The following story is by guest author Rob Stimpson. Rob writes literary fiction from Crawley, West Sussex, in England. He is a routine contributor to the online magazine Vulture Hound. If you enjoyed this piece, and want to read more of his writing, follow him on Instagram under the name robertstimpson or on Twitter @RobertStimpson.
As the bus trundled through the morning rush hour traffic, Derek shifted uncomfortably in his seat. He’d been in a hurry this morning and didn’t have time to go to toilet before he left the house. In a bid to distract himself from his straining bladder, he let his gaze wander, unintentionally catching the eye of the woman sat opposite him. She smiled. A flush of anxiety flooded through him, sensing as he did an imminent conversation. Before the woman could turn her smile into syllables, though, Derek darted his eyes away. They landed on the emergency exit immediately to his right. In the face of the alternative, he opted to read the instructions stuck thereon. No words were forthcoming from the woman. He breathed a sigh of relief. Beyond the window of the door, cars were crawling and jostling for position. Bicycles were flying by on the flanks, and pedestrians ambled with heads bowed to the altar of their phones.
The bus, stop-starting its way to the industrial estate, was approaching maximum capacity, as with most mornings. Derek recognised the vast majority of those onboard. All they were to him, however, were a collection of uniforms and suits. Every seat was occupied; people were standing in the gangway. A group of secondary school children, in their impossibly short ties and scruffy blazers, had gathered in the open space by the exit in the middle of the vehicle. Their shouts and yelps, drew disapproving stares from the glum faced, dream starved adults about them, but none had the energy nor enthusiasm to protest.
‘I hate him’, hissed one of the schoolboys, full of furious passion at the sight of something on the screen of his friend’s phone. ‘Like, seriously, honestly hate him. I wanna hack him up and that.’
‘For real?’, replied a female companion, peering in on the same screen, taking a morning sugar hit from a metallic red can. ‘He’s a hero, mate, grew up near my Nan’s estate. Made himself from nothing, he did.’
‘I’ll send him back to nothing then’, the now burning boy fired back. ‘His ugly mug’s everywhere, does my head in. Hang him from a tree, gut him, throw him to the lions, whatever. That guy’s just gotta die.’
The subject of the disdain wasn’t clear to Derek, but he couldn’t help but watch on as the boy, consumed with rage, motioned stabbing gestures.
‘Who is he?’, asked the boy in possession of the phone. ‘I never heard of him.’
The lad of fury spat the name that so irked him, and Derek winced, turning his attention away. He’d presumed the person would be a dictator, a war criminal, or at the very least, a parent. But no, it was a TV comedian. He’d found fame as an amateur when the commuter train he was travelling on broke down. To lighten the mood, he performed his stand-up routine. The ensuing footage captured on the phones of fellow passengers promptly went viral and he became a star, gracing panel shows, comedy hours and advertisements. But that was a few years ago now, and it was evident to see that he was now in the latter stages of being chewed up and spat out by the public, their ravenous attention seeking out something new.
The vitriol continued to ooze out of the boy, competing with the hum of the engine and the symphony of message alerts. Derek had no failsafe direction in which to rest his gaze, so he simply closed his eyes. He longed to be in his own car again, not surrounded by this rabble of strangers with their various odour problems, contagious viruses and skin disorders; but the mechanic’s quote had seen to that.
The bus had come to a stop at a temporary traffic light at a T-junction blighted by road works. Every word and sound emitted within melded into a mumbling background noise. Derek remained still, no thoughts or emotions possessing him. The red light had been illuminated for an inordinate amount of time, as had the lights controlling the other lanes. Three paths of motionless traffic sat, engines idling impatiently, each waiting to accelerate out of their respective constraints.
‘Come on, come on,’ muttered the bus driver in frustration, tapping his fingers on the steering wheel, ‘nobody’s movin’.’
Red. Amber. Green. Derek opened his eyes.
The bus pulled forcefully away. Derek touched the window as he cast his eyes upward. It was an unspectacular day, slightly overcast, but dry. The driver ploughed on with notable speed, eager to make up for the time lost on his schedule. In the space of one seemingly elongated second, the front end of an articulated lorry, similarly hurrying forth, filled the middle two windows of the right side of the bus. Every shadowed face inside the vehicle turned to see it coming, yet they were all rendered silent. Only the desperate blasts of the lorry’s horn accompanied their gawps and widening eyes.
A simultaneous smashing of glass and screeching of twisting metal echoed hideously inside the bus as the articulated lorry ploughed into its side. This was superseded by the petrified screams of those inside being thrown around in the metal cylinder like beads in a maraca. The lorry came to a shuddering halt as the bus unceremoniously toppled over on to its side. It hit the unforgiving tarmac with such force that the hitherto unharmed windows on the left side shattered on impact. The bus slid away from the lorry, squealing as the twisted metal of its broken body sparked across the grey surface. When it finally came to a stop, it was fifteen yards away from the original impact zone.
A grave stillness had replaced the momentary chaos inside. It was dark and smoky. Derek, like every passenger sitting on the impacted side of the bus, had been thrown on top of those sitting parallel to them when it toppled over. The scene that revealed itself to his disbelieving eyes was incredible; a huge, jagged dent bulged into the bus itself where the lorry had made impact. Blood dripped from the sharp, exposed metal. People were piled on top of each other, bent and contorted around seats and poles, possibly dead, possibly unconscious; anything but alive and well.
Pockets of the bloodied mass of suits and uniforms began to twitch and groan. Derek rolled onto his back and, above him, he saw the emergency exit door. With the bus lying on its side, the poles than ran vertically along the length of the vehicle were now horizontal, offering a convenient step up to the aforementioned exit. Rather shakily, Derek clambered to his feet, apologising to those who now found themselves under the soles of his shoes. Using some of the poles and the still rigidly placed seats as a climbing frame, he was able to reach the door, and fling it open.
Derek heaved himself through the narrow doorway with the remaining strength in his arms. A blast of white blinded him before rapidly fading. When all was clear and focused, Derek was met with a curious sight. The articulated lorry sat at a strange angle in the middle of the T-junction, but the driver had vacated his cab. The other vehicles that had been straining to break away from the bonds of the traffic lights were now more than content to stay put. Passers-by, workers from nearby buildings and wandering drivers formed an inquisitive ring around the scene of the accident; phones were being lofted high on extended arms or metal poles. From his vantage point atop the toppled bus, Derek observed a smattering of strained faces and pointing hands, but couldn’t hear anything over the din of the ailing bus. Peering back inside, Derek noted little change.
‘Can anybody hear me?’, he yelled. ‘Can anyone reach up?’ An incomprehensible mass groan floated up toward him, but no hand was forthcoming.
Intent on finding more professional assistance, Derek cautiously scaled down the exposed underside of the bus. When his feet hit the road, his hands were black with dirt and soot, his face similarly streaked and smudged. The ring of observers remained unbroken. As he began to stumble forward to try and rally some help, Derek could hear the dripping of fluid droplets. He turned over his left shoulder, looking down at the ground. A puddle of petrol had formed on the road beneath the bus and was increasing in size. The bus’ fuel tank had ruptured. The puddle, however, trailed out, away from the vehicle, back to the scene of the impact.
‘Oh fuck’, muttered Derek.
The faces of those gathered at a safer distance were etched with concern. Those who weren’t filming or taking photos began waving their arms at Derek, pleading with him to flee to safety. A crack of indecision split him in two.
While Derek dithered, an errant spark from the damaged engine of the articulated lorry fell into the path of petrol, igniting it. An on-rush of orange suddenly surged toward the bus. Derek reacted just as swiftly.
As the trail of petrol was rapidly eaten up by the fire, he pulled down the fly of his trousers and removed his penis from inside. Immediately, he began to urinate on the yet-to-be ignited petrol at his feet. By the time the fire closed in upon the helpless bus, its path had been broken by the urine flowing freely out of Derek. When he had finished, the trail of fire was safely isolated from the still leaking fuel tank, and simply burnt itself out.
Derek sheepishly shook his penis and placed it back inside his trousers. He looked around, scratching his head, before beginning his walk toward the onlookers. As he approached a few handclaps rippled amongst them. Within seconds, however, everybody was applauding and cheering fervently. A few men broke ranks and rushed toward him, placing their arms protectively around his shoulders.
‘You’re a hero, mate’, crowed the man to Derek’s left.
‘No, please’, replied Derek with a grimace. ‘No – they need help – get some help – ’
‘Move, please, make way,’ demanded the man on the right, as congratulatory hands pattered down on Derek’s back, ‘move aside for the bus hero.’
‘No, god, not hero, no’, bumbled Derek.
The crowd parted and bustled, but the pace was slow. People jumped out and posed for selfies with this sooty, confused, urine speckled hero.
‘Someone call – ambulance – fire brigade’, Derek rambled.
The clapping and whooping continued, only deepening his frown.
‘We love you!’, came a bellow from behind.
‘You’re a hero, mate, a hero’, shouted a man, mere millimetres from Derek’s face.
On they crawled, finally breaking free of the crowd. The sound of sirens mercifully pierced the air, drawing some relief to Derek’s features. His legs began to buckle and he was steadily lowered onto the kerb. From his hunched and slouched position, all Derek could see were shoes and legs gathered in groups before him.
‘Did he really take his cock out and pee on the fire?’, a nearby woman asked of another witness.
‘Yeah, I got it on camera’, came the reply. ‘I’ve already uploaded it. He’s the bus hero.’
‘Nah,’ came a sneering interjection, ‘he’s the pissman.’