The mushrooms faded. His exhaustion emerged. The tree fort wasn’t big enough, so he opened the first aid kit, took out the emergency blanket, wrapped himself in silver, and laid beside the fire. Salt and vinegar chips quelled his hunger, as he studied the stars of the Pleiades, and drifted off to sleep.
He found himself on a blue bus. Everything was blue. The seats. The walls. The floor. The advertisements. The window tint. The driver’s uniform. Three seats up from him a mother and her little girl, both dressed in blue, were playing a game of eye-spy. The mom was looking for something blue.
“But everything is blue?”
“It’s dark blue.”
After scrutinizing the front of the bus, the mom turned and looked behind her, directly at Quinn.
“Is it that man’s hat?”
With a tremor of joy in her voice, the little girl launched into a song as she swayed in her seat, “Bus, bus, bustling bus. We see you and you see us. Bus, bus, bustling bus. We’ll be you, if you be us.”
Quinn grew dizzy as he thought about the words of her song. And when he looked out the window he saw that the bus was rising off the ground. Higher and higher it went, until the blue sky met the blackness of space. Between the blue and the black, a road appeared. On the left-hand side of this road there was a house.
The little girl turned and looked at him, “This is your stop,” she said, as the bus slowed down.
Quinn walked to the rear doors and stepped down onto the road, as the bus pulled away. He fixated on the house. There was something familiar about it. A crow, perched on the post of a cedar rail fence, started cawing. It kept cawing and cawing. It was telling him something.
He awoke to sunbeams breaching the tree canopy. A crow on the uppermost branch of a blue spruce, flapped its wings. They locked eyes with each other until a rustling noise made him look to his left. A second crow, about ten feet away, had laid claim to his bag of chips. He sat up and the crow took flight with the bag clamped in its beak. Despite a rash of mosquito bites and a pressing urge to urinate, Quinn felt good. Like an Astronaut re-entering the atmosphere feels good. Like answering the red winged blackbird’s call feels good. Like the morning after the dark night feels good.
He stood up, folded his silver blanket and gathered his trash. He poured what remained of his water on the embers of the fire, and for good measure he unzipped his pants and relieved the pressure in his bladder. The next order of business was to rebury The Stranger under its limestone marker. Before doing this, he removed the portion of the front cover that held his dad’s inscription and tucked it into the front pouch of his backpack, next to Dr. Iyer’s poem and the silver clasp.
Quinn took one last look around. He wanted his tree fort to be an indelible place. A place that he could revisit in his mind. Perhaps it might even serve as the tolling station: that candlelit desk in the dark, where stories of life are written on pages of death.
With his backpack back on, he began the return journey. Within ten minutes he was up on top of the pluton, beside the stunted pine, looking back at the campsite for signs of smoke. There weren’t any, so he descended the northern face and stepped down into the pasture. A couple of horses were grazing in the distance. He snapped pictures of them with his eyes; stills for the film in the theatre of his mind. He snapped more pictures as he passed by the junkyard and walked at pace toward his birch tree. When he was close enough to see the arrow, he noticed something that he had missed the day before. It was lower down on the trunk, and not as deeply carved.
Q.J + S. A
This was the work of his younger, ostensibly lovestruck self. He couldn’t think of who S.A was until a meadow lark flitted by and perched itself in a hawthorn tree. As the bird preened its yellow feathers, the name came to him: Sophia Augustus.
Sophia was the older girl who used to sunbathe in her front yard, directly across the street from Quinn’s childhood home, on Charlemagne Drive. While staring at her initials, he recalled the day she introduced herself. It was a Saturday, and he was making his weekly rounds, collecting money for the paper he delivered. The Augustus’ had recently been added to his route, but when he raised a trembling finger to ring their doorbell, he froze; for he’d admired Sophia from afar. In fact, our young, lovestruck Quinn had masturbated with her in his mind, more times than he could count. Being face-to-face with his sexual fantasy was simply too much for him to bear. However, the fear of not fulfilling the duties of his first job—the job that his dad had lined up for him—forced him into action.
He watched his finger push the doorbell. Moments later, Sophia appeared, wearing the bikini that Quinn had removed so many times in his mind. Discombobulation ensued, and when he inquired about whether her parents were home his tongue betrayed him.
“Is your dad or mom a gnome?” he asked, as his neck and face went warm. “I—I’m sorry. Grey Grove Standard collection,” he muttered.
“You’re the kid from across the street, aren’t you?”
“I’m pretty sure they’re not gnomes. But they do love their garden…which is where they are right now,” she said through a sly smile. “They’ll be there until it’s dark. Come back then.”
Quinn went home, locked himself in the bathroom and masturbated until his legs were wobbly and his temples were damp with sweat.
*Excerpt from the second edition of Bus Back to Omaha, as it will appear in the omnibus repub of Taxicab to Wichita and Bus Back to Omaha, to be published in 2018, by John’s Motorcycle Storage and Rare Book Disposal.