As I boarded the school bus, Mr. Whitmoore, the bus driver, glared at me. His cheeks looked red and puffy. That’s weird, I thought. He usually smiles and shakes my hand. Maybe he’s just having a bad day.
Brandy smiled and hollered, “Saved you a seat, Thomas.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Not too bad, either. Only six seats back.”
“I tried to get closer,” Brandy said with a frown, “but the little kids got here before I did.” Since our bus picked up the grade-school kids first, teens from the middle school usually had to sit in the back.
I shrugged. “That’s OK. This is great.” I glanced out the window at the sun peeking through the clouds.
“Sure looks better than the rain we had this morning,” Brandy said.
I nodded. She always chattered my head off. But today I didn’t care. Nothing could ruin my plans. Soon I’d be home in my backyard four-wheeling up and down the mountains.
As Mr. Whitmoore put his foot to the floor to climb the steep hill, the engine roared.
Everyone was doing their normal, everyday thing. Brandy rambled on as always. And Bobby couldn’t stop laughing after he poked Cindy with his pencil. When she turned around, he pretended Mark had told him a joke. Jimmy took a huge wad of gum and stuck it under the seat ahead of him. And Ryan hopped in and out of the empty seats like a rabbit, slowly making his way toward the front each time someone got off.
Setting my backpack down, I glanced at my watch and pulled out my math assignment. A half hour to go. That should give me plenty of time to get this done. As I worked on a tough problem, Mr. Whitmoore jerked the bus to a stop.
What’s going on? Why are we stopping? I glanced up.
Mr. Whitmoore stood up, turned toward us, and glared at us with narrow, mean eyes. “Now, I’m not gonna have ya all bein’ rowdy!” Silence filled each seat. “If I have to stop this bus one more time, I’m gonna call the principal.”
After he took his seat, everyone looked at each other and whispered. I heard someone say, “What’s his problem? We’re not being any more rowdy than we usually are.”
Someone else said, “Yeah, why’s he being such a pain?”
In the three months that Mr. Whitmoore had been driving our bus, I’d never seen him act like this. He always smiled, cracked jokes, and hummed a tune. I stared at him in his mirror. He didn’t even look like himself. His whole face had turned completely red, and the bald spot on the back of his head was turning a bright pink.
He must really be having a bad day. I guess everyone has a bad day once in a while. Whatever it is, I’m going to keep to myself and get my work done.
A few minutes later Brandy nudged me. “Look,” she whispered, “he’s grabbing our old write-up slips from under the seat.”
When I glanced up, Mr. Whitmoore was leaning to the left with his arm dangling down. One of the boys muttered, “Why are we going to get in trouble for stuff we did a long time ago?” Soon everyone started complaining.
We heard Mr. Whitmoore radio in, but we couldn’t make out what he was saying. “Great! I didn’t even do anything,” I mumbled. Staring at my math book, I bit my lip and stayed still.
Ryan had worked his way up close to the front of the bus. Good, it won’t be much longer now. When we came to Cindy’s stop, Ryan opened the door for Mr. Whitmoore.
“Maybe he’s sick,” someone said as Ryan closed the door for him.
A strange feeling came over me as we continued up the huge hill toward Ryan’s house. I heard the brakes and watched Ryan open the door and jump out. As the bus started moving down the big hill, my math book fell to the floor. After I scooped it up, I heard screaming and yelling. When I looked up, I realized the bus was out of control, going faster and faster down the mountain toward Mark’s house.
Everyone ran to the back of the bus, but I raced to the front. Mr. Whitmoore was totally unconscious, hands on the wheel and foot on the gas. I peered out the windshield as we jumped the curb.
“God, please help me stop this bus!” I screamed as I grabbed the steering wheel and reached my foot toward the brake.
But instead of slowing down, we sped even faster. Now the house was just 500 feet away!
I tried to move Mr. Whitmoore’s foot, but I couldn’t. We hit the driveway with a huge bump that almost toppled the bus onto its side. I held on to the wheel as my body jiggled up, down, and from side to side.
The bouncy motion had knocked Mr. Whitmoore almost off the seat. The only thing I could see out the windshield was Mark’s house. I pressed again with my left foot, preparing to crash. The brakes screeched as we slid to a stop just inches from the porch.
While everyone exited out the back and others ran to get help, I realized we could have died. My hands shook and my body quivered. I glanced at Mr. Whitmoore. He didn’t seem to be breathing.
I hurried off the bus and sat on the curb as I waited for the ambulance. A few minutes later sirens blared toward us. The paramedics put Mr. Whitmoore on a stretcher and loaded him into the back of the ambulance.
Soon afterward, a police officer approached me.
“What happened here today?” he asked. After I had told him the whole story, he patted me on the back. “Nice job, son. You stopped the bus just in time.”
“Yeah, you saved our lives,” a lot of the other kids chorused as they slapped me five.
Although I felt relieved that the bus had stopped in time and that everyone except Mr. Whitmoore was all right, I knew God really deserved the credit for saving our lives. God heard my prayer and used my hands and feet to bring about the answer.
Written by As Told to Elisabeth A. Freeman
Illustrated by Led Pants