Monument 14 Sky on Fire(5)
Author:Emmy Laybourne


    53–42 MILES

    Niko had blisters coming up all over his face. I guess the mask got pushed to the side during the fight with Josie.

    I guess the blisters were in his mouth, too. Or his lungs.

    Niko rooted around in the plastic storage tub of medicines and found a bottle of Children’s Benadryl.

    He broke the seal and chugged straight from the bottle.

    “Can’t drive,” he gasped. “We’ll rest. Ten minutes.”

    He slumped in a seat and bowed his head, trying to breathe.

    “Can we take our masks off?” Max asked.

    “NO!” Sahalia and I both shouted at once.

    “Only people who are type B can take their masks off,” Sahalia said.

    “Who’s that again?” asked Batiste.

    “You and me and Alex,” Sahalia said, rolling her eyes.

    I shrugged and took off my mask.

    The air had a taste to it. A stingy taste.

    But it was much easier to talk, easier to see, and also, in a way, easier to think because you didn’t have to listen to your scary breathing right in your ears.

    Batiste took his off sheepishly. Max and Ulysses muttered together about fairness.

    “What do we do now?” Sahalia asked, her hands on her hips.

    “I guess we just wait,” I said. “Niko, you tell us when you can drive, okay?”

    Niko’s head was lolled back on the seat.

    I went up to him and put my head on his shoulder.

    “Niko? Niko!” I called.

    And then I heard him snore.

    “Oh, this is perfect!” Sahalia complained.

    “Niko, we need to get going,” I said. “Niko, wake up.”

    Niko sat up and looked around, as if confused.

    “Just let me sleep for a few minutes,” he muttered. “I’m so tired.”

    He hadn’t slept in … well, in more than 24 hours, maybe as long as 36 hours. But still.

    It was murder, waiting. We gave him 10 good minutes.

    “Okay, Niko. Time to get up!” I shook him.

    “I can drive,” Sahalia said.

    “What? No, you can’t!”

    “My stepdad lets me drive all the time,” she insisted.

    “That’s a horrible idea. This is a bus. A big school bus.”

    “I can drive,” Sahalia shouted.

    “Let her drive,” mumbled Niko. And he fell back asleep.

    * * *

    Okay, well, Sahalia wasn’t terrible at driving the bus. She went maybe a little faster than Niko, but I didn’t care. Josie was sedated. The kids were terrified and Niko had drugged himself into oblivion with Benadryl—the faster we got to DIA the better.

    We were passing a burned-up commuter bus when a masked figure lurched out in front of us.

    Sahalia braked but she hit the guy. His head cracked on the side of the bus and then he was gone.

    Sahalia wrenched the steering wheel too far to the right and suddenly we were lurching down the embankment.

    The terrain near the highway was fairly sparse—not a lot of trees or vegetation. Rolling hills with some dead underbrush. The underbrush slowed the roll of the bus, I think.

    It didn’t crash, just slowed to a stop. Sahalia was basically standing on the brake, too.

    The kids were crying.

    Niko staggered up from where he’d been sitting.

    “What happened?” he shouted.

    “Sahalia drove the bus off the road,” I said. Then, when she gave me a look that would kill, I added, “By accident.”

    “Okay,” he said. He seemed pretty wobbly on his feet.

    He coughed and more blood appeared on the inside of his mask.

    He looked out at the area. It seemed pretty deserted.

    “I think we’re safe enough!”

    I nodded. I knew what he meant.

    Niko meant we were safe enough to sleep for a while.

    * * *

    “We’re hungry,” Max complained to me.

    They had said they were hungry before, but that was when we thought we were going to be in Denver in a few hours. Now it looked like we were staying put for the night.

    “So eat,” I told him. “The food’s over there.”

    I pointed out an open bin filled with food.

    Why did the kids need my help to rip open a bag of trail mix?

    “You guys have to take care of yourselves! I am not in charge of you,” I said.

    He had started crying.

    I sighed and put my hand out to Max.

    “Sorry,” I said.

    I thought he would shake my hand, but instead he fell toward me and then I realized: He was giving me a hug.

    Hard to tell, with all the layers. But I think it made him feel better.

    Then he said, “We’re so hungry.”

    “For God’s sake, Max, if you’re hungry, eat!” I said.

    “But how?” he asked.

    “What do you mean, how? Open your mouth, put the food in, and chew!”

    He tapped on the plastic eye panel of his face mask.

    “How do we get the food in?”

    I felt stupid. I hadn’t thought of that.

    I went back to try to help them. They ended up just lifting the edges of their masks and jamming the food in.

    I saw Max’s skin get red and blisters came up, so after he’d had the chance to shove a couple mouthfuls of trail mix in, I took it away from them.

    They lay down to sleep.

    I tried to stay up and keep watch, but I was as tired as everyone else.

    I do not know why no one came poking around the bus.

    Maybe it was because the bus looked so crappy from the outside.

    It was covered with splotches made by the paste that Robbie had the little kids use to seal any cracks or dings. The windows were boarded up.

    It probably looked like it died a long time ago.

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