Scott hit his brakes. He'd heard a rumbling sound and, looking up at the slope to his right, saw rocks crashing down, heading toward the road. There was a lot of squealing of brakes as the vehicles around him did the same. Miraculously, none of them hit any of the others. But a school bus full of kids was caught in the avalanche and the front of it was crushed.
He took out his cell phone and tried to call for help, but the mountains blocked the signal. Of all the rotten luck. Leave New York City for one day, just to go look at the fall foliage and take some pictures for Virgil, and this has to happen. He turned quickly when he heard another rumbling and saw another avalanche, blocking the road a quarter of a mile behind him.
It was several minutes before the noise died down. People started getting out of their cars. No one appeared to be hurt - then he heard the screaming and crying. He turned back to the school bus and saw several of the kids - who appeared to be eleven or twelve - at the back of the bus, trying to get out. He got out of his car and ran over, followed by several other people.
"Take it easy, kids. Quiet down. We'll help you," Scott shouted. "Is anyone seriously hurt?"
The screaming died down, but a few of the kids kept crying. One said, "Mr. Phipps, the driver had yelled at us to move to the back of the bus, but he was buried under the rocks before we could, and a couple of the kids are hurt. One has a bone sticking out of his leg a little and a girl's arm is just hanging. Some of us are bleeding. But we're alive. We just want to get out of here. But the handle on the emergency door is stuck! Please help us."
"Damn! The senate and the school districts are going to hear about this!" one man said. Scott turned and looked him, recognition dawning. The man was a state senator, who was known for campaigning for better funding for education. Scott remembered that, this past summer, the senator had been pushing for thorough checks of all school vehicles, ensuring they were safe for children to ride in. Apparently he'd been unsuccessful
"Sir, I wish you well, but right now we have to get those kids out of there and see to their injuries," Scott replied.
"You're right, young man." The senator moved toward the emergency door at the back of the bus. "Kids, stand back. I'm going to try the door from this side, and if I'm successful, I don't want anyone falling out and hurting themselves any more than they already are. Okay?"
The children moved back a couple of feet and the senator grabbed the handle and pulled it in the direction it was supposed to go. It broke off in his hand. Another curse exploded from his lips.
Scott moved to the side of the bus to check the windows. Several of them were broken, with pieces still in the frames. He took off his jacket and, climbing on the hood of a truck stopped next to the bus, tried to remove the pieces of one window. One boy climbed over the seat and said, "Maybe I can raise the window. Then you won't have to worry about getting cut."
Scott smiled at the boy. "Okay. Go ahead and try it. Then we can lift you out, one by one, through it."
The boy tugged at the latches. "Hey, Gordie! C'mere and help me, so we can get out of here!"
Scott was startled at the name, and even more so when the boy who responded turned out to have red hair. But this one was heavily freckled and looked nothing like the Gordon he knew so well. The two boys worked together and were able to loosen the latches and raise the window. They looked at it dubiously.
"Do you think we can all fit through there?" Gordie asked.
"We have to. I don't know how we can make the opening any bigger," was the reply.
In the meantime, several people had gathered, many with blankets and first aid kits. Scott looked at them and said, "We have two kids here with possible serious injuries. We're going to have to be careful with them. Do we have any medical personnel among us?"
"Sorry," someone shouted back. "A lot of us know CPR and basic first aid, but that's about it. But we've got a couple of people climbing up the rubble behind us to see if they can get a signal out to call for help."
"Okay," replied Scott. "Take a few of the blankets and the first aid kits and set up a place on the road to put the injured kids, so we can do what we can for them. The rest of you wait here to guide the kids to places of safety, once we get them out. If you can put them in your vehicles, please do so." He heard someone yell for people to move their cars to make space for a makeshift triage, then turned back to the kids. "Now, we have to get the badly injured out first. Where is the boy with the broken leg?"
The first boy, who said his name was Tommy, replied, "We figured you'd want to take him out first, so we've been slowly moving him toward the window. He just passed out a minute ago, and we wrapped something around his leg to try to keep it from getting any worse. Gina's father is a doctor and she's been trying to help some of the kids."
Scott grinned. "That's good. Okay, slowly bring him to the window, but be real careful of the broken leg."
The kids, now that they had hope of getting out, worked together and they brought the unconscious boy to the window, then gently lifted him up and through the opening. Scott took him and passed him to a man waiting with a blanket. Then they did the same with the girl whose arm was injured.
"Scott turned back to the kids. "Now the youngest, then the other injured kids."
"No problem," Gordie replied with a grin, showing a missing front tooth. "The lady is getting everybody in order."
"Lady? What lady?"
Gordie pulled his head back inside for a moment. "She said not to worry about her. She's okay. She's here to help."
Scott shook his head, but rescuing the kids took priority. "Well then, let's start getting you all out of there."
They got to work and slowly got the bus emptied. He was pulling the next to last child out and handing him to the waiting senator, when he noticed the last boy hugging the woman and crying. He watched as the woman knelt down and whispered in the boy's ear. The boy sniffed, gulped and nodded. He hugged the woman one more time and went to the window. He turned and waved to the woman, then started climbing out.
Scott reached out and helped him through, then handed him to a woman waiting. He turned back to the window, saying, "Okay, miss. It's your tu . . ."
The woman had vanished.
The boy who had gotten out last turned and yelled, "Dad!" He took off, running toward one of the firefighters who had come as part of a rescue team and leaped into his arms. The man held his son tightly, as if he would never let the boy go. Scott was near enough to hear them.
"Are you all right, son? Are you hurt?"
"No, Dad, I'm okay. I wasn't hurt. I was sitting in the back part of the bus, so I didn't get hurt."
"Thank God. How did you all get out?"
"That man," Jeffrey turned and pointed to Scott, "helped us. He talked to us and got us calmed down so we could work together as a team and get out. And Dad," his voice fell to a near whisper, but Scott could still hear him, "Mom was there, too, helping us."
The firefighter was startled. "What? Jeffrey, you know that's not possible."
"Dad, she was there. I saw her. I even hugged her. And she talked to me, too."
Scott walked over to them. "Sir, there was a lady in the bus. I saw her, too. But she disappeared just after I got your son out."
The firefighter put Jeffrey down and reached inside his jacket. He pulled out a billfold and took out a picture, handing it to Scott. "Is that the woman you saw?"
Scott looked at it. "Yes. That's the woman. I remember her eyes."
"That's my wife." He stopped, evidently trying to control his emotions. "She died six months ago. It was sudden and my son and I never got a chance to say goodbye." He turned to the boy and asked, "What did she say to you?"
"She said that everything would be okay as long as we kept on doing our best. And she said she was very proud of us and would always love us."
The firefighter picked his son up again and held him tightly, this time not trying to prevent his tears from flowing.
Scott turned away to give them privacy and froze in shock.
The woman was standing about thirty feet in front of him. But she wasn't alone. Another woman stood next to her.
His own mother
As he stared at her, she smiled and nodded. He heard her words in his head. And I love and am proud of all of you.