The clouds had been whipped into symmetrical formation by furious tides of air, revealing only glances of the bruised night sky, and the acid pink tear that streaked across it. Far below, an isolated cluster of trees stood weakly against the barrage of sand flung against them, resembling a half-forgotten attempt at an oasis. Were it not for the groaning satellite tower, or the rusting corpse of a double-decker bus, you might imagine that society had steered well clear of this pit of the world.
A little bus bumbled into view, each sand-made speed-bump causing its garish, technicolour surface to catch the starlight from a different angle. The choking of its engine was almost enough to drown out the wind, which seemed to have intensified its howling in response. As furious hands worked at rolling up the windows, the vehicle came to a sudden stop, right beside the double-decker. With several jolts its door screeched open, allowing an orderly line of people to file out.
The attire of the visitors was not best suited to a desert environment: high-heeled shoes that sank instantly into the sand; rambunctious hats adorned with fruit which were snatched away by the wind; exposed ears that swiftly became sand deposits. Only the bus driver looked appropriate for the occasion, covered from top to toe in thick golden-brown cloth that almost rendered him part of the scenery. His eyes were faintly visible through the mask, gleaming like pools of oil, an accidental beauty of darkness. The badge pinned to his shirt read ‘Tour Guide’.
He began to deliver his speech to the group before him, proud words gliding through the air like a knife through moist sponge cake, at once settling the frustrations of the bewildered group – if this wasn’t the Dreamland, then where the hell were they? The tourists watched him in eager desperation, drawn together like fish in a barrel by the frigidity of the air, the inadequacy of their fine clothing. Perhaps they were about to be shown a secret path to the Dreamland, they began to mutter between themselves, or a luxurious desert hotel beneath the sand, one with light-up bed pods that looked like UFOs – no, no, UFOs was a step too far, but surely they were about to be shown some incredible feat of technology.
The tour guide enjoyed this part. Strength, raw and whole, throbbed through him as he led the individuals down his path, anticipating an arrival that only he expected. Occasionally he would glance to his right, to the rotting bus beside his own pride and joy, where he could see flashes of movement. Perhaps, in the last moments of their lives, these people would experience something similar; a sudden flash into nothingness. Or perhaps there would be panic, limbs torn away, desperate scrambling over blood-soaked sand to beat and shriek at the door of the little technicolour bus, which would pootle away as calmly as it had arrived. No matter what happened, every night was a show – and the tour guide had his very own backstage pass. He considered the different possibilities as he reeled out his rehearsed lines, and almost had to stifle a laugh.
He never considered the monster, who sat alone inside the hollow bus. Its ribs stuck out at odd angles, almost protruding through the skin.
“What do you mean, we’re not going back tonight? I have a six-o’clock meeting!”
“Who books a meeting straight after a tour?”
“Excuse me, I have a family to go home and take care of!”
It could hear the arguing. Perhaps they were unhappy, the people that he would eat. Perhaps they would be better off.
“Ladies and gentlemen… I hear your growls of discontent.”
The tour guide’s favourite line. He couldn’t help but look to the monster’s dwelling place, his eyes flooded with childish excitement. It growled, on cue, but the sound was pitiful – it was the bass tones of its roaring stomach that caused the tourists to immediately freeze.
“However, there is no reason to be alarmed. There will be brief entertainment before you are transported… elsewhere.”
It was almost time. The monster could smell their fear in the tremors of their breath. It needed to survive.
With a heavy groan, the doors of its enclosure creaked open.
The tour guide stepped onto his technicolour bus and closed the doors.
The monster could already taste blood on its tongue.