The bus was a hollow tin can with thirty or so little monsters running about, yipping and hooping. The driver’s expression was as monotone as the whine of the engine. My friend was reading a magazine beside me, oblivious to the gremlins and the smell, god forbid the smell.
“Tell me again why I had to help chaperone your niece and nephew’s field trip,” I asked with an expression that was a coffee to creamer ratio of absolution and sarcasm.
“Because,” he said, “their father’s a deadbeat and my old lady says I need to get ready in case we decide to have a little one. She thinks I’m not responsible for some reason.”
“Did the death ray tip her off,” I asked, smiling. “It still doesn’t explain why I need to be here.”
After an hour on the shuttle, we were finally on the outskirts of the city where our destination lay ahead.
“You think they’ll have corndogs,” I asked.
“Space museum for kids,” he questioned, unsure of it himself, “I’m sure they’ll have something good.”
Just then, a loud popping ensued by a grinding screech filled the bus. A large glint of silver flew away from the bus. There haven’t been many times in my life where I had thought I’d seen a ghost, but the bus driver’s now hollowed complexion gave way that something might be wrong.
His bloodshot eyes were in the mirror now, staring back at me. The kids were bellowing and screaming louder now than they had before.
“I didn’t think they could get louder,” I said, “calm them down, I’m gonna go ask Ralph what’s going on.”
I made my way to the front of the bus and noticed Ralph, our driver, was sweating bullets, too.
“What’s going on,” I asked.
“Th—the brakes, man. I–I tried to get them to fix them but th–they said they couldn’t because of b–budget cuts,” Ralph said, trembling at his own words. “We’re not gonna make it. We’re gonna die,” he yipped.
My friend came up after settling the kids down. “Why’s this hunkajunk not slowing down.”
“Brakes are gone,” I said. “We’re gonna have to let friction slow us down,” I said, looking at Ralph, “It’s alright man, just breathe, no need to worry.”
“Mighta spoke too soon bud,” my friend said, pointing at a train crossing the intersection a quarter mile up ahead. Several cars waited in front of it. “Those people won’t make it either if we push them into a blender,” he said.
“We have to take the underpass,” I said, grabbing the wheel and turning it for Ralph. His hands were trembling.
“Oh— I knew th–this would h-happen,” he said, still shaking.
“Hey—man,” my friend said to me. There was fear welling in his voice as he pointed to the lower part of the underpass I had neglected to see.
A quarter mile down was a small road work sign. Past this, you could see where they had cut the road in two, lowering the farther half. Set neatly in front of the end of ours was a mound of limestone gravel. As though a neglectful construction worker hadn’t taken the time to properly cover it with a tarp, a single piece of board had solidified into the limestone, forming a perfect ramp.
Ralph, first showing a look of surprise, began to show expressions of drowsy shock and passed out. I took the wheel and my friend carried him over to the first row of seats, kids scuttling out of the way.
“I guess there’s no time like the present,” I said to myself. I gave my friend an affirmative look and, although at a pause for a moment, he nodded back, settled the children, and hunkered down.
I punched the gas pedal, held my breath, and. . .
“. . . BAM! That’s how we saved your kids,” I said, speaking at a PTA meeting to discuss how further problems could be prevented in the future due to the budget cuts. My friend had his face in his hand, embarrassed from the start of the story.
“So you jumped a bus across an underpass. A bus loaded with kids, having no brakes, going downhill, and into a potential fatal accident,” a parent asked.
“Yes, that’s exactly what would have happened,” I said.
“You’re saying this is a problem because we want to cut your god niece and nephew’s ice cream party fund,” she asked.
I was at a pause when the parents started an uproar.
“You know,” I said to my friend, both of us laying on couches, me with an ice bag on my head, “I don’t think parents understand the importance of a good story to explain why a budget cut of any kind is bad.”
“You did tell them about how you Dukes of Hazzard your way out of a completely conjured fairy tale situation. That and you called their children Gremlins. Parents are sensitive, man.”
“Do you think we would have made it,” I asked, a childlike sense of doubt welling in my eyes.
He got up, walked over, and placed a hand on my shoulder.
Reassuring, he said, “No, only a moron would think that would be possible,” he said, patting my shoulder and walking away.