We heard about the bus accident at about 9 that night, though details were pretty sketchy, and already some of the stories sounded pretty far fetched. I called my son in North Carolina, and he said he'd drive up right away. As the true facts emerged the next morning, the effect on the town was devastating. Most people knew someone who had been killed. Everybody at least knew their friends and relatives in one way or another. Two of the dead boys lived right on our street. I, like most other people I spoke with, didn't know what to do, didn't know how to approach anyone. Lin and I drove up to see Bob and Karen Surdiak.
Bob caught us up on what had happened. "The Selectmen are setting up a memorial service for tonight. It'll give everyone in town some place to go - something to do. It's bad enough when one person dies. Hard to know what to do other than go to the funeral. I stopped over to see the Andersons, but nobody was there. The Murphys are all broken up. Jack was an only child. The town wants to give Mike some kind of award - I guess he was the real hero last night. George McGrath said other kids might have died if he didn't take charge like he did. I saw Mike today and tried to congratulate him, but he kept sayin' it wasn't him. George told me that he thought it was Jeddy, but that Marty said it was Mike. He talked to the Nettleton kid, who said it was Mike all the way."
"I haven't heard any of this. What went on, anyhow?" I asked.
"Well, when the rescue team got there they said they found everything already set up in a triage, just like they would have done. That means the people you couldn't help were in one place, the people who were ok were in another, and the people who really needed help were together. The kids even marked the ones they thought needed help most. And everything on the bus that flew around during the crash was picked up and put away. He said everyone alive was off the bus in twenty minutes. It would've taken them another hour to get that far, and some of the other kids might have died in the meantime. All the kids that were hurt bad were bandaged up to some extent. Enough to keep them from bleeding to death. Jens Christiansen would have been dead for sure, and he still might not make it, but he has a chance. Somebody knew enough to make a tourniquet with rags and a rolled up belt. It kept him alive long enough to get to the hospital."
"How long was the bus there before anybody knew?"
"About three hours, they think. It was supposed to be back at Morton Middle between three and three-fifteen. Nobody got nervous when it was late because of the storm. Barry's a good driver, and they figured he would have pulled in somewhere if it was too bad. They couldn't get him on the radio, but there's lots of dead spots in the hills. The cops were keeping an eye out for them, but I guess it didn't have anyone too worried."
Just then I heard a shout. "ANDY! Andy, over here!" It was Joe Waters, pulled over by the side of the road. I ran over to his car.
"Andy! Mike wants to see you. He says he needs his Godfather!"
"Me?" I looked back and Lin was motioning for me to go. I jumped in the car with Joe.
"What's it about?"
"He won't say. He just wants to talk to you."
When we got there, Mike asked me to come to his room so we could talk in private. I followed him down the hall, thinking he didn't look to bad considering what he'd been through the night before. We closed the door to his room and he pulled out his desk chair and offered it to me. I turned it backwards and straddled it, resting my chin on my arms on the back of the chair. Mike sat on his bed looking at me. I found myself wondering when he'd gotten so good looking. He was always a cute kid, but most kids are. Mike was going to make a very handsome adult.
He had light blonde hair that was naturally wavy, sparkling blue eyes and very even features. He wasn't skinny anymore, either. Not heavy by any stretch, just solid looking.
"Tough night, huh?" I asked.
He hung his head, "Did you know Jack died?"
"Yeah, I know. He was your best friend, huh?"
He beseeched me with his eyes, "He was more than that. He was ... I loved him, Andy."
"Your Dad told me."
"A long time ago."
"It doesn't bother you?"
"Why would love bother anybody? It's a good thing ... a beautiful thing."
He smiled sadly, "Thanks, Andy. You're my Godfather. How could God let something like this happen?"
I had to gather up a few thoughts. "Mikey, God created all this, but I don't think he gets too involved in what we do with things. If we do the right things and are decent people, then we're supposed to get our reward in the afterlife. If we're evil in some way, then we get a punishment instead. In this life, I guess we each get to choose a whole lot of things. Most people are decent, and choose good things. Things that are generally thought of as good, anyhow. Everyone makes their share of mistakes, even hurting other people sometimes. Look at you and your Dad when you told him you were gay. Your father is a good person ... a very good person. But he made a big mistake and it hurt you deeply. But he did everything he could to make up for it, to fix things between you. You both learned from his mistake, so that kind of turned a bad thing into a good thing. But last night was an accident. A real bad one, but still an accident. I don't think God gets involved one way or another with things like that."
"I guess. So, if you're good do you go straight to heaven? Do you get a chance to hang around a while?"
"I'm not sure what you're asking."
"Last night ... everybody's calling me a hero. But it wasn't me."
"It was Jack!. He came inside me the second he died. He made me come up to look at him, I mean his body. When I did, I started screaming, but he was screaming back at me to shut up! He said all the adults were dead, too, and it was up to me and him to make sure nobody else died. I could hear him, Andy. He knew all this first aid stuff, he loved it. He wanted to be a doctor. I got him a stupid medical encyclopedia for his birthday and he loved it!"
I looked at Mike in disbelief, "Mike, what are you saying?"
"Jack knew all about triage and stuff. He made me separate everybody by how bad they were hurt, so we could concentrate on who needed it. He showed me how to stop the bleeding, to keep people warm, then to cool them off. He made me get water and collect up whatever food we could find. It was too strange, like I could hear him clear as a bell, but I couldn't talk back. But he could hear what I was thinking, and kept giving me answers. I could even tell when he doubted himself. Like, first it was try to start the bus and keep warm, but after it was like maybe it's better if it got cold. He made sure we got everything out of the way for when help arrived. He's the one that knew Jens was fading, but that's just when the plow truck showed up. He was with me, Andy. Even when I sat down for a break, he was there. He told me he had to go when this was all over, and I started to cry, but he just said it was time to make the rounds again. Like it was a hospital or something. Then, when somebody finally got there, I felt him leave and everything went black. But he didn't go right away. He wasn't in me anymore, but he was there telling me that I did good and that he loved me. Not to worry. He could already see what was waiting for him and it was beautiful."
"Mike ... I ... I don't know ... I mean, I don't know what to think."
Mike looked pained, "Don't you believe me?"
"It was like ... a real presence? You weren't just remembering this stuff?"
He shook his head, "I never knew it! That was Jack's thing, not mine. I know for damn sure that I never even heard the word 'triage', and I sure didn't know how to stop somebody bleeding. Or even how to look for it. Andy, when we looked at Jens, me and Jed both thought he was just knocked out, but Jack made me look farther, until I found his arm. It was squirting blood like a faucet, but I never would'a thought to take his coat off and look. It was Jack saying there's something else wrong here. Andy, you can't let them make me the hero when it was Jack!"
I sat there wondering if this could be real. If not, then what else would explain it? My inclination was to think that Jack's knowledge had rubbed off on Mike more than Mike thought, and the shock of the accident had somehow clicked it into gear. But the word - triage. It's not in most people's vocabulary. I'd only read it once, and that was in a disaster novel. Why would Mike know it? And what if it was all true? How could you convince anyone else? These were mostly pretty religious folks around here, and it's the kind of thing most religions would have you believe could happen, but people seem to balk when their religious ideals jump from the abstract to the here-and-now. If it was true, Jack, or at least the memory of Jack, should wear the hero label. For sure Mike, Jed and Jimmy deserved credit for their actions, but if they were steered by Jack's voice ... then what?
"Mike, have you told this to anyone else?"
"I think Jack's family should hear it, then I'd like you to tell Reverend Kramer at St. Andrew's."
Relief spread across Mike's face, "You believe me, then?"
"I believe you."
"Won't the church hate me because I'm gay?"
"Reverend Kramer won't."
We stood up to go, and I moved to give Mike a hug. His look told me that hugs would have to wait until we'd proved to the world that Jacky Murphy was a hero. Mike was on a mission.
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