Children's Crusade
Chapter 11

Copyright© 2011 by carioca

Jeremy grabbed the post with both hands, not to keep himself from falling, but so Billy wouldn't see them shake. They were off the freeway, but the closer they got to the school, the worse he felt. They needed to go somewhere else. He wanted to say something, but didn't because he didn't have any other ideas. They couldn't take everyone home with them, the food storage wouldn't last very long. The only thing he could think of was to pile into Alex's truck and take off before FEMA could stop them. Since Jenny had already brought that up, he didn't mention it, only agreed when Alex asked his opinion.

He heard a faint popping sound. It didn't have to be gunfire, but it might be. He moved up behind Jenny and Alex. "Did you hear that?" Both of them shook their heads. "Slow down, just in case..." He pointed to a windblown column of smoke. It was either not as big as it looked, or was on the other side of town.

"Could be an accident." Alex said, without conviction.

The sounds came again, definitely gunshots. Machine guns this time, and a dull whoomp. Then silence. They drove on for about a minute before a pillar of black oily smoke rose into the sky directly ahead of them. Jenny slowed again. The kids behind them asked questions, but no one had any answers, especially not Mrs. St. Clair. She stared at the phone in her hands like it were a talisman and would solve all her problems if she only knew how to work it. Soon the source of the smoke was visible. A bus lay on its side, blocking the road. Flames leaped high into the air from the shattered windows. There was no way around it. even if they could get over the ditches on both sides of the road, they would probably get stuck in the plowed fields. Another bus was stopped behind it, its tires flat.

The OD Green canvas cover of a two and a half ton truck was visible on the other side of the burning vehicle. Jeremy pointed to it. "If that's running, we could pile in and make it home."

Alex gestured with the bat in his hand. "Yeah, if ... but if it is why didn't they take it? whoever was here must have just left." He picked up the radio and called, but no one answered. "You want to go check out the truck?"

Jeremy shook his head. "I don't think it's a good idea." He pointed to the nearer bus. It was a city bus with tinted windows. Inside, darkened shapes moved. "It looks like more of them on that bus, and I wouldn't be surprised if there were more around." As if to underscore his point, one of the shadowy figures started pounding on a window. The others inside joined it.

Jenny struggled with the stick shift, but managed to get the bus into reverse. "You're not going out there." She said as she backed the bus slowly. "Jer, go borrow Eileen's phone. Call mom or message her. Ask her where to meet her." His sister adjusted the wheel slightly. "Alex, keep trying the radio."

Jeremy squeezed his way back towards Eileen. Bobbi-Jo had an impromptu clinic set up in the aisle. She had one of the smaller kids laying on the floor, feeling his head. "You're pretty warm, but you're going to be alright."

"I feel like I'm going to throw up." The kid said

She opened up a backpack, pulled a plastic shopping bag out and emptied the contents into the backpack. She rolled back the handles of the shopping bag to help keep it open and gave it to the kid. He looked familiar. His name was ... Tony, and he was in Billy's class. "If you need to, use this." She smiled down at him and moved to check on the kid the bus driver had bitten.

She cared about everyone. Jeremy tore his eyes away and pushed past some younger girls to Eileen. "Can I use your cell phone?" She handed it to him, and turned back to the window. Her phone was different from his mom's but it was easy enough to figure out. The lines were still jammed. Probably not a local problem, it showed a good signal, but if the cannibals were spread across the country, the central exchange was probably swamped. The using the phone buttons as a keyboard was annoying, and took forever because he kept messing up. He sent the message as a reply to his mother's. 'Safe. have Billy. Almost home, meet where? Main road to town blocked. Is Dad home?'

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