This story was written for the November 2016 Monthly Short Story Writing Challenge held by our writing community at the EA Forums. If you write SimLit, we’d love to have you join us! We have a new challenge each month!
Sasha Clairborne checked the text she’d saved on her phone. This was where Aunt Erika said to meet her, right?
Take the #100 Bus. Get off at the fifth stop.
She was pretty sure this was the fifth stop. The stop before they crossed the bridge didn’t count, right? Or did it? And what about the one on the island?
Actually, she’d stopped counting once they entered the city. But this felt like the fifth stop.
She still couldn’t believe that her dad had let her come into San Myshuno all by herself. He was usually so protective!
But it was to meet his sister, after all.
“You’ll do fine,” he said. “Just catch the #100 express bus after school, ride it into the city, and your aunt will be there to meet you. Just be sure you get off at the right stop.”
And then he’d droned on for five hours about which stop was the right one and how she’d be able to tell, and, honestly, she hadn’t listened to a word. She was too excited!
And now she was in the city, walking along the waterfront–hadn’t her dad said something about the wharf?– and it smelled like crabs and sourdough bread and it sounded like seagulls and the quiet lap, lap of the soft waves.
Maybe she could move here one day.
Sasha looked across the bay to the hills. She and her dad lived on the other side of those hills. What had her dad said about the wharf?
“Ride past the wharf. Don’t get off. Keep going until you get into the city itself.”
Oh, crum. She’d gotten off. And here she was, and of course her aunt was nowhere to be seen.
She walked back to the street. There had to be a bus stop somewhere along here.
Finally she found one, but it was for Bus #95. Where was the #100 stop? She didn’t even see anybody she could ask.
She walked for a long ways. Still nobody. The smells of the wharf faded, as did the cries of the seagulls. Now she heard sparrows in the green spaces that lined the city blocks. She heard the clanging of a street car. She smelled cinnamon buns and chocolate. Where was everybody?
She passed the #87 bus route. Maybe she should just ride it. It would have to intersect with the #100 bus route somewhere, wouldn’t it?
She hopped on and rode it through the streets.
She tried to work up her nerve to ask the driver or one of the other passengers where she could catch the #100 bus. But the driver seemed to be concentrating on driving the bus. And the other passengers, frankly, looked a little scary. They didn’t smell too good, either. They smelled like whisky and pee.
At last, she moved to the front seat, and whispered, “Where can I catch the Number 100?”
Five blocks later, she coughed demurely. “The Number 100 bus?” she asked. “Where can I catch it?”
The driver stopped suddenly at a bus stop.
“Get off here,” he said. “Walk through the park. You’ll can catch it on Gilroy.”
She thanked him. At the edge of the park, she saw a busy street that must be Gilroy. But which direction? She pulled out her phone to call her aunt. She hated to admit that she was completely and totally lost. But even more, she hated that if she didn’t get found real quick, she’d be totally and completely late.
Her cell phone was dead. Figured.
She decided she’d catch whichever #100 bus came first, the westbound or the eastbound. Since she had no idea which direction she should go, she’d leave it to fate.
The eastbound took her deeper into the city. The man in the seat next to her plugged his phone into a charger connected to the back of the seat in front of them.
“Can I do that?” she asked. He nodded. She plugged in her phone as the bus headed east toward the Art District.
“I think this is where I’m supposed to be,” she said, and she hopped off the bus.
She smelled roasting coffee beans and spaghetti sauce. She heard a Bach violin partita and the cooing of pigeons.
In the square, the violinist was someone Sasha recognized from one of her dad’s old vinyls. It was Jade Cahill. Her phone had enough charge that she could take a photo of Jade. Dad would go crazy when he saw this. Even if he got mad at her for getting lost, this would almost make up for it. She snapped the photo and the phone died again.
The wind blew in from the west, carrying a chill. It was getting late. The moon rose, and Sasha tried to remember what time her aunt asked her to meet her. Was it five? Five-thirty? And what time did the moon rise, anyway? Oh, God. She was so late!
Jade Cahill packed up her violin. Stillness fell for a moment, and then Sasha heard the chanting of a crowd.
“A hundred voices for a hundred trees!” They were protesting a plan to expand the freeway that ran through the redwood forest near her home.
She picked up a megaphone and joined them. “Woodman! Spare that tree!”
She felt really powerful. She was late, but so what? She was lost, but who cared? She could always catch the late #100 and ride it back home, and even if she didn’t know which direction to head, she’d just ride it to the end of the line, and then turn around, and ride it through the city, over the bridge, across the island, over the hill, and back home. And when her dad saw the pic of Jade, and when her aunt heard about the protest, all would be forgiven, and she’d be cool again. After she was done being grounded, that is.
She yelled some more. “More trees! Less cars!”
Maybe it wouldn’t do any good, but it felt great. She thought maybe, if she kept this feeling when she got back home, she could talk to her dad and her friends at school, and maybe they could harness this feeling to some kind of action that might actually make a difference. Like a petition. Or a letter to a congress person. She didn’t know. But it was worth trying.
She was still yelling when she heard somebody else yelling her name.
It took a while to register. Then she turned around, and there was Aunt Erika walking briskly towards her! Was it five-thirty? Her aunt didn’t look worried.
“There you are!” said Aunt Erika. “Sorry I’m late. Work kept me longer than I’d planned. I hope I didn’t keep you waiting!”
“Only a little bit,” said Sasha.
“And how was the bus ride in? Piece of cake, right? Just take the #100 and get off at the fifth stop and here you are! Practically at my doorstop!”
Easier said than done, thought Sasha. And then she smiled to herself. What an adventure! And she wasn’t grounded, after all. And what they didn’t know couldn’t hurt them. And next time, maybe she’d ride the westbound line, just to see what she might discover!