Alex wasn’t known to travel the Night Bus. She had always been told it was for the likes of misguided sorcerers, and unsavoury beings. She had been brought up to be afraid of the Night Bus, namely because it operated at the Witching Hour and vanished when the faint glow of light in the far east appeared. People, or rather, her family, did not suppose she would ever associate herself with such darkness.
But Alex wasn’t afraid. Alex was not afraid of much anything. She felt contemptuous every time George warned her about waiting for a Night Bus. She thought he was being over-protective and altogether too controlling. When her mother died, and her family disintegrated like a dead, dried out insect, Alex found herself more and more prone to follow her feet towards the solitary black lamppost on the corner of Night street.
A small sign hung from the top, creaking as it swayed gently, even when there was no breeze. Scratchy black writing scrawled across it:
Night Bus. Ticket Holders Only
What did that mean? ‘Ticket holders only?’ Where did one acquire a ticket for the Night Bus? There certainly didn’t seem to be any ticket offices anywhere nearby. She’d even asked at the town bus depot. They all shook their heads and shrugged, equally baffled. And yet Alex had seen the bus trundle along the cobbled streets through town, swaying from side to side, filled with people.
What kind of people? They didn’t all look like vagabonds and destitute sorcerers. Why, she had even seen a little old woman with a flowery hat, nose pressed against the glass as the bus sailed past Alex’s window one dark night in November.
She’d waited sometimes at the black lamppost. She crept out just before the Witching Hour, when everybody at home were sound asleep, the dim glow from Father’s oil lamp glimmering under his study door, and made her way through the dewy grass and over the cold slabs of paving, to await the Night Bus.
It never came. She heard it rumbling in the distance, and sometimes caught a glimpse of a pair of large headlamps sweeping over darkened windows, but it never passed her and it certainly never stopped at the lamppost.
She knew it did for some people, though. If she leaned out far enough from her bedroom window on some nights, she saw it come round the corner and judder to a halt. She watched shadowy figures clamber on, and some hop off, waving canes, whispering, plodding along, scattering through the maze of cobbled roads that snaked through the city, vanishing into the nightly mist that clung to the sides of buildings and wafted across avenues.
How, thought Alex, am I to go about finding myself a ticket?