He had to pee. Mr. Jayden Lewis, age eighteen, of Los Angeles County, California had to take a piss. A simple act complicated by location and distance. He had sat down near the front of the bus, the toilet was in the back. He had taken a window seat and a woman had taken the aisle seat boxing him in. The bus was crowded. he didn’t want to go back. Maybe he could have a few hours ago when the sleek gray Greyhound had just pulled out of LA, but by now every one of the twenty passengers had probably crapped back there. The smell would be awful and as the bus bounced along the road he kept having visions of the toilet being frothy like a well-mixed milkshake.
Phoenix, however, was an hour away and a countdown had started in his bladder and in his brain. The sterile Mohave desert outside the bus’s windows did nothing to stem the tide of watery images of dams bursting, faucets pouring, sprinklers sprinkling, clouds raining, and long involved pictures of immense oceans draining down seafloor trenches.
The woman blocking him in said something.
“Huh?” he asked, his youthful face carefully controlled so she didn’t have to know that nature’s call was more important than her question.
“Where are you going?” the lady asked. She wasn’t old, but he thought she was old. To a fresh suburban Cali-forn-I-A-kid fifty is old. Her faded blonde hair pulled back into a ponytail looked old and out of date, and her face which was as crinkly and shiny as a tinfoil wrap looked ancient. Her eyes were the only think young about her: chips of ice; azure discs.
“Oh,” he said. “Newton. I think it is near Wichita. You?”
He expected a one word answer. What he got was a long story, laborious in detail, about how her husband had died and she was using the insurance money to travel about. She did not appear to want to visit any one place, only travel through them by bus or train or plane or automobile until the money ran out. She didn’t, according to her story, ever stop to look at things. Her knowledge of the great cities down the coast were limited to truck stops and various stations. She had no friends, no family, so why not travel? Everybody she knew was dead, there was nothing to hold her down. She was going to travel where the wind and the Lord wanted her. She said that several times. “Where the Lord wanted her.”
She said she was from Idaho.
“LA,” he said.
“You poor child,” she said. “All the gang violence there.”
He started to explain that he was from a suburb where nothing ever happened and even jaywalking didn’t occur, but she kept talking.
“I heard this thing on the news where it isn’t even safe for white people to walk down the streets there. I can’t imagine. Apparently tourists have to pay a tax to the drug lords to visit the restaurants. There are gays everywhere and all the illegals and blacks fight over dope and--.”
“I almost forgot,” she said digging through her purse and pulling out a blue surgical mask. She fit this around her face. “We’re so close to the south here, I don’t want to catch the Mexican Flu.” All this muffled through the mask. “You want one? I always carry a spare.”
“I’m fine,” he said trying to lean away from her. His bladder told him he was not fine. Phoenix was pushing it. Sooner not later, he would have to go or risk riding all the way to Kansas smelling like piss. Worse, the bus liked to stop at every small town or dirt-blown village it past. The stops were seconds long, so there was no time for a quick showing of urinary theater presents. He only regretted that the bus had to take significant detours from the highway to get to these stops. It was killing his insides. His bladder felt like a balloon filled with lead.
At Kingston, an old oblong-shaped woman and her toothpick daughter got on. The daughter, a woman in the good part of her forties had a great figure, even in his discomfort with his bladder yelling up at him, Jayden noticed. She must have been a beauty at twenty. Now the interruption of youth was on her face. She’d not been sleeping, she’d been crying at night. The bags under the eyes told the story with clear and direct phrases.
The bus driver, a woman who looked like a man down to the mustache and bald spot, eyed the two sourly.
The mother looked dazed, half asleep. The daughter dragged her on and forced her into the seat directly behind the driver. This was only two seats up from Jayden and the surgical-masked woman.
“Illigals,” the masked woman said, in a whisper.
“What,” Jayden said. “Who are--?”
“Them. Dark skin. You can always tell.”
Jayden (whose mother was a Martinez) tried to ignore this. They looked more like Indians to him and he’d much rather count signposts than care about the people in the front. Crossing his legs didn’t help. It only made the pressure shift up until he was sure his genitals would become liquid and pour out of his bellybutton.
“A boy shouldn’t sit like that,” the masked woman said. She tapped his leg with one long nail. It was filthy. All the sands of the Mohave shifted under there. “It isn’t manly.”
He uncrossed his legs and his bladder settled with a nasty liquid lurch. Jayden’s mind traveled back along the bus to the toilet. Not an option. No. It would be crawling with big desert flies. Greenbottles, bluebottles, evil metallic shiny things feasting on half-flushed shiny green shit. Their maggots boiling, roiling, pulsating. Pure evil lived back there. He could feel it festering like a sore behind him.
Public bathrooms were unnatural. In restrooms at restaurants, he’d go with his ass up in the air, or he’d cover the seat with layer upon layer of toilet paper. He would wash his hands until they were red and irritated and use enough soap to kill off half the Earth’s biosphere. Better to wet himself than go back there.
His thoughts were interrupted by a loud yell. The old woman was awake and thrashing violently.
“Where am I? Where am I?” she yelled.
“Mom, mom,” the daughter said trying to keep her mother’s arms from hitting the back of the driver’s cage. “We’re on a bus going home.”
“We’re going back to Oklahoma now.”
“We were at Uncle Tate’s funeral.”
“I want to go home.”
“We’re going home.”
“I want to get off.”
“We can’t get off.”
“I want to get off.”
“We’re in the middle of nowhere, mom.”
“I WANT TO GET OFF!”
“It’s the middle of the desert!”
“HELP HELP! I’m being kidnapped! I WANT OFF! I want off!”
It took the daughter fifteen minutes to calm her mother down. The old woman started dozing, but Jayden noticed that the driver looked even meaner in the large convex mirror that she used to watch the passengers.
The masked woman tsked under her breath, said a few things that Jayden thought probably belonged in an intolerance museum somewhere.
Then it started again.
“Where are we?”
“I told you. We’re on a bus.”
“’Cause we were at Uncle Tate’s funeral!”
“I want to go home.”
“We’re going home now, mom.”
“Why can’t we get off here?”
“It’s in the middle of nowhere!”
“Let me off! Let me off! LET ME OFF!
Silence again. Jayden wanted to head back. To see if there were any empty seats back there, faraway from the screaming woman, but the masked woman didn’t look like she wanted to move. She had pulled out a book of Sudoku puzzles and was staring at them, pen in hand. The pen would drift up to her mouth and be deflected every once in awhile.
“Where are we?”
The driver turned around looking furious.
“Mom! We’re on a bus.”
But the bus driver’d had enough. The bus idled to the side of the dusty road. A lone weather-beat service station survived the elements here. The trees around it were stunted and grew sideways. The Mohave yawned around it like a great golden beast ready to swallow the world.
“Get off,” the driver said.
“But my mother, she’s sick. She doesn’t know what she’s doing.”
“Get off or I’ll throw you off.”
The bus left them and their luggage standing in the middle of a dust storm, the mother yelling at the sky, the daughter crying her eyes out, fists clenched tightly to her breast. Jayden watched them as long as he could, until the bus pulled away.
His bladder squelched. He squeezed his thighs tightly together.
“Goodbye to trash,” the masked woman said.
The stop had cost him. Now his bladder was displaying warning signs all over his brain. He was about to ask the lady to let him up when she said, “I’ll be back.” She left the Sudoku on her seat. Jayden watched her make the trek back to the toilet door. The bus was emptier than he remembered. Only one man sat behind him. The other seats were empty. If it was that empty, Jayden supposed, then maybe he too should take the trek. His insides felt filled to capacity. It wasn’t even a choice now. When the woman came back he would go.
Checking his cellphone he saw that there was still forty-five minutes before Phoenix. It didn’t seem possible. Surely, they must be nearly there. Surely, the desert couldn’t be that big. It was Phoenix, then Albuquerque, then Colorado, then Kansas. It all looked short on the ticket. He waited and waited. He counted out twelve agonizing minutes.
The woman was still not back and thirty-three minutes looked no better than forty-five minutes had those long lost twelve minutes ago.
Unable to contain himself, he realized his bowels were in a state of immediate collapse. He got up and stumbled toward the back. He was going to knock and see what was taking so long.
He staggered over suitcases and handbags. Edging through the crowded aisles and empty seats he barely noticed how empty the bus was. There was no one else. It was completely silent except for the tires on the road and the rocking and creaking made as it raced through the desert.
The restroom door had an occupied/unoccupied wheel-sign on the door. Rusted, but readable it said UNOCCUPIED in faded green letters. Jayden paused swaying with the bus. The smell was sour, rank. He could smell it through the door. Like death and diarrhea. But his bladder could no longer be ignored. He threw open the door.
It seethed out, a stream of white thrashing tentacles. Jayden screamed and stepped back. Each tentacle peeled apart and unfolded revealing a wall of teeth, dis-rhythmic pulsing eyes, vaginas, infected pimples. Each pimple split apart, each vagina opened up revealing more teeth and vaginas and tentacles and fanged penises with blinking blithering sideways mouths containing more teeth and tentacles and gonorrheal genitals and those unfolded and those unfolded and those unfolded and those unfolded.
Jayden voided himself right there in both body and mind, as the Elder Thing reached out to claim the last Greyhound bus passenger.
Gloating is unbecoming in a thing so large.
I broke my primary rule of writing here, but anybody named Jayden needs to die if not at the beginning then certainly at the end.