This story is by Taylor Kimble and was part of our 2022 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
“All aboard!” the conductor hollered.
I dragged my feet up the steps of the double-decker bus, exhausted from my double shift at the hospital. I was surprised that the seats were filled at two in the morning but thought nothing more of it as I made my way down the aisle. The bus lurched as I climbed the stairs to the upper deck, nearly knocking me down, but I finally found an empty seat.
The little boy in front of me turned and peered at me over the seats. I smiled, wiggling my fingers at him. He stared at me a moment, then a slow smile spread across his face.
“Are you an angel?” he asked.
Confused, I stayed silent, until the boy reached and tapped the golden halo suspended above my head.
“Oh, yes. I nearly forgot! Happy Halloween.” My make-shift halo, a last-minute effort for a Halloween costume, was an easy addition to my nurse uniform.
“Welcome to the Night Bus, Clara,” said the boy.
Goosebumps prickled the back of my neck. He must have seen my name tag, but it was a weird thing for a child to say. I smiled warily as the yellow glow of a streetlamp flashed across his face, and just for a moment, the little boy’s face seemed something else entirely.
“What’s your name, young man?”
He said nothing and turned to face the front. I leaned back in my seat, closing my eyes and rubbing down the goosebumps.
A montage of disturbing images flashed across the back of my eyelids. Needles pierced the skin of children and the elderly—a cool, clear liquid emptying into their veins. Yellowed eyes dripped with blood, and something squeezed my neck until I couldn’t breathe.
A bell tolled, jolting me awake. I hungrily sucked in gulps of air. It was just a dream—no, a nightmare. I checked my watch: 3:00 a.m. I was still an hour away from my stop.
“Trick or treat!”
I jerked to the side, my heart thundering in my chest. The nameless boy now stood a few feet away, holding out a brown burlap sack. Staggered throughout the aisle stood other kids, all holding those brown scratchy sacks. Something wasn’t right. No one moved. No one spoke.
“I-I’m sorry, sweetie, but I don’t have any candy,” I said with the best smile I could muster.
“That’s okay! We don’t want candy.”
“No candy?” I started, “What do you want?”
The boy just smiled at me as if I hadn’t asked him a question. After another moment of silence, I said,
“So, umm, where’s your costume?”
“I’m wearing it, silly!” He wore no costume makeup, nor a mask—no Halloween costume at all—just normal jeans and a red T-shirt with a race car on the front.
“I-I don’t understand. What—”
“Trick or treat,” a little girl said to the large man a couple rows ahead.
Without hesitation, the man drove his hand into his chest, smashing through the ribcage. He roared in agony as he ripped his heart through jagged bones. Blood spurted from the torn ventricles, and he dropped the heart into the girl’s burlap sack. By all scientific reasoning, the man should be dead, but he reached back into the bloodied cavity. He pulled out more of his insides, the mess reminding me too much of a bloody afterbirth. More passengers disemboweled themselves and presented their entrails to the children.
I doubled over, heaving my semi-digested dinner onto the floor. Wiping my mouth, I looked at the boy with the race car shirt.
“What is happening?” I gasped.
“Let me show you,” he said in a contorted voice. As if he wore a mask, he gripped beneath his chin and peeled back a large slab of skin. He wiggled his fingers at me, jagged claws slicing through his fingertips. My entire body trembled as he shredded his face into scraps of flesh and muscle, revealing a set of yellow eyes. His body broke and twisted before me: scorched wings sprouted from his shoulders, a barbed tail lashed through the air, and two small horns pierced through his forehead.
The other children screeched as they too ripped themselves from their flesh. These were not children, but demons. A scream tore itself from me as the small demon grinned, showing several rows of pointed teeth.
“Trick or treat!” he screeched, lunging at me.
I thrusted my foot forward into his abdomen and sent him tumbling down the aisle. Bolting from my seat, I sprinted for the stairs. The demons shrieked behind me, but I dared not look back as I ran down the steps. I ran down the aisle toward the driver, but when I reached the front, I only found another set of stairs leading down.
Panting, I looked behind me. The demon children barreled toward me, clawing over each other and snarling trick or treat. As if compelled by the words, each passenger tore at themselves. It was a sea of red as blood sprayed and poured from ripped limbs and gouged eyes.
I ran down the next set of stairs, only to find more passengers clawing at themselves. Then more stairs and more disfigurement—endless levels of stairs and carnage. There was no way out. I’m going to die here.
“Clara…” a breathy and sinister voice moved through the air. I spun around, and the demon boy grabbed me, dug in his claws, and ripped the arm from my body. Blood shot from the limbless socket, and a shrill cry rose out of me. The demon flung me like a ragdoll against the metal wall, and I crumpled to the ground.
“What is this?” I whimpered, blood gargling in my mouth.
“It’s the night bus, my child. The place between Heaven and Hell where you pay for your sins.”
“Purgatory? I’m… dead?”
“Very much so,” he hissed, taking a large bite out of my detached arm.
“A patient attacked you. Strangled you to death.” He smiled and flicked his spiked tail against my face, drawing out another cry.
“Why are you doing this? I don’t belong here!”
“Oh, Clara,” he soothed, “Look around you.” He nodded toward a young woman, chewing off her toes. “She carved her husband into pieces and made stew to feed the homeless. And that man to your left—tearing at his eyelids and fingernails—he kidnapped teenagers and set them on fire. This is exactly where you belong.”
“I’m nothing like them. I help people!”
“Like you helped ten-year-old Dean?” The demon flashed into Dean Sampson.
“He was dying of cancer—I gave him peace.”
“And Tori Nauss?” The demon changed again.
“She had advanced Alzheimer’s. She couldn’t even remember her own daughter.”
“Sorry, Clara . . . What did you think would happen?” The demon flashed into different people. Patients from the hospital. People I had cared for.
“You killed all those innocent, defenseless people. You took away their choice.” The words came out in an ensemble of voices. “You took away our lives.”
“Stop,” I pleaded. Pain welled inside my chest as I pushed myself to my knees. I was helping people, I’m not a murder. “I’m not a murderer.”
“You’re an Angel of Death,” he whispered. He whipped his tail around my neck and squeezed as he raised me into the air. “I’ll give you a choice though, Clara—a chance to take my test. If you pass, you may haunt the Night Bus as a ghost. You’ll be invisible, but you’ll never be harmed. If you fail, you’ll be a passenger—condemned to endless pain and torture. For the test, you must answer one simple question, truthfully. Do you agree to my terms?”
“Excellent! Now, my little Angel, you killed 106 people in your lifetime. Did you take those lives as an act of kindness? Or because you wanted to take those lives?”
I’m not a murderer. Those people needed my help… what would their lives be if they lived with cancer riddled organs? Decaying brain function? Pill addictions? The ones who divulged their secrets to me—did they deserve to live when they committed adultery? Or stole from their friends?
This demon was wrong.
“I saved those people,” I choked out.
“Thank you, Clara.” His tail tightened on my neck, squeezing until my eyes bulged from their sockets and darkness swallowed the Hell around me.
A bell tolled. I jolted awake, gulping in fresh air. I grabbed for my arm—it was still there. My head pounded, but I reminded myself that it was only a nightmare.
“Excuse me, Miss. Are you an angel?” a small voice sounded beside me. I stayed silent. No, it can’t be. I turned to face the little boy who wore jeans and red race car T-shirt. His smile wide and innocent.
“No,” I whispered.
“Welcome to the Night Bus, Clara,” said the boy.