An eerie unknown
|I am the last in a line of faceless children. There is a formless void behind me and I do not dare to look at it. The kid in front of me steps from the dirty grey concrete ground up onto the school bus. It is dirty and old, the yellow paint has a sort of smoky transparent quality. I can not see the children inside the bus, but I feel like I could if I try. There are no windows. The large side-view mirror to my right is a shiny black and reflects back to me my wide-eyed, nervous face. I do not know what this bus is for. It is not for school, I know that much. I am terrified and nauseous. But I have a choice: either climb up on the bus with the other kids - if they are kids, and not some kind of horrible monster disguised as kids - or I can stay behind with the unknown void of darkness that seems to hold all my deepest fears. The bus, though frightening, seems almost like safety compared with it. So I climb up on the single grooved metal step, and then into the bus.
The door slides closed with a metallic clang. The bus is air conditioned and has the same sickening scent as a dentist's office. The seats are arranged as in any other school bus - two rows of small benches with two children per seat. They are all filled, except for one bench, and there is no one on it. It seems to me that a kid would prefer having a seat to himself than having to share. But it is empty, so I sit in it and give it no more thought. From a distance, the seats had looked soft and cushioned, but now that I am sitting, I feel cold, hard metal. On the sides of the bus, where windows are normally stationed, there are colorful, educational posters. And at the front of the columns of benches, near the ceiling, is a blank screen. I can barely make out the driver and passenger seats, even though they are only a few feet off. The one on the left is occupied.
A tall man in a pristine blue uniform and cap rises out of the driver's seat and ducks under the overhang of the ceiling between the cabin and the children. He instantly becomes clear and larger-than-life. I realize with a start that the bus is still moving, just as smoothly as before. He grins, showing white teeth. "Greetings children! Welcome to The Bus!". The children clap. I do not. The bus driver grins even wider. "I hope everyone is comfortable. The next stop is..." I tune out. This man does not talk like a bus driver, or even a teacher. He talks like a tour guide or a passenger train attendant. I look around again. The very back of the bus is the same as the front: blurry. I am a little scared to look at one of the other kids, who are all listening intently to the driver. But I force myself to turn around and look at one. It is hard to make out any clear features, and I have to consciously try to keep my eyes on him. There is a buzzing in the back of my brain. Strange. I start to listen again. "A is for Apple. B is for Banana." The children are riveted. "C is for Cat. D IS FOR MONKEY!!!" This last part echoes through my brain deafeningly loud. Suddenly the screen comes to life and a terrible creature jumps out at me. It is purple with an orange abdomen and face. It has a beak with hundreds of sharp teeth. It has crazed yellow eyes. It has a long tail and the arms and hands of a human. It is alive and it is going to kill me. Everything is going in and out of focus. Monkeeeyyy... comes back the echo. I fall backwards into the void, and the monkey is falling too, grabbing at my face and screaming. Unknown terrors are behind my eyes, terrible memories are on my peripherals, and then in front of me: Monkey.