Copyright J. S. Raynor 2017
Chapter Eleven : End of a long journey
Pepe, Jose and Raffaele looked glumly at the obstacles in front of them. The border control point was bad enough, but the cars blocking their way seemed impenetrable.
“How are we going to get past all those cars?”
Pepe was a resourceful youth and was determined not to be beaten by any obstacle. “We move them!”
This declaration took his friends by surprise. “How?” asked Jose.
“Children power. With enough of us pushing, we could do it. Get all the stronger boys together and we can do it.”
Very soon, fifteen of the bigger boys were gathered in the road. After releasing the handbrakes, they managed with their combined strength, to push the seven cars out of the way. Everybody cheered as the boys, sweating from their exertions, climbed back on board the bus.
There was an even bigger cheer when Pepe, taking over from Jose, started the engine and slowly drove the bus forward, officially crossing the border between Mexico and the State of Texas in the United States of America. Best of all, nobody was attempting to stop them. In the past, President Trump’s border guards would have strictly patrolled the area ensuring that hopeful immigrants from Mexico were turned back and, over the past two years, many of those attempting to breach the border would have been shot dead.
All the children looked with interest at the scenery as they drove northwards, through an area which none of them had ever expected to travel. It was now becoming quite dark and the teenagers agreed that they should stop for the night and get some rest. Pepe turned off the highway and looked for somewhere to park up. A wooded area provided shelter, where the bus could stay overnight. It was a case of trying to sleep in the confined space of the bus, the seats seemingly more uncomfortable with the passing of time. Drinks and snacks were shared between the children, but, not surprisingly, it proved difficult for most of the children to sleep soundly. Dolores gave Isabella more medicine and was relieved that the infant seemed to be improving, even taking an interest in this strangest of journeys. Dolores was as excited as all the other children and thought back to her miserable life before adults had disappeared. She was pleased that her father had gone for ever, but, If only her mother could be with them, she would have felt much better.
As soon as the sun appeared, Pepe was ready to start the second day’s long journey. The teenager drove the bus back onto the freeway, heading north for San Anton along Interstate 35.
They had not been driving for long, when one of the children spotted something through the window. “What’s that?”
Heads turned to look where he was pointing. Unlike everything else, this was something moving and, worryingly, heading in their direction. It seemed to be taller than all the surrounding buildings and was moving quite fast.
It was Raffaele who realised just what it was. “That’s a tornado!” Heads turned to look at the fast approaching column of swirling air. Texas was notorious for tornados which regularly created havoc and this was no exception. Debris was being lifted high and cars were pushed aside like toys as the danger drew ever closer. Many of the children drew the sign of the cross, praying for divine intervention.
Pepe put his foot hard on the accelerator, hoping beyond hope that they could escape the danger. Many of the children screamed as they watched in horror as the giant twister came ever closer. Suddenly, there was a violent shock as the tornado hit the rear of the bus. It felt as if they had run over something big on the road, but, as the tornado crossed their path, they were able to continue shaken but unhurt. Everybody watched with relief as the angry twister continued on its destructive path eastwards.
Hoping this would be the only tornado to cross their path, they continued along the Pan Am Expressway for another two hours before they reached the city of San Anton. Some of the children recognised the significance of San Anton from their history lessons at school. It was here, at the Alamo, where their ancestors had, initially, defeated the Texans in eighteen thirty-six, only to be defeated themselves a couple of months later.
In contrast to the dry, dusty Texas they had been driving through, the city itself was quite a large, pleasant metropolitan area, with a wide river running through the centre of the city. Pepe was relieved when he spotted the intersection where he turned eastwards towards New Orleans.
Many children who had been looting stores stared in amazement as the packed school bus drove past them. The fact that it was the only moving vehicle they had seen for the last few days was enough for several tough-looking teenagers to run towards the bus.
Pepe kept his foot hard down, fearing that these strangers may rob them of their only transport. Thankfully, the teenagers were unable to catch up with the bus.
It was a relief when the sprawling city gave way to the vast expanse of countryside.
By this time, many of the younger children were becoming restless as they had not expected the journey to take so long, thinking that they would be in Orlando in just a few hours. Pepe was keeping a steady speed along the freeway, but the old bus was unable to travel at more than sixty miles an hour. Even then, the engine was straining and after another couple of hours driving, it started to make rhythmic, clanking noises.
“What’s that noise?” asked Jose.
“I don’t know, but it is getting louder”, answered Pepe. “I wonder if the tornado did some damage to the transmission.”
The two looked concerned about the state of the bus they were relying on to take them to Orlando. “The question is – will it manage? I think that we are just over half way there.”
Mile after mile, the old school bus struggled on, the noises from the engine getting ever louder.
Then Jose spotted a possible solution. “Look! Pull in over there, Pepe!”
Realising what Jose had in mind, the teenager braked hard and swung the bus off the freeway into a service area. He drew up close to three parked Greyhound buses, pulled on the handbrake and switched off the engine. “We had better check them before we transfer.”
Easing himself out of the cramped driver’s seat, he stood up and shouted , so that everybody in the bus could hear him. “I want you all to stay here until we have checked to see if we can transfer to a better bus, okay?” After asking Raffaele to stay in charge on the bus, the older teenagers climbed down the steps and looked at the three, smart Greyhound buses. Together, they went to the first of the three and tried the door. To their dismay, it was firmly locked.
“I hope they are not all locked”, said Jose, glumly.
It was a great relief when the door of the second bus opened with ease. They quickly climbed up and triumphantly, Pepe exclaimed, “Great! The key’s in the ignition.” He was soon in the driver’s seat and turned the key. The engine coughed into life, to his great relief. “The controls are more complicated than on the school bus, but I’m certain we can master them.”
Jose had a sudden idea. “Check the fuel level, Pepe.”
“Good idea!” He scanned through the various indicators and spotted the fuel gauge. “It’s about half full, I think.”
“Good! Now, let’s check the last bus. It might just have more gas.” Pepe turned the engine off and the boys ran to the third bus. Again the door was unlocked and the key in the ignition. When the engine started, the gauge indicated three-quarters full. “This bus seems more modern than the other and it has more gas, so I guess this is the one we should take.”
Jose looked concerned. “Are you sure you can drive this bus, Pepe?”
“No!” A wide smile lit Pepe’s face. “But, I can only try. Just don’t expect me to reverse this thing!”
Jose laughed . “I’ll organise the children to transfer while you get used to the controls.” The younger boy returned to the school bus and, a few minutes later, led the children, together with all their possessions and what food was left. Raffaele, realising that food supplies were probably getting a bit low, led the group towards the store at the service station. He and some of the other children filled many bags with cans of drinks, biscuits, chocolate bars and anything else they could find. He did feel a twinge of conscience as he plundered the stock, but dismissed this as he realised that no adults would ever be back to discover their crime.
As they climbed into the Greyhound bus with their new provisions, many commented on the luxury of this modern transport compared to the old school bus. The seats were much softer and comfortable, so much more suitable for long journeys. A bonus was the on-board toilet, which, for some reason, became very popular to the excited and curious youngsters.
Pepe took a deep breath and loosened the hand-brake while moving into drive mode. Turning back onto the freeway, he headed for New Orleans, many of the children waving fondly at the old yellow bus which had helped them to escape Mexico and enter North America.
The Greyhound bus was much faster than the old school bus, making the long journey pass much quicker as they sped along the road for mile after mile.
Remembering how teenagers had posed a threat to them at San Anton, Pepe kept his speed as he drove through New Orleans, keeping an eye on intersections where they had to turn. “Can you look out for the junction for Interstate 10 to Mobile, Alabama, Jose?”
“Okay, no problem.” Jose looked with interest at the area they were driving through. Although he was too young at the time to remember, New Orleans was famous for the devastating effects of Hurricane Katrina. Numerous lives were lost and the damage to property had taken many years to recover from. New Orleans was also famous for music, but, without adults to perform the many Jazz classics, this legacy could have disappeared in an instant.
They did see many children as they sped along the freeway, all, understandably surprised to see a solitary Greyhound bus racing along the road.
Both Pepe and Jose spotted the intersection at the same time and, pleased that they were on the correct road, travelled on, eastwards towards Mobile.
Jose took over driving from Pepe along this road, stopping in the middle of a sparsely-populated area to avoid any possible confrontation by jealous children. From Mobil, they continued eastwards to Pensacola, which, to their relief, was in the state of Florida. They still had some four hundred and fifty miles to Orlando and decided to stop, again, for the night. Many of the younger children had become disenchanted with the lengthy journey, as it was taking far longer than they had ever expected. It took a while to settle down for the night, but, eventually, the packed bus fell silent allowing Pepe and Jose to get a well-earned rest.
As soon as the sun rose, the next morning, Pepe took the wheel again, ready for, what should, hopefully, be the last leg of their journey.
After a while travelling east, they passed through Florida’s state capital, Tallahassee, after which, they looked for the intersection to Interstate seventy-five. From here, they travelled south towards Orlando for a further two hours.
Everybody cheered when the signs to Disneyworld and Universal Studios were spotted. Once again, the children were excited at the prospect of being able to, not only travel to, but also stay in this renowned magical corner of the world. Pepe noticed that the gauge indicated only a little gas left in the tank and hoped that it would be enough to reach their destination. When they were actually on Universal Boulevard, they knew that they were almost at the end of their journey and most children, again, cheered loudly when they drove through the entrance to Universal Studios theme park. Pepe pulled up near the ticket barriers, switched off the engine and leaned back in his seat, breathing a huge sigh of relief. “We did it!”
Jose stood up at the front of the bus, just like some official tourist guide. “Okay, everybody. From here, you are on your own. If there is any food left on the bus, I would take it with you, as we have no idea how much food is going to be here.”
The children, at first, seemed uncertain and then slowly, they stood up, stretched and collected what little they had. One of the twins cheekily gave a couple of biscuits to Jose and pepe, saying, “Give a tip to the drivers, everybody!”
Although this was said jokingly, the children gave a loud cheer in respect of the two teenagers who, together, had driven them all nearly two thousand miles from Mexico to Orlando.
All climbed down from the bus, carrying what little possessions they had and headed for the gates. Somebody had already broken most of the turnstiles, allowing easy entry and with no need for any ticket.
The Mexican children all had big smiles as they swarmed through the turnstiles, all happy to be in the place they could only have dream of, until this day. Even the fact that not all attractions were working did not dampen their spirits.
The younger children had walked through to Disneyworld, while the older ones were happy to stay within Universal. Some seventeen year olds had taken the responsibility to assist in keeping the attractions running, by making certain that the tracks were kept clear to avoid collisions. Even so, there were accidents and, without adult medical care, the children’s injuries went unattended.
Raffaele, as head of his family, stayed close to his brothers and sisters to protect them from becoming lost and afraid. Pepe and Jose, realizing the possible dangers in having masses of un-controllable children wandering around, decided to assist in preventing un-necessary accidents, effectively acting as park wardens.
The other problem was shortage of food, made worse by many children taking more food than they could carry, resulting in fights to grab valuable food supplies.
Copyright J. S. Raynor, 2013, 2017
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