A favorite scene from Stephen King's 1975 novel Salem's Lot. The demise of smalltown Maine school bus driver Charlie Rhodes.
In the Lot the dark held hard.
At ten minutes to twelve, Charlie Rhodes was awakened by a long, steady honking. He came awake in his bed and sat bolt upright.
And on the heels of that:
The little bastards! The children had tried things like this before. He knew them, the miserable little sneaks. They had let the air out of his tires with matchsticks once. He hadn’t seen who did it, but he had a damned good idea. He had gone to that damned wet-ass principal and reported Mike Philbrook and Audie James. He had known it was them-who had to see?
Are you sure it was them, Rhodes?
I told you, didn’t I?
And there was nothing that fucking Mollycoddle could do; he had to suspend them. Then the bastard had called him to the office a week later.
Rhodes, we suspended Andy Garvey today.
Yeah? Not surprised. What was he up to?
Bob Thomas caught him letting the air out of his bus tires. And he had given Charlie Rhodes a long, cold, measuring look.
Well, so what if it had been Garvey instead of Philbrook and James? They all hung around together, they were all creeps, they all deserved to have their nuts in the grinder.
Now, from outside, the maddening sound of his horn, running down the battery, really laying on it:
WHONK, WHONNK, WHOONNNNNNNNK -
‘You sons of whores,’ he whispered, and slid out of bed. He dragged his pants on without using the light. The light would scare the little scumbags away, and he didn’t want that.
Another time, someone had left a cow pie on his driver’s seat, and he had a pretty good idea of who had done that, too. You could read it in their eyes. He had learned that standing guard at the repple depple in the war. He had taken care of the cow-pie business in his own way. Kicked the little son of a whore off the bus three days’ running, four miles from home. The kid finally came to him crying.
I ain’t done nothin’, Mr Rhodes. Why you keep kickin’ me off.?
You call puttin’ a cow flop on my seat nothin’?
No, that wasn’t me. Honest to God it wasn’t.
Well, you had to hand it to them. They could lie to their own mothers with a clear and smiling face, and they probably did it, too. He had kicked the kid off two more nights and then he had confessed, by the Jesus. Charlie kicked him off once more-one to grow on, you might say-and then Dave Felsen down at the motor pool told him he better cool it for a while.
He grabbed his shirt and then got the old tennis racket standing in the corner. By Christ, he was going to whip some ass tonight!
He went out the back door and around the house to where he kept the big yellow bus parked. He felt tough and coldly competent. This was infiltration, just like the Army.
He paused behind the oleander bush and looked at the bus. Yes, he could see them, a whole bunch of them, darker shapes behind the night-darkened glass. He felt the old red rage, the hate of them like hot ice, and his grip on the tennis racket tightened until it trembled in his hand like a tuning fork. They had busted out-six, seven, eight-eight windows on his bus!
He slipped behind it and then crept up the long yellow side to the passenger door. It was folded open. He tensed, and suddenly sprang up the steps.
‘All right! Stay where you are! Kid, lay off that goddamn horn or I’ll-’
The kid sitting in the driver’s seat with both hands plastered on the horn ring turned to him and smiled crazily. Charlie felt a sickening drop in his gut. It was Richie Boddin. He was white-just as white as a sheet-except for the black chips of coal that were his eyes, and his lips, which were ruby red.
And his teeth -
Charlie Rhodes looked down the aisle.
Was that Mike Philbrook? Audie James? God Almighty, the Griffen boys were down there! Hal and Jack, sitting near the back with hay in their hair. But they don’t ride on my bus! Mary Kate Greigson and Brent Tenney, sitting side by side. She was in a nightgown, he in blue jeans and a flannel shirt that was on backward and inside out, as if he had forgotten how to dress himself.
And Danny Glick. But-oh, Christ-he was dead; dead for weeks!
‘You,’ he said through numb lips. ‘You kids-’
The tennis racket slid from his hand. There was a wheeze and a thump as Richie Boddin, still smiling that crazy smile, worked the chrome lever that shut the folding door. They were getting out of their seats now, all of them.
‘No,’ he said, trying to smile. ‘You kids… you don’t understand. It’s me. It’s Charlie Rhodes. You… you…’ He grinned at them without meaning, shook his head, held out his hands to show them they were just ole Charlie Rhodes’s hands, blameless, and backed up until his back was jammed against the wide tinted glass of the windshield.
‘Don’t,’ he whispered.
They came on, grinning. ‘Please don’t.’
And fell on him.