Timmy stood at the back of the line, in no particular hurry. The other children piled on the bus, chattering excitedly, happy to be done with another school day. He waited patiently for them to load up, content to always get on last. He was the last to get on and the last to get off every day, for his stop was the farthest, over thirty minutes after the last child had been dropped off. He got on last and sat in the far back, which he liked because after the others were gone he felt like he was driven on a giant limozine, just him and the driver.
Miss Kellerman gave him a slight smile and a knowing wink as he passed, as if they shared a secret. They did.
The bus lady smoked.
It didn’t bother him, not being so far from the front, and she always opened the windows when she smoked. Timmy was the new kid, having only moved here to this small New England town a few weeks ago. Before he had come along, Miss Kellerman’s route had been much shorter, she had explained to him, and she usually stopped for her evening cigarette at four thirty every day. He had noticed her looking at him in the rearview mirror, making small talk and asking him about himself, when one day she offered him a dollar if he minded if she smoked while she drove. Being seven years old a dollar sounded very appealing to Timmy, so they had struck a deal, and he had become used to his extra allowance, even looking forward to it. It was their secret of course, one he could easily keep from his parents as well as the other children.
With the money he’d been receiving he had been buying mostly candy, but last night he had gone to the mall with his mom, and had bought a comic book called Horror Tales in the Third Dimension.
He trudged through to his regular spot, ignoring the attempts at bullying he received from a couple of the bigger boys as he passed, thinking only of his new prize. Setting his backpack on the floor in front of him he removed the comic book, staring reverently at the three dimensional ghost seeming to come out of the cover. He quickly flipped it open to reveal the paper glasses that came with it, gingerly removing them. He was so involved in what he was doing he forgot where he was a moment, feeling as if he was already the only one left on the bus. He donned the glasses, about to enjoy his comic when he realized someone was talking to him.
“Hey geek,” Samantha Deary said, ”what are you doing, reading a stupid comic book?” She seemed irritated, like she always did whenever she happened to speak to him. He didn’t know why she acted that way towards him. Why she would even speak to him at all if she hated him so much. She was turned around in the seat in front of him, sneering down at him with grim disapproval. He felt a little embarrassed sitting there with his red and blue glasses. The other kids were busy talking and doing their usual routine stuff so he saw no one else was paying him any attention. He was about to ignore her and continue on with his book when suddenly he caught a glimpse of Miss Kellerman’s face in the rear view mirror.
What he saw made his blood run cold.
Miss Kellerman’s face had changed. Some dead thing appeared in the mirror, its skin a mottled gray and greenish color, with some black areas that he could see. Her stringy white hair clumped in spots and seemed bare in others, as if she had pulled out huge handfuls of it at some point in time. Her tattered lips barely covered broken looking pointed teeth. Spit or some sort of ooze glistened on her chin, catching the sunlight as her head moved. Patches on her cheeks loooked about to split, where maybe bugs might spew forth at any moment. All this he saw in but a second, and he was about to look away when her eyes caught him.
Her eyes were the worst. Dead, staring eyes, the pupils half lidded and slightly off from each other. It was an odd illusion, like they were half rolled back into her head, yet he knew they looking right at him, maybe deep into him. They bulged somewhat, the hollows of her eyes larger and deeper than normal. And they were as black as tar, eyes that reflected the nothingness of the abyss.
Samantha screamed with laughter, announcing to the occupants of the bus that the ’little baby peed his pants’. Timmy felt dazed, looking down slowly at his crotch, where he had indeed peed his pants. He sat there with his head down, staring at the pee stain, aware others were looking and laughing about it. He heard comments being made about him, muffled and distant. He began to shake, trembling with the cold that settled into his bones. His world shrank down to the point of a pin, everything growing quiet and the light of his existence blinking out as he passed out for holding his breath.
He awoke not much later, a few of the children now departed. Samantha now a couple of rows down on the other side of the bus. she peered at him with plain disgust on her face but she said nothing, and the other children left were now quiet. He wondered what had happened after he passed out. His glasses were not on his face anymore, now neatly folded on his comic book. He shrank down in his seat, not wanting to see Samantha or the others or especially Miss Kellerman as they drove on. He lost his enthusiasm for the comic as well, looking down at it with a certain detachment. He squeezed his eyes shut and tried to determine if what he had seen was real or he had imagined it somehow, or maybe it was all a dream when he passed out. The bus made a couple short stops and before he realized it he was once again alone with the bus lady.
“Well, it’s that time, Timmy,” she said as she lit up. He didn’t want to look up.
“I know you’re back there, I saw you get on, son. You okay today, Timmy?” she said with a puff of smoke.
“I don’t feel well today, Miss Kellerman,’ he said hoarsely, ‘I think I might have the flu.” The lie sounded lame even to him but he hoped that the hoarseness of his voice would help convince her. He didn’t think she knew what he saw but he wasn’t sure, and he didn’t really want to find out.
An uncomfortable silence fell, and neither of them spoke again. He had reached his stop. His parents house lay just a short distance up the dirt road they were now in front of.
“Okay, Timmy, here we go, off with ya then, ” she said, digging into her purse for his dollar bill. He slid off his seat absently, almost fogetting his book and pack. He grabbed them without looking, the long walk to the front of the bus a daunting one. His legs felt like noodles, barely able to support him. He tried not to fall as he approached the front. The backpack felt very heavy and the dimensions of the bus changed very dramatically. It was very confining, the sides closing in on him while the front exit felt like miles away to him. He still did not look at her, though he could her eyes on him. A piece of old dried skin came into his field of vision as he looked towards his feet, making him gasp in astonishment. It was her dollar bill, out in her old wrinkled hand, which he now knew was much older than anyone knew. He did not want to take it.
“Oh, what have we here?” She spoke with a note of humor in her voice. “Holding out for more money are we?” She laughed, an old dry sound in her withered throat.
“OKay, you can have a bonus today I suppose, seeing how you don’t feel well and all. Because you are such a good boy, and you can keep a secret so well.” She leaned forward, and he could smell death and decay exuding from her breath or her body or both.
“Look at me, Timmy.” She said suddenly. He didn’t want to.
“Look at me.” She repeated, a little more forcefully. He willed himself to look up, for he couldn’t leave the bus yet, because she still hadn’t opened the doors.
“You’re a good boy, Timmy, ‘ she said, ‘I know I can trust you to keep our little secret, like we have.” She looked intently into his face. No sign he saw of her real face, the underneath face, but he felt it was there not too far under the surface of this mask. Her eyes did seem somehow dead if you looked close enough, and he felt the hair on the back of his neck stand on end as he nodded. “Of course, Miss Kellerman,’ he said as though he wasn’t deathly afraid, with piss stains down his pants.
“You need your smoke break. I like the deal we have. ” A thought struck him.
“And a bonus dollar on Fridays would be a nice idea.” He blurted out, amazed at his own nerve even as he feared her reaction.
“Sure, Timmy, no problem,’ she replied easily, a smile on face.
“Besides, if you ever tell, I”ll know.”
And with that, the door behind Timmy opened, and he retreated till he nearly fell out the door, and it wasn’t until she had closed them again till he turned and fled. He ran the distance to his parents house, panting hard when he burst through the door.
“Whoa, whoa,’ his mother said, ‘what’s going on with you?”
He had tried to run right to his room but his mother caught him and seeing him in such a disheveled state had taken an immediate interest.
“Oh my, Timmy, is that pee…?” She started to ask, concern on her face. He knew he couldn’ keep his mouth shut, he was about to break down crying and God knew what else.
“Mom mom!” He gasped, “Mom, I have to tell you something, you’re not going to believe me, though” He said breathlessly.
“What is it, Timmy?” She said. Then a knock on the door. He looked up, naked terror showing on his face. She was going to open the door! He could not stop himself, it was all over. He saw the door swing open as he closed his eyes to the horrific vision of Miss Kellerman.
“The bus lady smokes!” He bellowed as his widened eyes gazed upon the two women by the door, both gaping at him in surprise, one handing the other something that looked like a pair of 3D glasses.