If you had a childhood, regardless of when you were born, you should remember the cartoon, "The Magic School Bus". It was a children's cartoon show in the '90s, where a crazy science teacher would take students on weekly adventures into places such as into space or through the human digestive system. It was a rather harmless, and educational show, which is the reason why it has been prominently shown to children since its premiere. What most people don't know about the show was that it was meant to fit into a line of horror stories for kids in a show that was never made, titled "Horror Is Alive!".
The show, much like the "Goosebumps" television show, was about harmless horror stories, with three being shown in one episode. Despite this, the first episode underwent a complete overhaul during it's production. What was to be the opening short was extended to full episode length, after the writer and director of the episode went through a long hard experience with illegal substances, which inspired the middle and end of the short, which uncoincidentally, is where the short takes a drastic turn. Everyone else, or at least most everybody else, were severely scarred due to the experiences making it.
Most quit after reading the script, but others were in desperate need of a job, whether it be they were animators, or mere executives. A whole first season was written, but completely abandoned after the first screening, with the final blow being that the scripts were destroyed in what was once PBS Studios HQ, after an arsonist, who is now believed to be the writer of the episodes (and again, director of this episode), obliterated the building. The few who read the scripts claimed to say they were either too gory to air, or too unnerving for children to enjoy watching. These people wish to remain anonymous, and even remain scarred to this day.
The first episode wasn't even ready to air before the concept spiraled horrifically out of control and terrified test audiences. Originally planned by PBS, it was designed by Melnitsa Animation Studio in Russia, and thus the original pilot episode was partially animated in Russia before the first screening. In the original episode, the doubting school children were brought onto a school bus (it originally did not have eyes) that transformed into a spacecraft and brought them into space, where strange things began to happen. That was the only description the people attending the screening had, so they had no real expectations for it. After the screening, PBS took the original idea back to the storyboards, fired everyone behind the pilot's production, and remade it with well known employees into, obviously, The Magic School Bus.
The episode was sent to me in a cardboard box by one of my online friends, who simply gave me his first name, Sergei. Sergei was one of the employees during the late 80's and into the latter half of the 90's, his job was merely just checking to make sure the VHS copies of the animations weren't distorted, or any lesser quality than a first generation VHS tape. He never told me this until I expressed interest in his old job, which triggered him to spill everything. He is much older than me, at forty-three years old. The method that he used to have obtained the episode was simply sneaking into the Melnitsa Animation Studios, which is now merely a shoe-making factory, and breaking through the safe in what was then where the animation was processed, which was untouched. There, most of the old animations designed by the studio, were there. The episode was hard to find, but due to him having seen the originally copy when it was sent to him, could identify it.
As such, the episode starts normally. The recut includes the original PBS episode 1, but the music is different, with an infinitely descending Shepard's tone replacing the happy intro. The title screen is merely black, with the words (Я не могу дышать) over what must be English subtitles that says "The Sad Bus". After some resarch, I found that it actually said "I cannot breathe", which makes a little bit of sense, considering it takes place in outer space, of course. The version I obtained was a recut.
Despite the fact it was the original tape, apparently, after the horrific reaction, the writer for "Horror Is Alive!", and the director of this specific episode, in a pout, took the tape and attempted to edit out everything deemed unsavory by the test audience, but quit after about three scenes, and collapsed.
I am guessing that the recut didn't include the bus' eyes, but I'm not sure whether it's a layering mistake, or something much more sinister, due to the fact that two of the student characters, Carlos and Dorothy Ann have no eyes. I mean they are there, but their eyes are missing, and no one mentions it. The bus also looks much more sinister because the front lights are normal on first glance (though still eye-like, almost like a human's eyes while literally frozen) and the grill of the bus just looks extremely sad, like it's in a constant frown. The voice work is also different, with a sense of sorrow and blatant unconfortableness in the American actors' voices. In the PBS edition, Arnold's cousin Janet thinks that Mrs. Frizzle is boring, so Arnold has the teacher take them into space. In this episode, going into space is where things become very messed up. Nothing from the original episode is here, instead the bus "transforms" into a space ship, kind of like one you'd see in a film like 2001: A Space Odyssey.
There's no transition, it just becomes this. The walls are all white and there seem to be infinite corridors with steep drops. From the outside, it looks like a Soviet space rocket (which still makes sense, due to this being animated in Russia), but larger. Arnold comments that this wasn't what he expected and he wants to go home. Janet and Carlos also seem equally confused, but Janet is smiling. Mrs. Frizzle says that there is an override lock on the ship and nobody can leave until it has reached its destination: "We are hurtling toward the sun". Mrs. Frizzle tells everyone that she can turn off the airlock and suffocate everyone, only jokingly, before saying that she will put in the manual override, but it will take six months to reach Earth. After this, the screen begins distorting as the picture goes out of focus in a similar fashion to how the Max Headroom Hijacking went into transmission during Doctor Who. An out-of-place slideshow then played over what sounded like an acoustic version of the Star Wars theme. The only pictures that were shown are that of planets, with each picture having some subliminally hidden disturbing human elements across the planet being shown. Basically, imagine the planet Jupiter having angry-looking human eyes melded into it, realisticly, but not something too out of the ordinary for a skilled Photoshop user to have created.
She suggests that everyone go into stasis sleep, when a cancerous sore has developed on Mrs. Frizzle's face, that nobody mentions. However, Mrs. Frizzle mentions that there are only nine stasis beds and there are eleven people, including herself. She told them that she'll be fine staying up for six months, but one of the students will have to stay up as well. Ralphie suggests they draw straws. They do so, and Arnold is determined to be the one who has to stay up. Now up to this point, the episode was bafflingly strange, but this is where the show descends into realms that I couldn't make up if I tried. After everyone goes into stasis sleep, Mrs. Frizzle tells Arnold that originally there were thirty students in the class, but twenty of them died. She tells Arnold that she is going into the upper airlock where there is a separate bed, and she only told the students there were less beds because she didn't want them to face the idea that one person would be alone for six months. In addition to this, the time frame for returning home was actually two years. She leaves and locks the door behind her from the outside. After this scene, the same distortion affection occurs, as a long string of text appears, saying "BUT WHAT ABOUT JANET?" several times.
You could tell that time was passing by only because Arnold became more dirty as time passed. The nine beds line the walls, and there are porthole windows along with a control panel that is deactivated. The food that was left for him sits in one corner of the room, and tries to ration it, but it only lasts him one month. He also has no means of a bathroom, so he urinates and defecates on the floor. After about two minutes, two months have passed, and Arnold is looking noticeably nervous and disheveled, yet hopeful. He's extremely hungry, more so than he's ever been. Ralphie's catchphrase, "I think I'm gonna be sick," begins to play, repetitively, over the music track. I think it was meant to reflect Arnold's mind, but then Mrs. Frizzle begins to talk. "You're hungry, aren't you" Arnold now realized the predicament he faces. He won't survive two years in this environment, and if he tries to kill himself by smashing a porthole window, he'll kill his other students. "You didn't leave me enough food!", Arnold screams, as his voice begins to crack. Several quick cuts of the spaceship from 2001 play about as rapidly as the human eye can blink. The voice begins to grow darker and more tinged, and deeper. "Oh, but Arnold, I did." The animation does a long, slow pan across the room with what looks like a stylization of a wide-angle lens, pointing out the beds. And then the voice changes. "I am your extrasensory nervous system. This is no hallucination, Arnold. I am you."
The weirdest, and most convincing thing about the animation of the original episode is that Arnold looks very similar to Mrs. Frizzle, one would think they are related. They both have pale skin, orange hair, and represent nerds. Even their mannerisms, aside from Mrs. Frizzle's greater achieved sense of confidence are similar.
The voice began to whisper. "Eat them."
Mrs. Frizzle slowly melds into the background, as Arnold's body parts slowly begin to shimmer, while seemingly grow subtley added scars. Arnold had attempted to analyze the space chart over the defunct control panel for some time, but only now, realizing that he was intentionally trapped here, did it make sense. The path wasn't leading to Earth, it was heading for a malformed black hole that had strangely appeared to the left of the moon. Through whatever means, the room was also becoming increasingly hot, so much so that Arnold had to take off all but his underwear. The unclean environment was forcing him to develop more scars and sores, as he slept on his side in a mat before ritualistically taking Carlos from the bed so he could sleep there at night. That was when he made the horrible realization that none of them were breathing. Mrs. Frizzle hadn't put them into stasis, she euthanized them. It was only after he had made this realization that a scalpel appeared near the door. Someone had opened it while he was sleeping, and moved the bodies around. The words "BERET SEE HOPE" are scrawled in English on the wall in marker. The increasing need to eat was more apparent now than ever. He looked at Phoebe. He secretly loathed her.
This became all the more apparent as he took the scalpel and slowly cut into her belly. He was not at all hesitant now. This scene is the most disturbing because the angle never changes. His expression is always angry, with cartoon stylized eyebrows. For an entire sixty seconds he slices her open, eats her lungs and intestines, peels and eats her skin, then moves onto the face, slicing off eyebrows and the nose, leaving a shaved skeletal corpse as the camera time lapses. The animation is different here, it's more specific, more layered and more medical looking. Now the cancerous sores are visibly on Arnold's face as well. The next day the scalpel is removed. For the next month or so, he picks on the remains of Phoebe.
The next time lapse seems more messed up, because now Arnold seems to have begun to hit puberty. He has nibbled on the ears and fingers of every student except Janet because it's his cousin. The scalpel appears again, this time with the words "AMORAL SCORN" written on the wall. Arnold talks to himself frantically. "What does that mean? What does that mean?" He picks up the scalpel and decides who to eat next. He never liked Carlos either.
As he undresses Carlos and begins to slice into him, the student ID falls out of his pocket.
He says, "Carlos Ramon."
It was an anagram, just as "BERET SEE HOPE" was an anagram for Phoebe Terese's name.
By now the episode is almost over, and the screen begins to flicker as Arnold starts to gasp for air.
Arnold begins to cry. The animation gets very choppy at this point. Two different shots are seen. In one, the schoolbus collides with the sun. In another, Arnold continues to eat the remaining students, in order, based on the anagram instructions. Since it's a time lapse, you only see the bodies and the bones begin to pile up. He refuses to eat Janet, his cousin, before ultimately slicing his neck with the scalpel and killing himself. The cancerous sores envelop his corpse. Another scene was supposed to appear, but it was cut. The final shot before it ends is the words "YOU'RE GONNA GO BONKERS 1988." That phrase, to my knowledge, means nothing. The retrograde film begins to deteriorate before the Russian words appear. This directly translates to "WHATEVER HAPPENED TO JANET?". There's nothing else, the ship enters a black hole and there are no credits and Arnold profusely screamed for three minutes that he couldn't breathe as a burning noise begins to envelop the back layer track. It goes on for a full three minutes. I tried figuring out what happened to Janet, but the only real clue is, I suppose, in the animation itself.
I tried finding some information about the origins online, which I somewhat succeeded in doing. I only found out about it through articles about it on the deep web, and a very old post on 4chan with two replies which expressed skepticism due to lack of evidence. I didn’t want to upload footage of the VHS onto Youtube, Vimeo, or even Dailymotion because the gore and disturbing imagery was obviously going to get me flagged or banned on any of those websites. Sergei stopped messaging me everywhere I had him as a friend. I put the VHS up on eBay before being hit with a six hundred thousand dollar notice from the PBS company. I got sent a very threatening e-mail that told me my life as a professional contractor and plumber was basically over if I ever released that VHS to the general public. They insisted it was merely a prank regarding some of the employees working on The Magic School Bus having fun, but I knew that the backstories, the voice actors' sorrow, the Russian text, the attention to detail, and the matching details regarding the backstories and actual tape was all too much evidence to believe this.
I told them that I had destroyed the tape to cease the harassing phone calls and letters affectionately addressed to “Super Fuckface Mario” as evidently my plumbing profession had ruffled the feathers of some of the higher ups. They weren't clear what would happen if I had continued, besides that they would "subtlely" ruin my life, layer by layer. I still have the tape though. It’s in with my old college stuff. It’ll sit there for days. Days will become weeks, months and then years, and the tape will still be there. They’ll have to pry it from my cold, dead fucking hand.
But there's only one more question that remains on my mind. What happened to Sergei?