Tag Archives: bus

Bus Joy

This piece is unusual for this blog because it’s true. These days I’ve been taking the bus to and from work. It’s not a bad commute, usually only about 15 minutes and the buses are never crowded. If you have to take public transportation, take it where it’s not that popular, as opposed to Korea where I once counted about 90 people on my bus and only then because I was taller than most of them.

The best part of taking the bus (besides sitting and listening to audiobooks) is watching the other people. Most people tend to blend together, just masked figures that get on quietly and sit engrossed in their phones but sometimes someone will stand out.

One is a little girl that has started getting on with her mother a few stops after me. She’s probably about three with a mass of curly hair and every time she gets on the bus, it’s like watching a little Indiana Jones about to embark on a new adventure. She is so excited to be on the bus and looking around with barely contained energy and excitement. Her mother picked her up last time to keep her from charging ahead on her own and the little explorer yelled “Yaaaay!” all the way back to their seats.

On the way home that same day, the bus stopped for an old man with a bald head and a thick white beard that stuck out from his chin like a pharaoh’s beard. He seemed to be homeless and the first thing he did when the doors opened was throw a bundle of blankets and clothes into the bus before going back to get his backpack and other things. Everyone waited while he climbed on, then scooped up all his possessions and pushed them into an empty seat, smiling and saying thank you the whole time. He seemed to be wearing about four shirts of various styles.

Two very different people from different stages of life but both very happy just to be riding the bus.

Emergency Telephone

Rochelle, the moderator of this crazy group called the Friday Fictioneers, just announced that this week is her 3rd anniversary of taking over the reins. Incidentally, it is also my 150th story, which means I started just a few short weeks after she took over. It’s been quite the journey.

I must confess, I have thought about quitting sometimes, especially lately when I’ve been so busy. But I don’t want to, mostly because of all the great people I’ve gotten to know through this group. Also, I haven’t missed a week yet, and I put a lot of stock in precedent. I also think that it has helped my writing by making it more succinct. When you get in the habit of counting every word, you look for the strongest words, those that convey the most meaning. Efficient prose is generally good prose.

copyright Ron Pruitt

copyright Ron Pruitt

Emergency Telephone

The bus was shaking and bumping like a twerking paint mixer. The man in Row 24 leaned forward to Row 23.

“I feel sick. Tell the driver to pull over.”

The man leaned forward. “Tell driver . . . sick . . . pull over.”

“Someone’s sick of wearing a pullover.”

“He knows a chick from Conover.”

“Someone wants chicken and cauliflower.”

The passenger in Row 1 tapped the driver. “Just wanted to tell you, someone in the back took Colombian karate, but the alligators didn’t bite.” There was the sound of retching.

The driver slammed the brakes. “Why didn’t anyone tell me he was sick?”


Describe Your Typical Day

I woke up late, of course. I swear that nothing short of Ragnorak could get me up on time. I have seven alarms, all set in sequence, with increasing volumes. It wakes up the deaf guy three houses down, but not me.

The clock said 7:45 when my brain finally decided to allow my eyelids to open. The sickeningly familiar jolt of adrenaline got me out of bed and into the shower before I even realized I was awake. Ten minutes later, I was out the door, briefcase in one hand, bagel in the other, sprinting for the bus stop.

I couldn’t miss the bus. If I missed the bus, I’d be late for work again, and if I was late again, I’d get fired and if I got fired . . . a dark web of consequences fractalled out in front of me. Can’t miss the bus.

I was 100 meters away when I saw it. “No!” I screamed in impotent rage, like a weaponless berserker. It passed me, not slowing. I threw the bagel at it. No effect. I threw my briefcase, which bounced off the fender. No effect.

An open patch of wet concrete was in my way and I tripped and landed headfirst in it. As I floundered through it, I saw the bus about to disappear around the corner. “Stop, you filthy—” I screamed, adding an arcane racial epithet for Belgians which was both uncharacteristic for me and totally unexpected.

The bus stopped. The driver stepped out. I could tell by the look in his eyes that his ancestors were Belgian.

I made it to work by 8:57, filthy and bruised, but not late.

The door was locked. It was Saturday.

What if…?


What if…?

Rick Forrest was driving the Number 45 bus, empty, back toward the garage when he saw a man waiting at a lonely bus stop on the opposite side. There were no more buses that day, so he slowed and slide open his window.

“Hey buddy, no more buses today!”

The man looked up. “I’m not waiting for that bus.”

“This is the only bus route out here,” Rick said. He was about to drive away, when the man stood up and took a step into the road.

“The bus will be here any moment. Do you want to take it too? There’s room.”

You’re crazy! was on the tip of Rick’s tongue, but something in the man’s intent look made him pause. “I have to finish my route.”

“Come on, there’s room. It’s worth it.”

Rick suddenly had an insane vision of himself parking the bus by the side of the road and getting out to wait with the man. Crazy. He stepped on the gas and drove off.

A dark red bus was approaching. He watched it in the rear view mirror as it stopped and the man got on. Then the bus vanished into thin air.

Rick finished his route and went home, but every single day for the rest of his life, the same question went through his head: What if I had gotten on that bus?


A slice of humanity on the bus

All writers should take the bus, at least every now and then. Or the subway. Really anywhere where you can observe a lot of different people up close. I take the bus almost every day and I see some interesting people.

Last Thursday, I was taking the bus out into the countryside to one of my four schools. I was sitting in the back when a mentally handicapped man and an older man got on and sat down next to me, the  handicapped one closer to me. He was interested in my book and pointed at it and gave me a thumbs up. Then he motioned to the older man and said, “He’s my dad.” This caused the older man to start laughing, so I didn’t know if he really was his father or not. I just said, “Oh, really?” “Oh, I see” and such things, since he kept saying it.

A lot of the people on the bus were older and seemed to know each other, so I felt like I was in kind of a community meeting. Then the handicapped man said, “He’s fifty” pointing to his “dad”, who started laughing even harder and said, “Yeah, I wish I were fifty again.” I really liked the older man; just a jolly sort of fellow.

A middle-aged woman came back, and saw there weren’t any seats left, so I gave her mine. Her husband was still standing up, with his backpack on. “Hey groom!” she yelled (Korean woman often call their husbands “groom”, although I’ve never heard a man call his wife “bride”). “Hey groom! It’s going to be a long ride. Take off your heavy backpack.” He took it off and put it on the floor with a grin. “That’s my groom for you,” she said. I saw other older women smiling and nodding as well. They understood.

The two men who were sitting next to me got off a few stops before me and the handicapped one gave me an awkward high-five. I smiled and said good bye. I went back and sat where they had been sitting and the woman I had given up my seat to apologized. I’m not sure why but possibly because she thought the handicapped man was bothering me. “Not a problem,” I said. “It’s okay.” And I meant it. I may never totally fit in here in Korea, but I do enjoy being a part of things anyway.


By the way, a few days ago, I posted something called The Mystery on the Bus, recounting another experience I had on a bus coming home from school. I asked people what they thought was going on. The first virtual high-five is for Carmelita, for the wackiest idea (I almost wish it were true), and the second is for EadesyBeadsy, for what I think is the most likely answer. Good job!

High five!

High five!

The Mystery on the Bus – A true story

This is a true story, just to put that out there right away. I was on the bus a few days ago, coming home from school. In  Korea, there are no school buses, so most high school students use the city buses. My bus was crowded with students and although I had a seat, it was just a solid wall of people in front of me.

I was looking out the window when another bus passed us. That bus driver looked at our bus and his mouth formed a perfect “O” of surprise. I was just wondering what he could have been looking at when a second bus passed. That bus driver looked over with a wide grin on his face and actually took his hands off the wheel while driving to applaud. I have no idea what they were reacting to, but it was intriguing.

So, help me out: what do you think they were looking at? The best answer in comments wins a virtual high-five.

Little things that make me happy…like China

I’ll bet you never thought of a country with 1.3 billion people as a little thing, but it’s all about context. I’m one of those people who loves the accomplishment of collecting things and checking things off a list. That’s why I really like the WordPress map feature, which shows you which countries viewers come from. I have gotten some pretty obscure ones, like the Palestinian territories, or Reunion island, etc. However, never any from China. Obviously, WordPress is blocked there, especially since I’ve had lots from Hong Kong.

But then, a few days ago, I saw that I had one view from China. One single view, but it was enough to color the whole country in on the map. That made me really happy. I kind of wonder who it was who saw my blog, whether it was someone high up in the government checking up on me or something. Probably nothing that cool, but it still has me wondering. Here are some other small things that make me really happy.

If you know any bloggers in Greenland, I want to be their friend.

If you know any bloggers in Greenland, I want to be their friend.

Seeing the 121 bus: There are five buses that go past my house. I ride the bus almost every day and most of them I take pretty regularly, except the 121 bus. It only runs a dozen times a day, so it’s pretty rare to see it. I’ve only ridden it once in five years. I was really happy that day.

I've read many a book on buses like this.

I’ve read many a book on buses like this.

Finding out Minecraft Steve is the same height as me: For those of you who don’t play Minecraft, the basic guy you play is called Steve. Some people did a calculation based on various things, and found out that he was 185cm or 6’1″, which is how tall I am. I like that fact.

We're basically twins, is what I'm saying.

We’re basically twins, is what I’m saying. (Source: http://i45.photobucket.com/albums/f81/xilefian/360steve.png)

Are there any little things that make you unreasonably happy? Let me know.


4 Reasons I Don’t Like the First Week of School

I think I’m a pretty positive guy. I try to look on the bright side of things. I only say that because I don’t anything to think of this as a gripe. It is merely a chance to share my unique work situation.

Here in Korea, the school year starts at the beginning of March, so I have just finished the first couple weeks of school. And I am very glad about that. I know a lot of people don’t like going back to school (students especially), but there are several unique factors for a foreign English teacher in my position that makes the first week of school a lot less fun.

1. Getting to school

I don’t have a car. If I did, this would not be an issue. I do have a motorbike and the bus system here is very good, but still, it takes a while to get everything straightened out.

I live in a city of about 600,000, but I work in the countryside around the city, which means I can’t walk to my schools. In times past, some of the teachers would pick us foreigners up, but they usually don’t like doing that anymore, and honestly, I don’t like getting picked up. Even if I have to take a bus, I like to be independent. I can ride my motorbike to two of my schools (I work at four different schools) because they’re relatively close, unless of course it’s pouring rain or a blizzard or the bike’s broken. In other words I have to know how to get to all my schools by bus.

Unfortunately, all of my schools are in different directions and I have to transfer buses to all of them, so I have to coordinate two bus schedules to make sure I get to the transfer stop before the second bus gets there. All this for four different schools which start at different times. I ended up being to late to one school and having to take a taxi to another one the first day in order not to be late.

Wanju work map

2. People assuming I don’t know anything

I’ve lived in Korea for nine years and have taught public school here for five years so I pretty much know what’s going on. I speak the language, can use chopsticks, know the bus system, and everything else you need to survive. But I’m not Korean, so everyone naturally (or not) assumes I got off the plane yesterday. I don’t necessarily blame them, since there is a high turnover rate for foreign English teachers and so a lot of us are fresh off the plane. Still, the first day or two at a new school is invariably the same.

“Can you use chopsticks?” “Oh, I think that food is too spicy for you.” “Oh wow, you can speak Korean!” “Do you know how to take the bus? You do? Wow, how do you know?”

And so on. Again, I’m not trying to criticize the Korean teachers, but it does get tiring when you go through the same routine again and again and again.

3. Not knowing anything

Even though I know a lot about Korea and public schools in general, every new school I go to has its own idiosyncrasies, for one reason or another. One of my schools is built like someone found the plans to the Labyrinth, thought that looked too straightforward and kicked it up a notch. Schools all start at different times, one has lunch after three periods instead of four. Some have English classes in an English room; others in the classrooms. In other words, I do some wandering around sometimes, asking people a lot of questions like where the bathrooms are and what the password to the class computer is.

One of my schools. It looks straightforward, but it's best to hire a Sherpa if you have class in one of the far buildings.

One of my schools. It looks straightforward, but it’s best to hire a Sherpa if you have class in one of the far buildings.

4. Introduction class

In elementary schools in Korea, there are no classes on the first day. The homeroom teachers are getting to know their students and getting them to color name tags or doing other icebreaker activities, so I don’t have to teach. In middle school, there are classes on the first day, but the teachers don’t want to start the textbook, so they say some variation of, “Just introduce yourself today.”

How long does it take to introduce yourself? Not the whole 45-minutes of class, that’s for sure. Even if I show them the Introduction to my Hometown powerpoint that I have, it only takes five minutes. Now I have been teaching long enough that I come prepared to get the kids talking and fill up the period but it tends to be awkward and I do the same lesson over and over again. I’m not complaining, but I’m always happy when the first week is over so I can get into real teaching.

Once Upon a Hike in Korea

Once upon a time, in the far-off country of Korea, lived a man named David who liked to hike. One Thursday, the government said that there would be a holiday to honor soldiers who died in war, so David decided to go hiking. The weather was hot, but he decided to go on a course of four mountain peaks. First he assembled his inventory.

He brought:

– 3 liters of drink (+4 to Life)

– a Snickers bar (+2 Energy, +2 Yum)

– triangle kimbap (see blog post on Tuesday) (+2 Health)

– peanut butter jam sandwich (+1 Health, +1 Cheap)

David also brought his trusty Staff of Walking (+2 Hiking, +3 Attack versus spiderwebs) and put on his magical Boots of Hiking. They were 16 years old, so while this gave him +2 to Nostalgia, they also made him -3 resistance versus blisters forming. You can’t have everything in life.

David took a crowded bus to a nearby valley that was green on all sides. He started at a temple at the base of the first mountain.


The initial climb was brutal. The weather was hot and the air was still and sweat stung his eyes. Still, he pushed on and the slope gradually leveled out to a nice path between tall trees. Nearer the top, there were breezes that cooled him a little.

Hiking in Korea 2

An hour later, he got to the top of the first mountain, Jongnamsan. So far, he had seen no people.

Hiking in Korea 3

The path between the first and second mountains was much easier. For most of it, David walked along on a level, shady forest path. Here, there were more people (14 in all, and one dog). The second mountain peak Seobangsan was empty and barren and had a place for a helicopter to land. It was hot and David didn’t stay there long.

Hiking in Korea 4

As he started to descend, David caught a glimpse of the valley he had traveled along. The air was hazy and the distance faded out into white. The flies were becoming annoying. There were no biting flies or mosquitoes, but there were millions of flies around. There was a dull roar in the otherwise silent woods from the sound of their combined humming.

Hiking in Korea 5

The path went steeply down to a low  pass between the second and third mountains. On the way, he passed a tall stone gate that was blocking his way. Just as well it wasn’t a solstice or midnight or anything or he probably would have been whisked away to another world. On the pass between the mountains, he met a Korean couple and advised them on the routes to take, as well as informing them that the map board that was located there had been printed backwards (for some reason). Then he set off for the third mountain peak.

Hiking in Korea 6

The third mountain was the most difficult. It was taller than the others and by this time, four hours into the hike, David was getting very tired. He struggled up the steep slope and up and over some deep clefts in the ridge until he was able to look back at where he had come from.  He saw that a narrow road was being built all around the valley. This disquieted David a lot, since the only reason he could see for it was logging and he hated to see the beautiful valley he loved so much logged and denuded.

Hiking in Korea 7

The third mountain, Seoraebong, was at the intersection of three mountain ridges and now David left the first valley and struck out onto a new ridge, an almost straight  line to the last mountain at the very end of it.

Hiking in Korea 8

This last ridge was much easier in some ways, but by this time David was very tired and his knees were hurting. Looking back, he could see the double notched ridge of the third mountain.

Hiking in Korea 9

Along the way, he passed many interesting things, like more stone cairns and towers, plus the Wood of Confused Pines. They went in all directions, as if they had had a fight when deciding what direction to grow in.

Hiking in Korea 10

Finally, David reached the final mountain peak, Ansusan. It looked over the prosperous farming region of Gosan, where newly-planted rice fields were laid out in neat rectangles as far as the eye could see.

Hiking in Korea 11

Coming down from Ansusan was much more difficult than going up the first mountain. The slope was steep rock and David had to use ropes and chains to hold onto as he went down.

The first time David went down this slope was in the dark. On Halloween.

The first time David went down this slope was in the dark. On Halloween.


The path kept going down steeply. After it entered the trees, the path became more dangerous, with loose rocks and fallen leaves covering everything.

Hiking in Korea 13

Finally, 8 hours after getting off the bus, David arrived at another bus terminal and waited with other hot people for a bus back to his city of Jeonju. It was a long, hot day and he was very sore and tired, but overall it was quite magical.

Hiking in Korea 14


This is the first of the Open Prompts stories, a story written using elements suggested by other bloggers. Here are the included elements:

1. Kermit, a klutz (suggested by me)
2. Spelunking (suggested by April)
3. Bobbie Sue (one leg), Grandpa (an alien abductee?), Big Al (the hero), Tookie (a stoner dog) (suggested by Christopher De Voss)
4. A dark tone (suggested by The Bumble Files)
5. A neon-pink umbrella (suggested by keep your youth forever)
6. Nisha, Kermit’s exact opposite (met in a hospital) (suggested by originalS)

Kermit Allan Mercer lay in a hospital bed, trying not to listen to the maddeningly incessant beep of the equipment that stood around him. Both his legs were broken and four ribs were cracked. But he had had worse injuries in the past, and considering he had been hit by a bus—tripping on the curb and falling into its path—he couldn’t complain.

“Hey, Big Al!” he heard a voice say from the doorway. It was his grandfather. Grandpa Spencer had always hated the name Kermit and insisted on calling him by his middle name. “Hey Big Al!” Every time. With Grandpa Spencer’s accent, it sounded like Abigail.

“Have they cut them off yet?” Grandpa Spencer asked, indicating Kermit’s legs. He laughed and walked in, followed by Kermit’s sister, Bobbie Sue, who wheeled herself in in a wheelchair. Her right leg was missing.

“Why are you in the wheelchair?” Kermit asked. “Where’s your prosthetic?”

“Aw, I put my foot through the weak spot in the porch and cracked it off again,” Bobbie Sue said. “I got an appointment with the doctor tomorrow. Hey, we brought you Tookie.”

She pulled out a small, scruffy dog and placed him on the covers. The dog blinked a few times and promptly walked off the bed, landing with a thud on its head. It lay on its back with all four legs in the air for a moment before getting up and wandering around listlessly in a small circle.

Grandpa Spencer and Bobbie Sue only stayed for twenty minutes but it was still enough time for Bobbie Sue to accidentally run her wheelchair into a cart of lunches and knock half the trays to the ground. Kermit was almost relieved when they left: there were just too many things to go wrong in a hospital. They left Tookie, although Kermit was pretty sure it was against the rules.

They had only been gone a few minutes when a girl appeared at the door. She was cute, with short curly hair. She was wearing camo pants and a black T-shirt and was carrying a neon-pink umbrella.

“Hey, I’m looking for my grandfather,” she said, sticking her head in the door. “Is he here?”

“This is a private room,” Kermit said, with a gesture that asked her to consider if he looked like her grandfather.

“Ah, sorry,” she said, but then she looked at him closely. “Hey, aren’t you Kermit Mercer? I saw you on TV, on that documentary.” She laughed and then pointed at his legs. “So, what’s the damage this time?”

“Please, just shut up,” Kermit said. He had enough comments like that from the doctors when they were treating him; he didn’t need it from random strangers too.

“Hey, I didn’t mean to make fun or anything,” the girl said. “I’m really sorry— it was just a surprise to actually see you. I’m Nisha, by the way.”


She came in another step and twirled her umbrella absently. “So, is it true that your whole family is cursed with klutziness? Sorry if that’s the wrong word for it. Is it just bad luck?”

“Well, there’s nothing good about it,” Kermit said, relenting a little from his first impression of her.

“How many bones have you broken?” Nisha said, coming closer, a look of fascination on her face. “More than ten?”

“38 bones, including these. I perforated an eardrum, cut off the first knuckle of my baby finger and had seven concussions. That’s nothing though: my younger sister tripped going over the railroad tracks and got her leg cut off. And of course, my parents…”

“Yeah, I heard about them on the documentary too. I’m really sorry about that.”

“Thanks, but they died when I was only five, before I even knew anything about the so-called Mercer Klutz gene. I grew up with my grandparents—my mother’s parents, of course. Grandpa and Grandma Mercer both died before they turned fifty, by falling onto or into things.”

Nisha came and sat down by the bed. “Well, I think—oh my, is that a dog? Is it high or something?”

Kermit looked over the side of the bed to see Tookie standing with his head to wall, walking steadily forward but not moving at all. “That’s just my dog, Tookie,” he said. “His mother had her puppies in our garage, right by some paint cans. The fumes killed all the puppies except Tookie, but he’s never been quite right either. I guess we even pass our bad luck off on our pets.”

Nisha put a hand on the covers and brushed against Kermit’s. He started to pull away but then stopped. “Sorry, force of habit.”

“Sorry if I startled you,” she said.

“No, it’s just that most people don’t want to touch me at all. They see that stupid documentary on how scientists are trying to isolate the Mercer gene for extraordinary klutziness or bad luck or whatever and then they think it’s transferrable, like the plague.”

“Is it?” Nisha asked.

Kermit looked at her bleakly. “I don’t know, honestly.”

“Well, do you know what, Kermit,” she said, giving him a dazzling smile. “I think I’m immune. I have never been in an accident, I’ve never had an injury, and I have wonderful luck. I met you today, didn’t I?”

Despite the cheesy line, he smiled. When she left a few minutes later—with another knee-weakening smile and a promise to return the next day—he hated to see her go.

The next day started badly. Tookie wandered off and got himself stuck with a syringe of morphine. It took some hurried intervention by Grandpa Spencer to keep him from being sent to the pound. Nisha arrived just as Grandpa Spencer was carrying off the sleeping, smiling dog, and Kermit introduced them.

“He seems nice,” she said, after Grandpa Spencer had left.

“He’s great,” Kermit said. “He raised me, after all. Of course, he does believe that he was abducted by aliens that live under the sea. I guess no one’s perfect.”

“So…no scuba diving then?” she asked and he laughed. “Seriously though, I wanted to ask you something. When you get out of here, do you want to go spelunking with me?”

Kermit studying her face for a moment. “You mean caving? Are you making fun of me?”

“No! Of course not. Look, it’s safe and I’ve done it lots of times. There are helmets and ropes and—”

“Look at this!” Kermit said, pointing to his legs. “I did this waiting for a bus. How do you think safety ropes are going to help?”

“But you’ll be with me,” Nisha said. “I’m good luck, I swear.”

“You don’t understand,” he said with a groan. “Danger surrounds me every day. It finds me whether I like it or not. I don’t go seeking it out on my own.”

“Well, maybe you should,” Nisha said, standing up. “Take the offensive for once in your life. Laugh in the face of death. Anyway, I gotta go. Maybe I’ll come by tomorrow. Think about it, at least.”

She did come again—several times a week, in fact, and Kermit did think about the idea. He could admit to himself that he was afraid—terrified, in fact—but he didn’t like being afraid. He hated it. His whole life had been one big defensive maneuver, dodging one potential danger after another—or as often as not, not dodging it. Finally, the week before he was released, he told Nisha that he would do it. He would go spelunking with her.

They went together a month later. Nisha picked him up and they drove for three hours out into the mountains on a dirt road. That ended and they walked another half hour to a dark cave mouth protruding from a moss-covered hillside. After they were suited up (Nisha triple-checked Kermit’s harness, with a wink and an amused smile), she led the way down into the darkness.

For Kermit, the initial climb down into the flashlit abyss was a mixture of terror and wonderstruck incredulity—terror that he might die at any moment, and incredulity that he had not already died. He fell down four times before they reached the first rest point, but although he was dirty and scraped, he was not bleeding or incapacitated. It seemed like a miracle.

Then came the big climb, an almost vertical drop of a hundred feet. The foot of the cliff sat next to a still pool of dark water.

“Do we have to?” Kermit asked, feeling faint at the mere sight. It made Russian roulette look like a safe bet.

“Well, we didn’t have to come down here at all,” Nisha said. “Don’t worry—there are lots of handholds and I’ll belay you down and up again. Okay?” He desperately wanted to refuse, but in the face of her indomitable optimism, he just nodded.

Somehow, he made it to the bottom. She lowered him slowly while he scrabbled ineffectively at the crevices and cracks in the rock face. She climbed down effortlessly after him and they had a snack at the bottom. After walking around and exploring a little, they decided to go back.

She was tying the rope onto her harness when she looked at him and asked, “Do you remember the Gray family?”

The shock Kermit felt could not have been greater if she had suddenly kicked him into the icy water behind him. “Why would bring that up?” he asked. “Oh God, why would mention that?”

She smiled, but her smile suddenly didn’t seem as pleasant. “So, you must remember George and Bertha Gray, whose son Brett you accidentally knocked under a school bus. You guys were in Grade 10, right? You remember the investigation, when the police acquitted you of any wrongdoing?”

Kermit just stared at her. “Why are you saying this?” he asked faintly. “Do you know how many nightmares I’ve had about that? It haunts me every single day.”

“Well, it haunts George and Bertha Gray too,” Nisha said. “They still hold you responsible. They had petitioned the school to have you removed on the grounds that you were a danger to the other students, but no one listened. And then you killed Brett. Anyway,” she continued, when she saw she wasn’t going to get a response, “the Grays paid me quite a bit of money to make sure you stay down in this cave. For Brett, but also for everyone else you are going to hurt or kill in your life through your…klutziness. Feel free to explore, but this cave has no exit except up this cliff. Okay?”


“Not my real name. Anyway, take care. Gotta go.” She started to climb, leaving him behind in the darkness.

For a moment, he watched her ascend, moving away from him. He had no ropes—not that it would have mattered if he had. He considered his options.

He would surely die if he stayed in the cave. He would surely fall if he tried to climb up. Dying by falling would be quicker and the further up he got, the more chance that he would die on impact. He took off his helmet and started to climb.

It was strange to be climbing without hope, to be climbing up only because it was the fastest way down. He searched for handholds in the dark, not worrying about how close he was to the top, but only trying to get a minimum distance from the bottom before he fell. Several times, he slipped, but he hung on and pulled himself back up. After a few minutes, he reached up and felt something hard and rubbery. It kicked when he grabbed it. It was Nisha’s boot. He had caught up with her.

“What are you doing? Let go of me!” she cried, kicking down at him more ferociously. Her heel smashed against his forehead and he fell back, grasping blindly as he did. He grabbed her boot and heard a shriek as she tumbled over him and down into the darkness. He heard a snap as the rope pulled up savagely on her body and slammed it into the wall.

Kermit opened his eyes to see that he was clinging to the rope that was now stretched taut from Nisha’s weight. He also saw that he was within three feet of the top. Miracles abounded that day: he made it to the top.

“I’m sorry,” he called down. “I think some of my bad luck rubbed off on you after all. Maybe we just traded.” Then he felt bad and climbed out and called 911.

*         *         *

The paramedics came, eventually, and incredibly, Nisha was not dead. A day later, Kermit was in the hospital waiting room with Grandpa Spencer and Bobbie Sue while Nisha was being operated on. Tookie was chewing thoughtfully on a nearby plastic plant when a surgeon came out.

“Well, she’ll survive,” he said. “We repaired a lot of the damage, although her spinal cord was broken—she’ll never walk again. Actually, I’m surprised she survived at all. She’s incredibly lucky.”

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