For various reasons, chronicled here, I avoid the buses in Slobbering-under-the-Bed. Instead I prefer, when unable to drive myself, to make use of Slobbering's only licensed taxi driver, Narcoleptic Norman.
It was a dark night, travelling back from the Euthanasia where Indigo Roth and I had mercilessly murdered a curry, that something quite weird happened. I hope you can picture the scene - we're all in Norman's cab. The man himself, Narcoleptic Norman, was driving. Roth was in the front passenger seat with his knees up close to his chest and holding onto the handle over the passenger door like a drowning man might grip a penguin. I was on the back seat behind Norman talking to myself (I always use a bluetooth earpiece so I can have a good conversation undisturbed by psychiatric workers). Next to me and very much cramped behind Roth was one of the waiters from the Euthanasia. I suspect we'd paid the bill with currency from the wrong century again. I still have a pocket full of Corinthian Staters. The banks hate them, but you can use them in most gym lockers.
We drove to Roth's home town of Paralytic-in-the-Wardrobe first. Whilst it would have been easier to drop me off first, I think we had discussed this and decided that Norman wasn't entirely safe without a passenger to keep him awake. The man and his cab have been found in various places - fast asleep in the middle of roundabouts, in the central reservation of fast roads, and once on the steps to the town hall.
Every time our driver nodded off, Roth would yell "Left". Norman would wake with a start and take the next left. Allowing Roth to give directions was pretty much always a disaster. Quite often a passport was necessary. In extreme cases jabs for tropical diseases. On this particular trip, we had been through the same McDonald's drive-thru no less than sixteen times. I was bloody sick of Happy Meals, although the waiter was collecting the toys with glee.
Suddenly we were on the open road. Norman would slump every few minutes. As Roth yelled "Left", I countered with "Straight on". Norm would wake up, explain that he was only resting his eyes and shove the gas pedal violently. The old car would shudder and almost take off. There weren't many like it. It was a 1958 Ford Edsel.
The origin of the car was a complete mystery to us. Norman had never explained, although he wasn't being tight lipped about it, he just seldom stayed awake that long. It was a mystery second only to Henry Ford naming his son Edsel.
Anyway, back to the clear, dark, long, open road. We were travelling at quite a lick when besides us appeared an old style London bus. It came alongside without effort or seemingly much engine noise.
A girl with an impossibly short neck and a flat topped head yelled at me from the open platform. "Make sure you've put your seatbelt on, the conductor is getting quite excited about having you back aboard again."
Bit weird, but I thought I'd strike up a conversation. It wasn't as if we were complete strangers. I even knew the girl. She'd committed suicide by jumping off the Paralytic-in-the-Wardrobe pier. The tide was out. I'd first met her after she was dead and, strangely, on the self same bus. "How are you doing?" I asked.
"Quite well, apart from being dead. Mustn't grumble."
"Journey seems to be taking a long time. Is the driver lost?"
"No, apparently there are roadworks and we have to take an alternative route to the afterlife. Anyway, that's what the conductor says. Personally, I think he likes the company."
"Where is he, by the way?" It wasn't as though I was in a hurry to meet him again. I doubted if he liked the company, he hadn't seemed very sociable to me.
"Up top, reading the company rulebook. I think he is trying to find a way of not honouring your return ticket."
"Bugger that!", I turned to our driver, "Norman, floor it! Give it some welly! Put the hammer to the metal! Roth, let go of that penguin!"
"I was just resting my eyes," groaned the soporific voice of our driver.
"Just do it! Now!"
Norman hit the gas. Hard. The Edsel shot forward, and for a few moments was pulling nicely away from the big red bus. I was briefly relieved, until the bus slid back alongside us. On the platform was the conductor. I recognised the very deep-set eyes. He spoke to me in a hollow, far away voice, which despite the straining of the Edsel's engine was crisp, cold and clear to me.
"I've checked the company rulebook most throughly sir. It does seem that your return ticket was valid on this service. But should sir wish to come aboard he can have the left front seat. It's very nice."
"To be honest, if you don't mind, I'd..." The bus vanished, Norman nodded off again and Roth yelled "Left." Norman woke with a start, turned left and we crashed through the hedgerow and spent the night in a farmer's field.
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