Tanvi Misra is a staff writer for CityLab covering immigrant communities, housing, economic inequality, and culture. She also authors Navigator, a weekly newsletter for urban explorers (subscribe here). Her work also appears in The Atlantic, NPR, and BBC.
Belated Happy Halloween! Feast your eyes on this 100 percent true ghost story by Kriston Capps… if you dare:
Tori stepped up to the bus stop and checked her phone. Her app showed all three bus lines were delayed. The one she was waiting for wasn’t even listed. Another app showed rain looming. She hardly needed the alert, as a peal of thunder cracked the sky.
“Sigh,” she sighed. Would her city ever build reliable transit? Bold initiatives for light rail came and went, while traffic grew only worse. So here was Tori, stranded on Halloween, at twilight, just after sunset—don’t forget the full moon—trying to decide whether to Uber or Lyft to her pet-sitting gig at the Victorian mansion on the hill overlooking the old cemetery.
Suddenly Tori received an alert on her phone. Pale Line, 2 mins. Pale Line? There was no Pale Line. Wasn’t this a stop for the X2?
Then, in the darkness, arose a spectral platform. Where just moments before she had seen only a broken bench and a rusted sign, a white enclosure glowed. The structure was faint, the color of goat’s milk, but in its shimmering outline she could see pamphlets bearing schedules and route changes. A great canopy held the weather at bay, even though it was no more material than the rain itself. A word formed in candlelight: ARRIVING. Lightning seared the night.
Tori turned toward the platform, then hesitated. Should I just walk? she thought. She was sure there was no Pale Line, but apart from its formlessness, it looked low-key legit. The illusionary station appeared to be both ADA compliant yet elevated, as visible as any subway station. Gossamer letters materialized on the street itself: GHOST BUS LANE ONLY. Was she hallucinating? She turned to run—but then she remembered her Mint.com dashboard showing how much of her discretionary income was consumed by rideshare apps. She shuddered with a fright and stepped onto the platform. Even more lightning.
Tori perused a phantasmal kiosk at the base of the ghostly canopy. She was reaching for a glowing flyer (“Not in my grave yard!”) and considering all the ways that transit can foster closer connections within a community, when a bus arrived with a howling screech. This was the Pale Line: the public transportation of the damned. “I should just walk,” she whispered to no one in particular.
“All aboard!” boomed the conductor, a human-sized black cat wearing a city transit cap. It pulled on a lever of bone and onyx to operate the creaky door. A whiff of stinky cheese hit Tori’s nose as a poltergeist filed off. “Next stop is… beyond.”
That didn't sound exactly like Tori's destination. However it was a northbound bus and the rain was falling in sheets and the nearest Uber was 10 minutes away, which is just way too long to wait for a car in 2018. She looked up to find the bus driver’s glowing feline eyes staring down at her.
While every instinct told her to walk or maybe download an app for one of those dorky scooters, to her surprise, she found herself stepping onto the ghost bus. She felt drawn, despite herself, to the efficiency of a dedicated bus line with all the bearings and reliability of rail transit that ran at a fraction of the operations and maintenance cost. Apparitions in the seats took no notice of her as she fumbled for her smart-ride card.
Other than the behemoth cat driver, her fellow riders included a kindly-looking yet decomposing elderly couple, a man with a jack-o-lantern floating where his head ought to be, a witch reading Rebecca Traister, a—hey, wasn’t that the guy she went on a Tinder date with who ghosted her? The bus lurched as the driver turned into the lane, taking no notice of the parked cars that occupied it.
“Fare, please,” the driver said. Tori held up her smart-ride card, confused. The witch smirked. The bus driver shook its furry head. “County’s doing a study,” it said. “But right now this bus takes only broken promises, shards of sea-glass, and burned half-dollars.”
Tori pulled the chain, irritated. She didn't have any of those things in her purse. “I'll get off next stop,” she said. She would have to call a car. As the bus lumbered on, Tori realized that she’d be dead before she saw true working bus rapid transit—and maybe not even then.
What we’re writing:
For cheap rent, live near a cemetery. ¤ Punks in a grocery store! ¤ Where local laws criminalize trick-or-treaters. ¤ Taipei’s mayor is a rapper now. ¤ “Adulting” classes are a thing some of us need. ¤ Neighborhoods are becoming “candy deserts” on Halloween. ¤
What we’re taking in:
“The eBay listing warns, ‘Haunted Doll Dakota Spirit Child *Very Active* *Experienced Only*.’” (The New Yorker) ¤ Also on eBay, other cursed items! (Topic) ¤ Haunted houses on the ‘gram. (Vox) ¤ Meet Southeast Asia’s man-eating lady demon. (Broadly) ¤ “There is no lonelier place in a city than a pitcher’s mound. Nothing grows there.” (SB Nation) ¤ Ghosts of New York. (New York Times) ¤ Somebody is pasting creepy baby heads around Chicago. (Block Club Chicago) ¤ Gravestones: “a valuable and extremely under-studied corpus of linguistic data.” (Atlas Obscura) ¤ Apparently, people in Utah love Halloween music. (New York Times) ¤ “Cars Land is already a bit absurd. For it is a place, themed to Route 66 culture, that is populated with talking, human-like cars who are neither machine nor mammal.” (Los Angeles Times) ¤ How the real Sleepy Hollow came to life. (Atlas Obscura) ¤ “Trick-or-treating in Milwaukee reflects and entrenches the city’s deep racial and economic divides.” (Politico) ¤ The chilling tale of the demon cat of Washington D.C. (The Washington Post) ¤
View from the ground:
Some spirits walk the streets at night / Some leave remnants of their earthly stay in red / Others haunt their castles, filled with spite / But most stay in tombs—they’re just dead. —Karim Doumar