The desert just, sort of, keeps going. That’s the first thing you notice about it. Endless sand on the left, and endless ocean on the right.
Nothing can live here but the most resilient tufts of grass, soaking up what moisture they can get in the wind from the sea.
I had been on the bus since last night. I had seen the Sun rise over the desert, and it was once more beginning to set over the shimmering sea.
I drifted off to sleep for a moment, with my face against the dusty window.
When I woke up, the bus was pulling over at some run-down old outpost. There’d be an overpriced shop, and a restaurant, and some scummy toilets. The usual. There were no signs of life except a skinny dog with patchy fur and one eye, wandering aimlessly around.
The Sun was almost entirely below the horizon now, and Venus was gleaming in the clear Western sky.
Most of the passengers got off the bus. I waited for the man sitting next to me to get up before I followed. It had been 4 hours since the last stop, at another of these lonely stations, where the desert meets the sea, and I could barely move my legs.
I stood up, clumsily, and walked towards the door, stepping out into the cool desert twilight. None of the other passengers were out here. They must all have gone inside. I paced around the yard a bit, with the decrepit dog watching me intently from a few metres away. I walked round to the other side of the bus.
Then I looked closer, to make sure I’d seen it right.
There was a pile of sand, that had been blown across the road. And, sticking out from it, a hand. A human hand, with the end of a black sleeve.
I shouted for help, several times. Nobody answered.
I walked over, tentatively. I reached out and touched it, quickly withdrawing my hand at first, and then going back for longer.
It was cold, and stiff.
I took a few deep breaths and started to brush the sand away.
It was the body of a woman, face down in the sand, dressed all in black. I turned her head to see her face.
I leapt back. I leaned in. It was. It was her. I ran. I ran back round and back into the bus. I’d be safe in there. I’d be safe in there. It wouldn’t be real when I was back in there. But it was. It was Caitlyn I’d seen. Her face pure white, her lips grey, her jumper stained with congealed blood, a deep, gaping ravine of blood right across her neck.
It can’t have been. It was three years since she’d died. But it was. It was. She was real. I’d touched her. I’d felt her cold, clammy skin.
I stumbled back to my seat, tripping over a bottle of water that someone had left on the floor without the lid screwed on properly, sending it streaming down the aisle.
There was nobody else on the bus. Everyone who had been here must have left, but I couldn’t see anyone else out of the windows. Just that stray dog.
My phone buzzed. With shaking hands, I took it out of my pocket, unlocked it, and read the message:
“Keep on running, keep on running”
I didn’t think there was a phone signal here.
There definitely wasn’t a phone signal here.
I threw my phone down the aisle.
I began pacing, up and down, up and down, up and down.
Where had everyone gone? Was I alone here now, trapped in this desolate place, at the ends of the Earth?
Then I saw it on the back seat. I saw the swarm of flies first. I walked closer. I could hear them, buzzing incessantly. I knew what it was. I knew what it was that I’d see there. I turned round, and walked quickly away. There it was again, right in front of me this time, in one of the aisle seats.
There were maggots crawling in Caitlyn’s eye sockets. Her hair was falling out, along with chunks of flesh. Flies swarmed around her abdomen, where worms were devouring her viscera.
I turned again and ran for the exit, to get anywhere away from this place. But I slipped, on the water I’d spilled earlier.
I landed next to my phone.
It buzzed again.
The screen was facing up. I saw the message.
“See what I became?”
I ran once more, staggering down the steps and out of the door.
The dog was gnawing on a bone it had found.
It wandered round the side of the bus, back where I’d found the first body. I followed it. I didn’t know where I was going. I just wanted to be anywhere else.
Where the body had been, there were a pile of bleached bones, again half-buried in the sand. In the bright moonlight, I could make out a skull, a few ribs, a few vertebrae, and a femur. That was all there was.
And there was a buzzing sound, on top of the mound of sand. I looked, instinctively, and against my better judgement.
I saw exactly what I’d dreaded seeing.
It was my phone. It couldn’t have been my phone, because my phone was on the bus, but it was my phone.
It was too late. I’d already seen the screen:
“See what you made of me?”
“What do you want from me?” I shouted out loud, into the salty wind.
I tried not to, but I glanced down, and there it was again. My phone, with a message on the screen:
“Can you keep on running forever?”