Travelling home one night I passed an old church, and as I did so, I passed a bus. A red bus, the usual sort, nothing special. They have extortionate prices - £2.30, which will grant you a one-way ticket to a place you probably didn't want to go to, and you'd have to sit next to someone playing music too loud. But this bus was different.
For a start, the bus was on Deadling Lane, a country road, in Kent. There were no stops anywhere about - no one to pick up, nor to drop off. It also happened to be nearing midnight, and the buses do not run past ten o'clock. But here was this one driving about far too late and far too far from civilisation.
Any transport employee made to work in those conditions would surely start a nation-wide strick that would cripple the country.
So naturally, there was absolutely no one on the bus. No old ladies being made to stand because there were no unpleasant youths hogging the ease-of-access seats. There were no children licking the condensation off the windows, and no mothers to drag them back by the collars and chastise them. No ticket checker, no police, no doctors, no beauticians, no no one.
But more concerningly, there was no driver.
Buses (indeed, vehicles in general) tend to only be moving when there is someone at the wheel. One could make the argument that a handbrake might cause an unattended rolling downhill, but this particular bus was exempt from that theory, because, while we were on a rather steep road, the bus and I were travelling uphill.
I decided to follow the bus, slowing so it could pass me again. As I did, I looked through the windows once more. It was truly - impossibly - empty. Maintaining a safe distance in case it decided to turn into an ordinary bus again, I followed it up the road.
As if it was sentient, it turned this way and that, navigating the bends and kinks that all Kentish country roads seem to have been commissioned to have.
When we reached the top of the hill, after a particularly tight hairpin turn, the bus stopped. I realised that we had reached a junction with a larger road, and just like a normal bus, it seemed to be checking for oncoming traffic. I could almost feel it look left, then right, then left again.
And then, as the coast was clear, it signalled right and set off. We travelled down the road for a while and then turned back onto the smaller lanes that led back down into the Thames Valley.
Suddenly I grew cold, praying that no one would be coming the other way. The lane was narrow and boxed in with high hedgerows - if anyone was travelling in the other direction then there would be nowhere to pull over, and it did not seem like the bus had any intention of slowing down, let alone stopping.
Fortunately, no one did, and we travelled for many miles unscathed. I was acutely aware of how mad and dangerous what I was doing was, whatever it was I was doing exactly.
Following an empty bus at near midnight in the middle of nowhere - I may as well have turned myself in at Bedlam to be sectioned. Still, there I was, and I did not know where there was either.
The scenery had mutated into a low, flat, barren hellscape. There were no hedgerows, no trees, no sloe-berry bushes. But there were fields. Fields upon fields of burnt wheat. I do not know how I knew the wheat was burnt, as the darkness had consumed everything but the bus' headlights, but I did. And on we went, and the scenery became lower... and flatter...
and more barren...
Then without warning the bus stopped. Despite my care to keep a healthy distance, the suddenness of it all meant I very nearly ran headlong into its tail lights. Then the engine shut off and the doors hissed open. Cautiously I edged my way to the front of the bus, prepared to take flight at any moment.
I waited to the right-hand side of the door for what seemed like an eternity, waiting for something to happen. Nothing did. Just the soft drip-drip of oil from its underbelly, and the ever so slight flickering of the interior lights.
After this eternity, I felt like I realised that it was the bus that was waiting for me, rather than me for it, so I stepped on board.
Feeling it would be impolite to board a bus without paying the fare, I reached around in my pocket for some change. I tried my left, then my right but there was nothing. I was on the brink of apologising to the empty driver's seat when I felt a weight in my left pocket that was not there before.
I paused for a moment and then slipped my hand in, and my fingers closed on two coins. Pulling them out I saw they were unlike any British currency, indeed any coin I had seen before. They were thick and heavy and seemed to be made of pure gold. On the faces were stapped twin skulls and on the back, there was some queer lettering in a language that seemed ancient.
Without meaning to I placed them on the tray by the driver's cabin. Realising what I had done, I began to reach back for them, meaning to alight the bus, but the coins seemed to suffice. The doors hissed shut behind me, and the engine started. I did not know what to do, but half in a trance, half out of social demands, I headed to the seats and chose one by the window.
As the bus set off once more, I looked out and was shocked to see that the world had changed once more to become a dazzlingly bright and the wheat was as golden as the coins that I had given to the non-driver.
Suddenly I found that I was no longer scared, nor worried, nor confused. I no longer cared that the bus was empty, and I had no desire to discover the destination. For the first time, I truly felt at peace.
Epilogue. The police stood around the mangled bike and body, that lay in a bloody, twisted heap. There was an ambulance to the left side of Deadling Lane, facing upwards, so the body could be easily lifted onto a stretcher and into the back.
On the right side of the road was a night bus, untouched save for a few scratch marks where the bike had skidded off it and careered into the flint of the church wall. The driver was shaking despite the space blanket that had been wrapped around his shoulders, and was explaining to another officer what had happened.
"I didn't see her," he said, close to tears, "I had my headlights on and was coming down fairly slowly, but I didn't see her. It was like she came from out of nowhere."