John Carr Walker
The driver lost control on a mountain road west of Spearwood. Our bus slithered across the double-yellows and slapped the guardrail. We prayed, God, don’t let us go over. The bus, carrying a capacity crowd of Spearwood High Students, rooters on our way home from cheering a win in the state playoffs, went over. First on the scene told the newspapers he only stopped because he saw red lights in the fir trees but found survivors climbing toward him. We gave harrowing accounts of our worlds spinning into chaos, filling with smoke and screams, then falling quiet. The driver and three fellow students were killed. After being retrieved from the mountain, the bus was kept under a tarp in the Spearwood junkyard. We hung little crosses on the wire fence to remember Eva Sue Percival, Hal Coats, Mary James, and Mr. Carl Stevens. That was sixty years ago. The memorial crosses are long rotted away. Most of Spearwood forgot The Rooter Bus. The new junkyard owners removed the tarp and washed off the mildew. They leveled the body and built stairs up to the swinging doors. Cut away the worst of the crushed metal and replaced it with plastic tenting. In letters that looked like bloody teeth, wrote haunted bus on the side facing the street. It opened the first of October. The Haunted Bus drew people from Portland and beyond. A few minutes in the bus felt like hours, people said. Screams like ringing in the ears. Gooseflesh so sharp it could cut. People hailed the junkyard owners as special effect wizards. There are still a few of us alive who know differently. We too must pay to ride The Haunted Bus. The doors swing shut and we sit in the dark and swear the bus starts turning circles around us. We hear tires skid on pavement. Shut our eyes and see fir trees peeling back metal. Smell gas and burning. Our arms gooseflesh. We whisper, That you, Eva Sue? Hey, Hal. Scared me, Mary. How fast can the bus go, Mr. Stevens? Our time’s up too quickly.
John Carr Walker is author of Repairable Men (Sunnyoutside 2014). Recently, his work has appeared in Hippocampus, Split Lip, The Rupture, Pithead Chapel, Bodega, and The Los Angeles Review. He teaches at the University of Portland and writes the weekly newsletter John Carr Walker Sitting In His Little Room.