The Ashland Express

📅 Published on March 9, 2021

“The Ashland Express”

Written by William Dalphin
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 9.00/10. From 2 votes.
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The Chicago suburb of Englewood is no stranger to murder.  In 1893, it was home to Dr. H. H. Holmes, who built a hotel with the sole purpose of murdering his employees and patrons.  A good hundred or so died in his gas-rigged rooms, their bodies stripped down to the bones and sold off as medical skeletons or destroyed in vats of acid and giant furnaces.

Yes, Englewood is rife with ghosts.  Very angry ghosts, fueled by thoughts of unanswered revenge and memories of torture.  Though mostly invisible to the naked eye, their rage and suffering can drive people mad.  And sometimes, on very rare occasions, they can drive them home.

Belinda Young was a librarian at the Austin-Irving branch of the Chicago Public Library.  Every day, she’d catch the #X9 Ashland Express from her home in Englewood and ride it all the way to work.  In the evening, the same bus would take her home.  She’d sit on the bus and keep to herself, burying her face in a book borrowed from work.  She was neither young nor particularly comely, with thin, black hair that was forever frizzled, a nose sharp like a hawk’s and small eyes that seemed substantially larger when viewed through the thick curvature of her glasses.  She had little to worry about from some of the more unsavory characters who frequented the same route every day.

She lived alone, in an apartment filled with books.  Her favorites were the romance novels, but she was embarrassed by this and often hid the covers, with their lascivious depictions of bare-chested men and high-bosomed women, out of fear of being judged by her peers.  She had no pets, as she had neither the time nor interest to take care of anything.  Nor did she have friends, as that meant “going out” from time to time.  To her coworkers, she was a mystery.  Belinda liked it that way.

One evening, her passion for her work got the better of her, and she found herself staying well past normal work hours, trying to sort through a stack of new books.  When she stepped outside, it was dark.  The sky was overcast, but there was a rumble in the distance that spoke of the possibility of an approaching storm.

Belinda walked to the bus stop and stood under a street light, reading her latest selection from the fiction section.  Several minutes passed.  There was hooting and laughing in the distance as a pair of hoodlums walked by across the street, kicking a glass bottle that lay in their path.  Down the street, a car idled outside a convenience store with the silhouette of a passenger in it.  She showed no sign of worry; she was too wrapped up in her story to even notice them.

The Ashland Express seemed to be running late, but to a person like Belinda, time traveled only as fast as her attention allowed it.  When the bus finally pulled up, she climbed aboard and showed her pass to the driver without taking her nose out of the pages of her book.  She walked to the back and seated herself next to a quiet gentleman wearing a bowler hat.

The bus rocked and moaned down the dark streets.  Belinda read her book quietly and never once looked up.  Somebody coughed near the front.  There was whispering from a couple across the aisle.  Nothing disturbed her, though.  From behind, a hand gently grabbed her shoulder and shook her, whispering:

“What are you doing?”

Belinda flinched, startled by the person’s sudden intrusion into her personal space and slightly embarrassed at being caught reading one of her bawdry novels.  Turning to look over her shoulder, she saw a young girl, possibly a college student, staring at her with a strange look.  She wore a gray hoody with greasy, blonde hair hanging out of it.

Belinda frowned.  She didn’t like being stared at.  The girl made her feel like some sort of freak, like a third eye had sprouted in the middle of her forehead.  Without a word, she got up from her seat and moved to one closer to the front of the bus, beside an old lady wearing a white shawl.  The elderly woman was knitting fervently, lost in a world of her own.  Getting comfortable, Belinda took a look back at the girl.  She was still staring at her, shaking her head at Belinda and silently mouthing the word, “No.”

The bus rumbled on into the night.  Belinda returned to her book, once again reaching a state of quiet peace that let time slip by unnoticed.  Before she realized it, she had finished the book.

That’s strange, she thought, I don’t normally finish one of these in a day.  She looked up, wondering how many stops were left, but outside the bus, it was as black as coal.  She couldn’t see the street signs or even the street lights.  In fact, if it weren’t for the rocking motion as the bus drove on, she wouldn’t have been able to tell they were even in motion.

She looked across the aisle.  An old man with shock white hair and wire-framed bifocals was staring back at her, much in the same manner as the girl had been earlier.  He shook his head at Belinda, causing her to once again feel self-conscious.  Ignoring his rude manners, she got up and walked to the front of the bus.  The driver sat vacantly in his blue jacket with a nametag that read “Quinlan,” looking out the front windshield at nothing in particular.  Belinda couldn’t make out the road ahead and wondered how he was able to see where he was going.  She held onto the pole and cleared her throat to get the driver’s attention.

“Excuse me,” Belinda said quietly.  The bus driver turned.  He looked old upon old.  The skin on his face was stretched tight and almost had a yellow luster to it.  He squinted and looked Belinda up and down for a moment.  Never a word was said; he simply looked her over, then looked her over again, like he wasn’t sure what to make of her.

“When do we get to Ashland and 63rd?”

The driver remained quiet.  He took a look in the mirror that allowed him to see the occupants of the bus, but when that didn’t suffice, he turned and leaned around Belinda, looking at the other passengers.

“Oh, do keep your eye on the road, please!” Belinda said, gesturing with her hands.  The old man sat forward and lifted his hat to scratch his head.

“How did you get on here?” he finally asked.

“What do you mean?” Belinda replied, confused.  “I got on at the Irving Park stop.”

“Oh, dear,” the bus driver replied.  “I wasn’t payin’ no attention.  Well, there ain’t nothin’ I can do about it now, ma’am. Terribly sorry.”

“What do you mean?”

“This is the express.  We stop from time to time, but nobody gets off ‘til the end of the line, ma’am.”

“Well, when is that?” Belinda was perplexed.  The bus had always stopped at Ashland and 63rd, and numerous stops before it.  Why was this one different?

“I don’t rightly know,” he said, letting go of the steering wheel to shrug his shoulders.  “I’ve been driving this bus for a good long while now, and I can’t recollect ever reaching the end of the line.”

Belinda frowned.  “That doesn’t make any sense.  Can you let me off, please?”

He looked at her sadly.  “I can’t stop ‘til there’s somebody to pick up, but I’ll see what I can do when that time comes.”

“Thank you.”

Belinda walked back to sit by the knitting lady.  She had nothing else to read, so she sat and looked at her hands.  She didn’t want to look at the other passengers because most of them seemed to be staring at her.

Footsteps came from the back of the bus.  Belinda knew who it was even before the girl put her hand on her shoulder again, shaking her.  Belinda turned and scowled at her, but the girl seemed unbothered by it.

“Do you have a problem?” she asked the girl.

“You don’t belong on this bus,” the girl replied.  There was a tinge of fear in her voice.

“And how would you know?”

“Because I can hear your heart beating.”  The girl pulled up the sleeves of her gray hoody and extended her arms out toward Belinda, palms up.  Jagged, crimson cuts extended from her wrists to halfway up her arms.  They were deep but not bleeding.  Belinda choked back a scream, stuffing her fist into her mouth.

“I did this,” the girl said solemnly, “and then the bus came for me.”

Belinda looked away, clenching her eyes shut.  When she opened them, the old lady in the shawl had set down her knitting and was smiling at her.  Reaching up with liver-spotted hands, she undid the shawl and bunched it up in her fist.  She sat there a moment while Belinda looked on, puzzled.

“My name’s Dolores,” the old lady started.  “I lived on Union.  Doctors told me I had inoperable cancer.  I didn’t want to just sit by and waste away.  My husband Charlie, God rest his soul, died in ‘65.  Never had any kids.  So one day, in the middle of knitting, I decided to get Charlie’s old handgun out of the shoebox in the back of the closet.  And then I sat down, poured myself a nice glass of tea, and afterward…”

She turned her head away, tilting it so Belinda could see where her hair had clumped up, and the back of her skull was missing.  Then Belinda did scream, and she shoved the college girl aside, grappling with the hand straps as the bus went over some very bumpy terrain.  She looked back at the other passengers with horror as, one by one, they stood up from their seats.

The old lady tied her shawl back on and shook her head sadly at Belinda.  “Mr. Quinlan there swallowed strychnine back in…when was it, Patrick?”

“1914,” the old man said, never taking his eyes off the road.

“This is crazy,” Belinda stammered.  Her hands were shaking, and she let go of the hand straps, falling to her knees.

“I don’t know how you ended up on here,” the young girl said, “but you don’t belong here.  You need to get off.”

“Nobody gets off ‘til the end of the line!” the driver snapped.

“Surely you can make an exception for this one, Patty,” the old lady said kindly.  She smiled at Belinda and offered her a hand to help her to her feet.

The bus driver grumbled. “I can slow it down and open the doors, and if someone were to take that opportunity to hop off, well…good luck to ‘em!  But other than that, I ain’t stopping this bus unless there’s someone to pick up.”  With that, the bus noticeably slowed down, and the old man pulled the lever to open the doors.

Belinda’s mind reeled.  It all seemed like a nightmare.  The old lady’s hands were holding hers, and they were as ice-cold as the college girl’s.  Behind them, the other passengers nodded and gestured for her to go.  “I don’t even know where we are!”

“Go. Now,” the young girl said with authority in her voice.  She took the old lady by the arm and guided her away from Belinda, back to her seat and her knitting.

Belinda turned, walked to the door and looked out into the darkness, feeling the wind on her face.  She looked back one last time at the bus’s occupants, then covered her face and pitched forward out the door with a prayer on her lips.  She hit rough pavement and tucked into a ball, scraping her elbows and her knees as she rolled a good distance.

When she collected herself, the first thing Belinda noticed were the streetlights overhead.  She got up, bruised and bloody, and limped over to a bench to sit a moment.  Looking around, she realized that she was just down the street from the bus stop where she had boarded.  There were the lights of the convenience store.  There was the car with its mysterious passenger, still idling.  She hadn’t gone more than a few yards down the road.

Shaken and tired, Belinda rose to her feet.  She limped toward the convenience store to ask for help.  It wasn’t until she came up beside the idling car that she noticed the hose coming out of its tailpipe, snaking along the side and disappearing in the driver’s side window.  The figure inside the car was a middle-aged man.  His jaw hung slack, and his eyes were closed.

Belinda pounded on the window, but there was no response.  Still in a daze from her recent experience, she ran limping into the convenience store, where she had the startled man behind the counter call 911.

The clerk ran outside with a bat from under the register and proceeded to break the window of the car.  She could hear him hacking and coughing as he climbed in a ways and struggled to pull out the car’s occupant.

Belinda breathed a sigh of relief.  She went to the freezer section to get a bag of frozen peas to hold on her throbbing head.  As she shut the glass door, she saw in the reflection, out the door of the store, a bus pulling away.  When she turned around, the bus was gone.  All she could see was the idling car and the clerk, frantically trying to resuscitate the other man.

Belinda didn’t need to wait for the ambulance to arrive to know that it wasn’t going to do any good.

Rating: 9.00/10. From 2 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by William Dalphin
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

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Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

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