's 2019 Horror Write-off:


Submitted by Anonymous Anomaly

The bus seemed to drive past my house every day. It was always 8:20am. Whenever I had school I would walk up that driveway and know the bus would drive past sure as the sun would rise. It was a hallmark of my childhood.

When I look at the facts, it wasn’t very long at all. Police reports say the bus was only there for 4 days. When I really think about it, I’ve never seen it outside of those moments. But when I don’t dwell, the memories gently create themselves. I feel like it should have been there far longer than it was. It has no place being so intimate if what the authorities say was true.

But it was. It was and I loved it.

The first day I was at the top of the driveway. I don’t remember anything else before that moment, and I barely remember anything after. I remember seeing a bus that was not the familiar yellow. It was white and blue, like a city transit vehicle. By the time I recognized it as different and fixated on it, it was halfway past, but I caught large, undecorated letters spelling CHARON on the side. Everything else seems blurry but those crystal clear words. I still have the doodles I made in class that day. They fill me with nostalgia and yet alone they’re nothing more than scribbles.

The second day I waited for it. When I saw it in the distance I maintained eye contact, stood up straight, did everything in my power to silently make myself known. I took a step forward to the shoulder of the road and it slowed a little. The rumbling engine deepened as the bus ground to a stop. I remember opening its doors and feeling like this was routine. This was normal. This bus was something familiar, yet new. It was like a tear-inducing nostalgia over something you’d never lived. I took a step. This is where people stop believing me.

My foot fell through the first step. It didn’t break the step. It didn’t break my foot. The two passed through each other and I stumbled forward, trying to grab at the handrails, but they were somehow out of my reach. The bus turned a translucent pink and seemed to vaporize in the sun. It was all fading away, and now here I was standing in the middle of the road. I had enough sense left to stagger back to the driveway before a car zoomed past, honking madly. I don’t remember the color of the car or the sound of the honk. 

Sometimes when I tell this part of the story, people ask me if I saw the driver. I can’t answer that question. I can’t describe what I saw. It doesn’t form right.

The third day I got the bus to stop again. The doors opened, but this time I closed my eyes and tried to numb myself before walking up the steps. Maybe it was childhood improvisation. Maybe it was part of whatever connection I developed. My foot hit something solid this time. I walked up and started feeling a range of sensations. My footsteps seemed like they stopped hitting the right places. I couldn’t balance anymore. I opened my eyes in an attempt to position myself and all I saw was sky.

It was as if I was in heaven. Vast clouds surrounded me on all sides like a puffy carpet of white and grey. The bottom clouds stretched out to a lumpy infinity, lit underneath by a golden light I could only guess the source of. The clouds at the top were dark. I thought it was funny that heaven would look so empty. I got the sense that maybe this was a joke. I laughed at the clouds and the broken light until it all washed away and I woke curled up in the driveway.

People believe me when I tell them this part. They remember what the police said and they look so very sympathetic. The news spread fast, even back then.

CHARON came back the fourth day. I knew it would. I knew it now. I walked up to the side of the street and maintained eye contact with the front. The bus approached and slowed. Then it sped up and kept going.

I ran after it at that point. I think at that time I forgot about school. Nothing mattered to me except getting to that bus. Getting inside that bus. I ran across yards and climbed fences and exploited red lights. We entered a tunnel and slowly but surely I gained on it.

I’m glad the tunnel was shorter. I’m glad it opened before I could reach what I’d been so desperately chasing. The bus entered the open air and drove down the highway, and watching it exit were more uniformed officers than I’d ever seen in one place. I think it was at that moment, seeing so many blue shirts and white badges, that things clicked for me. That maybe what I was doing was very, very bad. That maybe I was just some dumb kid fooling around with something much bigger. That’s the first time the CHARON bus scared me.

The police put two and two together faster than I did, but I was already running towards them. It wasn’t horror so much as a feeling of profound wrongness. I wanted them to tell me what would make things feel less strange. They asked me what I was doing, and I told them I was chasing after the bus. They said they were doing the same, then they asked me lots of questions. Lots and lots of questions. I almost had fun answering them and seeing the looks on people’s faces. I felt important. 


Several days later they caught him. His name was Ellis Macrene. They said he thought he was a messenger, that he was doing the work of the lords. He drove a bus pumped with hallucinogenic gases around the state and took the willing for a new kind of ride. Macrene told them he did his part, told them as they walked him up the steps and into the station. He was the ferryman of the gods, and there was no greater honor.

I was one of 18 people, but I was by far the youngest. Sometimes people don’t recognize me; I’ve grown up a lot. When they do, their reactions vary. A lot of them ask me, in polite but eager tones, what I remember of that incident. What I saw. They love the part about the clouds. I can see it in their eyes. They don’t believe I was there, but they believe that’s what I saw.

Whenever I remember the story of the CHARON bus, I remember the initial mystery of it. I remember the power it held over me and the connection I felt to it. But now it’s over. Mystery solved, as they say. Everyone else agrees that the story wrapped itself up.

But I can’t. I can’t because of the second day. When I think about the things the bus did in that moment, when I think about what I saw in the driver's seat, I think the story is far from over. I think maybe Ellis Macrene wasn’t who he believed he was.

CHARON wasn’t written on him, after all.