When Thomas finally awoke, he instantly regretted it. Everything hurt, it felt as if he had lost a game of football against a herd of rhinos then thrown into a blender and set on purée.
After a short time though, the pain began to be replaced by a numbness that washed over his entire body coupled with a ringing in his ears and yet, even without his sense of touch, Thomas still noticed things that gave him worry.
He could taste blood but for whatever reason he smelled only the phantom fragrance of butterscotch, then there was the weight on his chest, heavy enough to be noticed through his deadened feelings but not so much that it made his breathing labored.
And adding to his dismay, he finally noticed he couldn’t see out of his right eye.
Fearing the worst, Thomas gingerly brought his hand up to his eye but even with the softest touch he could manage, it still felt as though he was being stabbed in the retina.
Realizing that his eye was only swollen he breathed a sigh of relief, thankful he was alive without any noticeable life threatening injuries.
Finally confident enough to move again, Thomas began to sit up but instantly fell back when his good eye saw who was hanging above him still strapped into her seat.
A mere four feet above him, with dead eyes seemingly staring right at him, was his mother. The blood was still fresh along the gash that started from above her hairline and curved its way down to her cheek where some of the bone itself was exposed. Yet that wasn’t what killed her, it took a moment for Thomas to comprehend that her head had been twisted nearly 180 degrees, possibly snuffing her life almost instantly and without pain, at least that’s what Thomas hoped.
No longer wanting to stare into the milky white orbs of the person who gave him life, Thomas diverted his attention to whatever was draped over him.
Perching himself up on one arm, Thomas was mortified to see that it was yet another body that had landed on top of him, the body of someone that he had recently taken a liking a to.
“Oh my God! Lisa?”
Despite his intention of crying out, Thomas’s voice was no louder than a whisper.
“Lisa! Lisa, are you okay?”
Again, his words didn’t have the strength to be heard by anyone other than himself.
Realizing that his weakness was affecting his speech as well, Thomas gently shook her shoulder hoping it would be enough to rouse her, if she was even still alive.
An almost imperceptible moan came, so soft that he thought he had imagined it.
Again he shook her, this time rough enough to actually move most her body, but the response was finally undeniable.
Lisa lifted her head with an agitated groan but instead of waking up, she merely turned to the other cheek and ground it into his chest.
Slightly frustrated now, Thomas was about to just shove her off him when she stopped smashing her face and began talking nonsense.
“Don’t…want…cabbages…” she moaned. “Won’t…stop…plague…”
He couldn’t help but smile a little about her odd dream mumblings.
“Lisa,” he said nearly yelling, “if you wake up, you don’t have to eat the cabbages.”
“I promise, all you have to do is wake up for me.”
With a scrunch of her face and one more grind into his chest, she finally roused herself from sleep and opened her eyes to the bleak reality.
As Lisa rose to her knees, she let out a yawn but stopped midway through and looked around at their current predicament, obviously not fully understanding what had happened.
“I think we got hit by a rockslide,” Thomas said, knowing what her first words would be.
“What?” she yelled, turning to face him.
Realizing that she must be suffering from temporary tinnitus, Thomas cleared his throat and spoke as loudly as he could manage without actually screaming in her face again.
“I said I think we were hit by a rockslide!”
“Oh. You know your eye is super swollen, right?”
“Yeah, I know, your lip isn’t much better looking either. Do you have a cellphone?”
She touched her lip as a reflex then shook her head.
“No and my parents have a no cellphone policy on vacations.”
“Damn, my parents have the same thing and it would take too long to search through all the luggage. Can you get off me now?” Thomas asked, trying to sound polite.
Crossing her arms in huff, Lisa glared down at him with an indignant look.
“What? You don’t like a woman on top?”
“Not when their knee is crushing my bangers and mash,” Thomas replied through gritted teeth.
“My nuts, you’re on my nuts!”
“OH! Oh, oh, sorry.”
She quickly jumped to her feet and turned away, trying not to let Thomas see the blushing of her cheeks.
Immediately the pain lessened but Thomas knew from experience that the throbbing would last a good while.
Still rosy cheeked, Lisa moved to look back but froze and lost all her color when her gaze fell upon the body of Thomas’ mother.
“Dear God, Thomas, your mom…”
“I know,” he replied, slowly standing up.
The finality in his tone shook Lisa from her daze and she turned to say something but he wasn’t even looking at her, instead his looking over the interior of the wreckage, carefully avoiding what was hanging just over his shoulder.
“Come on, we need to grab the first-aid kit, check for phones in here and search for any other survivors,” Thomas said, lightly nudging her forward while still eluding her gaze.
“Shouldn’t we, um, do something…?”she asked, not sure how to continue.
This time he looked directly into her eyes and seeing his only good one now, made her almost wish he hadn’t. Almost. Its usual deep, warm blue had become an unnaturally cold and unfeeling grey, it was like it had been carved straight out of the Antarctic tundra but Lisa could tell that there something hidden in its depth, something he didn’t want her to see.
“She can wait,” he said giving her another light push.
Deciding it best not to press the subject any further, Lisa took the lead on working their way towards the driver’s seat with the hope that the medical supplies were still securely latched underneath.
As the two maneuvered through the demolished interior of their once grand tour bus, checking the few dead still in their seats and any bags they came across for cellphones, neither could help but realize just how lucky they were to have survived with only minor injuries.
The entire right side had buckled in, some places were damaged to the point that the metal siding had torn apart, letting in small rays of light which did nothing more than cast an eerie glow upon the bits of refuse, backpacks, purses, and splatterings of still wet blood.
When they finally reached the front of the bus, they were dismayed to find no sign of the med-kit, instead just a broken clasp and an empty slot under the driver’s seat.
“Damn thing must have broke free as we fell down the mountain,” Thomas sighed. “Maybe we’ll come across it while we look for survivors.”
With their hopes cut in half already, they worked their way back to the nearest full window which, like all the others, had been obliterated during the crash despite being made of tempered safety glass.
But once outside they froze, stunned by the amount of devastation surrounding them. A light fog hung over the clearing but it was not enough to conceal any of the horrific scene.
Pieces of metal and most of the luggage were strewn about as if they had been caught in a tornado yet all the debris still made a distinctive trail revealing how much the bus, and consequently, the two of them had endured.
From where they stood, their eyes followed the gash the bus had carved in the earth, through a thick copse of almost entirely splintered oak and yew then back up the fairly steep mountainside with noticeable chunks taken out of its rock face.
But what truly made them cringe were the bodies, or at least the ones that could still be recognized as human. Some were battered and bloodied beyond recognition while most rested at unnatural angles from the force of being thrown out of the bus. They could even see a few that were hanging from trees, limp, like forsaken kites.
Steeling himself against the scene before them but mostly from the work that remained ahead, Thomas reached down and took Lisa’s hand, giving it a comforting squeeze which she returned with a half-hearted smile.
“Come on,” Thomas said again “we need to look for any one else that might still be alive.”
They slowly began to search the field of wreckage but with every new corpse they uncovered any hope of finding another soul or even a way to call for help was slowly stripped away until it had dwindled down to nothing.
Heart-broken and on the verge of giving up, Lisa was about to suggest they should start looking for a way back to the road when they heard the weakest of groans.
Instinctively the two of them paused, giving each other looks of apprehension. They feared that their minds were beginning to play tricks but when it came again, they knew it had been real and rushed to find whoever might have made the sound.
However, in the haste of their searching, the two of them quickly became disoriented, no longer remembering where they had looked.
Thinking she had already checked the area, Lisa began to sprint to another but stumbled over something which seemed to cause another woeful moan . She looked back and gasped, she had tripped over a bloody and shoeless foot that extended from beneath a chunk of siding.
“Thomas! Over here!”
Before he could reach her, Lisa had moved the piece of debris but then dropped to her knees and began to cry.
“Lisa! What’s wrong?”
Finally by her side, Thomas saw what had caused her to lose any strength she had left.
“It’s my Dad…”
Her father looked as though he was an extra from a slasher movie.
His entire body was covered in cuts that still oozed with every shallow breath and his left fibula could be seen jutting out at a nearly forty-five degree angle.
Then there was his face, half of which was encrusted with blood and the other half swollen beyond recognition. How Lisa recognized him immediately, Thomas could only guess.
Thomas could only stand and stare, waves of guilt washing over him for bad-mouthing Mr. Beauchamp mere seconds before the accident.
Lost in thought, he didn’t notice Lisa’s father opening his one eye until she let out a joyful sob.
Lisa took his hand and scooted closer so that he wouldn’t have to turn his head.
“Lisa? Sweetie?” he managed to wheeze out.
“I’m here dad,” she said, tears finally beginning to form.
“Oh, Lisa, my angel. Are you hurt?”
“Good, good,” he said with a rasp. “Where is your mother? Is she alive?”
Lisa shook her head.
“We haven’t found her yet, you’re the only person we’ve come across that is still alive.”
“We?” he asked as spasm ran through his body, it was clear he was beginning to fade.
“Thomas and I,” Lisa replied, squeezing his hand a little tighter.
“Thomas is here?”
“I’m here Mr. Beauchamp.”
Thomas moved in behind Lisa, so he could be seen more clearly.
“Thomas, come here.”
Thomas knelt down, not understanding why he was asked.
“No, come here, closer!” Mr. Beauchamp said, with as much authority as he could muster, but it only caused another spasm coupled with a blood-letting cough.
Thomas glanced over at Lisa and even though she didn’t return his gaze it was clear that, despite her best efforts, she wasn’t going to remain strong much longer.
Swallowing hard, Thomas knelt down and placed his ear right over the dying man’s lips, knowing that what Mr. Beauchamp had to say was for him only.
“I need you to promise-to promise me you’ll look after her. Keep-keep my angel safe.”
Thomas straightened up and nodded.
“I promise Mr. Beauchamp.”
Giving the slightest of nods in return, he turned his attention back to his daughter.
Lisa looked up at her father, tears now freely dripping down her freckled cheeks.
It was clear he was on the verge of eternal sleep, but Lisa clenched his hand, refusing to let him go so soon.
“What daddy? What is it?”
“I-I need you to be-be strong…my…angel…”
As he shuddered one last time and his body finally went limp, Lisa broke down, crying out his name and shaking him as if he were merely asleep, but it was no use, his last words seemed to hang in the damp air, the mist relishing his final breath.
Thomas knew how much Lisa was hurting so he stayed still and remained silent, knowing full well that any words would fall on deaf ears, he just hoped his presence would help to ease the pain, if only a little.
When Lisa managed to regain control, she solemnly closed his one eye then leaned over her father and gave him one last kiss but remained kneeling, hands clenched, giving no indication that she meant to stand up or continue the search for any more survivors.
Thinking she was waiting for him, Thomas rose slowly and scanned the clearing with his one working eye. Despite the carnage scattered everywhere, he was relieved to see the fog was beginning to dissipate and glad that the sun had barely past its peak, indicating that they had been unconscious and searching the wreckage for just over two hours.
Thomas looked down at Lisa and noticed she hadn’t moved a muscle, not even to remove the ant that was crawling on her leg. Crouching beside her, Thomas brushed off the bug then tried to take her hand but was swiftly rebuffed when she pulled it closer in.
Slightly hurt by the rejection but understanding what she was going through, Thomas knew it would best if he gave her the time she needed and just let her greave on her own terms.
“I’m going to start looking again,” he said, “whenever you feel ready, I could use your help.”
Standing back up, Thomas gave Lisa a last glance, hoping for some sort of signal that she hadn’t fully succumbed to the heartbreak of watching her own father die but again, there was nothing.
Turning to face the wreckage, Thomas let out a heavy sigh as he surveyed the scene once more.
It was all too familiar. The natural accident with perfect timing, walking away from it almost without a scratch. He just hoped it was merely a coincidence, that this time would be different.
Hoping beyond hope that what he feared wouldn’t come to fruition, Thomas began to retrace his steps to where he had last been searching, but stopped when he heard a mumble.
“Did you say something Lisa?” he asked, half hoping she wanted him to stay.
Her response was just as unintelligible as the first.
“Lisa,” he said walking back to her, “I don’t understand. What are you saying?”
“It’s your fault.”
He couldn’t believe what she had just said, the only response he could muster was a dumbfounded, “What?”
“I said, it’s your FAULT!”
He placed a hand on her shoulder, “Lisa, I-”
The slap came so fast he didn’t have a chance to flinch, it wasn’t that hard in and of itself instead it was the look of pure hatred in her blue eyes that stunned him into silence.
“It’s your fault. It should have been you, not him. I never want to see your face or hear your name EVER again.”
Lisa continued to glare at him for a few more seconds, as if trying to ingrain this moment of absolute anger and loathing in her mind for eternity while Thomas could only continue to stare in bewilderment in return, unable process her sudden violence towards him.
After one last look at him, Lisa turned and marched into the woods, uttering curses under her breath.
Finally regaining his ability to think, Thomas called after her.
“Lisa! You don’t know what’s in there! Come back!”
Even though she had disappeared into the tree line, the breeze carried what she said back for him to hear.
“Anything is better than you.”
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