(Dedicated to the memory
of John David Roberts (1955-1987), a very special lost
Standing by the roadside
around 10:00 PM
in March 2013, I was watching the
blue-grey fog swirling in, while waiting for the Glen Hartwell
to Willamby bus. Feeling a tap on my left shoulder I started
then turned to face my friend Malik El Huq. Until recently a
Refugee on Christmas
Island, Malik had upon
release moved to LePage in the Victorian countryside, and we
had become fast friends.
Looking me straight in
the face, Malik carefully pronounced the words, "I think the
bus is coming, Arthur."
Although I was not yet
deaf in 2013, I had been warned by specialists that I would be,
so I was already learning lip reading, realising it would be
much harder to learn once my hearing had gone. My fiends helped
out by never speaking until I was facing them.
Turning to where Malik was
pointing, I could just make out a small object swathed in a light
blue aura by the fog. For a moment it was conjectural as to what
the object was. Then slowly it approached until it was
undoubtedly a bus. A double-decker bus.
"The double-decker bus!"
said Malik, in his excitement forgetting to look at me as he
spoke. Then realising, he turned toward me and repeated
"A double-decker bus!" I
corrected, refusing to give in to local legends. For twenty
years, since the mid 1990s, there had been a legend of a ghostly
double-decker bus, which mysteriously arrived sometimes on the
Glen Hartwell to Willamby route.
"They say that no-one is
ever seen again after boarding the double-decker bus!" said
Malik, sounding as though he actually believed the
"No," I corrected, "only if
they're careless enough to climb the stairs to the upper deck.
People claim to have ridden in the lower deck without anything
happening to them."
"Really?" asked Malik, eyes
wide, like a child on its first visit to a
"Yes, that's how the legend
is known. If no-one was ever seen again, there would be no-one to
spread the legend."
"Then you believe the
legend?" asked Malik.
"Of course not, it's
probably just a promotional bus. They have double-decker buses
in Alice Springs
and the Gold Coast as tourist
buses. On rare occasions they send one down to
Victoria to promote some interstate event." Although I
had only ever seen promotional double-decker buses in
Melbourne - more than three-hundred kilometres from where
we were. I had never seen a double-decker bus in the twelve years
that I had been living in the Victorian
"Of course," agreed Malik,
sounding relieved and a little disappointed.
When the bus finally
arrived, however, there were no promotional signs on the side. It
seemed like any ordinary Conway cream-and-orange passenger bus. Except that it
was a double-decker bus, instead of the single deck buses we
usually had on this route. I had been travelling in the evenings
to hearing specialists at the Glen Hartwell and
DaleyCommunityHospital for nearly a year by then, and had never seen a
double-decker bus on that line.
We stood watching for a
moment as the bus waited for us. Seeing the bus up close, it
looked solid enough, not transparent or ghostly in any way. So
taking Malik by the arm, I said, "Come on."
"Do you think we ought to?"
he asked, sounding less shocked and excited than
"Of course," I said, trying
to sound more confident than I felt.
Together we stepped toward
the bus, which seemed in no hurry to depart. In the countryside
bus drivers are more courteous than their big city cousins; more
inclined to wait for slow moving passengers.
"Should we?" asked Malik,
pointing toward the spiral metal staircase leading up to the
I hesitated, not wanting to
give in to the superstition, but in truth more wary of ascending
the staircase than I was willing to let on. Finally, I said, "No,
it's too much hassle for just a few stops … all that way up, then
"Yes … yes, you're right,"
said Malik, sounding both relieved and disappointed by my
So, we headed into the
empty lower level. Of course there had been no conductors or
ticket inspectors on Victorian buses since the early 1990s. But
on looking for the Myki Mowz smartcard reader near the doorway, I
was in for a surprise.
"Where's the little yellow
box?" asked Malik.
"Perhaps near the driver?"
I suggested. So, as the bus lurched into motion, we headed down
the aisle between the seats, toward the front of the bus. Only to
discover that double-decker buses, at least of this vintage (the
bus must have been at least twenty years old), did not have
access between the cabin and the passenger area.
"So, how do we pay?" asked
Malik, still holding his plastic smartcard.
"We don't," I explained,
pocketing my own card. As the bus lurched, almost throwing us
both to the floor, I half sat, half was thrown into the nearest
After a moment's
indecision, not used to getting things without paying, Malik sat
beside me, still clutching his smartcard. He looked at it for a
moment, and then reluctantly pocketed the card.
"Well, so far so good," he
said, careful to look straight at me as he spoke.
"So far," I agreed and we
both had a nervous laugh.
Twenty minutes later all
hint or nervousness had gone, since the bus had not devoured
"Well, this is where I get
off," I said, pulling the cord near the outskirts of
"I go on to LePage," said
Malik, although I already knew that, having visited his
three-room cottage a number of times.
"Well …" I said as the bus
jerked to a halt, "I'll leave you to your fate."
"Okay," agreed Malik,
laughing, neither of us realising how prophetic my words would
turn out to be.
I hurried down the aisle
toward the rear of the bus, where I stumbled, almost falling off
the bus, as I was suddenly near blinded by a great burst of
"The upstairs lights have
come on," said Malik, pointing to the stairwell to the upper
Rubbing my eyes, clutching
the metal railing to prevent myself from falling from the bus, I
looked back at Malik. Then, following his pointing finger, I
turned back toward the staircase and saw that my friend was
right: the blinding orangey light came from the upper deck of the
Without even realising it,
I took two or three steps up the spiral
"Where are you going? This
is your stop," reminded Malik.
Looking back at him,
puzzled, I realised what I had been doing. Smiling sheepishly at
Malik El Huq for the last time ever, I backed down to the first
level of the bus.
Waving to my friend, I
hurriedly stepped off the bus, almost falling to the verge, as
the bus unexpectedly took off as I was alighting.
Cursing the bus driver, I
waved one last time to Malik, unaware that I would never see him
Then, turning, I started
down Rochester Road
toward my small unit in
Patrick Street, Merridale.
Over the next few days I
stayed at home, watching Blu-Ray and Green-Lite discs of my
favourite British Comedy movies, not once thinking of Malik El
Huq or the mysterious double-decker bus. Although only in my
fifties, a serious back injury prevented me from working, so,
owning my own small unit, I managed to (just) make ends meet on
the pitiful Federal Government Invalid Pension. Although, like
many Australian pensioners I only got by supplementing my pension
by buying and selling books and Blu-Rays on the
Over those few days I
divided my time between e-selling and occasionally researching my
favourite British Comedy actors on the Net. A habit I soon tired
of after finding three of my favourite actors had all died young
in tragic circumstances.
Tired of gloomy news I went
to my bedroom to listen to two gospel rock CDs my pastor had
given me recently for my birthday: "His Love Endures Forever," by
Joe Mayron and the God Rockers, and "Sing To the Lord" by Suzi
Ollerenshaw and God's Chicks.
I had barely started to
listen to "Sing To the Lord", when a tapping came upon the front
door. Pausing the CD, I went to the front door where there stood
two men, one fiercely blond, the other dark haired and dark
"Hello, Mr Bannister," said
the blond man, Merridale's Sergeant of Police, Andrew Braidwood.
Looking toward the dark man, he said, "You know my constable,
Nodding toward Dempsey, I
asked, "What can I do for you, Sergeant?"
"It's about Malik El Huq …"
he said, making me start.
"Has … has something
happened to Malik?" I managed to ask, as the icy grip of terror
seized my spine like a clenching fist.
The two men exchanged
troubled looks, and then Andrew Braidwood said, "We're not sure.
We believe you may be the last person to have seen
"I haven't seen Malik for a
couple of days."
"Since leaving the
GlenHartwell Hospital with him," said Braidwood, more a statement
than a question.
"Yes," I agreed,
"Neither has anyone else,"
said the sergeant. "One of the nurses on reception saw the two of
you standing at the bus stop. But no-one has seen him
I invited them into the
lounge room, where over coffee I told them everything that had
happened two nights ago. Including the double-decker bus and the
orangey light, which had almost lured me up to the second deck.
As I spoke Stanlee Dempsey hurriedly scratched down notes in a
pad, occasionally asking me to repeat something.
I expected the two
policemen to treat me like an idiot as I told my story. To my
surprise though, they both seemed to believe me. Which puzzled
me, until it finally hit me: "Did someone else see it … the
double-decker bus?" I asked.
"The nurse on reception,
Jenny Huntley, claims to have seen it pass the hospital,"
admitted Andrew Braidwood.
"Of course, it was a foggy
night," reminded Stanlee Dempsey.
"It wasn't that foggy," I
insisted. "We could make out the bus fifty metres off. It was
really only light mist."
"Then …" said Braidwood,
hesitating a moment, "there's the others."
"The others?" I
"The others who have
vanished on the Glen Hartwell to Willamby route at night. Eleven
in the ten years that I've been sergeant of Merridale. And
probably as many again when I was Mel Forbes's
After finishing their
coffee, they took me to the police station in Rochester Road, to type up my account so I could sign it.
Then drove me back to my unit.
As they drove away, I was
deeply distressed, wondering if I would ever see Malik El Huq
again. At the station they had confirmed on the PC that a total
of twenty-three people had vanished on that bus line in eighteen
years since 1995. Some had been seen boarding a double-decker
bus. Another fifteen people had claimed to board the
double-decker and return to tell the tale, due to only going into
the first level. And some of these had told of the blinding
orangey light coming on in the second level. Usually as they were
readying to leave the bus.
"But if the bus somehow
takes away or kills people," I had asked at the police station,
"why should it matter which level you went into?"
The two policemen could
only shrug, leaving me to ponder the fact that Malik El Huq might
have survived the detainee camp on Christmas Island, only to be killed by the double-decker
'But he was on the lower
deck!' I thought, as I returned to my lounge room. Then recalling
the bright orangey light, which had lit up the top deck of the
bus when I started to leave, I remembered how it had lured me up
a few rungs, until Malik had saved me by calling me
'If it happened again when
Malik was leaving the bus … with no-one to call him back … could
it have lured him upstairs to his doom?' I thought, still
wondering why it should matter which level of the bus you sat
Over the rest of that year
the police made no progress with Malik El Huq's disappearance,
and in that time two other innocents went missing. One after
being spotted boarding the double-decker bus.
I went regularly to the
Glen Hartwell and DaleyCommunityHospital,
only to be told what I already knew; that my hearing loss was
continuing and I should expect complete deafness by the year
Over that time I took many
bus rides between Glen Hartwell and Merridale, wondering if I
would ever see the mysterious double-decker bus
It was not until mid
January 2014, ten months after the disappearance of Malik El Huq,
as I was waiting alone on another foggy night, that I saw the
double-decker bus coming toward me out of the swirling blue-grey
For a moment I thought the
bus was not going to stop. But finally it did, a good ten metres
beyond where I stood.
Not much of a runner,
nonetheless I sprinted after the bus, reaching it just as the bus
started again - as though changing its mind about allowing me
"Hey, wait!" I called,
leaping forward. I managed to grab the vertical handrail in the
doorway as the bus accelerated away.
For a moment it seemed I
was going to be pulled under the cream-and-orange bus. Then, with
a desperate lunge, I managed to drag myself up into the boarding
area near the bottom of the spiral staircase.
Panting, more from relief
than fatigue, I sat at the bottom step for a few moments before
starting into the lower deck, careful to hold the railing as I
went; my heart still tom-tomming from my recent near-death
As the bus lurched wildly -
as though trying to throw me off again - I fell into a seat and
wondered if it was the same seat I had shared with Malik El Huq
ten months earlier.
We were well out of Glen
Hartwell, not far from Merridale, when I realised there was no
point sitting in the lower deck.
'I have to get upstairs,' I
said thought, trying to ignore fear's icy grip on my spine.
'That's where it happens … whatever happens.'
Yet for another minute or
so I stayed seated. Until fighting my apprehension enough to
lurch to my feet and falteringly start through the thin aisle
back toward the rear of the bus. Careful to hold the metal
railings as I walked, wary now of the bus's tricks; not wanting
to give it another chance to pitch me off.
As I reached the staircase,
the bus lurched again and I said aloud, "What's the matter? Why
are you afraid of me?" Then I asked myself the same question:
what did the bus have to fear from me: a middle-aged man with an
arthritic back and failing hearing?
For a moment I waited, as
though expecting the bus to answer. Then finally I carefully
moved across to the staircase and stopped, waiting for the
orangey emanation from the upper deck.
After a few minutes, still
in darkness, I started slowly up the winding staircase: careful
to hold the metal railing as I climbed.
I was almost at the top of
the stairs when the orangey light finally flashed on, as though
the bus had decided that since it could not prevent my meddling
it might as well let me see whatever evil secrets the upper deck
"Lord!" I cried, almost
blinded as the stairwell changed from inky blackness to bathed in
bright orange light.
I staggered backwards, but
somehow managed to retain my grip on the handrails. Just
preventing myself from falling down the spiral
Bracing myself I pulled
myself forward and almost fell headfirst into the now brightly
lit upper deck. But the sight before me saved me - and I realised
why the bus had been reluctant to give up its secrets to me of
Inside the top deck
thirty-five or forty people sat or stood in the aisle all
shouting silently and waving their arms around frantically as
though crying out for help.
Seeing poor Malik El Huq
among the lost innocents, I realised what his reaction had been
upon seeing the wildly gesticulating figures. As a humanitarian
he had naturally raced forward into the orangey-lit upper deck
and had died like the others.
Although no sound escaped
from the upper deck to the stairwell, my lip-reading allowed me
to "hear" the warning the tortured innocents were
"The orange light is
"Once you step into the
light you are dead! And can never leave the upper deck of the
I also picked up a single
word that I did not understand, "Bandumbridge."
Then, as the bus lurched
wildly again, I finally lost my grip on the railing and fell
backward down the spiral metal staircase to the
Despite my best efforts to
grasp the railing at the bottom of the stairs, as the orangey
light in the upper deck went out, I fell out of the fast moving
bus, fully expecting to die as I hit the roadway.
When I came to, to my
surprise, instead of lying bloody on the roadside, I was lying in
minimal pain in clean white sheets. Then seeing the IV drip in my
left wrist, I realised that I was in a ward of the Glen Hartwell
Looking round I saw the
dark figure of Constable Stanlee Dempsey lying in the yellow
recliner beside the bed.
"You're awake," he said,
stating the obvious.
"How did I get here?" I
"Thomasina Madigan found
you in the verge and brought you in," said Stanlee referring to a
tall Amazonian redhead who had been chief matron (or whatever
term they now use) at the hospital for twenty years or more. "She
was on her way home at the end of her shift."
"How long have I been
"Two days," he said,
reaching into his shirt pocket for a tiny cell phone. "I'd better
call the Serg, then you can tell us exactly what
"All right," I said,
wondering how much of my story they would believe this
It was nearly half an hour
later when tall blond, Andrew Braidwood arrived along with
equally tall but dark-haired Terry Blewett - sergeant of the Glen
"Well?" demanded Terry
Blewett as I hesitated. Although a kind enough man, Blewett
notoriously lacked the subtlety of Andrew
"Well," I agreed, going on
to relate my experience aboard the double-decker bus two nights
ago. Despite trying to be as convincing as possible in my
telling, I could hear the mounting scepticism in Terry Blewett's
voice as he stopped me from time to time to query certain points,
or get me to repeat large parts of my adventure.
As I finished my telling,
Andrew Braidwood and Stanlee Dempsey seemed less sceptical than
Terry Blewett. But then the two Merridale policemen had been
dealing with the disappearances from the double-decker bus for
more than a decade now. So they were less likely to reject my
story out of hand. Although this time there had been no
corroborating witnesses to the appearance of the double-decker
bus.Thomasina Madison had seen nothing in the mist ahead of her
until finding me unconscious by the roadside.
It was as I gave my final
observation that Terry Blewett gave me a vital clue toward
solving the mystery of the double-decker bus, without either of
us realising it at the time. When I mentioned "Bandumbridge," he
"Are you sure it was
Bandumbridge? Not abandoned bridge?"
I shrugged and admitted, "I
don't know. Lip reading isn't a perfect science."
They made certain they had
my story exact then left, promising to return with it typed up
for me to sign.
Over the next ten days I
lay swathed in bandages, bored to tears, since I had no family or
close friends (now that poor Malik was dead) this side of
Melbourne. And, as time passed and the police had made no
progress with their investigations, the more I became convinced
that I would have to solve the mystery myself. Not just for my
friend Malik, but also for the other thirty-five or forty
innocents I had seen aboard the bus. Innocents who, despite their
own plight, had waved their arms furiously, shouting a warning to
save my life. To save me from walking through into the
amber-death of the upper deck of the bus.
Finally I was allowed to go
home, still swathed in bandages. But despite my best intentions I
was too weak to sit at the computer to do any research for
another eight days.
When I was finally able to
sit at the PC, I could only manage to stay there two or three
hours a day for the first week. In that time I had done every
sort of search possible for "Bandumbridge": from Google to Yahoo,
to Ask Jeeves, from painstakingly slow searches on Internet
Crawlers (more thorough than ordinary search engines, but as
their name suggests, they can take forever to do a single
Unfortunately, after a full
week of searching (and crawling), I had found nothing remotely
like "Bandumbridge". Then I remembered Terry Blewett's question,
"Are you sure it was Bandumbridge? Not abandoned
After a second's hesitation
I went to type in "abandoned bridge", but mistakenly typed in
"bandoned bridge". I go zero search results, but did get a
"Did you mean
I clicked, "Yes," and there
it was. Literally thousands of articles about the
Tragedy," as most of the articles called it.
There was a colour picture
of a puce-green double-decker bus with a yellow stripe running
the length of the bus, then a black-and-white picture of the same
bus with the top deck crushed flat.
It was about a tragedy
in BrandonshireCountyEngland in
1993. Like Australian buses, most English buses are single-deck
buses. Bus driver, Harry Shaper had been driving a single-decker
bus for over twenty years on the same route, which took him under
Then he was shifted to a new route, driving a double-decker bus.
The new route started at the same place and ended at the same
place. But in between it went a different way to avoid the
All had gone well for
thirteen days. Then on the fourteenth day, Harry Shaper had
forgotten the change of route and had instinctively driven the
route he had gone every working day for twenty
To make matters worse there
had been a light blue-grey fog that evening. The bus had been
barrelling along when suddenly (according to the first deck
passengers who had survived), with a metallic shrieking like a
Sci-Fi movie monster the bus had suddenly stopped. The first
level passengers had been pitched to the aisle or slammed
headfirst into the back of the seat in front of them, and poor
Harry Shaper had almost been impaled upon the steering
For minutes pandemonium
reigned, then slowly passengers started back to their feet. And
staggered toward the rear of the bus to alight. And immediately
saw the awful truth:
The bus was wedged solid
under the BrandonBridge.
The top deck of the bus had been crushed flat. As had fifteen to
twenty innocent passengers who had chosen to ride upstairs that
night: not realising that the decision would make it the last
night of their lives.
Harry Shaper had been put
through the ringer by the British news media. But only for a few
days. Five days after the BrandonBridge Tragedy he had committed suicide, leaving a
note saying he could not live with the knowledge of what he had
So, thanks to the frenzied
media, another innocent had died in Brandonshire. After that the
media toned down its vitriol; too late though to save poor Harry
So, there it was. Yet what
did a tragic bus crash in BrandonshireCountyEngland in
1993, have to do with a mysterious double-decker bus killing
people in the Australian countryside in 2014?
'It can't be the same bus!'
I thought. 'Why would it be haunting the Victorian countryside,
instead of BrandonshireCounty where the tragedy occurred?'
I puzzled over the
conundrum for nearly an hour, before a terrible idea struck me.
An idea so terrible I did not like to think it, let alone admit
it aloud. Yet I knew I had to examine the possibility. And that
meant taking what I knew and suspected to Andrew Braidwood for
The policeman might laugh
at my idea; but I could not research it without his help. As a
pensioner I did not have the funds to acquire copies of perhaps
thousands of pages of state government documents.
Prior to the 1980s,
Victoria had had no Freedom of Information (FoI) Act.
All state government dealings (often dirty, under-the-counter
dealings) were done in secret. Then John Caine had honoured an
election promise to introduce a Freedom of Information Act, where
at no cost you could request copies of as many state government
documents as you wanted.
Ironically, the Caine
Government had been brought down when opposition politicians
requested copies of thousands of documents detailing years of
errors of judgement by John Caine.
The incoming Kennett
Liberal government had immediately watered down the FoI Act and
introduced a $2 per page service fee. So five-thousand pages for
instance would cost $10,000. Well outside my meagre
So, after carefully copying
to DVD articles about the BrandonRailwayBridge tragedy, I set off on crutches to see Andrew
After helping me to a chair
in the front room of the police station, the police sergeant
listened to my latest story in obvious mounting disbelief.
Although after watching my homemade DVD he seemed a little less
Until I told him my
terrible idea of why an English bus would be haunting the
Australian countryside. And how I needed to use his police budget
to access FoI documents, since I could not afford $2 per page
"That could run to tens of
thousands of dollars," protested Braidwood. "Our police budget
can't meet that either."
"No, no," I insisted, "all
you need to request is information about Victorian buses bought
between 1993 and 1995. When the
double-decker bus first appeared on the Glen Hartwell to Willamby
"Well … all right," said
Andrew Braidwood, "I'll see what we can find."
As I rose, he called
Stanlee Dempsey to drive me home. "And next time call if you have
any ideas, don't put yourself at risk coming down to the
Nodding my agreement, I
allowed Stanlee to help me to the squad car then drive me home.
Where I waited for weeks, until I had started to fear Andrew
Braidwood had not taken me seriously.
By the time I finally heard
from the Merridale police, my bandages were gone and I was able
to walk with the aid of a wooden cane instead of
"Well, here it is," said
Braidwood as we sat in armchairs in my small lounge room. He
handed me a few pages of official looking
They were headed, "Bulk
purchase approved by Vict. Govt. for Conway Pty. Ltd. to purchase
buses from Brandonshire Council, Brandonshire County, England."
Yes, all that was the title. That plus some gobbledegook serial
The documents referred to
the purchase of twenty-eight buses from Brandonshire Council,
including the death bus. As I had feared, instead of scrapping
the half-crushed bus (which had been almost new before the
crash), they had removed the crushed upper level and repaired it
as a single-decker bus. But not daring to put it back into
service in Brandonshire, the council had offered it to
Conway at half-price as part of the bulk order. And
with the Victorian Government's permission, Conway had
agreed to buy the bus, which in 1995 had gone into service
between Glen Hartwell and Willamby in the Victorian
That's almost the end of my
tale. We took the evidence to Conway in
Melbourne, who initially tried to bluster their way out of it,
demanding: "Who would ever believe such a wild story?" But at the
suggestion that the TV Networks might, or at least might sniff a
sensational story in it, the Conway officials had stopped
blustering and had allowed Andrew Braidwood to take possession of
the death bus, to have it hauled to Finley's Wrecker's Yard at
the northernmost end of Glen Hartwell.
At Finley's Yard we all
stood round as they winched the motor out of the bus, then stood
back as a great crusher's ball was hoisted above the
Then, as the ball ascended,
suddenly there was a flash of blinding orangey light, and the bus
transformed in an instant into its original form.
"Look out!" shouted Andrew
Braidwood, and we all backed away further, fearful that the
double-decker might roar into motion, despite having had its
Instead a single figure, my
late friend Malik El Huq, descended the spiral staircase and
stepped out of the bus.
"Malik!" I called, thinking
that he had somehow returned to life.
Malik turned to smile at
me, raised a hand to wave. Then there was an explosion from the
sky above the bus. And a blinding burst of white
Then as though a giant
vacuum cleaner had been turned on above him, Malik suddenly
One by one the dead
innocents emerged from the rear of the bus raised their hands
skyward and soared up after my lost friend. In life some had been
good, some had been bad, perhaps some had been downright evil.
But after what they had been through in the death bus, all of
them counted as innocents in death. So all of them soared
Heavenward, their sins forgiven in death.
The very last to go was
Harry Shaper the poor bus driver hounded to death by the British
Then, moments after the
last of the innocents had ascended, with another loud explosion,
the blinding white light went out, followed by the orangey light
from the bus.
The bus transformed back
into its single-deck form. And the wrecker's ball finally
descended, smashing to ruins the death bus.
In the two years since,
no-one has reported seeing a double-decker bus on the Glen
Hartwell to Willamby line. And no-one else has vanished after
heading down to the bus stop.
Philip Roberts, Melbourne,