A couple hours later I sat in the back of a reeking bus, idly waiting to take off. The driver, a portly middle-aged woman whose face reminded me of a bag of onions, was out on the sidewalk trying to get people to board the bus. She didn’t have the exciting oratory skills of a carnival barker and everything came out sounding kind of jaded and lazy.
“Come one. Come all. The best damn bus ride in New York. The best bus ride in all the world. You won’t believe the amazing places we’ll see. New Jersey. Pennsylvania. West Virginia. Ohio. And beyond. All for the low low price of free. Hop on just for the experience. You won’t believe your eyes. Experience Eastern and Midwestern America in the summer. Come one. Come all.”
All the while, she made some slow pinwheeling gesture with her arms. I was eager to get home even though I knew my beard growing had already begun. So far, there were only two other people on the bus. An old man with a head like his flesh covered his skull too tightly sat in the front seat with a child’s tricycle on his lap. A boy who looked no older than eight sat in the seat next to mine, smoking furiously and talking on his cell phone. Every other word was “Fuck.” He only stopped to dig his silver engraved flask from his hip pocket and belt back something that smelled like paint thinner. Whenever I glanced over at him he motioned for me to turn back around. I wanted to punch him in the face.
From the window I saw my imposter ready to board the bus. I knew he would not board if he saw me. I was very intrigued by my imposter. I slunk down in my seat. I heard him shuffle down the aisle and sit down with a sigh. I wondered if he still had the manuscript.
The boy next to me stood up and walked to the front of the bus just as the bus driver sat down in the captain’s chair.
“Takin off, little buddy,” the bus driver said.
“Yeah. That guy back there keeps tryin to touch me.” Hooking his thumb over his shoulder, he gestured toward me. I was still crouched down in my seat and the bus driver didn’t see me.
“Whatever,” she said. “I think you need to lay off that stuff.”
“I’ll fuckin do what I want, when I want, you ugly old cunt,” the boy said before descending the steps.
The bus driver angrily pulled the lever, trying to catch him up in the doors, maybe even to hurt him, but the wily little shit escaped unharmed. She pulled a radio microphone to her thick, peeling lips and said in that same bored voice, “Get ready for the ride of your life. All uninsured drivers, all the time.” She hung the microphone up with a shriek of feedback. The bus coughed, sputtered, and started rolling. Something toward the back clanked while something else scraped along the road. The old man stood up, mounted the tricycle and began riding it up and down the aisles. It had very squeaky wheels and a bell he rang continuously and I thought this was going to be a very long ride.
The bus driver picked up the microphone again and said, “My name’s Donna. This bus ride is here for your self-discovery. I’ve cranked the heat up for your enjoyment. It’s a mostly underground ride.”
I didn’t really understand a lot of what she said. My stomach rumbled. The heat made me hungry. I eyed the sandwich on my lap, picked it up, and had it devoured by the time we entered the alley off Wall Street. After that, things were both unreal and ultra real. I looked out the windows and couldn’t see anything but blackness. A great deep blackness like the kind I imagined one finds in caves. I sat there in my seat and wished I had a drink. It was so hot. Why did she turn the heat on? The old man rode his tricycle up and down the aisle. The look on his face encompassed both the ecstatic look of a child having the time of his life and the grim determination of a marathon runner. When he reached the front of the bus my imposter stood up and hopped on his lap. The old man wheeled the imposter to the back of the bus. The imposter hopped off the old man and sat down next to me. He looked pale and sweaty. Up this close he didn’t look anything like me.
“Thanks for sharing your sandwich,” he said.
“I didn’t know you were hungry.”
He scoffed at this. “Why are you following me?”
“I was on the bus first. I think you’re following me. Why are you impersonating me?”
“You know I can’t grow a beard,” he said. Then he reached out and lifted off the top of my head.
“Hey, what are you doing?” I tried to ask but my words came out all swirled.
The tricycling man started breathing heavily, saying, “Yes. Yes. Yes,” under his breath. Sweat shot from his gaping pores.
“I’m just trying to take a little bit more of you.”
I tried to talk again but this time all of my words came from the mouth of the imposter. “What did you do with my book?”
“I sold it.” These words also came from the mouth of the imposter.
“You sold it?”
“That’s what I said, isn’t it?”
“Did you sell it or did I sell it?”
“Does it matter?”
“I don’t know.”
“Who did you sell it to?”
“Devilment Inc. Who else?”
“But I was just there.”
“But you couldn’t sell anything. I had to change some things.”
“What did you have to change?”
“Well, the title for one thing. And it’s a zombie sex comedy now. Those are all the rage these days.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
“I’m not talking about anything.”
He assembled a burrito from pieces of my brain and a tortilla he pulled from thin air and proceeded to eat it. “Ain’t this a great bus ride?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said, startled to feel the words were now coming from my mouth again. “I guess it is.”
“What are you planning on doing when you get back home?”
“You already know what I plan on doing.”
“Don’t get smart with me. I’ll eat you like a burrito.” He shoved the last bit of burrito into his mouth and belched.
The old man, finished with his tricycle, stripped most of his clothes off and went about furiously trying to cram the tricycle through one of the windows. The heat continued to smother us. “Someone should really help him with that,” I said.
The old man mopped the sweat from his brow and went back to trying to discard the tricycle.
“He’ll melt soon enough,” the imposter said.
I wanted to take the wig from his head. Was it a wig or had his hair been dyed?
“Do you dye your hair?” I asked.
“Do you dye yours?” he returned.
The bus continued to go faster and faster. I decided I didn’t really like talking to my imposter. He depressed me. I didn’t understand why he was here. I couldn’t think of anything more depressing than impersonating me.
“Why are you following me?”
“Didn’t I already ask you that?”
“But I never answered.”
“Then that means I don’t have to answer.”
“What if I die? Then what becomes of you?”
“Good question. I guess I lose my sense of purpose. Although there is a huge market in impersonating dead celebrities... Come to think of it, most impersonators are impersonating the dead. But you’re not a celebrity.”
“I’m your sense of purpose?”
“Oh sure. Look at him go.”
The old man became exasperated with the tricycle and sat down in the seat below it, leaving it hanging half in and half out. The lights in the bus cut off and it was plunged in complete and total darkness.
“And...” I began. “Let me tell you, I don’t think I’ll ever be remotely close to a celeb—”
“If you listen closely enough,” the imposter interrupted. “You can actually hear the old man melting.”
I closed my eyes. My head felt very strange. I discovered the imposter was right. I could hear the man melting and figured, when I opened my eyes again, the old man would most probably be either gone or nothing more than a puddle on the floor of the bus. Colors flashed behind my closed eyelids. Colors like a wild laser light show. It felt like I was falling off my seat. The bus seemed to be moving in ways that no bus could possibly move. I smelled the overpowering scent of onions and knew it was the bus driver. The imposter was trying to steal my clothes even though he already wore the same clothes. I wanted to stop him but felt completely paralyzed. I just sat there moving with the rhythm of the bus and feeling all those up and down sensations like some demonic roller coaster.
“A perfect fit,” the imposter said. And then I felt him trying to steal my skin. “This is how we become something else,” he said, whispering into my ear which was quickly becoming his ear.
All the colors throbbed faster and more vibrant and I felt sure the bus was going to crash. Every few seconds I could feel the impact of the bus smashing into the earth only I didn’t know if it was an actual sensation or if it was just my body trying to slide off into sleep before being rapidly jerked awake. Where were my clothes? Where was my skin? I didn’t feel naked at all. I felt smothered. All that heat. All those colors. Everything so claustrophobic. Everything had become so claustrophobic. I was a man living in a box and this bus was the box and I had to get out. Had to get out. Because if I didn’t get out soon then there wouldn’t be any getting out and damn that must have been one fantastic sandwich because I felt the bus crash land but it landed in water and then all the windows flew open and the water poured into the bus rinsing away all the heat and forcing my eyes open and when I opened my eyes all the colors were gone and replaced with a fantastic blue and all of my clothes were gone and all of my skin was gone and the old man was gone and the imposter was gone and the greasy sack of onions was gone and I was free falling through the water silently wishing and hoping and praying for my own crash landing...