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The Crusty-Looking Man on the Bus

I got on the bus with four minutes to spare. I was out of breath and flopped on to a seat by the left hand window panting like a dog. I clutched my bag close to my chest and thought, 'Hell, isn't life tough in this big, big world?'

Immediately I was faced with a dilemma. Having stepped on to the bus with four minutes to spare I began to contemplate on how I ought to spend this short time before the bus set off. My brain galloped into overdrive. Should I count something outside, maybe windows of buildings or women in skirts or people jogging naked or something? Or perhaps see how many times I can crack my knuckles before my hands begin to ache and go numb? But then the dilemma became worse, for as I considered how I should spend this short time I realised that the four minutes were ticking away and in the end I would have wasted all this time and I would be angry with myself for the rest of the month.

Quickly I unzipped my bag and peered inside. Between the alien's head and the fossilised triceratops turd I spotted the book. 'Yes,' I thought, 'why not read the book until the bus set off, what a magnificent idea!'

The book was entitled The Kafka Effekt by D Harlan Wilson. I flicked through it, searching for a section that I could read and finish in four minutes, although by now it wasn't four minutes at all but even less than that.

I decided to read the very first short short, Warning on a Person, for it was brief and I could easily complete it and if I was reading it too fast I could begin to take my time and make it so that the conclusion of the piece would coincide with the bus setting off. Admiring my own genius I started to read, but at once I had a problem, for as my eyes met the text each word bounced off the page and transformed into one of my favourite confection, which are M & M's.

I was astounded, as the words leapt up from the book and landed on my lap as M & M's. Swiftly I grabbed them and placed them on the seat next to me. There were all different colours, and I was tempted to eat them, but chose not to, for I didn't wish to desecrate D Harlan Wilson's work by eating it.

As I collected the sweets I spotted that they were coloured according to the first letter of the word. For example, words beginning with A were coloured aquamarine, B were blue, C were crimson, and so on. I realised that the four minutes were counting down, and so I quickly got to work in deciphering the piece, arranging the M & M's in order on the seat beside me. I managed to get as far as 'WARNING: This person contains a hairtrigger temper and should be handled with care. Do not unnerve by.' when the bus revved up and set off.

"Oh hell isn't the world a shitty place to exist!" I yelled out loud as the M & M's jumped back on to the page and transformed back into word form.

I became embarrassed at my outburst, and glanced around the bus to see if anyone had heard me, but apart from myself and the driver there was only one other person, a crusty-looking man sitting way behind me on the right hand side. I was relieved, and stuffed the book back into my bag, although I wasn't pleased with my failed attempt to fill the four minutes in a useful manner.

Consulting my watch I noticed that almost a minute had passed since the bus started up. Outside were buildings and people and the sky and other things appertaining to life and the world, and I began to think of how much I hated everything and everybody when I realised that oh fuck the bus was going in the wrong direction!

Immediately I started to panic. I sprang to my feet and cracked my knuckles and perspired in places that I didn't realise had sweat pores. I turned around to face the crusty-looking man, who was seated maybe six or seven rows back, shit, who was counting?

"Is this the bus for East Lansing, Michigan?" I called out to him in a cracked-crazy tone.

I think my question took him by surprise. He studied me for a moment before answering.

"No, it isn't," he said in a robot-like monotone.

"What? Where is it headed then?"

"Fountain Hills, Arizona."


I leapt up from my seat, grabbed my bag, and marched along the aisle to the driver. I was in a flap and no mistake.

"Stop the bus!" I yelled, even though I was barely a foot from the old guy. "I'm not going to Fountain Hills, Arizona, no way Jose!"

The driver didn't flinch, he just kept his eyes straight ahead, concentrating on the traffic and the job in hand, for he was a true professional motorist.

"How did you know my name is Jose?" he asked.

"I didn't," I said, still flustered. "I just want you to stop the bus, I want to get off. Fountain Hills, Arizona is no place for a guy like me."

"Fountain Hills, Arizona? But this bus is going to East Lansing, Michigan."

I was astounded, and smelled the bitter pill of deceit somewhere in the air.

"Are you sure?" I said.

"Who's the driver?" he replied full of sarcasm.

Sheepishly I toddled back along the aisle, delivered a nasty glare to the crusty-looking man, and slouched on to my seat. I then turned around and scolded him.

"This bus is going to East Lansing, Michigan," I said, "not Fountain Hills, Arizona." Then I began to stare out of the window at the passing world.

Seconds later I heard the crusty-looking man's voice murmur, "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to lie to you."

I looked around to find him sitting directly behind me, his warm stagnant breath on my neck and his crusty features evident on close inspection. The skin of his face resembled a hard covering of rock or stone, and there were pock-marks and ugly blemishes all over, and lumps too, as if a collection of dead insects were lurking just beneath the surface of his flesh.

"You mean you deliberately lied to me?" I asked.

"Yes. Please forgive me, I'm sorry. I'll do anything to make it up to you. You want money? Here, have some money."

He fished a battered old wallet out of his jacket pocket, opened it up and took out a couple of dollar bills which he handed to me.

"This is all I have," he told me.

"I don't want your money."

"Well. what about my clothes? You can have my clothes. Here."

He proceeded to disrobe, but I stopped him at once, for I had no desire for his repugnant-smelling garb.

"Well how about a favour then? I can give you a haircut? If you have the scissors that is. Or I can clean your shoes, I'll do it with my sleeve, no bullshit. Or maybe a blowjob?"

"What?" I cried out, astonished.

"A blowjob. I can give you a blowjob. What do you say?"

"No! Now leave me alone please."

Just then the bus stopped and D Harlan Wilson got on.

"Is this bus going to Fountain Hills, Arizona?" he asked the driver.

"No, it's going to East Lansing, Michigan."

"Shit, I ain't going to East Lansing, Michigan, no way Jose!" said D Harlan Wilson before stepping back off the bus.

"How did you know my name is Jose?" the driver asked before revving up and setting off again.

I settled back to relax, but then the crusty-looking man interrupted me.

"I swallow," he said.

"Fuck off!" I shouted, and I saw him practically shrink back into the wormy jacket he was wearing.

I was pleased that I had been so severe with him. It appeared to work because he remained silent, and I sank back into my seat for the long ride. I decided to snooze for a while, after all this is what people usually do when taking a journey such as this. I closed my eyes and started to doze off. I invited sleep but no matter what I did it wouldn't come. I decided to count sheep, but I couldn't see any, and besides who ever got to sleep by doing that, surely it's a myth of some kind? So I chose to count something else instead, but I couldn't decide on what to count. Outside there were plenty of things to count - windows, buildings, motor vehicles, vegetarians, prostitutes, dead mice - but this meant keeping my eyes open so that I could see them, and I could never go to sleep with my eyes open. So in the end I opted not to snooze at all, for the entire world was against me in everything I attempted to do.

"What about a hand job then?" the crusty-looking man whispered from behind.

I quickly turned around to confront him. "Didn't I tell you to fuck off?"

"Yes you did."

I noticed that he was eating something, popping things into his mouth one by one, picking them out from a pile upon his palm. He spotted me watching him, and shoved his hand across to me.

"M & M?" he asked.

There was a whole heap of them in his hand, all different colours, and I just gazed at them mesmerised, all types of questions sneaking around my brain.

"Where did you get those?" I asked him.

"A-ha, now that's very strange."

He deposited the M & M's into his right hand jacket pocket, then unzipped his carry-on, which was almost identical to mine. I spotted the alien's head in there, although he was trying his best to conceal it. Then he took out a copy of The Kafka Effekt by D Harlan Wilson.

"This book is magic," he said, "the words change into M & M's when you read them. Totally uncanny!"

He gave the book to me, and I flicked through it, noticing at once that he had devoured the whole of Warning on a Person and the first page of Boyeraqueri Bubbolifiticus's Body. I became angry immediately.

"But you can't eat them!" I yelled.

"Why not?"

"Because you're digesting the work of a literary genius!"

He ignored me, and as if to deliberately irk me he dipped his hand into his pocket and took out one of the M & M's, a turquoise one, and dropped it into his mouth, chewing on it with a crusty-looking grin on his face.

My rage increased, and I became so furious that I opened the side compartment on my bag and whipped out a handgun. Without hesitation I shot the crusty-looking man three times in the head. He seemed both alarmed and surprised, and slumped back in his seat, his eyes glazed over. I watched as his shabby clothing began to melt away from himself, sliding down on to the floor in dirty shards, until he was completely naked in front of me. Then his skin began to change, to turn an ugly treacle colour, and adopt a strange glowing sheen to it. In less than a minute his entire body had transformed into a man-size hunk of bizarre sludge, and judging by the smell I guessed that he had developed into a huge lump of molasses.

I then saw a small crease slice open where his mouth used to be, and he showed me his yellow teeth, before muttering, "I'm sorry. How about a blowjob?"

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