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Written in the early 1980s, this is a story within a story about a haunted green bus.

Submitted:Dec 19, 2010    Reads: 39    Comments: 0    Likes: 0   

"What I still don't understand," said Sergeant Ross, pacing slowly back and forth across the faded yellow carpet, "is how a green bus could have killed Donald Spencer?"
"Look, we've been through this a dozen times before," protested Arthur Thomson. He was slouched forward across the desk in the centre of the small, glass-walled office.
"Then let's go through it all for the thirteenth time," insisted Danny Ross, a tall, barrel-chested man, affectionately known as "Bear" by his colleagues.
"All right. As I've already told you, Don and I had attended a meeting of the Harpertown branch of the Masonic Lodge. There was a big celebration at the lodge after the meeting, so we were both a little under the weather by the time we set out for home.
"We staggered about in the dark, wending our way down a seemingly endless maze of back streets and alleyways, like something out of Sherlock Holmes's London. And, as though to set the scene even further, after awhile a dense fog began to drift in and envelop us, cutting our range of vision down to less than a metre.
"After what seemed like hours, I looked down at my watch and saw it was 12:23 AM. We had been walking for nearly forty minutes. 'This way,' said Don, to my surprise. I was well and truly lost and had thought my friend too drunk to even read the low-hanging street signs.
"Ten minutes or so later, we arrived at a red-and-white bus stop. However, the sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach told me we had already missed the last bus.
"As the fog continued to hold us in its icy fingers, I remarked that our predicament -- out late at night, in the middle of nowhere, blinded by fog, waiting for a bus which might not arrive for hours -- reminded me of a story I had heard as a child, more than thirty years earlier.
"'A bed-time story?' asked Donald Spencer."
* * *
"Now let me see if I've got this straight," said Bear Ross. "Out there, in the middle of nowhere, blinded by fog, waiting for a bus which might not arrive for nearly six hours, you started telling Don Spencer a fairy story."
"Well, it was hardly a fairy story, Sergeant. As I told Don at the time, when I was a child of seven or eight, I shared a double bed with my sister Adele, who is a year my junior. At night, our father used to lie between us, in the middle of the bed, on top of the blankets, to tell us bedtime stories. However, our father's stories weren't the run-of-the-mill Mother Goose tales. Our father told us his own stories."
"'His own stories?' asked Don."
* * *
"'His own stories?' asked Sergeant Ross.
"Yes, that's right. My father was an amateur short story writer. He was born into a family of bookworms and raised on Lovecraft, Poe, Blackwood, Machen, and Bloch. Therefore, it was only natural that when he turned his hand to writing, at the tender age of thirteen, his inclination was towards fantasy and horror. Over the next fifteen years, he penned more than three-hundred stories, without a single publication. By the time he was twenty-eight he had married our mother and had already given up all hope of ever finding a publisher for his stories. Then when I was four or five years old, my father realised he had a ready-made audience and began reading his creations to Adele and I as bedtime stories.
"The night we were first told the story of 'The Green Bus' was like so many other nights, except that our father carried his story neatly typed, on a black clipboard, which meant that it was a new tale, which he hadn't yet had time to memorise.
"As our father eased his long, slender frame into the centre of the bed, Adele settled her blonde head against his left shoulder, while I lay on my back gazing at my own reflexion in the mirror-door of the cupboard at the foot of the bed.
"'It was late one night,' began my father, in his rich baritone voice, 'and the two men, both in their late thirties, were waiting near the roadside for a bus. The men had been waiting for a long time and had begun to fear the last bus had already gone and that they would have to wait there until morning. Being mid winter, the wind howled through the trees. The two men were freezing and nearly blinded by a thick fog, which had drifted in on them from nowhere.
"'They had given up all hope of catching a bus that night, when the air was filled with a thunderous roaring, an evil, nameless bellowing, like a cry from the nethermost reaches of Hades. As the two men peered toward the murky centre of the fog, out of the mist loomed an enormous shape: a great, green demon, breathing fire and hissing like death itself.
"'The two men turned to run from terror, then realised they had been mistaken: it wasn't a demon at all; merely a bus. An ancient green bus, far older than any bus either man had ever seen before. Whereas modern buses are long and flat-roofed, seating fifty-five, or sixty, this bus had a strange curved, cream-coloured roof, and would only seat twenty or perhaps twenty-five at most.
"'The two men stood staring at the green bus for a moment, then one of them began to walk toward it. However, the other man put a restraining hand on his friend's shoulder.
"'"What is it?" asked the first man.
"'"I -- I don't know. I -- I just have the feeling something is wrong."
"'"What do you mean 'wrong'?" asked his friend. He already had one foot on the first step of the bus, one hand on the handrail.
"'"With the bus. I don't know what. I just have the feeling that there is something wrong with the bus. Something evil about it, Don."
"'Don?' asked Donald Spencer."
* * *
"Don?" asked Sergeant Bear Ross.
"That's right, the man in the story was also called Don....
"'"Evil about a bus?" asked the man named Don. "Don't be stupid! Anyone would think it were alive or something, the way you talk." He climbed the three small steps to stand just inside the bus and asked, "Well? Are you coming?"
"'"No. No, I'll wait for the next one."
"'"Then you'll be waiting here till dawn!"
"'The man said nothing, merely shrugged his shoulders and stood watching as the doors closed and the green bus started on its way.
"'As the bus began to move, Don turned toward the driver to pay his fare. However, where the driver should have been there was nothing. Only an inky blackness: what looked like a black hole.
"'For twenty seconds or so, he stood frozen from terror, as the black hole continued to drive the bus. Then slowly he returned to his senses and realised it wasn't a black hole at all, merely a black, chipboard partition separating the driver's compartment from the passengers section of the bus. "My God, this bus must have been in use before World War 2!" cried Don. "Circa 1925 by the looks of it."
"'Feeling his way around in the dark, he moved down the centre aisle, searching for the conductor to pay his fare. As the bus hit a pothole and lurched, he grabbed for the overhead railing, but instead found leather straps hanging about a metre apart, on either side of the aisle. So, he moved down the bus, shifting his hands from strap to strap like a child moving along beneath a Monkey Bar.
"'Don marvelled at the ancient relic, partly from awe, partly from fear. The seats of the bus were like nothing he had ever seen aboard a bus: wooden railings over solid beams, like old park benches. Overhead, just below the ceiling, he could barely make out the usual band of advertisements. Many of the products familiar to him, but the prices were ridiculous: Aeroplane Jelly one penny; Nugget boot polish three pence; Bex aspirin a half penny, and so on. The clothes the people wore were ludicrous, like something out of a "Roaring Twenties" movie. The men sporting short-back-and-sides hairstyles and dressed for a day's punt down the Yarra River, the women wearing long sun hats over bobbed hair, and dresses which swept the ground.
"'After a few moments the man began to move down the bus again. He reached the end of the bus and found himself all alone; there was no conductor aboard. "Looks like I get a free ride," Don said aloud. He settled down onto the bench to gaze out through the window into the seemingly endless fog.
"'He had begun to wonder whether the bus would ever escape the grip of the fog, or whether it went on forever, when finally they broke free. He found himself staring out over a wide expanse of densely wooded forestland.
"'As the bus continued on its way, the forest became steadily thicker, until the trees seemed stacked one against another, their grotesquely shaped trunks making them look like weird night creatures, tree monsters from some Lovecraftean fantasy. Don sat silently on the bench, gazing out through the window in rapture.
"'It was only as the green bus went past a railway station that he was suddenly jarred from his reverie. "Glen Hartwell!" he said aloud. "We're heading in the wrong direction!"
"'Jumping to his feet, he felt about above his head for the stop cord. Finding it at last, he began tugging frantically, to no avail. The bus continued upon its way.
"'Running to the front of the bus, he began pounding upon the partition to the driver's compartment. From the rattle of the partition, he received another shock: it was not chipboard at all, but glass. Glass painted black! Then he moved a finger across the glass and realised that he was wrong again. The finger had come away black! It was not black paint at all, rather a layer of dust. A layer a centimetre or more thick, which had built up over years, or even decades.
"'Slowly he began to rub the dirt and grime away from the partition, with a handkerchief. However, the shock of what he saw was too great and he staggered backward, fell down the small stairwell, and collided headfirst with the iron door.
"'Stunned, he lay at the bottom of the stairwell for four or five minutes, before dragging himself to his feet and up the stairs again. A second glance through the glass partition confirmed the terrible truth. There was no one in the driver's seat. The green bus was driving itself!
"'He knew then that he was doomed; that he would never escape alive from the green bus!
"'The other man waited by the side of the road for more than four hours before the next bus arrived. When he finally got home, half frozen from his night outdoors, he considered ringing Don, but thought better of it. "Let him sleep," he thought, "he'll have only had a few hours sleep, and I'll see him tonight after work."
"'But he never saw Don alive again.'
"'That's it?" asked Donald Spencer."
* * *
"That's it?" asked Sergeant Ross. He thought, "No wonder he never got any of his stories published, if he left them all hanging like that!"
"No, not quite," said Arthur Thomson. "It was about 1:00 AM, when we heard the noise: an insane, unearthly bellowing, like the voice of death itself.
"'What on Earth was that?' asked Don.
"I -- I don't know," I said as the vast, green shape loomed out of the fog.
"With visions in my mind of gargantuan shoggoths roaring from the bowels of the earth like monstrous express trains, I turned to flee for my life. Only to be restrained by Donald.
"'Hold on Artie, it's only a bus,' he said, gripping me tightly by the right arm. 'What a stroke of luck at this hour.'
"It was a green bus all right. The oldest and smallest bus I have ever seen. It was a dull, faded green, with a strange, curved, cream-coloured roof.
"It stopped a few metres past us, and we stood for a few moments watching it. Then as the doors opened, Don started toward it. 'Come on,' he said.
"'No, no I'll wait for the next one,' I said, surprising even myself.
"'For God's sake, it's only a bus!' insisted Don.
"'I -- I know,' I said.
"'Then, come on,' said Don.
"'No, I'll wait for the next one.'
"'You'll be waiting here till morning then,' he said.
"I didn't say anything to that, merely shrugged and waved goodbye as the doors closed, then the bus drove away with Donald aboard.
"That was the last time I saw Donald Spencer," said Arthur Thomson, finishing his story at last.
* * *
Bear Ross stood staring out through the glass wall of the small office for a few seconds, as though trying to read the general notices on the cork bulletin board across the room. Finally, he turned around to face Arthur Thomson, and asked, "Why didn't you get on the green bus with Donald Spencer?"
"I -- I don't know. I suppose I must have spooked myself with my own story."
"So you actually expect me to believe that the green bus had something to do with the death of Donald Spencer?" demanded Bear Ross, raising his voice for the first time.
"No! No, I never said that!" insisted Arthur Thomson. "I was only telling you everything that happened to Don and me that night."
"I see," said Bear Ross, scratching his chin ruminatively for a few seconds. Finally, he asked, "Do you believe that your father somehow created the future all those years ago when he wrote his story?" "They say that a good writer can weave magic," thought the sergeant, then immediately dismissed the idea as nonsense. "Could he somehow have unwittingly caused the death of Donald Spencer thirty years later?"
"Oh, God, I don't know!" said Arthur, clutching his head in his hands. "Quite frankly, I'm beginning to doubt my own sanity over what happened that night. I mean, how cam you explain everything exactly duplicating what had happened in my father's story. From the two of us waiting after midnight on a fog-shrouded roadway, to our initial impression of the bus as some kind of supernatural demon, to the similarity of the shape and age of the green bus?"
"Yeah, how do you explain that?" Sergeant Ross asked himself, without getting any satisfactory answer. He continued to question Arthur Thomson for another ten minutes or so, before allowing him to leave, promising to let Arthur view the body as soon as they could reveal the cause of Donald Spencer's death.
"But why can't you show him to me now?" demanded Arthur. He was angry at the way he had been treated: dragged out of bed in the wee hours of the mourning, interrogated for hours, then not even allowed to view his friend's body, or even know how Don had died. "After all, I was his best friend! Who has more right to know than me?"
Bear Ross shrugged his shoulders and said, "I'm sorry. I know how you feel, but I'm not allowed to reveal the cause of death at this stage." "If only I had a clue what it was?" he thought.
They argued the point for another few minutes, and then reluctantly Arthur allowed himself to be shepherded out of the police station in Mitchell Street.
* * *
Bear heaved a sigh of relief as Arthur Thomson finally departed. The sun was just coming up and he was due for some well-earnt rest. However, he couldn't go off duty, without having one last look at Donald Spencer, to prove to himself that he wasn't insane.
From Mitchell Street it was a ten-minute drive down Wentworth Street to reach the wreckers' yard, on the border between Glen Hartwell and Westmoreland.
Bear stopped the sky-blue police Ford Fairlane while his constable, Terry Blewett, opened the chain-link gate for him. Then he drove slowly through avenue after avenue of rusting, tyreless wrecks stacked five or six high, until coming to the wreck that he sought at the opposite end of the yard.
It was the rusted out hull of an ancient World War 1 issue bus. Small and green, with a strange curved, cream-coloured roof, the bus sat tyreless, propped up on four stacks of bricks beneath the axles.
"Still here?" he asked, alighting from the Fairlane.
"Yes, both of us," answered grey-haired Sergeant Mel Forbes, not knowing whether his friend and colleague had meant him or Donald Spencer.
Careful to duck his head as he went through the low doorway, Bear Ross walked down the narrow aisle between the seats, ever wary of the movement of the bus, which swayed precariously upon its props as he walked. Near the back of the bus, he saw they had removed a large section of the bench-like paling seats, to allow access to the body of Donald Spencer.
"That's as much as we can do, until Sam Hart gets here sometime later today, with his welding equipment," explained Mel Forbes.
Bear nodded his agreement, then looked toward the dark-haired body of Don Spencer, which stared up at him, it's mouth set in an open, silent scream, from where it protruded from the wall of the green bus. "It's just like when you watch one of those science fiction shows where people teleport down to Earth," thought Bear, "and you wonder what would happen if they re-materialised in the middle of a rock or a tree or something? Would they just merge with the fabric of the rock or tree? Become part of it?"
The way that Donald Spencer had somehow merged with the iron bodywork of the green bus, to become part of the bus itself.
© Copyright 2010
Philip Roberts


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