Saturday, April 5, 2014

Never Give Up

(This is a short story I wrote for a contest. I didn't win. Either way, here it is.)

Never Give Up

I don’t know how to start this. I never really had a diary or journal or anything like that, I’m not really a typical girl…but I figure now, there isn’t much else to do, so I’ll write down what’s been happening in the back of my notebook, just so I don’t go mad waiting for a rescue crew.

I figured today would be an average Friday. Wake up, get dressed, eat half-burnt eggs & toast while ignoring dad’s ranting against President Carter, take the bus to school, sit through classes, see what Becky’s doing tonight, maybe try (and fail) to ask Todd Baxter to accompany us to whatever some punk rock concert or late night horror show…but probably just stay home and read comic books until the Incredible Hulk comes on. I told you, I’m not a typical girl. Heck, I’m not a typical 16 year old. I don’t have a driver’s license or a car and I still read Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys, in addition to the comic books. Anyway, I got on the bus like I have dozens of times before. I assumed Mike the bus driver (never asked his last name) would be his usual creepy but friendly self, and for most of the drive he was, but what he asked me when I boarded kind of set me on edge.

“Do you ever feel like just giving up, Vicky?” I was the only one he asked that question during the trip, unless he asked someone before I got on. I paused and then shot back that us Powells are all raised never give in, which I think disappointed him. He stayed silent and motioned for me to take my seat, which I did. He picked up a few more kids, but then he made a turn towards a more remote part of town. He turned to us quickly and said “sorry kids, slight detour. We’re picking up a new student today.” That happened sometimes, so nobody thought anything of it, at least for the first three miles.

“How much further?” asked Millie, the preacher’s kid, who sat in front of me. “I got a test I don’t wanna be late for.” A few other kids voiced similar concerns, then a few more. Mike ignored them for what seemed like eternity, and then burst out in a terrifying display.

“Shut the fuck up you little shits!” He hissed it as much as he shouted it. “You’re not going to school today. You’re never leaving this bus until I let you.” It was at that point that we realized the lever for the emergency exit was broken. One boy tried to open his window, but the handles had been broken off. “Only way out I didn’t break is this front door here, and you ain’t getting out of it.” I’m not sure how many of the kids heard this, but some of the boys stood up and started moving towards the driver. Most of the rest of us started panicking. I stayed calm, of course. Just like my daddy taught me. “I don’t recommend that, kiddos. You try to rush me, I’ll drive us off into the ditch.” Given how big of a drop that would have been, everybody wised up and sat down.

“Wh-where are you taking us?” asked some little girl whose name I never learned.

“Let’s put it this way: you’ll know when we’re there.” He was calm and cool, but there was an edge in his voice that let us know he could snap at any moment. We all sat as still as we could, silent except for a few coughs and stifled sobs. This went on at least fifteen minutes, maybe longer. At least it felt that way.

Without warning, the bus flew off the road, down a cliff. It wasn’t clear at the time, but it was intentional. Mike had a seatbelt, but no one else did. I went flying. I landed on the top of one of the seats, and my back went into an unnatural angle, or at least that’s what makes most sense. I’m not sure how long I was out for, but the blood from my head had dried enough to make my hair stick to the floor. I could hear screams. When my eyes had focused enough, I saw Mike piercing Bobby Young’s chest with a large knife. I tried to get up, but my legs didn’t respond. That’s when I realized I couldn’t feel them. Mike must have heard me.

“Still alive, eh?” I did my best not to cry, but a tear went down each cheek. “That makes you the last, Vicky Powell.” He grabbed my hair and pulled me up hard enough to rip some of my blood-stuck hair out. I tried to wrench his hand away, but he was too strong. Much stronger than I expected. “You’re not going to make it.” I didn’t care what that asshole said. I wouldn’t go down without a fight. I dug my nails into his wrist as hard as I could, and I think I drew blood, but it didn’t make a difference. He smirked. “You lost use of your legs, didn’t you?” It appeared as if an idea just came to him. He dropped me so I landed on my butt in the middle of the aisle, then he crouched in front of me, really close. His long, greasy hair smelled like it hadn’t been washed for days. He just stared at me for at least a minute, silent.

“Why?” That was all I could say. It took a few moments for him to respond. He needed to catch his breath.

“The state took my kids from me last week. I’m taking some kids from the state now.” He paused for a long moment, stared at the front of the bus, got up, casually walked over and kicked the lever to open the door until it broke. It was still probably usable to an able bodied person, but I’d have a heck of a time doing it. Soon, he was standing over me. “You still haven’t given up, have you?” I had been scowling at him this whole time, and as I shook my head I felt a tear mix with the blood on my face. Powells don’t give in. “Right. All the others wigged out when they knew nothing could stop them, but you’re not. You’re strong.” He crouched again. “Nobody’s that strong, girlie. You’re gonna find that out. I want you to know how I feel. No hope, no friends, stuck in this fucking bus ’til the day you die.” He put his knife to his own throat. “You’re going to give up, Powell.” Then, he slashed, and blood sprayed everywhere.

It isn’t easy getting around without legs, but I manage alright. I’m not worried about being stuck in a wheelchair the rest of my life. I’ve heard of people recovering from things like this, and if not, at least I’ll still be alive. I’m the only one who’s still alive. I mean, it took a while to determine this, but everyone is dead. It’s just me. I tried but couldn’t open that front door, and can’t find anything to break the glass. I figure I’ll gather the other kids’ lunches and maybe find a book to read. Somebody has to have a good book assigned to them for homework. I know I need it, anyway. I need a break from my own thoughts.


After the sun went down I slept a little. When I woke up, the windows were half covered in snow. Shit! A snowstorm! Other than a few of the windows, it looks like the whole bus is covered in the white stuff. God damn it, now they’ll never…no, don’t think that. I can’t think that. I’m Vicky Powell. Powells never give in. I’m going to make it through this. And I’m going to have to do it on my own.

I’ve been rationing the lunches the other kids packed. I figure I can survive a week, maybe, if this stuff doesn’t start going bad. It’s so gosh darn cold in here that it might as well be a refrigerator. Good thing I have a good jacket. I’ve been wondering how the town has reacted to this. They have no way of knowing what happened, but they must know we’re missing by now. I’ve been thinking about my mom and dad, how they must be so worried about me. I’m a good kid, more or less, so I almost always let them know where I’m going. But it isn’t just me. There are thirty six dead kids on this bus, all of them have some family, even if they aren’t biological. I try not to think about that too much, but there is so much tragedy here that this town may never recover. Sorry. I shouldn’t have wrote that. We’ll make it through this. I’ll survive, I’ll walk again, and we’ll get through this. Powells never give in and I know town won’t give up the search.

I’m going to try a new tactic. Mike’s knife is long and thin enough to use as a kind of makeshift lever. If I can use it to pry open one of these windows, well, I’m skinny enough to crawl through these little bus windows. Other girls like to mock me for being so thin, they call me “Vick the Stick” sometimes because they think that’s clever or something. If this works and gets me out, I’ll be the one who’s laughing. It shouldn’t be too hard to get climb up the hill after that and get to the road, where I’ll probably find someone passing by. I’m doing my best to keep away dark thoughts like “I’m too weak to open the window” or “I can’t climb that far without working legs” or “I’ll freeze to death before I’m rescued, or get run over” because darn it, I’ll make it out of this. I never give in.

The other students…maybe it’s my imagination. There was too much snow built up for me to get through the window I managed to open, and it can’t close. I decided to sleep by the bus driver’s seat and…they began talking to me. They fucking talked to me! I couldn’t see anyone but I heard them clear as day. “Join us,” they said. “Join us, Vicky.” For a few hours, nonstop chatter, hissing and rasping at me in perfect unison. Eventually, they changed tactics. “You’re doomed. You’ll starve or freeze to death before they’ll ever find you. You might as well kill yourself now.” Part of me thinks it’s true. Even if I get out of here, in my condition and given where I am, I’d freeze to death before I could get to anyone. I’m supposed to die here. Why couldn’t that asshole have just killed me? How cruel he was to do this to me! How cruel they are to keep taunting me. Even now, they just can’t shut up. I’m trying to keep sane by writing this and it isn’t helping. I’m not strong enough to make it out of here. But I know what I am strong enough to do…

I almost did it. The other kids quieted down when I had the knife to my throat. It stayed there for at least a minute. Something in me really wanted to join the other kids, but I know…I know I can never give in. Never give up. Powells never give in. Vicky Powell never gives in. I can do this. I can get out if this nightmare. There isn’t much food left, so I have to try soon, while I have the strength. The side facing away from the cliff doesn’t have quite as much snow, maybe I can get out there? I have to try.

It took a while, and a lot of effort, dear diary, but I managed to get a window open. I had to climb over Danny Zimmerman’s body to get there, but I got it. There’s enough room that I can get out, so this is where we part ways. I’ll be back for you, with help. We have to get the others out of here, bury them. Maybe then they’ll stop talking to me.

Detective Gordon Hanson sighed and put the notebook into a plastic evidence bag. Such a shame, he figured. This poor girl had no chance, and no idea of what lay in store for her. A hiker found the bus earlier that day, and it was quickly identified as a missing school bus from 1978. When he checked out the site, he noticed the decaying corpse of a girl outside the bus, her head caved in by a rock. Based on the journal, it must have been Vicky…and she must have landed very poorly. Poor girl. But, the story checked out. Mike Stollznow, the bus driver, did have his kids taken by child services, and every kid that didn’t die from the crash was stabbed. Open and shut case. She didn’t give in, even in the face of death, which Hanson found admirable. Her death was quick, as were her classmates’ deaths. No one suffered. Open and shut case. One thing, however, puzzled him, however: why were the other children in the bus seats with their heads facing Vicky?
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