Hollow Hero

I was walking down the street the other day when it happened. I knew it was going to happen moments before it actually did, I could see it coming. The red car was going way too fast to have any chance at stopping. Even less chance in the wet. Well the red car, it didn’t apply the brake at all. It just flew straight through the roundabout. It swerved to avoid the roundabout but in the wet it skidded and then rocked up onto two wheels and hung there for a while then it flipped, and kept flipping, over and over again.

Well the bus driver, he slammed on the brakes and tried to avoid the red car but there was no where to go. It collided with the car with the loudest noise I think I have ever heard. It is still echoing in my head, I think it will be there forever. But then the image of the next moment is etched in my eyelids. I see it every time I close my eyes. Every blink I take. Every time I try to sleep. The bus swerved and caught the corner of the red car and rolled on its side, skidded in the wet, right into the telegraph post. It crushed like an aluminium can and wrapped right around the post. Like something you see in a cartoon, not real life, I didn’t know that buses could do that it real life. They look so much stronger than that.

Next came a deathly silence. For what seemed like minutes but would only have been microseconds. But my senses were racing at a hundred times normal, so seconds took minutes and minutes, well I don’t think too many of them passed at all. And then out of the silence, the cries of the kids. And not the normal sobs, but blood curdling screams and howls that didn’t even sound human.

I think I had been frozen to the spot in awe, in horror, in shock. But then the adrenaline kicked in and I knew I had to help the kids. So I ran as fast as humanly possible towards the bus. Maybe I should have turned and ran the other way, and never stopped. Ran as far from the devastation as I could get. For the sight that beheld me, I don’t think Steven King could have imagined such a horrendous scene. The first think I noticed was the school bags and other possessions strewed across the road and in the adjoining park. I don’t know why I noticed that first. But then the young boy who had been sitting in the front seat of the bus. Poor kid. He didn’t stand a chance. He’d been thrown from his seat straight through the windscreen of the bus, and was mangled nearly beyond recognition. He was lucky to be six, what a waste of such a precious life. I knew there was nothing I could do for him, so I had to keep going.

I came up to the wreck that was a school bus all of 15 seconds ago. It was on its side but the windscreen had gone so I climbed in where it had been. The driver was semiconscious, making a gurgling noise. He was still strapped into his seat but his belt, which meant he was hanging from the roof of the overturned bus. But he was alive. I knew I couldn’t help him on my own. So I had to leave him and attend to the other injured people. I clambered over some more school bags and a piece of a seat and came across a girl who attended the local catholic school. She had blood all over her face and was sobbing. I asked her if she was alright and she looked up with a look I will never forget. I don’t know how to describe it. It was a grateful look, mixed in with an absolutely scared out of her mind look. I asked her name, but she didn’t, or couldn’t answer me. She just sobbed.

I became aware at that stage that someone was shouting from outside the bus. Someone was telling me that the bus was “going to blow” and to “get out”. I guessed that there was fuel leaking from the bus and possibly sparks, searching for something to ignite. But I couldn’t leave these kids here to die on their own, if that was to be outcome of the event. I decided there and then that I wasn’t leaving until every child, alive or dead, was off the bus. So I pressed on to find the next child.

I never knew, whilst doing my senior first aid course, how much I would remember and how it would automatically kick in to guide me through the situation. I knew I had to see if there were any kids who weren’t breathing. They were my main priority. No matter how much it gutted me to leave the first girl all on her own, I had to press on. But that was a very difficult thing to do. There was glass shattered everywhere and where the roof had been pushed in with the collision with the telegraph pole, there was only about a metre of space between the roof and the floor. Seats and parts of the overhead luggage rack were sticking out everywhere and it was near impossible to get through.

I came across the next child by pure accident, I trod on his arm. He was wedged underneath a seat and unconscious. I tried to move the seat but it wasn’t in the mood for moving. So I had to crawl and squeeze myself into a small crevice in order to access the child’s head. I couldn’t tell if he was breathing. It was so hard to tell. But I had to find out if he was. That was the most important thing. If he was alive but wasn’t or couldn’t breath he would die if I didn’t help him, and I had to give him the best chance I could.

I slid back out and grabbed the seat and pulled with every ounce of strength I could muster up. It creaked and groaned but moved just enough for me to get in underneath and check on the child. This time I found he was breathing but still was unconscious. I tried to get a response from him but he didn’t show any signs of knowing I was there. He was breathing quite well under the circumstances so I put him into the recovery position as best I could, his legs were still trapped under the seat. I couldn’t get him out and he wasn’t bleeding much, just a little trickle running down his face, so I left him to find the next child.

But I didn’t find a child next. I found an arm. It was quite surreal actually. The arm had been severed just above the elbow and it was just lying there, on the floor. I think I actually stopped and stared at it for a while. It wasn’t as bloody as I thought a severed limb would be, and it wasn’t damaged at all. It sort of looked like something you might find on Halloween in someone’s trick box. You know, the one they sit on your shoulder and you turn to see who it is, and its just an arm, and you freak out. I had to shake myself to face the realism of the arm and to kick myself back into gear and to continue the rescue mission. I had to find the owner of the arm.

The next child I found I realised was a boy I had taught whilst doing my internship four years ago. He’d be a teenager now, he had the high school’s uniform on, but it was no longer white, it was a grotesque shade of red. But he had the most peaceful look on his face I had ever seen. I don’t know why I knew, but I just knew he had died and that there was nothing I could do for him. I think it was then that the severity of the situation started to dawn on me. I knew there were at least 2 dead kids. Kids who wouldn’t be at school today to have news, or recite times tables, or make excuses for not handing in an assignment. Two kids who would never make it to adulthood, never learn to drive, fall in love, have kids of their own. I felt ill and dizzy and a million other emotions were flooding through me.

I heard a noise behind me, and snapped out of the place I was in. Someone else had climbed aboard the bus. This person came up beside me, told me we had to get as many of the kids off the bus as we could because of the fuel and live electricity from the downed electrical wires was causing serious danger to everyone on the bus, including myself. He went to pick up the dead teenager to carry him off, but I shook my head. There was no need whilst there might be children still alive further along the bus. The new helper noticed the detached arm and turned around. I could hear him throwing up as I continued through the carnage.

I saw a leg out of the corner of my eye . I hesitated for a microsecond, praying that this limb was attached to a body, which I found it was. It belonged to a teenage girl who was conscious and was supporting her badly broken arm. I scooped her up in my arms and carried her to the outside world, passing the other man, who had found the owner to the severed arm. I clambered out as fast possible and ran about 15 metres away where other injured people were lying and place the teen down on the ground as gently as I could. Then I turned and sprinted once again to the bus.

The next moments are a bit of a blur. I remember carrying out another half a dozen or so children and finding three more bodies. I remember hearing sirens in the distance and willing them to hurry. I remember looking into the bus and realising I hadn’t even made it a quarter of the way through it. I saw other people climbing in and out of the rear section of the bus and more injured students being carried out to safety. I recall falling over and cutting my knee on a slither of glass, but I got up and continued to search for the injured and dying.

It wasn’t until a police officer forcibly restrained me that I stopped searching. Lucky he was a big guy, cause I fought him and tried to push him away. He practically dragged me to a tree, which I collapsed under, wrapped my arms around my legs and just stared at the bus, watching the fire fighters coating the area in foam. The next person to come near me was an ambo, who was speaking to me, I could hear what she was saying, but couldn’t understand anything. She signalled to someone and another ambo came over and they hoisted me up and were just about to carry me off when the bus, well it looked like it bounced a metre off the ground, and then a fireball engulfed it. I got smacked against the tree behind me from the blast, the wind knocked completely out of me. Shrapnel fell all around me. Some even fell on me, hot, burning metal. The little amount of air that I was breathing was hot and felt like it was burning my windpipe and lungs. It felt like I was in the middle of an erupting volcano.

Next think I remember is waking up in hospital. But not the local Base hospital, this one looked and smelt different. A nurse told me that I was in a hospital in the city and that I’d be ok. Just a few cuts and burns, and a broken rib or two. They had transported me to the city because they thought I may have broken my back when I was thrown against the tree, but I was cleared when the swelling went down. And I had been in an induced coma for the past few days cause I had a bit of swelling on the brain, but that had gone down too and wasn’t an issue. Well something like that anyway. I was in a bit of a daze when she told me. All I could think about was the bus blowing up, right there in front of my own eyes. My mind raced, trying to remember who was on the bus when it exploded. Emergency services? Kids? The driver? Or was everyone out? How many people had died? How many survived? I just had to know.

No one would tell me anything about the accident. They kept telling me to rest and not to worry about the accident but worry about getting myself better. But I couldn’t think of any thing but the accident, the faces of the children in the bus. The twisted wreck of the bus. The blood and guts and gore.

A few days later, I found out that the driver of the red car had been driving under the influence of drugs when he encountered the roundabout. He had a record of bad driving as long as my arm, and had only got his licence back two days before the accident. He had killed his mate and himself in the accident, and also taken out two pedestrians when the car skidded off after colliding with the bus. I found out that ten children were killed in the crash, three of them were still trapped on the bus when it blew. No emergency service personnel died. They were ordered off the site minutes before the explosion. A few sustained injuries, but at least all survived.

I was awarded a bravery medal for my efforts on the bus. It’s sort of a hollow feeling, receiving that when so many children lost their lives and so many families were torn apart on that fateful day. They say I saved at least 15 kids lives, and that I am a hero. But I don’t feel like a hero. I keep seeing the children’s faces, especially the little boy who was trapped under the seat. They didn’t get him out in time. I couldn’t get him out in time.

Hollow Hero

Sarah Donoghue

Orange, Australia

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Fiction story

Artwork Comments

  • Sally Omar
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  • Sarah Donoghue
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