The shuttle to Blackhawk Casinos was late, and the man was getting nervous.
The shuttle was never late, and the man was never late, and while the shuttle still had one minute to arrive, there was no way that everyone would be able to load the shuttle and get on the road during the possible one minute span, though now that he looked around there didn’t seem to be the normal assortment of retirees and grey-haired penny-pinchers that the man normally took great lengths to avoid, but could never fully distance himself from, and if he had a car, if Joan hadn’t been so clutchingly tight-fisted, then he wouldn’t have to take his meager check up the hill and ride this foul smelling shuttle, but as he looked around now there weren’t that many people waiting, there weren’t any people waiting, and he walked next door to the coin-operated laundromat, which was also empty, and the digital clock on the wall showed that the date was correct, the shuttle should be here, and now, officially the shuttle was late.
He took a deep breath and lit a cigarette and put it out in case the shuttle pulled up, which it did not, and then kicked the crushed butt into the street. It was a feeble kick and he knew it was feeble, but it didn’t really matter; if he couldn’t get up the hill to the casino then all of his attempts to right his own sinking ship were just as feeble, and the kicking of a partially smoked Lucky Strike was far more representative of his situation than seemed possible six months prior. He needed to get up the hill, to be at the right blackjack table, for the right dealer, and then he wouldn’t have to go to the casino anymore. Then, he wouldn’t have to sit elbow to elbow with the dregs of society, though curiously, he was still the only one waiting.
The shuttle still had not arrived when a woman, an old woman, wrapped in dark strips of cloth like she had been injured all over and then bled through the bandages until the deep red turned a crusty black, stooped and picked up his smoldering cigarette, and puffed it back to life. She didn’t come up onto the sidewalk under the awning. She just smoked. And stared.
Where the smoke grazed her old, shadowy, wrinkled facial features, a blankness appeared, or she disappeared, he couldn’t tell which. He could see through her, to where the shuttle should be waiting. The man took an involuntary step back, instinctually wanting to get away from the intensity of her glare.
She didn’t approach him, but no matter how far he scooted backwards, he couldn’t get far enough away. It was as if he was stuck there, even though a part of him knew that his back was now pressed against the glass door leading to a shuttle waiting room, another part, a more vivid part, was still a foot away from the woman wrapped in black pieces of gauze who kept smoking his cigarette and disappearing. The smoke curled and danced in a wind the man could not see, rendering streams and swaths of her invisible, moving like a snake along her skin, only it wasn’t a snake, or maybe it was an invisible snake, or maybe it was an absence, just snakelike. The part of him that was still close to the woman began to shake.
The woman, he could see now that her age was actually indeterminate, that her features were ultimately unknowable, and was therefore much more terrifying as he couldn’t put her in an easily dismissed category, walked over and inhaled deeply on the Lucky Strike. The man felt the world contract into her lungs, an unavoidable gravity. And then gently, so gently, almost like a kiss, she blew the smoke into the man’s face.
It wafted over him, enveloped him, swallowed him. He was used to the smell of smoke, so much so that he barely registered that, but underneath, like a tide pulling him out, out, out until his feet could no longer touch, was the aroma of the woman’s breath. She smelled of so many things: a multitude of spices, odors, sweetnesses, ancient dust, the skin of a newborn, an early morning windblown vastness, and below all that, beneath it and tying it all together, rang a pure note of moonlit wildness. He sneezed.
When he opened his eyes the woman was gone, but the shuttle was there and filled with people, who must have been waiting without him noticing. No one spoke to him. No one noticed him. The man stared at the open shuttle door. An invitation.
The man looked at all the people on the shuttle, and saw them. Then he watched his body get on the shuttle as the driver began to close the doors. His body sat next to the window and leaned its greasy, unkempt hair against the window as the shuttle pulled away.
And he wondered if this part of him would be able to move from the spot on the sidewalk, if anyone would see his now surely invisible body. He strained, attempting to turn, but found he couldn’t. He tried to spot the woman, he called for the woman, but she was gone. Or maybe she was right next to him, invisible, enveloped in her own breath.
His only hope was when the shuttle returned, and his body got out, to cling to his body as it passed through him, to catch a ride on himself.
The afternoon turned to evening. He couldn’t move to check the digital clock in the laundromat, but he had a feeling about these things. He knew the shuttle was running late.
Evan James Sheldon’s work has most recently appeared in Barren, Cease,Cows, Fictive Dream, Foliate Oak, and Typehouse. He is an Assistant Editor for F(r)iction and the Editorial Coordinator for Brink Literacy Project. You can find him online at evanjamessheldon.com or on twitter @EvanJamesSheld1.