The Afternoon Express by Kate Franklin

Kate Franklin's character gets a cryptic warning from a stranger and wonders whether to heed it.

I had decided I was going to take the bus home, in spite of the warning I had received. As I made my way to the corner of Lincoln and Broad streets, I replayed the strange incident. That morning, hurrying off the bus as usual, I bumped into a woman, and was about to beg her pardon, when in a voice that was barely above a whisper, she said, "Don't take the 513 bus home this afternoon."

"What?" I had never seen her before. She was young, early twenties I'd guess, dressed jeans with a grey sweatshirt. Her hair was pulled into a single braid that fell between her shoulder blades and disappeared beneath a tattered backpack. This was definitely not the kind of person you'd expect to utter a cryptic warning to a complete stranger.

"Don't take the 513 bus home this afternoon," she repeated in a whisper. Her dark blue eyes met mine, and her hand rested lightly on my shoulder. "It really wouldn't be a good idea." Then she turned away.

"Wait, what do you mean?" I moved toward her, but she disappeared into the crowd of commuters that had just stepped off the bus. As I rushed the four blocks to my office building, I couldn't shake the sound of the stranger's voice. The warning plagued me as I turned on my computer and it followed me along the hall to the employee lounge for coffee. I doodled through the staff meeting, sketching the outline of a young woman in jeans and sweatshirt.

I thought of nothing else all day, and as the clock moved toward 4:30, I had still not decided. Was it a prank? Was something going to happen to the Express this afternoon? How would she know? It didn't make sense to me. Why, of all the people at the bus stop, did she choose to impart this warning to me? I have never been a big believer in ESP or mind reading. I don't have dreams that come true, and I don't believe people who say they do. I couldn't wrap my mind around the idea that a complete stranger had warned me of possible danger.

Unless - what if no precognition were involved? What if she warned me because she, herself, were planning a disaster? Wow, what if I had stumbled across a terrorist act in the works? But really, why then would she tell a stranger about it? That scenario didn't make sense either. No, I wasn't buying it. Logic deemed that I should ignore the irrational experience and proceed with my normal routine.

When I reached the corner, the bus had just pulled up. A few, very few, people had boarded, but the majority of commuters stood looking around, making no move toward the bus. Then the local pulled up and the crowd moved, like marbles in a chute, filing onto the waiting coach. I stepped the other way and climbed aboard the Express. There in one of the long side seats was the woman from this morning. She had her legs out in front, reclining on the otherwise empty seat. She looked at me and smiled.

"You," I said. "What's going on?"

The door hissed closed, the bus jerked, and I almost fell onto the seat.

The stranger laughed. "I never get a seat," she said. "I have to stand up all the way home, and I wondered if I could scare people out of taking this bus." She waved her hand around at the empty seats. "I guess it worked."

"It sure did," I agreed, taking a seat. Stretching out for a relaxing ride home would be a welcome change. I felt a little foolish when I thought about the agonizing doubts I'd suffered all day. It was just a harmless prank, no sixth sense of impending doom. It was mean, though, I thought. Many people were going to be late for dinner. The afternoon local stopped on almost every corner. "Don't you feel just a little bit bad for inconveniencing all those poor souls? You really ruined their day." I turned to point at the other bus, getting farther behind us with each block.

She started to answer, but I never found out what she was going to say. That was the moment that the eight-ton semi skidded into us, tipping the bus on its side and flinging us both from our seats.


  1. A tightly constructed gem of a story - finished off with a serving of well calibrated rough justice. Well done,
    Many thanks,

  2. very nicely done, just when you think you´ve cracked it......

    Well done

    Mike McC

  3. Well written and held the reader's interest from first word to last. Just when we thought we could relax... the axe fell! Do as you would be done by??
    Thank you.

  4. I really enjoyed the light tension through this, with the absurd ending that made me feel like I had been hit with a truck. The length served your story well, too! If it was any longer, I don't know if the drama of the final moment would have worked so well.

  5. This story had me holding my breath to the end. The ending was totally unexpected. It reminded me of Hitchcock. Patricia Crandall

  6. Patricia Crandall – above – pegged it: it was Hitchcockian. Good tension; indeed it was a gem. Good work! I’d like to see more of your work.