The bus lurched to the right, but still managed to hit whatever obstruction the driver was attempting to dodge. Like Bly’s life in general, jumping out of the way of one disaster only meant careening into another. The jerking motion startled her from drowsiness. She hated sleeping in transit. Her controlling personality simply would not allow her to relax. In fact, Bly would rather drive the forty-five foot Greyhound herself than be scrunched in with all the other passengers.
The frustrating thing was she would have been driving her very own beat-up, Chevy Cavalier had it not been recently impounded. A lot of things got ruined the last time her mother was caught driving drunk. One of those things was Bly’s ability to drive where she pleased. She squeezed her eyes shut at the thought of her mother in prison. The bus jerked toward the shoulder of the road again, pulling Bly from the unpleasant recollection. Not long after her detainment at Belleview, her mother was transferred to Lowell Correctional Facility for Women in Ocala where she would stay a good, long while. Not only was she in need of rehabilitation, but she would be required to complete a nine month work program.
It was well deserved, but something inside Bly wanted to protect her mother, addict or not. Protector, care giver, grown-up, these had been Bly’s expected roles ever since she could tie her shoes. Like the time she had to ward off the creep with gorilla shoulders. Kathy, as she disrespectfully referred to her mother, had come home drunk with hairy creep in tow. Eight years old at the time, Bly found him undressing her unconscious mother on the kitchen floor. So, she gave him a frying pan across the back of his greasy head with both little arms swinging.
Bly shifted in the badly upholstered seat then stared out into the ink black night. Catching a glimpse of her reflection in the window, she scrutinized the face staring back. Brown eyes rich as mahogany, wide and alert blinked in the glass. Hip-length black hair hung in a smooth, glossy sheath behind her narrow shoulders. She hadn’t pulled a brush through it in hours, yet it was free of tangles and straight as an arrow. For the millionth time she bemoaned how much she resembled Kathy.
Of course, Bly in no way behaved like her mother, and her grandmother Nana-Nita once said, “Pretty is as pretty does not” in reference to Kathy’s poor example, though it was little consolation. As she pondered the Reed family’s high cheekbones and wide Arapaho forehead, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she’d made no more progress than someone running in place. She continued to stare out the window with little enthusiasm about her final destination of Velma, Oklahoma and even less about the future. Too bad there wasn’t a mysteriously handsome, independently wealthy boyfriend waiting at the last stop.
A few orange colored street lamps loomed above the empty roadway like tangerine sentinels as the bus approached its next stop. Tifton, Georgia wasn’t very impressive at one in the morning, but it offered an opportunity to stretch. Her predominant thought as she made her way through the aisle was how she’d love the extra cash for airfare. Then she could have avoided this annoying tour of every podunk town between Ocala and Lawton.
“Young lady,” the driver called when she reached the bottom step. “This is only a twenty minute stop so don’t go far.” Bly nodded and stepped down.
If she were the typical, rebellious teenager she might have replied, “Who are you, my mother?” But sentiments like that never entered her mind. Kathy rarely acted like an adult let alone like a mother, and she would never think to lecture Bly on time management or any other subject. Bly passed back and forth on the sidewalk letting her legs untangle. Two and a half hours cramped inside a narrow window seat wasn’t easy for a tall girl, or an impatient one.
The sleek, grey logo dominating the length of the bus caught her attention. Bly admired the hound’s shiny silhouette gracing the area immediately below the passenger windows. It hung suspended, frozen midstride, above three horizontal blue stripes. She ran her hand over the metallic image.
The racing dog was such a common motif most people ignored it. Looking at it now, the image communicated a certain degree of freedom, something of which Bly felt in short supply. Perhaps she was over thinking the whole thing, but to her, the dog represented escape. Presently, she had escaped an unstable childhood and a parent too intoxicated to know what day of the week it was. But when Bly considered what she might be running toward, the answer was uninspiring.
Her maternal grandmother lived in the township of Velma in a teensy, one-bedroom house nestled against Wildhorse Creek. Technically that was what she was running toward. Kathy had suggested Bly hang out in Oklahoma until her release from Lowell. Though Bly didn’t relish the idea of relocating, she definitely did not want to languish in Moss Bluff all alone with virtually no money.
“Let’s go, Miss,” the driver said sticking his head out the door.
Bly wiped her dusty fingers on her jeans; the metal greyhound needed grooming. She boarded the bus then folded herself into a human pretzel once again and prepared for the twenty hours of travel to come.
Somewhere between Fort Worth and Wichita, Bly reached her limit of sitting still. Her butt hurt, she was freezing, and above all, she was sick of riding. She was beginning to believe someone had picked up the state of Oklahoma and moved it farther west, or perhaps dropped it into the Pacific Ocean as a practical joke. It felt like she’d be on the stupid dog bus forever.
Bored, she peered around the interior checking out the other passengers. Everyone slept except her and the driver. It was the wee hours of morning, and still quite dark. A hint of warmth developed on the horizon behind them, but the rest of the barren roadside remained bathed in black, vague shapes blurring past as they travelled.
Without warning, the bus heaved sharply to the right throwing Bly off balance. Most of her fellow travelers continued sleeping undisturbed. Only a few rustled in their seats, one snorting loudly before resuming a loud, rhythmic snore. The driver glanced briefly in the rear view mirror. As their eyes met, something huge collided with the side of the bus.
All at once, the windows opposite her row shattered. She clung to the seat in panic, gravity dragging her body toward the floor. Other people screamed and dove under seats, covering their heads.
Bly pulled herself back up. She struggled to get a good look over the tops of the seats when the bus was hit again. This time the blow came from the rear and the cumbersome vehicle careened out of control. Tires squealed in protest mingling with the shrill cries of passengers.
The view inside was chaotic. Bodies flew sideways, luggage spilled from the overhead compartments, and glass continually shot through the air. Outside the view was not much better. Bly glanced through broken windows only to see undefined swirls, fast moving black shapes, a muted sky and rising pavement.
She was thrown against her window by an obese woman flailing around in the aisle. Bly pressed both palms against the pane to prevent her forehead from smashing into it.
As she studied her own frightened expression reflected in the glass, she caught a glimpse of something large and shadowy outside. It was still too dark to see details, and the bus was not steady enough for her to focus on the blackened shape.
She tumbled forward violently as the vehicle endured a third hit, again from the rear. Bly hinged over the seat in front of her like a rag doll. This would not have been a problem if another passenger were not already occupying the space. Her forehead pitched downward until it smashed into the head of a huge, balding man shouting obscenities in Spanish.
The last thing Bly remembered before the world faded to nothingness was a fresh wave of screaming. Blood curdling shouts erupted inside the bus, as if on cue, and very different from the general mayhem that already ensued. Before she passed into unconsciousness, she wondered what evoked such a response.