... the bus bounced over the road straddling a baked pile of hair that had once been alive and flattened a reptile that frantically tried to outrun it’s impending doom while inside the bus Ruby’s heart became ever more hardened as her defenses tried to overcome her inevitable defeat. She sat directly behind the driver, hoping for some respite from his proximity all the while knowing deep down that there would be none. Her measured breath didn’t waver as her fellow passengers tormented her, pulling out her hair one strand at a time to keep a morbid count of cruel comments and crude jokes. The driver looked on through the huge mirror, his eyes pivoting up to revel in her misery as if they acted without permission whispering secrets to his lips, causing them to curl in a crooked sneer while his lone tooth pressed into his bottom lip trying to catch a glimpse as well. Ruby looked straight ahead, deliberately away from the mirror and the rolling eyes, the spying tooth and the laughing faces that all gathered around the back of her head.
As the journey continued and the sting of her head intensified, Ruby’s vision began to close in until all she could see was the driver’s hair split in sweaty lines down the back of his head, she watched the beads of sweat drip down the passages they had created, absorbing into the surrounding clumps of hair along the way. His hair was black, like the window, the mirror, and her insides had become, she could feel her fingertips tingle, the sting of her hair now familiar, the sound of her pulse a steady whoosh and her breath a measured beat. It wasn’t unusual, this bus ride, but somehow it was unbearable this time and she knew beyond all doubt it would be her last.
When they reached the school and the doors had at last swung open, Ruby waited, still staring straight ahead with her muscles locked to prevent as much movement as she could when the rest of the occupants walked by and slapped her on the back of the head. At last she was alone in the bus with the driver, his eyes now reconnected and obedient.
“Come on, hurry up, it’s time to go.” His tooth flapped.
“Asshole” Ruby stood up, eyes locked on his through the mirror, as she walked past ,him to go down the steps, she looked away and he reached out to let his hand glide across her behind. A low moan escaped the tooth.
Her determination mounted then as her heart beat in her throat. She stood on the blacktop and felt the heat through the thin soles of her shoes as she looked across the playground through the chain link that surrounded it. She heard the doors of the bus seal behind her and felt the rumble of it pulling away under her feet.
The bus that came from the wastelands on the Nevada border was always the last to arrive, Ruby simply turned around, her back to the school and walked the opposite direction.
The highway bordered the school on one side, a ribbon that ran from San Diego to Canada, 1300 miles of possibilities. Ruby didn’t know how far that strip of pavement stretched, she only knew it went away and she needed to go with it. As she turned the corner and her foot touched the place that she had gazed at for so long from behind the chain link, she felt a tingle of magic travel up her leg to fill her heart with hope and she laughed out loud. Before her the four lanes stretched and the ground vibrated with traffic, only ten steps and she was out of sight of the school blocked by a two story apartment building. She walked on passing a row of shops, a bakery with smells that made her knees weak, and the post office until she came to Giggle Springs, the gas station and convenience store they passed on the bus. The place she had heard everyone talk about, the home of candy and gum and googled eyed key chains. She knew that this was the gateway to her new life, far away from her old one…
She marched toward the store, it had a grand entrance with sweeping stairs that approached from all sides. She walked through the cars getting gas, at eye level with cooking butterfly covered grills. Across the parking lot she sauntered and as she started up the stairs she instantly became a princess being carried, at last, to her destiny.
The doors were heavy and it took all her might to pull one open enough to slip a skinny leg through. The air was cold and it smelled like popcorn, there was no spring with giggling creatures playing, there was no magical godmother. Only wrangler clad men and gum smacking women. She backed against the door and pushed again slipping her skinny leg into the heat. Before she had a chance to contemplate or become discouraged she heard a bark, the bark of a man, angry, disappointed and after her.
“Hey! Stop right there!” it wasn’t a question, there was no concern and it made her run. She bolted down the same sweeping steps, that moments earlier had been her palace entrance. She ran around the side of the building and saw a huge truck pulling two gigantic tanks, the driver’s door was open with an empty seat perched high above the ground. The driver’s feet were small on the other side of the truck. She used her hands to boost herself to the first step, skinning her knee on the rough metal, then she dove to the floor of the truck through gravel, climbing onto the seat and scrambling to the back…