On the bus again

Milo stood a moment, clutching the coins. Spying a coffee shop across the street and down a bit, he lurched toward it, after a cup of something to help him back to the land of dense being.

When he reached the Starlite Cafe, it was empty. It seemed to be very early in the morning when Milo eyed the clock, but his brain cells were still too scrambled to make any real sense of it yet. He took a seat at the counter, where after a longish wait, it became apparent that there was no cook or waitress. As he stood, slightly baffled, he caught a movement outside the cafe's plate glass front. It was another bus pulling up, empty windows lit like a chain drugstore display artist's high-wattage wet dream. Milo took this as a sign, and somehow floated out to the stop on the sidewalk. The bus door hissed open. He pulled out the change he had scammed moments earlier, handed it to yet another bus driver, and took a seat.

Milo carefully collected his thoughts. They were a paltry fistful, but he understood a few things: he knew that he had, in Alphonse's low-rent rendezvous, evaded either the man code-named Sartre, or the CIA, or the Mossad. Maybe all three. It had been a hell of an explosion, for plain natural gas. He had hung onto the thermosful of lime jello that he was beginning to regard, against all of his empirical training in physics, as magic. And, somewhere before the ill-fated parley, he had managed to check out, and mentally clear from his list, three-quarters of the mini-mall coin laundromats in the Chicago phone book. Most shocking of all, he was still alive.

Against the odds, he felt at temporary peace, as the labouring diesel buried under the last pink-orange naugahyde bench seat shuddered him through the early dawn, past squat, sterile suburban schools, shopping malls and fast-food joints.

"You're either on the bus, or you're off the bus," he thought wryly, as the stark, sometimes neon landscape slid by. And he was back on. He hummed absently to himself.

"Chicago, Chicago,
It's my kinda town,
My kinda town..."

A glassed-in shelter loomed on the boulevard though the windshield, and the bus slowed and stopped to pull another passenger up from the asphalt wasteland.

She was immaculately dressed, hair teased and sprayed to magazine perfection, heavy make-up, cover-girl dramatic. But as she walked down the aisle toward him, Milo realized her eyes were so close together that he seriously doubted any claim she might make to stereo vision. They were the tiny, flat, disinterested and dewlapped orbs of a pig.

Milo tensed beneath his cheesy imitation Burberry trench coat, suspecting the worst as a nagging heavy black marble of a doubt and fear went nova in his gut. Maybe he hadn't shaken Sartre's agents after all... Spotting the CIA and the Mossad had been child's play; they always betrayed themselves with bulging shoulder holsters and those nasty little snap brim hats they insisted on wearing, out of style everywhere but in Brooks Brothers ads. But Sartre! Sartre was subtle and sinister, like the sibilant snakes that had invaded the edges of Milo's dreams during his last bout of delirium tremens.

Pig Lady sashayed closer, towering on thin, clicking stiletto spikes. She led with her pelvis like a budget runway model, her mandibles rotating with faint slurping noises, like those of a cow with cud.

"Too perfect," thought Milo. "She's disguised as a K-Mart salesgirl, but all the details are too right... no salesgirl is that together. There's usually a tag hanging out somewhere."

He surreptitiously grasped the emergency exit bar beneath the window, readied himself to pull and leap in one motion, mentally scrabbling to remember anything he'd read about paratroopers landing and rolling in high winds. The bus picked up speed, a suppository capsule of gelatinous light penetrating into the neon colon of inner-city Chicago.

The porcine creature drew abreast of him. Her carefully-drawn ruby pout tentatively parted, as if to speak. Milo's nerve endings shrieked, a hairsbreadth away from tripping his launch through the window. She loosed a long, foul-smelling stream of tobacco juice on the gray-ribbed vinyl flooring near his feet. Then she wiped her chin and tottered noisily past him without speaking. Milo slumped gratefully and relaxed for the rest of the ride to the Harbour Light Single Men's Hostel. She wasn't perfect after all. She should have spit out a wad of Double Bubble.

So. He had evaded Sartre's, and everybody else's, agents.

But still, somewhere out there, a commerical triple-load washing machine equipped with a highly-optional fractal fusion device was waiting for him. Optional, in fact, to the point that it not only violated the terms of all known world treaties governing weapons of mass destruction, but several commonly-held laws of nature and physics. And he'd invented the little motherfucker, and he was going to have to make it all right somehow, before the universe disappeared...