[March Featured Short Story] The Bus to Haifa by Heidi Slowinski

Monthly Short Story Feature

One of my writing goals for 2022 is to create more short stories. They’re a good creative exercise and sometimes lead to bigger ideas for novels. Or who knows, maybe an eventual collection of short stories in the form of a new book.

The story I’ve selected for this month is based on a writing prompt I was given by a friend of mine. I started working on the story. It ended up in the folder to be completed later. Then the world turned upside down and the file sat, collecting virtual dust until I finally finished the most recent round of edits on my current book-in-progress. I dusted it off in time for this month’s feature. Please considering sharing your thoughts in the comments!

The Bus to Haifa

               Something metallic flavored her mouth as Lucy forced her eyes open, blinking but unable to focus. There was no rhythmic sway of the bus. All was quiet. As the fog in Lucy’s head started to lift, she felt something sharp piercing her side. Something was pinning her body down. She couldn’t move.

               Lucy managed to turn her head, trying to make sense of the world around her. The air smelled of smoke. To her left, she could only make out a dim red glow. The bus wasn’t moving. Directly in front of her, all was black. The bright white light to the right was blinding. She squinted hard in the harsh light but Lucy couldn’t focus. Where were they? How long had they been stopped? And why was it so quiet?

               Lucy drew in a deep breath as the fear and confusion started to creep in. It’s a puzzle she told herself, like the ones Ms Thomas gave them in math class. She just had to use what she knew to solve it.

               “I’m on a bus,” she thought. “I am with my aunt. We are going to Haifa, to the beach. We are going to swim in the sea.” Lucy smiled at this. She loved swimming in the sea. It was a special trip she took with her aunt every year, for her birthday. Lucy shook off the thought. She needed to focus on the here and now. Something was wrong. “The bus isn’t moving. It’s dark and it’s quiet. And I can’t seem to move.” Lucy turned her head slowly from side to side. Moving to fast made it throb. This was all the information she had. She let out a little puff from her nose in frustration. If she was going to solve this puzzle, she needed more to go on. She needed to move.

               Lucy tried to lift her head. A sudden wave of nausea wracked her body like nothing she had ever felt before. She laid her head back down.

               “Start smaller,” she thought So she wiggled her fingers. All ten seemed to work and they didn’t hurt. Slowly, she picked up her left arm, then her right. Those were both free. Lucy held her hands out in front of her face. She could just make out her hands, in the dim light but only if she didn’t hold them too far away. Lucy moved on to her toes next. The right ones wouldn’t move. She couldn’t feel them. It was like they weren’t there. She tried to bend her right knee and shift her right leg. It wouldn’t move. She tried the toes on her left foot. Her toes wiggled, her ankle turned. Her leg felt heavy but she could move it.

               Lucy raised herself up on her elbows. When had she laid down? Where was her aunt? And why was it still so quiet? Her thoughts blurred as she suddenly wretched. The sour contents of her stomach filled her mouth. Lucy managed to turn to her side, avoiding getting the mess on herself. Her head throbbed. She held herself as still as she could manage but the dizziness didn’t pass. She leaned further to the left where her shoulder met something firm, covered in a scratchy fabric. Lucy leaned against it hoping to still the rolling in her stomach. Her eyes grew heavy and she dozed.

               When Lucy opened her eyes again, dawn was starting to break. She could see a little better now. The firm thing with the scratchy fabric was the side of a bus seat. Slowly, carefully, she started to glance around. Lucy’s brow knitted in confusion as she took in the scene around her. Nothing made any sense. The bus seemed to be on its side. Lucy closed her eyes again. She counted to eighteen. Her aunt always said to count to eighteen, that it was good luck.                Lucy opened her eyes again, looking toward her toes as she remembered not being able to move her right leg. She wretched suddenly again. The young soldier, who was seated across from her and Aunt Nina was lying on top of her right leg. Panic rose in Lucy as she tried to pull her leg free. It wouldn’t move. Neither did the young soldier. Slowly, Lucy reached out her hand, lightly touching his

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shoulder. She pushed his shoulder. Nothing. She tried again, firmer this time. Nothing. Lucy leaned, trying to see his face. A small trail of blood ran from his ear. His eyes were open. He didn’t blink. Lucy reached out her hand again, this time touching his face. She jerked her band back, shocked. It was cold. Fear rose up in her again. She opened her mouth to scream but nothing came out. Her head throbbed. Lucy leaned over to the side of the seat again, closing her eyes.

               She must be dreaming. She would close her eyes and soon, when she woke up, everything would be as it was supposed to be again. Aunt Nina would be next to her, the bus would be swaying rhythmically as they made their way to the beach. Everything would be alright. Lucy gave herself over to sleep again.

               This time, when Lucy opened her eyes, the sun was fully up. Her head hurt but it wasn’t throbbing like before. The day was growing hot but Lucy shivered as she looked back at the soldier, still on top of her leg. She tried to wiggle it, just a little. But it didn’t move.

               “I’m going to be trapped here for the rest of my life if I don’t get my leg free,” Lucy thought. “I need to find Aunt Nina. I can’t stay here.”

               With a new sense of urgency, Lucy summoned her strength and pulled her leg. She groaned and grunted with the effort. It started to move. Lucy sat back a minute let her breath slow. Then she screwed up her face, mustered her strength and started again. Finally, her leg came free. She collapsed back again, slowing her breath again. Her muscles ached as she tried to move.

               As she tried to stand, her legs buckled underneath her and Lucy crumpled back. She tried again and managed to right herself. Holding onto the edge of a seat, Lucy finally took in the scene around her. The bus was on its side. People were scattered everywhere. They looked like dolls, discarded haphazardly, strewn this way and that. No one moved. The only sound was the wind outside. Lucy shivered.

               “Hello?” she said timidly. “Hello?” louder this time. There was no response. She didn’t see Aunt Nina anywhere. Lucy looked around for a path out. The door, at the front of the bus, was up in the air and too high for Lucy to reach. She might be able to reach the emergency door in the back. She had to try.

               Lucy pulled herself up onto the sides of the seats and started to crawl. It was slow going as pain shot through her as she put weight on her left leg and she had to navigate around people scattered across the seats.

               Lucy finally reached the back of the bus. The handle on the emergency door wouldn’t move. Lucy started to panic. She pushed harder then she tried to raddle the handle. It still wouldn’t move. Lucy collapsed on the side of the seat and sobbed. She looked back up at the door letting out a shaky breath. Then she realized she was trying to move the handle the wrong way. Lucy wiped the tears away and took a few deep breaths. Then she stood and reached for the handle. This time it slid easily. Lucy used the top of her head and pushed with her legs to get the door open. She struggled to pull herself up and get one of her legs up. As she pulled herself through the doorway, she lost her balance, her grip slipping on the narrow wall of the bus and she tumbled to the ground.

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               Lucy lay on her back, gasping to get air back into her lungs. Her arms and legs splayed around her. As she regained her breath, Lucy closed her eyes. The sun was high overhead. She lifted herself up and scooted back to rest against the back of the bus. Lucy took in the scene around her. Nothing was familiar. She made the trip with Aunt Nina before but she remembered nothing of the scene around her now. They seemed to be in the middle of nowhere. Lucy’s stomach groaned. She wrapped her arms around herself and drifted off to sleep.

               When she woke, the sun was beginning to set. The heat of the day was giving way to the cool night. Lucy shivered. Her body ached and her mouth felt like it was full of dust. She pulled her arms tighter around herself and drifted back to sleep. Lucy fell into a fitful dream, surrounded by people with jugs and jars and bottles of water. When she opened her mouth to ask for a drink, no sound would come out. She could only whimper. No one seemed to see her. Suddenly the faceless hoard started shouting but Lucy couldn’t understand the words.

               “I need a medic over here. There’s a little girl. She’s still breathing,” came a gruff voice of a man. She felt someone poking and prodding her.

               “Can you open your eyes for me, sweetie,” a softer woman’s voice asked.

               Slowly, Lucy managed to open her eyes. As her eyes adjusted to the harsh floodlights around the bus, she recognized the IDF uniforms of the two people on either side of her.

               “That’s it little one. It’s okay. You’re safe now,” assured the woman.

Need a Writing Prompt:

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