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THE DEATH OF INNOCENTS

Short story By: Philip Roberts
Horror



A ghost story about a haunted bus. I wrote this in June 2010, 15 years after plotting it out!


Submitted:Dec 18, 2010    Reads: 60    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   


(Dedicated to the memory of John David Roberts (1955-1987), a very special lost innocent.)
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 it.
"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 legend.
"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 fairground.
"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 countryside.
"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 earlier.
"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 upper level.
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 down again."
"Yes … yes, you're right," said Malik, sounding both relieved and disappointed by my answer.
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 seat.
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 us.
"Well, this is where I get off," I said, pulling the cord near the outskirts of Merridale.
"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 orangey light.
"The upstairs lights have come on," said Malik, pointing to the stairwell to the upper level.
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 bus.
Without even realising it, I took two or three steps up the spiral staircase.
"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 alive again.
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 internet.
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 skinned.
"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, Stanlee Dempsey?"
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 him."
"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, puzzled.
"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 since."
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 asked.
"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 constable."
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 bus.
'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 back.
'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 in.
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 2015.
Over that time I took many bus rides between Glen Hartwell and Merridale, wondering if I would ever see the mysterious double-decker bus again.
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 mist.
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 aboard.
"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 experience.
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 might hold.
"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 staircase.
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 all people.
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 shouting:
"Don't come forward!
"The orange light is death!
"Once you step into the light you are dead! And can never leave the upper deck of the bus!"
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 exit.
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 and DaleyCommunityHospital.
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 asked.
"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 here?"
"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 happened."
"All right," I said, wondering how much of my story they would believe this time.
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 Hartwell police.
"Well?" demanded Terry Blewett as I hesitated. Although a kind enough man, Blewett notoriously lacked the subtlety of Andrew Braidwood.
"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 asked:
"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 search).
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 bridge?"
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 question:
"Did you mean BrandonBridge?"
I clicked, "Yes," and there it was. Literally thousands of articles about the "BrandonBridge Bus 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 the BrandonRailwayBridge. 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 low BrandonBridge.
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 years.
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 wheel.
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 done.
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 Shaper.
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 help.
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 means.
So, after carefully copying to DVD articles about the BrandonRailwayBridge tragedy, I set off on crutches to see Andrew Braidwood.
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 sceptical.
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 myself.
"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 from England between 1993 and 1995. When the double-decker bus first appeared on the Glen Hartwell to Willamby route."
"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 station."
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 crutches.
"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 documents.
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 numbers.
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 countryside.
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 bus.
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 engine removed.
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.
No such luck!
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 light.
Then as though a giant vacuum cleaner had been turned on above him, Malik suddenly soared heavenward.
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 news media.
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.
THE END
© Copyright 2011
Philip Roberts, Melbourne, Australia




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