Honestly, if Paget hadn’t given me that last stupid look of triumph before heaving his way aboard the bus, I don’t think I would have followed him. And not just because the bus had appeared out of nowhere (and it had, I knew it had, I wasn’t so self-absorbed and focused on dismemberment that I wouldn’t notice a fucking yellow bus), but because I couldn’t smell it. It should have reeked of diesel and black exhaust and hot rubber. But it didn’t. It reeked of nothing. If I were to close my eyes (and I did, for a moment), it would be like it wasn’t there. Even the sound that should emanate from it, that rumble so familiar from my school days, was absent. I closed my eyes, and it was gone. I opened my eyes, and it was there.
I had skidded to a stop close to the shoulder of the road, on all fours, and now I heaved up to my legs, my arms dangling in front of me, my fingers twitching. Its lights were on, but they cast no glow on the blacktop. It struck me that it was like a drawing of a bus–a hyperrealistic one, but a drawing nonetheless. I worked my jaw from side to side. My jagged molars clacked together, a sound that was very loud in my head. Loud because there were no other sounds. Even the cicadas had shut their holes.
Despite all that and the cold feeling in the pit of my stomach, I walked to it. The door was still open. I touched the fender in the same spot that Paget had slapped it earlier. The metal wasn’t cold. It wasn’t warm. It just . . . was.
I looked up at the driver. No surprise to find it was the odd man in black from a few nights ago. His hand was on the door handle, preparing to swing it closed.
“Well, Elizabeth, on or off?” he asked, his voice flat, toneless, accent-less. He still gave me chills, but at least I didn’t feel the urge to vomit.
I climbed on. The door whooshed closed behind me. He took his hand off the door handle and put it on the steering wheel. He sat like that, facing straight ahead, both hands on the wheel, while I reached out a tentative clawed hand to his face. I dropped my hand an inch or so from his cheek when I felt bone-chilling cold in my fingertips.
I shivered and turned my attention to Paget. He was in the very back, sitting on a seat that stretched the full width of the bus. There was a little girl next to him, and when our eyes met, Paget grinned and pulled her into his lap.
I snarled and darted forward. Something grabbed my right shoulder.
I snarled again and twisted out of the grip. Something wrapped around my furry left thigh.
I lunged forward.
The bus was longer inside, longer even than a normal school bus, but that didn’t matter. That child-killing scumbag asshole waste of breath mattered. The girl on his lap mattered more.
Whatever was wrapped around my thigh was still there, and I put my hands on the top of the seat backs ahead of me for leverage. My claws dug into the brown vinyl. I tugged free. Paget hugged the girl’s stomach. I roared and managed two steps forward (and somehow that shitbird wasn’t getting any closer, but that was okay, that would soon change) before both wrists were encircled.
I finally looked down. Hands. Pale gray hands held my wrists.
I followed the one holding my left. Didn’t recognize the owner, a younger guy wearing a backwards University of Texas ball cap, mostly because the right side of his face had been ripped away. When he grinned, the exposed muscles creaked. His left arm was gone; it ended in a ragged, blood-soaked T-shirt sleeve. The T-shirt also supported UT, and that jogged my memory a bit, right, that guy, he–
The hand clutching my right wrist tightened, painfully so, diverting my attention to its owner. Expensive blood-flecked gold Rolex on its wrist. Missing the head, but the body had belonged to a stocky female, last seen alive tied to the hood of a Saturn by yours truly.
“No,” I said, but with my jaw stretched as it was, the word came out as “Nn-ha.” Close enough.
Ahead of me, between me and Paget, were seats filled with the torn bodies of people I’d killed. Cannibals, killers, and assholes, oh my.
I really hadn’t thought it was enough to fill a school bus.
One stood up and walked into the aisle, his bright green eyes glowing in the dimness. He hissed, despite the large chunk I’d torn out of his throat a couple of years ago.
God, not this lizard jerk.
The two holding me tightened their grips more. My left hand started tingling. My right was already numb.
The creature I’d known as Curt Connors started toward me, his mouth open, those needle-like teeth dripping venom.
I struggled and thrashed as much as I could while Connors closed in and Paget laughed at me.
I finally lunged to my left, to the guy who still had enough throat for my teeth to latch onto, the serial child killer who liked to make quilts out of the shirts of his victims. His skin was cold, and it felt odd–like biting into a sandwich bag filled with water–but I snapped my teeth together anyway and pulled free a large chunk. I was surprised by the spray of blood that followed. UT let go, and I slashed my clawed hand at my remaining captor, the inbred Cajun cannibal, nearly severing her wrist.
I yanked free and stumbled backward. Connors had stopped and seemed to be assessing the situation. His two buddies were gone. I didn’t know if they’d just dropped behind the seats, or if they’d vanished.
Beyond him, Paget was still laughing, but it was a different sort of laugh. The girl in his lap was hugging him around the neck.
That sick piece of shit. I started forward, intending to cut a bloody swath through everyone I’d already killed, if that’s what it took.
Then the man in black, our driver to somewhere I definitely did not want to go, spoke up: “Elizabeth, stop.”
The door whooshed open. “Get out. This isn’t your ride.”
I turned around. I took the first step down but chanced a look down the aisle, which now didn’t seem so damn long. The back of the bus was close enough for me to see the little girl open her mouth wide, wider than was humanly possible, and sink her teeth into Paget’s fat neck. He shrieked. She yanked out a chunk and went back for more.
“Off you go,” the driver said, and then kicked me in the small of my back.
I flew out of the bus and hit the gravel shoulder of Horton chin-first. At some point, after the kick and before the impact, I had reverted back to my human form, not the type of thing you want to happen when your human form is naked and landing on small pointy rocks. Especially not if you’re a woman.
I pushed up, turned in time to see the bus blip out of existence. There was a pop as air rushed in to fill where the bus had been. My chin and chest stung. Hundreds of gravel pieces were poking me in uncomfortable places.
Even though I knew I had chased Paget farther than that, I was a few feet from the beginning of Mockingbird, my home street. I grimaced as I got to my feet and gingerly stepped onto the much nicer feeling asphalt. And then I walked home.