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November 2010 Volume 12 , Issue 11 submit to us!
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Machine
by James A Ford -- Contributing Author [Email This Story]

You walk away from the scene of the accident. The early morning street is still wet with rain slick dew.

The girl.

The little girl. You make a mental note to keep your promise. No matter what. She is the first person who has appeared real in a long time. As you walk, you are overcome by a sudden feeling of lethargy, the delayed exhaustion of a traumatic morning. Your legs are overwhelmed with the burden you present but they know the way home and they slowly trudge you back. As they work, the images of the last hours drift through your head. It started in your lonely room, early in the morning as you worked away at the keyboard.

***

It's got you.

Even now at 4:48 in the morning you click clack away in the full thrall of a red wine hangover.

A zombie complacent in your role.

Slave.

Sad thing is, it doesn't even know of your obsessive devotion.

Or does it?

If a ghost exists in there, as so many say, then it may have some sentient clue as to your existence. At the least it enjoys the feel of your fingers itching its body. Lightly rubbing the letters strewn across its back. Touching repeatedly; some areas more then others. Sensitivity increased by anticipation of contact. When you do have occasion - such as now - to tap a Q or an X, the thing almost has its very own mechanical orgasm.

Or is it all in your head, not quite real, like so much else.

On those evenings when working together is a joy and all flows so smoothly you feel that together you could rule the world. Perhaps that is not so far fetched. After all, isn't the pen mightier than the sword. They say that for a reason. It isn't just a made up thing. A fiction like this. It has some substance by itself. You hope.

Another hour passes. Reluctant to depart your fantasy world even for a moment, you force yourself to click the stand by icon, and as is your custom you head to the coffee shop around the corner for a cup. A large coffee extra cream and one of their glazed, lemon-filled, whip cream supremes - less like a donut and more like a cake.

You walk the streets in a hurry, uneasy, yet uncertain why. This time of the morning - just before dawn - always makes you jittery.

You make the diner, and at this early hour the place is empty but for the one waitress. She doesn't look up as you enter. Her scant frame leans on a ragged mop that moves just perceptibly across the floor.

You take a seat by the window. After a moment the waitress notices she is no longer alone. She sets aside the mop and moves toward you with a terrific head of red hair that makes her name tag even more ironic: Lucille.

You smile up at her. She reminds you of your crazy aunt Beatrice who resides in the Summerhill Insane Asylum. You order a large coffee: two creams, no sugar - you try to stay away from added sugar as you know it is not good for you. In the spirit of health-conscious frugality, you forgo the lemon supreme and instead order a much smaller lemon filled donut with sprinkles. You have been thinking about a caffeine and sugar fix for the last two hours. How to get out of your room and away from your work, which isn't really work - since you don't actually get paid - and isn't really going well anyway.

Real life.

You watch Flo filling your order. You can feel her disinterest, the sentiment seems infectious. You turn away and stare out the window at the gradually receding night. Your mind wanders and you think again of poor old Aunt Beatrice. The stories of her antics are legendary in your family, told and retold often, de rigueur at all family functions and get togethers.

You sit and try hard to remember if anyone has visited her in awhile.

Outside, the morning sun is starting to light the street. Long shadows have formed and the wet pavement glistens with an electric sheen. The street lights are still on but they will all wink out before another half hour passes.

You stare vacantly at the silent street and the few cars rolling by. As you watch, a black half ton truck streaks past. It sails through a red light and sinks into the side of the number 27 city bus as it turns left in the intersection. It happens in an instant; no more then a hundred feet from your seat in the diner.

At first, you don't register what you see. Then your eyes are drawn to smoke drifting out of the broken windows of the smashed bus.

You turn, and Lucille is staring wide-eyed out the window as well. Your coffee gripped in one shaky hand and your donut jiggling atop a plate in her other.

"Call for Help, Now!" You yell at her. Your voice brings Lucille out of her stupor and snaps yours as well.

You run outside.

Adrenaline, rushing through your blood makes your legs feel shaky even while they move you at great speed toward the scene. The inside of the truck's cab compartment burns into your mind. A man and woman covered in blood. Torsos held firmly in place, crushed against the wreckage a snapshot of violent death. Heads lolling obscenely on what can only be the destroyed necks of the newly dead. Thankfully, their faces and the staring unblinking eyes are hidden from you, smothered in their crushed chests.

You turn from the cab and run the last few steps to the door of the T- boned bus. The sliding accordion door is jammed shut. Despite the smoke filling the interior, you can still see survivors moving about. You pound at the door, you kick it but it is crushed into the frame and will not move. The safety glass has shattered on both sides of the accordion door. But you can see immediately that the crushed frame does not allow enough room for any one to get out.

"Help! For Christ Sakes!" Someone yells. You hear coughing, and gagging screams inside. You can't get in. You look up and see that although the windows are shattered the frames are mostly intact.

"The windows... go to the windows!" You yell. No one responds.

"You see a face pushing up against the broken door - a girl, probably eleven or twelve, face covered in soot and blood.

"The door is jammed shut!" You yell.

The girl nods that she understands.

"Go to the window, right there," you point up at a window that is not smashed or bent in its frame. "It should open. I'll catch you when you come through."

The girl nods and smiles slightly. She reaches the window and pulls it open, she is thin and should fit through. Before she can put a leg through, someone else pushes her aside and tries to fit through. You see a heavy woman's arm and shoulder wedged in the opening. She won't get through, you think. In her rush she has stuck herself in the window.

"You have to open it from the top." You yell, "the emergency latch... the whole window should come off." As you say this, you see the girl is staring at the woman who just pushed her aside.

"Hey!" You yell at her, and slam your hand into the side of the bus. This wakes the girl from inaction and she starts to edge gingerly out the next window. The glass is shattered, leaving a menacing ring of jagged edges surrounding the frame, resembling a hungry shark, waiting for prey to wander in.

"Watch the broken glass," you shout, "wait, I'll get something to clear it away!" You search the ground and find a twisted piece of metal from the half ton. You grab it and reach up dragging it alone the bottom of the bus window. You manage to break off most of the jagged edges. There is a noise from within the bus, a rumbling, the girl doesn't wait, she climbs one foot at a time through the window, she has a jacket that she uses to wrap over the bottom of the window frame. You grab her legs as they lower down, and then her waist, she is out.

She is out.

You are on the ground. An explosion. Your ears ring as you blink hard at the bus.

The woman stuck above you in the bus window opening is gone. The same one who pushed the girl aside, to save herself. You feel a brief spiteful twinge but it passes quickly.

The whole front of the bus has disappeared, replaced by a roaring orange-yellow inferno. Black acrid smoke billows straight up into the morning sky. You grab the girl and run to the sidewalk across the street down wind of the black smoke. You sprawl on the grass of an apartment lawn, exhausted from the strain of the past few minutes.

The girl is crying.

"All those people..." She sobs.

"There was nothing more we could have done," you tell her, knowing it isn't just a hollow platitude. You had barely enough time to get her out.

"My mom..." the girl manages, and starts to cry in earnest.

You see a ring of emergency vehicles.

"Come on." You walk with your arm on the girl's shoulder to the nearest paramedic truck. Firemen are now converging on the bus, dousing the flames with thick ropes of water; sending steam and more plumes of smoke into the air.

"She was on the bus." You tell a pretty female paramedic, whom you believe might be more sympathetic then her hugely overweight, bald, male, counterpart, drinking coffee and watching the firemen.

"You are very lucky honey." The pretty paramedic says, she has light green eyes that promise many an interesting tale.

"My mom?" The girl asks, "where is my mom? She was stuck in the window of the bus." The paramedic looks at you. You shake your head in disbelief.

Then the words gush out before you can stop them.

"Your mother? That was her? But she pushed you aside!"

You feel immediate regret.

Even as the words leave your mouth, you know you have somehow breeched a confidence, an unstated agreement not to reveal a dark secret: of a mother, who by circumstance lived long enough to attempt to desert a frightened child to the fire.

Damn you. Why should you feel this way.

"She ... she was scared." The girl says, and looks away, sobbing.

"Honey. One thing at a time," the paramedic says, trying to sound cheerful, "let's check you out first, OK, then we'll see what happened to her." She gives you a pained look. You start to walk away.

"No. don't leave." It is the girl. You turn. "Don't go," she says, "you saved me."

"I'll come see you in the hospital OK." You look at the paramedic, "which hospital?" "Saint Regius," she says, "don't you want to stay. The media will be itching for an interview with the hero." You think for a moment and the thought of it brings a frown from deep within you.

"What is your name?" You ask the little girl.

"Katie. Katie Smythe," she says, a question in her eyes.

"Daniel," you say, and reach down to shake her small hand. You think it's time to leave.

Reality is always more palatable in small easy doses. You walk away. The feel of Katie's eyes on your back cause you to turn.

"She was scared, Katie, just like you said, try to remember the good," you say, "she was just scared."

Yes she was. Just scared. Like us all.

You walk away into the early morning light back to your frightened room.

Back to the machine.

 
 
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Features -- November 2010 -- Mid Month Issue