Steve – A Prelude

Steve sighed a deep sigh of relief and lit his post work cigarette. Or as he called it, ‘the cigarette of freedom’. The irony of enslavement to the weed wasn’t beyond him which is why he persisted in calling it that. He exhaled with the joy of a recently paroled criminal, and made his way to the bus stop.

It had been a hell of a shift for a great many reasons, top of which was the hangover from hell that would not shift. He wasn’t one to normally go out on a ‘school night’ but that was just another reason why today had sucked. He hadn’t known he was supposed to be in on Saturday morning. It was Wales vs England in the Six nations today, and he had made damn sure to book the day off so he could spend it the way any Welsh rugby fan would; in the pub. He carefully made his plans, booked the Saturday off via the stupid bloody online holiday booking system the insurance company he worked for insisted on using, and then gone ahead and booked the Friday off for good measure. This had been done weeks in advance. He was golden. Alright, the Friday had gotten a little heavier than the ‘cheeky couple’ he was aiming for, but a fried brekky and hair of the dog would have seen that off in short time. Except he was woken up at seven thirty by his team leader who was wondering what time Steve was going to be joining in with the group. Fortunately his TL, Andy, wasn’t unaccustomed to blue language early in the morning having made many of these calls before, and paid no mind when Steve proceeded to curse himself out of bed and into the shower. He ended the call before the shower, but that didn’t mean he had stopped swearing. It turned out that his Friday off had been approved, but despite showing the same for Saturday, and confirming he had Saturday off too, he hadn’t. When you wake at an ungodly hour with a hangover from hell and your boss being sarcastically sweet on the phone, you’re rightly entitled to a few choice swear words Steve thought to himself.

The bus arrived, full as expected at one o’clock on a Saturday afternoon. Steve stubbed his cig, threw it in the litter bin next to the bus stop and hopped on.  He flashed his pass at the driver who of course gave it the merest of glances, confirming that if you pay £70 for a full and legal pass, you’re a sucker. Might as well use last months until you get caught. Oh well. Steve glanced down the bus, saw all of three seats empty, all three nearest the window with some utter chump blocking them, sighed with contemptible acceptance, and headed upstairs. The top floor was less busy, but not by much. He spotted an empty double seat halfway down, and made for it. Cursing himself, he realised he’d forgotten his headphones in his rush to leave this morning. He was going to have to listen to the ‘cool kids’ at the back of the bus playing good music through shitty ‘phone speakers. It wasn’t the music he was offended by, it was the lack of appreciation shown to it by playing it in mono through tinny speakers that should only be used for phone calls. His head continued to throb in a similar rhythm to the dubstep the kids were playing.

He opened his bag, in the vain hope that he had left some reading material in there, cursed again and closed his bag. Yeah, today was a good day. The only hope he could cling to was that the kick off for the big game wasn’t until three thirty, and that gave him plenty of time to stop at the off licence for supplies and settle in to watch (hopefully) Wales grab the grandslam. His optimism at this had waned somewhat due to the day he’d had so far, but he was clinging on to what he did have.

Someone downstairs let out an almighty sneeze. It was so loud Steve could hear the other passengers around them tut their displeasure. He guessed the guy hadn’t covered his nose. Another firecracker of a sneeze followed it as if to say ‘sod manners’. Steve chuckled. This is exactly why he wore headphones.

He sat back, and idly thought about what he had done the night before. The guilty feeling you get after a heavy one had kicked in, and Steve was having trouble thinking as to what might have caused it. He’d met Paul in the pub, they sat and sank a few (maybe…five?) and then had met up with some of the other lads and continued on into town. So far so Friday night. They had a couple more at one of the pre-club bars. Which one? Didn’t matter, one was much the same as another. Music loud, lights low, no seats and cheap shots. Three shots later they headed into the only nightclub in town that allowed casual clothes. What with it being a spontaneous kind of night, Steve had only dressed for the local – T-shirt, jeans and black trainers.

It was the nightclub where something had happened wasn’t it? Yeah, Paul had been on his way to the toilet when –

Steve’s  train of thought was broken by the sneezer downstairs. He must have upset some people properly now, the bus was pulling over. Steve glanced down to see who had gotten off, and was surprised to see about two dozen people hurriedly walking away. A few looked quite shocked, shaking their heads and talking animatedly. This was curious. But the bus started up again and Steve settled back into his thoughts.

What…oh yeah, Paul. He came back from the toilet smiling insanely. Steve would have thought he’d been taking something from the way his eyes were shining if he hadn’t known Paul better. It wasn’t his thing, not at all. Steve had been known to on occasion, but this wasn’t that kind of night.  Paul explained he’d heard a couple banging away in the toilets, and as he left the bouncers had turned up to remove them.  Being over halfway to drunk, Paul suggested going to see the action. Being closer, Steve agreed. Any entertainment seems like good entertainment when you’re a bit squiffy.

Steve and Paul grabbed their drinks, then made their way through the busy club back toward the toilet. They settled in for a good view by leaning against a wall opposite and not being in the way. They’d arrived just in time. The bouncers had already gone in, and were just bringing out the amorous couple. Steve and Paul weren’t the only people there to watch, Princess Anne had got less of a turnout last time she’d visited Newport. As soon as the first bouncer emerged carrying the man, a cheer erupted amongst shouts of ‘Go on my son!’ and other such expected retorts from a drunken mob in a nightclub. The guy, almost surprising, but not quite, was screaming and pushing away from the toilet doors. Steve was surprised though. Normally any interruption from a bouncer would result in the bouncers being on the receiving end of any undue and unnecessary abuse but this guy seemed almost happy to have the big fellas carry him away. The second bouncer swiftly followed with the woman in his arms. She was almost docile as they bundled her away. She looked plenty drunk enough to be getting up to business in a club toilet that was for sure. She almost looked ill though, thought Steve. She looked like a hot lemsip might have suited her better than endless rounds of vodka shots.

Paul leaned in and said something to the effect that the first bouncer had it easy, his charge just wanted to get the hell away, whereas number two had to practically shove the woman every step.  Steve stayed quiet. He knew the woman. And having been knocked back by her twice, he didn’t want to tell Paul just so he could be ripped into for it.

It wasn’t guilt then, he reflected, embarrassment. That’s the one.

The sneezing had resumed. So the culprit wasn’t one of the people that had got off at the last stop then. That’d be right. Typical of the selfish wanker, he wanted to share the wealth of germs he was so clearly plagued by with the rest of the bus.  Once again the bus pulled over, but this time Steve heard the driver very clearly shout.

“Oy! You, the sneezing guy! Off!”

Apparently Sneezy wasn’t best happy with this. Steve could hear his snot filled monotonous voice carrying down the aisle and up the stairs.

“Oh no, don’t mate, it’s not my fault is it? I’m just trying to get to the hospital now innit? Come on mate.”

You could hear Sneezy getting up to argue the point with the driver, but the driver was having none of it. He opened the doors and Steve looked out of the window to get a good view of the bus stop and Sneezy, who would soon be occupying it. The bus stop wasn’t empty though. There was a woman with her back to the bus, bent over, tending to a child in a pram. Probably readying it for a cramped bus ride, Steve reflected. No bother love, Sneezy has been a gent and emptied it for you. She seemed oblivious to the commotion that was occurring behind her. Sneezy might have been a gent in the ‘clearing a seat for a lady’ department, but in the ‘be pleasant to your driver’ area, he was still somewhat lacking. He was refusing to leave the bus. From the sounds of it, he was trying to front off to the bus driver who was securely sealed behind safety glass. Finally, the bus driver did what he knew ultimately he was going to have to do, opened his cabin door and physically threw Sneezy out.

Steve saw Sneezy tumble into the woman with the pram, and then roll to the side to limit the damage. So, thought Steve, not a complete arsehole then. The woman, as if in a daze, slowly turned to see what had happened. The angle was all wrong, but Steve could have sworn she had something hanging from her mouth. Something red. The bus driver moved to her to make sure she was okay and apologised. She leaned into him at an angle Steve couldn’t see and did something that made the driver scream and reach for his neck. The bus driver did a double take that was almost made for a sitcom like Fawlty Towers and ran back to the safety of his little cabin. As he did, Steve saw that the woman definitely did have something hanging from her mouth now, and he wasn’t entirely certain that it didn’t belong to the bus drivers neck. As for what had been there before, well, on closer inspection of the pram now the woman had moved toward the bus, he could only suspect that he didn’t want to know.

The bus driver got back on the bus just as fast as he could, and pulled the doors shut. He had the bus started and back on the road less than fifteen seconds later. Whilst doing so, he was shouting all manner of unkindly things toward the woman. Another case of justifiable swearing thought Steve fleetingly. The driver seemed to have a new lease on life after his encounter, as he was overtaking anything and everything. And notably not stopping for pickups either. At first, Steve was just happy that it was going to get to town that much quicker, but the drivers reflexes were, it could be charitably be referred to as, slowing. The bus started lurching this way and that, glancing off the vans in the other lane of the dual carriageway, scraping paint from the dividing rail on the median strip.

After fifteen minutes of increasingly dangerous driving, it was all getting too much for Steve. Too much for him, his hangover, his increasing headache and incurable hangover hunger. He got up and went downstairs to see what was going on. It had all got much quieter since the last time the driver had stopped. There was a lot of groaning, but that was to be expected given the way the driver was slaloming down the road. All the other passengers on the top deck were too busy turning white and grabbing on for dear life to pay attention to what anyone else was doing. It did, Steve was please to notice, stop those annoying kids from crucifying the tunes though.

He headed downstairs into a scene from Dawn of the Dead . His jaw fell open, and he wondered if this might not be the worst hangover ever. Everyone was attacking everyone else. Steve couldn’t help himself from thinking it, but was it possible he was looking at a zombie attack? Or had his headache expanded into the worst hallucination ever? There was geysers of blood squirting from various necks. The windows looked like they’d been reprinted by Jackson Pollock during his Russian phase. Limbs no longer attached to their owners rolled up and down the aisle like discarded coke bottles.

Steve tore himself away from this scene of devastation, and moved forward to the driver in bewilderment. As he moved into the drivers sight line, he could see the driver was still steering the bus, but it was with hands that looked as though they’d been through rigamortis. He moved round further. The driver didn’t even look up. They seemed to be picking up speed though. He was going to have to try and get the drivers attention. Quietly.

“Erm, Drive, mate. You ok? We seem to be having a meltdown back here and your driving isn’t helping.”

Not the least antagonising thing he could have said but, hell, it didn’t seem to be registering anyway. Then ever so slowly, the driver started to respond to Steve’s voice. He began to turn his head, not slowing the bus at all. In fact, if anything, it was going faster.

Once the driver realised there was someone stood by him, his movements speeded up. Not overly fast but then Steve wasn’t feeling particularly quick. The driver took his hands off the wheel and plunged them through the safety glass. It shattered as his hands closed around Steve’s throat.

Steve didn’t panic. He hadn’t had time to react. He did have time to register one last thought as the bus ploughed into a Subaru Impreza though – I bet Wales would have lost anyway.

 

 

 

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