... indistinguishable from magic
effing the ineffable since 1977
Life Stories

Life Stories

Matt Grant found that you saw a lot of interesting people, driving a bus.

For starters, there were the people that really were interesting, like the old lady who rode from Barrett Street to Oak Lane every Tuesday and spent the whole time engaged in animated conversation with the empty seat next to her. Or the man who felt it necessary to introduce himself verbosely every time he boarded - "Hello there, so pleased to meet you, my name's Reginald John Morris the Third, I'm a production supervisor at the Mannings factory up in Chelmsworth, and I was wondering if you would be so kind as to provide me with transportation to said factory at this time?" - all without pausing for breath. For the most part, Matt didn't concern himself with these people. He felt that their lives were probably interesting enough already and didn't want to intrude.

Matt was much more interested in the people that seemed entirely normal on the surface, but underneath... well, to be honest, they were probably entirely normal underneath too, as much as anybody is. Matt knew this, of course, but he wasn't about to let that deter him. He had found that with a little imagination almost every passenger could have a fascinating life story, and that inventing those stories was an excellent way to pass the time as he drove.

He pulled the bus in to the curb at Fern Street and opened the doors. A single passenger climbed aboard - one of his regulars, a man he had dubbed Greg. Greg, he'd decided, was a family man with a compulsive gambling problem, who therefore owed a lot of money to the kind of men that spend altogether too much time in smoky rooms. He was short, with a hairline that had definitely seen better days, and tended to glance furtively at the other passengers, in case one of them was working for his creditors.

At the next stop he picked up two people: another regular (Sue) and a woman Matt hadn't seen before. He sized up the newcomer first, as she paid her fare. Mid twenties, shoulder-length brown hair, glasses, a sort of geeky appearance, and a bookbag to match. Carol, he decided. Studying history at a prestigious college, but leading a secret double-life as an exotic dancer.

Sue, on the other hand, was about 45, with meticulously arranged short blond hair and an attaché case. She worked for the CIA, organizing the agents in dangerous foreign countries and processing the information that came back. Every day as she rode the bus she would pull out a binder from her case and study the contents intently, looking up only as her destination approached. Matt had found that he could often make out the title on the front of the binder if he glanced in the mirror at the right time. Today she was reading "Process Improvements for Increased Output". Obviously some power-hungry dictator had been able to implement some new techniques for manufacturing deadly biological agents, but luckily Sue was now in possession of all the facts. She'd soon be organizing a plan that would likely involve black-clad agents descending on wires, synchronized watches, copious amounts of explosive, and perhaps a tank of piranhas. Matt wasn't sure why piranhas always seemed to make an appearance in situations like this. He supposed that was why Sue, rather than he, was in charge of the operation. Sue knew the right way to apply strategic piranhas to a weapons lab. She'd have the safety of the free world sorted out in no time.

He turned the corner and pulled up to the stop outside the train station. As always, too many people boarded here for him to assess at once. He spotted a few familiar faces: Joe, an international video-game champion, and Fiona, the head of a multinational mega-corporation that primarily manufactured building materials. As he closed the doors and pulled away, he looked around at the other new arrivals.

One young couple seemed determined not to leave much up to his imagination. Pete and Kaye (he filled in the names without effort) had proceeded directly to the back seat and were kissing frantically. In fact, to call it kissing was to understate the situation significantly. Their only apparent concession to the fact that they were in a public location was the fact that they remained fully clothed, despite obviously desperately wishing not to be. Matt's imagination was in danger of being outclassed by mere reality, and wasn't about to let that happen. So Pete and Kaye were perfect strangers who had met for the very first time at the station bus stop and fallen in lust at first sight. They had approached each other slowly but inexorably, and when eventually face to face, neither had managed to say anything more than "Uh..." before diving into each other. Finding out each others names was an unimportant detail that they hadn't yet gotten around to. Their original destinations now forgotten, their lips stayed apart only long enough to urgently whisper suggestions into each other's ears of where they might find some private space.

Wrenching his attention away from the display in the back seat, he focused instead on a teenage boy sitting near the middle of the bus. Lee had short, black hair and an expression of deep concentration. He had to be carrying some dark and terrible knowledge - he had discovered a plot to take over the Internet and use it to blackmail every major world government. Right now he was on his way to visit a friend who just happened to be a talented hacker, and together they would be able to foil the attempt by breaking into the bad guys' own computers.

Across the aisle sat another couple who contrasted starkly with Pete and Kaye's unashamed passion. Lucy and Brad were in their mid thirties and were sitting in stiff silence, their eyes meeting occasionally with an odd intensity that Matt found hard to read. Brad had dishevelled brown hair and a thin face, while Lucy was a redhead who Matt would probably have thought of as pretty if not for the vaguely unpleasant look on her face. He filled in the gaps for himself: Lucy belonged to a family with a multi-billion dollar inherited fortune. Brad, an escaped convict, had kidnapped her with the intent of holding her for ransom. Lucy had refused to come quietly and had put up a violent resistance, causing Brad considerable pain with a few well-placed kicks before he'd handcuffed himself to her, drawn his gun and promised to shoot. Lucy's struggle had successfully raised the alarm, so Brad had dumped his car (too easy to trace) and was taking advantage of the anonymity of the public transportation system to try to get away with his prize. All of which explained that odd, unreadable expression - it was pure loathing. He had to admire way Lucy showed no trace of fear.

A few people, including Joe and Carol, got off at the next stop. Fiona was staring out of the window, looking bored. Sue was now talking on a cellphone. Pete and Kaye seemed to have progressed beyond the need to actually breathe. Lee's expression of concentration hadn't wavered.

Matt identified a middle-aged man seated near the front of the bus for his next target. This was James, a scientist who did research for a large corporation. James had just made a major breakthrough that would revolutionize society: an anti-gravity technique that would allow any object to be levitated using only a suitcase-sized device. This opened the door to flying cars, rendered heavy lifting equipment obsolete, and that was just the start. Predictably, James had had his line of research abruptly discontinued and was now being pressured and threatened by both his own company and established groups in the transportation industry to keep quiet about his discovery. Matt wondered whether he was going to give in or not.

Nobody was waiting at the intersection with Palm Street, but the stop signal had been activated so he came to a halt and opened the doors so Lucy and Brad could get off. As he pulled out, he glanced at the pair walking away. Just for a moment, the handcuffs that really were binding them together were clearly visible. Matt almost crashed the bus.