Chapter 1: Out the Window
…even the slightest change in genetic makeup can cause extreme differences in the reactions occurring at the cellular level when a foreign substance is present. For example, identical twins have genetic differences that are imperceptible to modern equipment, yet they have less than 70% chance of sharing the same allergies, the same resistances, the same cravings.
I glance up from ‘A Dissertation on Biomedical Engineering’ as the charter bus rattles over a lump in the road. How dull this all is, especially this late. I’d lean back and indulge in a nap, as I had so easily done the previous night, but I find myself restless. I feel so tired, yet sleep will not come.
I’m still not sure Science is the correct major for me, even though it is my junior year of college and I’ve worked for a forensics lab for a little over a year. I’m just glad to be away from it all for a while. Thank God for summer!
I should find some friends to hang out with once I settle in, be more like a normal guy. Otherwise, it will be awfully lonely once I find a new job and return to school. I’m not particularly looking forward to my first year at Colorado State University, even though I have a scholarship. With time, I’ll get used to it, I suppose.
Since all my mind will do is wander, I slap the journal shut.
Turning to my left, the square window spans from the seat to the florescent light bar that runs along the bus’s roof. The cover of night has hid away any notable sights. In fact, as the coach hurdles along the barren strip of road, we enter a still fog. Passing vehicles gleam like globes of light surrounding a candle, indistinguishable even in the glow of the full moon. Yet, they are rare. I stare out the window counting the hemispherical orbs that disappear behind me for what feels like an hour. Three cars. It’s official; the driver has taken us through some remote southern back road. Explains all the bumps. Truth be told, I’m not even sure which state we are in anymore. By my estimate, we’d left Kansas and were entering eastern Colorado.
Gazing towards the front of the bus, the driver grips the wheel with two hands, his jean jacket sleeves stretching across it. A red and blue logo, barely visible from my seat, decorates the jacket. AmTrans or some such. I spot the driver’s eyes in the oblong mirror above his head. The angle makes the driver appear that he is staring directly at me. But then, it always appears that way. His eyes return to the road. I couldn’t bear to drive in such unchanging scenery. I’d nod off and crash, killing everyone. Despite my own shortcomings, the bus driver seems quite alert.
Most of the passengers are counting sheep, and they must be doing well at it given that I haven’t seen a one toss or turn in at least two hours. Not one has darted for a late-night run to the potty at the back of the bus.
The children in the seat adjacent mine sleep like little angels, quite contrary to their waking behaviors. If not for them, my dissertation would be read and perhaps I could rest easier. Then again, the silence in the bus is equally disturbing, and perhaps, it is the lack of their noise that keeps my mind rolling over and over.
The driver is hardly to be discoursed with now, as he leans forward, trying to make heads and tails of the road in the blinding fog.
Turning about in my seat, the sleeves of my gray sweater drawing nearly to my elbows as I do, I search for anything of interest at the rear of the bus. Surprisingly, that is exactly what I find. Two rows back on the opposite side, a young lady sits rigidly, her face devoid of any expression. At first I wonder if perhaps she is one of those creepy people whose eyes remain open while they sleep, but she soon turns her blank stare toward me. Her russet hair nearly hides a scar angling across her forehead. I wave my hand and smile meekly. Apparently, it is even more pathetic than it felt, because she simply turns away.
Yet, I feel so restless, I’m tempted to speak with her despite her obvious disinterest in me. After all, I don’t mind that she doesn’t like me, but at least then I’d have someone to share this morbid misery with. Usually I’d make peace with my boredom, accepting it, but tonight I couldn’t make peace with Gandhi.
I sigh as I turn back over in my seat. I don’t understand anything about women. For 21 years I’ve tried and failed miserably. I have much better chances at understanding the book sitting in my lap. Sadly, most times I’d rather have the company of a book than a living, breathing person. No wonder I’m still a virgin.
I try to ignore the utter dejection I feel by gazing out the window again. I manage to make out a sign in the fog, but only part of it.
Welcome to Jerkwood. I’d normally at least humor myself, but for some reason it doesn’t feel appropriate tonight. I scratch at my arm until it burns, looking down to notice a rash forming. Maybe this whole moving thing is bothering me more than I thought, but I still can’t tell if it is where I am going or what I left behind. I wonder if my mom is alright. She probably hates me right now.
Frustration or desperation, not sure which, finally lead me to turn around again. I’m greeted by the most unwelcoming stare I’ve ever seen. If looks could kill, she would have put me out of my misery already.
“H-hello.” I smile at her shyly, “I’m Samuel.” I clear my throat for about the third time, which I’m rather certain has punctuated or interrupted my every syllable.
“Josa,” she says dismissively, returning her gaze quickly to the blackness beyond her window.
“Trouble sleeping?” My voice suddenly becomes this croaking thing, and I could swear there is a frog stuck in my throat. “I’ve had a lot of trouble sleeping tonight. Been reading a book, but still can’t sleep.” I try desperately to relax my vocal cords, moving my hand to my throat, ready to smash the frog should it return.
She doesn’t fully turn back to look at me, instead letting her eyes stare out the front window. “Sleep is for the dead.”
Perfect. She’s one of those depressing types. No matter what optimistic things I might say, it will be turned into something grotesquely dark and downbeat.
She lets out an audible sigh, “But it does sound nice. Maybe soon.” Her eyes meet mine again, except this time I don’t feel like she wants to stab me with a sharp object. Yet, there is a certain tension in her tone that feeds my unrest.
“Life does have a way of pressing us into difficult positions. You seem rather young to be moving across state by yourself.” I say, hoping I don’t sound too creepy. She looks to be in her teens.
“Yes. Well, my mother passed away recently and I…” Josa’s voice cracks and then goes quiet.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to—“
“No-no. It’s fine. After the funeral, child services placed me on this bus to deliver me to my only existing relative. If I was eighteen, I guess they would have just let me fend for myself, but I’m only seventeen.”
I cringe at the thought of her landing in a family with problems like mine. She has already been through a lot. “I hope it’s a good f—”
Shock registers on her face as she screams towards the driver, “Lookout!”
My head whips around fast enough to pop, just in time to see a deer glance by the front windshield. A loud thud sounds, and the bus rocks as the front tire bounds over the poor animal. The driver is over-alert, frantic even, but the mass transit stays on the road. I’m still holding my breath when a huge vehicle slams into my side of the coach. My head jerks toward the window, but I don’t catch a glimpse of any headlights. The windows explode with the sudden impact. The gong of crushed metals and shattering glass is soon lost to frightened cries as luggage crashes onto the passengers. The yellow lines of the road disappear, and the bus tosses about like some sort of carnival ride gone terribly wrong. I grip the straps of my seat, desperate to hold on to anything as I meagerly attempt to brace myself. The brakes squeal, and people are screaming. The mother across from me has thrown herself over her children to protect them. I see a tree bough approaching through Josa’s window, but she isn’t there. When the coach strikes it in a sidelong slam, the straps are yanked free from my hands, and I sail over the mother and her little ones and crash through the window. In an instant, my limbs flail and thrash against the cold ground, and pain erupts all over my body. A sudden impact to my head makes it all disappear.
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