Monday, 14:30, route 31
Despite every seat being filled, the bus’s atmosphere is subdued. The air is just cold enough to be uncomfortable, and voices are smothered by the ambient noises of the bus and outside traffic. Really, only a small group near the front makes any conversation at all, and from a distance, it seems they are only moving their mouths and not making noise.
They aren’t, of course, but most of the other passengers are too absorbed by books or music to care.
“I thought the drama program only had a Wednesday pickup rehearsal after opening,” Willow says, twirling a strand of black hair around one finger. “Does Marie just ride a different bus home?”
Shrugging, Divinity picks at a sliver of dry skin under her fingernails. “She told me she was riding home with the rest of the crowd today, but she probably used one of Mr. Morey’s teleportation spells. I mean, there was a lockdown.”
“Speaking of that lockdown,” Drake starts, “what could have happened?” He leans forward and clasps his hands together to rest his elbows on his knees. “We only have emergencies when Mrs. Eaton sets off the fire alarm during a chemistry lab.”
Divinity crosses her arms and watches a weathered church building pass in the window behind Drake and Willow. “I’m pretty sure there was another accident by the gas station. I mean, look.” She gestures at the rest of the bus, careful to avoid stretching her hand in front of the lanky guy next to her. “No one on this bus even has light hair except you, Drake.”
Drake is not blonde—his hair is an amalgam of golds and browns—but he still stands out. Self conscious, he tugs on his widow’s peak and looks at the black and brown heads dotting the bus. He gulps. “That would explain why Marie isn’t here.”
“Why didn’t the school tell us?” Willow asks. She quirks her lips in a puzzled frown and pauses in fiddling with her hair.
“Oh, we’ll get a letter tomorrow. The school district is always slow.”
Satisfied, Willow lets out a short hum and squeezes her backpack to her chest. She wants to ask Drake what he will do if or when his thief is caught by the serial car accidents, but the bus is too quiet for that question, and Divinity would use any mention of Drake’s thief to springboard into investigation techniques. “How to figure out your mother’s computer password” is not a lesson Willow is interested in hearing. She considers ways to segue into a conversation about her latest triumph in P.E. but Divinity jumps up, and Willow’s train of thought crashes. “Is something wrong-
“Oh my gosh,” Divinity breathes. Without looking, she reaches for the handrail on Willow’s side of the bus and staggers to the window. “What is that?” With her jaw dropped and her eyes as wide as dinner plates, she looks almost comical.
However, the concerned bends in Divinity’s eyebrows fends off all hilarity, and Willow finds herself straining to see out the window behind her, hands gripping the seat cushions. Outside, a line of intangible blue and white shadows has taken over the sidewalk. They range from distinct figures to misty shrouds of spirit, but the queue is undeniably made up of ghosts.
“Is that Joshua McIntyre’s ghost?” Drake mutters. He is twisted around as well, nose almost touching the glass, and his backpack is falling into the lap of the person next to him, who doesn’t notice or care.
“But he was pulling out the bleachers today,” Willow says. Pressing her cheek on the window, she peers forward to see where the ghosts are headed. A block away stand the brick apartment buildings, and as the bus rumbles to the end of the block, Willow can see the fuzzy line of specters curve through the complex’s parking lot. A tributary flowing from the opposite direction joins the river of ghosts at the main door of Divinity’s building, and Willow gapes at the sheer number of spirits.
When someone finally pushes the stop request button, the following ping is hesitant and quiet, hardly audible over the murmuring crowd gathering on the right side of the bus.
“Huh,” Divinity says, pulling Willow’s attention from the window. “I never realized there were so many ghosts around. I’ll have to do some interrogating. See what everyone’s up to.” One corner of her mouth lifts, but her eyes remain narrowed. “Maybe Mr. Morey will tell Marie something interesting.” As Divinity adjusts her backpack, she schools her eyebrows into indifferent suspicion and tosses her hair.
“Don’t get into too much trouble,” Willow cautions. Drake echoes the sentiment, face still angled towards the scene outside.
Finally employing her usual callousness, Divinity rolls her eyes and grins. “I’ll be fine. Since when have I ever actually gotten in trouble for anything?” She rocks when the bus pulls to a gradual, timid stop and skips out the front door, waving goodbye as she leaps to the sidewalk. Everyone else in the crowd disembarking at the apartments has grown cold feet, and by the time the bus can leave, Divinity is halfway across the parking lot.
Willow bites her lip and watches her friend’s backpack bounce up and down. “I worry about her.”
“Me too,” Drake says. “She’s reckless.”
“And that’s not the only thing,” Willow replies. She drags her gaze from the red brick apartments and sighs. “Whatever is attracting those ghosts is bound to attract something else as well.”