Time Of Our Death
If you have ever had a spell where you can’t catch your breath, whether it’s asthma or just a panic attack in a stuffy room, you kind of know the feeling I experienced on the bus. Trapped within its confines, trying to catch my breath, it was as if everything was closing in and fading out. Spots were before my eyes and a sleepy darkness was threatening to overcome my whole being.
I could see Lori on the other side of the window, her eyes wide in terror. Im not sure if her fear was towards my predicament, or towards her own. She was running out of air, too. In my haze, I saw her body spasm, and then she was gone, leaving me and the bus behind, as she tried to propel herself to the surface.
I gave up and closed my eyes. If death was coming, it wouldn’t find me in a panic. I would face it calmly, or at the very least, try to. I was surprised by the peace that was overtaking me. When an older person dies, I believe that in their years they have conditioned themselves to experience this kind of peace. They have prepared themselves. For me, as young as I was, you would think I would face it with horror and fear, having never experienced all the things adults have. But just as this peace was washing over me, the bus shifted. It seemed to be rolling over on its roof. By some strange miracle, or by the fact I was now upside down, my shoelace pulled free from the bolt that had captured it. Suddenly, I wasn’t content with peace anymore. No, I was going to survive. I swam towards the rear exit and pulled myself out of the bus. Instinct told me to get to the surface before the bus rolled again and trapped me under its weight.
As I fought my way up through the water, I could see the legs of my fellow schoolmates above me. I was going to make it. Soon I would be breathing fresh air again, playing guitar in my bedroom and watching Headbanger’s Ball every weekend.
With that thought in my head I broke the surface, gasping for breath. I could see the other kids swimming madly to shore, trying to get away from that sunken hell of a school bus. I looked down and tried to see it through the water, but the river was too deep to observe its final resting place. So instead I looked around to see if I could spy Donald. I knew he would need my help swimming to shore. He never had been much in the water. In the summer months, when all of us gathered at the one public pool in town, he always stayed at the shallow end where his feet could touch bottom.
So where was he? I couldn’t see his head bobbing up and down in the river. Had the current swept him under the bridge and downstream? I caught a glimpse of a familiar jacket on the shore just yards in front of me. It was Lori’s. She stood there on the bank, coughing water from her lungs. Laying on the ground beside her was the prone form of Donald. At this distance I couldn’t tell if he was breathing or not, so I swam like mad to the shore.
I reached the embankment quicker than I normally would, and when I hauled myself out of the cold river, Lori jumped.
“Jeez,” she exclaimed. “Scare somebody, why don’t you?”
“Sorry. You okay?”
“Yeah,” she answered. “Just out of breath.”
“Cool.” I looked down at Donald. His eyes were open and his stomach was heaving up and down. “You okay, buddy?”
“I didn’t think I was going to make it, “ he sighed between breaths.
“Yeah, me neither.”
I looked around us, taking in our surroundings. A little further down the bank, Brian and Kelly had hoisted themselves up on a rock and were trying to get their second wind.
“How come everyone is taking so long to get to shore?” Lori asked.
I looked out on the river. She was right. The other kids seemed to be moving slower than we had.
“Maybe they are treading water, or just don’t know how to swim.”
“I don’t know how to swim,” Donald said. “And I still made it faster than they did.”
“Perhaps they are worse swimmers than you.”
“But that’s everybody.”
He was right. We were the only ones, along with Brian and Kelly, to make it to shore. And I had been the last one out. Everyone else should have already beaten me here, but there they were, still foundering in the water.
Brian and Kelly came over to us. At first I thought they were going to see if we were okay, but that was wishful thinking. Instead they stopped up short, and in customary fashion, kept their distance , so no one would think they were associating with us.
“Anybody seen my bag?” Kelly demanded.
I shook my head. “Nope. Probably lost it on the bus. I lost my shoe.”
“I don’t care about your shoe, I want my bag.”
I felt like telling her no amount of makeup in her bag could cover up her attitude, but I let it go.
“I don’t think they see us over here,” Donald said.
“The other kids. They are going to shore downstream.”
“They must have drifted more than we did. That would account for us getting to shore first.”
Donald had stood up and was waving his arms back and forth over his head, trying to signal to the other survivors. “Hey guys! Over here! You can come up here!” They appeared not to hear him. “Why cant they hear me?”
“They are probably making too much noise to hear anything,” I replied, noting the rise of their panicked voices as they all tried to fight the cold current to shore.
Suddenly, there was a sound in the distance. Sirens. That was quick, I thought. We watched as the ambulance pulled up to the bank downstream where the rest of the kids were now pulling themselves out of the water. Paramedics were out of the ambulance and rushing down to them, as another rescue vehicle pulled up to assist. They were followed by the sheriff and a fire truck.
“Well, that s just great,” Kelly frowned. “Help them and leave us up here to walk to the ambulance.”
“We should be thankful we’re okay,” Lori replied.
“Nobody asked you.”
“Hey, hey,” I interjected. “We just climbed out of a freezing river. We should all chill out.”
Donald started laughing. “Chill out? That’s funny, Chris.”
Just then I noticed a paramedic walking upstream towards us. He was looking in the river for more survivors. The others saw him as he came into view.
“Well, its about time, “ Brian complained. “I could be dying over here.” He ran his fingers through his feathered hair, which oddly enough didn’t seem a bit out of place. “Hey! Paramedic dude! Up here!”
The guy didn’t even pay Brian any mind, which in itself I had to admire him for. Instead, he kept searching the water, until finally he turned around to face us. He shook his head and started walking our way.
“Hey, we could use some assistance here, too,” Kelly whined, stepping into the guy’s path. She was used to guys stopping when they saw her, but he kept coming and walked right through her. She yelped and jumped back .
“What the hell?” Brian exclaimed.
The paramedic was alongside me now and I reached out to grab his arm.
“Hey, what’s the big deal?”
I realized what the big deal was the moment my hand passed right through his arm. It was as if he weren’t even there. It only took a second to realize what was wrong. We were the ones that weren’t there.
“I guess were not okay after all,” Lori said.