The sidewalk was crowded. It was always crowded this time of day. Eight thirty AM. Everyone was on their way to work. Suits and briefcases as far as the eye could see.
The bus pulled up to the stop and Avery braced herself. It would be crowded. There would be no avoiding the attention. She wished she could wait until after rush hour, but staying in one place wasn’t a good idea.
She tapped Noah on the shoulder. “This one.” He nodded, and she guided him to the door.
The commotion started as soon as the bus driver saw them. He motioned to the people in the first couple seats. Those people looked up, saw Noah, and scrambled to vacate their seats. Avery didn’t miss the pitying looks.
Noah took a seat and Avery stood next to him. A woman offered her the seat on Noah’s other side, but she shook her head. She didn’t need it.
The bus started to move, and Avery turned her attention to the ticker announcing the next stop. The sooner they got off, the better.
“These are stupid.” Noah said, pulling Avery’s attention back to him. He must have sensed her apprehension, because he was smirking at her as he pulled off his sunglasses. “What’s the point of keeping the sun out of my eyes?”
Avery met his cloudy, unfocused eyes and smiled. It was an old question; one Avery didn’t have to answer. It’s only purpose was to lighten the mood.
“Don’t stare.” Avery heard a woman hiss.
Across the aisle was a mother and her son. The boy was probably around four, and his eyes were fixed on Noah. “Do his eyes even work like that?” He whispered to his mother, in the childlike way that meant everyone heard.
“Hush.” The mother gave Avery an apologetic smile.
Avery tried to smile back, but it felt more like a grimace. This wasn’t the first time curious children had pointed fingers at Noah. Unfortunately, she doubted it would be the last.
Just once, she wished strangers’ reactions to her brother weren’t the most interesting part of her day. Was that too much to ask?
Suddenly, the bus doors were ripped away. Tires screeched as the driver slammed on the breaks. Avery had to grab a pole with both hands to avoid falling on Noah.
Screams filled the air. People pushed past her, running to the back of the bus. Avery had to fight to not be pulled away from Noah.
“What’s happening?” Noah’s head whipped around, and he grasped at open air, searching for Avery.
Avery took his hand. “I’m here. It’s fine. We just--” She looked toward the front and her reassurance died in her throat.
Something had stepped onto the bus. It had to be an animal, but it was unlike any animal Avery had ever seen. It looked like a lion, but there was a goat head growing out of its shoulder. Where its tail should have been, a snake poked its head up and surveyed the bus.
The snake locked eyes with Avery and hissed.
“We have to get out of here.” Avery pulled Noah from his seat and ran. Behind them, the goat bleated.
One of the other passengers had already knocked out the emergency exit window. Unfortunately, they hadn’t stuck around to help others get out. Nobody seemed prepared to help.
Avery grit her teeth. “We’re going through the window.” She warned Noah.
“The glass is already gone, you’ll be fine.”
She didn’t give him a chance for further protest. She scooped him up under his knees. Adrenaline gave her the strength to lift him to the window.
“Stay on your feet.” She instructed. Then she fed him through the window feet first. She didn’t let go until she was sure he was close enough to the ground to maintain his balance.
“Avery!” Noah yelled at her. “Watch out for its--”
Behind her, the lion roared. Avery felt heat and instinctively dropped to the floor. A jet of flame shot over her. “What the hell?” This thing could breath fire!
“Avery!” Noah shouted.
“I’m fine.” Avery got to her feet. She looked, saw the creature advancing on her, and dove out the window. She landed in a somersault and sprang up on her feet again.
The creature howled from the bus, but it was too big to fit through the window. It wouldn’t be stopped for long though. If it was strong enough to rip off the bus doors, then the metal frame around the window wouldn’t last.
Avery glanced around and found Noah. “Run!” She told him, grabbing his hand.
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