Next Stop: Hell
by Eric J. Krause
Jeremiah stood at the bus stop, waiting for the 4:30 to Downtown. Public transportation sucked, but with his car in the shop and no money to get the mechanic to finish the repairs, this bus was his only way to work. He'd prefer to walk, but that was next to impossible, both because of the distance and the rising crime rate. People nowadays were as apt to kill you as look at you.
He rarely saw anyone this early, still a couple of hours from sunrise, but today proved more desolate than usual. Not a single passer-by or any car headlights in the distance. It was as if the world had forgotten to wake up. He wished he had that option. His boss was on the warpath recently, hurling reprimands left and right for the most minor of offenses. Jeremiah had received one last week for going back to work from break one minute late. Sure, he was in the wrong, but was a single minute worth putting him one step closer to unemployment? Not as far as he or anyone else not in management thought.
A bad feeling hung in the air around him as he waited. Today was the day something out of his control would blow up, and he'd take the full brunt of the blame. Then it would be out the door and to the unemployment office. He could feel it in his bones. The funny thing was, he usually proved to be a glass-half-full kind of guy, but he couldn't drag this burning ball of dread out of the pit of his stomach. It didn't help that the world seemed empty. Maybe that was all that was bothering him anyway, and his job would be fine. He could hope.
4:31. Great, the bus was late. He could usually spot it three stops down, but not this morning. So this was that thing he couldn't control. With a reprimand on his record, they wouldn't care if it was the bus line's fault. He'd be out on his ass before the first coffee break. No chance to get repair money for his car, and no real job prospects in this damn economy.
In his worrying, Jeremiah didn't notice the bus until it pulled up to the stop. No, that was impossible. His eyes had been glued down the street, willing it to show up. And now it was here. Maybe it had taken a different route, something not posted at this stop because it was unaffected. Yeah, that was the likely answer. But, really, whatever the explanation was, he didn't particularly care; he still had a chance at keeping his job.
The door swished open, and he stepped in, his temporary bus pass out for the driver to see. But there wasn't a driver. What in the world? He looked back to the passenger section to see if the driver was helping someone. There were never very many people riding this early, but there were always a few. Except today. Today he was alone.
Unnerved, Jeremiah turned to step back down to the curb. Why this made him so nervous, he didn't know, but he couldn't shake the feeling something was wrong. Before he could leave, the door slammed shut, and the bus shifted into gear. He let out a strained yell and jumped for the driver's seat. He couldn't let this thing get going out of control. Before he could make it, the bus lurched forward, sending him tumbling back into the passenger area.
Jeremiah screamed out for help, in case this was nothing but a big joke, and someone really was in control of the moving machine. Maybe he was being punked for some new Internet show. He'd look foolish, but that was fine, as long as he was safe. No one answered. He tried to see what was outside the windows, but even if he cupped his hands against the glass to fight the glare, he couldn't see anything but pure darkness. A quick glance up at the "Next Stop" board showed that it read "Hell."
Hysterical giggles erupted from him. Hell. Yeah, funny joke. He thrashed his head from side to side, ready for this elaborate prank to end. Hell. No way. He didn't deserve to end up there. Sure, maybe he pilfered occasional office supplies. Maybe he sometimes took lunches that didn't belong to him from the community fridge in the break room. Maybe he drank too much on the weekends and accidently cheated on his girlfriend. None of those were reasons for him to go to Hell. Were they?
Jeremiah couldn't help but notice the air in the bus grow gradually hotter.