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The 25 Bus

It was a clear, warm, summer morning. Jim was doubled over at the bus stop catching his breath. His alarm hadn’t gone off—or he had turned it off in his sleep—so to make his bus he had to rush out the door and run all the way. Now he wasn’t sure, had he missed the bus, or was it coming any minute? He took out his phone to check the time, but—shit!—in his hurry he’d left it back at home.

Five and then ten minutes passed, or at least what Jim thought was ten minutes, and still the 25 bus didn’t come round the bend. It’d be another hour before the next one. Might as well go home, Jim thought. Call into work and tell them he’d be late. But just as he was about to leave, the 25 came toddling into view. Jim was relieved for a moment, and then not: There was something wrong with the bus. It was crawling down the road, limping, dragging itself. A broken-down bus wouldn’t get him to work on time, wouldn’t get him anywhere, so before it had even reached his stop Jim had given up on it and was headed back home.

The bus’s engine suddenly roared and it billowed a cloud of black exhaust and lurched forward, jumping the curb, flattening the bus stop sign—the one Jim had just been standing by—and running down the embankment along the highway. After a moment of stunned inaction, Jim followed the bus, running down the embankment muttering, “Oh shit, oh shit, oh shit”, as he went. The bus was still running, the engine still roaring and the exhaust still belching black smoke, but its tires were only spinning in place and digging into the earth now. A fir tree at the bottom of the hill had caught the bus and was holding it in place.

Jim couldn’t see inside the bus, the windows were tinted. He approached several times to try to pry open the doors, but the bus was growling and trembling like a wounded animal, and Jim was scared back. Eventually he did get hands on the door, but he couldn’t pull it open. Water was trickling out of the seams. His hands were left wet, and they smelled, a strange smell, like the ocean, and vinegar, and road kill that’s been left too long and popped.

Unable to do anything to help, Jim stepped back and could only watch. If he’d had his phone then he would’ve called for help, but he didn’t have his phone. Maybe he could flag down a car. He tromped back up the embankment. He looked up and down the street, but there wasn’t a single car. It’d been quite that morning, he recalled. He would’ve noticed if the streets were deserted, wouldn’t he?

Back down the hill, the bus started coughing and choking, and then it shuddered and died. The doors flung open and the water emptied out. The windows, it turned out, weren’t tinted, the bus was just filled with water so murky it looked black— or would a bus full of clean water look just as black? In any event the water that had filled the bus wasn’t clean. Seaweed spilled out with it, and sea stars, driftwood, barnacles… and body parts, human body parts, gooey and partially dissolved. The smell coming out with the water didn’t have the undertones of acidity or brine like the little bit Jim had gotten on his arms. Even from several yards away and up on the sidewalk, Jim started gagging on the smell of death and decomposition almost as soon as the doors were opened.

And still not a car to be seen, until, at last, limping round the bend, came the 25 bus—another 25 bus—with windows tinted black, and water trickling from every seam.

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