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Magic Bus

Photograph by Abbi Kemp, Story by Susi Holiday


It was the first time she’d heard anything by The Who, and they only played it because it had ‘bus’ in the title, but that was the start of her obsession. She bought all the old albums, made before she was born but the music as fresh as ever. She watched the films too, Quadrophenia was the best – the whole mods and rockers thing in Brighton was so sexy and exciting. There was nothing like that when she was that age. It was all just samey music and everyone following the crowd, and just no individuality anymore. 

    Anyway, she’s not on that bus now – it had been a school trip to France and the boys had spent most of the time farting and trying to make the girls cry. It was a coach, not a bus, and it had toilets but no one was allowed to use them so they just had to hold it in until they stopped at the services. Then there was the excitement of buying stuff your parents never let you have, and sneaking off for a quick ciggie when the teachers weren’t looking. It was a good trip, but it could’ve been better – and she wishes now she’d let that French boy put his hands inside her bra. Wishes that she’d lived a little more – and not just on that trip, either.

    She’s always thought of herself as sensible, always done the right thing. Finish school, go to university, get a proper job. Don’t drink too much, eat your five-a-day, make sure you do enough exercise to break a sweat three times a week. Phone your parents, be a good friend, recycle your paper and plastics. 

    Don’t talk to strangers.

    That same piece of advice that all kids are taught, and most of them heed. But when you’re an adult it’s not applicable any more, is it? You have to talk to strangers all the time. In shops, in queues, on trains. In pubs. 


    She’d tried dating guys from work and it never really went anywhere, when she realised that all she had in common with them was work. She’d tried letting her friends set her up with guys they knew, but they always seemed to be the post-breakup damaged sort, or the terminally unlovable pricks that their friends liked to describe as ‘characters’. She’d tried speed dating, and found it to be full of knobheads and dregs and losers who thought speed dating meant speed fucking, and that wasn’t for her either.

    She took a long time choosing the perfect dating website. The newspaper ones were old fashioned, and surely for old men looking for young prey. She knew that Tinder was bullshit code for where do you want to meet for a shag? She wasn’t looking for a sugar daddy, and she wasn’t after anything other than a straight guy in her own age bracket who liked simple things and wasn’t a dick. Shouldn’t have been so hard, but it was.

    She got a message from *Zack (*probably not his real name) an hour or so after uploading her profile, and the nicest photograph she had of herself taken on a beach in Mallorca. He’d picked up on her love of The Who from her profile, and sent her a photo of himself in one of their t-shirts with the target logo and a big smile on his face, and that had been enough. 

    How was she to know that it wasn’t a photograph of him? 

    They’d shared loads of messages, back and forth, into the night. Everything she said, he seemed to relate to, and vice versa – and of course that should’ve been a red flag in itself, but this was the first time in a long time that she’d felt like someone really wantedto talk to her. Not about work, or TV, or the weather, or politics, or the state of the world. This conversation was about her hopes and dreams, her loves and hates, her childhood crushes, teenage parties, university years. They’d talked about gigs and he’d told her he’d been to see The Who twice and he had loads of great memorabilia and he’d love to show it to her someday.

    Let’s meet.

    She’d suggested it. She instigated it. He didn’t put any pressure on her at all. But he was delighted and excited and he said he would take her somewhere special, and they talked about whether Magic Bus or Pictures of Lily was the best track and they’d both come to the agreement that their favourite was Baba O’Reilly – and it felt like she had found what she was looking for in him, and he in her. All of those people who told her to be careful were forgotten now, because people do meet online and they do fall in love, and not all strangers are murderous psychopaths.

    Not all strangers are Zack.

    She regrets it now, of course. But there’s not a lot she can do about it. Her wrists and ankles are bound tight with cable ties that bite into her skin when she tries to wriggle free. She’s chained around the waist to the metal legs of one of the few remaining seats. She’s too low to see out of the windows, but she can see that they are dirty and smeared with grime, and all that’s really visible outside is the bare, straggly trees. 

    They’d met in a nice wine bar, and she’d let him buy her cocktails, because he had a kind face, and he said nice things. When she said she felt dizzy, he’d offered to wait with her while she got in a taxi, and he’d helped her outside, and he’d dealt with the well-wishers and concerned faces that had swam in and out of her vision. 

    She remembers the cold air hitting her, and she remembers waking up here.

    She doesn’t know when he’s coming back – but despite everything, she hopes he doesn’t leave her here.


S.J.I. (Susi) Holliday grew up in East Lothian, Scotland. A life-long fan of crime and horror, she was shortlisted for the inaugural CWA Margery Allingham prize.  She has written three crime novels set in the fictional Scottish town of Banktoun, which are a mix of police procedural and psychological thriller. They are: "Black Wood", "Willow Walk" and "The Damselfly" - all featuring the much loved character, Sergeant Davie Gray.  Her serial killer thriller "The Deaths of December" (written as Susi Holliday) was a festive hit in 2017. Her spooky mystery "The Lingering" was released in September 2018. Follow her on twitter @SJIHolliday

Abbi Kemp has written & photographed for Suitcase Magazine, Black Tomato, PINCH Magazine, L'Officiel Arabia, Harper's Bazaar Arabia, Australian House & Garden and Quintessentially Travel. Her work has also been featured in The Sunday Times, Vogue Italia, Maria Claire Arabia, Majestic Disorder, Urban Outfitters & The Guardian.  You can find her here @abbikemp

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