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William Stoecker / February 17, 2015

The Shortcut

So you live in Present City. Your job is boring, stressful, and pays very little. Housing is expensive and the health care facilities are not very good. On top of all that, your company is going out of business, and you will soon lose even this miserable job. But, not to worry – you have already got a new and much better job in Future City, and you are buying a better house there, and all of your closest friends and family members are moving there too. In fact, so many people are relocating that it’s rumored that Present City is likely to become a ghost town. Having no car, you are taking the bus to move to a whole new life.

The bus company has a rather bad reputation; there are rumors that the upper management are basically criminals. Their once beautiful bus fleet has deteriorated due to a lack of maintenance and an unwillingness on the part of management to buy new buses, but you hope that your trip will at least be safe, and that the bus won’t break down on the way. And you really have no choice, for they are the only bus company serving Present City. You arrive at the station and buy your ticket, but notice that certain favored individuals get to ride for free; effectively, you are paying for their tickets. Rather than being grateful, these people are resentful, even hostile, and somewhat threatening. Then your driver arrives – late.

He is a tall, thin, middle-aged Black man, who seems rather effeminate. The woman seated next to you says she has heard of him. He was only recently hired, apparently due more to connections than ability and experience. In fact, his commercial driver’s license has been altered so that no one really knows his real name, his age, where he is from, or even if the license is valid. A man across the aisle, overhearing the conversation, says the driver claimed to have worked previously in a different city for a different company, but that he knows some of the drivers in that company – and none of them have even heard of your driver. Other people on the bus shout at the three of you, accusing you of racism and telling you to keep your opinions to yourselves. They seem to worship this driver – but you are beginning to feel very uneasy. After all, you’re riding in an old and poorly maintained vehicle, and your life is in the hands of a driver who may not be qualified.

But the driver at least seems friendly and outgoing, and assures everyone that everything will be great. You want very much to believe that. The bus pulls rather unsteadily out of the station, and your worry becomes real fear, for the driver seems to have difficulty staying in his own lane. But you reach the freeway leading in a straight line to Future City.

And then, a few miles out of town, the driver unaccountably stops to pick up a big mob of sinister-looking people, most of whom do not even speak English, and none of whom have tickets. Some stand or sit in the aisles, and others force paying passengers out of their seats and claim them as their own. Some of these new passengers are chanting in an unknown language to an unknown god, and, judging by their hate-twisted faces, neither they nor their god appear to care much for everyone else. Once or twice, you catch your driver chanting along with them.

Bad as this is, things suddenly take a turn (literally) for the worse. The highway is skirting the edge of an uninhabited desert, and the driver announces that he knows a shortcut to Future City. With that, he takes a sharp turn to the left, onto a rough dirt road leading nowhere. Most of the passengers are cheering at this, but you and a few others realize that you now face the bus running out of fuel in the middle of nowhere, and having to walk back to the main road. You know that this will be a grueling trek, and many will die of thirst. When you and the woman next to you and the man across the aisle try to point this out to the other passengers, they accuse you three of being overly timid and afraid of change, and not scientific enough to understand that a straight line is not really the shortest distance between Present City and Future City. And, again, some of them accuse you of racism, and mock and even threaten you. You and your two comrades even go forward and try to reason with the driver, but he refuses to listen.

You return to your seats just as one of the tires goes flat, and the driver actually speeds up. Looking outside, you see only sunbaked dust – nothing grows here. Then, far ahead, you spot the edge of the high plateau you’re riding on, a cliff hundreds of feet high – and the bus is headed for it. Within a couple of minutes at most, you will go over the edge, and you and everyone else will fall to your deaths. You cry out a final warning, but you are shouted down, and the driver speeds up again. Your only hope is to get through all of his worshippers, overpower him, and stop the bus, and the odds are against you. But if you do nothing you are doomed.

So what are you going to do?

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