Dark Inside
able to hear.
    “I think I found your friend.”
    He was standing at the back of the bus and she couldn’t see where he was looking. Getting to her feet, she loosened her fingers, allowing the hand of the dying woman to drop to the ground, and went for Sara instead.
    “Is she dead?”
    The stranger looked away too quickly. That was all the answer she needed. Her bottom lip began to quiver and she breathed in deeply to try and hold back the sobs. Holding tightly to the mangled seat, she focused on maintaining balance and blinked several times to keep the tears from blurring her vision. She was determined to remain calm. She would not fall apart on the bus in front of this stranger. There would be plenty of time later once she was alone. She would be brave.
    “You don’t have to look,” he said, seeing through her facade. His eyes softened. “If you’ve got a picture, I can identify her for you.”
    She almost accepted, but she knew if she didn’t look she’d regret it. “No, I’m fine.” She took another deep breath, closed her eyes, and counted to three inside her head. Opening her eyes, she focused on the image before her.
    The person lying on the ground, her neck shoved awkwardly against the mangled seats, was Sara. Her eyes wereopen, staring at the ads for résumé building and continuing education. One hand rested gently on her chest, the other disappeared beneath her body. Legs splayed in different directions. Blood dribbled from her mouth, already starting to cake and dry. Her neck twisted and unnatural, bits of blond hair stuck against her bloodied face.
    Why did her eyes have to be open?
    “That’s her,” she whispered.
    “I’m sorry,” the stranger said.
    How long would it be before someone could take Sara away? She would have to call Sara’s parents. Maybe they could find a way to come and get her if they were okay. They didn’t live that far away. She took her cell phone from her pocket, but there was no service. That didn’t really surprise her; the earthquake would have temporarily destroyed all means of communication.
    She’d have to walk, then. If she left now she could get there in a few hours. But was it safe to leave Sara alone? What if someone did something to her body? She caught the dead glaze of her friend’s eyes, accusing her, begging her not to leave.
    “Can you close her eyes?”
    She was thankful that he didn’t smirk or give her a look. Instead he reached over and ran the tips of his fingers against Sara’s skin, closing those beautiful gray eyes forever.
    “Thank you.”
    “We should go. It’s not safe to stay here.”
    “Can we cover her up with something?” She felt stupid the moment the words left her lips. “I mean, it just seems wrong leaving her like that.”
    The stranger unzipped his jacket. Carefully he placed the clothing over her deceased friend. It covered only her faceand shoulders, but it made Aries feel better. At the same time she worried about the guy. He had on only a shirt now, and although it was still September it was starting to get chilly. She could see his muscles against the tight fabric. His arms were pale and bare; she wanted to feel them around her again. Comforting. The thought warmed her cheeks and she looked away in embarrassment.
    “You don’t have to do that,” she said.
    “I know.”
    “You’ll be cold.”
    “I’ll be fine.”
    There were a few more bodies to check, but in the end, Aries and the stranger got off the bus by themselves. Everyone there was dead, dying, or unable to move. There was nothing they could do to help, so they left. It seemed wrong, but there weren’t any right answers to hand in.
    The first thing she noticed when they got back outside was how different the air smelled. There was no brisk night air smelling faintly like leaves and car exhaust. There was a sickening acrid flavor that stuck to the insides of her nostrils, threatening to make her gag. In the distance, the skyline was orange and red from

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