“The Book and the Bus Cat” by Goldfish

Who are you…?

I was hearing the voices again. They were whispering inside my head.

What are you…? Who do you think you are…?

    “Stop…” I murmured, gripping my pillow.

You are nothing….

    I felt myself giving in.

    “Nothing….”

You are nothing….

    “I am nothing…” I whispered, “I am….”

The loud buzzing of my alarm clock arose me from my trance-like sleep. My eyes were half open, allowing me to see my dorm room, but with a touch of blur added to

BOOKANDBUSCAT
illustration by Julianne Glahn

everything I laid eyes upon.

I groggily dragged myself out of bed and quietly pressed the button on my clock, hushing the loud buzzes. I stood there for a minute, eyes closed, not really remembering why I set an alarm in the first place. Then it hit me.

“The ceremony!” I exclaimed, my eyes bursting open as I realized I only had a few minutes to make it to the transport before it passed my dorm.

I hurriedly grabbed an old black t-shirt and some ratted jeans out of my drawer, threw them on, snatched an apple from the fruit bowl in my tiny kitchen, my socks and shoes, and burst out the door, barely making it to the transport in time.

“Wait!” I called, struggling to put one sock on one foot. “Stop!”

The transport heard my calls and came to an ear-gnashing halt, steam rushing out from the tracks that it rolled on. I climbed on and sat down in an open seat, slipping my shoes on over my socks. Then I breathed a sigh of relief. I had made it, and I could finally eat my apple.

The hissing of steam alerted the passengers that the transport had started back up again. It sped down the tracks to the ceremony. I could hardly contain my excitement as we got closer to the area where my parents would be arriving back, exhausted, bruised, and bloodied, from their battle with The Crimson. Yet, their bright smiles would shine through the pain and welcome me into their arms, where we would embrace happily. We would become a family again. I exited the transport with a dozen other students, excited to see their families returning from the fight. I was anxious to see them: my heart was pounding in my chest like a drum and my smile stretched up to my ears.

As the gate to the outside world clanked open, I held my hands over my mouth.

Expecting to see the warriors returning, hearts held high as they made it back victorious, I was slapped in the face with reality.

Half of the warriors were gone, supposedly swallowed up by the souls of the lost or turned by The Crimson. My heart seemed to skip every other beat when I scanned the remaining warriors for any sight of my parents. I never saw them.

The warriors that had made it rushed to their families, squeezing them tightly in their arms, their matted hair covering their faces and their tears of joy blending with the earth as they hit the ground.

People started abandoning the gate, still tightly hugging their loved ones. The sky grew dark. Writhing black swallowed the sky as twinkling stars burst through the dull colors. Almost everyone was gone except for a few others who were with me in the same situation.

“Mommy?”

I turned my head towards the small squeak of a voice. A small boy, probably no more than six, was tugging on his mother’s dress.

“Daddy isn’t back yet, Mommy. You said he’d be back,” he squeaked, tugging on his mother’s dress a bit harder.

“Be patient, Timothy,” she said, putting a finger to her chapped lips. “Be patient.”

You could hear the sadness in her voice, a big lump in her throat muddling her words.

“Timothy, we have to go,” she said, grasping his hand and turning back towards the transport.

“But… Daddy?” Timothy asked, his shining eyes becoming dull with fear.

“Daddy won’t be home tonight,” his mother said, tugging him along, wiping her eyes with her sleeve.

Something about that made me want to wait even longer, like there was still a small spark of hope.

I waited for about another hour before I heard a voice behind me.

“Hey, kid, time to go back to your dorm,” a burly man, toothpick stuck in between the spaces of his yellow-grey teeth, growled.

“But, my parents, you don’t understand, I have to find my parents–”

“Your parents ain’t here,” he said, leaning close to my face, grinning. The scent of liquor was heavy on his breath. “And if they ain’t here, they’re prob’ly dead.”

He gave me a heavy pat on the shoulder before pushing me towards the transport.

“G’night, kid,” he laughed. “Sweet dreams.”

My legs felt wobbly, like jelly, shaking underneath the weight of my body. I climbed back onto the transport, knees weak, legs trembling, and sank into one of the seats in the back.

I don’t think I blinked once after getting on the transport. My eyes hurt. I was so full of disbelief that I wasn’t sure of anything I was doing.

The last thing I remember is getting dropped off at my dorm, collapsing into my bed, and my thoughts being overtaken by the awful, ever-present voices in my head.