Chapter Thirty Six

Tish wailed, the soldier screamed, waving the gun in his hand, shouting for everyone to get off the coach. Confused, I turned to my parents, but they’d stood, peering over their seats, watching as everyone rose. I stayed where I was, the aisle already blocked. The coach had come alive with movement, everyone awake, pulling on coats, grabbing their packs. Mum was pulling up bags from the floor, Dad trying to making himself taller to peer over the crowd, but no one was moving down the bus. Screams took up from all around, a wave of motion radiated towards us. I saw five or six people who had been pushing up the aisle now backed up, the last of them on top of me.

Mum was screaming, as was the majority, her hands flapping, looking to my dad for answers. I turned back to the aisle and saw the neighbour with the tattoo, for the first time she wasn’t laughing, instead pushing her way past the guy was about to crush me. I thought she would clamber over to get to the window, but she winked down and gave a slow smile, before leaning over, swinging a stout bottle she’d pulled from under her arm. Ducking when the window shattered, I almost said a bad word as the glass showered down. It was my only answer to the craziness, but stopped myself as I felt the rush of cold air. She hoisted me up, her hands in my arm pits like I was five again. Angling me through the window, I watched as people turned, pushing at her back, their faces screwed up as they tried to get passed her.

Without realising, I’d scooped my bag up in the crook of my arm and was out the window, into the darkness quicker than I’d expected. Dad lowered Tish into my arms, the screams roaring from inside were louder than her wailing like she was under attack. I stepped back from the bus as more people appeared from the sides and out of the missing window, but the lady who’d helped me, the one with the tattoo, she’d disappeared. Other faces, other families took her place and were climbing over the back seats, hands out pushing others aside.

Seven or eight people were out by now, each running or limping off the road until they disappeared from view. The screams were dying down, but my sister’s weren’t. I felt like my head would explode, then Dad appeared at the space where the window had been. His eyes was blooded and dripping. It was obvious he couldn’t see properly, his hands reaching for the edge of the windowsill, knocking down cubes of glass to join the rest under my feet.

“Dad,” I shouted and a great smile grew on his face, he turned his leg over the side of the sill and he fell to the road with a great oomph of air. I rushed over and helped him to his feet, he was blinking more than normal, blood pouring down the side of his face.

“It’s okay baby,” he was saying over and over as he got to his feet, then held his hand against his chest. Tish seemed to quiet at his words, her eyes still dripping wet, the dummy hanging around her collar from the string tied around the top button hole. I pushed it back in her mouth and she sucked at a furious rate. “Where’s mum?” Dad said, his eyelids squinted as he slowly moved his head.

I felt myself gag on the words, tears coming as I did.

“She hasn’t come out,” I said, comforting Tish when all I wanted was for someone to do the same for me. “Mum,” I said, my voice strained, an explosion of panic gripping my insides. Dad’s face opened up, his eyes were wide even though I saw it hurt so much. He was looking up to the gap and grabbed up high onto the edge of the sill, but couldn’t pull himself to any useful distance. He let his arms drop and streaked blood from his eye across the back of his hand. A fresh set of screams came from inside. I stood like a statue as he bent at the waist, holding me firm by the shoulders. I knew what was coming. “No dad,” I shouted. He knelt to one knee, the glass crunching under and patted my shoulders. I could smell his alcoholic, metallic breath as he leant in. “No dad,” I said, whimpering.

“Look after your sister, keep yourselves safe,” he said. “I have to go get mummy.”

He was gone before I could grab him.

I thought of running after, chasing him along the side of the coach. Tish had calmed, she was heavy, but I had her tight. She played her fingers through my hair. Any other time I would have snapped at her to stop, despite knowing she’d still carry on, squealing and laughing, everything a game.

I said nothing, just backed away, glass scraping under my trainers.

As the gun shots came, I ran.

 

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Reading out of sequence? Why? Here’s Chapter One

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