Children's Crusade
Chapter 9

Copyright© 2011 by carioca

It wasn't the screams that woke Zoe. She'd been in and out of consciousness several times, and there were a few things she remembered that she wasn't sure had really happened. Something warm and wet splattered across her face. She felt weak, dizzy; it was an effort just to open her eyes. One of the kids screamed again as Mrs. Barlow bit another chunk out of his arm. Two other children yanked him from her grasping hands, but in doing so jarred her loose. She tumbled to the ground and grabbed one of their legs. The kid screamed as she forced his leg to her bloody mouth.

Zoe clenched her fist around the hard object in her hand and punched the old woman in the side of the head. The explosion deafened her as the pistol went off. That memory at least had been real. The bus driver twitched and fell to the rubberized matting, her face inches from Zoe's. Her dead eyes stared accusingly, but she didn't move at all.

Her hearing gradually came back. There was a constant arrhythmic pounding all around the bus. Children cried and one of them yelled over the noise.

" ... stop the bleeding! Hold his arm right here! Hold still, or we can't get this bandage on." A pause filled by a whimper. "I know it hurts, but if we don't stop the bleeding ... Hold tight, right here. Hold his arm up, get those coats to put over him."

Someone, several someones, dragged the body of the driver forward, and from the sound, must have pushed it down onto the bags in the stairwell. One of the kids stopped and knelt by her. Billy Johnson, he was white faced, but his voice was steady. "Thanks Miss Simpkins." he said, "She would have bit me too. How's your head?"

Zoe felt her head again, this time her probing fingers encountered cloth. The back was damp with blood but it no longer flowed freely. It wasn't right, she was supposed to take care of them. "Help me up." she said, and reached out her hand to brace herself.

Billy flinched, and pushed her hand up so the pistol pointed at the ceiling. "Don't do that!" He gingerly took her index finger and moved it outside the loop of metal over the trigger. "Keep your finger outside the trigger guard until you're ready to fire, and never point a gun at anything you don't want to shoot." He said it like he'd heard the words hundreds of times before.

She stared at the gun. She'd never touched one before today, but it felt right in her hand, a solid reassuring weight. "Oh, sorry." Zoe lay the gun down on the floor, next to the purse, then braced herself as best she could. "Help me sit up." Between the two of them, she managed to get mostly upright. The stabbing pain in her head wasn't actually worse now she was sitting up, but it had been all she could do not to scream while she was moving. Most of the kids were crying, scared. They needed her. She picked the gun back up, careful where she put her fingers.

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