Ace put his boots on the dashboard of the pickup truck and lowered his cowboy hat over his face. Soft, sad county music was whispering out of the radio speakers, but it was barely audible over the cold air con, engine rumble and wheels crunching over stones and red sand. He breathed deeply and started daydreaming about the curvy blonde waitress at the last diner they had stopped at.
Red, who was at the wheel, shot his cousin a dirty look. The truck wasn’t new, but even so there was just something about Ace relaxing that got to him. Maybe it was because Red had done all the driving today? Glancing over again, Red could easily see why that waitress at the diner had thought they were twins. They did look so alike with their short black hair, wide jaw line and broad shoulders. The fact they were both wearing leather cowboy boots, jeans, dark t-shirts, brown leather jackets and hats also did not help.
Trying not to grind his teeth, Red looked further down the desert road and towards the mountains. Something glinted in the burning sunlight to his right. Wondering what it was, Red eased back on the gas and watched the object take form. In the shimmering heat it looked like a mirage and he wondered if he had been driving for too long.
‘Hey, Ace. Look,’ Red said loudly.
Ace shifted, grumbled something and pulled his hat off. He looked at Red questionably and slightly angrily, ‘what’s it?’
‘Something’s over there,’ Red answered and pointed at the object.
Ace looked over, taking his boots of the dashboard as he did so. At first he was not sure what it was growing out of the otherwise desert landscape, but then he recognised the long yellow rectangle shape.
‘It’s a school bus,’ he cried.
‘A school bus? Out here in the middle of nowhere?’ Red asked, puzzlement filling his voice.
‘Let’s take a look,’ Ace added as if he had not heard his cousin.
Red nodded and drove the truck over. He parked just off the road and cut the engine. Looking out, he saw that Ace had been right and there was a school bus seemly abandoned in the sand. Wondering how long it had been there for, Red opened his door and got out. Straight away the desert heat hit him like a baseball bat and he began to have second thoughts.
Ace though had flung open his door and was already quickly walking over. Dust trailing in his awake and the sound of his boots the only noise to be heard.
Closing his door then going around and closing the passenger door, Red followed Ace over. He looked at the desert floor as they went, but could not see any tire tracks or other trails. It was possible the bus had been there weeks or months, but he also knew how fast things could change out here, so maybe it had only recently been left?
Ace reached the bus before he did and started looking around it. Red headed straight for the door and found it open. Sand was piled against the steps, indicating that it had been abandoned. He stepped in, knowing he might find more clues inside. He noticed dust on the mirror and wheel. There were no keys though. The seats all had a layer of red sand dust on them too. The air smelt hot and musty.
‘Been here awhile then?’ Ace called from the doorway.
‘Couple of months maybe? It still looks okay in here,’ Red replied over his shoulder.
He walked further down, minding his head and looking for anything else that would help pin down the time or suggest why the bus was here. Red heard Ace getting on board and start messing with the driving wheel and wires.
Then something caught Red’s eye and he stopped. It was a kid’s denim jacket. He picked it up, but there was no name on the label and the pockets were empty. Putting it back, he then found a lunch pack a few seats down. It was also empty, but he was grateful for that as any food would not have lasted long in this heat.
‘Think we can strip it?’ Ace called over.
‘Someone still might come back for it,’ Red answered as he reached the end of the bus.
He picked up a book that had been left on the back seat. It was a children’s horror story and he remembered the series from his own childhood. He flipped through the pages then pocket it.
‘Na, I don’t think they are,’ Ace spoke out.
Red made his way back to his cousin and looked out of the grime covered window. He could just see the red mountains and a tall cactus. The heat was still raising and he felt like he was baking in the bus. Wiping his forehead, he wondered if it was worth the effort to remove things they could easily sell.
‘I’m going to get the tool box,’ Ace declared.
He slide off the driver’s seat and went out of the door. Red watched him disappear out and around the side of the bus. He moved to get off too and something crunched under his boot. He looked down and saw it was an M&M.