Fire! (Part 28)

March 4, 2014 § 10 Comments

Rather than take the ferry back, they left the beach and continued up the peninsula, cut over at High Island, and went north to I-10.

“Aren’t there going to be a lot of cops on the Interstate?” Turner asked.

“Yeah. But we’ll draw a lot more attention driving through little towns off the main road at 2:00 AM than we will on the highway.”

“We’re gonna get busted,” Turner said. What had begun as a happy, pleasant high started to creep ever so slightly to the edge of paranoia. He settled back into the vinyl seat awaiting the monster. This is how it always was and this was why he’d stopped smoking dope in junior high school. He loved that first buzz, but the paranoia ate him alive. His mind lingered for a moment on the word “busted.”

“Have you ever been to jail, Clem?”

She was giggly and happy. “Sure. That beach weed making you curious? That’s a very un-Turnerlike question.”

Then it flipped. The good vibe was gone, instantly overwhelmed by terror. Every car was either a cruiser or an undercover policeman. Turner coiled up into a fetal ball even though he was still sitting upright. The speeding Impala took him right back to that summer morning waiting for the white-and-yellow HouTran bus to haul him to Sharpstown High, “A secondary school named after a fucking real estate swindler,” he thought.

Wayne had passed around the little one-hit pipe and when the bus picked them up they were stoned solid. By eight o’clock on a June morning in Houston they were already soaked to the skin in sweat and humidity, and the doors to the air-conditioned bus opened like the gates of heaven. They stumbled to the back of the bus and Turner wedged himself up against the window, but after a few minutes he had become so paranoid about getting caught while stoned he stopped looking out the window and repeatedly blew his breath into his cupped palm then inhaled it. “Does that smell like I’m stoned?” he kept asking himself, repeating the breath test over and over.

“What the fuck are you doing?” Julio asked him.

“I’m checking to see if my breath smells like I’m stoned.”

“Fuck yeah you smell like you’re stoned, and even if you didn’t you look totally wasted. Open your fucking eyes, dude, they’re hanging three-quarters shut. And use some of this.” He handed Turner a plastic bottle of Visine. Then they all laughed and Turner forgot about the spies and the friends of his parents who were riding the bus waiting to rat him out. The bus driver kept glowering at them in the giant rearview mirror. “He knows we’re stoned,” Turner thought, falling into the paranoid hole again. “I wonder if he knows Dad?”

In order to force his mind out the bad place it had fallen into, Turner focused all of his attention on the pull cable that ran the length of the bus. The cable was attached at regular intervals to small rectangular sockets, and when you yanked the cable, the socket let out a ring and the driver knew to let you out at the next stop. One of those sockets was right above Turner’s head, next to the electrical panel that operated the rear doors.

The paranoia, unfortunately, was becoming something much worse. Turner knew that you couldn’t hallucinate on pot, but he was starting to hallucinate. It was scaring him out of his mind. The harder he looked at the socket and the electrical panel by the doors, the crazier things got. The bus stopped to let off a passenger and the electrical panel appeared to break out in flames.

“Oh, shit,” Turner thought. “If I get up and jump off the bus everyone’s going to know I’m stoned. But if I stay here I’ll get burned to death. But if it’s just a hallucination so all I have to do is stay calm. Just stay calm. Unless of course it really is on fire.” This terrible trap of three untenable options raced on, over and over in an infinite loop. His heart was racing as his mind toyed with the flames that were now jumping and leaping out of the electrical panel.

“Pretty soon the bus will catch on fire,” he said. “I’m so fucking stoned. This is the most stoned I’ve ever been. I wish we’d hurry up and get to school. I’m really not that stoned. I’m so fucking stoned.” He looked out the window and saw the debarked passengers, then looked back at the burning interior of the bus and its magical hues, then put his head between his knees, resisting every fiber in his being that urged him to shout out “Fire! Fire!”

“First of all it’s a felony to yell ‘Fire!’ in a crowded movie theater, so on a bus it must be, too. Second of all everyone’s gonna look at me like I’m insane. Third they’re all gonna figure out I’m stoned and then I’m really gonna be in trouble.” The infinite loop of bad choices played over and over, speeding up until it was one continuous stream of catastrophes that froze him in place. “Maybe when I look up my head will be put back on right,” he thought. “Maybe I’ll start coming down.”

He raised his head just as the shape of the giant bus driver appeared out of the smoke. “What’s wrong with you, you crazy little motherfucker?” the driver was screaming. “You wanna fucking burn to death back here?” He grabbed Turner by the collar, jerked him over the seat, and leaped off the bus through the flames, finally throwing Turner on the grass. “What they fuck is wrong with you? What the fuck is WRONG?” the bus driver screamed.

The bus was now engulfed in flames, and Wayne and Julio were standing off to the side with the other passengers. “What was that all about?” asked Wayne. “You was just sitting on that damned bus like you was gonna burn yourself up inside it.”

Turner shook his head, then his whole body convulsed. “That’s it,” he said. “No more drugs for me.”

———————————

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