By Jeff Baker
(A Bryce Going Story)
At least the rain had stopped, I thought. And we were in a city, I wasn’t sure which one. I hoped it wasn’t Philly or New York; I still had family there who might turn me in as a big-for-my-age sixteen-year-old runaway. I’d slept a lot since I’d gotten on the bus in that small town I’d been working in. Luckily I’d made some cash, enough for a sandwich and a ticket. I blew on the window and it steamed just a bit. I looked around trying to figure out where I was. Dark. Tall buildings, some of them with a few windows lit. I looked behind me and couldn’t make out much through the back window. The bus was dark and the few passengers were asleep. I looked at the watch I’d paid ten bucks for; it was just after one A.M.
I stared out the window beside me, thinking of some old TV show where a man was running from the police trying to find the man who’d done the crime he’d been accused of. He traveled on busses a lot I remembered. But I’d usually fallen asleep before the show was over. I must have been five or six. Now I was sixteen, and while I wasn’t a murderer I was a runaway. If the cops picked me up they might not believe my story that I was Bryce Going and I was travelling across the country looking for a job and would probably do a check and find I’d bailed after my Mom ran out on me. I doubted they knew I was gay but the places they would put runaways weren’t good for a kid gay or not no matter how big for my age I was. Especially not in 1976.
I had dozed. The squeaking of brakes and hiss of air woke me up. We were in an old bus terminal and it looked like we were the only bus there.
“We’re going to be here about thirty minutes, if anybody wants to use a real restroom or grab something from the candy machine.” That was the driver. He eyed me a moment and then walked off towards the big glass doors, presumably to the restroom. Nobody else on the bus got out. I didn’t know how long we’d been on the road. I settled back in the seat and looked at my watch again. I figured I’d go in and use the men’s room and snack machine but not when anyone was in there. I’d heard stories about restrooms in bus stops in the middle of the night.
After a few minutes I decided to get out and stretch my legs and have a look around. The terminal was white stone with curved edges instead of corners and looked like the buildings I’d seen in old movies from the 1930s. We were under a stone canopy where there was room for about three busses if they parked side-by-side. I wandered out front. There was an old red sign with “BUS” written in red neon. I looked out and saw the neon reflected on the wet pavement. I looked down the street. I could see some tall buildings, taller than I’d ever seen. A couple of them tapered off into spires. I’d been in New York, this wasn’t New York. About a block away was a tall, grey building with no lit windows but in the reflected light I could see what looked like graffiti carved on the building’s wall, in a language I’d never seen before. Was it a church? I turned completely around; some of the buildings were cornered at odd angles. I looked down at the ground.
I didn’t have a shadow. There was a streetlight right beside me and I didn’t have a shadow.
I turned. The bus driver was standing just under the awning. “We’d better get going,” he said.
I started walking over, but it was a longer distance than it had been before. I was sure I’d only walked a few feet from the bus.
“C’mon,” the driver said once I was under the awning. “I made a mistake and took the wrong turn off. I’ve been here before. If you want a snack, we’ll stop someplace ahead on the road.”
I shook my head and hopped on the bus. I took my seat while the driver counted passengers. We pulled out of the bus stop and I glanced down the street. It may have been the residue of rain on the window, may have been the motion of the bus, and may have been that I wasn’t as awake as I thought I was but I thought I saw something fluttering at the top of the buildings. Not birds or smoke. It looked like the night was fluttering.
We drove back the way we came. I noticed there were no signs on the street or on the on-ramp to the highway. We drove maybe a mile and I saw a familiar looking mileage sign at the side of the road. I looked at the driver; his shoulders seemed to relax like he was breathing a sigh of relief. I walked up and leaned close to the driver and asked in a soft voice; “Hey, where exactly are we going, anyway?”
The bus driver looked at me and smiled. “Cleveland. Ohio.”
I went back to my seat and closed my eyes. The bus stop and the tall city seemed like a dream.
When I woke up, I glanced at my watch. It was the golden orange light of morning. We were on a highway, the sky was clear, the landscape was bright green and I saw a road sign. We were headed north.
I leaned back, closed my eyes and smiled.
In Memory of T.B.J.
AUTHOR’S NOTE from Jeff Baker:
I started writing these weekly flash fiction stories after stumbling across the old Monday Flash Fics Facebook picture prompt page in May of 2016 and posted my first story “Entr’acte” on May 25th, 2016 a little bit ahead of the usual posting date. Since then I’ve written at least one story a week (with pauses around Thanksgiving and Christmas) for the Monday and later Friday Flash Fiction pages. In addition I’ve written other non-flash stories and several other flashes including for the monthly Flash Fiction Draw Challenge that ‘Nathan Burgoine started up a few years ago. All in all it adds up to at least 52 stories a year for five years which is not bad. But the fifth anniversary is special, and so I wrote a special story. Of my series characters, the wandering Bryce Going may be my favorite. He was created for one of these flash fiction posts and I named him after a late college friend of mine, I hope he would have liked them. This week’s story is dedicated to his memory.
Three years ago I wrote in an anniversary post, words about writing that are just as meaningful today:
The best result being that I have exercised my writing muscles and maybe become a better writer as well as developing better and more regular work habits when it comes to writing. (Skills that would have served me well had I developed them and started regularly writing in College about 40 years ago!) I’ve written the weekly story when I was eager and motivated and when the words flowed as well as when I didn’t feel like writing. I’ve written standard stories as well as taken the advantage of the form to experiment with themes, styles (drabbles?) and new or series characters. Plus, I have written about a hundred stories, most for Monday and Friday Flash Fics, a handful for ‘Nathan Burgoine’s monthly flash fiction challenges and a few for submissions calls. A few of them are out in submissions right now, some originals, some reprints of stories posted on this blog. I owe a lot of thanks to Helena Stone, ‘Nathan Smith, Brigham Vaughn, Kelly Jensen, Elizabeth Lister and others too numerous to mention for their encouragement in maintaining these prompt sites. Again, many thanks!
Ray Bradbury and Anthony Boucher were both believers in writing at least one story a week, although I usually don’t have time to pull off a full-length one each week, I hope they’d approve of my efforts and persistence.
And I will now, in May 2021, paraphrase Ernest Hemingway who once said he wanted some more time to write some more short-stories; “I know some good ones.”
So do I.
—Jeff Baker, May 2021