The November Featured Writer is Kristen Houghton
Please feel free to contact Kristen at: firstname.lastname@example.org
THE SHUTTLE BUS MAN
by Kristen Houghton
He was a short, unattractive man with thick glasses and a portable GPS which he wrapped tightly around his right wrist using an old, leather watch band. The white shuttle bus he drove was old but clean. The outside of the shuttle had no logo other than two swirls that were meant to resemble ocean waves but looked instead like sea creatures that were curling up to die.
He drove from hotel to hotel looking for people dressed in evening clothes, usually couples who wanted to take a shuttle to some type of reception or another, rather than drive their own cars. He figured that people wanted to get shit-faced at whatever function they were attending and he didn’t want to risk getting a DUI or ending up as road-kill drunk driving their own cars back to the hotel. There were many reception places in the area. Mainly they were there because they looked stately and elegant against a backdrop of forest. He knew them all.
People who stayed in these name hotels—the Marriott’s, the Holiday Inns—were only there because the events they were going to attend were less than a few miles away and it made no sense to stay in the city. New York City was too far; no one wanted to travel back and forth from there.
He trolled the hotel parking lots, parked his shuttle at a discreet distance from arriving guests, and decided when to pull up to the front reception door. He watched everyone.
A young couple appeared outside the lobby door. The woman had on a short dress that showed off her long legs to perfection and she was wearing those four-inch heels that made those hot legs look even longer and hotter. Normally the four-inch heels would have made the decision for him, but a look at the man she was with nixed that idea. He was wearing a suit but you could see that he was well-muscled and he carried himself with the confidence of a young male lion; fearless and ready to defend his lioness. The short man with the thick glasses sighed, but he was a patient man. He could wait.
A small group came outside looking for a shuttle, a family, Mom, Dad, son, and daughter. The daughter had that fake spray tan that he hated. He thought of a rhyme his mother used to sing when she got piss-drunk:
“Oh mother, may I go for a swim?
Then the old bitch would laugh and laugh like she was fucking Shakespeare and had written another sonnet. Ah, those were good times! He liked songs, liked putting his own words to the tunes. You drunken bitch, you did teach me something.
He looked at the family group again. The mom and the dad, maybe, even little miss orange fake-tan. But then there was the son who was about fourteen years old. That was a definite no. Kids today worked out, played sports; and this one was in good shape. Bad idea.
He laughed suddenly. The father was beckoning him over to see about a ride. Stupid man, this is your lucky day and you won’t ever know that. The short, unattractive man shook his head no and opened the driver’s side window.
“I’m waiting on a private party, sir,” he called out. Always polite, must always be polite.
The day was approaching evening and he didn’t have much time left. He’d been at the Marriott since four o’clock. Very few events began after seven o’clock and there would be no one looking for a ride later than six forty-five. Yesterday had been dull; just a young girl and her grandmother as passengers. They were going to some American Girl Doll tea party. Imagine that. A real tea party with dolls. Hoo-ha! An easy drive for him. Those two did eventually turn out to be rather fun, though. The doll which resembled the little girl had been an added pleasure.
While he waited, he hummed another song his mother used to sing when she was wasted and sitting in her own piss. It was the one about the “three little fishies and the Momma fishy too,” just a mindless tune to which he made some word changes. It helped to pass the time while he thought about the people he’d picked up tonight.
He was just beginning. The shuttle bus was his, bought and paid for from all those mindless janitorial jobs he’d had. He was careful of the people who were allowed to be on his shuttle. You had to be careful. But he was getting a bit anxious now. The other shuttle had left about an hour ago delivering people to three different events. It was due back soon. If there was no one for him today he would have to leave and come back tomorrow. “Tomorrow, tomorrow, I’ll get you tomorrow!” Sing it, momma!
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a well-dressed man and woman. They looked to be in their sixties but you could never tell, might be older. Attractive couple. The woman was wearing a bracelet that caught the sun and looked as if it were winking at him. Was that a signal? He liked signals.
Both looked fit but not too fit. The man seemed to be unsure of himself as he double-clicked the lock on his car key fob. It was plain that they were arguing. He loved couples who argued; it was like icing on the cake for him, a double pleasure when they realized what life was really all about. Life. The shuttle bus man chuckled to himself.
The insecurity of the man and the arguing made them an excellent choice. The woman had nice legs and she had on heels. Not too high; three inches, he’d say. Bet she couldn’t run in those, he thought as he made his decision.
He eased the shuttle slowly out of its parking space under the tree. “Ride, sir?”
The man walked over to the driver’s window. “Is this the shuttle for the Hudnall-Livoti wedding at the Rosewood?”
“Where’s everyone else?” said the woman a bit loudly. Some women always have to ask questions. That annoyed him. Dealing with her would be a pain in the ass. She’d give a signal, though, when they arrived at the event. Bet he knew what that signal would be.
“My husband and I were told there were several other couples taking the shuttle.”
“Just came back from taking them a few minutes before you came outside, ma’am.”
“I told you we were running late, Caryn,” said the husband. “You didn’t listen…you never do.”
The wife just sighed, “Oh for God’s sake, don’t start.”
“It’s no problem,” interjected the driver quickly. “I can take you.”
“Well…” the wife decided, “all right, I guess.” She glanced at her watch. “We can still make the ceremony if we hurry.”
“Sure,” said the driver.
She climbed up on those spiky heels and the husband followed her. They were the only two for today but that was okay. He was choosy about who got on his shuttle.
The driver listened to them argue about the wedding. How much they were giving as a money gift, (“Four hundred?” asked the husband, fishing out his checkbook. “No way, three is our limit,” said the wife.), and how the wife didn’t like the people who would be sitting at their table during the reception. He smiled. No, she probably wouldn’t like where she would be sitting.
They were involved in their own little world and paid no attention to him at all. That was good. It gave him time and it made reaching the destination that much easier. They kept arguing for a good twenty minutes, plenty of time for him to go the distance. Neither one was paying any attention to him. He slowly pressed the accelerator to eighty
The increase in speed made the woman look up. A sign said 95 south. She spoke rather rudely to the back of his head and said, “Driver, you’re going south. Aren’t you going in the wrong direction? I believe it’s in the other direction. You’re going the wrong way.”
A sign read “Barrens, next right.” He increased his speed again and took a wild turn onto a deserted road overgrown with weeds and brush. Couldn’t stop now, couldn’t slow down. There were no other cars around and no buildings.
“Don’t worry, ma’am. I know where the event is.”
“But I know you’re going in the wrong direction.” She looked at her watch. “We’ve been driving almost a half hour,” she said to her husband. “Brenda said the ride was less than fifteen minutes long. This is ridiculous.”
She spoke to the driver again. “You have no idea where you’re going, do you? There’s nothing but woods here. What is ‘the Barrens’ anyway? The reception is not at the Barrens, it’s at the Rosewood. Oh for God’s sake, do you hear me? I demand that you either turn around and go north or take us back to the hotel! We’ll call a taxi. Edward, tell him!”
The husband spoke up. “Where the hell are you going? Take us back to the hotel now, damn it. There’s no reception place around here!”
The shuttle bus man ignored them and kept on making several more hairpin turns that knocked the couple around. He was deeper and deeper into the Barrens, close to his spot. He began his mindless humming about the three little fishies again. Go Momma. Love your songs.
They were heading into areas heavy with thick brush, overgrown weeds, and fallen trees. The husband touched him on the shoulder
“Hey! Listen, where the hell are we?” In the rearview mirror, the driver could see the man turn to his wife. “Honey, call 911. Now!”
The wife began to rustle in her purse for her phone. The driver swerved left and she dropped the phone but quickly picked it up.
“Did you hear me, Caryn? Call 911! Caryn?”
“Yes, I…yes, I’m doing it, I’m doing it.”
“Caryn? Damn it, Caryn, call 911 now!”
A sob broke loose from the woman. She sounded satisfyingly panicked. “There’re no bars on the phone; I can’t get a signal!”
The driver turned slightly in acknowledgement of what she said.”That’s right, ma’am, there’s no cell towers out this way.”
“Turn the fuck around! Go back to the hotel!” yelled the husband.
“I’m taking you to the event, sir. Be patient.”
“I won’t be patient! Are you listening to me? There’s no event out here. Go back to the hotel.”
“I know where to go.” He could feel their fear as they looked around the dismal, desolate area. He could smell it. Yes, good.
“We will have him fired, Edward,” said the wife, but her voice had no hint of authority in it any more. There was only the sound of beginning terror, a realization that their driver might be a psycho. They had probably seen some horror movie about wooded areas and crazy people, thought the short man with the thick glasses. Very good, very, very good.
No one spoke for a few minutes and the only sound was the driver’s awful humming. Then the wife spoke quietly. “Is…this, is this some sort of…shortcut or something?” she asked hopefully. She sounded like someone on death row who asks if the governor has called yet.
“Almost there, ma’am.”
Bracing himself, he quickly slammed on the brakes. The couple went flying into the aisle. Before they could get themselves up he grabbed the machete from under his seat and faced them.
The driver waved the machete. “Here we are. Get out.”
The husband was holding his wife’s hand. Both were staring at the machete.
The wife finally broke the silence. “Look,” she said, “if it’s money you want, we have it. I’ll give you everything in my purse. You can have my jewelry too. My rings are worth a lot. You can get a lot of money for Edward’s Rolex.”
But the driver ignored her words and repeated, “Get out now. Help her up, sir, and get off the shuttle. I’m taking you to the event. I don’t want your money or your jewelry.”
The wife’s heel broke as she stepped off the shuttle steps. Pity, thought the driver, cheap shoes.
They walked for about two miles and soon were in the driver’s favorite area. He smiled. Good day, yes, good day. Good choice. It was getting darker and that was always good for a first reaction. Not everything you see is what you think it is. Let them hope, that always made it more exciting for him. Hope and then the loss of it in a split second.
The wife was the first to notice.
“Oh, honey, Edward, look! Lights!” she cried, pointing towards the distance. “I think I see people up there. See those people near those tree stumps? See? See?” She paused, unsure of what she saw. “Look, sitting on the ground up there! They must be campers.”
The husband said with relief, “They can help us!”
The husband looked back at the driver and the machete. His eyes had a look of hopeful desperation. Suddenly he grabbed his wife and rushed into a run, with her broken heel and all.
The driver simply walked at a slow pace, following them in leisure. Let them run. He needed his energy for other things.
“Help! This man is crazy!” yelled the husband, dragging his wife along and running towards the people seated on the ground. “Help us! He has a machete! Call the police!”
No one seated in that circle moved. No one turned towards them. No one made a sound. And there was an awful smell
“Edward!” the wife gasped. “That odor. What…?”
The husband let go of his wife’s hand and stopped running. He stood still for a moment, looking at the people sitting on the ground. Then he cried, “Caryn, oh God Caryn! Oh no!”
Sitting on the ground were bodies in various stages of decay. They were all grotesquely arranged in positions around a crude tablecloth. There were heaping platters of food placed in front of them. Insects buzzed around the platters. Battery-powered candles that went on at dusk gave an eerie glow to the scene.
Sightless eyes focused on nothing, the bodies unmoving. It was a scene from an incredibly gory horror film. Rotting couples seemed to be in some form of evening dress; two elderly men in tuxedoes sat side by side. A woman leaned towards a little girl who was holding a fancy doll and the remains of a man and a woman sat with two little boys nestled between them.
All the bodies were missing a hand or a foot, an arm or a leg or a combination of all. Even the doll had had her hands cut off.
A crude hand painted sign in bold letters read: Welcome to the event!
The driver let it all sink in while he watched, amused. The woman won’t like her seating arrangement tonight, he thought, that’s for sure.
The husband exclaimed a low, unbelieving, “Je-sus!” as he noticed that the body parts were what filled each dish. Very satisfying reaction, thought the driver.
The wife threw her hand to her mouth. It was the hand with the bracelet that had winked at him when he first spotted her.
That was his signal. Right on time, too. The driver brought the machete down hard on the wrist with the bracelet, cleanly severing it. Her blood spurted onto the husband who tried to help her but he was knocked down by the machete slamming into his left foot. Both went down onto the ground, their bodies losing blood and going into shock.
The driver with the machete stood over them and began chopping; hands, feet, arms, legs. He had two more platters to fill, two more guests.
All the while he sang:
“Run, said the Momma Fishy, run if you can
“Oh Momma, I love your songs,” he laughed, surveying his night’s work.
He was a short, unattractive man with thick glasses and a portable GPS which he had wrapped tightly around his right wrist using an old, leather watch band. Still humming the tune, he headed back to his bus. The white shuttle bus he drove was old but clean. After a shower and a good night’s sleep, he would go back to the hotel, looking for more guests to take to the event.
Kristen Houghton writes "nice little horror stories" guaranteed to make you check your locks and look under the bed before going to sleep." Her book, Stolen Property- Tales of Terror, is in pre-publication. She is currently at work on the Catherine Harlow, Private Investigator series where her detective encounters plenty of horrors of her own. The first in the series is due to be published in late 2013.
Kristen is the former head writer and fiction editor of Mused Literary Magazine. Besides blogging for The Huffington Post, her portfolio includes a weekly column for the new, innovative TwoDayMag.com, writing for More Magazine, the San Francisco Examiner, and various other in print and online magazines. She also writes under the name CK Houghton.
A California girl at heart, she and her husband, Alan reside in the New York City area which is "magical." For more about Kristen, her books and short stories, please visit www.kristenhoughton.com/
Kristen Houghton is the author of the following popular books:
And on Kindle: Nourishing Thoughts