Leftovers Ch. 01byLatrani©
I was walking across the greenest field. A bright blanket lay nearby, upon which I had set a meal for one. The treeline was black and gray. Birds darted about the field, and hares. I was wearing a gossamer dress such as I had never owned. The sky was clear, but the sun was hidden and the moon was out. The grass swayed here and there from the motions of animals. I could smell a lake, not far away.
The horse was waiting for me at the edge of the field. It was a curious, fabulous blue-green beast, lean but smooth-edged. Its mane was damp and clung to its neck. It had been chained; the thin, fine links were circled around the barrel of its body many times, and their trailing edges swayed about its... his ankles. He was dark-eyed and still, like a pool of water, and he watched me with intent, a question in his eyes. Every part of him was magnificent. Curious that the chains seemed to fit him so well, and that he did not seem to mind them.
I stopped and faced him from a distance. The steed merely watched me, placid and gorgeous. I held out a hand, and he stepped to me, his chains clinking like windchimes. The movements in the grass had vanished entirely, and his feet did not disturb the meadow at all. He set his muzzle under my fingertips, then moved in close and wrapped his chin over my shoulder, pulling me to him in an equine embrace. I stroked his mane, and felt his teeth gently nibbling my hair and neck.
He pushed me towards his side, asking the question again. I answered by taking the chains in my hands and pulling myself onto his back in one silky motion. I settled between the chains, tight behind his shoulders. He whickered at me and began to trot. Swiftly he took us from the field, into the trees where he was the only source of color.
Something tugged at my legs.
The chains were moving, sliding up and onto my calves and thighs like serpents. They pushed under my dress to caress my skin and then fused together, showing no breaks, no means of escape. My ankles were welded to his barrel. I was shackled to my steed. He began to run then, and I could neither fall off nor escape, secure and yet in terrible danger as he careened over stones and fallen trees, carrying us along a treacherous path more felt than seen. I grabbed at his mane and the coat beneath. His body was strong yet the flesh was soft; my hands sank right in and were trapped.
We emerged from the gray trees at a full gallop onto a rocky shore. My face was frozen in fear, but my steed deftly evaded every sharp stone without losing a step. His mane was too wet to trail in the wind of our passage. We approached the lake I had scented, itself blue-green and deadly tranquil, and he did not slow. My steed looked back at me a moment before his hooves stroked the water, and grinned with lips dripping with foam like the ocean. His teeth, the teeth that had affectionately nibbled at my neck, were fangs tinged by crimson from where they had touched me.
* * *
I levered the door open, and swallowed either a sigh or a gasp. The Bastard was standing on the curb, just at the bottom of the bus steps, and grinning like he always did. I didn't know how I had managed to miss him, but I wouldn't have put it past him to hide until I pulled up.
He hopped onto the first step, playful and yet somehow threatening. My left hand strayed down and pushed my coat slightly aside, then brushed the stun gun on my belt. It was a reaction I immediately regretted; he had to know I was armed, but my tension only made his grin magnify.
"Looking fine and tasty, Miss Jackie Dukes," he intoned, grasping the folding door and leaning up into the bus. His voice was a leer. Why does he always have to use my name? He savored every inch of space between us as he stalked up the second and third steps. I was bundled against the cold that the bus's miserly heaters wouldn't dispel: long wool coat, scarf and leather gloves over a transit uniform, complete with cap, tie and name badge, and long underwear underneath that. It didn't make me feel any less exposed when the Bastard looked at me that way. "Why you so wrapped up? I can keep you warmer than that coat."
I tried to keep my expression bland and a little scrunched up, in the 'I've-seen-it-all' way that would hopefully make me several degrees less attractive. He didn't have any reason to think I had a desirable body in the first place. In the month since he had started occasionally riding on my route, the Bastard (in my imagination, that word was stamped on his forehead) had never seen me without at least a coat and scarf. Yet his eyes moved like he knew every curve.
I had told myself at first that he was just a hound; that it was an act he pulled on every woman he met. But his eyes continued to bore into me at every encounter and I still couldn't see through him. It was like we started every over every time he appeared. And he boarded the bus at utterly random times, so I could never get ready for him. I really hated him for that.
"Mind if I climb on, Jackie Dukes?" he asked, trying again to wear out my name. We were required to wear those damn badges, and he had read mine the first time he stepped foot on my bus. I kept my eyes on him. I didn't have a choice, really. I wasn't about to let the Bastard move in closer while I wasn't looking.
"Exact change," I replied as evenly as possible, already knowing that he didn't have a bus pass. My tone wasn't quite annoyed. Impatience was blood in the water to the creeps and freaks like him that boarded my bus. Except that there weren't any others like him. I could handle the random assholes that rode with me; they were easy to figure out and put off. But this one had me on edge every time he showed up. Forget the stun gun; I wanted to pull out the three-and-a-half-inch knife in my back pocket when I saw him.
He began digging in his jeans pocket for coins, taking his own sweet damn time about it, never looking away from me. He loved to gnaw at my time as well as my nerves, knew I was on a schedule, and never got out his money before I made him. If only I could ban him from my route... but he wasn't overt enough yet, I couldn't prove that he was a problem, and I could easily lose my job if he decided to threaten lawsuit.
Not that people who didn't own shirts were likely to hire lawyers. I had never seen him wearing much more than a pair of unnecessarily tight jeans, a duster, and ratty black shoes. It wasn't exactly winter attire, but he didn't seem to mind the cold at all. The duster was beat up and worn shiny in places, something he actually wore, unlike those people who bought one just to show how trendy they were. It jingled as he moved; I thought he had a chain inside it, perhaps hooked to a wallet.
I couldn't even throw him off the bus because of that duster. He was treading just barely within the posted dress rules, even though when he tossed it back to reach in his pants pocket, I could see his entire chest clearly. That just made it harder to keep his gaze. I felt my eyes straying, even though I knew how much the Bastard would enjoy seeing me stare at his body.
And I had reason to. He was so, so lean. Not skinny like an addict, as I had expected the first time I saw him, but hard, like he ran all the time. A dark, curly swath ran down his chest, but it seemed too smooth for me to describe him as hairy. His nipples were stiff testimony that he wasn't completely immune to the weather. I kept my eyes on his, even though part of me wanted to tweak those pecs, to run my hands through his chest hair and see if it was really as soft as it looked. So what if he probably had five dollars to his name and wouldn't hesitate to rob and cut me, or worse? That almost made him sexier. If only he wasn't such a Bastard...
I suddenly realized how long he had been standing there. "Exact change or get off the bus," I droned, and winced inwardly. I had let just a little of my tension creep into my voice, and he pounced on it, a tiger on a mouse. His evil smile magnified again, and he stepped closer than he needed to while dropping quarters in the fare slot. I really wanted that knife. He was making it impossible to watch his eyes without craning my head upwards, and I somehow felt that exposing my throat that way would be a bad idea. Instead I watched his hands, his chest, his crotch. Those jeans were entirely too tight.
He sniffed the air as the last coin crashed into the slot. I knew that everyone behind me must be watching us, but there was never any support or help to be found from a late-night crowd. They all walked in their own dark little worlds. He leaned over slightly, and his grin grew larger yet. "Not wearing any perfume tonight, Jackie Dukes? That's okay, you smell good just the way you are. Like a warm, damp place." He whispered the last, but it carried clearly to me.
Jesus. He was not being allowed back on this bus.
"Have a seat now, buddy," I said roughly, and only then realized that I had left the door open. The cruel air had been blocked off by his presence, but as he stepped into the aisle, it slapped me across the face. I was actually grateful for that. It cleared my thinking. I reached out and wrenched the door shut, then straightened up. He was in my mirror, walking backwards so that he could continue watching me, his face like that damn Cheshire Cat, his eyes betraying his unspoken quip: I like the way you grip that handle, Jackie Dukes.
He turned then, looking down at an unnaturally blonde girl of perhaps twenty. She was sitting alone near the back, returning home after a long shift in a dirty building. I watched them as I pulled out, barely hearing a car screech and wail as it nearly sideswiped the bus on the left. In the mirror, his lips moved, and I thought I could hear him even over the roar and hiss of my engine. Is this seat taken? She looked up at him, not quite smiling, and moved towards the window. It wasn't as if she was making room. It was more like she was backing away from him. He slid in beside her, and soon his head was lost to my view.
The route went quietly after that, thankfully. People came and went without a word or a glance. So many regulars, evening and night shift natives I saw almost every night, and yet I wouldn't have recognized them if we bumped into each other on the street. They never looked up. I hated to admit it, but when the sun went down, it was as if the Bastard was the only other living person in the world.
* * *
I zoned out, driving while asleep, forgetting for an hour how much I hated the bus. I had worked the route so many nights that my arms no longer ached from handling the massive wheel. The passengers thinned out behind me, swaddled zombies wandering away. Eventually the last fare shuffled off, and I was close to earning my freedom for another day.
The bus shoved its way down empty streets, while I struggled to stay alert after hours of driving in the dark. My eyes wanted to follow the streetlights instead of the road. I ran on automatic to one of several fenced and guarded lots set aside for the city's 'motor pools'. Rather, it should have been guarded, but the chill had driven everyone inside.
The night watchman, safe and cozy in his office with his camera monitors, opened the electronic gate after I hailed him on the radio. From his tone, one would think it put him out to punch a couple of buttons before going back to watching television, or napping, or jerking off, whatever.
I would have killed for his job. I'd applied for many like it, actually, but fun obstacles like union seniority rules had frozen me out of numerous jobs suited to my build and training. I was on a waiting list a mile long for actual security work, and it was a certainty that those with better connections were being penciled in ahead of me.
That night, though, I was too cold and too sleepy to grouse for long. I brought the bus around and into park; it wasn't my job to refuel and maintain it, and I'd be damned if I would take the time to sweep it. No one was going to wander out there and look inside, anyway. Not in this weather.
I gathered up my things, shut down the interior lights, and stepped out. The wind, lying in wait, pounced the moment I got away from the first row of vehicles. It howled around me and tore the warmth out of my cheeks and legs. I was hurrying, halfway to my dinged-up little Escort, when recollection struck. I had forgotten to do a last walkthrough. A passenger could have fallen asleep in their seat; I always tried to keep a mental count, but the long, cold evening had left me more than a little logy.
I turned around and trudged back to the bus, cursing my way through the frigid air. I might have sincerely said 'to hell with it', but just the possibility of finding someone frozen to death inside my vehicle would have kept me up all night. I pushed back the door and hauled myself inside the bus. My arms, legs and ass were stiff and sore from work, and climbing those steps was an actual effort. The interior came into fluorescent focus as my hand found the light switches. I blinked a few times and started down the aisle, checking seats, my left hand on my holstered stun gun just in case. The aisle seemed to stretch out for miles. Sorry. This seat's taken.
* * *
I jumped awake from a doze and jerked the wheel so hard I swerved into the wrong lane before I knew where I was. My little Escort complained fiercely as I dragged it back to the right. My heart was pounding in my ears. Asleep behind the damn wheel! I caught a glimpse of wild, white eyes in the mirror and realized they belonged to me. My hands were surely white-knuckled under my gloves. Relaxing my arms took a deliberate effort.
I pulled to a stop at the next sign, threw the shift into 'park', and began beating the wheel and yelling. "Goddammit! Dammit Dammit DAMMIT!" I couldn't even breathe for being so angry with myself.
After about five minutes I could drive again, and wound my way home. Or to where I stayed, anyway. Two flights of smelly stairs led to my apartment. In front of my door was a lined cage, about two feet on a side. I stifled another round of curses, aware that my neighbors were only a few feet away. Inside the cage, my tiny dog, Matador, let out a shrill whine, and I ran to let him out and hold him.
Inside, I ignored everything except the radiator, the space heater, and a pair of blankets. I wrapped Mattie up and sat beside him on the couch while he continued to whine gratefully and uncomprehendingly at me. The heat wasn't reliable in my building, and it was too dangerous to leave the space heater running while I was away, so I paid my nearest neighbor a few dollars a day to let Mattie stay in her place. But for some sadistic reason she had put him out in that drafty hallway to wait for me. I muttered under my breath.
After a while, I pulled Matador out of the blankets and gave him some treats while I pet him. He was a weird mutant of a dog; a mix of lhasa apso, Boston terrier and God knew what else, with eyes like giant black marbles, a pug nose, and curved, pointy ears that reminded me of bulls' horns. His black and white fur was thick and curly on the front half of his body, and almost nonexistent on the rear. He looked like he was wearing one of those short-short fur jackets that all movie hookers own. There was no getting around it; Matador was ugly. But he was always happy to see me.
Once he was settled and secure again, I turned on the television. Sleep was going to be impossible for a while, and all I could do was unwind and zone out. No cable in this building, so nothing on except sitcom reruns and infomercials to blow through the minutes. As I watched nothing, the back of my mind, that part of my imagination still more hungry than tired, took some macaroni and cheese from the refrigerator, unwrapped it, and set it in the microwave to reheat. Nothing happened at first; the timer needed to be set...
I glanced at my watch, gasped, and then checked the VCR clock (I never understood why people complain about setting those; maybe it beats just reading the manual). My watch was working fine; it usually took about forty-five minutes to get home from the motor lot, but almost three hours had passed since my shift ended! I put my head in my hands, then reached out to pick up Mattie. "Damn, no wonder she left you outside! Poor baby." It was still a shitty thing to do, but at least now I knew why.
Then I paused and sniffed the air, picking up an odor that didn't belong in my apartment. I set down Matador and raised my hands to my face. My apartment was still chilly, and I hadn't bothered to take off anything. But there was an odd, creeping scent in my nostrils, something besides the mild funk that clung to me from holding Mattie.
I tugged on the fingers of my left glove and slid it off, then, mechanically, jerked the other one loose. I gaped at my hands as if they were some weird alien species that had welded themselves to my arms. Mattie looked up from beside me and whimpered through his nose. I didn't look at him. I couldn't. I rubbed my fingers together, not really feeling them, and flakes of rust fell into my lap. My hands were frosted with dry blood. It coated the insides of my gloves. The odor surrounded me.