There was no possible adjective that could begin to describe what a jerk my boss was that day. I was literally numb watching all the worthless sods push sheets of glass across the factory floor. Tension was high as rumors spread that GenCorp was closing its doors after eighty-five years.
“Are you going to work today Flannigan?” my boss bellowed.
“You stupid bastard, don't you see we are all going be unemployed,” I said in anger.
“I don't give a yank about what you want. You and your fancy autos, and your lofty home up in the Highlands, it’s ludicrous. We ‘shanty bastards’ will have no food or shelter in two months, because of the likes of you,” I declared.
“You're fired Flannigan, turn in your tools and your ID card,” he stated.
“Over-pretentious, spoiled lots,” I quipped.
He continued in his barrage of obscenities and requested that I leave the premises immediately.
I threw my tools on the floor in total defiance. Feeling disgusted, I walked out with my head held high. The timekeeper attempted to stop me for a signature, but I shoved her aside.
“Don’t worry lass; they’ll come for you to,” I declared walking out the door.
The night air was bitter and a dense fog was flowing down from the hills. As I headed for my auto, I thought about my father. Losing my job would give him reason to boot me out of the loft. I wondered if he ever lost a job. He was a drunken arse anyway. My mum only talked about what he didn't do. As I approached my auto, I noticed the impound lock on the wheel. I could feel the anger rise up around my neck remembering how many payments behind I had become. I kicked the worn tire and pulled up my collar attempting to shrug off the cold. The trolley station was a jaunt, but sufficient. I lit up a cigarette and walked briskly towards the long journey home.
As I approached the trolley station, I noticed old lady Crommley sitting on the bench. She was wearing a tattered coat and a moth-eaten old hat. She sat holding a metal object in her hands. I was pretty sure she had been sent away at one time to the asylum. The rumor was she had killed that poor bloke of an old man she was married to. As I came closer, she gazed up at me and smiled.
“Crazy old bat,” I remarked as I could see she was holding an urn.
“Bringing your dead hubby out for an outing today, eh?” I laughed.
“The devil has called me home,” she said with a crazed smile upon her face.
Her eyes looked glazed over and she had an eerie presence about her. I moved out to the end of the bench and sat alone. Some annoying lad was bouncing his ball on the platform with a disconcerting look about him.
“Hey pisser, aren’t you the O’Byrne kid?” I asked inquisitively.
“He can’t hear you, his ears are burnt off,” old lady Crommley said without explanation.
“You’re the one who set the fire at the pub last year?” I promptly pointed out.
He continued to bounce his ball in a rhythmic pattern not responding to any sound. I tried to get a closer look but he pulled his cap down over his ears.
“Can’t hear my ass,” I shouted as the boy looked at me with disregard.
I made a wide path around both of them and headed for the back of the flat, waiting on the southbound platform. The trolley pulled up rather slowly and the windows were covered in filth. It had an eerie appearance as the windows almost glowed with low-luster lights. I pushed past the freaks and attempted to board. I stopped quickly as the reader board was impregnated with condensation.
The sign said, “Bound.”
Approaching the driver, I asked, “Is this trolley going south? Your sign says bound.”
“South or bound, it is all the same,” the driver declared.
“Are you southbound or just daft?” I asked rather intently.
“You want a ride or not?” he said staring back rather anxiously.
The driver was odd looking, not dressed in uniform although he had on a driver’s cap. His hair was black as coal, matching his eyes. Reluctantly, I climbed aboard, feeling on edge. I pulled out my wallet and the driver pushed my hand away.
“You must be willing to give of yourself freely,” he declared.
“Bloody nut job you are,” I shouted, heading to the back.
One would think the trolley company could fix the damn reader boards. I sat in the back and tried to relax. Old lady Crommley followed me to the back.
“Listen woman, get your dead husband and move elsewhere,” I shouted.
“Were all going to the same destination,” she said with a delirious smile.
“Stop staring old woman or you'll get what's coming to ya,” I hollered.
That old hag was not going to smile at me while she carried her dead husband around.
The trolley lurched out of the station and headed down towards the Southside, home of the “Shanty” Irish. The roads were different down there, no curbs, cross walks, or fashionable stop lights. The flats had asbestos siding, rats, and rotted pipes. The rubbish bins lined the walks every Friday, stinking up the neighborhood. The stench clung to the clothes that swayed wildly on the laundry lines. Modesty had no place to hide as the lines exposed the discolored and worn out skivvies.
Streets began to blend in as I dozed off until the shutter of the brakes woke me up. More freaks seemed to board the trolley. I shut my eyes for short spell until I heard a soft voice. A young lass in a long white dress was speaking to me. Her hair was braided with small ribbons and flowers between them. She was the most beautiful woman I ever saw. She had milky white skin and appeared so clean. I slid over as she headed towards me. Mrs. Crommley smiled and winked at me as if she knew what I was thinking. The woman gently sat on the edge of the bench, watching me, waiting.
“What are you doing in this neighborhood?” I asked, attempting to be concerned.
“I have come for you Flanny,” she said softly
“Me? You’ve come for me? What the hell for? I just lost my bloody job, and for no reason,” I ranted.
“You need to offer your soul to me, and in return I will give you myself,” she said.
“Are you daft or been drinking today?” I asked in disbelief.
“I came for you Flanny, the master is waiting,” she said quietly.
I looked at her and thought she was just messing with me. She was carrying a small hand basket laced with flowers with small primroses around the edges. She seemed like a dream, not reality.
“Where are the cameras? Is this that bloke’s show where they screw with you until you flip out on the tele-?” I commented, attempting not to show any fear.
“No Flanny, I need your body and soul,” she said rather directly.
“Darling, have you been snorting a bit O’ Irish whiskey today?” I asked with humor.
“I can prove myself if you kiss me,” she declared.
I smiled, feeling challenged, and reached over and pulled her close. She touched my lips softly and brushed my hair. I moved in for the score. Her tongue pushed my mouth open eagerly and I was beginning to feel warm. I groped her body and opened my eyes to see her reaction. I pulled back suddenly as old Mrs. Crommley was on my lap tonguing me.
“You stupid lass, what the hell are you doing?” I said feeling pale.
The driver laughed as I looked around to see if anyone had seen what happened. He smiled in the rear view mirror and just kept driving.
“You’re a good kisser Flanny,” she quipped.
I shoved her onto the floor and ran to the front of the trolley. The urn she was holding spilled on the floor. The ashes trickled out as the urn rolled down the aisle.
“Let me off this damn trolley,” I shouted rather intently at the driver.
The driver looked straight ahead and stated, “you came willingly, now just enjoy the ride home.”
I sat dazed in the front seat not understanding what was transpiring. Maybe I was dreaming? Was it Wednesday? Did I just lose my job? I ran to the door and pushed but the door just held tight. I looked out at the billboard signs and my sins were written on every one of them. As the trolley weaved through the traffic, I could read the degradations and the misdeeds of my life.
“What is this?” I screamed as I headed to the emergency exit.
The woman in the white dress appeared again and asked me to sit down. She looked normal and old lady Crommley had retrieved her urn from the aisle. I sat, breathing hard. I cussed at everyone for pulling a trick on me. I had been a bastard for some time, hating life. This was my humiliation. I began to cry, telling this beautiful woman how alone I had been. She reached in her basket of flowers and pulled out a small satchel. I looked at it, and looked at her. The satchel contained tokens for the trolley. She must be an angel of mercy coming to redeem my soul. Things seemed so surreal.
The driver announced the Bell Square and told me to sit down. The woman in white disappeared again. I looked at everyone; they all appeared to be normal. I felt overwhelmed. The stress of losing a job must have caused my hallucinations. I settled down into the seat as more people got on heading home for the night. My bloke, Johnny, boarded and yelled out my name. I was relieved to see him.
“Thank God for ya Johnny,” I yelled with a sigh of relief.
Johnny grew up in the old neighborhood and was a good bloke to have in a fight. We spent a many of nights drinking, fighting, and disturbing the general commons. Johnny was a tall, lanky lad with an indignant grin. He was endeared by his mum and hated by his biological factor of a father.
“I got fired today and I am not feeling well,” I said sorrowfully.
“Well old chap, a little snuffer of Wild Turkey should knock the hair off your knuckles,” he quipped.
I eagerly sucked back the drink trying to right the bad thoughts drifting in my head.
“Well, Flanny, my trouble is far from over,” he said smiling.
I felt a sense of relief as Johnny sat next to me, I must have been dreaming before.
“I killed my girlfriend today,” Johnny bellowed like he did not have any cares.
“What!” I said, feeling rather uncomfortable.
“I hit her in the head for not cooking me supper,” Johnny said, still smiling.
“How do you know she is dead?” I asked inquisitively.
“She stayed down on the floor and did not get back up,” Johnny replied.
I felt a sense of panic as the trolley rolled through Lexington. I looked at him, then around at the passengers. This had to be a joke. Where was the camera? Where was the guy who has the show where he surprises everyone by screwing up their lives? Johnny was looking at me rather intently. He had just confessed to a crime.
“Where is the body?” I asked reluctantly.
“I stuffed her in a rubbish bag and put her in the storage room in the basement,” he said confessedly. “I need your help!” he protested.
“Stop this trolley!” I shouted in extreme panic.
I felt like no one could hear me and that I was trapped. The signs kept saying I was a sinner. I ran to the door, and the driver stopped and looked at me.
The driver stared into my eyes and said, “You have one chance Flanny to change your miserable, insignificant little life, if you show a genuine act of kindness.”
“Just let me off this trolley you bloody old sod,” I yelled in frustration.
He opened the door and I jumped out onto the street. I felt a rush of fear leave my body. I was a free man and very lost. I looked around at the darkness and I noticed a lighted street lamp about 500 yards ahead. I lit up a stick and drew in the nicotine. My nerves were frazzled. I'd heard of people having hallucinations due to stress. Definitely losing my job was the catalyst for all my delusions. I walked slowly toward the light trying to shake off my fears. The light got brighter as I approached. I turned suddenly as there was a shuffle behind me; old lady Crommley was following. I also could hear the earless kid bouncing his ball in the background in the darkness. I knew it was the fire starter.
“Get lost you freaks,” I yelled.
I began to walk faster only to hear the bouncing ball getting closer. The earless kid was behind me without the baseball hat on his head. His ears were burnt off and he smiled at me freakishly.
“You stupid freaks get away from me,” I said feeling very scared.
“We just need a token for the trolley,” old lady Crommley said eagerly.
“Just get the hell away from me!” I shouted.
I turned and ran towards the light. There, standing alone was that woman in the white dress again. She was leaning against the streetlamp swinging her basket. I wondered how she got here; the last time I saw her she was on the trolley.
“Flanny, don't walk away; you belong here,” she said.
The street corner looked familiar with its cobble stones and green stained copper poles holding up the lanterns. The freaks were gathering closer. It looked much like the corner in my neighborhood but I was not home.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“You know me. I’m your master, your guide,” she said rather mildly.
I noticed the trolley in the outer glow of the street lights. The trolley’s reader board sign was hard to make out. I walked closer wanting to get a better look. As I turned back, the woman was gone and a grotesque man with vile looking eyes was swinging the basket. He looked of the devil for sure.
“Who are you?” I said.
“I gave you a chance to perform an act of kindness Flanny and you didn't take it,” he said rather blazingly.
“What chance?” I begged as he slowly headed for me.
“Those freaks, all you had to do was give them a token, help them,” he declared.
“Who do you think I am?” he said tryingly.
“Please let me go home,” I begged
“You are home, Flanny,” he said somberly.
He disappeared into the trolley but he left his hand basket for me to carry. I picked it up and was startled to see my soul in the bottom, scarred and hardened. This must be a dream. I tried to pinch myself to awaken.
As I awoke, I saw all the people on the trolley sitting around me staring straight ahead with sheer boredom. I must've fallen asleep and had a bad dream. There was no devil on this trolley. I reached up and rang the bell. The trolley came to a stop and let me off, and as I walked down the stairs I turned back to look at the driver. His eyes were still dark as coal and his hair was black, but he had a driver's uniform on. He smiled at me and told me to have a good evening and shut the door. I stepped out into the street light and I looked up at the reader board in shock.
It merely read, “Hell Bound.”