Room For One More
Happy Weird Wednesday! Today we’ve got tips for your next road trip… so that it won’t be your last.
The story goes like this: a traveler is staying the night at a friend’s house. Shortly after midnight, a sound from outside brings them to the window. On the driveway below, the traveler sees a hearse pull up. There is no coffin inside, but instead a group of living people. The hearse driver, a man with a sinister appearance, looks up at the traveler in the window and says, “There’s room for one more.”
Shaken, the traveler returns to bed, and in the morning, dismisses the creepy encounter as a dream. But later that day the traveler goes to board a bus, and finds the driver looks exactly like the hearse-driver from the night before. And he repeats his invitation— “There’s room for one more.”
Terrified, the traveler backs away from the bus, letting it leave without them. A moment later, a truck slams into the bus, killing everyone on board.
The Room for One More urban legend has been around since at least the late 1800’s, and can be found in print, film, and oral tradition. I first read it in a Jan Harold Brunvan book. In earlier tellings, the doomed bus is a horse-drawn coach, or my personal favorite, a high-rise elevator. The elevator operator issues the terrifying invitation to the traveler shortly before the elevator falls, killing all aboard.
There’s room for a lot of writing prompts here (haha), so let’s get to it!
- Leaving on a jet plane. Why is the storyteller always a traveler? What would change if they saw the hearse at their own home? Perhaps they would worry it might come back someday, that it might eventually be for them. Maybe they’d feel the need to rush downstairs and investigate the strange visitor, instead of assuming their hosts would do so. Or if they’re close to home, would they recognize some of the doomed passengers as family, friends, or neighbors?
- Waiting to take you away. Snopes says that in some tellings of the story, the vehicle glimpsed the night before is not a hearse but an ordinary car or coach. The eerie part is that the storyteller doesn’t know why it’s so eerie. Why does the driver and his innocent invitation fill them with dread? In the hearse version, it’s easy to see why the storyteller would not want to get onto the bus or elevator the next day— it’s clearly a final journey. But what if things were not so obvious?
* Peer pressure. The storyteller is confronted by a perfectly normal bus or elevator filled with perfectly normal people. How easy would it really be to go against the grain and persist with what must seem like an irrational reaction based on a bad dream? Or you could go the other direction— maybe the storyteller is absolutely convinced that something is horribly wrong and tries to get the other passengers off before it’s too late.
- Destination unknown. The story always ends with a crash. But there are other potentially horrifying fates. Perhaps the bus is hijacked, or takes a wrong turn down a foggy road and never arrives at its next stop. Maybe the elevator reaches the first floor unscathed, but with all its passengers vanished. Could it have opened at floor 13, which everyone thinks does not exist?
- Got room for one more prompt? Let’s talk about the driver. Who is this creepy dude? Is he a real person who is doomed along with his fellow travelers? Or maybe he’s a psychopomp (I love that word so much), who is there to guide his passengers to the Other Side. Maybe he’s a man under a bad luck curse, who really should not be getting onto crowded elevators, or a murderous bus driver who wants to cause a crash. Maybe the storyteller is the only one who sees him— if so, why are they lucky enough to get a warning?
Thanks for spending your Weird Wednesday here— maybe let’s just walk home, though.
If you like creepy legends about transportation (how specific is that?), you can check out Queer Weird West Tales, featuring my story “The Train Ticket.” A man finds himself holding a train ticket to Hell after accidentally attempting to rob a ghost train.