Shades of Blood #7: The Bus To HellPeter Ackers / Horror
THE BUS TO HELL
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
"How did you die, bud?"
Ricky turned his head to face the man who'd spoken. Given the nasally whine of the man's voice, he'd expected some thin geek; instead he got a hulk with a wild beard and a flat bald head. On the man's neck were tattooed two names inside a love heart. Probably a pair of kids, Ricky figured. He wanted to ask if the mark was a memory aid, but he enjoyed the shape of his nose too much to risk knuckle surgery.
"Sorry?" His head swam. Had he just woken from a deep slumber? And if so, where the hell had he fallen asleep?
"How'd you buy it? How'd you die? Suicide? Accident? Don't be shy - there's no secrets here. You ? Ah, here's the bus."
Bus? Ah, he saw it.
The first thing he noticed was that the bus traversed no road, but rather a vast nothingness, a void so empty and black that Ricky wondered if he was in deep space. Indeed, the vehicle moved through this void as silently and smoothly as any spacecraft. But it was no spacecraft; it really did look like an old bus.
As it neared, Ricky's mind gave up trying to fathom where he was and why he couldn't remember anything before this very minute; instead his concentration locked onto the bus's destination - which was cheaply printed in neat capitals on a wooden board above the windscreen - and he felt a chill explore his spine.
The bald man, who'd introduced himself as Sam, was talking to him, but Ricky wasn't listening. His mind was numb, as if having received a mild electric current across it. He was dead, Sam had explained. This "void" was the anteroom - for want of a better word - between the living world and the afterlife, the place where the many thousands of people who died every week were grouped ready for segregation and then delivery into the next stages of existence. So great were the numbers, and so widespread, that Death's ushers practiced a massive and complex routine to successfully process everyone through the doors of the City of Hell in time for the next week's load.
"Yep, Hell's just a city," Sam said as he led Ricky to the back of the bus. Not deep in the Earth in a physical sense, because you can't get there if you're alive, couldn't just drill down, or anything like that. But it is down there, existing on another dimension or plane or whatever you want to call it."
Rick was hardly listening, his mind still numb, throbbing like his heart, each pulsation forcing up the same truth, and it was one that he didn't want to accept. He was dead! Dead? Howwhenwhy-
"One bus a week for each city," Sam was saying. "Thousands of stops scattered all over the Earth, below access portals, which just happen to be churches. Dunno why. Did the powers that be make us subconsciously build our churches over these portals, or did the essence of what a house of God represents somehow change the texture of the physical dimension and allow access to the next world? Beats me. But it's darn weird, that much I do know." He spoke fluently and sensibly, as if he'd had time to compose his theories on this matter.
"A week?" Ricky said. His mind was tumbling out of control with questions, questions, questions?
"Oh yes," Sam continued. "I must have just missed last week's bus, 'cos I was the first here. I didn't know what the hell - no pun intended - was going on. Thought I was dreaming.. Next man through was a priest, though, that chap there near the front. Polishing the sounding board in his pulpit, whatever a sounding board is, when he slipped and fell and broke his neck. Right in church. Ironic, eh? He didn't have far to go to get here, then." Sam giggled at his own joke. "Yep, so, anyway, the priest explained it all to me. Buses that take the dead to Hell - wow. Bible didn't mention that one. Must be a new thing, regularly updated. Back in Jesus' time, must have been a horse and carriage that took the dead. Ha! The priest didn't mention what he'd done to warrant a place in hell, though." He shrugged. "So, what did you do to deserve this?"
And that was the problem. While Ricky could fully accept that there was an afterlife, because no human wishes to believe that death of the physical body means an end to existence, he had always been ready to accept that what lay in store for the dead might be beyond human imagining, which would explain why there were so many theories abound. Pearly Gates and white tunnels - were these images no less fanciful and naive than the ancient theory of a flat earth around which the sun and the other planets orbited? But the one thing he hadn't ever contemplated was that his soul might be fated for his current destination.
He had always lived a good life; what had he ever done to deserve to go to Hell?