Bucks County Writers Workshop
The Yellow Bus
ommy beat on the window of the cabin with both fists. He could see a few kids inside, lying crumpled on the floor, and as he called out to them, three more fell. He saw Mikey Deever holding his cell phone and swaying back and forth. Tommy picked up a stone and hit the glass, but it didn't break. He screamed Mikey's name, but Mikey only looked over at him sleepily as he leaned against the wall and slid slowly to the floor.
"No!" Tommy shouted, hurling another rock at the glass. It ricocheted off, hit the side of the bus and landed with a dull thud by the tire. "What the ... "
Tommy put his hand on the unbroken windowpane. Not even a scratch. There was no way in, unless ... Tommy's superhero-infused thinking connected his past and his present. His eyes swept across the scene, resting upon the yellow bus and the winged logo above the manufacturer's name, Angel. The files in his head clicked and whirred and he almost heard a voice call out the psalm, He rode upon the cherubims and did fly: he came flying upon the wings of the wind.
Tommy knew the keys would be in the bus as he pushed the door open, leaped up the step, and slid into the driver seat. He was a tall kid and perfectly able to operate the bus. The only thing he lacked was a license to drive. The afternoon sun glinted off the golden happy face key chain dangling from the key in the ignition, and Tommy didn't hesitate. He was the Winged Avenger.
A school bus was like a car in all respects, just larger, and built like a tank. Tommy turned the key, flipped into reverse, and backed the bus up. His interest in auto racing had not been a waste, and he marveled at his power as he stopped and jerked the bus into drive. It was part of a plan -- a planned trajectory leading to this moment. Tommy pushed the gas pedal hard.
The bus lurched forward and the engine roared, but Tommy didn't hear it. He was working with a speed and determination that shut out all else but the beat of his own heart. It pumped and propelled him in his new body, in his new life.***
Mr. Munford drove the white van with the flow of traffic. He didn't want to attract attention, or raise the ire of Casper; bad things happened when Casper was angry. Mr. Munford was quite pleased with himself. The plan was unfolding beautifully and he relaxed as he drove, his tattooed left arm on the wheel while his right hand adjusted the tuning on the police radio he'd installed last week. He knew the police would be looking for them by now, and he was keen to hear their aimless search for the yellow bus. They'd have checked his house, too, and Mr. Munford almost laughed out loud, picturing the yellow police tape strung across the doorway and the cops combing through the joint. Casper was a genius, cutting out all those bus photos and plastering the walls with them. The cops will think I'm a real nut case he thought. I deserve a toast. Reaching under the seat for his silver flask, he groped and felt all around, but it wasn't there.
Harris appeared and stuttered, "I, I, I put it away."
Mr. Munford was furious, but Harris cringed and said, "Casper told me to. Don't be mad. He made me. He, he, he knows what's best."
Mr. Munford's eyes narrowed. He swerved the van into the left lane and the children in the back shrieked with the sudden jolt. "Pipe down back there," he growled.
"Mr. Munford," called Sophie. "I think Robert is going to be sick."
"He'll be fine. Just move him to the end of the row."
"I don't think that's going to help. There aren't any windows back here. He ate all the M&M's and now he looks kinda green. I think you'd better let him out."
"We're not stopping for nothing," he yelled, glancing in the rearview mirror in time to see twelve-year-old Robert Grossman's vomit spew out of him like a volcano.
Shrieks and crying erupted in the back of the van and echoed in a stinking cacophony. And then in an ugly turn of events, two more kids threw up. Mr. Munford wouldn't have cared; he would have driven until the tank was empty, except that the unique and distinctive odor of vomit moved through the windowless van and reached his nostrils. For a man as big and tough as Mr. Munford, he had a decidedly weak stomach. He burped and leaned his head out his window as he swerved into the right lane. There was a rest stop a quarter mile ahead. He hoped he could make it.***
Mason Munford had been meticulous in sealing the room of the cabin to make sure no one could get out, but he hadn't planned on an attack from the outside. The building was old, and although Mr. Munford had reinforced the doors, the back wall broke apart like matchsticks when Tommy hit it with the bus at almost thirty miles per hour.
The force threw Tommy Difford against the big steering wheel, but he kept his wits and hit the brake before the vehicle plowed clear through the house. He didn't want to run over any of the kids. His ribs ached, but he had a job to do, and so he backed the bus up and jumped out. He found Mikey first, and grabbing him by the collar of the black Hard Rock CafÈ jacket Mikey had gotten for his birthday, Tommy dragged him through the gash in the wall. He returned and dragged the next kid out. Tommy was exhausted, and his head was pounding, but he couldn't stop until they were all out. He felt a hand on his shoulder as he deposited Henry Schaffer on the grass. He looked up to see Mikey, dazed but all right, standing behind him.
"Help me get the rest out," Tommy said. Mikey was still a little woozy, but he followed Tommy in and together they pulled the remaining kids into the fresh air.
As Tommy and Mikey lay panting on the grass, Tommy had never heard anything as good as the sound of the other kids' coughing and breathing while gradually they stirred and sat up. He heard a rumble, and as he looked up through the trees, he spotted a helicopter flying low. "That looks like a police chopper," he said to Mikey.
"I bet they're looking for us. I remember trying to call my dad at the police station, but I couldn't talk. There must have been some kind of poison gas in there."
Tommy ran toward the direction of the bus and began waving his arms madly in the air. The helicopter hovered over the spot and he could hear a distant siren down on the highway.
Mikey jogged slowly over and sat on the step of the bus. "It looks like we're going to be OK. But where are Mr. Munford and all the other kids?"
"They left in a white van with the kids in the back. When Mr. Munford wasn't looking, I snuck out of line and hid. There's some kind of carpet sign painted on the side of the van. I hope the cops get here quick so they can go after Mr. Munford."
"Yeah," Mikey said, "before he hurts anyone else."
The boys watched the flashing lights of a police car as it came up the long driveway to the cabin.
"Hey, the motor of the bus is still running," said Mikey.
Tommy nodded. "I guess we could turn it off now. There's enough gas in the air around here without these bus fumes."
As Mikey turned to get up from the step, he noticed something under the driver seat. "What's this?" he said, reaching for a small black bag attached with Velcro underneath the seat cushion. He yanked the bag loose and opened it just as the police car pulled up to the bus with a great squall of dust.
Officer Patricia Connelly, just six months on the Springfield, Delaware, police force, jumped out of her squad car. "Stop! Hold it right there!" she shouted.
"It's OK," Tommy said to her. "The kids are all right." He took a step toward the officer, but then stopped dead. She had her gun drawn and she was aiming it at them.
"Drop that gun," she shouted.
Then Tommy saw what Mikey had pulled out of the bag. "Omigod, Mikey, you're holding a gun. Get rid of that thing."
"I said drop the gun!" Connelly yelled again, and Mikey obeyed. "Both of you. Hands up."
They raised their hands as the young officer, who was now speaking into her radio, kept her own gun trained on them.
"Really, you have it all wrong," Mikey tried to explain. "See all those kids over there? Someone tried to poison us."
"Don't say anything. Turn around and put your hands up against the bus."
Just then, little Susan Haney, the smallest girl in the class, came from around the car and tugged on the officer's arm. "Can I go home now, policelady?" she said as she curled her body around the officer's leg.
As the boys placed their hands against the cool metal side of the bus, Mikey whispered to Tommy, "We're never going to get Mr. Munford this way. She thinks we did this, and while we stand here like dopes Mr. Munford is getting away."
Tommy's eyes blazed. He didn't go through all of this just to get hauled off by the police. Mr. Munford was a dangerous man, and Tommy believed he was the only person in the world who knew how to find him. "Mikey, I have to do something," he whispered. "When I say go, get out of the way."
"What are you going to do, Tommy?"
"I'm going after Mr. Munford."
"Then I'm going with you."
"It's a big chance I'm taking, Mikey."
"Mr. Munford tried to kill me. I want to get that crazy bastard before he hurts the rest of the kids."
The boys looked at each other, each recognizing the resolve of the other.
As Officer Connelly tried to free her leg from little Susan's grip, Tommy saw his chance and said, "This is it, Mikey. Let's go!"
With the natural athleticism possessed of young boys, they leaped into the school bus. Tommy pushed the button on the dashboard to close the door and yelled to Mikey, "Stay down in the seat until I tell you to get up." He tugged the bus into drive and they could hear the cop yelling and banging on the door as they pulled away. There were more sirens in the distance, but Tommy didn't care. He knew he now shared the fate of so many other superheroes. He was misunderstood by the very people he was trying to help. Well, by God, then so be it.
"You can get up now, Mikey. She won't shoot at us."
"How can you be sure?" he asked, slowly raising his head and peeking over the seat to look behind them as the bus jerked and swerved down the driveway.
"Because we're kids."
Tommy and Mikey shouted together as they headed toward the highway, "We're coming for you, Mr. Munford!"
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Bucks County Writers Workshop