Children's Crusade
Chapter 10

Copyright© 2011 by carioca

Alex caught a flash of sunlight off bright yellow paint. "That's them up there."

"I see it." Jenny down-shifted and turned off the freeway. The engine roared, but the crowd around the wrecked school bus didn't even try to get out of the way. They slammed into the side of the other bus. Glass shattered and they slid to a halt with a squeal of metal on metal. The engine roared again and they lurched forward a few feet, the sides of the buses scraping. Jenny looked up at him, eyes wide behind her glasses. "You be careful."

He tried to ignore the cannibals pounding on the bus, and went back to the emergency exit. Bobbi-Jo's voice cut through the moans. "If you don't help those kids, I'll never speak to you again." She got up and pushed past Alex. He pretended he hadn't heard.

He looked around at the others. "Okay, let's go." Alex held his bat horizontally in both hands. "You first Chuck." The older boy seemed about to object, but his eyes flicked towards the front of the bus where Bobbi-Jo had gone and he nodded agreement instead. Alex boosted him up through the emergency exit. Jeremy did the same for Alex, then followed. Alex pulled up the two kids who'd watched the back door before, then crossed over to the other bus.

Chuck already had the cover off the emergency exit. "How are we going to do this?"

Jeremy sat in the hole, dropped his bat to the floor and grabbed the edge with his hands. He dropped to hang by his arms, then the rest of the way. "Billy?" he called, then picked up the bat and moved forward.

Alex sat in the hole. "You two," he said to the eighth graders, "help these kids across the roofs, and down into the bus. Chuck, stay here. I'll pass them up to you." Chuck relaxed his white-knuckled grip on the skylight and nodded. Alex followed Jeremy's example and dropped into the wrecked bus. He stood for a moment, taking the scene in. Jeremy, up at the front, hugged his brother and talked quietly. Half the kids stared at Alex, the other half stared blankly out the windows or huddled on the floor. He grabbed one of the latter from under the seat next to him. She screamed, then clung to him. "Shh, you're gonna be all right." He pulled her arms gently from him, then turned her around, and hands on her waist, lifted her up. "Take her Chuck." When he was sure Chuck had her, he let go and grabbed another kid, a boy this time.

He lost count of how many after the first dozen. Jeremy got the kids lined up and the bus emptied quickly. They did have trouble with one kid who kicked and screamed for his mom, but between the two of them, they lifted his struggling body high enough for Chuck to grab a foot. Finally there were no more kids waiting. They searched the bus and found one little girl curled up under a bench. She didn't respond when Alex picked her up and carried her to the exit, just kept her eyes scrunched tight and herself curled into a ball. After her, Alex boosted up Billy and checked the rest of the bus with Jeremy. There was no one left but a teacher. At first he didn't recognize her, probably because of the bloody bandage around her head.

Jeremy knew who she was though. He held out a hand to her. "Come on Miss Simpkins, time to go."

She didn't look up, just pointed to a pile of stuff next to her. Her voice was a whisper, barley audible over the pounding outside. "Take that stuff first." They passed up a first aid kit, fire extinguisher, a small bag of tools, and a plastic garbage bag with a little bit of food in it. Only then did she let them help her stand up. She whimpered and nearly fell over. She probably would have if she hadn't kept a grip on Alex's flannel shirt. She was short, shorter than Jeremy, only coming up to Alex's chest. Her face was pale, her pupils dilated, one half again wider than the other. He touched her cheek, it was cool and clammy. She had a bloody bandage wrapped around her head, and her long brown hair was damp with cold sweat, congealing blood, and flecks of dried vomit.

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