When the crash happened I'd just left the front of the bus. I was balancing myself by grabbing seat backs on each side of me, which is probably the only reason I'm alive today. As soon as I felt the bus starting to slide I held on a little tighter with both hands, so when the crash came my feet flew out towards the front and I ended up falling to the floor instead of flying backwards to the front of the bus. I broke my nose in the fall, and both my shoulders hurt like hell, but there wasn't any really serious damage.
I could tell right away that it had been bad. As soon as I looked up I could see injured kids everywhere. Everybody was whimpering or crying and lots of them were bleeding. When I managed to stand up I turned and looked to the front of the bus. I could tell right away that some people were dead. Horror movies don't do it justice. There was blood and gore everywhere. I stumbled forward. Jack Murphy's head was destroyed. Don Holland was lying in a position that a live person couldn't have managed. The two teachers were squished together in the doorwell. There was an impossible amount of blood on the floor. I'm not sure what I was doing right then, but as I moved forward I kept looking to the right side. My little brothers had been sitting on the left, right behind the driver. Scott Hyland was in the right front seat, and I could see that he was dead, too. When I finally looked to the left I could see the driver with the steering column stuck right in his chest. I finally looked into the next seat, half expecting the little twerps to be giving me the finger or sticking their tongues out.
Kevin was dead. There was no doubt about that. I couldn't tell about Patty. He was head first into the partition and his face was all bloody, but I had a feeling he was still breathing. Don't ask me why I thought that, I just did.
All that probably took about thirty seconds to register. Then the emotion hit me. My knees buckled and I dropped to the floor crying. My brothers! Who's gonna tell Mom and Dad? Don! My best friend! Scott - the poor little guy. Mr. Armstrong, Mr. Gould! Math and Social Studies teachers. Real nice guys. Barry Miller! The driver. He'd been driving this bus when I was in middle school.. The only one I didn't think about was Jack Murphy.
I was lost in sorrow when I heard a voice from the back telling everybody who could move by themselves to come to the back of the bus, then asking who could help him with the others. He had panic in his voice and kept calling out for Jacky. It had to be Mike Waters, the other little queer. Who the hell was he to be giving orders? I couldn't hold the thought, and broke down crying again.
When I finally came out of it I heard Waters telling somebody to try to find out what's wrong with the kids who couldn't get to the back. He told them if it looked like broken bones or something to leave them be, but if they were bleeding to call him. The next thing I knew, he was right over me.
"Oh, my God! NOOOOOO! JACK! What am I gonna do?" He really started bawling, but he suddenly just stopped. "Jed - are you hurt bad?"
"I don't think so. My head hurts."
"You gotta help, man. I can't move these people by myself. Hurry up! They're hurt bad!"
My anger kind of faded, and I struggled to my feet.
"The kids that can move are in back. They should be ok. The ones that just broke something can stay where they are. We gotta take care of whoever's bleeding."
I started to cry again. "Can you check Patty? I think he's still alive."
"Where is he?"
I pointed and Mike leaned over Kevin's body and looked at him.
"He is! He's foggin' up the glass. Turn around for a sec. You don't want to watch this."
I turned my head, scanning the bus for where other kids were badly hurt.
When I looked back, Kevin was gone. Mike had moved him next to Scott Hyland. Mike motioned me over and pointed out the fog forming and disappearing on the partition.
"I think we should leave him. He's not bleeding much, but I don't wanna move him unless we have to. Grab some coats and just try to keep him warm. Quick! There's others!"
I picked up a couple of coats from the floor and we wrapped them around him. Mike was looking at the next kid, Jens Christiansen. I couldn't see anything wrong with him except he was out cold. Mike pulled his jacket off his right arm and it was spurting blood. He felt around his neck and shoulder until he found a spot that made the spurting stop. He put my hand on it and told me to press down for a minute. He took his shirt off and started tearing it up. He pulled a big piece of glass out of the kid's arm, then wrapped part of the shirt around the cut.
"Quick! We need something hard with no sharp edges."
I looked around and didn't see anything. Mike told me to give him my belt. He took it and rolled it up and had me press it right there on Jens. Then he tied it in place with another piece of his shirt, going under the armpit and around his neck. The kid was still bleeding, but it wasn't squirting out like before. He pulled his jacket back up and zipped it. There were three other kids with bad bleeding and Mike took care of them all. The bus was starting to get cold.
"Jed, can you try to start this thing and see if the heater works? I can't go back up there."
I was about to ask why not, but suddenly I knew. I went back forward, checking on Patty first, and he seemed to be steaming up the glass more, but that might have been because it was getting colder. Barry's gut was pushed against the key. I tried to reach between, and suddenly I was sick. I leaned across him and hurled my guts out against his window. Again and again, until I was dry. I was gasping for air. I finally managed to find the key. It was already on, so I turned it off, then back on. Nothing happened. Then I thought to move the shift lever to park and try again. This time it started the bus and the heater started blowing. Cold air, not hot, but I knew it would warm up. I was about to turn around when it came to me to look at the gas guage. Almost half a tank. I went back and told Mike.
"We need to keep checking these kids with tourniquets. You can't leave them tight forever. Just relieve the pressure for a couple of seconds to let some blood get around. Then we should look for jackets and food. Straighten things out in here. I'll start looking through back packs, you start picking up coats. How's it goin' back there, Jim?"
Jim Nettleton was a big kid, and he was taking care, as best he could, of the walking wounded in the back. These kids mostly had bumps and bruises, but we learned later that there were a few concussions.
"Just keep talkin' to 'em. Everything's gonna be ok."
Mike just kept on going. He went around to the kids with broken bones and made sure they were warm. We'd found some candy bars and sandwiches in the backpacks and pockets. He started letting somebody have just a bite if they were hungry. We got the emergency door in back open and then closed it again, just unlatched. It was getting dark fast. Nobody had come by yet, or we were off the road enough that they couldn't see us. We ran the motor just enough that nobody was freezing, then shut it off. Mike said I should try to figure out the lights when it was running. He went out the back to see where we were relative to the road, but came back saying part of the bus was still on it. Just not a popular road in a storm. Then he thought what happened to us could happen to somebody else, and made all the kids move up a few rows in case a car came and hit the back end.
He kept running around checking on everybody, then decided we needed water. Snow would be fine, but we needed to get a lot at once so we didn't have to keep opening the door and getting cold too fast. Jim found a sports bag, and Mike lined it with his parka, then filled it with snow. He walked around the bus letting each kid eat a handful or two. It was pitch black out now and we decided to take a break. We sat in an empty seat.
"I'm real sorry about Kevin. It's awful!" I bent forward and started crying again.
When I settled down a little Mike asked, in a whisper, "You were up front. What's the last thing Jack said?"
"He was giving directions to some place to turnaround."
"What's the last thing he heard?"
I had to think. Then it came to me. The last thing that boy heard on this earth was me saying something rotten. Like I always did to him and Mike. It must have been the last thing my little brother heard too. Words of hate. My words. To somebody who had never ever done a thing to me in his life.
Mike started crying softly, and I could tell that he hadn't needed to read my thoughts to figure out the answer.
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