The lumbering bus pulled to a stop the brakes groaning under the strain. Eric Matthews sharply pressed the brake causing the stop to be a lurching sudden one, which send the kids who had already risen to a standing position tumbling down the aisle; their arms flailing as they tried to grab the seats to stop themselves from falling.
Eric smiled to himself as the kids rose and slowly filtered out the two doors, one at the front near him, and the large double door in the centre.
“God Damned kids.” He muttered under his breath as the last of them stepped out. He looked in his rear-view mirror and saw the mess that they had left behind. Pieces of paper with notes and answers to the homework hurriedly copied on the journey. Items of homework, soon to be classed as forgotten which he would gather up and burn for his own pleasure during lunch.
Some of the windows were smeared with the leftovers of the breakfast sandwiches, thrust into the kids hands by parents to didn’t really care about the giving their kids the nutritious breakfast they needed.
“Good Morning Eric. Still haven’t thought about changing careers I see.” An old female voice spoke. It was one that carried authority with it, and was always fighting to hold back an undertone of sarcasm mixed with aggression.
Eric turned and saw Martha Hoggworthy the school headmistress had climbed aboard. She was an evil looking woman, who looked about as caring of a Head Mistress and Miss Trunchbbull. She was wearing a long Bottle green skirt, with a cream blouse, topped off with a green cardigan. Her glasses were perched on the tip of her nose, attached to them was a thick bead chain which went behind her head connected the two arms together. He hair was grey, and cut short in a neat bob. The was nothing about her which didn’t scream out both her profession and personality. Eric swore that the bus got colder when she was around.
“Gotta pay the bills love.” He smiled and winked at her before closing the door in her face and backing away.
He hated doing the school runs, the noise, the fat greasy children, ripping the seats or covering them with graffiti. Even the general smell of children made him want to vomit, but the school runs paid good money, and it gave him some additional time off during the day to relax and watch some movies.
Eric drove the bus straight back to the depot to be cleaned, and waited for Bus 72 to return for him to take over the route.
He hated every moment he sat behind the large wheel; he never spoke to his colleagues, unless he was spoken to himself. There was never any need to be rude. Growing up, his parents divorced before he was born, an accident which had turned into the straw that broke the camel’s back, or so his father told him many times growing up. Eric had wanted to join either the army of the police force, but a genetic condition which left him with reduced lung capacity and a weakness in his spine removed the option from his life table. He wasn’t a very smart person; there were many people in fact who regarded him as slightly retarded.
He didn’t care. He liked to be on his own anyway. As a child he had always been afraid of group altercations because they always seemed to end with him performing something unspeakable. He couldn’t remember what it was exactly, but he knew it was horrible, and that the more he refused the more he was made to do it.
Whenever he cast his mind back to his childhood, a task his psychiatrist had tried to get him to do, he saw nothing, he heard voices and recalled certain settings; a day at the beach, a family BBQ, the visits to the basement, etc, but the main picture was nothing but a black cloud. A thick bubbling storm cloud, filled with anger and a powerful rage. It was like looking at a piece of art after someone threw a can of paint over it. All you can see it the edges, a glimpse at what was being hidden.
The day passed quickly, it was grey and overcast, most cars had their headlights on the entire day, and by the time 15.30 arrived Eric had a steadily pounding headache, only exaggerated by the seven coffee’s he had drunk since his lunch break.
Wednesday was always the worst day with the kids, for some reason they were always more hyperactive then the other four days. Not to mention the fact that he had the retarded kid today also. Some monkey faced hybrid in a wheelchair. He didn’t know what was wrong with IT, but he knew what should have been done. It gave him the creeps to check his rear-view mirror and see this twisted face grimacing at him, mouth open, spit dribbling over his shirt in thick gelatinous strands.
Today they were particularly rowdy; the back seat gang were bouncing around, throwing the leftovers of their lunches at the other kids. They were only just out of the school drive and already a banana and two sandwiches had been smeared over the back window, and he was sure he could smell smoke of some sort.
“Oi, pipe down will you.” He bellowed just as the content of a bag of crisps was sent crumbling over the floor. A few of the kids listened and sat, although the volume remained the same.
Cries for help, cries of mild pain caused by wedgies and flying textbooks, not to mention the odd fist dealt out swiftly and severely by Alistair Sharp the largest kid in the school, ‘a real young fuckface in training’ thought Eric every day when the kid dragged his soon to be overweight carcass from the back seat. The most overpowering noise however, and equally the most irritating was the shrieks and bellows of laughter, ranging from nervous to the deep belly variety it didn’t matter, they all merged together to make a sound akin to fingers on a blackboard, or cutlery scratching against the surface of the dinner plate.
“Shut up you damned brats!” Eric called at the top of his voice, his throat scratching from the sudden outburst. He rarely spoke at all, and when he did it was in a whisper. “Don’t make me stop this bus and come down there. Hey!” His rant continued, and he could feel that there was nothing he could do to stem the flow.
The faces in the bus, sitting for the most part in pairs like lovebirds locked inside a mobile cage, set straight forward, staring at him. Not necessarily listening, but certainly the shock factor would generate a few moments of peace. He smiled to himself, the words stopping quicker than he had expected; a good thing too. He had been warned twice already about his manner with the children, a couple of parents had taken offense to his grumbling at the children’s high spirits at the start of the holidays.
As he studied them, watching them carefully, wanting to study each of their faces, he became aware of something happening, and slowed the bus down. He looked back at the road. It was clear, but when he accelerated the bus didn’t respond. Instead it continued to slow, it was almost at a standstill, the engine still grunting in the unhealthy sounding way it had.
“Come on your bitching thing. You just got serviced last week.” Eric spat under his breath, his hands clutching at the wheel, squeezing hard enough to whiten his knuckles.
Then, as if it could hear the threats that were about to come, the bus leapt back into life and began to pick up speed again. Only it felt different. It felt slightly less responsive, as if he had less control over the great yellow beast. He shook his head, trying to shake the feeling.
The bus picked up speed and continued down the road. The first stop was approaching, and the kids were so far still sitting still in their seats. Too motionless, it made him nervous, and he kept flicking his eyes up to the mirror more frequently.
The first stop arrived, three of the kids got up and jumped off. He watched them go, the first a young girl seemed to be limping, her face grimacing with each hobbling step she took. The final two were dirty, their clothes dark and wet. He squinted into the mirror. They were bleeding, He turned around quickly, and saw them jump into the afternoon weather and walk away with no problems, no blood soaking through their clothes.
“Get a hold of yourself man.” He thought, giving his head another shake. Nothing rattled so he knew he wasn’t losing his mind. Not just yet at least. They continued to drive, the kids began to chatter but nothing too bad for once. He kept checking though.
He raised his eyes to the mirror, but what he saw caused him to throw his foot on the brake. He didn’t see the kids sitting patiently, he didn’t see the kids at all, the bus was gone, ripped apart of so it looked, the back end was missing completely, the sides ripped into jagged metal teeth, the ends twisted blackened shards. A trail of sparks erupted from behind the vehicle as the undercarriage dragged over the tarmac, gouging deep trenches in the road. The air was filled with soot, thick black flakes that snowed to the floor in darkened brilliance. In the distance a large fireball spread across the road. This black smoke billowing out as the orange ball of physical heat rose into the sky like a golden mushroom cloud.
Eric shifted in his seat, suddenly uncomfortable. His clothes stuck to the fabric, he pulled himself loose and settled back down. He closed his eyes, clamping them shut with all the strength and control he had over the lids. When he opened them again the bus was back, the kids sitting there once more. Their bodies perfectly still, their faces fixed forwards, unmoving.
Out of the window, the road was clear, nothing behind, and nothing before them. He put his foot down and watched the speedometer creep upwards.
The road continued to extend before him, it felt strange, the houses either side seemed somewhat distant, their colours faded. It was as though they weren’t even there, just an illusion, his mind telling him that they had been there once, years ago, but now all he saw was their residual image, burned into his mind after years of the same route at the same times each day.
There was movement behind him, his words of warning finally beginning to wear off he thought. ‘ Ignore it. The fuckers will be gone soon.’ He thought as he smiled, a crooked smile, revealing his yellow teeth, rotted by years of heavy smoking, drinking and bad personal hygiene. He looked at himself in the mirror, his lips were thin, his skin had taken on a yellow hue over the last few months, his eyes sunken and dark, quite often bloodshot. His hair was long, greasy and uncut, he couldn’t remember the last time he had it cut. He would trim the ends of it every now and then but actually going to a professional, he couldn’t even remember.
The shuffling behind him got louder. He glanced up in the mirror, it was the bully, Sharp, who was standing, walking down the aisle towards him. He ignored the others, his eyes staring dead ahead. His skin was pale, a shade away from white, dark circles around his eyes, and blood running from his nose.
“Oh great.” Eric said under his breath. “Let me pull over.” He spoke but the boy continued to walk forwards. It was then that Eric saw the large piece of metal protruding from the boys shirt, dripping with blood, glinting darkly in the overcast light.
“Jesus Christ.” Eric went to put his foot on the brakes but found it couldn’t move, it was stuck to the accelerator pedal. “What the….” He began, but before he could say anything, Sharp was standing next to him, the wet and sticky point of the length of metal was jabbing at his arm, droplets of semi congealed blood fell onto his trousers.
Eric turned to face him, the skin was missing on the right side of his face, in some places the meat was removed down to the bone. His ear was hanging loosely against the side of his head and his hair was now just a matted clump, and the portion of his skull beneath wobbled with each bump in the road as if on a hinge.
“Why don’t you sit down, I’ll call you an ambulance. . Shit.” Eric stuttered, fighting off the waves of nausea and shock that were competing for control of his body. His eyes flicked back to the road briefly, but couldn’t quite shake the image of the boy, who was still standing beside him, staring at him blankly. “I said go sit down kid.” He said again. He went to reach across and push the kid into the front seat but found his hand wouldn’t leave the wheel.
Sharp opened his mouth, and began to screech, it wasn’t a cry, not even a bellow, but a screech. It was the sound of tires coming to a racing halt, or slipping on icy bend.
Behind him, the other kids began to rise from their seats, each one suddenly injured, the twins, who were the only well behaved ones stood in unison, their hands not just joined but seemingly fused together, the bodies burnt to the point where they were almost unrecognisable. Their lips scorched away, revealing their white teeth, both had a gap in the same place where one of the last milk teeth had fallen. Their hands were missing, the skin melted and fused together before somehow cooling, forming an unbreakable bond.
“Get back.” Eric called out, as the Sharp boy raised a broken arm to him; the wrist twisted a hundred and eighty degrees, the fingers curled up uselessly like the legs of a dead spider.
Eric tried to raise his hands from the wheel, but like his foot, they were also stuck. He pulled harder, and harder still, until with an excruciating ripping sound they came away. Pain surged through him, and he looked down at the wheel while tears stung his eyes. He saw strips of his own flesh clinging to the wheel, thick and gelatinous, the raw red meat glinted like diamonds. He looked at his hands, inspecting the damage; blood was pouring down his forearms already, dark and thick, too thick, too dark. He looked at it and watched it flow from his wounds, which already seemed to be healing. Only the skin that regenerated wasn’t the healthy pink colour, but black and leathery, just as the steering wheel itself.
It wasn’t blood, he could smell it now, it was oil; an untapped reserve of pure black oil ejaculating from his hands in thick spurts.
He cried out, a hand clamped down on his shoulder and it burn, he turned and saw three more kids had joined Sharp at the front of the bus, the twins were there now and also some fat kid whose name he never knew, he had simply called him ginger.
“What do you want with me?” Eric asked, unable to think of anything else to say. He tried to move, but found himself frozen in his seat. His hands were now beginning to throb, he looked and saw that they bleeding had stopped, his arms still slick with oil. Hands grabbed at him, and forced them back onto the wheel.
He cried out, kicking with his legs. He felt something pulling at his legs. He looked down to see the twins were kneeling down reaching for his ankle with their free hands.
“Get off me.” He called, swiping at them with his hands, which he felt tear a little again from the wheel.
The girls ignored his demands, and wrapped their small hands around his ankle. The heat was intense, as if a blowtorch was being passed over his skin. He could smell the burning, even hear the sizzle of his flesh as it was blasted from his bone. Other hands reached forwards and thrust him back into his seat.
Eric was panicking, unable to move, or escape, and at the same time the bus kept moving along, The same stretch of road or so it seemed.
In the mirror Eric could see all of the kids standing, lining the aisle as if waiting for their turn to grab at him. Even the retard was there, he held himself upright with strong muscled arms, his hideous grin spread even wider. He was panting and roaring like a primitive beast, and looked strong enough to rip Eric apart with his bare hands.
The bus began to round a bend in the road, and as it did the weather changed, the clouds were thicker and it once again started to snow ash, blackened flakes that fell daintily to the ground, gathering until there was a thick layer covering the ground. As if a cloud and simply rotted away and fallen from the sky.
Thinking quickly, Eric reached over with his left hand and grabbed the door handle, it gave easily and the door flew open, the rushing air and wind was a shock, the bus didn’t seem to be travelling that fast. Preparing himself for the impact, Eric pulled himself free from the grip and leapt from the bus. Only he never left, he fell from the door, and instead of hitting the tarmac he fell onto something hard and rough against his skin.
He opened his eyes and he was lying along the back seat, stuck still within the confines of the mobile tomb. The stench at the back was almost choking. It was thick with the aroma of burning flesh and hair.
The group turned, sensing his presence somehow. The seats he was lying along suddenly moved and pushed him to the floor. He fell into the aisle where he was pounced upon but the five younger kids who sat normally on the first few rows, but in the change had waited for the big kids to make the first move.
Their faces were bloodied and broken, but their eyes were ferocious. They scratched at him with sharp nails and tried to bite him. They were shooed away and Eric found himself raised and lifted into the air, carried aloft like a rock star. He was passed forward, thrashing around like a landed fish, unable to worm his way out of their dead fingers, which clamped onto him like small vices. He was swiftly dropped back into his seat.
“You’re our driver now.” The twins said in unison, their voices unaffected by the fire that had somehow ravaged them, even their eyes had melted; their empty sockets stared at him like the finger holes in a bowling ball.
“Yes, the driver.” The Sharp boy concurred, not long before they all began to chant in a eerie whispering voice “Driver...Driver...Driver…” It grew steadily louder and louder.
“Fuck off, worthless kids, what do you want from me. What’s going on here?” Eric cried, unable to keep himself composed any longer he broke into tears, and wet himself. His body shook as he sobbed, his head thumping like a bad hangover, the leathery – vinyl skin that now covered his hands rubbed against his eyes. It felt strange and alien. He looked and saw that it had spread, his entire palm and fingers where now covered in the material.
Out of nowhere the seatbelt whipped around him and fastened itself, locking Eric into his seat. His hands clamped on the wheel and burned, smoke rising from between his fingers as they melted into the wheel. Before he knew what had happened, his hands had disappeared, dripped to the floor in red, bubbling semi liquid pile. He screamed as he stared at it, also noticing that his foot had suffered a similar fate, it had flattened out, thinning and become the accelerator pedal, which his other had disappeared through the floor, locking him into place.
The seatbelt began to tighten pulling him back into the upright position; the road before them was blocked. The window blackened by the soot, but through it a bright orange light shone. ‘Shit, I’m in the wrong lane. I fell asleep and this is just a dream’ Eric thought to himself, a sudden moment of hope filled him. The windscreen wipers came on automatically, clearing away a large sooty semi circle. Eric saw it then, the orange light was coming from a fireball that filled the road. There were people milling around, hundreds of them, standing in the road, large groups in gardens and some standing in doorways or peering through the curtains.
The children were gone, he thought. They were no longer beside him, grabbing at him. He looked back, and they were all sitting back, calmly staring ahead. Their dead faces already beginning to rot, the skin falling from their bones in wet lumps, the stench was worse now, filling his nostrils with every breath he took.
The bus approached the fire ball, and all Eric wanted to do was cover his eyes, instead all he could do was look down, and stare at the timing device strapped to his chest, hidden beneath his uniform jacket, which had at some point been removed. The last thing he remembered was a thick black taste rise from the back of his throat. The veins on his arms standing proud, swollen and pulsating, stretched to their limit with the thick black liquid that now flowed through them. They continued to swell, splitting the skin on the back of his leathery hands, before slicing open his forearms. His veins rose into existence, no longer veins but cables, red, green and blue, woven around each other. They disappeared back beneath the skin at the start of his biceps, but he could feel them worming their way through his entire body.
He felt the muscle in his right thigh tighten, and the bus began to pick up speed, passing through the fireball and bursting out the other side.
The incident rocked the city, and was used as the basis for large nationwide court case asking for stricter rules on the checking the suitability of drivers on the school routes.
A suicide note was found in Eric Matthews’s house, stuck to his fridge with a large magnet. It simply said,
God Damned Kids.
Had it coming. Fuck it.
It was written in block capitals with a soft pencil.
Nobody survived the bomb, which was concluded to have been either worn by the driver or strapped to his seat. Only a handful of bodies were able to be identified, the remaining fifteen were sorted over a period of time. It was almost two years before the final burial took place. The body of the driver was never found, although investigators said that there was the presence of a great deal of oil at the scene which could not possibly have come from the bus as it was crude oil, unrefined and as of yet unidentified.