“One Mississippi, two Mississippi, three Mississippi…”
Clay was counting the seconds as he watched the school bus through his windshield.
His impatience continued to mount with each “Mississipi,” until at last the big red stop sign on the side of the bus swung closed and it began trundling forward again.
Clay followed in his own car, his frustration only slightly relieved.
On this thin and neglected rural lane, the unbroken yellow stripe down the middle of the road meant Clay was not supposed to pass here, even though there was no oncoming traffic.
“I’m perfectly calm,” Clay told himself, while gripping the steering wheel so hard that his knuckles turned white. “This is a minor inconvenience. There’s no reason to be upset.”
The trouble was, he could see perfectly well there were no children on the bus. And yet the damned thing kept stopping every half mile or so.
Each time, its stop sign would swing out, its doors would open, and then… nothing. No kids got off, no kids got on.
Which meant the bus driver was just being a jerk.
Clay’s mental picture of the driver had steadily grown more insulting, until now he was envisioning a slack-jawed, backwoods, tobacco-spitting yokel.
So far, the only thing that had stopped Clay from breaking the law and speeding around the bus was imagining the driver with a gloating,
toothless grin on his face as he radioed Clay’s license number to the local sheriff, who would undoubtedly turn out to be the yokel’s brother.
But after three more pointless stops, Clay finally snapped.
Instead of driving on past, he gunned his engine and charged his car onto the shoulder, sending gravel flying when he braked hard next to the open doors of the bus.
He was already yelling before he jumped out.
“What the hell is wrong with you! Are you being an asshole for fun? You don’t even have any kids on—”
Clay broke off as he stared up into the bus. Beneath a tattered cap, the driver’s eyes were dull, and his papery skin was colorless. It looked like the man had not eaten or slept in years.
In the sudden silence, the driver spoke with a voice like a dry wheeze.
“You ran over some of them,” he declared, sounding more grateful than accusatory.
Before Clay could make sense of this, he felt a tug on his leg. Then something grabbed his ankle.
As he tried to pull away, he heard angry murmurs pouring out of the doors, and suddenly what felt like hundreds of unseen fingers were clutching at him from all directions.
They were tiny fingers, but there were so many of them. And they were so very, very cold. They dragged him up the stairs and onto the bus.
“Your turn,” said the driver, and with a look of profound relief, he placed his cap on Clay’s head and immediately crumbled to a fine dust.