchalantly retrieved her hand. “Sophia,” she repeated, carefully. “Any preferred nickname?”
Ramona nodded her head, coolly. “Kay, cool. My family calls me Rae, except for my Tia Isabel who calls me Mona, but that means monkey in Spanish so—” She waved her hand in a so-so motion. “Noooot a huge fan of that.”
“…So am I dead, or…?”
Ramona smiled patiently. “No, you are not.”
“Are you dead?”
“Nope! I’m your very much alive coworker.” She then gestured to the passengers. “They are, though. Dead, I mean.”
Sophia pointed to Mister Bones, now back at the driving wheel. “And him?”
“Heeeeee…” Ramona drifted off, her brow furrowing. “Honestly, I don’t know his deal. Not sure he counts as dead. Or human. But the point is—” She pointed to the blobs. “Dead.” To Mister Bones. “Unknown.” And to Sophia. “Alive.”
Truthfully, Sophia didn’t know what to say. What could she say?
A loud bell rang out, startling her.
“Everyone, we will be entering The Vast any moment now!” Mister Bones called out from his seat. “Please fasten your seatbelts as we prepare to leave Earth.”
Sophia’s chest tightened. “Wait, what does he mean ‘leave Earth’? Where are we going?!”
“Hey, hey! It’s okay!” Ramona said, smiling gently. “It’s cool, I promise! Don’t freak out.” She then held out her hand. “You can hold my hand if you’re scared.”
Sophia inched away. “Uh, no, thanks.” She then looked around, desperately trying to find some lever or button to press and get off pronto. “Where’s the exit?! How do I stop—”
“Alright, everyone!” Mister Bones interrupted, delight ringing in his voice. “Here we go!”
Nothing happened at first. The bus continued to move in the mist for what felt like eons but was really a minute before, finally, a vwoorping sound filled the air as the bus sped up enough to give the latest racecar a run for its money, practically shoving Sophia against her seat’s backrest.
The mist faded away, revealing in its absence streets and buildings zooming past so quickly they began to blur and fade into each other until all that was left were streaks of multicolored lights.
An electronic sign lit up near the front of the bus suddenly, announcing in bold, glowing yellow letters that THE VAST was only TWO MINUTES AWAY.
“The Vast?” Sophia asked, gripping for dear life whatever she could grip on which happened to be the nearby blue window curtain. “What the hell is The Vast?!”
“The Vast!” Ramona explained, excitedly. “You know, the Great Big Vast. The afterlife! That’s why we were hired!” She gestured to the passengers, the majority calmly observing the outside lightshow. “To help guests at our hotel while they find their place in the afterlife!”
Sophia’s eyes bulged. “What?”
Ramona sighed, rubbing the side of her head. “Wow, he really did not tell you anything, did he? Christ.” She breathed out and then ventured helpfully, “Well, hey, nothing like learning on the go, right?”
Sophia’s stare was so past a thousand yards, it had turned into kilometers.
She sunk into her seat.
“Jesus fucking wept.”
Well, here we are, folks!
Baby’s first attempt to write a serious longform original story.
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