• Styles Yugen

Melancholia

You’re on the bus that is your life. It bumps over the uneven road, chugging and struggling with its old, weak, and unkempt engine to pull the equally battered and ragtag bus to the next station. The seats smell of dirt and sweat and the air conditioning never worked in the first place.

You’re not the driver of the bus that is your life. You’re the navigator, but you can’t tell which way is up on your map and whether it’s even for roads and not trains. Coffee stains dot the thing and you know your destination is in the faded part of the map--if you’re lucky enough that it’s not missing altogether.

You’re not able to stop the driver from running off the road. In that moment you’re a passenger on that bus that is your life. It flips once. The side panels get dented and crushed, and what little was left of the original paint is scraped off by the broken guardrail.

But then you come to a stop. You made it without a scratch. Your map is missing, the driver’s dead, and the pitiful engine doesn't run anymore. Then water starts seeping in around your feet and it’s then that you realize you’re sinking into a bottomless river. It’s cold and frigid, and everything you hate about water.


The bus that is your life is sinking and you’re trapped. All hope is lost. All daylight fades into twilight, then darkness. You take your last gasp of air as the bus fills with water, then you’re submerged. Your skin goes numb and your nose fills with water, but even past all that the pit of your stomach falls out: the bus hasn’t hit the bottom of the bottomless river.


It keeps sinking. The pressure isn’t painful at first, but then it crushes your chest. Your ears cry out. The water is pitch black now, just as much as a moonless, cloudy night in the middle of a storm. You know you can’t hold on much longer as bubbles escape from your lips.

It’s hopeless, that bus that is your life. It’s going to keep sinking forever in that river without a bottom until you’re dead and forgotten, nothing but dust in the wind and bones stuck in the mud of a soggy ditch.


But then you remember the emergency escape. You can swim. You’ve held your breath far longer before--this is nothing.


The escape is jammed shut and no matter how hard you push, it won’t move. You start to panic. Your movements become frantic, jerky, and everything you know they shouldn’t be. Dimly, the back of your mind tells you to let go, to let the bus that is your life take you to the bottom of the bottomless river. It’s seductive, that thought. No more navigation. No more maps. No more troubles.


But then you remember why you were on that bus in the first place. All the amazing places you have left to see at all the stations. Do you really need the bus that is your life to see those things?


No, you decide, kicking out a window and swimming free. Your head’s pounding now, and your chest aches for breath, but you’re determined. The bus that is your life vanishes into the dark abyss below your feet and you swim up--endlessly, stroke after stroke, never quite able to take the last stroke to break the surface.

There’s someone hanging onto your foot, pulling you down. You know it to be the driver, the one you mistakenly took to be dead. They’re pulling you down in the river without a bottom; they’re trying to keep you there forever--none can live without the bus that is their life. Without the bus, there is nothing to take you from place to place, nothing to whisk you to where you want to be--or at least close to where you want to be.


You kick the driver in the face but their grip redoubles. It’s hopeless. You’re going to drown. It doesn’t matter that the bus that was your life vanished into the abyss--it’s still weighing you down. You look up. The surface is just beyond reach, just beyond your fingertips is the air your chest so badly aches for.


It’s agonizing now, your lungs burn and your chest convulses. It’s all you can do to keep water out of your mouth as it gushes into your sinuses. You know it’s because you’re not on the bus that was your life. You’re not comfortable because you left it.


But you decide to live.


You kick the driver in the face again. And again. And again until he lets go and sinks to the bottom of the river without a bottom. Then with one stroke: air.


Crawling onto the bank, you see the place where the bus plunged off the bridge into the river without a bottom. The guardrail has long since gone unrepaired, the doom of many busses other than yours. But you made it; you’re here, breathing and gasping for air while your bus sinks to the bottom of a bottomless river.


It’s narrower than you remember, you think, getting to your feet. No matter. You have a choice: left or right. There’s a road and you know where it came from, and where it’s going. While you’re fighting with the indecision of the safest decision, the sun rises. Golden rays of light over rolling grassy plains. Flowering trees dot the flowing landscape and you realize there is no road to the sun.


Looking left, looking right, the road leads into the grey, those bottomless places on your map so many have fallen prey to.


But then you take the first step on your own path, one without a map, or a bus that is your life. You take a step towards the sun. It’s warm on your face and you remember the danger of forging your own path.


None survive.


But maybe, and just maybe, it’s because they don’t want to come back.


You decide to find out and take the second step.


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Science Fiction and the pursuit of escapism, 2020.