Dripping the Blood Fantastic
"Where were we?"
"No, no, no... start over."
The school bus coasted down the old highway, never accelerating beyond fifty miles per hour. For six straight years the bus was home to an array of vagabonds as it putted across the country from music festival to music festival. However, this year would be its last.
It had been a sight, covered with a mural that riders had contributed over the years. Some of them simply painted flowers on it, while others depicted scenes of memories during its travels. Now, it had all been spray painted over and was a disgusting, solid black.
The previous year, while at a three-day stop in Florida, one of its passengers was lost. Though most of them carried nicknames, it was not the case for Colin Gayman. After his passing his nickname was forfeit, and he was to be remembered by his real name.
Its hard to say just what he overdosed on, since no one could think of a single drug he hadn't consumed that night, but when he hadn't met up with the crew for the Almond Mothers show, Robin went back to the camping area, expecting to wake him. When she found him, his mouth was agape and his eyes rolled into the corners of his head, as if watching a plane out the window. When she stepped on the bus she new. She could feel the negative energy of his death looming inside the bus.
They had all agreed that this year would be the last. They would retire the bus after this year's tour, and had painted it black like it was attending a funeral.
So here they were, only nine of them instead of the usual thirteen. Hubble, the driver, was in the middle of a story about where two of the others had gone.
"I'm not going all the way back to the beginning."
"Just start when we parked, then."
"There really isn't much to tell. We stopped at the rest area, and were almost immediately approached by the van. They seemed to remember us from last year, but you know how it is; we meet so many. I didn't recognize them, and I was pretty sure no one else did either, but Cukes claimed to know them from last year. Floorplan went over with him."
Cukes got his name because he claimed to be a sort of Johnny Appleseed, who could start a garden in the middle of a paved highway if given the tools. He told stories of tomato plants fifty-feet tall, but it was no secret that the only thing he ever grew successfully were cucumbers, somehow.
If you have ever known someone who obsessively knows all the exits, emergency or otherwise, to any given area, that was Floorplan. He seemed to have an uncanny knowledge of duct systems and the like, an architectural savant.
"Cukes came back to the bus and grabbed one of the backpacks, the pills I think, and said they were off to some party to make a killing. That was it."
Cukes was known to run off at any given moment, but was always there in the morning, brewing coffee. Neither of them returned from wherever they had gone, but Hubble had been sure they convinced some of the other party goers to join at the festival and they would be waiting there when the bus arrived.
Robin confirmed. "So I'm sure they'll be there. Cukes will probably already have some fucking pickles whipped up by the time this bus gets there."
The current attendance call included these nine: Hubble and Robin. Pegs, called so because of his two prosthetic legs from a car accident at a very young age. Starlips and her glitter. Moke and Tiny, the twins. Captain, who used to do all the driving until his D.U.I. last year. There was Koi with her tiny goldfish jar (complete with goldfish) around her neck. Curry, a girl from Sri Lanka they had picked up just this year, who cooked a nightly pot of curried chicken to earn her share. And lastly, Norma. Although not a clever nickname, it was not her actual name, and no one really knew what it might be.
The final stop on this year's tour was the Grassy Folk Music Festival. Held in the dark recesses of the northern New England woods, the festival was much smaller than any of the others they attended, and was almost solely bluegrass or folk music. It was only an hour or so from where Robin called home, and she would be the first one off the bus as it began its ride to drop off its passengers, one by one. The final destination this year, since Captain could not drive, would be Virginia. Hubble would park it in his backyard, where it would become a landmark.
So onward the bus chugged, Captain sitting in the back repeatedly filling and emptying his wineskin flask, beating on a drum with absolutely no rhythm whatsoever, though Curry sat listening, entranced, as if he had invented the thing.
When finally they reached the gate-house, the ranger stuffed inside of it almost wouldn't let them through.
"This bus exceeds all limits we have placed on these roads. I doubt you will even make it all the way into the park."
Captain was yelling from the back, "Punch it Hub! Break that fucking gate down!"
The ranger lifted herself to tiptoes, peering in the windows of the bus to investigate its inhabitants.
Hubble shook his head, "Ignore him Miss, he's been on the sauce all morning."
The ranger suddenly took her 'badge' too seriously. "And you, sir, have you been drinking? You know that open containers in a vehicle are illegal in this fine state? Maybe you should step out."
Hubble had dealt with these people plenty of times. Though last year it was Captain behind the wheel, Hubble was sure this had been the same ranger. She had given them a hard time then, as well, eventually they sold her some drugs and drove through. The bus was different then, a lot less black, so naturally she wouldn't remember.
"No Mam, I never partake in the drink while driving. Especially not while driving a monster such as this. But I can assure you, we pulled through here last year for the fest, and we made it all the way to the campground. Took us a few hours, of course, but we made it none-the-less."
"You came through here with this particular bus?" She studied it, then caught glimpse of a missed paint spot. "Oh shit, is that the Cap back there runnin' at the mouth?"
Relief spread throughout the ride.
"Yeah, that's him," Hubble laughed.
She remembered now. Very much so. Hubble considered for a moment the possibility that the Captain had snuck away from the festival and romanticized the ranger in her little hut. That was just like something the Captain would do. The thought made him laugh again.
"I don't suppose he's got any of that purple sticky y'all brought through here last time?"
And that was that, much to the same tune of last year's trip, they unloaded an ounce of some seriously stinky shit to her, and drove on.
As the bus pulled away, the Captain said, "That ranger sucks a mean dick."
An hour or so into the ride, the front of the bus started smoking. Because the interior of the bus itself was so full of smoke, they didn't notice at first. When the thumping started, like the chugging of a train slowing to a stop, they all knew.
Hubble pulled off to the side of the road. "Fuck!"
The nine of them spilled out of the bus, and looked it over. It wasn't going anywhere. It was Captain who was the most angry, but this may have also been due to the alcohol. They all cursed the bus, and Pegs gave it a solid kick with his metal leg, which while doing no damage, rang a satisfactory noise to assure him that it had been punished.
Robin was the only one who remained calm. She was also the only one who embraced technology enough to carry a cell phone. Of course, there wasn't any service, so she placed a text message to her Dad, giving him the location of the bus. This way, whenever the phone did get some reception it would send the message, and her father would send someone. She instructed Hubble to leave the keys in it, and assured them all that by the end of the weekend, the bus would be running again.
"So we hike in then?" Asked Moke.
Tiny, not tiny at all in any sense of the word, was not happy with this. He hated walking. He hated moving. He liked getting high and sitting on his enormous ass, watching the clouds go by.
"Fuck that shit, I'm staying here."
They all laughed at him, as they often did. Tiny embraced his gigantic physique, and was the first to crack jokes about it.
"I have that wheelchair in the back, Tiny," Pegs pointed out, "but I think walking would probably be easier."
Tiny considered the wheelchair for a moment. The thought of using his arms, something he almost never lifted except to torch a bong, did indeed seem like a hell of a lot more work. Since it could be a day or two before anyone came to fix it, and they were taking all the drugs with them, he agreed to give his best attempt at hiking, but wasn't carrying shit.
It took them a good while to get all of the gear out of the bus and strapped on. They stood in a circle and puffed down a blunt. Captain ate some mescaline, convinced it would reduce his stumbling a bit. Curry, fascinated with every move Captain made, also took part. Everyone else agreed with Robin that they should wait and spend their psychedelic allowance on music.
A half mile or so into their hike, a Ford Escort rolled past them blasting heavy metal music. Most of them shook their head in disappointment, annoyed by lesser beings, except Captain who saw custies. He shouted out, "Headies!" and the car screeched to a stop and backed up, nearly running them over with reckless reverse driving.
The unloaded a good amount of drugs to the kids in that car, then resumed their hike into the woods towards the festival grounds.
Too late after the car had pulled away, Hubble realized something he wished he had the chance to ask them about:
"That kid in the back that was all fucked up... I'm pretty sure he was in the van that picked up Cukes and Floorplan last night."