Thursday, June 14, 2007
The Old Woman's Tale Part II.....
"Cigarette young man?", the old woman asked through her tobacco spittle moistened lips.
The thought of making a meal out of her offering of a bent Pall Mall made my stomach turn but I was intrigued at her offer to relate the tale of the town's haunted mass transit vehicle and I didnt' want to offend her simple country sensibilities. I fought back a vigorous gag as I placed the cigarette in my mouth and began to chew. My entire body recoiled from the experience and I gave in to the overwhelming urge to vomit.
"Don't worry, happens to everyone their first time son. It'll pass.", she explained as she placed a wrinkled and swollen jointed hand on my shoulder.
"Why.....would you.......do......that!", I exclaimed, each burst of speech quickly interrupted by waves of nausea and belly cramps.
"Why does the snake shed its skin? Why do bees make honey? Why do my canned beats grow fur if I let 'em set too long with the top off the jar?", she cackled, revealing her one shiny brown tooth.
She must have noticed the shift of my gaze from the ground to her isolated incisor because her smile widened with pride as she exclaimed, "That's my eatin tooth!" I couldn't help but chuckle at her lust for the experiences life provides. I wondered if I would find such joy in the years to come. My newfound vigor began to subside as I pondered my old age.
I believe that she sensed the drop in my spirits. Perhaps to cheer me up she began to spin the tale of Fairbury's haunted bus. Time stopped for us as she told her story, breaking every once in a while to place a fresh Pall Mall into her mouth. Once she paused for several seconds, seeming not to breath. I thought that perhaps this was in order so that she might remember her place in the telling but I worried that she might have died. She smiled and reassured me that she had only needed a moment to let some demons out of the back door.
The old woman was 11 when the Fairbury bus first began to make its run in 1927. It was much shinier back then, and had a good deal more vim as it carried passengers around town. The townfolk appreciated it for its cleanliness and for its convenience, and it was packed from sun up to sun down. That was until the first death.
By the time that the Fairbury bus had completed its first six months, nine people had died in or under it. Their deaths were sensless and unexplainable tragedies:
1. Tank Ragland Sr. was crushed to death by the hood while investigating a strange noise seemingly coming from the engine. A thorough investigation by the town mechanic found no reason for the prop to have given way. Tank was an experienced mechanic himself and would have certainly engaged it.
2. Steve Delacroix was decapitated by the bus while waiting to cross a city street. The right side panel stop sign activated as the bus drove by, catching Steve's head at 50 miles per hour. It rolled down to McTaggart's Ice Cream Parlor and settled in some nearby bushes. According to bus driver Dell Watts there is absolutely no explanation for how the sign extended as it required several turns of a crank which only the driver has access to.
3. Fergie Nixon was crushed to death by the bus as she attempted to retrieve a quarter that had rolled beneath it. The engine has been turned off and driver Dell Watts was on break taking a nap in one of the seats. He claims that the bus lurched forward and then backward several times before settling. The parking break was engaged.
4. Meacus Banner, town mechanic, died of carbon monoxide poisoning while taking a nap inside the bus which was parked inside his closed garage. An experienced mechanic such as Meacus would not have slept inside an idling vehicle parked in a closed garage.
5. Dirk Harris, City Comptroller, was killed while crossing a city street. Driver Dell Watts was unable to stop the bus. A thorough investigation found no defect in the break line or other reason for why the bus not only couldn't be stopped but also continued to accelerate into Comptroller Harris.
6, 7, 8, 9. Siblings Susan, Rod, Siggy, and Lewis Latimer, known around town as the Latimer Bunch, died while taking the bus to a rehearsal for an upcoming church play. Driver Dell Watts became worried when he no longer heard their voices and found their lifeless bodies when he stopped the bus to check on the children. Medical professionals were unable to discover a cause of death.
After the death of the Latimer Bunch, the town bus was decomissioned but once again called into service during World War Two when the replacement bus was confiscated by the army and made into artillery shells. By this time many had forgotten, or refused to remember, the grissly deaths involving the old bus and to this day no further unexplained tragedies have occured.
Many townspeople claim to feel a ghostly presence while riding on the bus. There are many reports of unexplained screams, temperature changes, and even the occasional sighting of shadowy figures either within or near the bus at night. But the many years that have passed since those tragic events in 1927 have led most folks to deny that they ever really existed. Now the bus has become a tourist attraction and a source of only mild interest to the citizens of Fairbury.
The old woman finished her story, and her last Pall Mall, just as the sun was beginning to disappear behind the horizon.
"Well that's my last cigarette, and that is my story young man. I only ask that you take to heart the events that befell this town. I'm the only one left who was there and who experienced the terror. And I'm not long for this world. Sometimes I feel as if the world has left me behind already. Not everything in life has a reason or an explanation. Sometimes bad things happen to good people. And nobody wants to be forgotten."
With that I left the old woman on her bench and headed back towards my car. A few minutes later I realized that I had forgotten to ask her name. I returned to the bench, the bus about which we had spent the better part of seven hours discussing having returned, only to find her perch empty. The driver, whose last name was Watts according to the cursive stitching on the left breast pocket of his uniform, was leaning against the side of the vehicle. The glow of his cigarette stood out in the failing light of the evening.
I inquired about the old woman but was met only with a blank stare.
"I saw you sittin on that bench as I pulled up and you weren't talkin to no old woman. I think you been out in the sun to long today pops.", he shared.
I wished him a good evening and headed back towards my car. It was late and I was starving. I lamented the fact that Agnes would be staying overnight in Strang to attend a pupil's piano recital. It is remarkable how many young boys and girls are interested in piano lessons in Strang, and how many recitals they have in that strange town. Before my thoughts could begin to wander, I heard a man's voice calling after me.
"Sir! Wait up!", the young bus driver shouted.
He approached, out of breath and sweating profusely.
"It was Susan....Susan Latimer. I found this on the bench and I just couldn't help myself. I must have just missed her or something I guess. I don't recognize the name anyhow and I pretty much know everybody 'round this shitsplat town. Here, take it."
He handed me a small folded piece of paper and ran back to his idling bus. I lifted up one half of the note and quickly read the brief message.
"Nobody wants to be forgotten.
That night, as I returned to Belvidere, I thought of something the old woman told me. Not everything in life has a reason or an explanation. I thought long and hard about that and promised to myself that I wouldn't forget.