Chapter 2: Fingers in the Dark
The images of a brunette appear to me between spells of darkness. I’m being dragged somewhere. I can vaguely make out the leaves of the trees overhead. An ear-piercing cry erupts from somewhere. The pain in my head is overwhelming, and I quickly slip into nothingness again.
I awake with a start, and then regret the motion as pain and nausea wave over me like ripples of icy water. I’m tucked against the hollow of a tree and covered in leaves. My mind and vision swirl, trying to latch on to something substantial. My body is cold and icy chills shoot through me as a merciless wind penetrates my tattered clothing.
Slowly the images of the wreck come back to me. Josa and the other passengers. Are they still alive? I have to move, I have to find the bus. I attempt to stand, but it takes several minutes to climb to my feet. My mind wants to toss me back into the throes of a peaceful, life-ending rest. I must remain awake. My body is too cold to go several hours without a source of warmth.
The other passengers, I must find them.
I stumble through the woods aimlessly, while a prevailing sense of fear creeps over me. I’m all alone in the woods—lost— and I have no idea where I am going. I’ve only a small hope that I can find the road, the bus, or anything besides darkness and trees. I’m not ready to think about the dire consequences of not finding people. It is far too cold, far too impossible in my current condition. I’ve no broken limbs, but all the pain I’m feeling can’t be for nothing. A concussion. I probably have a concussion. If I sleep, I might never wake up. Hopefully, there is not bleeding inside my head, because that could kill me in a matter of hours.
I keep walking. Disoriented and dizzy, I have to go slow in order to not fall down. Leaves crunch under my shoes, but I press on. A sudden noise causes my head to pound painfully, and I fall to the ground, my vision blurring to the point my hands become nothing more than blotches of shapeless color. The cry of some animal, perhaps an owl, is tainted over by a pained whimper. But, I can tell that it is distant. I hope it stays that way. I’m in no shape to run. The thought of running nearly makes me vomit.
Gradually, my vision focuses, and the searing pain behind my eyes and at the base of my neck eases. With a great effort, I make it to my feet again. Continuing to shamble onward, I’m not really able to comprehend the passage of time, just moving forward and hoping for something to change. The woods are so quiet. When the wind picks up again, I curse it until I hear the sound of metal knocking against metal. I approach the ominous noise, hoping that the source means I am saved. I spot the bus, lit by the faint beams of the moon. It is bent round a tree and the windows are shattered.
I approach in as much of a hurry as I can. I ignore the silence, proceeding towards the mangled doors. People are just steps away.
I swallow harshly as I move to step onto the first rung. It is far too quiet. The eerie silence means something is deeply wrong, but my mind can’t seem to fill in the void. I am too disoriented. I climb the ribbed stairs, pushing against all my instincts to leave, to run, to hide. Why aren’t they making noise? Are they all dead? How could I have survived crashing out a window and all of them died in the bus? The mother, the children, surely they were not dead.
I reach the top of the steps, but it is too dark to make out anything but a few of the closest seats. They are empty. The wind whistles through the bus. The driver’s seat is bare. I flip a bunch of switches, hoping that interior lights will come on, but I feel utterly vulnerable as I am causing the only sound about. I check the ignition for keys, and, to my relief, I find them there. I turn them. Nothing. The engine doesn’t even attempt to turn over.
I toss my head to the back of the bus as I hear movement. “Hello?” I call out. I wait, but there is no response. The movement has stopped. “Please, if someone is there…” Still, no answer.
I’ve no recourse. I’m going to have to find a flashlight. I cringe, and my body trembles as I take a step further into the bus. I reach out and touch the seat, but it is wet, so I draw my hand back. I can’t see what is on my fingers because it is too dark, but I’m guessing it is due to condensation from the cool night.
Shivering, I continue to search out my steps with my foot before I tread, figuring that luggage may be scattered about the walkway. Tightening my hands against the chill breeze, I notice that my fingers have become slightly sticky.
My wondering of why is interrupted when my leg bumps an object, a zipper rattles, likely upon a luggage bag. I locate it, unzipping the stiff-framed box. My fingers run over more damp spots. Perhaps more dew? But would it be sticky? I toss the contents about. Clothing, clothing, and more clothing. Nothing that even gives me a hope that it could help me see in the blasted dark. With all the shadows cast over the bus, the seats are nothing more than black blobs against slightly different shades of black. Only outside the coach are things a discernable gray with the touch of the moonlight. The moon must be directly above the roof, past all the limbs overhanging.
I ease further back, tossing a worrisome glance to the front of the bus. I am nearly halfway down the walkway and can’t make out anything around me very well. It is like I’ve drifted off into a patch of nothingness. Only the ground seems solid under me, yet the shifting darkness plays tricks on my injured mind, and I have to catch myself so I don’t fall over from a rapid succession of shifts in the interpretation of my surroundings and my orientation in them. After a moment, they subside.
I begin to move again, finding another bulky case beside my leg. My fingers travel over the top of it, searching for the edge so I can locate the zipper. But I find deep gashes in the case where the fabric lays over. I can reach the contents inside. I slip my fingers in, still a little cautious of whether it is truly a suitcase. I can’t think of what else it could be. The feel of soft clothing provides some relief, but not much as I continue to scrounge around for something, a match, a lighter, anything.
Another horrifying cry causes my blood to run cold in my veins. Distorted and much closer than before, it sounds more like a scream. As I try to endure the pain piercing through my head, I freeze as something rattles behind me. I bend down, hunching over the suitcase in front of me. My back faces the door. I’m afraid to turn around, scared to death of what I might find. I convince myself that it must have been the wind rattling the shutter doors. I turn my head to the front of the bus so lethargically that I can barely perceive the motion myself.
The steps, the metal flooring, the dash, come into view, lit by the moonlight streaming through the main window.
With shaking legs, I stand again, though I’d much rather sit and rest. My breath is rapid. I try to shake off the intense fear that has gripped me, but I am unable to convince myself that the dangers aren’t real. There are plenty enough real dangers to worry about, but getting off this damn bus seems like it is at the top of the list right now.
With faltering determination, I creep closer to the end of the transit. I can only tell it is the end by the grey night outside the windows at either side. The middle of the bus is an endless void of blackness. My knee finds another case jutting from one of the seats on my right. To the left, a chill wind gusts in, as if it could rob me of any more comfort. I find the edges of the luggage easy enough, but as I unzip it, it shifts. I scramble to catch it, but it slams to the floor. Simultaneously, something scratches the metal decking near the back of the bus.
For several moments, I don’t care to move. I notice a grating or crunching noise. It’s coming from just a few more rows back, where the bus ends. Slowly, I glance back and forth.
Carefully, I reposition the noisy suitcase and open it. As I toss about the contents, something along the trim of the bus cracks and tosses out a flurry of sparks. It stops before my heart begins beating again.
I find a warm sweater inside and pull it over my head carefully. It should help against the wind. I hope the owner doesn’t mind.
Abandoning my rummage through the endless clothing items, tooth brushes, hair brushes, I step a little closer to the back of the bus. If I don’t find a light source soon, I’m going give up and get out of here. I’m hoping that, once I can see, there might be some clue as to where everyone went. Did they all leave? Walk to the next town? Perhaps to seek medical attention for the injured?
As I take the last step I swear I’ll take, my shoe knocks against something bulky, round. It rolls and collides solidly with one of the metal chair legs. I bend down, frantic to find it. I touch the long round metal object. I feel rivets and a widened end. Yes! I’m certain it is a flashlight. I roll it over in my hand, still knelt to the ground, searching for how it turns on. Unable to find a button on the side or the end, I pause for a moment.
Of course! I twist it, and a glaring beam of light bursts across the six-foot span to the restroom door. I can’t focus on anything for several moments. I try to ease my eyes open, but it is much too bright for me to handle as I have grown accustomed to the almost complete darkness. Cautiously, I stand. Aiming the flashlight down, I cup a hand over the top. Methodically, I open my eyes. It takes a moment before I can interpret what I am seeing. A metal floor and ahead to my left, I can see a long, slender fleshy tail writhing back and forth. I ease forward and shift to the right. It’s a possum that appears to be gnawing on the end of something. It is long, malleable, and a pasty white color. The end is red and reminds me of a mutton bone at the state fair in Kentucky. Closer to the window, it tapers off, slowly, a bump and then…
Oh my God! Fingers…
I spin on my heel, ready to bolt out of the bus like a bat out of hell, but before I take my first step the ceiling sparks again and the lights flicker on. I try to block it from my mind as I race towards the door. The floor, the ceiling are streak with profuse amounts of blood. I slip in a puddle that has collected on the decking, where it streams along the ribbed floors. I fall into a shredded seat, bearing gapping slits in sets of three and four. I throw my hand out to catch myself, and I manage to do so, but not without slicing my hand on the broken glass of the window. I leap from the seat and rush past the remaining horror.
I tumble down the steps, almost equally reluctant to face the forest. Feeling vulnerable and visible with the light from the flashlight near me, I twist the end to turn it off. For several moments, I duck near the tire rim, just wishing I could stuff myself in there, anywhere I could be safe. Finally, as I calm down some, I debate if I should consider taking anything from the bus. My rational mind tells me there are things in there that I might need to survive. I could very well die because I refuse to re-enter where… where… such horrid things… Oh God, what happened in there?
I decide to take my chances. I’d rather die than go back in there. Whatever happened to them, I don’t want to happen to me.
My mind pictures the empty seats. No bodies, only blood…
My hand is bleeding, but I have nothing to wrap it in. It doesn’t hurt too bad, so it should be fine.
I have no idea which way to go, but I have to get away from the bus. I have to. I start walking briskly towards where I remember the road was, retracing my memory of the crash. Perhaps a car will pass by.
I don’t make it very far, because from somewhere out in the dusk in that direction comes the most hideous howling noise I have ever heard. It can’t be any further than I am from the bus. As I turn and run in to the woods, I decide I can be farther from it.
Everything spins as I press onward. The frantic motions of my legs jar my brain, which aches with pain. The primal noises that follow me drive me on. I’m not sure what noises are real anymore, or if this is all nothing more than a deranged nightmare of an injured mind. Perhaps, I am truly still lying on the ground from where I was tossed from the bus, slowing dying. Or maybe this is all nothing more than a nightmare. My exhausted limbs and pain seem to suggest otherwise.
Tree limbs snap behind me, but I can’t afford to look back. Whatever is chasing me is becoming more and more determined to catch me.
I’m short of breath and there is not enough adrenaline in me to numb the pain in my chest and legs. I shove past more trees, knowing that I cannot run forever. Whatever is hunting me is drawing closer. I see lights ahead. More come into view. I don’t know what they are, but the hope that they will somehow save me is all I have.
I can’t tell what the lights are, even as I draw near them. They spin round and round. I stagger as I stumble a few more steps, collapsing to the ground. The darkness seeps down from the trees and swallows everything.
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