The air around me hung suspended, frozen. The tips of my fingers were unfeeling, crammed into my jacket pockets in hopes that the numbness would melt away. Winter pressed itself against me, squeezing the oxygen from my lungs and drawing tears that pricked like needles on my skin.
I could hear the trees murmuring to each other, great oaks whispering back and forth.
“Do you see her down there?”
“Yes. She’s standing by my trunk.”
“Where is she going?”
“Where do you think? The same place they all go, in the end.”
A breath escaped between my lips, and a pearly mist materialized before me, melting away as quickly as it had come.
But why not? This was the place where nothing stayed.
I heard it before I saw it. The sputtering and grinding of the engine, the tires crunching on the hard-packed snow. The headlights illuminated my figure, huddled by the curb, eyes too dark even to reflect the light.
The bus rolled towards me, its rusty doors already squeaking open before it lurched to a stop.
“You coming?” The driver had gray eyes. Ancient hands clutched the wheel like the branches of a gnarled tree.
I nodded, and stepped gingerly aboard. The smell of grease and ashes overwhelmed me. But there was something else there, too. Something familiar.
Three people. Three others like me. Stationed in their hard plastic seats, bent over and staring at the floor, clutching a backpack and looking stonily ahead.
I slowly lowered myself down. I could feel the aching in my knees, stiff and rusted and begging for relief. My hands found each other, and managed to fold onto my lap. They were still numb.
The doors scraped closed. The engine groaned but obediently sputtered on. Outside the dirt-streaked window, the oak trees did their best to wave goodbye.
“So, where are you headed?” The voice from beside me, quiet, tired.
I looked over. Raven hair. Ivory skin. A stranger. I turned back to the window.