He bitterly wished he had never started the argument. It had all seemed so innocuous but then it had grown like these silly disputes more often than not did with them these days. It wasn’t just his fault, she had contributed a fair amount of hot air and emotion. Before he knew it he had rounded on her and said, “you bloody well drive then.” As if possessed by some alien being, he found himself slamming on the brakes and getting out of the car. He had absolutely no idea of where they were but this magnificent gesture of defiance was worth it just to see the look on her face. “Are you crazy?” she screamed. “We’re in the middle of nowhere. You’ll have to walk miles.” But he didn’t care. This would make her sorry. She would be more careful next time. If there was a next time for their relationship. She opened her mouth to speak again. Before she could he slammed the door and shouted, “Go on, bugger off.”

Her face hardened and instantly he realised he had pushed her too far, but it was too late now, there was no going back. She slipped across from the passenger seat and into the driver’s seat, pressing hard down on the accelerator as she did. Grinding the car into gear the car shot forward, accelerating down the road until all he could see were the two tails lights disappearing into the gathering gloom.

He looked around him. The enormity of what he had done slowly dawning on him. There wasn’t a house in sight. Furthermore he realised that a car hadn’t passed them in either direction for at least half an hour. A cold wind he hadn’t noticed before tugged at his thin jacket and he shivered. In his haste to get the upper hand he hadn’t even picked up his overcoat from the back seat. Mary had either forgotten or couldn’t be bothered to throw it out. “Bitch,” he they t. ” I bet she knew it was there.” He spoke the last sentence out loud. He had hoped it would make him feel a little braver but instead the words were carried away immediately on the wind. From the direction he assumed to be the east he saw the sky darkening. She would have to come back for him, he thought.

He stood for a few minutes trying to decide whether this was likely then decided abruptly it was not. He pulled up his collar, fastened, with an effort, his jacket buttons and thrust his hands into his trouser pockets. He thought for a few seconds about the direction he should walk in. They had not passed any form of civilization for over an hour. Therefore, he reasoned, it was likely that somewhere, not far up ahead, there must be a village where he could call a taxi or get a bus or something. OK, the North Yorkshire moors were one of the loneliest areas of the country but it wasn’t completely empty. He stepped purposely down the road. He glanced at his watch. It would, he calculated, be dark in less than an hour.

He had been walking for just over forty minutes. He had not seen a single soul or even any likelihood that people lived out here at all. Nor had Mary come back to look for him. Yet she must have driven this way, she must have known that there was nowhere for him to go. “The bitch” he thought again. At least walking had kept him warm but now as he stopped and looked around him, he shivered. His eyes scoured the barren moorland. The wind whined through the bracken. He pulled his collar tighter and started to walk on. He had no choice but to keep going. At this time of year he did not fancy his chances of surviving, without shelter, out on the moor.

It was almost dark when he spotted it. At first he thought it a part of the wall that ran alongside the wall had fallen down, but as he got closer he saw that what he had taken to be a hole was in fact the opening of a small stone-built shelter. As he approached closer still he realised that what he was looking at was actually a bus shelter. His initial reaction was one of relief. This quickly turned to disappointment as he realised that the likelihood of a bus stopping here was very remote. Just as quickly his disappointment changed into confusion. Why a bus stop here anyway? There was no sign of civilization and he hadn’t passed another bus shelter or even bus stop in the last three or four miles he had walked.

He drew level with the shelter. The first thing he noticed was the holly wreath hung over the entrance. Strange place to put a wreath he thought. In the gathering gloom, he looked inside. It smelled or nothing more than age. The inside was quite dry. He could spend the night here if he had to. As if to help him make his decision it began to rain. The moorland that had seemed unfriendly before now assumed with the raking wind and rain, a positively hostile demeanour. He stepped inside and sat down. At once a weariness over came him. He shook himself like a dog. It was far too cold to contemplate sleeping and besides he wanted to stay awake because there was no doubt in his mind that, sooner or later, a car would pass this way. He wanted to be awake when this happened.

Yet despite his determination to stay awake he must have dozed for a moment. How else to explain what happened next. He had heard no sound of its approach, probably because the wind had quickened up considerably and was now howling intermittently around the shelter. Certainly he had not seen the lights even though it was now completely black outside. He rubbed his eyes and shivered once more. The hydraulic hiss of the opening doors convinced him that the bus was real. The driver, a short man with a large moustache, leaned towards him slightly and spoke. “You want this bus or do you have other plans? he asked above the noise of the wind.

Geoff searched his pockets with rising panic. Please let me have money, he prayed. His fingers settled on a number of coins deep in his jacket pocket and he hurriedly pulled them out, laid them in the palm of his hand and examined them nervously in the light of the bus. For a second he heard the pitch of the engine change and he thought the bus driver had grown impatient as was about to leave without him. “Wait,” he almost shouted, “I’ve got money.” There in the palm of his hand were 4 pound coins and some 5 and 10p pieces.

“I have money,” he said, laughing as he climbed aboard.

“OK, mate. Not a problem,” said the driver and then he said something that Geoff thought strange. “You’ll not need to worry about that,” he said. At the time, however, Geoff was just pleased to get on board the bus and out of the increasing chill of the night air.

“How much is it?” he asked.

Again he realised later that the bus driver should have said something like, that depends on where you’re going, but he didn’t he simply said, “Call it a pound.”

“Where are you going to anyway?” Geoff thought to ask.

“You’ll see,” the driver said.

“Well just take me to the next village. Perhaps I can make a phone call from there. I left my mobile in the car,” he started to say by way of explanation but the driver had lost interest. The man simply said, “All part of the service.”

The doors closed with a swish and the driver stared hard out of the bus  window into the tunnel illuminated by the headlights of the bus. He turned and looked at the passengers on the bus for the first time. They seemed an ordinary enough bunch. He moved down the aisle to the back of the bus and smiled at each one in turn but none of the passengers acknowledged his friendly greeting in any way. In fact they stared straight through him. Country folk he thought. Not used to strangers probably. He counted 6 passengers in front if him. Not only did they not speak to him but they didn’t seem interested in talking to each other either. They sat separately, some stared straight ahead while others fixed their attention on the side windows. Not that they could have seen anything through the windows, whether because of the all enveloping darkness or because the windows were extremely dirty, Geoff had no sense of the world outside this bus.

For the first ten minutes or so of the journey this didn’t bother him at all. In fact he thought of nothing other than the fact that he was incredibly lucky to have been picked up at all. Eventually, having seen nothing through the windows of the bus, he turned his attention to where the bus was heading. When he noticed the view or rather lack of it through the front window of the bus, his blood ran cold. Geoff rubbed his eyes and looked again. He had not been mistaken the bus, driven by the small man with the moustache, seemed to be driving at some speed into a completely dense fog. The headlights no longer penetrated the gloom there was nothing at all to be seen through the driver’s window. And yet the driver stared fixedly ahead as if concentrating for all he was worth on the non-existent road ahead.

The driver seemed completely unperturbed by Geoff’s appearance at his shoulder. Geoff looked from him to the window and then back at the driver. Then he turned around and looked at the passengers. They were still oblivious it seemed to their imminent danger. “You can’t see where you’re going. You’re driving along at” – Geoff looked down at the speedometer. Even though the bus was shaking and rattling, even though he could hear the noise of the wheels on the road and could see the driver making small adjustments to the steering wheel, even so, the speedometer registered zero. According to the instrument they were standing completely still. Geoff leaned forward and tapped the glass of the speedometer with the knuckle of his finger. It did not move. The driver made no attempt to stop him. “Even the bloody speedometer’s not working. This bus is a death trap. Let me off. There’s something weird about this whole thing. I’ll take my chances out there, thanks very much.”

“Whatever you say,” the driver replied.

The bus pulled smoothly to a halt. Geoff looked first at the driver and then glanced back at the passengers. They seemed as unaware of his presence now as they had when he first got on. The driver continued to look ahead into the blank wall of fog. He smiled as Geoff spoke.

“Well, thanks for the ride. It was interesting.”

“All part of the service,” said the little man. With that the doors opened and Geoff stepped with great relief onto the road.

The lights of the bus temporarily restricted his vision and it was a few seconds before his eyes grew accustomed to the blackness. As he stared into the darkness the bus moved slowly away. The sense of relief he had felt about escaping from the life threatening ride on the bus drained from him. He shivered but not with the cold that reached out to him. In front of him was a bus shelter. It looked remarkably like the shelter from where he had begun his journey. In fact it was the shelter from where he had begun unless they decorated every shelter in these parts with such wreaths. He shivered again although he could not say why. The wind ruffled his hair and the cold penetrated his thin jacket.

The sensation moved him forward to the entrance of the shelter. What he saw there stopped him in his tracks. Mary sat huddled in a corner of the shelter. Her head was slumped on his chest. As he took a hesitant step towards her, she lifted her head and looked at him. Geoff said, “You came back for me. Jesus, am I glad to see you. it’s like another planet out here. I’ve just had the bus ride from hell.” In his excitement at seeing her he realised he had been babbling on and she had not spoken a word. “You alright?” he said looking at her closely. Her eyes seemed to focus for the first time on his face. “I’m fine. Let’s get back to the car,” she said quietly.

She stood up abruptly and began to walk back down the road. He almost had to run to keep up with her. She didn’t speak. “How far is it and why did you leave the car? How did you come to this bus shelter?” All these questions he gasped out as she walked on. She did not answer his questions but about five minutes later he saw the car parked rather carelessly at the side of the road.

As they approached the car he stopped. There was someone inside the car. He walked slowly towards the vehicle. There seemed to be a woman inside the car and her head was resting against the steering wheel as if she had just pulled off the road to rest for a short while.

“There’s somebody inside the car,” he whispered to her. She did not reply and he turned to look at her. He was alone on the road. He looked around searching for her in the blackness. He called her name. As he did so he heard the engine of the car start. The inside of the car was suddenly illuminated and the woman in the car raised her head from the steering wheel. He saw Mary’s face contorted and bloody. Her neck swollen and bruised where he had choked her a few hours ago. The feeling of his rage came flooding back to him. The argument had not ended with him getting out of the car and storming off down the road. Now he knew the truth. The argument had ended with him strangling her in a fit of uncontrolled madness.

The headlights blinded him but through them he could make out the face of Mary crouched at the wheel, her eyes blazing with hatred. Geoff turned to run from car moving as he did so to the other side of the road. He ran straight into the path of the on-coming bus. The bus hit him with a sickening thump. Geoff was dead before he hit the cold, wet, lonely road. The bus stopped and the driver, a small man with a moustache, climbed down slowly. There was no other vehicle on the road he noted. He looked at Geoff’s lifeless body with interest rather than remorse. “All part of the service,” he said.

 

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