Time passed slowly, very slowly, and Annabelle fidgeted, constantly looking down the road for the bus. The time on her phone must be wrong, she thought. Surely, she hadn’t missed the bus while she’d been visiting the farm? This close to the terminal it must be on time.
Around her the countryside was flat with a few low hills in the distance. Trees and shrubs were sparse among the farmlands. There was a farm on this side of the road too, and she could see others in the distance in either direction. There was something strange about them, but Annabelle couldn’t work out what it was.
Ernie and Spot both waited on the fence behind her. Annabelle glanced back. The driveway and buildings looked much the same as ones at the Calway farm. The day star was almost overhead, and the sky had the tinge of the ever-present dust.
She was convinced now there was more dust than usual today.
She began tapping the ground with her right foot. She really wanted to leave this place. Two trucks passed, and there was still no sign of the bus. She was debating whether to call her father or the bus terminal when she finally saw it travelling towards her. She glanced at her phone. It was on time. Only then did she remember to get the right app to pay her fare.
Ernie and Spot both took off as the vehicle approached. It pulled up with only the slightest squeal of brakes.
Of course, there was no driver.
‘Don’t you just love the smell of burning rubber?’ said a voice from the bitumen.
‘Hi, I’m Jake. Do you have a ticket,’ the bus asked in a low growl.
‘I’m Annabelle. I’ll have to use my phone.’
‘Sure. Where are you going?’
‘All the way to City Central, I guess.’
Jake’s door opened, and Annabelle clambered inside, ignoring the jibe from under her feet.
‘I thought she’d never leave. She must weigh a ton.’
‘He’s only joking, honey. Remember to say hello to Clyde.’
Annabelle vaguely wondered how the pebble knew about Clyde. Hadn’t Nugget been further up the road? She ignored the puzzle and glanced along the aisle.
‘You’re almost empty.’
‘No, I’ve got a full tank of gas,’ Jake replied.
Well, even a programmed machine can misunderstand English. Or did Jake actually have a sense of humour?
And pebbles that talk? What idiot thought of that idea?
Oh, yeah, that's right.