I was on a side road, somewhere to the edge of the city. I had left for Brasov, but I had lost the road and, as I did not know exactly how to get to the railway, I had started it forward, hoping to find a kind motorist to take me to my destination.
It wasn’t that way, and I had to walk a few miles. The drizzle was dark outside. I would have given anything, at that time, to be in my own apartment or at a canteen, in front of a hot soup and a glass of boiled wine. The cold was getting into my bones, and the landscape was rather inhospitable.
After a long time, I saw a bus stop. I quickly turned to her, and when I saw the lights of two car headlights in the distance, I thought I had found my salvation.
The bus approached and slowly arrived at the station. I didn’t even look to see where the race was going, it was too cold and I felt too tired. I thought that even if he didn’t get to Brasov, there was still a chance to find the railway.
I came in with a sense of relief. I sat in a free chair and looked around. There were about 20 passengers.
I told myself that I had to arm myself with patience and be prepared for any eventuality - the road could be quite long.
I looked a little to my right – in the next chair stood an old man of about 70 years.
Maybe it wouldn’t ruin a little conversation. I asked him “out of my eyes” if I was disturbing and, as he signaled me not, I sat next to him.
He had a grimace as if he hadn’t recovered well from a cough or something like that, then he started talking to me.
“I, unlike these young men of our time, have passed the war. Bombs, shrapnel, machine gun bursts - all this, every day, without knowing whether you will escape alive or not. Aerial alarms, bombings, blood being shot everywhere. You know, of course, how all this is.”
“From hearing,” I confessed.
“I don’t care about politics, I don’t care about who was right and who wasn’t. What really matters is that such horrors never happen again. To leave a family without parents, to kill even the children, to destroy all that is good in a man - this must not happen again.
Ask me how I survived and I will tell you: Simple. Like Russian roulette. Every time I was lucky to escape, not to get the bullet or the bomb on me. But ask me how I managed to stay whole in my mind, not go mad, and I will answer you with the same sincerity: I have no idea. It is a miracle that this happened, after seeing so many atrocities, after death appeared before me every day.”
I wanted to ask him if he now has someone, family or some ex-comrade to meet with, but just then something very strange happened.
The veteran suddenly fell silent, his face muscles became inert, and his eyes were still and glassed.
Intrigued beyond measure, I touched it gently on my shoulder and felt like I was touching a plastic body. I kept looking at him carefully, he said nothing, and his face and body remained inert. I was left with the bizarre feeling that next to me was a doll that was only for a few moments animated, a talking mannequin that now seemed to be forever silent.
I moved away from him and sat in my chair again. The bus was driving mechanically at a very high speed. The rain was raining in the window, and I still didn’t know where I was going.
I went a few miles this way. Then I looked at the chair in front of me - a strange, bearded individual signaled me to approach.
Politely, I could not refuse him. I asked him if he wanted a little coffee (I still had it in the thermos) and he signaled that he didn’t. Soon I realized that, like the old man who had gone through the war, he had a story to tell and I wanted to listen patiently.
“You never know if the person next to you is a murderer or a saint. You look at him, you ask him what time it is, or if he has a family at home to wait for him, but you don’t know anything about him, what’s in his heart and mind, whether he’s normal or not, whether he’s lying or telling you the truth.”
“That’s right,” I answered laconically, cautiously. I didn’t understand where he wanted to go.
“You don’t know,” he continued, as if not paying attention to me, “whether, in the very moments following the one in which you first met, he will put the knife in you or not,” he said undisturbed, in a strange tone.
I was beginning to feel totally uncomfortable in this discussion.
“Is It a threat?” I asked, not wanting to attack, but at the same time trying to put him on guard that I realized that something was wrong and suggesting, perhaps, that I could defend myself if necessary.
“It’s a finding,” he replied briefly, in a tone that seemed cynical to me. “There are things that happen every day. We live in a world where murder, torture, rape or theft are the order of the day. Nothing needs to be left to me.”
“Yes,” I replied, as cautiously. “Nothing should ever be more to me.”
“Can you answer me with certainty,” said the man, as if suddenly animated, “whether I myself am a psychopath or a normal man, whether I drink blood or water after dinner?”
I was just as much in love with the conversation. But to withdraw suddenly would have been dangerous, would have been suspicious, or who knows what strange and violent mechanism might have triggered in it.
“I could, of course, ask you the same thing,” I replied, which seemed to me to be the most appropriate at the time. Like a chess player who moves a pawn to defend his king or queen.
But just when I was wondering what my strange interlocutor’s next move would be, the same thing happened when talking to the veteran.
The man remained immobile, his face became petrified, his mouth opened a little and remained so, unopened, without breathing.
I slowly pulled back to my chair and looked out the window. The rain was raining in the window, the edge of the forest could hardly be found.
I had already lost all hope that I would get to Brasov.
But even more important than my destination was to understand one thing: What was going on that bus? Who were the passengers, and though they seemed endowed not only with articulate speak but also with reason, why did they all feel as if they were touched by a curse? Why did I think I was surrounded by talking mannequins?
It was as if I was in full anticipation scenario, in a scene planned by H.G. Wells or Asimov.
But I was convinced that I was not dreaming, I was in a state that did not resemble the dream at all.
I looked a little behind me and something unexpected happened. In the back seat stood a young woman extremely attractive, strident and provocative farce.
I slowly approached her and the moment I felt her almost aphrodisiac scent I felt like I was going crazy: My nostrils were dilated, my heart started beating irregularly, I started thinking about how I could make her kiss.
Of course, all these purely physical desires did not make sense in a bus that seemed rather a terrible one, but I could not help it. The girl was so close and tempting...
“I think my purpose in this world is to seduce men. Young or old, inexperienced teenagers or mature men, European, African or Asian, none of them can resist me. It is enough to clear my chest a little... Look like that,” she said, moving his blouse a little and leaving his breasts almost in sight, “or showing my feet, kind of like that,” he said and lifted his skirt a little.
I was trembling.
“Don’t be surprised, you are an extremely beautiful woman,” I replied diplomatically.
“Have you ever touched pleasure on a bus?” she said, and raised her skirt a little.
“By myself, no,” I tried a joke that at that moment seemed to me to be a success.
I was just wondering how to get closer to my seductive neighbor, when the same thing happened as in previous events, but in her case the effect seemed even grotesque.
He simply stiffened, his face muscles became immobile, his whole body seemed like a mannequin in a window. When I saw his eyes fixed, glass, holding me in place without letting the slightest trace of life appear, I felt cold chills on my spine and almost fainted.
I slowly moved away from what had become a kind of dread doll, and for the first time since I got on the bus, I thought I’d better get off.
I had to ask the driver to stop.
I headed to the driver’s cabin, but the bus was shaking terribly, I would find myself hurled at one side, at the other, so I would move on, practically, very little.
I took a look at the other passengers. They were all immobile, fixed, like dummies thrown on chairs.
I have reached the space reserved for the driver after considerable effort, and what I have seen there I do not think I will ever forget:
The driver, as motionless as the passengers, held one hand on the steering wheel and one on the brake, without pushing too much on either. He had a pair of sunglasses, a mustache and a haircut like in 70. It was no different from the other mannequins that populated the bus, and under these circumstances the fact that the bus was going about 80 kilometers an hour without any accident was a miracle.
I tried to talk to him without success. In fact, not long after that, I gave up because I was afraid that if he too had been animated by absurdity, at least for a few minutes, like the other passengers, I could have distracted his attention, and then the car’s drift would have become inevitable.
I turned slowly, trembling with fear, back to my seat and looked out the window again.
I could see a bright, bright purple sun like I had never seen before, I realized that it was raining oil outside, and I could see some reindeer entirely from the ice moving backwards by bus.
I finally realized that I had entered a parallel world, with some similarities, but also – as the reader has already realized – with many differences from the world from which I came.
If this transition had been made from the beginning, since I was wandering on the highway, or if it had happened after I got on the bus, I couldn’t tell.
...It was late. Outside in the sky, the vernal moon was already seen, of a strange color and of a special shape, such as was not given to many mortals to see.
Translucent but living animals walk by the bus, cold flames spring from the asphalt, unseen artists complete the landscape.
When midnight arrived, 0.00 o'clock was displayed in the sky on a huge dial, which disappeared, but after about 30 seconds, as mysterious as it had appeared.
A hasty traveler got on the bus. It looked like a bank clerk or something like that.
I signaled him to come closer.
“Have you been in the area for a long time?” I asked him, but as he didn’t seem to be in a hurry to give me an answer, I continued: “I’m a writer. I once got lost trying to get to Brasov, then I took part in increasingly strange events. I gave up trying to understand what was going on, but I pray that nothing else will happen and, above all, that the bus will not get into an accident. The driver, at least, doesn’t seem to be able to provide him with a steering.”
He looked at me for a few seconds without saying anything.
“Of course, I would like to see tomorrow, for example, the rising of the violet sun, but I don’t know if tomorrow I will be here or if there is tomorrow or there is time in this world. You see, if there is time here…” I said, then my muscles became immobile, my body became stiff, and my eyes suddenly became glassy, cold.