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The Hub

The bus was finally putting some space between us and the shadow creatures. The spider walkers skittered after it for enough of a distance that I worried they might actually overtake the us. The last thing I wanted was to be lying on the ground getting beat by one of those things, or whatever these creepy crawling things might do; crack me open like a crab leg and suck out all the marrow. It was incredible that they could move as fast as they were so fast but in the end the bus was just too much and they couldn’t keep their balance. They ended up rolling through the dirt into the ditch and stayed there. I yelled into the empty bus, to the driver.

“What the hell were those things!?” No response.

“Hello?

“I’m talking to you!”

Still nothing. The bus continued on. I guess this is what it is like to be ignored and in a vulnerable position. “Where the hell are we? Tell me, please!” I felt like throwing a real tantrum as tears nettled the back of my eyes. In the void of any response the silence grew louder overtaking my thoughts, my questions, my worries and concerns. I felt it thick on my skin, clogging my pours. Large hairy spiders wrapping me neatly in their silky, sticky web. It was oppressive and it was becoming stiflingly, suffocatingly hot. I was in an oven. Hansel in the witches house. Gretel had either already been cooked or she had abandoned me long before this chapter. That was definitely more like it. “Can you at least turn the heat down?” I asked as I took off my sweater. Nothing but silence. Translucent emanations wavered off the black rubber on the floor like hot asphalt. I stuck my face next to the window where it was still slightly more cool. It didn’t really help. Bolstered by the thought that those creepy creatures were far behind us, I stuck my cheek right against the cool glass. A shadow jumped across the corner of my eye, inside the bus. I bolted upright and turned to look. There was nothing there.Outside, the tarmac seemed to seethe like a black lake in a light breeze. A small wake crested out from under the hull.It was like an optical illusion; the picture of the labyrinth where the stairs are in every direction and no matter which way you look at it, from the side, bottom, or upside down the stairs always go up.Or the vector that seems to spin as you stare at it. Asphalt doesn’t ripple like water. I had to close my eyes to stop the sudden onslaught of motion sickness. Copper wires flowed into the back of my mouth, piercing my gums. All I could taste was dirty pennies and blood. My stomach churned wrenchingly as space folded again. The bus was nowhere.

“Can you please turn the heat off? I’m suffocating back here...”

From the front of the bus comes the sound of static and machinery crushing gravel, “the heat is’t on.” The n drawn out in a murderous growl. Thanks for responding, I guess. I try again to ask where we’re going and I am answered with more insufferable silence and furnace blast of exhaust heat. Slumping back in my seat hurts like bed sores so I lean forward and rest my elbows on my knees letting my head hang down between them. It clears my airways up a bit, making it slightly easier to breathe in this sauna. The only thing hotter than this bus, has got to be hell itself. The driver’sparchment paper face was reflected in the rearview mirror wielding a stiff devilish sneer.

Space unfolds in the searing light of a sunset and the bus stuttered as if slipping a gear, knocking me into the seat in front of me. Bile rises, wrung into my throat as my intestines twist crushingly with the motion. Wanting to catch my bearings I stick my face to the window once again. We’re in a familiar looking city. Something was wrong. I mean, everything was wrong, but now the reality of the thing that I had spent so much time enjoying before ever setting foot on this bus was wrong too. It was way worse than just the streetlights going dark. They’d been turned back on, but the light they were emitting was sickly green. You might be asking yourself, why the fuck isn’t he trying to get off the bus? Well, on the bus all I have to worry about is the heat. I don’t know if you recall, but outside, that’s where all those shadow things are, strange towering monoliths, and now the fuckin streetlights are green! Who the hell would get off the bus?

“And did you miss me while you were looking for yourself out there?”

The void. There is a void inside of me, I never realized before. I get it now. He always used to say, “where’s your fuckin head at? You’re never here; even when you’re here, your’e not here.” Then he’d plead with me to show him I cared. Of course I cared. I wouldn’t have been with him if I didn’t. But, it was always so hard to just show it. To do something nice, I guess. I always thought, I’m here. I am doing this thing with you. I want to be here or I wouldn’t be. Isn’t that enough? I was working hard to get some job security. That was for us. Not just me. In truth, there was a million things going on in my mind and I let my focus get the better of me. I needed to get to the party.

The bus careened deeper into the urban sprawl. Along the way it continued to pause at some of the posted stops as if someone else at some point might try to get on. It isn’t the craziest idea, but from the way things were going and the the simple lack of anyone else around - human-type person that is - it wasn’t very likely. While we idled at one the stops I noticed that the houses were bent. They were folding in on themselves like they were melting or they were constructed at extreme, mind boggling angles. All of the windows were mercurial and the paint was only partially finished. Worse, it looked like it was just haphazardly splattered on. Even stranger than that was there were only two colours that the houses were painted -red or a disgusting shade of brown, sometimes a horrible swirling mix. It was like a giant sat down against the front of the house took a giant sized shotgun, put it in their giant mouth and pulled the trigger. It was still dripping down the siding and brick on most. This was a half-baked subdivision, the whole place was just another bad dream, something cooked up by an Alzheimer’s patient or Tim Burton. There was no light breaking through any of the opaque windows and still not single person. In one of the driveways sat what must have been a car, but the wheels were high up on the sides near the roof. It lay on a bevelled shell with the windshields pressed outwards to an edge. Another optical illusion. It was reflected in the slick wet sheen of the pavement that gave it the impression of sinking. The only rational answer I could come up with was someone must have given me a hit of acid at the party. I’m already there, and trippin balls on acid. But, where the fuck was everyone else? Why wasn’t anyone with me? The walls of the bus were hot irons closing in. It was so hot in there that steam was rising out of my shirt collar and off the top of my head. Why me, god, why me? I spat into the aether completely ignorant of what was really going on. Foot steps. Schlapping along the centre aisle were the only response. Turning to see who was there, they trailed off right behind me. A whisk of breath or motion near the back of my neck made me jump. I turned again to see who or what was behind me and another shadow slumped across the aisle. I squeezed into my seat as tightly as I could. Trying desperately to grab some comfort out of my own solidity, but there was none to be found. There was no one else on the bus.

The suburbs folded up in the back windows of the bus and approaching the downtown core we passed through one of the many portals that all cities have between the residential and the commercial worlds. The windows were still mercurial, even the buildings that weremade of all glass. Every one of them was a strange acuminate spire. Almost every single one of them. Vlad the Impaler designed this place. Every building looked like a bloodthirsty quicksilver pike. The closer we got to the heart of the city they became taller and blacker. The city seemed to have a real Giger aesthetic.I watched as we passed shops with overdone neon lighting. At first I wasn’t paying any attention but when we passed a four story building with a moving neon sign that depicted an angry woman baring fangs and furiously stabbing a man in the back while he was attempting to crawl away with the words, Kentucky - Gluttony - Kentucky - Gluttony Fried Liver. The sign was barely readable; the words overlapped each other, actually they seemed to be switching back and forth in a haze of motion. I couldn’t take my eyes off the thing. Where the hell is this? Now, I was seriously worried - listen, I know what you’re thinking - I’m only worried now? Well, of course I was the whole time, but that sign really added to the pile of weird that night. It was the last straw, those strange glowing lights and melding words finally broke my sanity. I know otherwise now. But in that moment, it couldn’t all have been a dream, could it?

A bank slid by. It looked like a Toronto Dominion bank, TD, only distorted. The same insignia, a green block and inside it the T was lower case, almost like a cross with a curved tail; the D was a rune. The bank was followed by another sign advertising what I could only assume was a pizza place’s deep dish, but here it was The Deep Pit with an undulating crust. It was swarming with flies. The cloud of flies was so thick you could barely read the sign. You had to squint and move around to get a glimpse of the individual letters. The incessant buzzing penetrated the bus. It worked its way into my ears like an electric drill boring deep through my ear canals and into my brain. An architecturalanomaly displaced the pizzeria. A building so large the top of it disappeared into the smoggy sky where its bone-white facade appeared to smear, to spread out and absorb the heavens. Oddly, down at street level the windows and doors were normal. Not mercurial at all.It seemed so out of place. Above the door, its insignia loomed large; a golden globe around a capital T driven like a nail deep into the globe, framed by a golden square. Man, the guy who owns that really does have an ego eh? His initial is the linchpin holding the world whole and divided on either side of it. Maybe it’s not so out of place. Small. The longer I looked at it the smaller I felt. The building seemed to seethe and grow at the top. All the clouds and open sky turning the same colour as the building until everything was apart of it.It loomed over over the bus. Over me. Its shadow stretching, pulling the darkness into itself until there was only the malign whiteness of the building itself. Insignificant. I shrunk. My arms, hands, legs and feet grew smaller. I stared up, my head tilting back over my shoulder blades painfully. The sky grew larger and the building drew up to it like a fingernail growing, curling over us. Smaller still. Why would anyone want me around? I’m a gnat. So small. The hook of the building was suddenly like a giant’s mouth looking down and laughing at my meagre existence.

I was snapped out of the reverie and the feelings of inadequacy dissipated when the bus skidded. The tires shrieked at their own inadequacy and the road seamed to foam and gurgle. The LED sign signalling the stop names changed. It was the first time that it had done so since I got on the bus. It read, The Terminal. The engine chugged and whinnied a little shifting into a lower gear. We were pushing through some sort of gathering. Those shadow creatures were everywhere in swarms. They amassed on the bus, rocking it until it teetered on two wheels. The bus ran through them like they weren’t there at all. Geysers of blood sprayed all over the front windscreen. The wipers came on and each time they cleared the windshield there were limbs bent in horrible directions, people - are they people? - flailing everywhere. The bus ran over them and I had to struggle to stay in the seat as the bus wheels pinioned and bounced over the bodies, crushing them. The ones that ran like spiders were skittering out of the way, they were crawling up and down walls of the buildings and in and out of broken windows while others were breaking the windows and looting whatever was inside. There were fires everywhere. The smell of burning tar, wood, and the ghastly smell burning flesh seemed claw into my nostrils and down my throat, so thick I could taste it.It was a full scale riot out there. The heat rose with the conflagration outside. I had to use the bottom of my shirt to wipe the sweat from my face.

We were there together. Back when we first got together. A bunch of kids had committed suicide because they were being bullied online. We went to the parliament buildings to protest. Someone needed to put in some laws, protections, some oversight. We had our signs made up. We thought we were so clever. Man we loved to be apart of making change. Not everyone there was with us though. A rock came out of nowhere and hit him in the middle of the back. I heard the forced exhale of his breath before he was down on the ground scrambling to get onto his back. People were all around us, closing in on us, jostling to get out of the way as a few more rocks came crashing down. He was about to be trampled. A rock nicked my arm and gave me a good gash. A red bloom appeared on my sleeve as I tried to push them out of the way so that I could help him. Before I could do anything a pipe was rammed into my gut. It took everything away from me. My breath, my sight, my balance. I toppled over backwards and the sky went dark with figures coming down on us with bats. I managed to kick them off of me and crawl away. They descended on him beating him with horrible instruments yelling that we were a bunch of pussies; snowflakes. That bullying was part ofgrowing up and that if the government got involved online, it would be the end of free speech.

Smoke parted revealing a hulking wall of silver peppered with horrid green flecks. It was so large that it reflected all of the chaos of the city behind us, only the green flecks marring the reflection making it look old and obscured. There were other buses staggered around the structure. We got a little closer and I could see that they were all charred husks. Even the ones pulling in and out were blackened shells. Open to whatever fetid reek creeped around on the streets. Some of the drivers were standing next to their heaps smoking and casually watching the chaos and utter mayhem all around. The tarnished building was a wheel. The centre was a round oblong hub with five ventricles protruding out along the ground and then curving up like giant bull horns rising high piercing the sky. The spots of rust and tarnish spread creating the appearance of some sort of algae or fungus. The structure pulsed dully like a living organism that had lost all of its lustre long ago. The bus entered a feeder road that funnelled us around the the building like a sluiceway toward one of the horns. The whole city seemed to revolve around this place. Only five roads in and five roads out. A trap. What the fuck? Sorry, I forget that I am telling the story and not still in it. Although, I suppose I am still in it, since I am the telling. If he was here, he’d probably get snarky and make some joke like, “everything’s always about you...” Asshole. Sometimes he could be such an asshole. I figured this had to be The Terminal. We pulled into the designated inlet. The doors opened and the smell of decay, rotten meat and shit was horrendous.The driver stood up, turned toward me, opened her mouth releasing a noise of static and grinding gravel making up the words, “Stay put. Not your stop.” She got off the bus and joined another driver. Even though I could see them speak and there was utter anarchy in every direction around us but in this place, like sacred or hallowed ground, the silence was oppressive. It was like we had pushed through some sort of protective circle.

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