Title: Graveyard School #14 – The Tragic School Bus, a.k.a. “Skip Wolfson in: ‘Screaming Yellow Honkers’”
Author: Tom B. Stone, a.k.a. Nola Thacker, a.k.a. D.E. Athkins
Cover Artist: Cam DeLeon
Summary: The Next Stop May Be Skip’s Last…
Skip Wolfson can’t believe he almost missed the bus again! One more late morning and he’ll be in big trouble at Graveyard School. But as he walks down the aisle to find a seat, something tells Skip that he got on the wrong bus. The unbelievably wrong bus. Is it because the driver looks like a skeleton? Or is it that the other passengers seem to have been dug up out of a grave? Skip finds himself wishing for detention instead. Anything but a one-way trip to the terminal of the undead!
I referenced this book last year in my recap of “Boo Year’s Eve” when Jordie Flanders brings up Skip’s fear of buses. And now has come the day when we learn how that fear started.
Not one of my favorite books but I’m sure Wing’s gonna love it because it features the return of Skip Wolfson as the protagonist! And to that end, because this has one of the funniest scenes in the entire series, I’ve prepared a little something extra as a gift to Point Horror.
The amazing thing about this book is that it can be viewed as a follow-up to “Little Pet Werewolf” without being a direct sequel. Thacker works in sly nods to Skip’s previous role as the main character without blatantly spoiling the last book.
[Wing: SKIP! I love you, Skip!]
Skip Wolfson told his little brother Marcus “Mark” Remulus Wolfson their new house was definitely haunted. Didn’t Mark see the ghost at the end of the hallway? Mrs. Wolfson told Skip to stop messing with his brother or he’d be late for school that morning. Mark hopes they’re not late, because then the boys would be dealing with Dr. Morthouse and her silver fang. Their mom assures the boys the principal does NOT have a silver fang and she doesn’t hate anyone.
Adults, am I right?
Skip was definitely not happy with his parents’ decision to move into this old farmhouse outside of Grove Hill on the dead ended Post Road. Surrounded by nothing but corn and fields and barn animals and the smell of manure, yuck! The Wolfsons thought it’d be good for Mark because a growing boy needs more space to roam and play. Skip doubted this was all his little monster of a brother needed as he made his way to the tin shack which constituted the school bus stop.
[Wing: It is pretty much exactly what Mark needs, and I love it. Though I do have some worries about the barn animals. Just, overall. People who don’t know the first thing about caring for them move onto the farm? And, you know, the other thing.]
It was while Skip was checking out a nearby cow when he realized he wasn’t alone. Looking down Post Road he saw a cloud of dust coming his way. Was it the school bus? It looked like it arrived early, and Skip imagined Mark might miss the bus and spend some time getting acquainted with Dr. Morthouse. Yet Skip noticed something was wrong with this bus as he flagged it down, because for as fast as this bus was going it made no sound.
And it was coming right at him!
The last thing Skip saw as he tried to run away was a green claw emerging from the windshield and reaching towards him.
Skip came to when he heard Mark calling for him, wondering why Skip was lying in the middle of the road. That crunching sound made Skip believe his arm was broken until he realized he landed on his lunch bag and demolished his potato chips. Mark told Skip to hurry before the school bus leaves without them. Skip was about to tell Mark about his close encounters of the bus kind when the REAL school bus arrived. Mark hurried and jumped on without telling the driver to wait for Skip, but the older Wolfson squeezed his way through the doors at the last second.
Being ordered to sit down, Skip was thrown forward and landed in Kirstin Bjorg’s lap. Skip was surprised to see Kirstin since he hadn’t known she lived so far out of town and she usually biked to school. Kirstin shrugged, saying she felt like a change of pace and noticed Skip was covered in dirt.
Ken Dahl, usually considered the one kid in Graveyard School with absolutely no clue, wondered how the driver could tell Skip was standing without turning around. Does he have eyes in the back of his head? Skip joked they install them in every bus driver. Ken didn’t realize it was a joke, but this IS Graveyard School we’re talking about…
Since this was his first time on the morning bus, Skip hung by Kirstin and Ken. He asked if they’d seen the other bus, but Ken insisted only one school bus travels this far out of the city limits. Kirstin snorts as she asks if Skip saw another bus, and he insists he did. Ken assumes this is another joke but Skip swears he was almost run over. Kirstin realized that’s why Skip’s covered in dirt, yet Ken points out there are no tire tracks on Skip’s clothes. [Wing: He said “almost,” Ken. Damn, get it together.] This made Skip realize there weren’t any tracks on the road either. All that remained were his and Mark’s footprints in the dirt. Skip believes it was a real school bus even as he remembers that clawed hand. He must’ve imagined the claw.
Skip felt a sense of dread all throughout his day at Graveyard School. He was so on edge he screamed out loud when Tyson Walker put his hand on Skip’s shoulder during lunch. Tyson was impressed by Skip’s “Awesome vertical” as he jumped in the air, before turning to the selection of glop, slop, and garbage for lunch. The cafeteria worker did not approve of Tyson’s commentary. We all know Ms. Stoker would’ve NEVER allowed for such behavior.
After selecting the garbage entree, Tyson and Skip sit down with Ken, Park Addams, Algernon “Algie” Green, and Jaws Bennett, the boy who could eat anything (even roadkill). Ken filled everyone in on how Skip almost missed the bus, and Tyson was sympathetic. He knew how much Skip hated moving, and now Skip had to rely on bumming rides from Tyson’s parents more frequently for soccer practice.
Skip starts to tell everyone how the bus almost ran him over, but Ken stubbornly points out he had to run to catch the bus. Even as Skip reminds Ken he’s talking about the OTHER bus, Ken holds firm to the belief there’s only one school bus that drives down Post Road. Tyson’s confused since Post Road is a dead end road, and Skip adds that’s why the other bus surprised him.
Algie, taking all this in, remembers Post Road is near Seven Mile Hollow Road. He’s had some… experiences on 7MH Road. Algie asks what the bus looked like, but Skip refrains from mentioning the claw, and the windows like giant bug eyes. He sticks to describing it as a big, ugly bus. The conversation gets sidetracked by a brief discourse between Park and Tyson on which is better, baseball or soccer, before Algie warns Skip to be careful.
Park adds that Skip should be VERY careful or else Skip’ll get… BUS-ted.
Skip was not happy to come home and see his mother was entertaining a guest, an unfamiliar woman of no particular age with brown, lined skin. A woman who carried with her the scent of cow manure. Mrs. Wolfson introduces her son to Mrs. Strega, the woman who owns the farm across from the Wolfsons and in fact sold them their new house. Skip can hardly restrain his gratitude. Mark’s all excited talking about how the cows they’ve seen near the bus stop belong to Mrs. Strega. From the way she smelled, Skip figured.
Mark excitedly asks Strega if he can pet one of her cows before telling Skip how she’s lived on her farm forever. Strega jokes she’s not that old, but the farm has been in her family for a couple of centuries. Skip claims he’s tired, trying to excuse himself without seeming rude when Mrs. Strega decides to leave. She’s got to feed the cows and chickens, you know. Mark asks if he could ever help her, and Strega jokes he can as long as he doesn’t chase the animals. Skip can’t believe Mark looks hurt by the joke.
Before Mrs. Strega heads home, Skip’s mom wants to give her the info for The Animals’ House, the pet supply store the Wolfsons run. Mrs. Strega takes that opportunity to invite Skip over whenever he’d like as well, but advises him not to wait until the dark. You now, because of the ghosts and all.
When Skip declares there’s no such thing as ghosts, Mark reminds him he saw a ghost earlier today. Mrs. Strega seems intrigued before Skip explains he was joking. Of course, as Mrs. Strega puts it, there’ve been so many accidents on Post Road (mainly before it got closed off) there’s at least more than one ghost out there. Strega’s even seen and heard some things back when she was younger. At that moment, Mrs. Wolfson returned and the conversation’s cut short before Strega can elaborate further. [Wing: Strega the vampire witch. I love it.]
Helping Mark set the table, Skip’s certain Mrs. Strega just unloaded a bunch of cow manure with her talk of ghosts. Mark’s more excited about helping with the cows and chickens, but Skip reminds him farmers shoot dogs that mess with their animals. And that goes double for their pet dog Lupe. Mrs. Wolfson declares she thinks it’s great that Mark can help their neighbor before telling Mark to wash up for dinner. The moment Mark’s out of the room, Skip hears somebody scream!
Followed by a loud knocking on the front door, Skip is certain somebody screamed. Mark and their mom didn’t hear anything, so Mrs. Wolfson assumes this is another joke. Skip tries to open the front door and the knob is so cold it burns his hand! But once he’s outside, there’s no one around. Not even Mr. Wolfson.
Mrs. Wolfson, her hand on the door knob, tells Skip to stop fucking around and get inside the house. Skip argues it could’ve been Mrs. Strega playing a joke, but Mrs. Wolfson doesn’t believe their neighbor would waste time doing something so juvenile. Before he goes inside, Skip looks at his hand and sees the burn mark has vanished.
Skip is in a super good mood the next morning when woken by a rooster. He hates that he has to get up so much earlier because of the stupid bus. Yet Skip’s still on edge because of the weird shit going on, and fears for a moment the school bus is going to run down Mark! Skip valiantly throws himself at his younger brother and sends the two into a nearby ditch, causing them to miss the bus.
Heading back to the house to change out of their dirty clothes, Skip is not greeted warmly by his mother. Mrs. Wolfson’s losing her patience with Skip’s attitude, and now the boys will be late because she has to drive them to school. Skip’s one comfort came from Mark proposing they could miss school altogether. Maybe the little snot was human after all.
Unfortunately, Mrs. Wolfson didn’t think it was necessary to write a note for her sons. They weren’t THAT late. Their teachers will understand. His mom didn’t have a clue as to whom Skip was REALLY worried about. Skip felt so vulnerable, just him and Mark alone in the hallway. Dr. Morthouse could be anywhere. Skip asked if his dogbrained brother could use his sense of smell to find out if Doc M and her “Eau du Principal” were nearby. Mark didn’t respond as they made it further down the hall…
And then he sniffed something. [Wing: I love you, Mark.]
As Mark made his way to his class, Skip felt something iron-like grab his shoulder. In a voice that made Skip feel like he was being drenched in boiling oil, Dr. Morthouse greeted Skip to school. She was wondering if he was trying to sneak into class without a late pass. Skip is left stammering about his mom before Morthouse assumes Mrs. Wolfson knows Skip deliberately tried to sneak into school late. Would it help if they gave her a call? All Skip could focus on was how the buttons on the principal’s suit looked like little tombstones when she decided to spare him. She’s sure he’s very, very sorry and won’t be late to class again. Or else there might be… consequences.
Why, Dr. Morthouse is even nice enough to personally escort Skip to class. Man, can his life get any worse or what?
Skip’s dad was able to pick him up from soccer practice, though Skip wishes he hadn’t. Mr. Wolfson was showing off the new delivery truck for their pet supply store. The truck was painted in vivid shades of green and plastered with pictures of all kinds of animals and photos of the Earth. It was totally obnoxious, and the love his parents had for that truck made them even weirder than usual.
Getting inside the passenger seat next to his dad, Skip asked him not to honk the horn anymore. The truck’s paint job is so loud a horn’s not necessary, and Skip’s not joking. His dad laughed, saying bright colors attract attention, and attention means business. Mr. Wolfson brings up Skip missing the bus, and lectures him on responsibility. After all, the Wolfsons also have to get up early to take care of their deliveries, so they don’t have time to drive Skip and Mark to school. Skip says if he had a motorcycle he could go to school on his own. His dad, obviously, tries to explain why Skip can’t do that.
While his father works on one of the deliveries, he mentions a little help is always welcome. Skip dryly remarks he’ll bring that up with Mark. Mr. Wolfson advises his son not to get too snippy on the way to their next delivery but Skip doesn’t care because BUS!
Skip begins screaming at his dad to avoid the school bus that’s about to hit them, and he even grabs the wheel to swerve the truck out of the way! Mr. Wolfson fights to regain control of the vehicle before Skip plunges them off the road. Skip asks how his father didn’t see the bus about to hit them as Mr. Wolfson explains how dangerous it is to just grab the steering wheel from someone. Looking out the truck windows, Mr. Wolfson motions to how there couldn’t have been a bus. He didn’t see one and the road is empty. Skip swears they almost collided with a bus, but Mr. Wolfson assumes, from the way Skip was nodding off a moment ago, he dreamed he saw a bus. All Skip is able to do is apologize as his father tells him how they could’ve ended in a ditch or gotten killed by Skip grabbing the wheel like that.
On the way to their last delivery, Skip remains silent and is surprised the next farm belongs to Ken Dahl’s family. Mr. Dahl suggests Ken could show Skip around their place while Ken notices Skip looks like shit. Skip doesn’t feel like talking about it, at least not to Ken. That’s when Ken took Skip around the barn and showed him the school bus.
Skip can’t believe he’s seeing buses everywhere he goes. Ken explains the rusty, broken down school bus belonged to his great uncle, and Ken used to play in it as a kid. This can’t be the same bus from the other day, and Skip even asks Mr. Dahl if it’s ever been used (Mr. Wolfson gives him a sharp look). Ken’s dad explains his uncle bought the bus with the idea of giving tours around Grove Hill, but it never went beyond the concept stage. Besides, what’s there to see in Grove Hill?
Tyson and Park grill Skip about how he’s being haunted by a ghost bus only he can see. Tyson recalls a story he heard about a ghost dog that howled when someone was about to die, and the only people who heard it were the ones who were gonna croak. [Wing: Black dog legends are some of my favourites.] The mention of “Dog” attracts the attention of pet sitting entrepreneur Stacey Carter and her best friend Maria Medina.
Oh and puke perfect Polly Hannah.
The boys clam up, Tyson bullshitting about a story he read for a report. A report on ghosts. Polly thinks that’s a stupid thing to write a report about, forgetting their school practically specializes in Ghost Stories 101. As Polly marches off to ruin someone else’s good mood, Stacey and Maria insist the boys spill the beans since they can tell something’s going on. They even start to play keep away with Park’s hat.
Algie arrives just as Maria demands the boys shed light on what ghost they’re talking about. He immediately deduces this is about Skip’s ghost bus, shocking the kids. Algie explains Kirstin told him everything Skip said that first morning, and guessed from all the evidence he’s being haunted. I mean, considering Algie’s own haunting ordeal near Post Road, he knows what he’s talking about.
Maria argues there’s no such things as ghosts, but Algie argues just because she hasn’t seen one doesn’t mean they’re not real. Well technically Maria HAS seen a ghost; they’re on the soccer team together…
Park wonders what, exactly, this bus is a ghost OF and why it’s haunting Skip of all people? Stacey proposes Skip needs to get proof.
“Next time it runs me over, I’ll write down its license plate number.”
Stacey ignores Skip’s biting wit and asks if it ever got colder when the bus was around, since a sudden drop in temperature’s a sign ghosts are nearby. Skip wasn’t worried about the temperature when the bus hassled him, and jokes he’ll take a picture next time. Everyone thinks this is a great idea. Skip can try photographing the bus; if nothing appears in the photo, it’s a ghost. If it DOES appear, they can use that to figure out who’s stalking Skip. Simple, right?
The next early morning was just as misty as the last couple of days when Skip left the house before everyone else. Armed with his mom’s nifty automatic camera, he was out to capture a few candid shots of the bedeviling bus. As Skip waited for the ghost to appear, he heard the sound of Mark leaving the house. While mentally preparing to answer any of Mark’s possible questions for why he had a camera, Skip didn’t notice when things suddenly became quiet.
But the moment he realized it’d gotten colder, Skip took the camera out, turned around, and immediately found himself face to face with the ghost bus.
Mark found Skip lying on his back in the road, the camera held in front of his older brother’s face. Skip had no idea what happened, but he did remember seeing a face.
A face with big teeth and tiny eyes and skin like soggy toilet paper.
Skip lied and said he was taking photos for a school report. While Mark asked a bunch of questions, Skip aimed his sour attitude at one of the nearby cows.
One of them mooed.
“See you at McDonald’s,” he snarled at the cow.
[Wing: HA! Ostrich has friends who raise meat cows. They name them things like Chuck Roast and Hamburger. It makes me laugh every time.]
Mark didn’t know who Skip was talking to when the actual school bus arrived. The boys had no problem catching the bus this time, and all Skip told Mark is that the so-called report is on transportation.
Skip had to wheedle Kirstin into letting him borrow her bike so he could get the photos taken care of ASAP. After she finally gave in, Skip asked her to tell their soccer coach he’d be a bit late. As to why he was going to be late?
“Something’s developing,” he said.
Back in town, Skip dropped off the film at a one-hour photo place but the store owner didn’t want Skip hanging around while it developed. He said Skip was making him nervous. Unfortunately, the photo place was right near The Animals’ House, and Skip could see his father distributing flyers for their new business programs. Not up to explaining why he borrowed Mrs. Wolfson’s camera, Skip ducks into a nearby building to wait for his photos.
What Skip doesn’t realize at first, is that he’s been in this store before. Only back then, the store had a large stuffed wolf displayed in the front window.
Skip runs into the store owner and they startle each other. Turns out this place is actually a book store, and the owners asks if Skip needs help shopping for anything. Skip claims to be just browsing and looks around while the owner goes about his business. One open book that catches Skip’s eye is “A Short History of Grove Hill.” Of course Skip figures the book would be short. When has anything interesting EVER happened in Grove Hill?
Skip’s eyes are drawn towards an old photo on the next page, featuring a bunch of people standing by a carriage in front of an inn. The coach driver appears to be scowling at the camera. On the next page, the same coachman now has an eye patch and was scowling even harder. What was this guy’s problem? Skip read the caption beneath the photo, describing the man as “Mad John.” Mad John was a Grove Hill mystery; he drove his coach off a cliff and was never seen again.
The store owner returns asking if Skip found anything he liked, but HOLY SHIT WHAT IS THAT BOOK DOING OUT?! Skip’s confused since he thought the history book was on display. The owner explains this is a very rare book and he had it locked in a case since it’s so expensive. In fact, he has no idea how it could’ve gotten out…
Skip asks if he can photocopy any of the pages for his “Report,” but that’s out of the question. Defeated, Skip thanks the owner for his “Help” and decides to check on the photos. The photo store guy immediately declared no refunds when Skip returned, and Skip could see why. Most of the photos were blank!
On the way back to school, Skip was certain something was wrong with the camera when he realized he was being followed. Turning around, he was hardly surprised to see the ghost bus was back and keeping its distance. Skip pedaled faster, the bus picked up speed. If Skip slowed down, so did the bus. Getting angry and sick of being scared, Skip stopped and screamed at the bus to go away. The bus didn’t move any further as Skip declared he wasn’t afraid of it and got closer. Still the bus didn’t move.
Calling its bluff, Skip pedaled his bike head on in a game of chicken while screaming a vicious war cry. At the last second, the bus charged towards him.
Reconvening with his friends and showing them the photos, Skip told them how the bus had disappeared through him. Looking at the blank pictures, Stacey wasn’t impressed.
“Either you’re the world’s worst photographer, or your camera’s broken – or you just took ten shots of a ghost,” she said.
“He could be the world’s worst photographer and still have taken pictures of a ghost,” Maria pointed out.
A couple of the photos show a tree and the sky, plus a close up of Mark, but the rest are blank. The kids all take this as proof Skip’s being haunted.
And they think it’s cool.
Now they begin hypothesizing on what sort of ghost it is. Is it a good ghost or bad ghost? It hasn’t exactly hurt Skip yet. Maybe he can try to figure out what the ghost wants. Skip mentions the one thing different about the morning encounter was the cold, but he couldn’t remember what else had changed. Algie suggests Skip write down what he remembers to keep track. Skip asks if this is the best his friends can come up with?
Park reasons, if the bus isn’t trying to hurt him or turn him into a ghost, what’s the problemo?
That night Skip was at his computer, trying to figure out what to write about his ghostly encounters when Mark started bugging him. Skip tried to shoo his brother out by claiming he was doing homework. The later it got and the colder the house became, Skip suddenly heard a faint wailing. He wondered if it was Mark playing a joke on him. Calling Mark “Purina-lips” and “Alpo-breath” Skip demanded to know if his brother was screwing around…
Just in time to hear a young woman screaming.
Looking out his window, Skip saw a young girl screaming for help. Dressed in old fashioned clothes, the girl was running across Skip’s yard looking for someone to help her. She’s babbling about how “It missed the turn” and “The bridge is out.” Skip hurried outside to help the girl as she started crying. Just as she says something about a coach, Skip puts his hand on her shoulder…
And she disappears.
Skip’s hand starts to go cold from where he attempted to touch the girl, and then he screams when Mark touches his arm. Mr. and Mrs. Wolfson hear the commotion and ask what the hell are the boys doing outside. Skip says he thought he heard someone but was wrong and goes back inside. Mark excitedly asks if Skip heard a burglar or ghost, while Skip miserably realizes his family moved into a haunted neighborhood.
While playing basketball with Tyson, Park and Algie, Skip tells them about the newest addition to his haunting dilemma. And believe me, Skip is NOT happy about it. Tyson thinks Skip is rully brave for touching a ghost, but Skip’s not in the mood to accept the compliment. He’s worried the haunting is progressing and now there’s a new ghost in the equation. He can’t go on wondering what new horror to expect, even in Graveyard School.
Tyson points out Skip can try talking to the ghost, but he attempted that with the girl and she didn’t even know he was there. And he’s not gonna stand in the road asking for the bus to show up again. Tyson asks, if instead of challenging or threatening the bus, Skip talks to it like a rational human being.
Yeah Skip does not see that happening.
As the boys continue to play, Skip keeps wondering where both of these ghosts came from and why. At the very least he feels they wouldn’t follow him directly to Graveyard School. Not with Dr. Morthouse around…
Until Skip saw the basketball heading his way, only now it looked like an all too familiar face with one eye.
Skip screamed at the ball to get away from him, and in his attempt to flee he falls over Tyson and Park. Algie asks what the problem is, and Skip sees the ball has turned back to normal. Now his worst fears are confirmed. THE HAUNTING CAN FOLLOW HIM WHEREVER HE GOES.
Lost in thought, that evening Skip didn’t hear his mother asking him to get Mark and Lupe from Mrs. Strega’s. He was more worried about important things.
Why didn’t they ever teach anything useful at school, like Introduction to Dealing with Ghosts or Advanced Poltergeist Problem Solving?
This is what happens when Republicans cut funding for public schools.
Skip asks why his mom doesn’t just call Strega’s house or leave a message on her answering machine (Because it was the 90s, you see!) Strega apparently doesn’t have one and no one answered the phone, so they should be outside. Skip can’t believe the indignities he must suffer.
With an exaggerated sigh, Skip stood up. “Okay. I can always stay up extra late to do my homework. Don’t worry about me.”
“I won’t,” said his mother.
Skip was at least relieved to see there was still some daylight outside when he went to Mrs. Strega’s house. If Skip knew Mark and Lupe, the two were probably rolling around in manure and thinking they’re the coolest things since canned bread. And that was when he saw it.
A school bus.
Right by the side of Mrs. Strega’s barn.
Mark shows up and declares he helped feed Mrs. Strega’s chickens, but Skip’s on an entirely different planet right now. Mrs. Strega appears and bids hello to Skip, who can only stammer as he asks if she owns the bus he’s looking at. The older woman explains her family’s owned that bus for years, ever since her dad won it in an auction like Ken Dahl’s great uncle did. The county sold off all the old buses when they were replaced with new ones, though she has no idea WHY her dad bought one of them.
The bus is a rusty old wreck; no tires, no engine, no windows, and weeds growing inside it. Mark thinks it’s cool and wants to play inside, but Skip gets terrified for his brother’s sake and orders him to get out. Strega assures Skip the bus is safe; she used to play in it when she was little. Mark has the time of his life pretending he’s driving while Skip asks once again if it really is safe.
Skip tells Mark to go ahead of him, and once he’s alone with Mrs. Strega he starts asking her questions. Like how she mentioned something about ghosts. Strega seems amused; DID she say something about ghosts? Skip asks if she’s really seen any, like the ghost of a little girl screaming for help. Turns out Strega has heard something like that from her great-aunt. Only thing is, the aunt didn’t see a little girl screaming about a turn and a coach.
Her aunt WAS the little girl.
Strega explains how her aunt told this story when she was a very old woman. Many, many years ago, back when Post Road wasn’t a dead end, there was an inn where Skip’s house now stands. Back then, people got around in horse drawn coaches the way people today use buses.
One day, the bridge was washed out and a sign was set up directing people to a detour. That exact day, a coachman made a stop at the inn to pick up a passenger. But said passenger was late, so the driver got pissed off and left without him. He left before anyone told him about the detour. Strega’s aunt was playing outside her house when she saw the coach go by. She recognized the driver from his one eye and black mustache, and from the way he sped off in his coach.
“He was the sort of man who wasn’t afraid of anything, not even death itself. Some people said he’d made a bargain with Death, giving his right eye as down payment. But of course, no one dared ask.”
Skip knows who she’s talking about.
Strega’s aunt realized Mad John didn’t know about the detour and was heading straight for certain doom. She started screaming and running after him, trying to warn Mad John and the passengers that the bridge was out. She ran as fast as she could, but the coach went over the hill and disappeared.
“She heard a horrible howl and what sounded like a cry of ‘Oh, no you don’t!'”
When Strega’s aunt reached the hill, there was nothing. No crash, no broken carriage, no dead bodies. Nothing. She went back to the inn to get help, but no one ever found a trace of Mad John or his passengers.
So Skip realizes this is the coach the girl was crying about before asking Mrs. Strega if anyone’s seen Mad John’s ghost? She laughs, saying some people say he’d stop along the road offering rides, maybe looking for that fabled last passenger who could’ve told him about the bridge. But who would get into a horse-drawn carriage in this day and age?
Especially because a ride with Mad John may be the last ride you ever take…
But no one’s seen his coach in a long time, so don’t worry about it Skip.
Thankfully nothing followed Skip home that night, but in the morning he had to wait for the bus by himself. Mark has a dentist appointment this morning.
“Yeah, right,” Skip muttered. “I forgot they had to file down his fangs.”
As Skip got ready, he had to ask himself if he really was dealing with a ghost or if his imagination was going over the edge.
Though I guess in this case it’s going over the hill.
He’s either being haunted or stalked by somebody who owns an old school bus. Does he believe in ghosts? Yes, he does.
While waiting for the bus, Skip wondered why he saw Mad John’s face and thought the bus might crash into the coach. Unfortunately, Skip’s shaken out of his thoughts when he realizes the Graveyard School bus is early! Skip hurries as fast he can out of fear of what Dr. Morthouse will do if he’s late again. The doors close before Skip gets on, but he doesn’t give up even as the bus goes faster. Skip runs alongside the bus when it suddenly stops and he almost overtakes it.
Skip squeezes into the bus and plops down next to a kid holding a skateboard? Is that Skate or Vickie? No, that doesn’t look like either of their skateboards clamped between the kid’s bony kne-
Skip complains about how twisted the bus driver is when he realizes the bus is going a bit too fast. I mean, not that he wanted to ride the bus anyway. That gets the kid’s attention, who inform him if Skip didn’t want to ride this bus then he is in TROUBLE.
At which point Skip realized he was looking at a human skeleton. And he’s not the worst thing on this bus. Skip jumps out of the seat and almost falls beside a ghoul with melting green flesh. When informing the ghoul he’s human, Skip’s told that won’t be the case for long. Trying to reach the emergency exit, Skip saw the other passengers.
Something without a head sat two seats back. Something holding an eye in each hand was hanging over the back of another seat. The eyes blinked and stared at him.
A swarm of small, vaguely crablike things scuttled wildly between two seats, playing a gruesome game of tag.
Something touched his ankle, curled around it. He looked down to see a tentacle like an octopus’s twining around his leg.
Skip thinks this is a nightmare and hopes to wake up, but he doesn’t. He tries to crawl away from the skeleton and feels something grabbing his shirt. Miraculously Skip makes it to the front of the bus, getting a good luck at his old friend Mad John!
Since this is their first time meeting face to face, Mad John wonders how Skip knew his name. He starts smacking his lips commenting on Skip’s weight, barely keeping his one eye on the road. Mad John doesn’t appreciate it when Skip argues with him, while Skip doesn’t appreciate how Mad John took out that mailbox.
Skip stammers Mad John is supposed to be dead when the skeleton’s head falls on the floor. Mad John gets pissed and orders someone to pick it up.
“You’re dead,” Skip said again.
“So?” Mad John snarled. “You got a problem with that?”
Mad John demands Skip sit down as Skip tries to get off the bus, telling the boy this is an interesting ride they’re having. He mutters how he hates passengers who’re late, and that’s when Skip realizes where they’re headed. Skip begs the driver to stop, and Mad John adds he hates bad listeners too. The irony totally lost on him at the same time.
“It doesn’t get any deader than this!” the coachman shouted.
Fearing they’re about to go over a bridge that no longer exists, for a moment Skip sees the bus zoom past Mrs. Strega’s farm. Did she see Skip?
Skip tries to convince Mad John he’s gonna kill everyone, which makes all the passengers laugh their asses off. In some cases, literally. Skip pleads with Mad John that they’re going to a dead end and the bridge is gone, when complaints arise from the other passengers. They’re sick of going the same way, over and over again. It’s boring! Mad John gets so pissed he turns completely away from the wheel to scream at the passengers. Skip desperately grabs the wheel (as cold as the doorknob was that previous night) but holds on. Mad John gets even angrier. Fucking backseat drivers!
Skip tries to find the brakes as Mad John grabs him and orders him to let go when voices start crying out. The bridge is gone! Skip finds the brake and stomps on it as hard as possible, turning the wheel and making the bus skid sideways to the ravine. Closer and closer and closer AND CLOSER AND
Skip lands in front of Graveyard School.
Late, I might add.
Skip has no idea how he got to school, but he didn’t imagine that bus ride. He’d seen Mad John up close and personal and almost went over into the ravine. But he didn’t. He’s alive and he couldn’t be happier. He’s so happy he’s even thrilled to see Dr. Morthouse. She’s happy to see him too, because Skip was late again and you know what that means.
But Skip doesn’t care. He’s so relieved to see Dr. Morthouse he, he
HE HUGS HER!
[Wing: Legit just shouted with joy. I love this.]
Dr. Morthouse screams in abject terror, throwing Skip off her and pressing her back up against the lockers. With a trembling hand, she shrieks at Skip to get to class. NOW!
Coming to his senses, Skip has no idea what the fuck he was thinking.
After school, Skip confronts Mrs. Strega. She saw the bus and she saw Mad John, realizing that’s what happened to the other bus. Seems her dad bought TWO of the buses and one vanished. Skip would like to know why she didn’t mention it. Strega shrugs since she didn’t think it was important or connected to Mad John until now. He needed to update his mode of transportation to get more passengers.
Today was the only time she saw Mad John come back down the hill, since he finally got that passenger to warn him about the bridge.
Maybe he dropped Skip off at school as a way to say thanks.
Maybe Mad John’s gone forever.
That evening, Mad John’s bus now had “TOURS THROUGH TIME AND SPACE” painted on the side. Below it said “STOP ME IF YOU CAN.” Once the last passenger got on the bus, Mad John put the pedal to the metal so hard the bus left the ground. Where they’re going, they don’t need roads!
As Mad John joyfully cried about his freedom, he did one last run through Post Road for old times sake.
Skip Wolfson slept peacefully in bed.
Mrs. Strega saw the bus drive away, and smiled as she saw the ghost of her aunt waving goodbye before disappearing for good.
[Wing: Such a satisfying ending! I love this damn series so much.]
Please take a moment to thank Mouse at https://wouldntyoulichentoknow.tumblr.com/ for that amazing commission as one of my holiday gifts to Point Horror this year.
This is certainly a book that picked up speed near the end, and I love the nods to some of the previous books. Including all the blatant hints about the Wolfsons that aren’t necessarily spoilers to the last time Skip was the protagonist.
But I’ve come to realize something. You notice how the kids will deny experiencing paranormal activity despite their years in Graveyard School? This is how the denial sets in for their older siblings and parents. It starts out as a defense mechanism to get them through every day at school until they no longer remember or WANT to remember the weird shit they went through.
Activities Section: Word search
Polly Hannah’s Wardrobe:
- Flowered dress with big pink buttons down the front, yellow tights, yellow headband, yellow shoes with flower buckles