Bus Man

He was grey, with a five o’clock shadow as rough as the cinderblock walls he was leaning against, shadows pooling in the deep hollow of his cheeks. Grey, in the sort of washed-out dingy way that everyone gets after too long under fluorescent lights, at night when there is only too-bright and too-dark. An ordinary man, with too much of a bottom lip and too sharp of a nose and too heavy of eyelids to appeal; the light playing off of something that had probably been a smile eight hundred miles ago.

He tapped his fingers against his eyebrow as the bus rolled into the station, just before the station was cut in half by a blue and silver bludgeon, one drooping eye flickering in a wink. I dropped my gaze back down to the paperback I’d been trying to find half as interesting as the New York Times bestseller list told me it was, feeling my cheeks flush. Staring. Guilty as charged.

When the bus pulled out, he was gone.

I saw him again in Chattanooga, in between bus rides. He was wearing a battered black leather jacket with a patch on one shoulder that I couldn’t quite make out, and he gave me the same half-salute before stepping into the men’s room.

And Huntsville. And Durant. And Natchez. And Alexandria. He was there at every stop, saluting or winking or just leaning on the wall. Every new paperback, he was just over the cover. Just a man. Grey. Ordinary. Never quite exactly the same.

When I got off the bus at Killeen, I didn’t see him at first. I stood there for a long few minutes until somebody banged a suitcase into my shins and I had to move or fall over, which was when I tripped over the curb and fell over anyway.

There was a blur of corduroy jacket that smelled like someone’s forgotten smoking room, and a now-familiar face all stubble and shadows, and his hands were dusting me off as he stepped back. I could feel the imprint of his long thin fingers on my arm as I watched him raise them to touch the untamed brush of his eyebrow.

“Careful.” His voice was diesel exhaust and the squeal of air brakes. The eight-hundred-mile smile flickered as he turned around, moving slowly, purposefully, away. I stood, frozen.

“Wait!” He stopped, glanced over his shoulder. His eyes were weathered-asphalt grey. “Who—” He just shook his head.

“Ride longer.” And he was gone, blending into the passengers loading a coach for Austin. Or maybe not. I thought I saw him in the turnstiles.

I bought a ticket for Gallup, got a new paperback. Got on my bus. At Gallup I bought a ticket for Durango and at Durango I headed for Moab. I stopped caring where I was going; just got on the bus, opened my book, got off the bus, got a new ticket, got on the bus.

In North Dakota I stopped buying new paperbacks. In Nebraska I stopped sleeping. And somewhere on the outbound bus from Champaign I looked at the dark window at the reflection of the empty seat next to me and he was sitting there.

I looked at my reflection beside his in the window as the city unrolled behind and through us: gaunt, grey, hollow; my eyelids too heavy and my lips too full. One finger tapped his lips, and his smile had a thousand miles or more behind it. The five o’clock shadow on his cheeks shifted as he spoke.

“You can ride forever, can’t you?”

You can.

Silver Shackles

Once upon a time there was a castle. A castle, and a king, and a queen, and a prince, and a priest of the hollow gods, because if the hollow gods are in the story then you don’t know about the happy ending any more. A prince, and a priest of the hollow gods, and […]

Wild Rose

It’s night, and I’m standing on the edge of the clearing, watching her. She crouches in the snow, the moonlight reflecting in her eyes, bright and hungry and unsatisfied. I can’t see what exactly I’ve disturbed her making a meal of, but the dark shape crumpled in front of her is small. A rabbit, maybe, […]


Plant the plants in even rowsA hundred seeds in each furrowAnd plant and water, till and tendAnd reap a harvest in the end. The count was important. Old Catherine had told Young Catherine this: the count was important. Ten rows, long and straight, a hundred seeds in all. Not one more, not one less. The […]

Silver Steps

The temple in the city had seven silver steps, without a hint of tarnish to them. They were worn in the middle and polished from the feet of the penitent, but they shone in the sunlight and glowed under the light of the full moon. When it rained, the water poured down and danced over […]


In the western end of the grotto, there are fairies. They live in the tiny toadstools that ring the garden gate, and they come out for tea on alternate Tuesdays when the sun is just above the alder trees. There are four of them, and they have names which human mouths cannot pronounce, and so […]

Not Yet

He had never been this far out in the wastelands before. His skin was green and cracking, and his mind buzzed with the green hunger, with the call of his soul. Every divot in the flat cracked ground was a hole into the center of the earth, every hummock a mountain impossibly tall, but he […]


She loves to swim, he tells me. She loves to swim, as if that's all that matters. As if the only qualification to enter the castle is “loves roses”, as if the only reason to kiss the maiden is a spinning wheel fetish. As if. She loves to swim. You'll love this one, she loves […]

Planting Season

Let me tell you something about planting. You want to go out in the fields in the early morning, when the dirt is all humps and furrows and plow-marks, when it's soft and well-turned and ready for the seeds. You want to go when the dew is still clinging to the air, when it's wet […]

Market Day

On Thursdays, we ride the subway train to the skin markets. Mother says that it's terribly bourgeois of us to ride the subway train, and go to the market, and get out where others can see us with our old skins on. Mother says that we're filthy by Thursday, and the subway train is filthy, […]