Chapter 4

One by one, the students filed through the door, its open frame filled with a vapor that obscured what lay beyond. Arnold (thinking he was, like usual, last in line) reached for the door before a pair of small hands pulled him back by the shoulders, slamming him to the ground with a heavy thud. He fought to regain his breath when one of those hands collided with his cheek, sending his glasses skittering. Through blurred vision, he could make out a pink shirt and red vest above him.”Listen up, Arnold. I know something’s not right here and so do you.” She slapped him again. “So what are we gonna do about it, you weaselly wimp? Huh? What are we gonna do!?”

“Wanda!? Why are y–” he gasped desperately, “you h– hitting me!?”

“I uh…” She looked around stupidly, like she’d just realized where she was. “Sorry, Arnold.” Wanda got off him and wiped off his glasses, handing them back. “I just… something isn’t right here. I don’t feel right. Ms. Frizzle is acting differently – different than usual – and it can’t be anything good.”

“Well,” Arnold said, dusting off, “she said we were meeting some ‘old acquaintance’ of hers. Maybe they haven’t seen each other in a long time. Maybe she’s nervous?”

“Arnold, look around! Look where we are, or rather where we aren’t! We always go on fieldtrips to places we’ve learned about, but this,” Wanda motioned in all directions, “wherever this is, is way different. And it took Phoebe! Phoebe’s gone, sucked through this awful door, right in front of us all, and nobody said anything!”

“We get separated all the time! Ms. Frizzle didn’t seem too worried, so I think…” Arnold fidgeted with his hands for a moment. “I think everything will be okay.”

Wanda blinked. “…What!?” She gaped at him for a moment before regaining her composure. “Okay, hold on, let me get this straight: you think everything will be okay. Here. Right now. In this place.” She put her hands on her hips and glared. “Wow, something definitely isn’t right here. We need to go, like, now.”

“We need to go through the door. Ms. Frizzle–”

“Ms. Frizzle isn’t going to help us, Arnold. We need to find Phoebe.”

“Okay, I guess so.” Arnold knew he needed to be brave, but he only ever felt brave when he thought Ms. Frizzle had some control over the situation. She was never too far off, always smiling and laughing, ready with some word play. But he wasn’t so sure about her control right now. Nobody had laughed, not even once, since they got on the bus. “So… how do we find her?”

“We should go back to the bus. Maybe it can turn into a big flashlight, or a radar or something.”

“Um, Wanda? Just one problem with that.”

“What? What’s wrong?”

“Where’s the bus?” Arnold pointed back the way they’d came, or at least the way he’d thought. Where a distant pair of headlights should have been, there was nothing. They had taken no turns coming here, encountered no hills, no walls or other obstacles. The view to the bus should be clear, and yet, everywhere was as pitch black as everywhere else.

“Maybe,” Wanda’s shoulders drooped for a moment, before rising again. “Maybe it just turned off.”

“Or maybe it’s gone, too.” Arnold closed his eyes, pounded a fist into his palm, and nodded. “Yep, I’d say the right choice is clear. I’m going through the door to Ms. Frizzle.” He stood and turned to grab the handle, but his hand met nothing. Wanda gasped and groped the air where the door should have been, feeling for a handle, a splinter, anything. She slowed her frantic clawing and turned to look back where they thought the bus had been.

“So,” Wanda stared unblinking into the dark, a single bead of sweat rolling down her temple despite the cold. “I say we go with ‘the bus turned off’ and hope for the best.”

Next: Chapter 5

Previous: Chapter 3

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