Leave the driving to . . . who?
Full Moon Over Greyhund
by Jean M. Goldstrom ©2007Ed Harford, 42, had been driving Greyhunds exactly half his life. "Best job in the world," Ed would say. "No two trips the same." Babies had been born in his bus; criminals had been caught on his bus and taken off by police, with or without a fight; people had died on his bus, quietly and otherwise. And all those trips had started out ordinarily, too, just like the charter run he drew that night of the full moon. A group of some 40 men had hired a charter bus to take them to New York. As the men -- all big, burly and rumpled-looking -- trudged aboard, Ed heard them talking about the fun they were going to have in New York, and the Westminster Dog Show, and the classy girls they were going to find there. Ed frowned. Classy girls at a dog show? He shrugged. Probably some kind of joke with these guys. Whatever. Like typical evening-boarding passengers, they were all asleep by the time Ed had been on the road for an hour. Darkness fell, and the full moon began to rise on the farmland and forest through which the road wound. After about another hour on the road, Ed pulled into a rest area and called "Rest stop!" His passengers growled and muttered, not really stirring from their seats. "Nobody wants to get off?" More growls, grumbles and mutters. "Okay," said Ed. "Next rest stop in about two hours." And he pulled back onto the highway, into the dark night lit only by the rising full moon. An hour along, Ed began to hear what no bus driver wants to hear from his vehicle's engine. Pop. Bang. Sput. Gasp. Wheeze. Then silence, as Ed coasted the bus to the dark side of a dark road in a dark forest. Ed turned the key off, then on again. Nothing. He knew what to do. Whipping out his cell phone, Ed called headquarters. "Ed Harford here. Yeah, on that charter to New York I'm driving. I'm about an hour out of the first rest stop and the engine just died. I don't know, it just did. And it's staying dead. Send another bus, okay? Yeah, all right. About two hours? Haven't you got anything closer? Okay, okay. Two hours, then. But tell them to step on it, these passengers aren't going to be real happy about sitting here in the woods for two hours. Yeah . . . okay." Putting his cell phone away, Ed sighed. The passengers were muttering. Standing up and turning toward the group in the darkened bus, Ed said, "Folks, I'm sorry to report we've got a serious engine problem. We're going to have to wait for a replacement bus." He snapped on the interior lights, and found himself looking at the hairy bodies and into the gleaming red eyes of a busload of some 40 werewolves. Ed had seen enough horror films to recognize a werewolf when he saw one. "Um, ah, guys, if you want to take a rest break now, uh, it's okay," he said, opening the bus doors and quickly stepping aside. This was the right move, because the ensuing rush of huge, furry, muscular bodies would have trampled him into the rubber-mat-covered floor if he hadn't jumped out of the way. In what seemed like a moment, the bus was empty, except for the clothing left behind on each seat by its former occupant. Looking out of the bus door, Ed could see nothing but the night and the forest. In the distance, he could hear his passengers baying . . . a faraway baying that grew further away each moment. Would they know to return when he blew the horn of the replacement bus? Ed shrugged. He would worry about that when the time came. Re-seating himself in his comfortable driver's seat, he had just rested his head against the high back and started to doze when the lights of another bus knifed the darkness, and a horn honked. "Whew!" Ed thought. "That was fast!" He hurried down the steps and outside, waving at the bus that pulled up beside his. A pale, thin driver poked his head out of his window. "Hi!" he called. "You having trouble?" Ed sighed. This wasn't his relief bus, after all, just another bus driver passing by, and decent enough to stop and see if he could help. "Hi," Ed replied. "Yeah, the engine died. My company is sending a replacement, but I've got to sit here until it arrives." Ed laughed. "And now my passengers all turned into wolves and ran away. Isn't that something?" The other driver pulled his head in, set the brake on his bus and came out to join Ed at the side of the road. He was a tall, thin man in a black uniform. "Hello," he said. "My name's Egil. You're with Grayhund, I see?" "Uh huh," Ed answered. "Twenty-one years last month." He craned his neck but could not see a marking on the bus Egil drove, which appeared only to be long, shiny and black. "And you?" "I'm kind of a freelancer," Egil said, in his deep, measured voice. "My guys hire me every now and then to drive them somewhere, and they pay so well, I don't need to do much else." "Really?" Ed said. "What are they, kind of a club?" Egil shrugged. "They're . . . uh . . . just a bunch of guys that travel together. Well, sort of a travel club, you might say. Right now I'm driving them to New York for a convention of Blood Bank Administrators." Ed chuckled. "Sounds like a million laughs. But then, my gang wants to pick up girls at a dog show, so who's to say? But I'm a little worried about my passengers. They all turned into wolves and ran away into the woods. How am I going to get them back when the replacement bus comes?" Egil's expression was unreadable. "Wolves, huh? But they were guys when you started?" "Uh huh," Ed said. "Weird, huh?" Egil smiled. "I think my guys can help you. I'll ask them. Come on, take a look at their bus. It's really nice." Always interested in what other bus lines were doing, Ed swung up the stairs of the long, black bus, behind Egil. Inside, dim lights illuminated the bus. Eight men, all dressed in evening wear -- monkey suits, Ed mentally called them -- were seated around a table playing cards. Along the sides of the bus, long boxes were covered with soft cushions. Ed thought they looked like coffins with seat cushions. The windows of the bus were covered with tight, close-fitting curtains. "Gentlemen," Egil began, rather formally, and the eight looked up from their card game. "What's up, Egil?" one asked, and for some reason Ed noticed the speaker's extremely white teeth. Egil briefly outlined Ed's problem of the missing passengers. "Wolves, is it?" the man said, seeming to suppress a laugh. "What do you think, brothers?" Another of the finely dressed men said, "I think we can help him. Let's call a pause in our game, right?" The others nodded, and they all rose, heading toward the door. Egil and Ed hurried down the steps ahead of them. Outside, the men stood in a line, as if they were listening. Far away, barking and howling could be heard, and the occasional scream as if from a cow or sheep being dismembered. "Children of the night," said the man who had spoken. "How happily they play. But we must tell them to return so they won't miss their ride, understand?" The men nodded. As Egil and Ed watched, the men turned into bats and flew into the night. "Bats, huh?" Ed said. "I'll be darned. Wolves. Bats. What next?" Egil half-smiled, and shrugged. Soon, the baying seemed to be nearer. Yes, it surely was nearer. The two drivers began to hear crashing in the underbrush. Then the first of the wolves burst out of the woods, followed by another, and another, one carrying a cow's leg, and another carrying part of a sheep, and another, and another, until they were all accounted for by Ed's reckoning. They bounded into the bus, and Ed could hear some of them snacking on what they had brought back with them. "I hope they're house-trained," Ed observed. This brought a full smile from Egil, meaning he found the remark uproariously funny. Suddenly, Egil's eight passengers were there. The one who had spoken to Ed said, "I think you will find your passengers all present and somewhat refreshed. They will probably enjoy a little nap now, and be ready for the replacement bus when it comes." "Hey, thanks," said Ed, sincerely, as the tuxedoed men trooped back onto their bus. "I really appreciate you fellows helping out . . ." Just then, another set of bus headlights gleamed in the darkness, and another bus pulled up beside Egil's. A popping and banging from its engine announced mechanical ill health, sounding almost as sickly as Ed's had done, just before it died. In the lights from Egil's bus, the newly-arrived vehicle, its yellow hue proclaiming its previous career as a carrier of school children. Now, its side displayed a hand-painted legend, "The Church of The Never-Pinned-to-the-Mat Lord; The Reverend Battling Buddy, Pastor." From the driver's window, a pair of broad shoulders supporting a seemingly neckless head appeared and a thundering voice bellowed, "Hey, there. Is this a bus stop or have you guys got problems?" Ed responded, "I've got problems, and I'm waiting for a replacement bus. This guy," he said, indicating Egil, "is just fine, but he stopped to help me. How about you? Your engine sounds kinda sick." "Sick ain't the word," shouted the man. "I think it's about to pass into Engine Heaven, praise the Lord, but I wish He could have held it together until we got to the revival meeting in New York." With a last gasp, the engine died, punctuating its passing with a nasty-sounding explosion. "That's it," Rev. Battling Buddy said. "I think it's gone." "Call for a replacement," Ed called, helpfully. "Call who?" Rev. Battling Buddy laughed, from his window. "This is our one and only bus. Nope, the Lord is going to have to get us out of this mess. I can't wait to see how He's going to do it." Egil thought a moment, then said, "How many passengers do you have?" "Sixteen," said Rev. Battling Buddy. "Why?" "I wonder if my guys couldn't make room for you in their bus? It's pretty big, and they're a really nice bunch of guys." Ed chimed in, "They sure are. They really helped with my passengers." Rev. Battling Buddy called, "That would sure be terrific." In a moment he was standing beside them, a burly ex-wrestler in a black clergy suit with a large silver cross hanging around his neck. "I'll ask them right now. The worst they can do is say 'no.' right?'" And Rev. Battling Buddy swung up into Egil's bus so quickly Egil didn't have a chance to tell him to first put the cross inside his coat. Screams. Curses. Thumps. Rev. Battling Buddy came flying down the black bus's stairs, landing on his ample posterior in the dirt. "Great Lord in Heaven, what happened?" he mused. "Uh, Rev. Battling Buddy," Egil explained, "it was the cross. My guys get, um... nervous around them. Uh, especially silver ones, like yours." Rev. Battling Buddy got up, dusted himself off, and asked, "How come? They atheists or something?" By this time, all the passengers -- men, women, teenagers and children -- on the side of Rev. Battling Buddy's bus nearest the other two buses had stuck their heads out of the bus windows to see and hear what was going on. What they heard was Egil's explanation. "Well, no, Rev. Battling Buddy. They aren't atheists. They're vampires, so naturally they have a thing about silver crosses . . ." The rest of the Egil's sentence was drowned in screams from the Buddy bus passengers and bellows from Rev. Battling Buddy. "Vampires? Satan's spawn! Come on, Christians! Out of the bus and into the battle for the Lord. Bring all the crosses you can find, we'll drive these fiends to Hell where they belong!" A general scramble out of Rev. Battling Buddy's bus resulted in 16 militant Christians, all waving some sort of cross, pins, necklaces, and Bible covers with crosses as they charged Egil's bus. Egil simply stared. So did Ed. In his 21 years with Grayhund, nothing like this had ever happened, which was a statement he couldn't often make. Just then, the dark and (relatively) quiet night was shredded by the sound of 15 motorcycles whose oncoming headlights outlined all three buses and the cross-waving Christians converging on the dark bus Egil had driven. The crowd of motorcycles pulled up beside the buses. A man almost as burly as Rev. Battling Buddy kicked his kickstand down and dismounted from his metal steed. "Rev. Battling Buddy," the biker called, "what the hell are you doing hanging around here? I thought you were going to the revival, like us." "Watch your language, Greaser," Rev. Battling Buddy yelled back at the biker, whose metal German helmet was decorated with a painted cross and the legend "Bikers For the Big Guy." "Oh, yeah, sorry," he said. "But what's the matter? You got a problem?" "A problem? A problem?" yelled Rev. Battling Buddy. "You might say that, Greaser. These here guys on this here black bus, they're all spawn of Satan!" "Yeah?" said Greaser. Without waiting to hear more, he and his group members -- all of whose helmets bore the "Bikers For The Big Guy" legend -- began to mutter as they kicked their kickstands down and dismounted from their bikes. Several unwrapped chains from around their waists. Others pulled tire irons from the sides of their motorcycles. The bikers joined Rev. Battling Buddy's group in converging on the black bus. "Hey," Egil yelled. "Cut that out. Leave that bus alone." To Ed, he said, "I can't get into my bus. Can I use your cell phone? Maybe the police can get here before somebody gets killed." "Sure," said Ed, and ran up the stairs of his bus to get his phone... straight into the full crowd of his furry passengers, who were tumbling over each other in their rush down the bus stairs and into the outdoors. "Hey, guys," Ed managed to stammer to the crowd of passengers, some in wolf form, some in naked human form, "what's up?" One who was mostly human said, "We can't let those guys hurt our pals, the vampires." "Oh, yeah. Sure," said Ed, as the remainder of the wolf and semi-wolf passengers rushed passed him. The vampires strode out of their bus to confront the cross-bearing Christians, many of whom began screaming at the sight of the werewolves and naked human werewolves-to-be. The chain-wielding bikers yelled epithets, and the crowd of werewolves snarled their defiance at the would-be attackers of their vampire friends. Above all this racket, a bolt of red lightning split the night. When its reverberations died, a bright red being stood where the lightning struck. At least Rev. Battling Buddy saw the creature as a tall, red, horned-and-tailed creature with cloven hoofs and a particularly nasty, resonating laugh. The werewolves heard the laugh, but they saw the biggest werewolf they had ever seen, with glaringly shiny black fur and ruby-red blazing eyes that would be the envy of any were-creature. The vampires also heard the laugh, which sounded to them quite jolly, and what they saw was a tall, handsome vampire in full evening dress, including red satin-lined cape, with fangs that anyone would love to have sunk into their veins, at least anyone who was a vampire. Satan said, "I had to drop in on you, folks." The Christians, even the bikers, shrank back. Everyone who had a cross held it up. The red creature laughed again. "That tickles," he said. "Do it again!" Turning to the vampires, and then to the werewolves, he said, "Guys, our side doesn't always get the big win, but you ought to be able to wipe the floor with these wussies. Go to it, kids. I just wanted to watch." While Ed was wondering what his duty to his passengers was under these unusual circumstances, things were happening fast in another realm. The Divine Being heard the racket of prayers assaulting His ears from the Christians and Christian bikers. He also heard the snide laughter of his arch-enemy. "What a mess," He sighed, and hit one of the millions of intercom buttons on the huge desk at which he worked. "Ike here," a voice responded. "Ike, there's a little situation going on down on the Earth, and I'd really like to have you fix something to clear it up, okay?" A sigh responded. "Right now? I was in the middle of developing a new set of elements..." "Put it on hold, Ike. Okay? This won't take long." A scarcely audible sigh preceded a crisp "Okay, sir. On my way." And Sir Isaac Newton, Heaven's Chief Mechanic, hefted his metal tool box and disappeared in the direction of the coordinates The Divine One had already intuited to him. When he arrived four seconds later at the dark road lit only by bus and motorcycle headlights, everyone was frozen into position, even Satan, but not the bus drivers. The three stared at the apparition of an 18th century gentleman carrying a heavy metal tool kit, materializing in their midst. "Okay," said the gentleman, cheerfully, "who's got what's broken down?" Ed said, "I do, sir. My bus. It's that one, over there." "Me, too," said Rev. Battling Buddy. "I mean, my bus is broken down, too. It's that one." Newton sighed, walked over toward Ed's bus, and set his heavy toolbox down beside it. Lifting the hood, he peered inside. "When was the last time you changed the fuel filters?" he asked, with the weary air of one who knew the answer and did not like it. "Uh, I really don't know, sir. I'm not in maintenance," Ed said, apologetically. "I just drive." Newton selected a tool from his box. It looked something like a golden astrolabe and something like a coat hanger. He pressed it against the engine. "That's the way it goes," he said. "Nobody takes responsibility . . ." A shower of colored sparks leaped from the strange gold-colored device. They fountained high above the engine, and floated earthward, sinking into the engine. "Okay," Newton said. "Try the key now." Ed raced past his statue-like passengers, ran up the bus stairs, leaped into his chair, and turned the key. The engine rumbled into life, a healthy roar unlike any it had roared since it left its factory, long years ago. "That sounds wonderful, sir. Do you think it will last?" Ed asked, out the window. Newton said, "Count on it. Now," turning to Rev. Battling Buddy, "what seems to be the trouble with your mobile junkpile?" Rev. Battling Buddy shrugged. "Everything, probably. We're a poor congregation. I keep putting off repairs. And new hoses. And new tires. You know how it goes." Newton threaded his way between the immobilized Christians and bikers to the church bus and raised its hood. He shook his head. He looked upward and said to Someone, "Are you up to a miracle cure tonight, Sir?" To Rev. Battling Buddy, he said, "You ever think of having a bake sale for this bus?" "We just had 17 bake sales for the church roof," said Billy. "You gotta give the people a rest sometimes." Newton sighed, walked over to his toolbox and again lifted the golden device. Carrying it over to the church bus, he cocked his head upward. "Ready, sir?" he asked. "Okay, give it some gas." Buddy ran to get into the bus, but Newton said, "I didn't mean you, yet. I mean Him," looking upward. Again, a shower of multicolored sparks flew from the device. These flew higher and farther than they had with the Greyhund engine. Shower after shower of rainbow pinpoints of light ascended Heavenward and descended again to seemingly soak into the old bus engine. "Okay," Newton yelled to Buddy. "Now you give it the gas." Buddy turned the key. With a roar worthy of a jet airplane, the church bus rumbled into life. It sounded better than it had the day it was factory born. And if anyone could have noticed in the darkness, the tires appeared to be brand new. "You're good to go," Newton said, slamming the hood shut. "Thanks a whole lot, and may the Lord bless you real good," Billy said. "He already has, thank you," Newton said, packing up his tools. Rev. Battling Buddy asked him, "How do I get my congregation to come back to life again? And the bikers?" Newton looked around at the frozen figures, including that of Satan. Again he looked up. "I guess we're done here, Sir." As Billy's and Ed's buses rumbled richly, the Christians, bikers, vampires and werewolves regained mobility. So did Satan. "Go get 'em, guys," the demon yelled at his minions. But the werewolves, realizing their bus was functioning again, turned and quickly reentered it. Ed slammed the door, and yelled his thanks to Newton, out the window. Rev. Battling Buddy was already in his driver's seat. "Come on, Christians. That revival meeting won't wait for us! Come on, Greaser," he yelled at the biker chief. "Let's go!" The vampires quickly took in the situation, and flew -- in some cases, literally -- back into their bus. Fifteen motorcycles roared into life. So did the black bus, the church bus and the Grayhund bus. No one was left but Sir Isaac Newton and Satan. Newton gave Satan a cheerful wave and disappeared. Satan turned a disgusted look Heavenward. "Next time," he snarled. Then, stamping a hoof onto the earth, he, too, vanished. Ed motored down the road, reveling in the unaccustomed purr of the bus engine as his passengers settled themselves into their seats and began to snore softly, except for two in the back who were finishing a cow leg. He felt something akin to the satisfaction a mother feels upon lulling her rowdy brood to slumbers. Even though the bus smelled a bit of wet dog, Ed was happy. He thought, "I love this job!"
x x x
We almost missed this fine, fun fable from our editor emeritus. Somehow, it got lost in the e-mail ether and I was unaware of it until I published the stories list. When I found out it had vanished, I asked Jean for another copy. She graciously complied and Anotherealm got a treat. Thank you, Jean.
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