Anthony Self: The House on the Hill

‘…Can you believe that?’ Amy said.

Calvin was silent. He’d drifted off into his own little world again and hadn’t been paying attention. There were only two options available to him now; he could release a non-committal grunt to whatever Amy had been prattling on about, in the hope that the sound that produced from his throat would be misconstrued as either an affirmation or a rebuff of her banal soliloquy…or he could come clean and tell her he hadn’t been listening for the last ten minutes. He weighed up the consequences of both options in a microsecond – they’d been dating for the past two years and Calvin had mastered the art of feigned indifference. It took immense skill to keep up the charade. There had been a time, for example, when he’d zoned out as Amy gabbed on about the latest shenanigans of Big Brother and she’d caught him out. She’d threatened to squash his testicles under her heels like overripe tomatoes. She prided herself of being a feminist in that regard. Calvin looked down from his seated position on the bus and pretended not to notice her heels.

‘Uh-huh.’ He said.

‘I mean, what a bitchy thing to say, right?’ Amy continued, oblivious that Calvin had crossed his legs. As she resumed her warbling diatribe, Calvin glanced to his right and noted that the bus had just shot past their stop.

Amy also noticed.

‘Didn’t you ring the bell?’ she said, icily. Calvin was about to point out that she was the one sitting directly in front of the red button, but remained silent. She jabbed it with her index finger with all the subtlety of a demented woodpecker hammering its beak into a tree and shouted, ‘Driver, you missed our stop. DRIVER!’

If the driver heard, he wasn’t responding.

Amy continued stabbing the button with her finger, the chorus of ding-ding-ding-ding-ding reverberating inside Calvin’s skull. He felt like he was in a pinball machine being played by someone who suffered from Parkinson’s disease and had jackhammers for arms.

‘DRIVER. I’M RAISING MY VOICE NOW, DRIVER.’

‘It’s alright,’ Calvin said, ‘we’ll just get off at the next one.’

He cringed inwardly as her back stiffened. He felt his testicles recoil and shrink in horror. She turned to him then and smiled with all the affection of a rabid dog.

‘That’s not the point, Calvin. The point is that he’s not listening to me. The point is that the male driver thinks I’m inferior because I’m a woman.’

Calvin stared at her. There were simply too many stressed words in her sentence for him to comprehend. She shot up like a bottle rocket and marched down the gangway to the driver’s Perspex protected box. Probably best place for him, Calvin thought.

A moment later she stormed back to where Calvin sat and loomed over him in an extremely menacing way. Her face was bright vermillion and he noted the veins in her neck were pulsating angrily.

‘Well?’ Calvin asked meekly.

‘He didn’t even fucking look at me.’ She folded her arms. ‘What are you going to do about it?’

Calvin nodded, as if this would somehow appease her. Maybe, he thought, if I simply say nothing at all we’ll get to the next stop and be off this bus so I won’t have to do anything. That would be just dandy.

That particular thought process was rendered moot however, when the bus whistled past the next stop. People started to mutter in the rows behind them and an old fellow barked towards the driver. He waved a cane quite passionately in the air to accompany his expletives.

‘You see?’ Amy said, a slither of spittle leaping from her mouth onto Calvin’s cheek, ‘He’s gone crazy. Out of his fucking tree.’

Calvin didn’t dare wipe the spit from his cheek. He hated confrontation. He would happily sit on the bus until it reached the end of the line, even though he would be seventy-five miles away from home, just to simply avoid confrontation. He wondered if his testicles had shrunk to microscopic proportions now.

‘What do you want me to do?’ Calvin whined.

‘I want you,’ Amy said, leaning in to him very slowly, ‘to Man. The. Fuck. Up.’

Calvin sighed. He stood up and made his way down the gangway, stopping in front of the reinforced glass, as he tried to make eye contact with the driver. He had on a hat, a pair of sunglasses, and wore fingerless gloves. From this angle, Calvin reckoned the guy was in his fifties – but had the type of stocky build that meant he could probably still take him in a game of football, even though he was half his age. Calvin used the tried and tested formula of English etiquette.

He began coughing.

The driver ignored him. He coughed again, louder this time. Still no reaction.

Calvin lent forward, and coughed quite loudly into the circular grill cut into the window. This still failed to elicit a response. Conscience of the fact that he sounded like he was in the final stages of acute cholera, he adopted a new tactic.

‘Excuse me,’ he said; very formally, ‘I believe you’ve missed the last two stops.’

The driver’s body remained frozen in position, but his head twisted towards Calvin, Exorcist-style and he smiled.

‘We’re going to the house on the hill.’ He said.

Calvin nodded, as if this made perfect sense. He glanced at Amy who was standing by the side doors, tapping her foot quite dramatically. Other people were also starting to gesticulate with their arms and other appendages.

‘Right,’ Calvin said, ‘that’s all well and good, with the house and everything…but we’re actually going to Iceland for some two-for-one offers and the shop was two stops back.’

The driver swivelled his head back and focused on the road once more. When they flashed past the third stop, other passenger’s tut-tuttings were starting to grow into full- blown curses.

The old man that had barked something from before trotted up beside Calvin and jabbed his cane at the strengthened glass.

‘Listen ‘ere, ya little shitburger – you bloody stop this bus now, y’hear?’

The driver rotated his head (again, in an eerily likeness of a possessed Linda Blair) and smiled. This infuriated the old man further and he rapped his cane against the plastic partition. The driver spun the steering wheel, lurching the bus violently to one side. Calvin grabbed one of the rails but the old man wasn’t as dexterous and as the momentum of the swerve forced him to stumble towards the door, the driver flicked a button, triggering them to open. The old fellow’s terrified eyes met Calvin’s just before he flew out into sweet, sweet freedom. The saccharine moment for the old man lasted for about half a second however, before he went headfirst into a car’s windscreen appearing from the opposite direction.

Calvin turned and looked at the driver. His hat had fallen from his head, and there was a small creature striding atop his cranium. The sight of the thing froze Calvin to the spot, in a primal, terrifying way that only accompanies an encounter with something completely extra-terrestrial. It looked like a monkey; it was furry with monkey-like eyes, face and a tail. It also had legs, lots of legs and was as big as a shoe. The tail looked like it was embedded into the driver’s skull. Sure enough, when Calvin closely examined the back of the driver’s neck, he saw a thin streak of blood. The monkey thing glanced at him and emitted a high-pitched wail. The driver mumbled something like an apology, clumsily padding his hand around the seat to find his hat. He finally fished it out and obscured the alien monkey by clamping it back over his head.

‘We’re going to the house on the hill.’ The driver said.

‘Ooooookay.’ Calvin turned and made his way back to Amy.

‘What the hell is going on?’ she asked, with a look of terror.

‘A monkey is driving,’ Calvin said.

‘I know a monkey is driving! He’s just killed that old bloke!’

Calvin decided not to get into the mechanics of what he’d just witnessed. ‘We need to get off this bus. Now.’ He looked at the side doors and flipped the covered plate of the emergency lock mechanism. Punching the circular button, he could hear screeching from the driver’s area as the doors slid open.

‘We’ve got to jump,’ he said.

Amy clutched his arm. He looked at her – she looked pale and her face was streaked with mascara as tears cascaded down her cheeks.

For a brief moment, he felt his testicles swell. If this were an action movie, he would be the hero, rescuing his girlfriend from an evil monkey alien race trying to take over the world’s bus drivers. He knew that none of this made any sense, but for the briefest of moments, damn it, he felt like a man.

He pushed Amy off the bus.

She shrieked something as she tumbled into the road. It may have been something like; ‘are you crazy, you fucking retard,’ but the sound of the wind drowned her out.

On the count of three, he also jumped.

black tree

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Photo by Tomek Dzido