We talked a little more before he drifted off again—and I realized I wasn’t going to be enjoying the window seat anytime soon. Not that I cared. Nothing much but farmland and suburbs as we flowed northward along I-77. Things turned more urban as we neared Akron, then Cleveland, where we took the I-271 by-pass, then, finally turned east on I-90 toward the Falls.
I was debating about whether to tell Gil about hearing that … voice … again last night. Smelling that smell—an odor so strong and unpleasant that it alone had awakened me in the darkest of the night. All it had said, over and over, was “Watch … watch … watch …”
“Watch what?” I’d asked. But had heard no reply. For as soon as I spoke, the voice stopped, and the stench began to dissipate. I very much wanted it to be a dream—and was able to convince my mind that it was. I somehow drifted back to sleep for a few hours before I had to get up and head off to school to board the bus.
But deciding not to tell Gil about it was fairly easy. Just looking at him had told me that the last thing he needed was some bizarre story from me about a strange voice and a worse smell and a cryptic message.
As we rolled east in I-90 we began to get some great vistas to the north of Lake Erie, and I thought about the lake being some kind of huge saucer, slightly tipped, its fluid flowing east toward Lake Ontario, pouring over the Falls. I didn’t want Gil to miss any of the lake, so I gave him a little nudge with my elbow and faked a cough.
He stirred. Turned his head back to me and stared with question marks replacing his pupils. He smiled.
“Try using your window for something besides a pillow,” I said gently.
He looked, saw Lake Erie—a deep blue placemat stretching north to the horizon, to Canada—and I heard him inhale so sharply that it ignited another round of coughing. I rubbed his shoulder; he didn’t stop me. And then he quieted.
“That’s just … unbelievable,” he said. “So … unbelievable.”
And Mr. Gisborne chose that moment to use the sound system on the bus to make his first announcement. “That’s Lake Erie on your left,” he said. “One of the Great Lakes.”
Gil and I looked at each other, then bent over double in laughter, his, of course, soon consumed by coughs.
“Somebody get that boy a Kleenex!” Mr. Gisborne joked on the microphone. Some laughter—but not as much as I’d thought. Many of the kids on that bus—kids who’d scored well at the science fair—had themselves been the subject of laughter throughout their school lives … from classmates, from teachers. They knew …
“Anyway,” continued Mr. Gisborne, his voice sounding a little disappointed at the small reaction to his “joke,” “we’ll be stopping in a little bit at McDonald’s in Erie—”now there was authentic cheering—“for an early lunch. Be sure to stay seated until we’ve come to a full stop—and do not move toward the front until you get the go-ahead from me.”
It wasn’t long before we slowed for the exit and drove the short distance to the restaurant. Not my favorite place, McDonald’s, but I was ready to get outside and move around a little.
We stopped, then waited while Mr. Gisborne went inside the restaurant to let them know we had arrived. He returned, then said we could now move slowly toward the front of the bus. Gil didn’t get up, though. I looked at him. “My mom’ll get me something,” he said. “I think I’ll just wait here.”
“All right,” I said, trying to make it sound as if his decision were the most natural thing in the world—to stay on the bus after a four-hour ride.
As I stepped outside, falling in step with Harriet, I saw another bus—not unlike ours—starting to move back out onto the highway. The windows were dark, but I could tell it was also full of young people. Probably another school group on the way to the Falls, I thought.
As the bus pulled out onto the street, I glanced again at its rear window and saw a pair of yellow eyes gleaming back at me.
I looked quickly at Harriet. “Yes,” she said grimly, “I saw it, too.”