If you ever want to see people gripped by nameless, protean dread, all you have to do is get on a bus.
Most people on buses are students or commuters, their brains deadened by fatigue, oblivious to the horrors that surround them. They squeeze into seats next to grubby strangers or hang listlessly from the handholds, staring with dull lidded eyes at smartphones and occasionally slurping from a cardboard cup of Starbucks. They are mercifully unaware of the terror that envelops them and whisks them to work or school and thence back home
But some people in this waking nightmare are indeed AWAKE. They are inescapably aware of the yawning abyss in which they travel, however desperately they may try to feign the dulled ignorance of their neighbours.
They can’t tell you what they fear, only that they fear it and that it is indeed fearful.
Seats are places of safety. When an Awake rider boards a Bus, he or she scurries to the nearest empty bench. But seats can also become traps, like foxholes can become graves under artillery fire; sitting constantly risks that one of the deadened, zombielike commuters might sit next to you, trapping you in the yawning horror of public transit with neither respite nor recourse.
Some of the Awakened will place bags or boxes on the seat next to them, like sleepless children whose blankets are their only protection against the carnassial things in the dark. But this too carries risk, that of rousing one of the Oblivious from their stupor into indignant confrontation. The wrath of a soul-deadened commuter may be less fearful than the ineffable terror of The Bus, but none of the Awakened dare risk being weakened by the former in the face of the latter.
Lacking the security of an unaccompanied seat, the Awake huddle near the exits, clinging desperately to this proximity despite the rude shocks of the Oblivious squeezing past them into the depths of the bus’s interior and the cacodaemoniacal scolding of the brusque and uncaring Driver. Only when the opprobrium of the Oblivious threatens to boil over into violent action will the Awakened be pressed into the bowels of The Bus, pressed from all sides by sullen, looming crowds of the Oblivious and shriekingly distant from the portals that lead to the meager safety of the outside world.
Most dreadful of all of The Bus’s confines is the rear deck, up two steps from the main deck and with no exits of its own, only a single cramped portal leading to the rear doors. The Awake will never enter the rear deck of an even remotely crowded Bus, and resist most desperately being chivvied into this area even when prodded by throngs of the Oblivious under the maddening lashes of the Driver’s instruction. For even when trapped in the aisle between exits, if an Awake rider finds his path to an exit blocked by the Oblivious, he may still hope to find passage to the other exit; but any Awake so trapped on the rear deck has no recourse beyond panicked shoving and terrified shrieks. (It is an article of faith among the Awake that a tap on the shoulder and a quiet “excuse me”, courtesies otherwise respected as a matter of course, are of no avail on The Bus.)
Once perilously ensconced on The Bus, the Awake peer desperately at the world outside as it whizzes past the windows in a dreamlike blur, their fear-dilated eyes searching for landmarks that might indicate progress towards the respite of Their Stop. Any and every obstacle between themselves and this sanctuary is an object of the utmost horror, be it unexpected construction causing a blockage of traffic, inclement weather clouding the windows, or a mass of Oblivious commuters between themselves and the pull-cord or button that instructs the Driver to halt at Their Stop. Faced with such impediments, the Awake become more and more agitated, but since the circumstances are beyond their control they rarely have any recourse but to stand, sweating and shaking, and pray to the uncaring gods that they may be granted timely exit from The Bus.
On occasion, whether by mischance or cruel conspiracy of fate, one of the Awake will board an unfamiliar Bus on an express route. Thereupon, they will witness another traveller request egress at the next Stop, only for the hideous and uncaring Driver to pass a visible stop by with neither hesitation nor remorse. This provokes within the Awake passenger such frantic terror that they may launch themselves at the nearest pull-cord or button, heedless to the leaden Oblivious in their way, and yank or pound frantically on this device to no apparent effect. Even the other Awake on The Bus might turn in nervous curiosity to search out the source of the terror, and their apparent complacence in the face of endless purgatory drives the tresspassing Awake to new levels of panic.
Then The Bus stops, and the unperturbed traveller exits, leaving the Awake to shudder at the apparent randomness of the Driver, granting sought-after escape or horrible imprisonment seemingly at his whim.