Chapter 001 [Rick]
Rick woke to the rumble of an engine and the cold of an air conditioning unit. His head rattled against the window as he stumbled his way into full consciousness. Light flickered outside, streaking past in an annoying incessant flicker. It took him a moment to realize he was in the last place he ever wanted to be.
On a bus.
With a deep sigh, the young teacher tried to keep his eyes shut and pretend he was still asleep, still dreaming. Perhaps that way he could shorten the passive torture that was existing in that particular location.
Fate had other plans.
“It’s your turn.”
Despite his best efforts, the voice prompted his mind to start paying attention to other details, mainly the laughter and shouts that were occurring elsewhere in the vehicle.
With the soft stroke on his shoulder becoming increasingly more persistent, Rick opened his eyes, a light hazel that swiftly took in the details of his surroundings. The road, the bus, the passing trees, the driver. He wondered about the merits of ignoring everything and just going back to sleep. Letting out a sigh, he glanced over at his fellow teacher, Miss Alice, and at her hand as it squeezed his shoulder once more.
“Since when do we have turns? And where’s Daniel?” His eyes locked onto her own, annoyance dancing in the lowered brow.
“Since now. And he just went to sleep.” She had no shits to give. Rick suspected the bags under her eyes probably had something to do with it. Alice was barely trying to hide the exhaustion.
“You should put one of the chaperons in charge, you’re exceedingly popular with those, Miss Smith.” He chuckled at the monicker.
“Shut it,” she said bluntly, patience clearly running thin.
Rather than push his luck further, Rick acknowledged the fruitlessness of trying to avoid this duty and stood up. The abandoned seat was immediately kidnapped by Alice. Uncaring of the world or continued conversation, the young psychology teacher slumped and closed her eyes. She was probably asleep within the next ten breaths.
Rick took a moment to look at her. The woman was only a year older than him, but her soft almond shaped face and round cheeks made her easily mistakable for one of their students. If not for the tight jaw-length bob-cut and slightly the off-white gray she’d dyed her hair to, he would tease her more often about it. He made a brief mental note to talk about her of her bout of foul mood once they got the chance to. No doubt it would have some drama, perhaps regarding her newest partner in life.
Shaking the thought off, Rick pulled up his backpack from underneath the seat. Sifting past the spare clothes, he found his bag of treats and a bottle of the store-brand coffee imitation. The beverage had once been comfortably cool... hours ago. Now it was a mildly annoying lukewarm. With a sigh, the young chemistry teacher locked the ziplock-bag with the rest of the chocolate treats meant for later, tossing his backpack over to the empty seat.
Rick turned towards the driver. “How much longer?”
“It should be another hour after the tunnel.” The old man’s head bobbed to a song only he could hear.
Another hour was definitely better than five. Still, it also meant he was going to be the only teacher keeping the peace in the bus for the next hour.
It was only now that he noticed the lingering smell of stale chips that had not been there at the start of the trip. No doubt the driver would have his work cut-out for him while waiting for their return from the hike. The students and some of the family that had come along had turned the bus into a cacophony of shouts and laughter that only got worse the further back it went. The last row of the bus was its own chaos entirely, some of the students shoving backpacks at each other and bouncing around.
Sudden darkness engulfed the bus; they’d entered the tunnel.
“We’re all going to die!” someone proclaimed with laughter. Rick’s eyes had yet to adjust to the change in lighting, but he could make out the bed of flaming red hair framed against the orange lights. The teacher had little doubt who’d been the source of the comment.
Shrieks mixed with raucous cackling followed. Rick briefly wondered if he could be dropped off anywhere other than the hiking trail. It had been naïve of him to think that taking the bus with the students that were old enough to drink would mean less of a hassle, not more of one. The other buses likely were no better, though.
It took Rick a second to remember the name of the owner of the flaming hair. A student well known if, fortunately, not one he taught. “Mark Dodson, keep it down!”
“That’s what she said!”
And that, clearly, only prompted them to get louder.
The consideration to try something else was tossed aside, it just wasn’t worth the effort. Rick could only really curse at being there in the first place. A “custom” the college had, sending off the youngest teachers, one they’d been all too eager to shove down his throat. The older faculty staff would be enjoying the time off no doubt.
For what would be a small hike and a picnic, Rick felt he was not getting paid enough. Had they given him half a chance, he would’ve preferred having a nice, quiet afternoon with a complicated book. Or at least an afternoon at the laboratory. The sound of the almost-broken centrifuge would be a far more welcome irritation than this.
At least he could flip the centrifuge off.
Turning to take a seat, there was a flash of green light that swallowed the bus whole. Blindingly bright. The young teacher had only a fraction of a second to process that this was not normal.
It startled Rick. The light came from all around at the same time. The intensity of the light left bright spots lingering in his field of vision. The feeling of the bus lurching downwards raised every alarm in the chemistry teacher’s mind, even as he hurried to get his eyes to work again. His stomach rolled, every nerve in his body screaming with panic.
The shrieks from earlier came back, louder, no longer laughing.
When Rick couldn’t feel gravity anymore, he desperately reached out for the nearest thing he could grab onto. His own voice joined the chorus of screams.
For the briefest of moments, he could see outside the bus’ windows.
Trees, trees so gigantic in height and width they should be impossible. A singular massive web of branches that was pierced through by the wooden spires. The bus plunged into the forest, falling, falling far more than he’d thought should have been possible. How far up were they!?
The first series of branches felt like the hammer blow of an angry God, rattling the bus and shaking it as it continued its descent. The seatbelt was the only thing keeping Rick held in place as the world spun around him. The second set of branches caused the bus to spin like a top as it continued on its way down.
There was now only a loud ringing sound as it became impossible to determine anything anymore.
When gravity returned in full, it was with a vengeful whiplash and deafening crash of breaking metal and glass.
Everything turned to pain, and then darkness.