Kreative Kue 190 asked for submissions based on this photograph:
John W Howell is the author of the John Cannon trilogy of My GRL, His Revenge, Our Justice and Circumstances of Childhood, co-author of The Contract, and blogs at Fiction Favorites.
The Driver by John W. Howell © 2018
“Okay, everyone. I need to have your attention.”
“What’s he want Mama?”
“I don’t know my child. Perhaps we should be quiet and find out.”
“But Mama I have this hand puppet that won’t stop talking.”
“Perhaps if you thought to yourself about how still the night can be the puppet will take a hint.”
“Everyone. This is your driver, and I need you to pay attention.”
“I’m not going to look at the driver, Pradeep.”
“He made a comment about my pink shirt so he is dead to me.”
“Maybe he has something important to say.”
“Then you’ll tell me.”
“Please, I need your attention. We have a little emergency.”
“Better put that camera down, dear. Looks like the driver needs to make an announcement.”
“So let ’em. I have a picture of whatever he announces.”
“More like the back of his head.”
“This will be my last appeal for your attention. This bus will not move until I have everyone’s attention.”
“I think if you sit down Gladys the driver will make his silly announcement.”
“These seats are so small. I can hardly fit in mine.”
“That is no reason to be carrying on in the aisle.”
“Thank you for your kind attention. For your information, this bus had a destination that would take us four hours to complete. I have some good news and bad news about that. Which would you like first?”
“The trip has been canceled, and there is no other bus going that way today.”
“All of you have been booked on the first bus tomorrow. There is one more piece of bad news though.”
“You have to remain on board the bus to keep your reservation. I have secured the doors and wish you all a pleasant evening. For those of you who wish to cancel your reservation, there are no refunds. There is also a little good news.”
“The company is going to cater a curry dinner with all the fixings.”
Meanwhile, my effort was:
Yes, it’s routine, and every day is the same, but it’s a job. The hours suit me and the pay is not too bad. I make enough to keep my wife and kids fed and clothed and everything; we’ll never be what I call well-off, but we get by.
Yeah. I’m getting to that. It was an ordinary working day in that nice time after the monsoons but before it starts to get really hot. There are always a lot of tourists around at that time of the year, and this day was no different. It started off normal enough: come to work at eight to clean and check my vehicle and a quick breakfast before the visitors start to arrive.
The first run is at nine. I picked up the passengers and got ready to take them up the hill. So far, so good.
Give me a chance, and I’ll tell you what happened next. Listen, is this your story or mine?
Well, let me tell it then. My way, okay?
Right. I’d noticed the white couple when they got on the bus.
No, it’s not a thing, and I’m not a closet racist. I’m surprised you should even think that. We get a few visitors from Europe or America most days, even some Australians, so I thought nothing of it. Just another couple wanting to savour for a moment the beauties that we are blessed to enjoy every day of our lives.
We are. I’ve always said that we are beyond lucky to be able to live here. That’s why I do what I can to help keep our land clean, safe and unspoilt.
Well, yes. There was. I looked into my mirror before starting off, to make sure everyone was in a seat. A couple of women were still on their feet at the back of the bus, so I waited for them to sit before starting. That was when I saw that the white guy was holding something up to his eye. I thought at first that it was a camera—
Correct. Nothing unusual about that at all, but this didn’t look like any camera I’d seen before.
That’s just it. I didn’t know.
Yes, I do know now. Not what it was, but what it did.
Will you stop asking questions and let me tell my story?
Thank you. Anyway, I remembered reading somewhere—
Yes, You know how much I love to read what I call speculative fiction—
Yes – science fiction is part of it but there’s more. Anyway, I keep up with science fact as well – you know, the news and a few scientific journals I pick up in waiting rooms. So I had read about a small device that looks a bit like a camera from a distance, but it does a very different job. I’m sure it was in a technical journal of some kind, but as I say, I read a lot so…
I’m coming to that. The guy was looking through the machine. It’s all a bit hazy now, but I remember feeling … I don’t know … threatened by something, maybe the machine, or maybe it was just the look on his face.
Hard to say, but it wasn’t the kind of look you’d expect from someone who’s about to take a holiday snapshot. So then I saw that his female accomplice must have spotted my worried expression and whispered something to him.
Yeah, I was facing forward, but she must have seen me in the mirror.
No, she spoke quietly and in any event, the engine on this bus is so noisy I wouldn’t have heard anyway.
I’ll tell you what happened next. Through my mirror, I saw a flash from the camera-looking thing. It blinded me for a while and left me disoriented – a bit like one of those flash-bangs they talk about in American movies only without the bang. When I looked around again, everybody on the bus seemed to be unconscious; or maybe even dead; except for the white couple, who had somehow transformed into … I don’t know what they were. They were still in human shape, but with skin like snakes’, and forked tongues that seemed to be tasting the air.
No, really. The female said something to her mate – I couldn’t understand it because I don’t speak lizard, but the device flashed again and everyone in the bus had suddenly turned into nuns.
Yes, they were all wide awake. In fact, they were all singing – O come, Immanuel, I think it was. Plainsong. Whatever they were chanting, it was beautiful to listen to.
I fell asleep during the second chorus, which was a pity as I was really enjoying the singing. I tried to join it at first, but my falsetto is rubbish;
Well, that’s the strangest thing. I remember feeling someone touch my shoulder and thinking it was an unusual thing for a nun to do, especially one with five more verses to sing, but when I looked around, everyone had changed back to the way they were before, and it turns out it wasn’t a nun, just a normal young girl. Pretty, as I recall. She asked me if we were going up the hill, or was I thinking of staying at the bottom all day.
Well, you tell me. Maybe it was. One of the passengers was smoking when he got on the bus. I told him it wasn’t allowed, and he blew a great mass of smoke into my face before stubbing the cigarette out on the floor of the bus, burning another hole in the carpet. That really annoys me. Don’t youngsters have any respect for other people’s property these days?
Yeah, probably mid-twenties. Oh, the smoke; unusual it was. Didn’t smell like regular tobacco smoke; much sweeter and kind of cloying.
Oh, that? Yeah. It was just a camera.
Thanks, Doc. I think so, too. Same time next week?
On to this week’s challenge: Using this photo as inspiration, write a short story, flash fiction, scene, poem; anything, really; even just a caption for the photograph. Either put it (or a link to it) in a comment or email it to me at email@example.com before 6pm next Sunday (if you aren’t sure what the time is where I live, this link will tell you). If you post it on your own blog or site, a link to this page would be appreciated, but please do also mention it in a comment here.
Go on. You know you want to. Let your creativity and imagination soar. I shall display the entries, with links to your own blog or web site, next Monday.