My story began when I refused to take the plane.
It wasn't necessarily because I was afraid of heights—I mean, maybe, possibly, that's part of the reason, but it's definitely not the whole. Both my parents were running short on cash, and I knew taking the bus to Minneapolis from Indianapolis would be the best way to save money.
I didn't particularly like Greyhound—I would have preferred to take Amtrak, for personal reasons—but my mom bought me the tickets before I could argue. She didn't have a preference; she simply wanted to buy the tickets as quickly as possible in the case that all the buses going to Minneapolis the next day would somehow be sold out before we had a chance to look through all the options. That was just type of woman she was.
I had taken the bus up to Chicago a few times, so I knew the standards pretty well, as did my mom. My bus was scheduled to depart from the station in Indy around 5:15 the next evening, and it being December meant I'd be leaving and traveling during the night. I wasn't very much happy about that, but I was old enough at sixteen to be able to take care of myself. And my father was to pick me up in Minneapolis as soon as the bus arrived around 6:00 the next morning, so I trusted him to be there.
The next day, I arrived home from school as usual, and confirmed to my mom that I turned the school absence forms in, as I was required whenever I left for long periods of time. She made me some food to bring on the bus ride, and then we drove up to Indianapolis in silence. It was only after I had gotten on the bus that she started crying. A few minutes later, I saw her drive off, still weeping as she always did when I did something adult-like by myself. Despite my age, she always liked to treat me as a child, no matter how many times I tried to prove to her differently.
A few moments after she left, I began to relax, as I looked around the rest of the bus. It was then that I noticed something peculiar.
There was no one else on the bus. It was only me, and the driver. I checked my watch to see if I'd arrived early, but there was no mistake that I had gotten on exactly at the boarding time. The seat I had taken in the near-back overlooked the entirety of the bus, and the silence felt strange. I shivered, despite the heat blasting from the vents below my feet. Outside, the sun was beginning to set. I bit my lip, an old habit I'd picked up a few years before. I didn't really want to admit that I was nervous, but I would be lying if I said I wasn't.
Five minutes passed, and still, no one showed. I contemplated calling my mom to call everything off—if she knew no one was riding with me, she might have been less likely to let me go in the first place. But I decided to stand my ground anyway. I wasn't a coward. I could take care of myself, I thought.
Suddenly, I noticed someone board. My attention only turned towards the person after I heard the bus driver—a jolly-looking middle-aged man, with a beard and kind eyes—greet them.
I looked up and found myself staring at a strange, shadowed figure, walking down the center isle of the bus. And I say shadowed, because he literally looked like a shadow. He wore all black—black jacket, black jeans, black shoes. His face was covered by an oversized hood, and the only pieces of hair I could see were almost as black as his outfit, and sticking out from underneath. The man said nothing in response to the driver before he walked slowly towards the back, and then, I noticed something else strange about him.
He carried no luggage. None, whatsoever, and on a trip across the Midwest, for that matter. It would be one thing if the bus was only going halfway up the state, but it wasn't.
How could someone carry nothing on such a trip? Unless he had his things waiting for him at the final stop? What was he going to do for food, then? Eat at the transfer and other stops? What was he going to do to keep himself entertained? Twiddle his thumbs?
I didn't understand why I was wondering about this so much. Maybe it was because the day had been long so far and I was growing tired with the setting of the sun, despite the fact it was still so early. I was the type of person who grew crazy without sleep, and paranoia, in any form, was one of my worst symptoms.
I sighed as the man turned his head towards me, sharply, not stopping as he continued forward. He went back one seat behind me and sat down. Why, in this entire open large bus, he had to choose one of the seats closest to me, I didn't understand. But this man was odd, and it only made sense that his mannerisms would be odd as well.
I shifted in my seat uncomfortably. Behind me, the man was completely silent. I couldn't even hear him breathe. Once again, I considered calling my mom, but the plan was stopped short when the driver started up the bus.
"Our first stop will be Lafayette," the driver spoke happily through the intercom, as the bus began to pull out of the station. I turned, wide-eyed, to face the window, and looked out and watched as we quickly left Indy behind.
There was no going back now.