East of the M60’s first short story for All Hallow’s Eve
Any reference to persons, chocolate bars, ales, bus routes, public houses, living or dead are purely coincidental. Thank you.
Even in the wettest of days, The Bowling Green would attract a great many vertical alfresco drinkers, mainly of the smoking kind. Therefore, getting a seat in the public bar was less than troublesome, a contrast to the adjacent Ash Tree. It was this issue alone which influenced Robbie’s and Callum’s choice of pub that night. They had two pints of Carling each, and this was their last stop before boarding their 348 to Carrbrook.
‘Shall we make us way, Callum?’ said Robbie.
‘Nah, two minutes yet’ replied Callum.
Both Callum and Robbie finished their pints of lager before making their way to the bus stop near Bar Centro. They would cross the road outside Kwik Fit, dodging yellow and red Eastern Coach Works bodied Leyland Olympians, hoping their 348 would arrive. They could have caught the 349 but in Callum’s words, it went a slightly longer route.
The queue outside Bar Centro was about twenty deep. It was 3.40 pm, right at the heart of the schools’ rush hour. The worst possible time to catch a bus, in Ashton-under-Lyne. On a wet Wednesday. Tuesdays was slightly better, but the buses around 2pm would be populated with passengers coming back from the flea market.
Outside Bar Centro, the queue saw no sign of movement. By 3.50 pm, the queue was only eight deep as twelve people caught a 350 to Hey Farm. The ageing Leyland Lynx seemed to be busier than normal.
‘No good. Not seen that 348 yet’ said Callum.
‘Aye, typical for this time. Don’t panic’ replied Robbie.
If desperate, they could catch a 349, or one of Mayne’s 234s and 235s. But Robbie and Callum were proud owners of Tripper 7 season tickets, which meant anything in the red and yellow of Pennine, or the tomato soup of First Manchester. It would have meant paying extra to board Mayne’s equally interesting fleet.
‘Looks like the 349 then’ chirruped Callum. Robbie nodded.
By 3.55 pm, their 349 appeared. It was the more regular Plaxton Pointer bodied Dennis Dart. A step entrance one with coach style seating.
‘Mission accomplished’ said Callum. Both showed their passes to the driver and took their positions on the back seat.
* * *
The journey started well along Arlington Way, then negotiated the BT roundabout with ease. All was going well until they passed Dalehead Foods. A storm cloud appeared above County Bridge, then the single decker bus negotiated Crescent Road at a slower rate than usual.
Outside the Lamb Hotel, 170 males with Scream masks, sporting full Crescent Road Secondary School uniforms marched from Wharf Street up to Park Road. They were led by a Grim Reaper lookalike on a pantomime horse.
‘Good lord!’ exclaimed Robbie, Callum, and seven other passengers aboard. The driver radioed through to Dukinfield garage. They expected him to report a Zombie Apocalypse filing out of the tap room of the Lamb Hotel. On the radio came this message:
‘Group call, will all drivers on the 346 and 349 be wary of slow running on Crescent Road. Over…’
‘Group call, I’m on the 1553 349 to Carrbrook. Traffic no more different to normal. Over’ replied the driver.
The ‘Zombie Apocalypse’ passed, resulting in a 5 minute delay to the 1553 journey. He negotiated Crescent Road as normal and all seemed well till he stopped outside Morrisons. Another passenger boarded. She showed her System One pass. Another person alighted at the next stop. He was about 5 feet and 9 inches, had a backpack on, and wore a blue and white scarf. Within moments of his departure came a further twenty passengers.
All twenty of them had the same uniforms as the 170 which marked along Wharf Street.
‘How quick were they?’ said Callum.
‘Did they really try to pay kids fare?’ replied Robbie ‘They look like they’re in their thirties’.
Just as the bus was about to depart, another two tried to hail the 349 and succeeded. They were dressed in white and carried a mask in a Morrisons carrier bag. By the time they passed The Norman, the twenty uniformed passengers put on masks.
The same masks as seen on the junction of Crescent Road.
Then, just as dark grey clouds reemerged over Stanley Square, one of the party mooned at a late running 389. Two of them from the back seat made werewolf noises. The patience of the driver surprised some passengers. By Albert Square, the twenty Scream masked passengers kept ringing the bell several times, and this lasted till they arrived at Stalybridge bus station.
The twenty masked passengers left. In spite of causing much grief to the passengers, Robbie and Callum included, the driver barely noticed.
‘How could he miss this bunch?’ said Callum to Robbie.
‘I don’t know’ said Robbie ‘I suppose when you’ve done the school run you could cope with anything’.
The 349 continued to Armentieres Square, where the driver paused. He radioed through to the garage.
‘Group call all Pennine services, if you’ve seen twenty people with red and white school ties wearing Scream masks, please refuse entry. Over’.
Luckily for passengers aboard the 349, and their patient chauffeur, all seemed well after this interlude of madness. Even so, anything could have happened that day.
‘Should only be ten minutes till we’re home, Callum’ said Robbie.
‘Aye’ Callum replied.
‘Pie?’ said Robbie as the bus passed Oxford Street Chippy ‘Does chippy tea seem like a good idea?’
‘Good idea after such a weird day. Cannot be doing with cooking tonight’.
But the weird day was far from over. About twenty headless horsepersons held up the 349 on Demesne Drive.
‘Weird’ said the driver ‘Usually Polos and Novas. Not Polo playing headless horsemen’.
Back to his radio he said:
‘Group call all drivers on the 349, expect delays due to polo playing headless horsemen’.
This was met with great laughter and amazement from the depot. Their reply was dismissive:
‘Driver 3110, are you sure about this?’
‘Yes, definitely. I DID say polo playing headless horsemen, not a Volkswagen Polo blocking the road’.
‘Did you see that, Callum?’ said Robbie ‘More horses! And headless polo players.’
‘Shit’s just got real!’ replied an aghast Callum ‘Zombies on Cressie Road, now this. Whatever next? UFOs over the Royal Oak?’
‘Careful what you wish for…’
By the junction of Huddersfield Road, a more mundane problem irked the driver: three drivers trying to enter their cars on Demesne Drive. The already late running 349 was about 20 minutes late. Shortly after turning onto Huddersfield Road, he stopped the bus a few yards before the Total garage.
‘Be back in two minutes’ said the driver.
This was met with disgust by the passengers, but he popped in to the little shop and returned with a vending machine coffee and a Cadbury’s Fuse bar. The little Dart roared into life and passed Copley High School without incident. The tight turn at Ditchcroft, once the bane of many SHMD trams was equally trouble free. Then he stopped again, outside The Church Inn. Another driver, this time on a passing 348 ask him why he was running so late.
‘Hey, what’s this I hear about a Zombie Apocalypse in Dukinfield?’ said his opposite number en route to Ashton ‘Depot’s bloody livid. Oldham’ll ‘ave us guts for garters’.
‘I didn’t see it’ replied the Carrbrook driver ‘Saw twenty dodgy blokes with Cressie Road ties on. Got on at Morrisons’.
‘One more thing, could you do a Sunday on th’ 350?’
‘Dunno. Can I get today over with, please? Gotta do a return 349 to Ashton then t’ depot.’
‘O.K.’ said the Ashton bound driver as he continued his journey on the 348.
Driving on slowly, he got to the Buckton Castle and asked ‘Does anybody want Carrbrook Village?’.
Callum and Robbie both replied ‘Yes please’. So the driver continued along the short stretch of Buckton Vale Road. All was well till they passed the Spar shop. There was barricades about 200 yards from the convenience store which cut short his journey.
The driver said ‘I’m sorry about this, I cannot go any further. I’m afraid you’ll have to get off.’
Only Callum and Robbie were aboard the 349 by then and didn’t begrudge the extra 800 yards walk to their house. So they politely left the bus and thanked the driver.
* * *
‘How odd was that?’ said Callum.
‘Just a typical Tuesday’ replied Robbie.
‘Don’t be ridiculous, it can’t be that bad’.
‘You obviously haven’t done the school run then’.
‘Callum, my dad used to work for GM Buses and the route he dreaded most of all was the 841. He was happy when Mayne’s took over and his hair stopped greying. It was nothing on today.’
Robbie would soon be proved wrong. A cylindrical object in the sky was heading for South View. Beyond the barricade, zombies emerged from manhole covers. Some of them, instead of wearing the usual Scream masks had blue shirts with ‘Barcrest’ across their chest, or white shirts with black collars. It was like The Firm meets Rentaghost.
Robbie then sneezed loudly. The cylindrical shaped craft landed at the South View bus stop. Unlike bog standard UFOs, it had a System One Travelcards sign on the windscreen and was piloted by skeletons.
Together, both Callum and Robbie ran away shouting ‘AAAAAAAARRRRRGGGGHHHHH’ and retired to the chippy. Instead of returning to their house on Arundel Close, they ran towards the Buckton Castle public house for a pint of lager after ordering two Special Foo Yungs with chips and curry.
‘Do they drink Carling Black Label?’ said Robbie.
S.V., 30 October 2013.