When The Bus Stopped

For this story, I’ve recorded an audio version which will allow me to read it to you. Audiobooks have been part of my literary diet for some time now. Making this recording has given me a new respect for the art. As for this first recording of moi, well, I’ll leave it for you to decide if it’s any good. I do welcome constructive criticism—in fact, crave your thoughts. Because with each thoughtful comment, I hope to become a better storyteller.

Listen along now, by pressing the arrow below.

He knew it was coming the way he knew a cold sore was going to sprout on his lip. It was a sixth sense feeling, the twinge of something erupting without showing itself to the other senses. He was going to be picked on today.

Seymour Dekker could feel the eyes on him when the bus came to a stop, or maybe it was just the sun reflecting off the bright yellow paint. He checked the side as it arrived, scanning for open windows—projectile ports for the unwary—but they were all shut. Studying the sand near the curb, waiting for the flipper sound of the bus door to open, he stepped up into the open maw and was immediately swallowed by the big yellow monster.

The bus lurched forward just as he swung into a seat, the only seat left available to him. For three quarters of the trip down the throat of the yellow beast, kids sat at the outer limits of their seats. Seymour didn’t challenge any of these seat-hogs for fear of bringing attention to himself. In a battle of wits, Seymour wasn’t necessarily unarmed. He was an imaginative kid. It was just a matter of being a little slow on the draw.

He didn’t remove his backpack, but slouched into it like ill-fitting body armor. He had the seat to himself and sat close to the window, watching the blur of yards, fences and bushes go by as if the bus remained stationary and the world rushed past.

Awareness creeped in like the pause between television show and commercial. The bus had gone silent, never a good thing.

“What’s this?” a voice said directly behind him which he recognized as Aaron Bohmer. “Nobody brings lunch anymore, See-more-pecker.” That was Aaron’s favorite bit of name calling for Seymour, who had to admit his name was an easy target.

Jason White cackled at that, and sing-songed, “See-my-Dicker.” It was certainly a lesser heckle.

Aaron had the brown bag open, looking in when Seymour turned. “Hey, that’s mine.” He reached for it but the backpack weighed him down. Slow on the draw again. His mother must have left the zipper open at the top of his pack.

Seymour scrambled his legs around to the aisle and stood. He didn’t advance because to do so would put him in the middle of Aaron’s group. The group consisted of Jason White, Kyle Morrison, Brad Torkle and, of course, Aaron Bohmer.

The others would likely act differently without Aaron around. Aaron orchestrated everything they did and they followed his lead; would follow him straight off a cliff if that was where he was going.

With the lunch sack cupped in his left hand, Aaron pulled out a bag of potato chips and tossed them back, saying, “Here you go, Brad, you like chips. Don’t you?”

Brad caught them between two open palms the way he would catch a particularly bothersome fly. There was a loud pop and chip crumbs escaped to the bus floor. “Thanks Dicker,” Brad said, and then poured the remaining chip crumbs into his mouth.

“Come on guys, that’s my lunch. Give it back.”

Aaron removed a sandwich bag containing three chocolate chip cookies. He smiled and tossed the bag back to Kyle. “Wow,” Kyle said. “Didn’t figure you for holding out with the chocolate chip cookies.”

Seymour saw what came out of the bag next and his mind started reeling for a way to stop this—for a way to rewind like he could with his favorite DVD at home. His mother rarely put candy bars in his lunch, but this morning she had included three snack size Snicker bars. Aaron tossed them back to Jason—one at a time. “I can’t eat those because I’m allergic to peanuts and I don’t like them anyway.”

Seymour was breathing hard, hyperventilating, and he felt an exhilarant rush of adrenaline. His body was experiencing a fight-or-flight moment and Seymour wanted nothing to do with either one. His left hand had a white-knuckle grip on a seat back and his right was clenched in a fist at his side.

“You guys can’t do this,” said Seymour. “I’ll, I’ll starve and have to tell someone.”

“Yeah? Who? Who you going to tell?” At the bottom of the bag was a sandwich which Aaron began unwrapping. “Hey, will you look at this. My favorite: blow me and sleeze.”

It was Seymour’s favorite too, and his mom put a light scrim of peanut butter on the cheese side—just the way he liked it. But he only thought of this for a half a beat. His main concern, trying to find a way to stop the madness was a moot point as well.

Aaron stood there, a smug look on his face, taking bites from the baloney and cheese sandwich. Seymour couldn’t contain himself anymore. Aaron was the reason the others acted the way they did. Aaron was the one who handed out his lunch to everyone. It was all Aaron’s fault. He was a mean kid who didn’t deserve to live. “I wish you’d just drop dead Aaron Bohmer.”

Chewing a little slower, Aaron’s face began to contort with a querulous look. He dropped the sandwich and his eyes went wide. Clutching at his constricting throat, he dropped to his knees. His mouth moved like a fish out of water, or maybe he was trying to say something. But this time he was slow on the draw, and never had a chance to point out he had something in his own backpack to ward off the symptoms he was experiencing. Symptoms, he knew, that had to be borne of his peanut allergy.

The bus driver saw the whole thing in his expansive rearview mirror and stopped the bus. That’s when Aaron Bohmer fell back, dead as a doornail.

When the bus stopped, Seymour Dekker became just: Dekker—the kid you didn’t want to mess with. When the bus stopped, the legend of Dekker began.

*~*

That’s the story and I hope you enjoyed it. Let me know what you think.

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27 thoughts on “When The Bus Stopped

  1. Mary Walcott Conrad

    I LOVED it Don!! You already sound like you’ve been doing this for awhile now:) Love the different character voices. The speed of your storytelling was just perfect…not too fast, not too slow. No choppiness. The story itself was so believable. Brought me right back to my schooldays when the boys would all sit up the back of the bus and tease each other. As far as the allergy, luckily, nothing like that ever happened but you were right on with all your details… from the boy grabbing his throat to having an allergy kit in his backpack. Great job!

    Reply
  2. peggy

    Huh. I didn’t know others liked peanut butter & bologna sandwiches; those are my middle son’s favorites. I hope Deker didn’t hold any long-lasting guilt–but then again, the power!

    Your pacing is perfect. You tell the story in a captivating way. My only critique is try not to drag words themselves (but that is something even top dj’s seem to do–a very hard habit to break).

    Reply
    1. donaldconrad Post author

      Heh, those ‘word-drags’ are just me realizing my stage fright, like little synapse snaps of hell. I’ll get over it, eventually… Better to face our fears, aye?

      Reply
  3. Susan Cross

    Great job, Donald. I detected a bit of your accent occasionally but only slightly. The story was perfectly wrapped up, just like a baloney, cheese and peanut butter sandwich.

    Reply
  4. John Wiswell

    Happy to give feedback, like I promised on Facebook. Let me know if this is helpful.

    How many recordings did you do before posting this one? And are you going to study this one to observe your strengths and weaknesses? I recommend it; it can be painful to pick yourself apart, but it’s good to figure out how to fix that stuff.

    One issue is never to take breaths mid-sentence. For instance in paragraph two you breathe after saying “Seymour Dekker” (0:18), which breaks the flow of the narrative. In future recordings you can put asterisks every two sentences or so to remind yourself to breathe. It’s a trick I still use from time to time.

    Related to mid-sentence breathing, you want to keep a certain gradient of tone. Check the third paragraph, at about 0:58 for how you stress “beast” – it doesn’t sound like natural emphasis, but rather breaking the way you normally speak.

    Those sorts of things can be fixed for one story by listening to a recording and doing it over again. But you can also record and study several stories to figure out everything that trips you up. I wouldn’t be surprised if your narrative style smooths out in a few weeks if you keep it up.

    Reply
    1. donaldconrad Post author

      I started recording this several times. When I stopped, I failed at starting again. So I shut down Audacity and started over again, which shows how much of a technical failure I have been with this. I had one version I liked better than this one, but lost it somehow in the act of saving it! What I finally did figure out was that if I just kept going, repeating things till I got it (sort of) right, I could simply cut out the crap later. This recording might be shorter by half, due to edits, from what I had when I stopped the act of recording. One sentence I had repeated, like, five times along with requisite expletives. The original was quite entertaining…

      Breathing and the moments of trying too hard will, like you mention, smooth out over time. This will be considered my “stage fright” recording. Heh, yeah…

      Thanks for the comments; gems, every one.

      Reply
  5. Craig Smith

    Luckily I wasn’t bullied very much in school, but I know some who were and it wasn’t pretty. Glad to see the victim triumphing in the end.

    Btw thanks for stopping by and reading my story. Glad you enjoyed it and scared/scarred has been fixed. Well spotted!

    Reply
  6. ~Tim

    I guessed what was coming, but you did a good job of describing Seymour’s dread and the interaction between the kids.

    Reply
  7. cookme25

    That was awesome!!!! I wish it was that easy to get rid of bullies but this kid…I wanna be Seymour! Especially as a vic to this horrible crime for several years.

    Reply
  8. donaldconrad Post author

    Thanks Tim and cookme. I think everyone gets bullied at least once in their lives. Even bullies get a smack-down on occasion. So this is the sort of story that resonates with everyone.

    Reply
  9. beckah

    wow! i really really liked that! you have a really good voice for audio! i liked how your voice added depth to the story. i loved the end it almost reminded me of a westurn how he became a legend.

    Reply
  10. Helen

    Loved this story retribution from a sandwich coated with a light scrim of peanut butter.

    I really felt for Seymour having to put up with those bullies. You read the piece brilliantly and it was like listening to a radio broadcast – story time!

    Great job!

    Reply
  11. Aidan Fritz

    You capture some great details here. I particularly liked “He didn’t remove his backpack, but slouched into it like ill-fitting body armor.” A beautifully fresh image and it gives me a sense that he’s into D&D (or an army brat) both of which fit well with his being the target of the bullies.

    Reply
  12. Cathy Webster

    Wow, that was GREAT! I played your recording to my 10 year old, Sam, who enjoyed it as much as I did. Downed by a baloney, cheese and PB sammich! It’ll get ya every time.
    I LOVED your voice… love your accent – it was like listening to one of the guys from This Old House read a cool story.

    Reply
  13. A.M. Harte

    Loved that — you have a great reading voice!

    Any chance you’d consider letting us use that sound clip in an online fiction podcast I co-host, Webfiction World? We’re always looking for readings! It would obviously have a credit line to you as well. If yes (and you have a sound file to send along) let me know!

    Reply
  14. donaldconrad Post author

    Virginia: denoument; there’s a word I haven’t heard in a while and thanks for that compliment.

    beckah: any time I can get the reader to consider the story beyond what is written, I’ve aced my job. Thanks for the kind words.

    Helen: I have certainly struck a cord with you and I’m flattered.

    Aidan: Hearing other’s interpretations is always interesting, and yours are pretty good.

    Cathy: I got a two-fer with you which is especially cool. I’m glad you and Sam enjoyed it.

    A.M.: OMG! Ummm, well, yeah; and yes I do…

    Mari: You’re right as rain. Thanks for stopping by.

    Reply
  15. Icy Sedgwick

    I found the description of the bullying physically uncomfortable so you clearly struck exactly the right chord there. While I wouldn’t necessarily wish death on the people who picked on me (no, slow and neverending torture would be better) I love the fact that Seymour will doubtless never be picked on again.

    Reply
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