Authors: Vicki Grant
Tags: #JUV000000, #Young Adult
“I forgot to tell you something, Teacher!” he said. He was pretending to be really sorry about it. “Part of your little tour includes a tragic accident. No extra charge, of course. In fact after the tragic accident, I'll evenâyou knowâdispose of the bodies for free...”
Ms. Creaser sucked in her breath. She saw the kerosene. She saw the look on the guy's face. She put two and two together. She was terrified. You could tell.
Me? I was terrified too. But another part of me was so sick of the guy saying “tragic accident,” I wanted to kill him. It was like he'd just learned what “tragic” meant and he had to show off by saying it over and over again. I felt like saying, “We get it, okay? We get it.”
The guy picked up the can of kerosene.
He put on this really sucky voice and said, “Say your prayers!”
I said, “Accident victims don't usually die with their arms tied behind their backs.”
It's always dangerous when I do thatâ you know, act like I have a brain. But what choice did I have?
I thought the guy was going to be madâbut he wasn't. He just shrugged. He was too stupid to be mad. He didn't understand what I was talking about.
“So what?” he said. “You're special!” He pinched my cheekâhard. “We're going to
do it different for you.” He smiled at his little joke and put the spout in the can.
“What I mean,” I said, “is that nobody is going to believe it's an accident if we're all tied up.”
Now the guy got it. Now he looked like he was going to hit me.
“Or if we're covered in bruises,” I said. He held back. I don't know why. What was one more bruise now?
“They'll know it's murder,” I said, “and they'll come looking for you. Your fingerprints must be everywhere. You can't burn the whole place down.”
To tell the truth, I wasn't really sure about that last part. I mean, why
he burn the whole place down? He had the matches.
The guy was twitching again. He reached into his pocket. I thought he was going for his cell phone, but he surprised me. He pulled out a gun.
He called me a name, then he dragged me up onto my feet. He untied my arms with his left hand. He stood back. He
kept the gun aimed right at me. I was going to say that a bullet in the head wouldn't look like an accident eitherâbut that might have bugged him so much he would have shot me anyway. I decided just to keep my mouth shut and do what he said. For a while, at least.
“Untie the others,” he said.
The bus driver's knot came undone pretty easy, but I couldn't get Ms. Creaser untied. My hands were really shaking. I could tell the guy was getting mad that I was taking so long. That only made them shake worse. I finally pulled at the knot with my teeth. It worked, but I felt bad about leaving drool all over Ms. Creaser's wrist. I said sorry. She just shrugged like it was no big deal.
“Help them up,” the guy said. He unlocked the door.
“Get in,” he said. “
say your prayers.” He was smiling again.
“You better say yours too,” I said. I was really asking for it now but, hey, it was a chance I had to take.
His eyes squinted up like he couldn't stand the sight of me. He twitched a bit, but he didn't shoot.
“If you light that match,” I said, “you'll be the first to go up in flames. You're covered in kerosene from that lamp that Iâyou know
hit you with...”
The guy totally lost it. He lunged at us like some kind of crazed animal. He screamed, “GET IN! GET IN!” and shoved us through the door.
We fell in. There was a crunch when we hit the ground. That was the bus driver landing on top of me and Ms. Creaser. He weighed a ton.
The other kids all ran forward to help. The guy fired a shot in the air. The kids screamed. They left us where we were.
The guy slammed the door. We heard the lock clang shut.
Nothing happened for a couple of seconds. I guess people were waiting to make sure the guy was gone. Then everyone ran over to help. Or, more like it, to
Kids were crying and going, “What are we going to do, Ms. Creaser? What are we going to do?”
She tried to say something. Her voice was all groggy and messed up. She'd whacked her head on the ground
again when she got pushed through the door. Some kids helped her sit up against the wall.
Nobody helped me. I don't think they even noticed I'd been gone. I got myself up.
It was dark inside the building. There were just a few streams of light coming in through little gaps in the roof. The place stunk of hay and manure and scared people.
It didn't take me long to realize that the grown-ups wouldn't be able to do much for us. Ms. Creaser was a mess. The bus driver's heart was acting up from all the stress. And Mr. van Wartâthe real Mr. van Wartâhad a broken arm. His wrist was bent into an
. My stomach flipped just looking at it.
I wasn't sure the kids would be able to help either. Most of them were huddled together in little groups, crying. Shane was just sitting in the corner by himself, like someone had given him a time-out. He didn't look very scary anymore. Sam DeMontâMr. Popularâwas on a rant
about how it was the school's fault we were in this position. If the principal hadn't banned cell phones, none of this would ever have happened. We could have just called for help, he said. We'd be home now!
But we weren't home, and we didn't have cell phones. We were here in a dark, locked building waiting for a maniac to come back with a match.
I figured the guy was in the house, washing the kerosene off himself. I wondered how long that would take. Good thing van Wart didn't have running water. The guy would have to go out and pump some himself. I thought that should buy us a few extra minutes.
I wished people would stop weeping and wailing so I could think betterâbut that was one of the things I wasn't going to be able to change either. Sam was bugging me most of all. He kept going on and on about how it wasn't fair. How come the teachers got to have cell phones and we don't?
I felt like saying, “Who cares if the teachers have cell phones!” but I didn't. I thought about it for a second, and I said, “Hey...”
I ran over to Ms. Creaser. I shook her awake. I tried not to hurt her.
“Do you have a cell phone?” I said.
She nodded. My heart jumped. Maybe if I called 9-1-1, the cops would get here before the guy did. “It's on the bus,” she said.
My heart jumped again, but this time it was in a bad way. I kind of wished the guy had just killed us and gotten it over with.
I couldn't stand there waiting for that to happen. I had to do something. I tried to be logical. What were our chances of getting out of here alive? I looked around. The door was locked. I knew that. I fumbled over and tried one of the windows. They were all boarded up tight.
“You won't be able to open them,” someone said. “We tried that already.”
I knew that voice. I heard it every night in my head when I tried to go to sleep. It was Shane. He sounded different now, though. This time, he didn't say, “You idiot” or “Pigboy” or anything. He was just telling me the factsâlike we were two normal people having a conversation. It was weird.
I said, “Yeah, okay.” I hated him less when he was scared.
I went over to van Wart. He was either in shock or being really brave. He was just sitting there, holding his bent-up arm. He wasn't moaning or crying like I'd be if my arm looked like that.
“Is there any other way out of here?” I said. “Like a trap door or something?”
He shook his head. What was I thinking? As if van Wart wouldn't have mentioned by now that there was a trap door!
“What about a place we could break through? ” I said. “Like a weak spot somewhere?”
“No,” he said. “I built this strong. I need it to be safe. I store my seeds here.
It's my warehouse.” He actually said “varehouse” with a
. He really was Dutch after all.
He gave me this sad look. “I'm sorry,” he said. I didn't know if he meant that he was sorry he'd done such a good job building itâor if he was sorry he'd invited us on this stupid field trip.
“You couldn't have known,” I said. That worked whatever he meant.
I left him. I kicked some straw around. I tried to think of something on my own. There
to be a way outâother than the way the guy was planning for us, I mean.
I looked around where the little streams of light were shining on the ground. I only looked there because it was too dark to see much anywhere else.
I was, like, studying the floor when something just clicked in my brain. I knew what I was doing wrong.
I thought, “Idiot! Don't look down. Look up!”
The light was streaming in through
holes in the roof. Little holes. In other words, little openings to the outside. If I could get up to the roof, couldn't I just make them bigger holes? Holes that were big enough to climb through?
I ran back to Ms. Creaser.
“Your cell phone's where? Where in the bus?” I said.
I'm sure if her head hadn't hurt so much she would have asked what I was up to. Instead she just said, “In my purse.”
“What does your purse look like?” I said.
It was hard for her to speak. I could tell. “Dark green,” she said. “The phone... is in...the outside pocket...or...it's in the side pocket...the little one...next to...my make-up bag...or it's...” She went on and on. What is it with ladies and their purses? Do they really need all that stuff? I felt bad for her, but I finally just said, “Yeah, yeah. Don't worry. I'll find it.”
I dragged a bunch of seed bags over to where the biggest stream of light was shining in. Nobody even bothered asking
what I was doing. I climbed on top. My plan was to grab the rafters and swing myself up.
It didn't take me long to realize it wasn't a good plan. There was no way I was strong enough to swing my puny body anywhere.
The guy was going to be back any minute. I knew that. I had to move fast. I had to swallow my pride.
“Shane,” I said. “Can you help me?”
I hated to ask, but Shane's the biggest kid in our class. I knew it wouldn't be any trouble for him to pick me up. I'd imagined it many timesâShane hurling me off cliffs, into ditches, over walls, you name it.
He said, “Sure. What do you want me to do?” He sounded like a regular Boy Scout.
“Lift me up onto the rafters,” I said. He climbed onto the seed bags and hoisted me up over his head like I was crowd-surfing at a rave. He said, “Geez, you're some skinny,” but that's all. It wasn't so bad.
I got my feet on his shoulders for balance and pulled myself flat onto the rafter. I slid on my belly to the hole in the roof. I was glad it was so dark. I didn't have to worry about looking down and getting scared. I wouldn't have seen much, anyway.
I started yanking at the roof shingles with my hands. I was pulling off pieces about the size of tortilla chips. It would be ages before even a runt like me could get through the hole.
I felt a tap on my shoulder. It was the handle of a shovel. “Try this,” Shane said.
I stuck the end of the shovel through the hole. I leaned the pole against the rafter and pushed down. It worked like a little lever. A big piece of roof cracked off. I almost fell over when it gave way. I got my balance and tried again. A bit
more came off. Most of it hit me right in the face. I spit out the shingles and gave the roof one more good crack. The opening was about the size of a toilet seat hole now.
The sun shone in and made a spotlight on the floor. Kids weren't crying anymoreâ at least not much. They were all trying to see what I was doing.
“I'm going out,” I said.
I loved the way that sounded. It was just like what the heroes say in war movies right before they hurl themselves out of the plane. I felt like I should wink and say something like, “See you around, guys” and be really cool about itâbut who was I kidding? I wasn't cool. I'd just sound like an idiot.
Instead I said, “I'll try to do something. Like stop him or something. If you keep working at the hole, maybe you guys can get out too.”
Shane said, “Yeah. Thanks. We'll try.” He didn't look too confident. He must have known it would take at least an
hour to make a hole big enough for him to get through.
I pushed out through the roof. It was a tight squeeze even for meâand I was the scrawniest kid in my class, by a mile. I got my head and shoulders out, but the rough edges of the hole scraped my belly and got caught on my pants. I pulled and squirmed, but it didn't do any good. I was stuck. Time was ticking away. I did what I had to do.
I used my feet to rub my shoes off. I unzipped my pants.
Of course this was not the day that I chose to wear the boxers that my half-sister gave me for Christmas. Like I said, I'm not a lucky person. This was the day I was wearing the tighty-whities that my mother always gets me. The pair I had on was about five years old and practically see-through.
I didn't really care. I just whipped off my jeans and pushed myself through the hole. I can just imagine what Shane thought when they landed on the floor.
I was already falling before it dawned on me that it was a long way to the ground.
There was a cart full of hay right below me. (My mother would say, “See! You are a lucky person.” She'd totally ignore the fact that a crazy guy was trying to kill me.) I clipped my head on the rails when I landed, but I was okay. I found my glasses and scrambled to my feet. I was a little cold in just my underpants, but I didn't have to worry. I heated up pretty fast.
My plan was to get the cell phone, call
9-1-1 again, then somehow stop the guy before he set fire to the building.