(set: $choice to 0)
(set: $injury to 0)
(set: $snacks to 0)This is it, you're shaking a little, in the legs, stomach revolving.
The driver is closing the luggage compartments outside.
There's still time to get off, there's no-one next to you, just get up and go back, a clean break out into the yellow lamps of the bus station.
Do you [[stay|stay]]? Do you [[go|end1]]?Nightbus is an interactive fiction written by Joshua Keeling. 2017
[[Back|Nightbus]]The driver is on now, the door is shut, whatever was before becomes something else as the engine starts up. The lights come on in the bus, then are off again. You reverse out of the station.
The bus is half full, most of the people are already dozing, and you feel like joining them.
"Welcome to the Nightbus, we hope you enjoy your journey with us. Travel safety information is available in the holders in front of your seats..."
"...operates a no smoking policy... when departing... sit back, relax, and enjoy the Nightbus."
[[Read]] the Travel Safety Guide?
[[Shut|Shut 1]] your eyes?Bumping against other passengers you hurry for the exit, heart aching, head down. The driver is getting on, sitting down. You hurry past on wobbly legs and almost collapse down the stairs.
Out into the chill knives of air and oil in that bus lot, electric light bright again, not dulled by bus windows.
The door has shut, the driver swearing at you is muffled now. You don't look back, but stumble forwards to a bollard in the waiting bay.
What now, you're never going back home. You know, once you can beg your way into the money, you're getting back on the [[Nightbus]].
''TRAVEL SAFETY INFORMATION''- translated into your thoughts -
PUT ON YOUR BELT!
DON'T SIT NEAR THE EXIT ELSE YOU'RE GOING TO BE IN CHARGE OF GETTING PEOPLE OUT OF HERE
//PUT YOUR BELT ON!//
DON'T SMOKE, DON'T USE THE TOILET WHEN WE AREN'T MOVING!
THERE'S EXITS HERE HERE AND HERE, LIGHTS WILL COME ON!
THERE'S A HAMMER SOMEWHERE FOR YOU TO SMASH THE WINDOWS
''PUT YOUR DAMN BELT ON!!!''
HOT DRINKS = FINE WITH A LID, HOT FOOD = STINKS
PLEASE [[PUT YOUR BELT ON| Belt on]] ELSE IF THE POLICE CHECK THE BUS WE'RE GOING TO LOOK BAD, ALSO YOU MIGHT DIE!*WHACK* Your head hits the seat infront of you, your forehead catching on the little jacket hook or handle or whatever.
The bus has come to a stop, still in your city centre, some kind of traffic light jumping drag racers speed off in the direction of the motorway your mum would drive you out on back in time.
Your face hurts, you put your hand to your eyebrow and feel the warm, smooth blood there, not much. You've had worse. The patchwork of bruises and scabbing cuts are covered by a long jersey and tracksuit bottoms, thank god.
It's all a little bit too big for you and sags as you head to the bathroom. Not too far, you sat [[near the back...| Next 1]]
The Nightbus leaves without you, you didn't watch it go, but when you walk out into the alien car park around 2am, it's no longer there.
Parents and groggy looking kids are rubbing their hands as they walk past you into the services.
A toddler as he passes with his hand in his dad's has the hood up on his jacket too, he looks to you, confused by this new surrounding but wise in ways he doesn't yet know. You read his eye's you hear it,
"What are you doing? It's too cold out here, where are you going to go."
Dragon's breath fogs the air in front of you as you sigh, you're free now, but you wish you could get back on the [[Nightbus]].With your belt on, you consider the city as you leave it for the first time in years.
When was the last time you were even in the centre. When Grace, social worker took you out for the day during the court case. Obviously Grace wasn't allowed within a mile of his house after they took Mum out of the equation. No more time alone with anyone else.
You force the thoughts back down and with a racing heart realise what's going on again, you're leaving the city. Your rabbit pulse mixes with the warmth of the bus and the dark, orange lights flickering by, the general oozing. How did drivers stay awake?
A flurry of boy racers jump a stop light and the bus brakes abrubtly.
"Fucks sake." On your right someone has spilled a little coffee down their front.
You settle in for a fitful [[sleep|sleep 2]].
(set: $injury to 1)
You patch yourself up with the first aid kit you stole, it's ancient but the wrapper on the bandage and pad pack seems airtight.
Sitting back down you consider the blood that got on the jersey in the juddering bus toilet. Now you looked like the real deal. This almost makes you laugh, but in the reflection of the window you know it was always all too real. They just had to look into your eyes to know.
Seatbelt fastened this time, your eyes close themselves. [[Sleep]].
It's the beach, a giant shell poking out of the waves, have you met your arms? Me.? I couldn;r emember. I remember drawing your weddingdress in Odin's loops, spinning aroundl ss voerfp...
And then all at once a crashing...
You wake up as the motion of the bus stops, are you there? Where?
No, just a traffic jam. The little clock at the front of the bus says.
It's been over two hours now. There's a sign that says there's a motorway service station half a mile away. Sure enough, once the traffic starts moving, the bus takes the service station exit. You've got a little money left from what you took and haven't eaten since yesterday morning. But that would mean going out there, where anything could happen.
Do you [[stay|stay2]] or [[go|go2]]?You wake up and the bus has stopped. Out of the window you see it's day, on the motorway just outside of the city. There's the sign
You remember going down to visit your Aunt there once.
Someone's talking to the driver, and all at once you know, you realise who it is.
They've stopped the bus, they've come to get you.
You [[scream|scream 1]].
The bus has stopped. People are getting off to smoke, driver included. The door remains open and a chill fills the space. Driver back on. Door shut. Warmth.
Cold again as the door's left open for people to return. Coming back from the car park or that shopping centre like, white confusion of small coffee shops, fast food and newsagents. When you went to see your Aunt, didn't you stop somewhere like this, beg to have a go on a grabbing claw game and won a little lion. Where was the toy now? Where the hell were you now? You feel a pit in your stomach grow with this question. Maybe you're just hungry.
You close your eyes to [[sleep again|sleep1a]].
(set: $snacks to 2)Walking into the Finnisbury Gate Services, the place has a look and feeling of a barren, tired joy buried beneath years of eyelid baggage. A big shining roadside smile painted on, with dust gathering behind its modern panneling. (if: $injury is 1) [Sure enough the bandage and blood get you attention that you really don't want. You have to stop and breathe, think of something else.]
You look at the money in your left hand.
In service station land that was enough to buy, from the look of the prices, not a lot. You break it down to a [[burger and chips]] from the lazy looking fast food chain, knowing that you can't take hot food back on the bus, or a [[cold sausage roll]] from the newsagents.
(set: $snacks to 1)
(set: $injury to 0)
You jump in your seat, startling a couple of the other passengers. There's a little bit of nervous laughter somewhere. Your heart is racing, and thankfully, none of it was real. At least not in this world. He'd haunt your dreams though, that was undoubted. Never mind.
You look out of the window and it seems like the bus is slowing, there must be traffic up ahead.
Your dream has you wide awake now though, you go past a sign for the services nearby, and remember the sign to London. That was going South, when you were a kid, this time you're on the journey North, as far as you could go with what you took. There's still some left over to pick up something at the services, since that's where the bus is headed.
Do you [[stay onboard?|stay2]] Or [[get off?|go2]]
This time when you wake, things look different. The deep blackness that came before the sun considers rising is bringing some atmosphere to the surroundings. Many street lamps.
Not just that, you're not on the motorway anymore, you're on the outskirts of some city. With lines of houses and a few shops in between, some of the lights are on in the windows, the odd car goes by, a couple of people walking, breathing white clouds.
Seems like you're about to stop somewhere, you'd been aware of a couple of small breaks before, and the bus definitely had a few more people on it now. This seems more significant though. You can't remember the names of the stops. Just that it was the Nightbus [[North...|bus station]]
From the counter you order some sort of chicken burger meal deal, which is £5.30 exactly. This feels sort of like fate. Within minutes the food arrives, with your cola. A hot, greasy, salty mess - perfect for the traveller still feeling like their body and actions aren't actually in line with their 'self'.
You sit in the mainly empty food court, at a cheap and impractical high, round stool table, and eat greedily, it's so good. You don't think anyone would understand if you told them what it was like to eat bread and tinned food for most dinners, no breakfast, school lunches, home school no lunches, at least you were still fed, you had your own room didn't you, more than a lot of people have, and think how he didn't even have to take care of you, out of the goodness of his heart he did it, he wasn't your dad
he didn't drink like your mum, a field burning with all the dead bodies of those who may say you had it good enough...
Forget about that though, the food, heaven. Then of course you see the clock and realise the driver's 20 minutes are almost up, half the meal unfinished. That adrenaline, hopeless despair still coarsing through you, you think you could just [[stay here with the food|end 2]], in the chaos of your life, or you could get up, shove the rest of the chips in your mouth walking back and [[go on into further escape?]]You buy the sausage roll and a bottle of water, which comes to £4.40. You want to ask why it's such a rip-off but know it's not the time nor the place. Shoving the stuff into your jersey's front pocket, you head back to the bus.
There's just enough time to look over at the motorway. Sentinels of light. Some sort of living machine. Bio-mechanical-luminescence. You saw a tv show about the things deep in the ocean, life forms we couldn't imagine. To be a living light show. What's it like then?
You get back on the bus, shivering to get warm, and tuck into your meal just as the engine starts up. The meat tastes as good as the packaging claims it to (apparently it would be even better hot), and the flaky pastry is getting on your trousers. You brush it off as you eat. With the chemicals that first bite released in your brain though, you start to cry. Silent tears, your nose running too, as if your head were performing some kind of fluid exorcism.
When it's all over, the tears and the roll, you head to the toilet, grab some tissues and wipe your nose and face. Then you settle in again, to [[sleep 'til daylight.]]
Daylight isn't close when you wake though, you've pulled in to a city centre bus station about 2 hours after leaving the services.
You can't say where, there's no sign around, just a long queue of early-risers preparing to get on the bus, some of them already taking seats.
You feel sure no one will sit next to you,(if: $injury is 1) [a bloody hoodie, literally, that's you,] and soon the seats are all taken except for yours. The driver is getting back on, sorting out the papers and sipping from a filter coffee he's bought. Suddenly a man springs onboard the bus. He's got a ticket, and more noticeably the painted face and red nose of a clown.
Soon he's lunging a tall frame down the aisle and towards the only seat left empty, the one next to you. He flings a sports baginto the overhead luggage and plonks himself down beside you. He's wearing fingerless gloves, a trilby hat and black leather jacket, and shifts a lot as he tries to get comfortable.
How do you acknowledge him?
[[*Not at all]]
[[*Look at him and nod]]
[[*Say hi]]You get back on the bus, shivering to get warm, simultaneously swallowing sips of cola to dislodge the chips still in your throat and teeth. That would do, it was food enough.
Then you settle in again, hoping to [[sleep 'til daylight.|Dream 3]]
The driver says we'll be having a ten minute break here, at the city centre bus station you've pulled into. You're still hungry, this time it's not going to wait. As the driver gets off to smoke, you head into the inner city version of the services, essentially the same but colder with more steel and a frown. The shops are shut at this time, you see past the crowd waiting eagerly to get on your bus, since it's late apparently, and spot a vending machine.
At the machine the prices are a mockery, and it takes you several attempts to get your coin accepted by the machine, but the chocolate, crisps and water bottle that head your way are the mana from heaven.
The struggle at the machine means that when you turn around, people are already being loaded onto your coach. The last few having their tickets checked. You [[rush back]].FJeio, forget the spiders
and you walk down the hall
red stripes and it's like the kids bedron. Wn eThe ..
when you were friends and had the supermairo playstation version -
The brakes hiss. It's not day yet, you've pulled into an inner city bus station you think. There's a queue of people waiting to get on outside. The dream had a kid in it that you remember from school.
It's chilly again.
Where are you going kid? Go home, it's nice and warm there. Don't cry, come here.
Fuck fucking fuck you [[wake up again]]
Quick as anything a man dashes past making you look lazy. So you propel yourself a little faster, and see him talking to the driver, animatedly showing him his ticket. Eventually, and just as your on the steps, the man is thanking the driver and heading down the aisle with his case. The driver rolls his eyes at you in conspiracy about the man, and you head back to your seat.
Now it's his seat, and to make it more unsettling, you see his face is painted like a clown, the black jacketed, trilby hat, red nose wearing man, putting his belt on and swearing under his breath. You couldn't tell his age, from the outfit or his jawline, but the white paste covering his slightly worn, stretchy skin made him look older than he might be.
You haven't got the resolve in your hungry state to reclaim the window seat, and the only space left is the one that was previously free next to you. You don't want to even try to acknowledge this guy.
[[Take a seat.|Sitdown2]]On the aisle side now you sit in a mist of slight confusion. It's fine, it's fine, it's just a seat, it's just a clown, this is how the real world is, people deal with these little things all the time. You know there's the potential for tears in you, but years of training have worn that impulse down, now it's just a sickness in the pit of your stomach. Of something happening that you never wanted to happen.
You try to fill that hole with the [[snacks.]]Looking out of the window as the small city disappears you realise you're still thinking about the clown guy. He makes you nervous, and your nerves need looking after. You keep [[looking out onto the roads.|choice 3]]
You nod, he nods, that's how it's done right. Nothing more to say. There's something about him though, if you were a clown, would you be so unwilling to answer the unspoken question of what all that stuff on your face was?
Weren't clowns meant to be sad though, you remember something like that, and it occurs to you that you never wanted to explain your make-up, not until the head master of your school forced it out of you by threatening to call home. There was no proof, only what you wanted to show, and wanted to say. The headmaster looked old enough to have been around when beatings were part of the curriculum too, it probably made him hard thinking about you.
[[You stare out of the window.|choice 2]]
You try an, "Alright?"
He grunts back at you and nods, not unfriendly, but he's not going to talk and tell you his life story. Thankfully you don't want that either and are content with that.
You [[stare out of the window.|choice 4]]
Chilled by the dream you wake up and you are in the bus station, and the door is open as the driver chats to a colleague outside before letting the passengers board. Where is this, who knows? There's evidence everywhere but you don't want to know where you are. If you know, then it means he might know. If he's in your brain. You knock your head several times against the glass, lightly, but enough for a dull pain to develop. You stop as people are getting on.
Who'd sit next to the crazy looking one in the hood. No one it seemed, and you're relieved, until an even crazier looking man arrives on the coach just before you leave. He's painted like a clown, has a trilby, a red nose and a black jacket, and sits right next to you.
[[You turn away|Snore 4]], offended by this space invasion.
You eat your crisps and chocolate bar, aware of the noise of the packaging and your chewing mouth. The darkened cabin stirs only a little in reality, but to you it's the most horrible thng, ready for the food to be slapped out of your hand.
No such thing happens, and you drink from your water bottle, and put the rubbish with the PASSENGER SAFETY info.
Hunger sated somewhat, you stick your hands in your jersey pocket and pull the hood forward to cover your fringe and eyes. With the sugar and fat doing their job, your body wants to have a little seratonin sleep.
[[Close your eyes|Snore 4]]Light from street lamps washes over his skin as the bus idles on that stretch of straight road. You recognise the marks, but they were deeper than anything on your body, or more pronounced, they didn't seem old and were still a little swollen, healing.
Follow the lines carefully and they run all the way up to his left cheek.
Damn. Maybe that was what the make-up was for.
Soon you're moving again, onto the motorway, and the light dims on your side.
You feel like you're in on some sort of secret now. [[Right?]]
What? What are you thinking, you take your hand away from near his face and turn back to the aisle.
This whole trip is mad. What the hell are you going to do when you get wherever you're going. You'll end up homeless, sleeping in doorways, in limbo, between life and death, not fully experiencing either. You fucking idiot. You feel a kind of ill energy coming to you in waves, and think it must be the effect of having chocolate and crisps after not eating the whole day.
It's fine, your heartrate goes back to normal, [[it's fine]].At this point you get up to go to the bathroom and continue to reassure yourself, crying a little.
You are soon back in your seat though and with the clones snores now tempered to a similar volume as the bus' rumbling engine, you feel a weary patch of more sleep wanting to drag you [[through to sunrise.]]Whatever the truth is, when you wake up again, the clown is getting off of the bus, and the driver is storing luggage for new passengers.
The first to arrive on the bus is a lady carrying two large, reinforced shopping bags. One she stuffs in the overhead luggage, the other comes down by your feet, you see knitting, a thermos and a magazine called Take A Break showing a woman holding a photo of two kids and the headline 'My Hidden Heartbreak'. You have a new companion.
The bus starts and you reckon the next stop will be the last one, dawn is just considering how it will break today and the sky is rich and blue. You rest your head on the window in a distinct displaced melancholy, but the rattle of the glass, and the rattle of the woman's now knitting needles put you off.
You want to go to the bathroom, but don't want to annoy the woman with the needles. Do you [[get up and go]] or [[avoid interrupting her stitch]]You use the toilet and wait for the bus to start before you can flush. Once you're out of the stall, you find somebody else has taken the seat the clown occupied.
An elderly woman, fiddling with knitting needles and a bag she's trying to fit between her legs.
There's other window seats free now down the aisle a bit, but you're kind of attached to your space here on the bus.
[[Get another window seat?]]
[[Sit down next to the woman?]]North of where you were, as the bus pulls into some indistinct station, it doesn't feel like a step change, it feels like some kind of rat race. You imagine him in his car pelting it up to where mum lives too, only he knows where they keep her, you just know some institution has her, some hospital.
What now, do you find the hospital?
Do you beg in the streets?
Do you look for a place that might help people like you, there must be one, right?
This isn't about that though, this was just about the Nightbus and the roads it took. You're filtered through life like so many others, and whatever happens now is, supposedly, [[up to you.|end end]]Sitting down by you the woman is older, wearing a cardigan and simple blouse, and those types of trousers you have to order from a catalogue. She begins fiddling with knitting needles and some wool from her bag. You've reached a kind of fever pitch of frustration at this point, resulting from the extended period of willing the clown's snoring to cease and you have to get up.
You anxiously ask the woman if you can get up, and [[head to the toilet]].
There's a tap on your shoulder, and you flinch awake, the clown wants to get up. You realise you've arrived at a new stop and a few people are getting up to leave.
You stand and awkwardly get in the way of a couple of people grabbing their bags as the clown squeezes past. Then you return to the window seat, which has been left uncomfortably warm by the clown's backside. You cringe a little but soon forget about it as you are joined by a new neighbour.
She's elderly, and brings a flask, knitting needles and a waiting room magazine. She mutters about the mess left in the holder with the PASSENGER SAFETY card in, and in embarrassment you turn to the window. You feel shame, deeper and more pressing than any other thing, like you have [[failed]] as a human being.You wake up in bed, rested from a long sleep.
You were asleep, in the bus, one last time. After you'd wet yourself and passed out, the police officers carried you from the bus and got a car brought over with a change of clothes. The woman guarded you the whole time. It was the least they could all do, since they were never looking for you anyway. Your guardian had been a nurse, and they dropped you off with her.
A couple of times in the night you woke up for a moment and didn't know where you were, panicked, screaming. She'd given you her sleeping tablets, the ones the doctor didn't recommend she take since they were so strong, and soothed your head. You took them, because she hadn't forced you too.
In here now, the light of a garden shining in through a net curtain with a floral border, this is, you realise with a welling of what you only feel as fear, this is safety.
It feels wrong, this potential, that idea, that [[you are finally safe.|end end]]
"Of course love." Comes her reply to your request. You go to the toilet stall and return to your neighbour who is equally receptive when you want to sit down.
It doesn't seem right, for this person to not even show any trace of hostility, even after you've twice yanked her from her seat just as she's sat down, trying to get in and out of the cramped seating.
You feel awake now, and some of the other people are stretching out their limbs, as if they've taken the journey so often they even know when to wake up. You consider the wool being wrapped around the needle.
You want to ask [[what she is making]], and [[how she does it.]]You dam your bladder as the hypnotic nature of the knitting needles rhythm seems unstoppable. Lapsing into a moment's sleep you have the sensation of a boat moving against the tide, and your head nestles against the window again, on the motorway the constant speed of the bus makes the vibration a bit smoother, you think you might want to [[sleep again]].
(if: $injury is 1)
[Your eyes open a fraction and catch the woman looking at you curiously. This brings you out of that semi-hypnosis and you sit up. Even if the woman flinched away from looking when you did, you know she was looking at the bandage. You touch it instinctively and at that she says. "Been in the wars?"
You want to answer, but first you need the toilet. [[You ask to get up]], since she made first contact.]Then he begins to snore. Not a rumbling bellowing snore that might end up waking him up by itsef, but still a loud, whining rasp, as the air vibrates along various tubes in his head and throat. Even better than that is the fact that there's been a major accident on the towns motorway exit, and you're waiting to go through. With this combination of great things, what do you do?
(if: $snacks is 1) [[[turn to the man|turn 1]]]
(if: $snacks is 2) [[[turn to the man|turn 2]]]
(if: $snacks is 1) [[[close your eyes and pray for it to end|eyes close 1]]]
(if: $snacks is 2) [[[close your eyes and pray for it to end|eyes close 2]]]There's a homeless man in a sleeping bag outside the poundshop on the high street of this place. He's sleeping it seems. Soon enough, you're going to be like that no? The idea scares you, but it's exciting compared to life at home. Sleeping rough they call it, but isn't that what you've been doing too, in a different way?
Are you ready for it though? [[You try not to think about it.|Snore 4]]The streets are going by quick enough as you enter the outskirts of town for you to get lost in the blur of lights passing by in the darkness. It's a beautiful thing, this, some people even have Christmas decorations up already. At that you're envious, [[but they are beautiful.|Snore 4]]In the streetlamp orange you notice a barbers called //Cutting It Fine//, you wonder if they specialise in time restrictes haircuts, or something. If you wanted to be a comedian, you could talk to the guy next to you, there it is, the perfect way, to [[run away and join the circus.|Snore 4]]You sit down near the front, purposely picking the furthest free window seat from where you'd been.
You sleep until the bus stops, but you're not there yet. The lights are all on and you're in a layby, with everyone who's just been awoken feeling a little dazed. You see the other side of the motorway, and the red outlines of blue clouds bathed in orange announcing a majestic sky somewhere in the istance.
Your driver announces a safety check, and soon the hydraulics are down and it seems like hi-vis jackets fill the bus. It dawns on you, as the hi-vis safety inspectors check out the faces of the passengers systematically that this is no safety-check, and your [[heart skips a beat.]]
Sitting down you politely nod at the woman, but keep yourself to yourself as she knits away for about an hour or so, maybe she's humming to herself a little, you don't know. Eventually, a woman sitting behind you starts speaking to your neighbour about knitting, through the gap in the chairs. So, the aisle draws your attention out into it's cavelike space, even if there's nothing but the other passengers to see.
You notice when people wake up, listen to someone's early morning phone call from their partner, you gaze impassively over this domain. Until the bus pulls into a motorway lay-by and the lights come up. Even though the driver says it's a routine safety check the old woman seems more than delighted to tell her new friend that it must actually be the police checking all coaches on their way into the city.
And then you tense up, surely it didn't make sense for him to have called the police on you, but what if? what if he knew someone, he could be very persuasive, what if they were [[here for you|heart skips a beat.]].When you wake up, the clown is getting off, did prayer work that way?
Also you need the toilet.
The bus has stopped in a town much smaller than the last one, it seems like a get off get on situation, and about as many get off as they get on. There's only one stop left you reckon, from what you remembered. You want to get up and go to the stall, but you're warm in your seat. Soon a woman comes and [[sits by you]].It does end, when the clown taps your arm and asks you to move. Confused you get up, and the black jacketed entertainer leaves the vehicle. You've stopped again and it's a bit before sunrise yet, the clock says
You need the toilet and since you're standing already [[head into the stall.]]When you sit back down after the toilet break, you tell her about the accident earlier and feel like an idiot, but she then tells you about falling 'arse over head' in the aisle when the bus started unexpectedly on her way to see her grandkids.
You laugh. She'd gotten covered in the rice krispie cakes that were in the bag she'd fallen into, and for the rest of the journey was picking bits out of her blouse and hair.
Then you say something back, but of course, you're speaking into your jumper, a habit, of hiding and hood wearing, of muffling your own voice. She asks if you won't take your hood down since her ears weren't what they were once.
You sigh and close your eyes, and [[pull the hood down.]]You wake up like one million souls rising from slumber, the lights in the bus have come on, and it's just as dawn is breaking. Dazed like the other waking passengers, but the woman's needles go on relentless. Until a voice comes over the bus speakers. The driver.
"Alright folks, just need to stop here, routine safety stuff."
There's disquiet and the old lady says to you, "It's police, I've been on a bus before when they've done this. They'll be looking for someone."
Oh fuck. Your face contorts, then goes limp, a feeling of fear like all of the pain multiplied by how close you got.
[["No."]]When you get back from the toilet you feel marginally better, but don't really feel like any more human interactions right now. Even if you feel a little attached to your old seat, [[you look for another window seat|Get another window seat?]] where you won't have to ask to sit back down.The clown's snoring seems to be coming from his nose, probably to do with that red thing he's wearing over it. You want him to pack it in, but touching the nose is out of the question. Then you lose interest in the snoring when you spot the scars. His head has tilted back, and turned to the right, exposing neck skin which his jacket and top were covering. The paint didn't go all the way [[down there.]]He's fallen asleep, despite your snacking, and his face is turned towards you, a little lolled back. The clown make-up is the works, a thick white with impressive cheek contouring, detailed eyes, the famous face warping smile. The red nose. Maybe if you pressed it - it might squeak.
[[Press it]]Yes, you know, the lobes of your ears.
You think to say something like, "Mine aren't so much anymore either." But you're not up to the humour, not now, not about this. They were pierced, when you were little, and had no real say in it. You'd go back and say no mummy no, if you could, so he wouldn't have focussed on them. It had gotten so much worse in the past two years.
When he'd shaved your head this summer, the tops and bottoms of your ears he took off too. It was the first time he used the anaesthetic. Did you never hear of what you could buy online, what you could see, if you went to the right places old lady?
you wouldn't be going back to school, you wouldn't want to go anywhere, you square eared freak. You were a fuck up.
The old lady was weeping, her hand quivered as it went to hold your cheek. "Oh my dear." A couple of people were looking and you put the hood back up. The woman's hand rested on your knee, until the bus pulled into a lay-by and the [[lights came on.]] "No, no, no." The word leaves you like an exorcism and you try to force it back inside.
The woman is visibly worried by your reaction. You can't breathe. You know you can't breathe anymore. No. No. No. They won't take you back they won't. You look for the emergency hammer, and there it is in the red case by the window of the seats infront. You leap up but the woman's arms land on you then.
People are looking, they think it's you, some of them have even stood up. Are they all in on it. Hydraulics go, the bus lowers. You're shaking. Then the woman fiercly says to the gathering onlookers. "Get back to your seat, they're in shock, alright."
You feel that your hood has come down in the confusion. Now they can see. The 'safety inspectors' are on board and your limbs aren't working, their eyes fall on you and you feel your body release its grip. You yelp in shame. The seat and floor become wet and warm like so many bedsheets, and [[it burns your legs.]]
You feel the woman's hands on yours.
Hear her words, "It's okay love."
[[You pass out.|end 4]]The police pass over you though, with nothing but a slightly suspicious eye. Once the inspector in charge has spoken to the driver they're gone and thank everyone for their co-operation.
Your chest rises exultantly, and then falls a bit when you think how he must be coming to get you on his own. Why would he get the police involved anyway when he hated them so much. There's nowhere he'd check first than where you thought of too. For now though, the nightbus was secure, and it was only when you got to [[the last stop|end north]] that things became real again."A couple of pairs of wee socks for my grandson, my great grandson that is, but don't tell anyone."
"About the socks?"
"Pardon, sorry my ears aren't all that anymore."
"Don't tell anyone about the socks?"
"About the socks? No, that he's my //great// grandson, ahaha, my girls do like to turn 'em out young you know, aha!"
You laugh along, and she tells you about how she'd just been to see the kid for his Christening, not that she thinks her granddaughter is devout, at least not the one with the kid, the other one, the older one, she was getting married next spring, and they were catholics, at least he was, her side had always been Church of England, but the girl had always been wavering between the two since her mum sent her to the Catholic school with her sister, of course she only sent them there because it was the best one in the area, and the older one wasn't fussed about god, only a year older mind, and half the kids didn't care either, but this girl, well that's where she met her husband isn't it, handsome man, very handsome, she's very bookish you know. look at me going on talking, what about you?
At that you pull down your hood, your face smiling through the pain, your eyes welling up, and say, [["I never had a brother or sister."]]
She's all too happy to try to explain to you, but after a couple of attempts to describe what she's doing, decides the easiest thing is to show you the way she was shown, and pulls out another pair of needles, quickly starts off a stitch and hands them to you.
Your hood is shading your eyes a little too much though, doing it's job of isolating you extremely well, but in this case you want to be able to see. And she says she can't hear you too well, probably because of her ears, but you know that you're mumbling into your jersey.
It's not a thing you really want to do though, [[take the hood down|pull the hood down.]], do you do it so you can learn to knit, or [[admit that you'd rather stay hidden?]]There's some kind of safety inspection and people in hi-vis jackets get on, they take a good look at stuff, one of them peers at you and you glare back. What does it matter.
Soon you arrive at the final stop. From motorway to city centre, to concrete, metal and glass hub of early arrival buses.
Great. What now? What the fuck now? Trudge onwards, you guess. March right up to the council and ask where they're keeping your mum. Show them your ear, and neck, and chest. Ghost of the century. You deserve this shit. Pathetic. Walk into a police station and tell them there's a man with his head duct taped to a table who's going to break free, and drive hundreds of miles to take you back home.
You sit in the bus station and cry, as the [[Nightbus drives off|end end]] somewhere else.Thank you for playing Nightbus, this story was written for all those who do not get the chances that you've had in the game.
If you want to share your thoughts about Nightbus - please e-mail: email@example.com - I would be happy with any feedback or questions about the experience.
"Now now." She begins, putting down her knitting. [[Then she sees it.|pull the hood down.]]"Fair enough." She sounds a little suspicious, since you were so enthusiastic a moment ago, and true, you've hardly even looked at her yet. But for now, that's that.
Until the bus stops, the lights come up and the bus driver announces that there will be a safety inspection. It's not this that's shocking though, it's when the point of the old woman's knitting needle touches your side and she quietly says, very sternly, "I'm watching you, I don't know who's under that hood, but I'm no hostage."
What?! You can hardly comprehend, and the [[feelings of guilt]], for something you don't know, you know those feelings well.
You turn to face her, and look her in the eyes fully. You've welled up with tears in the confusion and when she sees your face she takes the needle away. "You're just a kid." She says appaled at herself, "I thought, the police are getting on and you wouldn't show me your face, I thought you were..."
You take your hood down then as she blabbers apologetically. The hydraulics on the bus hiss and through the doors several hi-vis safety inspectors enter. "They're looking for me, I ran away from home." You begin to sob and double over.
"No, no, they're not kid," She puts her arm on your back and rubs, "No, my dear. Someone's escaped from prison, it's not you. It's okay."
You go to sleep then, when you wake in a surreal state, you head home with the woman, you eat soup, you go to sleep in her spare room.
What next? [[Who knows?|end end]]"Alright folks, just need to stop here, routine safety stuff."
There's a stirring in the bus, as people wake up, and you know that there's something strange going on, maybe just as a reflex after showing this woman your head. But you have a sense, and she says.
"There's no safety check, it'll be the police looking for someone." Then she sits up, and takes her hand away. "Is it you?"
You flinch, and begin to worry, is it you?
"I, I don't know, please, I can't. I don't know if it's me."
Your heart is pounding, and there's hi-vis wearing officers boarding the bus.
"I ran away, away from him, from, I couldn't take anymore. Please, [[I can't go back!]]"The woman's hand returns to your leg as the officers look you both in the face, making fake safety checks in the overhead luggage.
"Excuse me officer." The woman says and you grip her hand, no, no no!
One of the hi-vis jakcets turns to her and says, "Yeah." As if they knew, that we knew, that everyone knew.
"Who are you looking for?"
"Runaway prisoner," the officer sighs, tired of the disguise, "Anyone could help us out, he's about 6foot white British, dark hair, thin, distinctive scarring on his hands and neck, and a broken nose. we got a tip off that he'd be getting a coach on this route."
You think, in your retreating panic, that that sounds like a clown you once sat next to. Do you risk making a scene and [[tell them?]] [[Or not?]]"A clown?" The officer says, as if it was both the first and last thing they expected to hear.
"Anything more specific."
"He was, he had scars on his neck, the collar bone, and makeup all over his face to hide scars, and gloves. And a red nose, he was wearing a hat."
You give the rest of your description and people in the seats around you, previously silent, start chipping in to corroborate your story. The officer radios it in, their analytical apathy turning to something more urgent.
"Thank you, really, you've helped a lot." They say it to your eyes, and despite your complicated relationship with the police and all they've not done to help you, you feel valued there and then.
The hand of the old woman is on your leg again, and she calls you Sherlock Holmes, some detective or something. She asks where you are going, and you say nothing. There's an unspoken bond between you two now. Knitted together by circumstance and for the briefest moment, [[you feel unstoppable.|end end]]You hold it in, that surreal picture of the clown with the torn up neck sitting next to you not long before. You push it down, and though the officers eyes hover over you, maybe picking up some of that anxiety, the situation ends with nobody having any evidence to give.
You're scared once they leave, but thankful that they're gone, you want to tell the old woman that you had seen something but that feels out of the question. Won't she hate you for it? She's seemingly pledged herself to caring for you, for now at least, and you don't want to shatter that with your cowardice. You let her hand comfort you, and soon the Nightbus is arriving.
She says you can stay with her until you get yourself sorted. You say that might be a long time, she shrugs, the house has been lonely since her husband had died, the kids had their own lives. This was a service for the good of both of you. Until convicted clowns came and hunted you down in the night.
You weren't afraid of that fantasy though, there were other [[things to be afraid off.|end end]]