This short story was originally published in my local library's online magazine, and has been copied here for your reading pleasure. Some modifications have been made because doesn't retain paragraphs unless you double space them. It's been a few weeks, and I'm not satisfied with this story any more, but maybe you'll find enough merit in it to enjoy yourself. It's really a condensed version of something much longer in my head, but since there was a page limit, I had to shorten it down. Hey, it won me fifty bucks; you can't argue with that.

Reviews are extremely appreciated.

~~~Boring Copyright Statement~~~

All characters and situations in this story are original and are not based on anyone or anything in real life (or in fiction, for that matter). Any resemblance they may have to anything in real life or other works of fiction are purely coincedental (actually, this isn't true. The bus ticket idea came from an experiance I had when taking a trip to Edmonton, which also happens to be the place where the characters are going and- Oh whatever. You know what I mean) Iheve Ballocross and Crow Mactinstone are my own characters and may not be used without permission of the author. Blah blah blah, nobody cares. On with the actual story...

~~~~~~~~~~~~Running The Whole Gamut~~~~~~~~~~~~

~~~Iheve Ballocross: Self-Proclaimed Non-Hypocrite~~~

If there's one thing I really hate, it's hypocrites.

To me, that means anyone who says one thing and does another; or even someone who says one thing and doesn't act on it. To me, that is an unforgivable sin, and it was that which pushes me over the edge.

It basically starts when some girls from my high school begin standing in the lobby yelling "We hate school! Never teach us ever again!" and cackling loudly, as if anyone except the faculty cared. What really gets me mad are the facts that a) they only do this after school, which meant that they are too cowardly to yell this stuff during school hours, and b) they don't just up and leave. So, in the end, I have to do it for them.

I pack my bags, leave a Post-It note on the fridge for my mom, and head to the bus station. I am planning to go to Edmonton, which is a short enough ride for me (and is also in my budget). When I get there, I am pleasantly surprised to find an unchecked wallet lying on the cement floor. And- wonder of all wonders! an unused bus ticket nestled among the ID cards and Wal-Mart receipts. There are also some credit cards and twenty dollar bills.

I have never told anyone not to steal something, so I take the ID cards and the bus ticket out of the wallet and slip them into my pocket. I discreetly drop the wallet into the Lost and Found box; let some other hapless fool use it to his own end. After several hours of mind-numbing boredom on a brittle plastic bench, the call for the Edmonton bus sounds. I quickly leap out of my seat and join the others in the queue. After a blessedly short period of time, I am standing in front of the driver. He takes my ticket and read it, while I eye him expectantly. He looks up at me, and I know I am screwed. "This is a Free Companion ticket, Miss Miagkobrukhoi," he says sternly. "Who are you travelling with?"

Just as I am about to run away, someone speaks up behind me. "She's travelling with me, actually," says the voice brightly. The driver looks over my sweating head, nods, and rips the ticket neatly down the perforated line. Then he yells, pointlessly, "All aboard for Edmonton!" and tromps up the steps into the bus.

At this point, I find it prudent to turn around. There is a guy, maybe twenty four years old, standing behind me. I don't get a very good look at him before he pushes me lightly into our awaiting mode of transportation, which is spewing smoke all across the grimy tarmac. I stumble into a window seat, the cushion of which feels pleasantly like that of an airplane. My saviour slumps heavily into the seat beside me, blocking my otherwise clear view of the aisle. This is okay, because I can hide my face behind him when the driver stalks past to count the passenger's heads.

And then we are off.

~~~

~~~Crow Mactinstone: Reclusive Man Who Makes His Living Saving Other People's Butts- Or Not~~~

Having just rescued the rather odd person of indeterminate sex in front of me, I now begin to see why my life is full of eccentrics, weirdoes, politicians and other strange people. Basically, I constantly allow them into my life; it's a habit I have.

I peer as closely as I can at my companion without seeming rude. He or she has long black hair, is wearing a very large black t-shirt (which is frankly astounding considering the temperature outside), and seems to be staring right at me.

Whoop.

Because of the latter, I can now see that it is a girl that I've saved from the depths of... Well... something. Maybe she'll tell me, once we've warmed up a bit. "Thanks," the girl whispers at me, and nods. I nod back, not knowing why, and whisper "What's your name?" before I realize that it's pointless to whisper because we are sitting near the back of the bus, and there is no way that the driver will hear us. But the girl answers me anyway. "I'm Iheve (she pronounces it 'Ee-hee-vey'; like some sort of a weird Yiddish snigger) Ballocross. Oi." "Oi," I reply. Then, "My name's Crow Mactinstone."

She raises slim eyebrows. "Oi," she says again. "That's a pretty funky name." I shift in my seat. "I guess. It's actually an acronym for my real name, but I can't remember it anymore." Iheve stares at me oddly for a second, then dips her head in acknowledgement. "Then it makes your name all the funkier," she says seriously, and actually gets me in a sombre mood for a second.

I know that at some point the subject is going to come up, so I go ahead and fire the question. "Sooo... Why're you headed to Edmonton?"

~~~

~~~Iheve Ballocross: Wondering What She's Gotten Herself Into~~~

I glance at the guy who has saved me from the last obstacle that society had thrown against my attempts to escape it, and the first thing I notice is his nose. Crow, or so he calls himself, has a really astounding nose. It's perfectly symmetrical and very slender and it makes me jealous. It distracts me for a while until I catch him looking at me. "Oh..."

I think about his perfectly reasonable and justified question. "Well you see, there are these jerks at my school who were really ticking me off today, so I decided to get away from them." I sniff. "I left to show 'em what they never had the guts to do in the first place; and I wasn't even the one ranting about it, either. I believe that if everyone hated school as much as they say they do, then they'd all be practically gone." Crow appears to consider this. I suddenly realize that to a normal person, my reasons for this trip are totally insane, but Crow isn't a normal person. Nobody with a nose like his could save someone like me and still be normal. And if he was normal before rescuing me, he probably isn't now. But he surprises me anyway. "It's a better reason than mine," Crow tells me, sincerely. It's such a perfect answer that I feel like hugging him, so I do. He seems mildly startled, but not shocked. I let go and ask him, "So what's your reason, hey?" He takes longer answering this question than he did my rant concerning the jerks at school. Finally he replies, "I'm getting away from my fridge."

I stare at him incredulously. That was a bit too weird, even for me; there must be something more to it. "Why? What's that supposed to mean?!" I say, staring into his face. At that point he grins, and I know there's another part to the story. I love stories, especially ones that have actually happened; so I kick off my shoes and tuck my feet up onto the lip of my seat, wrap my arms around my legs, and wait for him to begin.

~~~

~~~Crow Mactinstone: Telling His Tale To A 16-Year Old Runaway~~~

"It probably started on a Wednesday, which was unfortunate, because it also happened to be my wife's birthday." Iheve's dark head perks up; perhaps she was lighting on the fact that I actually had a wife at some point. I continue. "Anyway, my wife and I lived in a really dark apartment. And I mean dark; not just dim, but like pitch black when all the lights were turned off. This was mainly because we had no windows." Iheve frowns. "What kind of apartment has no windo-" "Really cheap ones," I interrupt. "...The interiors of which the landlord has to conceal in darkness to prevent the potential tenants from seeing how ugly the rooms are." "You're not makin' this up, are you?" Iheve grins cheekily. I shake my head, dead serious, and go on.

"So, there we were. It was great until Sarah- that was her name; please don't make fun of its boring nature- nearly broke her shin while tripping over our sofa. Clearly, something had to be done."

~~~

~~~Iheve Ballocross: In Awe Of Crow's Storytelling Abilities~~~

I nodded, attentively. I liked Crow's voice. He sounded like a librarian.

~~~

~~~Crow Mactinstone: Still Telling His Tale To A 16-Year Old Runaway~~~

"Then one day, our problems were solved. One of our friends- his name was Danny Wellson, but that's not important right now- bought my wife a new refrigerator for her birthday. Which was on Wednesday, as we've previously established." I pause for a breath, in which Iheve murmurs, "The plot thickens."

I nod sagely. "Yes. Well. He bought her the fridge, and we had to hire five burly men to hoist the thing into the kitchen. Almost had to knock out part of the wall to get it to fit, too; it was a monster of a food storage apparatus." Iheve giggles. "And there it sat in our dingy apartment. Sarah and I absolutely fell in love with it; if we needed some way to see what we were doing while we changed the lightbulbs in the kitchen, we merely opened the fridge door and let the light pour forth. On hot summer nights, we leaned against its cold metal surface while we kissed and made love to each other- What are you snickering at? Never mind. Anyway, it had its uses, and it almost felt like a part of our family."

I stop in my narrative to take a long draught of coffee from my thermos, during which time Iheve watches me impatiently, obviously eager for me to get on with it. And so I do. But it isn't easy.

"And this is where the trouble starts..."

~~~

~~~Iheve Ballocross: Forgetting Her Worries In Order To Fret About Crow's Instead~~~

Just when I am really getting into the swing of Crow's story, the bus driver pulls over for a gas refill and break stop. "Curses! And it was just picking up, too," I grumble, swinging myself off the bus. I need to pee.

Crow ambles slowly down the precarious steps, taking in our dismal surroundings. "Y'want a chocolate bar?" he asks me, heading towards the tiny convenience store that is wedged between the gas station on its left and the motel of dubious quality on its right. "Sure," I reply. I grab the keys to the unisex washroom from the zitty counter boy and relieve myself.

When I come back out, I see Crow waiting for me outside the building's dirty glass doors. He is holding a plastic bag full of junk food. When he catches me waving at him, he turns and cocks his head to one side, which reminds me of those cheap little bobble-head toys that you can buy for two dollars at a Buck-Or-Two. I don't know why, because Crow's weird little mannerism doesn't look at all like the erratic movement of a bobble-head toy, but that's what it reminds me of anyway.

Because Crow is complaining that it's freezing out, and because the numerous old people that have come with us on the trip are starting to scare me, we head back into the bus. The glass of the windows have fogged up, and I begin to doodle on them with my finger. Crow hands me an Oh Henry and settles back in his seat, the potato chip bag in his hands making crisp crackling noises. Suddenly, I think it is the most beautiful sound I have ever heard, and therefore experience a sudden sensation of loss when Crow finally gets the bag open and stops fiddling around with it.

"Okay, so we got our snacks and bathroom break. Get on with the story, man!" I say exuberantly, through a mouthful of peanut-and-caramel goodness. I wait patiently for about two seconds. "Well?!" "I am getting in the mood, Iheve. Kindly do not disturb me while I prepare my mind for the task that is to come," Crow replies with his eyes closed and a meditative expression on his upraised face. I chew my chocolate bar, and have the most irresistible urge to poke him.

Finally, he begins.

~~~

~~~Crow Mactinstone: Reaching The Horrible Climatic Ending Of His Sordid Tale~~~

"Weeks went by. The refrigerator was now coated in Post-It notes and pieces of lined paper torn out of our university notebooks. The floor beneath it was a graveyard of scrapped telephone numbers and obsolete love messages, the tape still hanging from them; the pile grew in number as our social life increased in activity." Iheve nods slowly, probably envisioning the messy state of our kitchen. I continue. "Then, a few months after we had received the fridge, I begin to notice some strange things." Iheve's dark head perks up. "Just little things, slightly out of place. Nothing big. A few chairs misplaced here and there, a used washcloth, an extra can of Coke in the fridge. It didn't seem very significant at the time, but as these little mishaps began accumulate, I began to wonder."

I pause for a very deep sigh. "At first I thought I was imagining things. Then I thought perhaps Sarah had been holding parties with her friends behind my back. I questioned her, but she told me I was being paranoid. That was what set me off.

"One night, I came home, fretful and tired. I opened the door to the house, which is a technique that I'm particularly fond of. I have perfected the art of opening doors to such an extent that when I turn the doorknob or pull the handle, it is all done in silence. If I were interested in becoming a cat-thief, I would have had a very successful career."

I brace myself for the final stretch, during which Iheve's dark eyes watch me very closely, as if she is telling me that she already knows what is coming. But, being the good audience that she is, she doesn't interrupt my dramatic pause. I press on: "As it was, I guess my wife forgot. Maybe she was waiting for the squeak of the screen door to act as her signal. But I entered silently, and when I peered into the kitchen, the most devastating sight hit my eyes."

"...Danny Wellson was kissing Sarah, passionately pressing her into the refrigerator door, and neither of them saw you hovering in shock near the doorway," Iheve says in a flat voice. I stare at her. "How did you know?" Iheve tosses her empty candy bar wrapper at the bus floor and steps on it, making it crackle. "Lucky guess," she murmurs.

"My story isn't that predictable, is it?" I ask worriedly, trying to keep my mind off of what I'm actually telling the story about. Iheve grins humourlessly. "Maybe I can tell from personal experience."

I don't bother to question her. Instead, I press onwards, eager to finish the story and its haunting memories.

~~~

~~~Iheve Ballocross: Remembering Days Better Left Forgotten~~~

There is an echo of the excruciatingly familiar in Crow's words, and I try to keep the intimacy of those past experiences out of my head as I listen to the end of the story. Crow relates the fight, the anger, the pain and the sorrow that followed the discovery of his wife's affair, all in painful detail and marvellously simple prose. I know it's stupid, but I think his voice helps, too.

Then comes the ironic part, which could also be taken as the comic relief if you look at in the way I do. According to Crow, he wanted to move the fridge out of the house so he wouldn't be reminded of his wife's unfaithfulness. Somehow, Danny Wellson heard about it and tried to move it himself (maybe to make up for his acting like a total jerk), and ended up breaking an arm and cracking a few ribs when the thing accidentally fell on top of him.

"So, yeah..." Crow sighs, continuing, while I try not to snigger at the mental image I have drawn of Danny Wellson's free arm waving feebly from under a giant white refrigerator. I still sympathize with Crow, though; more than people will realize.

"...In the end, of course, I let it be. I couldn't bear to have it taken away; not after all it'd been through. And despite being the device that helped pushed Sarah over the edge, it did get back at my tormentor in its own little way."

Crow spreads his hands out in what little space he has in which to manuever, then drops them into his lap. "And that's all she wrote," he says softly, staring straight ahead. I can only assume that he is doing this in thoughtful contemplation, because the only things he would be able to see that way are the seat in front of us and the back of an old lady's head. Since neither are very interesting, I have come to the conclusion that he is meditating on the aftermath of his wife's...

"Hang on," I say suddenly, breaking the peaceful recollections. "What happened after that?"

"Excuse me?" says Crow, startled by my abrupt question. "What do you mean?" "What I'm trying to ask is this. Did you stop seeing Sarah? Did you divorce her? What happened after the admittedly humorous fridge incident?" I say, hoping I don't sound too incredibly impatient. My travelling companion rubs his chin, thoughtfully. "Would you believe me if I told you that we're still happily married?" he asks, still not looking at me. "No," I reply bluntly. He sighs again. "Neither would I. But I wish it were true."

Even though he didn't really answer my question, I don't interrogate him any further. Instead, I reach over the armrest and grab his hand. I hold it, our wrists resting on his lap, and he keeps his steady gaze trained on the back of that old lady's head.

~~~

~~~Crow Mactinstone: Opening Old Wounds And Learning A Lesson In Philosophy~~~

Iheve leans over and closes her fingers over mine. Her grip is solid and reassuring, and so I just sit back and appreciate her touch. After a few minutes of sitting like this in comfortable silence, which is broken only once by a six-year old kid sitting across the aisle who notices us holding hands and makes a rude noise, we break apart and just sit there.

I feel like I should say something, so I do. "You know, sometimes I wonder why this sort of thing happens to people," I start; the statement doesn't seem too off topic (although if it did, it wouldn't matter), so I continue under Iheve's alert gaze. "I mean, is it chance? Fate? Human nature? Does it happen randomly? Does it have something to do with the Chaos Theory?" I throw up my hands to emphasize my complete lack of knowledge on the subject, and in the process accidentally smack the old lady sitting in front of me. As I apologize profusely for my overly flamboyant actions, Iheve appears to be thinking.

"I noticed you didn't add 'spiritual deity' to that list," she informs me, when I return to our conversation. I blink. "You mean like God?" "Sure," she says seriously. "If He exists, then He was there; wasn't he?"

I grin, wanly. "Then I have a lot to ask him about the way my life's turned out, don't I," I say, unable to keep the bitterness from my voice. Basically, it makes me sound like one of those guys in movies who continually blame all their problems on God- whom, nine times out of ten, they don't even believe exists- as a sort of testament to their wittiness or something. Like the ones that say things like, "My five children died and my wife got cancer. God owes me another six." I hope that Iheve doesn't think this of me, and then I'm sure that she won't.

But Iheve goes off on a completely unexpected tangent. "I really think that the Fall with Adam and Eve and the First Sin and all that was a good thing for humanity," she is saying, much to my shock or disbelief (probably the former, since I never had many opinions on the subject anyway). She keeps going. "I mean, this way we get to experience like the full range of human emotions; and yeah, that includes negative stuff like anger and hatred and greed... But that only makes the things like love and beauty worth even more, don't you agree?" She is staring at me now, waiting for an answer. I, utterly speechless by how much it makes sense, can only nod in stupefaction.

"Exactly!" she says brightly, sitting back in her seat. "So in order not to take perfection for granted, we get to run the whole gamut of life. Ain' it great?" Oh, yippee. More questions. "Uh-huh," I say, and despite the way it sounds, I really mean it.

Iheve smirks at me. "Right," she says, and I don't bother to correct her. She reaches over my lap and grabs the bag of potato chips.

"You gonna eat this or what?"

~~~

~~~Iheve Ballocross: Living Life And Knowing It~~~

As the bus speeds off to nowhere fast, I crumple the bag in my hands as I'm eating. I can see Crow looking at me out of the corner of his eye, but he's smiling, and pretty soon I am too.

At this point, the lady in front of Crow turns around and tells me to shut up with the bag already; I am just about to explain to her that in doing so, I will be ceasing the most beautiful sound in the world, when Crow lays his hand on my forearm and just lets it rest there. This is possibly the most fascinating gesture I have ever seen anyone make, startlingly evocative in its simplicity, and I would have told him that if it weren't for the fact that he looks me in the eye and I realize that I don't have to.

We sit in our respective silences for the remainder of the trip.

~~~

~The End~

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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