There are three types of small towns: the happy-go-lucky town, the murder town, and the normal one. Our town just so happens to be the last one.
We all go to one school, shop for food at one store, eat out at one restaurant, and buy clothes at the same department store. It’s all very simple.
All of our grades are very small, so they’re squished into one class per year. However, if you ask one of us what it was we did or learned last year, we won’t know. None of us know. All we know is that we went to school and learned something. As far as we know, we get taught the same thing every year.
My name is Claire. I live in this town, like all people do. We all know there’s nothing else out there, and we’ve accepted it. It’s just miles and miles of grass. So you can imagine the surprise when our teachers announced we would be going on a “field trip.”
None of us knew what a “field trip” was, so it had to be explained. Basically, it’s when you get on a yellow bus and drive somewhere other than here. That would be fun if there was somewhere else to go. But there’s not.
“Where would we even go?” Nathan asked one of our teachers, Ms. Harper.
“Outside of the town line,” she said. “Obviously.”
We all exchanged a look. Was Ms. Harper going crazy?
But nevertheless, we all packed our lunches and got on a bright yellow bus the next morning.
I sat next to my friend Kira. Across from us were Emma and Sammi, who brought candies for us to share. But Jake, the brute, stole them. He and his pig friends Lucas and Finn ate them all. It was disappointing, but Sammi is always prepared. She brought extras, and we were sure to keep them hidden.
“Does everyone have their things?” Ms. Harper asked.
“Yes ma’am,” we all chorused.
“Wonderful.” She clapped her hands, and the bus door shut.
We all jumped.
“We’re off!” Ms. Harper said.
The bus began to drive, and we were all a bit nervous. Here we were, in this large yellow thing that hardly seemed safe, crammed together like a can of sardines.
“Kira!” someone called out (I think it was Shawn). “How high can you get your leg?”
“Yeah!” someone else cheered. “Do it!”
It was no secret that Kira was the most flexible person our age, perhaps in our town, and we all took great pleasure in watching her stretch every which way.
Kira lifted her leg up past her head and then back down onto the brown seat. Everyone on the bus cheered and clapped, and Ms. Harper stood up.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we are approaching the town line! Prepare for some… changes.”
Kira, Sammi, Emma, and I all held hands as the yellow bus crossed the town line, and drove past the sign that read, “Thank you for visiting! Come again soon!”
That’s when we heard the scream. That’s when it all came flooding back.
It was pure chaos. People were tripping over each other, trying to get to the bus door, but Ms. Harper snapped her fingers and banished us all back to our seats.
“Enough!” she commanded. “You will speak one at a time, just like you’ve been taught.”
“Let us go!” Charlie pleaded. “Please, we’ve done nothing wrong!”
Ms. Harper smiled, and we all turned a shade whiter. “Neither did the other children, but you’ve been chosen.”
Emma started crying. “Please!”
“You!” Lucas roared, standing up and pointing at our ‘teacher.’ “You’ve brainwashed a whole town, and you expect us to sit quietly and twiddle our thumbs?”
There were sounds of agreement, and Ms. Harper waved her hand. A layer of skin grew over Lucas’ mouth, and he screamed silently.
I gasped and covered my own mouth.
“You have been chosen by the Merciful One! Like all the children before you, you will meet your fate!” Ms. Harper said with a wicked grin.
“Let us go!” Sammi cried.
“The other children had similar reactions when their memories came back, but none of them escaped. None of you will either.”
Emma stood up and threw a gumball at her, then another, and then another one until the whole bag was empty. Ms. Harper’s face was red with rage.
“You dare to hurt me? Me, the Merciful Lord’s messenger? You will pay, girl.” Ms. Harper cackled loudly and Emma screamed. She clawed at her throat, and her pale skin began to grow black.
Sammi screamed and tried to run to the back of the bus, but she fell in the aisle before she could reach the back door.
An invisible force dragged her to the front, and then suspended her in the air. Her blue eyes became red, then black, then white before completely dissolving before us. She began to twitch before she, too, was engulfed in blackness.
Emma was still struggling on the seat, and Kira was trying to help her. She touched her ashen arm, and then the darkness spread. Kira screamed, and then fell onto Emma’s body, becoming a corpse herself.
I covered my eyes as I heard Emma’s crying grow louder and Jake’s screams of “get her!” eventually turned into him choking.
Just like those other children, we would go missing. We would be wiped from the town’s memories and replaced with new, shiny versions of ourselves. Just like those other children, we would be eradicated.
I couldn’t let her do this. I couldn’t. My friends were all dead or would be in a few moments.
So I uncovered my eyes and ran. I ran to the front of the bus and tackled Ms. Harper to the ground. She screamed her horrible scream, and I fought the urge to cover my ears. I took off my shiny black shoe and hit her in the head with it over and over again until her wriggling stopped.
I searched the dashboard for something to open the door, and after what seemed like an eternity of endless button pushing, one yellow button made the door swing open.
“Quickly!” I shouted, running down the little steps. “Run!”
I had expected to hear people shouting for joy and running to safety, but there was nothing. The screams and cries had stopped. There were no sounds of joy. There was only silence.
I slowly walked back into the bus and saw nothing. Nothing at all. My classmates were gone. My friends’ bodies were gone. Ms. Harper’s body was gone from the floor. I was alone.
I walked up the aisle and searched the seats for anyone who might have been hiding when I heard the noise. A person. Someone was clearing their throat behind me.
I turned around expecting to see someone to help me, but I fell to the ground. Ms. Harper was standing there, large black wings stretched out. Her eyes were white and her nails were long and ragged. Her sharp teeth were stretched into a terrifying smile, and her hand was curled around a knife.
“Poor Claire,” she cooed. “All alone.”
“Please,” I said. “Please don’t do this.”
She tutted. “I thought you knew better than to run, my dear. I always thought you’d know not to look into the dark.”
“Let me go,” I begged. My blue dress had been torn, and I was trembling like a baby.
“I thought you knew,” she continued, her voice dropping to a whisper, “that whatever happens in the dark is none of your business. But I was wrong. You, like all children in that filthy town, don’t know any better.” She stepped closer to me and knelt to the floor where I was cowering. “Now you may join them, my dear Claire. That is my final gift to you. Hopefully there, you will know not to fight your destiny.” She gave me one final smile before it was all black.
Ms. Cressida Harper walked back into the town later that day with twenty-two children that looked just like the ones she’d left with. But they weren’t them. Fortunately, no one would know but her. Just like every year.
The yellow bus was parked in a lot and left for the next class, and Ms. Cressida Harper walked into the cafe where she drank a cappuccino. She smiled at the waiter who brought her the drink and smoothed out her yellow and red dress.
Ahh, there really was nothing sweeter than the darkness.