The sky was dark, languishing in a blue-tinted cloud cover that was pouring down a steady rain. Over a hill road that formed the outskirt of the town came rushing a girl, dark skirt billowing out arounder her legs as she ran, dark hair obscuring her face and head ducking under the messenger bag she held aloft in a vain attempt to shield herself. Further down the street in the far distance through which thousands of water droplets fell and blurred her vision, the girl thought she could see the glimmering red taillights of her bus as it departed from the town and was swallowed up by the forest and the dimness.
    The girl let out a ruefully cry, coming to a stop at the bottom of the hill. Her head was thrown back under her bag, which she slowly lowered, arms no longer seeming to have the strength to hold it in the air. The rain plopped down onto her face, mingling with the few tears that had sprung from her eyes without her consent. She blinked them away, but a few more seemed to percolate out despite her biting her bottom lip, trying to be calm. She walked slowly now to the bus shelter and plopped down on the bench to riffle in her bag. Looking inside, she suddenly remembered that her mother had given her an umbrella that morning, along with an admonishment for not being careful in checking the daily weather herself. Hearing the rain drumming on the shelter’s curved roof and feeling the cold stick of her wet clothes, skin, and hair, Rei felt a pang of disgust and nearly cried once more.
    Pushing it to the side, the girl found and retrieved her cell phone and compactly folded bus map. With the light from her phone, she scanned the expansive paper, finding her route and checking the times for departure. Seshidastu to Homedu - Route No. 23 - 8:30 was the last departure. She had missed her bus.
    Now trembling slightly, Rei rested her head back against the thin wall, jaw working as she tried to hold it together, but failed as more tears slid out of her eyes and down her cheeks. Now what? She would have to call her father to come get her. To drive two hours away to get her from the town where she’d gone against his will… She’d have to admit her mistakes - going so far away as if she were adult, thinking that she could handle herself. If only she hadn’t fallen down those stairs like such an idiot.
    The drone of the falling rain continued as Rei sat. Everything outside the small enclosure seemed to have been enveloped by the sheets of blue-gray water and night that was seeping into the atmosphere. She allowed herself to exist for the moment in the seeming void, not yet willing to accept what had happened. Not yet willing to take the next step. Instead the she school girl took refuge in the limbo. She almost wished she ached some where from her sprawling tumble down the university stairs - just to feel something besides this physical bereftness; but Rei didn’t bother checking herself over for bruises. She could look at them later when she peeled off her wet clothes, after her father got done berating her for daring to go off in pursuance of her “ridiculous fantasy” of art school, after her mother shook her head at her daughter’s carelessness in wandering around until it was necessary to dash out of the building and across town in the rain. Then she could at least feel sorry for herself properly.

    “Are you waiting for the bus too?”
    Rei snapped back to attention, turning to see there was a girl peeking in around the outside of the bus shelter’s entrance. She looked to be high school age - about the same as Rei. She was wearing shorts and a large sweater and tennis shoes as if she had just been relaxing at home, and carried no umbrella. Taken off guard, Rei stammered a reply.

    “S-sorry?” The girl just smiled and repeated.
    “You’re waiting for the bus, right?” She looked almost giddy as she stepped into the shelter and sat down next to Rei.
    “Oh, um, the bus...is gone. The last one left at 8:30,” Rei said awkwardly, then looked even more confused when the girl laughed.
    “Ah, good one,” she said. Then, seeing Rei’s face added. “Sorry, sorry. I know it’s not really something to be happy about.” She turned to try to peer down the mostly invisible road for oncoming traffic. “I’m sure it will be here soon. I can’t imagine there would be more than us on one day.”
    Rei was beginning to wonder if this girl was crazy, but just then heard the unmistakable noise of vehicle tires moving across water-slicked road and yellow light pierced through the drear outside. After a moment a large bus pulled up neatly before the shelter. It looked identical to the other public transit busses Rei saw and had ridden on to traverse the hilly country between the small towns dotting the area. The interior seemed to be so brightly lit that only burry shapes were visible from outside, but there looked like there were people aboard. The girl next to her jumped up excitedly turning to her once more.
    “That was quick,” she said cheerfully. “Let’s go then.” She was waiting for Rei to join her. Rei, however, was even for dazed than before. Was there another bus not listed? Was the bus she saw leaving not the one she had thought? Could her map have been out of date? She looked up to the the light sign at the top of the buss above the windshield and door  were ribbons of writing streamed across, telling where the bus was going, but the characters were unfamiliar - they seemed to be  ancient kanji like the stuff she studied in school.Strange...Still, the bus had to be stopping somewhere and it was going in her direction… at the very least she could be closer when she finally had to make the call for her dad to come get her.
    Rei slowly got up, hands holding on to the strap of her bag as if it would anchor her to safety. The girl smiled again and the doors of the bus opened and she turned to climb aboard. Rei followed behind her.
    “My name is Kike, by the way,” the girl threw over her shoulder.
    Rei blinked at the intensity of the light as she ascended the stairs onto the bus, trying to see where the toll receptacle was, but the clear box was absent. She looked up at the driver, who sat facing forward, eyes shadowed by the brim of his uniform cap, not looking at her.
    “Hey, is it okay if we sit together?”Kike was standing in the isle, head cocked inquiringly so her curly hair fell all over the place. With one nervous look back at the driver, Rei quickly moved to her and took a seat next to the girl. She looked out the window where the storm held steady and the darkness grew. The bus doors closed, locking out all sounds of the pouring rain, and the bus began to move.

    Rei took out her phone and saw it was on only %13 battery. Crap. She considered texting her friend Akane just so someone would know where she was, but she then noticed the dreadful equilateral triangle where her four reliable bars should be. She had no service. What the hell? She had service as long as she remembered being in Seshidastu…
    Rei sat in silence. Kike had gone quiet, thought she still looked quietly cheerful, watching the trees of the town’s outer forest pass by as the moved towards the hilly countryside. The inside of the bus looked like any other; rows of blue seats lined the walls and sat in rows in the elevated back, standing poles and hand straps stood at the ready for the grip of unsteady passengers. The lights’ bright white light now seemed cozy; a relief from the turbulence going on on the bus’ exterior.  Several people sat in the back: a prehistoric looking woman wrapped in several layers of clothing like she was cocooned, a man about fifty or so who looked worn down and grave, and a few more further back who Rei couldn’t fully make out.
    The bus came to a stop after a time, a small town not far from Seshidatsu. The door opened to admit a young boy, about twelve. He was wearing dirty clothes and incredibly ragged shoes. He was wet from the rain. As he stepped confidently aboard, Rei caught a glimpse of his face from under his baggy jacket hood. The boy’s cheeks were hollow, not plump and smooth as they should be at his age. His skin was pale and sallow and his eyes were sunken and dark. He must be starving.
        “So,” Kike had turned to Rei and was looking at her slightly shyly now. “It’s not as creepy as I was worried it might be.” Seeing Rei’s utterly confused face she elaborated. “The bus, I mean. Is this what you’d thought it would be like after hearing so much about it?”
    “The bus is… fine?” Rei said hesitantly, still not understanding what this girl was saying. Had she never ridden the bus before? Some old people in her town thought the busses were for skeevy transients, but she had never had an issue with them.
    “What happened to you, then?” Kike asked, even more timid than before. She was looking down, as if afraid of being rude. “Did you have an accident or something?” Realizing her knees, scrapes and all were exposed, Rei laughed a little wryly.
    “It’ stupid,” she explained. “I was at the college for an interview and afterwards I got carried off wandering around the school. When I finally noticed what time it was, I was about to be late to catch the bus back home so I had to run out into the rain. I slipped and fell down the stairs outside the school…” Thinking back to the incident made Rei want to puke from embarrassment. “I think i might have passed out for a minute. When I woke up, there were people all around me, just staring. I just ran out of there as fast as I could.”
    “Wow, how unfortunate,” said Kike, voice full of sympathy. “But wait,” the girl suddenly frowned a little, wide dark eyes looking slightly troubled as they looked Rei over again. “You said you were just visiting the school? Where are you from then?”
    Kike looked shaken. “So far away?” The girl seemed to be thinking frantically. The bus’ lights flickered shortly. Rei noticed they had started moving again without her noticing. There was no sound from the vehicle’s motor, or even air conditioning. She tried to gauge where they were _ how close she was to home, but it was impossible. She couldn’t even tell how quickly they were moving when the windows only showed blackness and water droplets smearing across them.
    “So...have you never heard of the Departure Bus?” Kike’s voice had a heavy tone. Something in the way she said it made Rei look directly at her, focused.
    “No… what’s the Departure Bus?”
    Just then the Rei heard the sound of the bus doors opening once more, but she stayed looking at Kike, searching her face for any hint as to what could make her look so panicked all of a sudden. Kike however, had caught a glimpse of the bus’ new boarders. She stared momentarily, brows shooting up and eyes wide with shock. Seeming to catch herself Kike turned quickly back to Rei, but she had seen her face and now whipped around to see what had caused Kike’s expression. Woman stood at the beginning of the aisle scanning the bus for a place to sit. She was young, maybe twenty five and have something in her arms. She was covered in burns. Charred skin encrusted her arms, chest, and legs and a patch of her face seemed to have melted. The flesh was a horrible mottley of pale, milky color where it was untouched, angry blistering red and black. Her hair was fused together in places and completely signed off in others. The form in her arms wriggled and let out a rasping noise that made the hair rise on Rei’s neck. It was a burned baby.
    The sound of a phone shutter went off behind Rei. She turned, feeling her stomach’s horror as she struggled not to vomit or scream.
    “I thought you knew,” said Kike, her voice quiet and tremulous and pitying. She offered her phone to Rei who took it numbly.
    It was a picture of her back. Distantly familiar straight black hair and white blouse… but there was a dark stain on her shirt. Pinching the screen and zooming in, she saw the dark crimson tint marring the snowy fabric. Then she saw the glistening shine in her dark locks...also red. Rei reached around and self her blouse, now just slightly damp..except for a patch around her mid back where it was soaked with liquid. Following the wetless up, she could feel her hair separated into wet locks in the middle of the back of her head. Finally, as she reached the scalp, her thin fingers traced the slick skin until they suddenly slipped in. There was a crack. A soft pulsing, and liquid that raced down her arm. Tender flesh met the tips of Rei’s fingers beneath the hard shell of her skull, now split open.
    As she looked at the pixels on the palm sized screen, the multitude of disconnections rippled behind Rei’s eyes: between the photo and the feel of her exposed brain, between the bus and the world outside, between now and the moment before blacked out from the impact of her cranium on the hard concrete edge, between herself and life, between her understanding and the words Kike spoke to her: “This bus is for ghosts.”

Rei: 霊, "spirit, ghost”
Kike (short for Kiken-ryō) : 危険量, “overdose”  

Homedu related to “home”
Seshidatsu: from the words meaning “spirit departure”