Earth: heaven for those with vision, hell for those with reason.
Joey’s house was the last one on Riverdale Road before the bend. Tzhere were no other houses for a mile, and the single-story house had an aged, weary look. It also needed repair and a lick of paint. The rose stems that Joey’s mother had planted in front had wilted. Brown leaves clung to the shrivelled stems.
Two plots down and across the street stood a crumbling mansion, the walls seared black. Keeping company was the burnt trunk of a tree within hand’s reach of the mansion. Mother never spoke of the mansion. Sometimes when Father spoke of the madman who burnt his wife and children alive, Mother shushed him.
In front of the mansion was a bus shelter. A sign hanging off the front of the shelter announced the name of the stop, but the letters were faded. A few paces further, the crumbling asphalt ended and the road continued unpaved. It dipped into a gentle decline, turned around a clump of bare, tall tree trunks and vanished from sight.
On hot summer days when it rained, steam hissed from the tin roof of the bus shelter. “Satan has his kitchen below, he only cooks when it rains,” Joey’s mother told him over lunch, after they had thanked the Lord for the food.
When it did not rain, for sometimes it did not, hot winds blowing from the rocky waste beyond whipped up clouds of dust that swirled in front of the bus shelter.
“Is the devil cooking again?” Joey asked.
Mother shook her head, “It’s the Satan’s wife, she’s a vampire, come to pick a fight with her husband.”
Joey sat by the window, his chin on the windowsill, hoping to catch a glimpse of the vampire or the Satan. Other children in school spoke of their visits to the zoo, of seeing lions, tigers, and bears. Joey hoped to tell them that he had at least seen the Satan or the vampire.
Joey wanted to play underneath the shelter, but was worried that he might wander into the Satan’s kitchen and not be able to find his way back. Or worse, the childless vampire might carry him away. So he just sat by the window and watched. Sometimes when he felt brave, he tip-toed to the edge of the pavement in front of his house and stared at the bus shelter. Sometimes he saw shimmering waves rise from the hot asphalt in front of the shelter. Within moments, the vampire would arrive, swirling her skirts of dust and Joey ran back inside to the safety of the folds of Mother’s skirt.
One cloudless day when the sun beat down hard, Joey sat watching from behind the window – the vampire would arrive any moment. He kept his eyes fixed on the shelter, but it was his ears that picked up something. It started as a low rumble that progressively got louder.
Was the vampire bringing her relatives? Joey was scared and excited at the same time – he would finally be able to tell the kids at school that he had seen something.
Soon, the source of the racket came into view.
It was a bus.
Spewing clouds of black smoke, it ambled along, like the frogs that crawled on thick slush. The paint on the bus was faded, and coated with dust. The sign on its side read: ROUTE 13.
“Mom… mom…” Joey cried, “look! The vampire has brought her relatives!”
Mother stomped out of the kitchen, a ladle dripping gravy in her hand. “What nonsense…” She stopped. The bus crossed their porch. She grabbed Joey’s shoulder and muttered, “May the Lord in heaven save us.” Her hand on his shoulder turn cold.
The bus shuddered to a halt. Joe saw two men and a woman waiting for the bus. He hadn’t seen them arrive – where had they come from? They were dressed in rags, and it looked like they hadn’t seen a wash for a while – neither the people nor their clothes. The bus had stopped a little ahead them and they walked slowly get in – first the men, then the woman.
Just before she entered the bus the woman stopped, and turned around. She looked at Joey. Mother gasped and covered Joey’s eyes with her hand. The image of the woman, unkempt hair falling down her dark face, black eyeballs in exceptionally white eye-whites staring at him, seared into his mind. Just before Mother closed his eyes, he saw the woman’s lips part in a thin smile.
That night, Joey had a severe stomach upset. He threw up all that he had eaten since morning. The retch in the toilet bowl was green-black. Mother wrung her hands and looked at Father. Father looked at the calendar and shook his head.
It was Friday the 13th.
Joey felt tired and closed his eyes. When he opened them, it was bright all around. There was the sweet smell of incense. He sat up and saw the flask of holy water on the bedside table. His forehead felt damp.
Mother and Father rushed to his side. Mother touched his forehead. “The priest was right. It has taken three days for the fever to subside,” she said.
Father nodded. He tied a black thread around Joey’s neck, a silver crucifix dangling from it. “This will keep our Joey safe.”
The next time his friends mentioned the zoo and seeing wild animals, Joey kept quiet and touched the crucifix. The feel of the cold metal was reassuring, and he felt less afraid. He knew that with it around his neck, no vampire could carry him off. Yet, he kept a safe distance from the bus shelter and skipped his daily watch by the window.
After a few weeks, he felt brave enough to steal quick glances. The Satan cooked in his sub-terranean kitchen, sending up wisps of smoke in the rain and the vampire came too, picking noisy fights with her husband.
At noon the next time on Friday the 13th, Mother yanked Joey off his perch and bolted the windows and door shut. She grabbed Joey and huddled into the corner farthest from the window, holding Joey tightly.
Joey felt afraid and pinched the crucifix at his neck. Mother clutched Joey’s hand. “A few minutes, and the cursed bus to hell will leave,” Mother said. Her voice was hoarse.
Joey and Mother waited. But all was still and quiet. “Why has the bus not left?” Mother asked. Joey didn’t know the answer. They waited a while longer. Still nothing. “Maybe it has left, and I didn’t hear,” Mother put Joey down and walked to the window. She put her ear to the window, which was bolted shut, her eyebrows knotted in concentration. “I think it has left,” she said and opened the window a wee bit.
The next moment she slammed it shut and staggered back screaming, “Joey… hide! Joey hide!” Joey’s heart jumped into his throat. He bolted to the bedroom and hid inside the closet. He shut his eyes and clutched the crucifix tightly.
Joey felt a rude jolt on his shoulder and screamed.
“Joey…Joey… it’s me… daddy…” the voice said.
Joey opened his eyes. It was indeed Father.
“Did you sleep off or did you faint?” Father asked.
“Mmm…mummy?” Joey asked.
Father turned to the bed. Mother lay on it, unmoving.
“The priest has sprinkled holy water on her. She will be alright in three days,” Father said. He did not go to work and sat by Mother’s bedside the next three days.
On the third day Mother sat up. “Joey! Joey!” she cried.
Father grabbed Joey and pulled him closer to the bed. Joey clutched the crucifix tightly.
Mother hugged and kissed Joey. “I saw them… there were six. And the last one… she saw me.” Mother shuddered at the recollection.
Father pulled out a crumpled paper packet from his pocket. He took out a black thread and tied it around Mother’s neck. It had a silver crucifix. He took out another one and tied it around his own neck. The crucifix on his thread was not shiny. “We don’t have to worry now. As long as the Lord’s blessing is around our neck, even the baddest vampire won’t be able to touch us.” He turned to Joey. “Don’t remove it from your neck ever. Otherwise, the vampire will carry you away.”
Joey kept thinking about the bus and its passengers. “Where does the bus go?” he asked at dinner a few days later.
“What bus?” Father asked.
“The bus that comes to that shelter every Friday the 13th,” Joey pointed a finger in the direction. Mother pulled his hand down.
“It is the bus of hell. It carries condemned souls, evil people who have done a lot of bad things, to hell,” Father explained.
“Bus of hell?” Joey asked. He had heard of heaven and hell in Sunday school.
Father looked at Joey. “Yes, and there will be no more talk of it in this house ever again.”
A hundred questions popped up in Joey’s head, but he ate quietly. The priest at the Sunday school had said that those who say their prayers morning and evening and never lie go to heaven while those who swear, lie and steal go to hell.They only gave one oatmeal cookie each after Sunday school. And Mother only served porridge and meatloaf, never any pies. Joey hoped there was pie every day in Heaven. He never lied.
The next Friday the 13th, Joeystayed indoors with Mother, but the bus did not come. That night Mother and Father had locked the bedroom from inside and Joey slept on a thin mattress in the living room. Unable to sleep, Joey stared at the dark ceiling. His eyelids were growing heavy when he heard a familiar sound.
Joey was surprised. Why was it coming at midnight today? He listened intently and was even more surprised. The bus arrived from the opposite direction! He crawled to the window, crouched, and peeked out. He clutched the crucifix all through.
It was dark outside and there were no streetlights, but he could make out the silhouette of the bus. It stopped at the bus shelter and Joey saw figures get off the bus. This was new! People getting off the bus?
After a few moments, the bus chugged away. Joey’s gaze followed the bus until it coalesced into the darkness, and he could no longer hear the engine. He turned back to the bus shelter. There was no one there now. He squinted hard to see if the darkness was hiding them, but no – the bus shelter with its room was clearly visible in silhouette, but there was no one around.
The next morning at breakfast, Father was exceptionally loud. “Give me more dear, I am exceptionally hungry.” He laughed so loud that the walls shook.
Mother laughed too and hummed a song as she walked into the kitchen.
“What does the bus do?” Joey asked.
Father, stirring sugar into his cereal, did not notice. “Eh?” he said, continuing to stir the cereal.
“The bus that comes here,” Joey turned and pointed, “what does it do?”
Father stopped stirring. “It is the bus to hell. It takes people to hell. Didn’t I tell you never to talk about it?”
But Joey was insistent. “Every time? Every time it takes people only to hell?”
“Yes! Every time it appears it takes people to hell!” Father banged his fist on the table.
Joey looked down, thinking. Then he said slowly, “Yesterday, the bus came. But it came from the other side and dropped off people.”
Joey looked up. “You said that the bus takes people to hell.”
“It dropped off people here. Does it mean that this is hell?”
The legend of Riverdale Road, Colorado
For 11 horrifying miles, Riverdale Road near Thornton, Colorado is crammed with enough horrifying legends to bring even the bravest paranormal investigator to his knees, from a ghostly runner attacking parked cars on Jogger’s Hill to various demons and even a phantom Camaro revving up and down the winding road. But the Gates of Hell seems the epicenter. The physical iron gates are now gone, but what remains is the partial shell of an old mansion where a madman supposedly burned his wife and children alive. Left behind are the barren, charred plot of land and a white-clad woman who wanders the area. She’s joined by the ghosts of slaves supposedly hanged from the now-charred tree. Go ahead and run away when you see something creepy like an ethereal pack of dogs… you’re probably just going to bump into something worse, possibly Hell, a portal to which some believe is here. That maybe explains why so many demons were conjured in a weird underground chicken coop near a set of underground tunnels.
Where it came from: It’s unknown when things got really hairy, though given the spirits of ghost slaves, it’s safe to assume terrible things have been happening on Riverdale Road since the 1850s. And each time something terrible happened over the decades, it just kind of got stacked onto this nesting doll of a horror show. – AK
Source:https://www.thrillist.com/travel/nation/creepiest-urban-legend-in-every-state-american-folklore accessed on 29 November 2022
This Post Has 16 Comments
The story was quite interesting and the ending was the cherry on the cake! I like such stories where there is no blood or gore but the ‘feel’ of horror… good one
Why are the parents livelier and louder the next day, I could not understand. Are they now possessed by the pAssengers from the bus? This was an interesting read, the character of the child was well executed, it added an enigma to the story.
A nice horror story with few characters but mustering quite an atmosphere of suspense. Would have liked to read a sequel to this!
Very nice story, great build up with a nice twist to the end, loved it!
crisp writing, cool buildup to a smashing climax. Quite a joy to experience!
A very well written story. Reading it was nothing short of watching or visualizing it. It was creepy and scary. The ending was unexpected and outstanding. I wish the author all the best in all his writing endeavours.
I enjoyed reading this story with its hint of horror, and no actual gore. The concept of Heaven and Hell and the bus that carried condemned souls to hell is a scenario that brings chills and anticipation. What is going to happen when the bus comes next? The descriptions of Satan and the vampire are beautifully aligned with the falling rain and the hot winds swirling dust clouds. The build-up to the eerie ending is slow but effective and echoes the quote at the beginning -“Earth: heaven for those with vision, hell for those with reason.”
Thank you Deepti, for the wonderful comments and the nuanced reading. I am glad that the opening line resonated!
The Satan and Vampire by rain or sun makes it so relatable. The story has its own charm because it does not describe anything gory with blood or flesh, yet it leaves you feeling creepy and nervous. The story had this stupendous hair raising element and I truly wish to have a sequel to this story. Excellent vocabulary and power packed narration.
You have created a hell (Pun intended) of an spooky atmosphere. The reader is kept in anticipation, that some kind of evil is going to descend on Joey’s family. The creepy atmosphere, clubbed with the anticipation makes this an interesting read. I would definitely look forward to an sequel.
This one is delicious! The language is just right, and fits the prompt as well as a child’s POV. In fact, you have done a commendable job narrating from a child’s POV- focusing on the kind of things a boy would- pies for example. The bit about the vampire kicking up a dist storm with her skirts, and hiding in mother’s skirts was also amazing. Subtle things like the father’s crucifix being less shiny…gave a real-life touch to it. And the end was mind blowing!
My only pointer- a round of editing is needed- few misspelt words like Story/storey. Also, I want to know how did you visualize it…has hell shifted to the mansion? Is hell at Joey’s home? I know I might be killing the mood here, but I struggle with clarity in my horror stories, am trying to learn.
My God! This chilled me to my bones! and the twist at the end…mindblowing! Also, thank you for providing the links to the legend. Being a horror buff, shall read at leisure!
Horror and that too from the POV of a child! Too good! I was completely engrossed and waited with bated breath to see how your story would end. I was satiated! Brilliant language, lovely pace, excellent narration. I totally, totally loved it.
The last line elevates the story to a different level altogether and places it amongst the top contenders for the crown. The author’s note almost becomes a part of the story and this fact deserves praise.
What a fabulous tale! The atmosphere is spot on. The narrative is extremely engaging and ominous, with a tonne of mystery and intrigue, and the execution is remarkable.
The boy’s innocence is revealed slowly, starkly and beautifully!
For pointers- this sentence seems to have some missing words – The bus had stopped a little ahead them and they walked slowly get in – first the men, then the woman.// …ahead of them and they slowly marched inside….
The reason for the change in personalities of the mother and father is unclear. It has something to do with the night bus, but what exactly is not evident. The cross around the father’s neck is faded. Does that mean he has been here longer than the other two? Are the parents some sort of spirit guardians/wardens?
I have so many questions! Please write a longer version and help me understand.
The best thing about this story, for me, as a writer, is how you make it seem so effortless. This is a huge learning for me.
This story flows like a river; effortlessly well while being so calm about its journey. Details have been painted beautifully; from the boy’s curiosity to the atmospheric details of the setting. Some finer details are a bit unclear, had they been fleshed out, this would’ve been a masterpiece! I thoroughly enjoyed reading this tale!