George

High street is empty. There are no cars, no trucks, no pedestrians, nobody. You can see a fair distance into the OSU campus from here and there’s no one there either. Come to think of it, there aren’t any birds or animals either.

It’s really strange, but it’s alright. I have the scroll case and the bus will come. All I have to do is wait and it will be alright.

I’m really bored, so I’m glad when the bus shows up. It’s white, like it should be and it says COTA on the side. Didn’t those use to be a different shape letters? It doesn’t matter. The bus stops and I get on. The bus driver has tusks, which might have been scary, but when I show him the scroll case, he’s so cheerful as he waves me to my seat that it’s impossible to be afraid of him. I’m the only passenger. I should have expected that.

I sit down, the doors close and the bus starts driving North. It’s really boring, looking out the window at an empty street. I hope my destination isn’t too far away. Graceland wouldn’t be too bad, but the Continent could take a really long time. Good thing the bus isn’t stopping. Wonder where everybody is. Maybe they all went to a concert? That’d be a stadium full to brag about. It might start listing if people weren’t spread evenly. Then you’d need a tug with a really long cable to pull it back. Hope it lists to the West. To the East, and the tug would have to be on the West side, so you’d need a cable across the Rockies. That can’t be good.

I must have dozed off a bit, because the weather has changed completely. The sky is slate gray and it’s darkish. Can’t seem to make out the clouds, must be one heck of a solid cover. I really hope the bus stop is right next to where I’m going.

So where are we? I don’t recognize it here. Few buildings, we can’t be that far North already, can we? Strange style too. I don’t remember that.

There’s a fence across the landscape and where it crosses the street, there are gates. Dark concrete buildings on both sides, another one built into the fence a little further. Everything is finished in matte black. The bus comes a stop and I see that the gates are separate for the North-bound lane and the South-bound one. Not just that, each lane has two gates behind each other, like an airlock— or a killing zone. But I have the scroll case.

Three people come out of the dark building. They’re wearing uniforms I’ve never seen before; one is carrying a gun and another a crossbow — he looks too burly to be human. The third approaches the bus and knocks on the driver’s window. The driver opens it and the guy outside rants at him in a language I don’t understand. The driver snarls back and the guys backs off a step. Suddenly I’m glad the driver has tusks.

The driver points at me and says, “Zagh shakh”. The guys walks around the bus and knocks on my window. It doesn’t open. What does he want? He looks really impatient. I look at the driver, who mimes taking something out of his pocket. The scroll case!

I take out the scroll case and the guy outside mimes opening it. So I do. There’s scroll in it, so I take it out and unroll it. The script on it is beautiful, but I have no idea what it is. The seal at the bottom seems to glow in the gloom. I hold it up against the window.

The guy outside looks extremely pissed now and stomps back to the driver’s window. He says something curt and nasty and the driver returns an extremely polite sounding “Nauva”. The guy stalks off and the driver closes the window. He then turns around and gives me a broad smile and a thumbs up.

As I’m rolling up the scroll to put it back into the case, another bus arrives from the opposite direction. It gets the same treatment, but then the first gates open for both buses.

We roll forward until we’re completely enclosed by steel barred fence. I hear the clang as the gates behind us and behind the other bus close. The other bus is as empty as this one, with a single girl. She looks familiar, but I can’t remember from what.

Then the gates in front of us open and we drive off.

Where are we headed? Is it a good place or a bad one? Am I the lucky one, or is that girl escaping while I enter a hell hole? Who put that fence there and what are they keeping out? Or in? What are those uniforms? What would they drive around in? Or would they travel on horseback? Maybe ride a dragon? That would be funny, me being exchanged for some dragon’s favorite maiden. Not so funny for me, but I bet you someone would tell a hilarious story of it. Around a campfire; you’re going to need a campfire even in the middle of the day with that weather.

I realize the sun is shining on my cheek. Dozed off again. The weather has returned to being nice. There’s something wrong, tho— The sun should be on the other side! I look outside and I recognize High street. We’re driving South and are close to the OSU campus again. How the hell

We get to the bus stop across the street from where I got on. The bus stops and the driver gestures at me to get off. As I walk towards the door, he bows in his seat. I bow back and get out.

I watch the bus drive off on the empty street. Getting back where I started is a bit of a let-down, but at least I didn’t get drenched or chewed or shot. I walk back to Jones Tower, and take the elevator to my room. The door— somebody has taped a poster to my door, covering the bit of calligraphy that was there. Elwing landing on Vingilot, wearing the last Silmaril. At least whoever did this understood the message he covered up and it’s a really nice picture. I’ll have to ask around and see whose this is.

I get out my keys and unlock the door.

Chard's picture
Reactions real time while

Reactions real time while reading:



"You can see a fair distance into the OSU campus from here and there’s no one there either. Come to think of it, I don’t see birds or anything either." - Why the change in perspective from second to first person? Seems odd.

"I have the scroll case, so the bus will come" - Bus arrival is based on having a scroll case?

Bus driver has tusks... I KNEW this was going to be interspecies!

"Maybe they all went to a concert? That’d be a stadium full to brag about. It might start listing if people weren’t spread evenly. Then you’d need a tug with a really long cable to pull it back. Hope it lists to the West. To the East, and the tug would have to be on the West side, so you’d need a cable across the Rockies. That can’t be good." - Now it's my turn to ask for subtitles. Or perhaps a hit of what you're tripping on.

"We roll forward until we’re completely enclosed by steel barred fence. I hear the clang as the gates behind us and behind the other bus close. The other bus is as empty as this one, with a single girl. She looks familiar, but I can’t remember from what." - I feel like this is the beginning of some strange JRPG.

"but then the first gates open for both buses...Where are we headed? Is it a good place or a bad one? Am I the lucky one, or is that girl escaping while I enter a hell hole?" - Oh, I finally understand the geography and had to go back to read that the two fences separate a type of killing zone. Maybe this could be a little clearer.

Reaction after reading:



Seems to be a bit of a trippy piece. I'm not sure what is trying to be conveyed other than a dreamlike series of events. In fact, I wonder if this is in fact a dream where each jump/change in surroundings being a new REM period. I'll hold off judgement for now since I don't think I have enough of the story to decide if I like or dislike what is being done.
Rob's picture
Dreams and gates.
First, here's the intended layout. I'm not surprised you had some trouble with that, I had trouble finding a description that wasn't a mile long.


Second, the "dream": There are three segments. I'll label them as per George's analysis.
  1. "Empty High Street" on George's side of the fence.
  2. The fence.
  3. "Empty High Street" on Cat's side of the fence.
They are separated by the two episodes where George daydreams off in the bus. So he never sees the transition between the bright and sunny of Empty High Street and the fence. The daydreams are pretty free association and don't make much sense, agreed. They're not supposed to.

From your comments, I think I need to tone down the first Empty High Street segment, have some indication of separation around the daydreams and then find a better description of the gate layout.
George seeming not to know why he's on the bus and what he's doing yet knowing that the scroll makes things okay is a bit difficult to wrap my noggin around. It makes more sense if he's really sleepy and can't tell the difference between being awake and asleep too well, dream-logic ensues style - but I didn't pick up that so much of it might be a dream on the first read-through ^^;
First Thoughts
On first read, I thought this story came out of the gate as a strong tale. It captured my interest well. I, like George, wanted to know whether this was "for good or ill."

I wasn't as concerned as others that neither we (the readers) nor George know exactly what was happening. I've read enough fantasy and sci-fi to recognize a "set up" and expect information to follow. I'll comment more on this later, when it won't have spoilers.

I did have to do a triple-take smile with this:

Maybe they all went to a concert? That’d be a stadium full to brag about. It might start listing if people weren’t spread evenly. Then you’d need a tug with a really long cable to pull it back. Hope it lists to the West. To the East, and the tug would have to be on the West side, so you’d need a cable across the Rockies. That can’t be good.

True, the Rockies are pretty darn high. To the East of Columbus, however, are the Allegheny Mountains and the Atlantic Ocean--all a heck of a lot closer than the Rockies to the West. I doubt that would be very good, either.

I must say, though, the image of any of the Columbus stadiums listing from a "half-packed house" is rather amusing. Especially if we can replace "stadium" with "horseshoe". Okay, I have an odd sense of humor.

LL

Rob's picture
Most certainly the horsehoe was meant.
Chard's picture
There is no car, no truck, no pedestrian, nobody. You can see a fair distance into the OSU campus from here and there’s no one there either. Come to think of it, there aren’t any birds or animals either.


I think it should be "There are no cars, no trucks,...etc." The grammar of using "is" makes the sentence read awkwardly to me. And by using "either" in two consecutive sentences, I got a sense of repetition that brought my attention to the writing rather than the story.

Good thing the bus isn’t stopping. Wonder where everybody is.


There's a font change between the two sentences. Was that intentional?

I hear the clang as the gates behind us and behind the other bus close.

Gates always behind me, too.

What would they drive around in? Or would they travel on horseback?

Another font change. And is that new piece about the maiden new? I don't recall it from my first read-through...And actually, it isn't that bad of an analogy or foreshadowing. I kinda like it. :)
Rob's picture
The font changes are intentional, after earlier comments that it was insufficiently clear that George's mental state changed.

The maiden has been in there since my first draft. She's glad you like her. ;)

And thanks for the grammar pointer. You're right, plurals would work better. Changed accordingly.