Morgan woke to the weary shoosh of airbrakes. The bus jittered as its engine died. Cold glass pressed hard and slick to Morgan’s cheek. Blackness lay beyond the window.
Someone shifted in the seat beside him. A man pushed in tight to peer out the window. He stunk of onions and cheap aftershave.
“See them?” he asked.
Morgan turned away. He always got the crazies on the night bus. The bus looked different than when he climbed aboard in West Seattle, worn around the edges, as if it had seen more hard use than usual.
The sign on the wall behind the driver’s seat caught his attention. When he dozed off, It had showed service schedules for the coming holidays. Now it cautioned passengers to update their booster shots.
“It’s the Law,” the last line read.
Morgan squinted against the dim interior light, trying to read the sign’s date of issue. Time to get new glasses. “Is that dated a year from now?” he asked.
His seatmate ignored him, stood and shouted, “Where’s the back-up bus?”
“We need more cops,” a woman called. “One of you can’t handle transfers.”
She sounded close to tears. Around her, other passengers grumbled their assent. Where did all these people come from? Morgan rode the night bus five times a week. It never collected a crowd this big.
A transit cop in riot gear stood near the exit, clutching a shotgun at port arms. “Stay calm,” he said. “The transfer bus is almost here.”
“’Bout frigging time,” a man grumbled.
“Yeah,” someone else shouted. “Get us to the wall.”
Something smashed into the window next to Morgan’s ear. His heart thumped a syncopated rhythm with his breath. A shatter-star the size of a quarter marked the wire-impregnated glass.
“Heartless bastards,” a ragged voice shouted, from outside.
“Damn,” the man next to Morgan muttered. “It’s them.”
A bloated face pushed against the window. A man. Green luminescent pus oozed from crusted fissures in his skin. Other half-seen faces showed at every window and the bus began to sway. Morgan’s side of the bus lifted from the pavement and his heart took up its ragged thump again. Passengers around him drew handguns from concealment.
“Stow ‘em, folks,” the cop barked. “Backup’s here.”
Lights strobed the night. Sirens wailed. A HumVee squealed into place. Floodlights lit the darkness, exposing a crowd of bloated forms, tight in against the bus.
An armored transit cop popped through a roof hatch on the HumVee. An automatic weapon barked. The bus bounced and quivered, sounding as if it had rolled into the mother of all hail storms.
“They’re firing rubber bullets!” Morgan had to shout to be heard above the noise.
“Cowards oughta use steel jackets,” his seatmate replied.
The fusillade pinned the crowd to the asphalt. A second bus erupted from a nearby street, lights flashing and horn blaring. The crowd scrambled, on hands and knees, to avoid its wheels. It rocked into place next to Morgan’s bus.
More armored transit cops poured out, like clowns from a circus car. They lugged riot shields and pushed into the crowd to form a barricade.
“Get your asses outta here!” Morgan’s cop shouted.
The passengers jogged forward. They all wore rubber gloves; a few wore paper masks. They bounced down the steps and ran the gap.
Morgan waited, reluctant to squeeze in line. He followed the bus driver, last man out. The cops closed ranks around him.
“Almost there,” a cop shouted.
Then an older man stumbled on the steps.
“Move him,” the new driver shrilled, as if he’d snorted helium. “Move him or I’m leaving now.”
Two cops squeezed past Morgan, grabbed the old man and threw him up the steps. The other cops backed in, shields low, shoving at the crowd.
A woman in the crowd thrust a swaddled bundle at Morgan. “Please take her, mister.”
A transit cop jammed his shield into the woman’s shoulder. She staggered but pushed back right away. The cop hit her with his shield again, hard in the face. She dropped the bundle.
The woman cried out, a wordless sob, and dropped to her knees. She caught the bundle as it hit the pavement and her knuckles grated on the asphalt. Chunks of flesh and green pus arced upward, spraying Morgan’s legs and chest.
The steps cleared, but a transit cop, a sergeant by his stripes, blocked Morgan’s path. “Show me your hands and face,” he barked. “Got to know you’re clean.”
Morgan did as told.
The sergeant ran some sort of scanner over Morgan’s hands, then around his head. He nodded. “Okay.”
Morgan leaned close, voice trembling. “What’s that for?”
“Stupid question,” the cop said. “Don’t you know you’ll catch it sure, pus gets on your skin?”
As the transfer bus rolled away, Morgan sat alone, wrapped in plastic tarps. He shut his eyes and drew a breath, trying to make sense of what had happened.
Morgan woke to the beep of his cell-phone alarm. The tarps and his fellow passengers had disappeared. So had the metal grates on the windows. The sign behind the driver listed holiday scheduling again. Outside the bus, halogen and incandescent lights chased away the darkness.
“Coming up to Third and Pike,” the driver called.
Morgan’s transfer point. He hustled forward, still sorting through the details of his disturbing dream. Something bumped against his ankle as he climbed down to the sidewalk.
He settled against a building, dug the object from his cuff. It looked and felt like the butt of one of the unfiltered Camels his father used to smoke. He brought it close to study it under the hard-yellow streetlight.
A human finger, pasty white and swollen, nail torn to the quick and skin ragged about the stump.
Morgan’s hand quivered. He squeezed, a reflex motion. A greasy bit of meat slid from the bone and oozed across his palm, coating his unprotected skin in green and luminescent pus.
K.C. Ball lives in Seattle, Washington. Her short stories have appeared here at Every Day Fiction, as well as various online and print publications, including Analog, Lightspeed, Flash Fiction Online and Murky Depths, the award-winning British fantasy magazine. K.C. won the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future award in 2009. She is a 2010 graduate of Clarion West writers’ workshop and an active member of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Writers of America. Her novel, Lifting Up Veronica, is currently being serialized by Every Day Novels. Snapshots from a Black Hole & Other Oddities, a collection of her short stories, was released in January 2012 by Hydra House Books.
This story is sponsored by
Hydra House — Publisher of Pacific Northwest science fiction and fantasy, including K.C. Ball’s collection of scifi shorts “Snapshots from a Black Hole & Other Oddities” and Danika Dinsmore’s middle-grade fantasy “The Ruins of Noe,” sequel to “Brigitta of the White Forest.”