“Walking to catch the bus, you see a young boy look both ways before entering an alley. When you follow him into the alley, he has disappeared. Instead, there is a neatly folded note lying on the pavement. What does it say and how do you react?”
-Writer’s Digest Creative Writing Prompt: The Letter in the Alley
I always loiter in the bus stop on my days off. It’s my routine:
I wake up, have a miscellaneous breakfast, and set off with a book or a project. As a kid, I always liked that old song about the bus stop and the umbrella, and I always bring mine, just in case. I sit in that sheltered nook no matter what the season (though it’s usually chilly no matter what) to people-watch. No one ever pays me any mind… the city is an awfully unfriendly place. Sometimes I wonder if I should jump on a bus and find a new city, but I don’t think it’s any different anywhere else. Anyway, I just like to sit with my eyes out of focus and my ears dulled to the city’s buzz and watch the day go by until it’s time to scrape together dinner.
Today is no exception.
Near the day’s end, my stomach grumbles. I’m not much of a cook and my kitchen is practically non-existent, but I’m always hungry for whatever slop I’ll concoct after a long day of people-watching. I stretch my stiff muscles, rub my aching, cold joints, and stand.
Movement catches my eye. I don’t know why, but I turn and squint through the dirty glass of the back wall to try to see it more clearly. A child-sized blur streaks by, and I think I hear a chant underneath the buzz:
“Now you see me; now you don’t…”
I rush to pack up and look in time to see him duck into an alley, of all places. This isn’t the exactly good side of town, if there is a good side at all. Concerned, I start to follow and bump into someone along the way; I mutter an apology but don’t look back. I hurry over to the alley between the long-since-closed bakery and the vacant Laundromat.
But there’s nothing there but the wind blowing around some old newspapers.
Worried, I decide to look for the child. Halfway down, a crunch tells me I’ve stepped on something; it’s one of those origami fortune tellers. Nothing’s written on the outside; I open it to read the fortunes.
It’s nonsense… Until I remember the song…
Now you see me… a wisp of smoke
Now you don’t… comprehend
Now you see me… bones and ash
Now you don’t… have anyone
Now you see me… dead all along
Now you don’t… get to forget
Now you see me… for what I am
Now you don’t… get to hide
And when I turn around, my fragile, obvious construct breaks. I remember:
I don’t leave… because there’s no bus… and all the other cities I’ve been to are exactly the same.
There are no people… but skeletal remains.
It’s cold now because of the Bombs.
When I look again, the note is gone; like the rest of my imaginings, it was never there at all.
I’m all alone in this dead world, without even insanity to protect me.