After a great chaos, a great silence. In a ruined bus, on its side in a ditch just off the highway, the air was still, and the people equally so. Rain beat against metal, and for a moment, no one moved. Then, a baby’s cry split the air. Its mother lay in a heap on the floor next to it, her arms still around her child. At the head of the bus, the driver climbed up from the stairwell where he’d been thrown and took stock of the situation.
The bus had rolled several times, landing on its right side on the far embankment. The front door faced the ground, the windows opened to mud. Like the driver, the passengers had all been thrown from their seats, and they were now piled on top of one another, as if at the end of a particularly exhausting pillow fight.
The bus driver shook his head. There would be time to stare and wonder later. Right now, there were procedures to follow. Emergency exit, passenger side seat 20; emergency number, 911; company number, 555-0534. He began crawling over the seats, shaking people awake as he went. Miraculously, almost every one seemed to have survived. When he came to the baby and its mother, he spent a few extra moments trying to wake the woman, but without success.
“What the hell happened?” one passenger asked. He was in his mid-thirties, with dark hair and thick black spectacles. His tan suit was wrinkled and bloody.
“Did we slide off the road?” another asked. She wasn’t more than twenty-five, and had a huge gash across her forehead.
The bus driver just kept moving. He could see people coming down the slope from the highway, and motioned to them. Several of them helped him kick out the window, and the passengers began crawling up and out of the bus, into the waiting arms of those below. The baby was still crying, but no one seemed to want to have anything to do with it. They all gingerly stepped over the child and its mother, climbing to safety without so much as a word about it.
The bus was not yet empty when the first medics arrived. They grabbed their equipment and their stretcher and slid down the embankment towards those passengers who couldn’t make it up to them. A fire truck arrived not long after that to assist in removing the remaining passengers. As the last one leapt to the ground, the fire fighter asked her if there was anyone else inside. She only sobbed and shook her head. The fire fighter, with some assistance from a comrade, got himself up to the emergency exit and poked his head inside.
“Jesus,” he muttered.
“What we got?” the other fireman called up.
“Looks like a mom and kid.”
The bus driver stared openly at the fire fighter. They were standing right next to each other. The driver was practically in the fireman’s lap. What was going on?
“What about the driver?”
“Yeah, hold on.”
The fireman climbed into the bus and gingerly made his way to the front, the bus driver in tow. Just as the pair made it to the first pair of seats, they both stopped short. The fireman put his gloved hand to his mouth and looked away, but the driver himself was unable to move. In the bottom of the stairwell, his arm pinned between the door and the ground, was the body of the driver.
Memories of the crash flashed before the driver’s eyes like a strobe light. The slick pavement, the sharp turn, one two three quick flips. He was tossed against the door, where his arm had become trapped. As he desperately tired to pull it out, the bus and come down hard against the embankment, and there, suddenly, his memory stopped. Looking down at his own body, he could see why. A huge rock protruding from the ground had come up through the door and struck the back of his skull.
“He’s dead,” the fireman called out to his companion, heading back for the exit. “We’re going to need some forensics in here.” He jumped to the ground, and the two of them walked into the chaos of survivors and emergency personnel gathering on the highway. The bus driver, left alone with his own body, watched the activity long into the night, before heading off himself, in search of what was to come next.