Dakota Hastings boarded the bus and sat near the back. She hated riding the bus, but it was the only form of long-distance transportation she could afford to get back her parents’ house. She knew she would be given the ‘I told you so’ lecture from her parents, but it didn’t matter. They said she could come back and that was all that cared about her now.
Dakota called her parents with a heavy heart and told them the whole story. They told her she was welcome home anytime, but they weren’t able to send her any money. They claimed it was due to her father’s bad heart, but the truth was, they didn’t fully believe her. They feared she’d use the money for drugs. Dakota sold everything she could and was able to buy a one-way ticket back home.
Now, she was alone on the bus, sitting near the back, and ashamed of her foolish mistakes and bad judgment. She watched other people board, mostly college students, young couples, and one family. The bus wasn’t full, but there was a decent number of people. She looked out the window as it pulled out. There were dark clouds forming in the sky. A storm was lurking and they were headed right for it.
The bus made its first stop at a tourist trap with fast food joints and shops. Dakota spent all her money on the ticket and had no money for food, though her stomach was growling. She used the bathroom, as the one on the bus smelled funny and she didn’t like the lack of privacy. She washed herself as best as she could, getting the dirt off her face, and trying to tame her frizzy, blonde hair. A few of the passengers who were on the bus met friends and she knew they weren’t going to continue the journey with her.
Dakota smiled at a couple of girls who were eating hamburgers. Their food looked good, and she was hungry. “Take a picture, it lasts longer,” snapped one of the girls.
Dakota walked away embarrassed. She was ashamed of herself for even having the thought of begging for a bite of food, but it had been days since she had last eaten. She spotted a family as they threw away their trash. Neither of the children had finished their burgers and the mom had just tossed them into a bag before putting it in the trash. Dakota thought about grabbing the bag when the custodian came by and collected the trash. He looked up at her and scowled. She dashed into the bathroom and cried with shame over her actions.
She washed up and after drinking some water at a fountain, she boarded the bus. She was the last to board and was sure everyone knew that she almost ate some food out that was in the trash can. She quickly took her seat and wished the bus would hurry up and get her to her parents’ house. The bus lurched forward and was off. Dakota stared out the window, watching the highway pass, and the rain hit the windows. The sun was blocked out, the sky was dark, and it seemed to echo the emptiness within her. How could she let her life get like this? Why didn’t she just listen to her parents? She shut her eyes, and tried to forget the pain in her stomach.
The sky was black when Dakota woke up. She had drifted off into a deep sleep and missed the last rest stop. She really didn’t mind as it meant she’d arrive that much sooner. The storm raged outside. The wind shook the bus, lightning would shoot across the sky, and thunder echoed within the bus.
Then came the sound of the horn. It was quickly followed by a strange squealing sound as the bus turned sideways. The passengers started to scream. The sound of metal bending and glass breaking filled Dakota’s ears. The bus tilted over onto its side and slid several hundred feet before stopping. Dakota was bruised and had a gash on her left arm, but was otherwise unharmed. She slowly stood up on the window and looked around. Other passengers were standing as well. Some were more injured than others, but no one was seriously hurt.
The driver came to the back and opened the emergency exit door asking if everyone was all right. Once out of the bus the passengers saw the jackknifed truck and two other cars involved in the accident. The rain thundered down and people began to check on the wounded.
“Does someone have a cell phone?” someone asked.
“No signal. It must be the storm,” said someone else.
“What about the CB in the rig?” said a third voice.
“Busted in the crash,” said the driver, blood trickling down his face.
“Your hurt,” said Dakota.
“It’s nothing hon,” he said. “What about the bus?”
“Same problem,” said the bus driver. “When the bus tipped over, I knocked it out when I fell.”
Everyone grumbled when yet another car came flying into the scene. It barely missed the crash but didn’t stop. “Asshole!” someone yelled.
Everyone was getting soaked. Finally, a few of the men said they would hike up the road to find help. The women and children re-boarded the bus. Dakota sat near the door and shivered. She had no dry clothes, no family or friends, and could feel the wind blowing through the broken glass. She wondered if her life could get any worse.
The sound of a horn preempted the sound of more metal bending, glass breaking, and screams. A pickup truck driving too fast hit the back end of the bus and Dakota was thrown from the bus. She flew several feet in the air, then rolled down the hillside and stopped in a large mud puddle. Luckily she landed on her back. Sitting up slowly, she discovered that she now had new bruises, new cuts, her left arm was possibly broken, and she was a muddy mess.
“Fuck!” she cursed.
It took her a moment for her to figure out she was thrown out of the bus and tossed down the hillside. She tried to climb back up, but her left arm wasn’t working and the rain and mud made it nearly impossible. Alone, cold, wet, and scared, Dakota decided to try to find her own way back to the highway.
She wandered along the hillside until a mudslide blocked her path. She tried to walk around it but ended up getting herself lost. Occasionally she’d call out, but the storm blocked out her voice. Refusing to give up, she kept moving forward, turning when necessary. The pathway was difficult and she tripped often. Her arm hurt, her body ached, and she was exhausted.
Dakota was just about to give up when she saw a light. At first, she thought it was a car and thus the highway. She walked as quickly as she could toward it, stumbling several times. She quickly realized it wasn’t a car, it was a house. A house meant a phone and help. A house meant a chance for food and heat. That house was her chance for survival.
As she drew closer, she saw the house was older, large, and a bit scary looking. Dakota figured it was because of the storm, and kept moving closer to it. She knocked on the door but no one answered. In a moment of desperation, she tried the knob and found it unlocked.
“I’m just going to use their phone,” she said to herself. “I won’t take anything. I won’t touch anything.”
She stepped inside. The living room was warm and well-lit with several candles. There was a fire burning in the fireplace, a small sofa, and a telephone sitting on a table. The artwork on the walls was tasteful, Dakota ran up to the phone and picked it up, only to hear nothing. She sat it back down and decided to sit by the fire to get warm and dry. She sat on the marble step by the hearth, reached out, and felt the heat warm her skin. The pain in her left arm radiated throughout her body.
“Well now, look what the storm brought in,” said a voice behind Dakota.
Dakota jumped up. Her clothes and hair still soak from the storm. She saw a man with straight black hair, dark eyes, pale face, wearing a black suit and holding a small candelabra with three lit candles. Her first impression was he was a vampire, but she knew that was silly.
“I’m sorry,” she said quickly. “I only came in so I could use your phone and call for help.”
“Then I am the one who should be sorry. Our phone went out shortly after we lost power when the storm started. And you’re hurt. Let me help you.”
The man stepped closer, almost gliding as he walked. “No!” exclaimed Dakota, stepping back. “I’m fine, really.”
“You’re bleeding,” he said as he touched her arm. “And you’re soaked. You must freezing. And when was the last time you ate? I may not have a working phone, but I can feed you, bandage your wounds, and clean you up. Come. I’ll run you a hot bath. I don’t think I have any clothes for a woman, but maybe I have something you can wear for now.”
His gentle manner helped ease Dakota’s fears “I’m fine, really,” she said.
He smiled. “I’m Louis. Come, I promise I won’t harm you in any way. What is your name?”
Louis looked over Dakota’s small frame. He’d always liked petite girls and he knew she was curvy based on the way her clothes clung to her small frame. But she was so covered in mud and muck that he couldn’t make out much more. “Let’s get that bath run. I’ll wash your clothes for you and then we’ll eat. I swear I won’t harm you.”
Dakota hadn’t known many good people and was still suspicious of this man. But the idea of a hot bath and a meal was more than she could pass up, especially after her almost trash diving meal. Louis led her upstairs and down a candle-lit hallway to a small bedroom.
He lit two candles in the room then said, “You can sleep here. If the storm has passed by morning, I can take you to town. What happened to you anyway?”
“Bus accident,” she said, “and what’s with all the candles?”
“Power failure. Makes the house more romantic. Now, about your accident.”
.... There is more of this story ...