by Jim Sellers
CHAPTER TWELVE | WHERE’S DANIELDA?
At that moment, a number of things happened simultaneously at different places around the city. At the stop where the bus driver had pulled over and walked to the store to get a coffee, there was no longer any bus. He approached the bus stop warming his hands with the cup and grumbling to himself. The woman in the coffee shop had taken too long to make the coffee. He was behind schedule, something he never let happen. He had a perfect record for over 25 years, absolutely perfect. But of course, he had also never lost a bus, but all that was about to change.
He walked to where the bus was and looked up as he lifted his foot to step in. Both his foot and his coffee dropped to the ground when he realized there was nothing there. He looked both ways and ran to the other side of the parking lot to make sure he wasn’t mistaken. The fact of the matter was, there was no bus. He dug out his cell phone to call his supervisor.
Across at Danielda’s school, Mrs. Hart called attendance in class.
“Angela, Amy, Allen, Colin, Danielda, David.”
Mrs. Hart had been Danielda’s teacher for three years. She had done this roll-call every morning, and not once had Danielda ever missed a class. As Mrs. Hart checked off names, she stopped.
“Just a minute—Allen?” she looked up. “Here.”
The teacher and the rest of the class looked at the empty desk.
“Where’s Danielda?” she asked.
At a parking lot outside a downtown restaurant, two policemen sat in their cruiser enjoying a short coffee break. Officer Smiley and Officer Haggerty chatted while they sipped their coffee. Actually, it was Smiley doing all the talking as Haggerty listened and watched traffic.
“I’m tellin’ yah, it’s going to be one of those days,” said Smiley, shaking his head and laughing, “I can just feel it. I woke up this morning and the dog had chewed my shoes. My cell phone fell in the toilet and I cut myself shaving.”
Officer Haggerty watched as a bus rolled toward a yellow traffic light. It didn’t look like it was going to stop. The driver was honking the horn repeatedly.
“Hey, there’s something going on with that bus over there,” Haggerty said as he started the car.
“I don’t know what else could go wrong today,” Smiley continued as he took a sip of coffee. As Haggerty watched, the bus drove into the intersection as the light turned red but it kept on going. Cars screeched to avoid it as horns blared. Haggerty stepped on the gas and turned on the siren as Officer Smiley was drinking his coffee. The unexpected lurch of the car caused the hot coffee to shoot out over his chin and down his shirt. His screaming mixed with the sound of the siren as the police cruiser sped after the bus.
Danielda clung desperately to the steering wheel, vaguely aware of the old man as he mumbled to himself. She was terrified but her mind was clear. Just keep the white line of the road on her left and everything will be fine. Someone will come and help, she knew it. A police car sped up beside her and a policeman stood up out the window. He yelled something, but she couldn’t hear him. She opened the window and tried to lean over to hear what he said, but she pulled on the wheel and the bus swerved towards the car. The cruiser swooped up onto the other lane to avoid being hit.
In the police car, Smiley slipped back into the seat and looked at his partner.
“There’s a kid driving that bus,” he was breathing fast.
“A kid? What the—” Haggerty looked up at the bus. “We’ve got to get help stopping traffic,” Smiley grabbed the radio mic.
On the bus, Danielda was afraid she scared away the police. The car was gone, were they coming back? She heard a loud noise and looked at the mirror. Suddenly there were hundreds of police cars coming up behind her with sirens screeching and lights flashing. She felt relief, help was on the way. Several of them sped past while others surrounded the bus. They started blocking traffic. The noise roused the old man from his sleep. He looked around at the windows. “Hmm, sirens. Sounds like someone’s in trouble.”
In the center of the downtown, high up in an office building, Danielda’s mother was working on a fashion catalogue for a clothing website. She heard a terrible ruckus of sirens on the street below. Their wailing sounds echoed off the tall, glass buildings causing a lot of people to run to the windows to see the commotion. She walked over and looked too, but all she could see was cars driving and lights flashing as they drove by Why was everything getting so crazy, she wondered.
She thought of Danielda, grateful that her little girl was safely at school, miles away from the trouble in the city. Hopefully things will be different for her when she grows up. She returned to her desk and her work, forgetting about the noise and the troubles of the world.
The police car pulled up beside the bus again. This time the officer had taken off his hat, and held on tighter to the car. He called out: “Little girl, what are you doing driving a bus?”
“I don’t know, sir,” yelled Danielda, as loudly and politely as possible. “It just happened.”
“Can you stop it?” he called back.
“I don’t know how.”
Officer Smiley saw the anxious look on Danielda’s face and an old man through the window. He was slumped over in the seat by the door as well.
“What’s your name, Miss?”
“Daniel-Da?” he leaned in to hear better.
“Yes, sir. That’s my name.”
“Okay, Danielda, don’t panic, you’re doing fine. Just keep driving down the middle of the lane and we’ll figure this out.”
“Okay.” She breathed easier. It felt better knowing that the police were there, even though she was sure she was never going to be able to live this down when it was over.
“She says it just happened,” said Smiley back in the car.
“How the heck did she just happen to be driving a bus?” demanded Haggerty, trying to look at the road and at Smiley.
“I don’t know, maybe the brakes failed,” Smiley shrugged, “There’s an old man in there with her, looks pretty scared too. We gotta stop this thing before someone gets hurt.”
“The road straight ahead goes uphill. That should slow her down, might even stop her,” Haggerty nodded to the road.
“I hope so,” said Smiley.
“Why can’t I just stop the bus,” Danielda asked herself. She’d watched her mother driving; it wasn’t that hard. Just push the brake and the whole problem comes to a stop. She looked down at the pedals on the floor. The seat was very far back and she couldn’t reach them from where she was. If she stepped down she wouldn’t be able to see the road.
She had to try. Maybe if she did it quickly. Danielda held on to the wheel and slowly slipped down toward the floor until she could feel her toe on the pedal. Holding her breath, she pushed down on it and the bus engine roared to life. Of the two pedals to choose from, she picked the wrong one. Now the bus was really moving. She pushed back onto her seat and stared at the road.
The old man grabbed the rail, “What was that?” he gasped.
From their cruiser, the two policemen watched the bus, waiting for it to slow down on the upward slope, only to see it accelerate with a roar and climb over the hill. The officers looked at each other in shock.
“She isn’t stopping, what is she doing?” said Smiley. “I thought you said she didn’t know how to drive that thing,” said Haggerty.
They were rolling out of the downtown area and into the older part of the city, where there were houses and schools.
They had to stop that bus.
CHAPTER THIRTEEN | STUCK IN TRAFFIC
At Danielda’s school, the teacher’s note finally made it to the principal’s office. Mr. Barkus took pride in being thorough with his students’ attendance records. If a child were absent, he would not be satisfied with writing a note. No, some parents too easily ignore notes and irresponsible children have been known to “lose” them on the way home. Any report of child absenteeism that crossed his spotlessly clean and orderly desk was dealt with immediately. Once the note about Danielda’s absence arrived, the principal pulled up her file on his computer.
“Oh, I see,” he grumbled, “Danielda MacDonald. That little troublemaker,” he remembered clearly his last discussion with her about attacking a lunchroom volunteer with a juice box. That was just one of a long list of reports on that girl. He thought she was headed for trouble and here it was. He didn’t care that Danielda had never missed a day of school before or that her marks were excellent. He believed she was a troublesome child who was determined to become one of society’s problems. He wouldn’t be at all surprised if she were sitting at home right that moment eating a bag of Doritos and “tweeting” on the Internet, like kids do these days. Well, her behavior was not his fault but it was his responsibility to fix it. He picked up the phone.
In her office, Danielda’s mother was sketching a picture of a mother and daughter shopping for clothes in a store, part of an advertising campaign for the client’s new clothing line. The mother and daughter held hands, as the little girl pointed at something and smiled. She looked at the picture and her thoughts wondered.
“If only life was like that.”
Her desk phone rang. She thought about ignoring it, let it go to voice mail. It rang two more times and she gave up and reached for the receiver.
“Could I speak with Mrs. MacDonald please?”
This wasn’t a voice she knew and he didn’t sound friendly.
“Yes, this is Deanna MacDonald. Can I help you?”
“Perhaps, Mrs. MacDonald. This is Mr. Barkus at Blanche White Elementary School. Could you please explain why your daughter, uh,” he paused for effect, “Danielda, isn’t at school today?”
“Danielda? Of course she’s at school. I put her on the bus myself.”
“I assure you she is not, we took attendance and—”
“What are saying? Why isn’t she there?” her voice rose as she stood.
“That’s what I was asking you,” he sputtered.
“Well, where is she then? My God, why didn’t you call sooner?”
“I’m sure I don’t know,” the principal stuttered.
“Are you certain she isn’t there somewhere? You didn’t just miss her?” she was hyperventilating.
In his tidy office, Mr. Barkus sat upright in his chair. He was shaken, he was offended. He didn’t like the accusation that he could be mistaken. He ran the school, he asked the questions.
“Mrs. MacDonald, I called you to inform you that your daughter didn’t show up at school. I have no idea where she is. Good lord, what is that?”
He put down the phone to look at the source of the noise coming from outside. The school was on a major street and they were used to traffic noises, but nothing like the hullabaloo that was now rolling past the front of the school.
All the kids who were out for recess ran to the front fence to see the commotion. As they watched, a hundred police cars rolled by with sirens screaming and lights flashing. Then a bus drive by, slow enough that they could see who was driving.
“Hey, that’s Danielda!” shouted a boy at the fence. One by one the students joined in and soon everyone was calling, “Danielda’s driving the bus.” A field full of happy faces waved and cheered as Danielda drove by. She saw them, and couldn’t help but give them a quick wave as she drove past. She kept her eyes on the road but she hoped that Brittany and her evil friends were there watching.
The principal watched the parade roll by through the window in his office and shook his head. A bus rolled slowly past the school surrounded by police cars, TV news trucks and a slew of regular cars following them.
“What lawless nonsense,” said the principal. Then he remembered he was talking on the phone. He scampered back to his desk and picked it up—but no one was there. He was shocked, “She hung up.”
CHAPTER FOURTEEN | THIS HAS TO STOP
The happy image of the mother and child buying clothes had been pushed aside, along with any thought of deadlines and clients. Danielda was missing and her mother was on the phone to police.
“She’s ten. She has brown hair and she was wearing a blue jacket. I put her on the bus at seven o’clock this morning. I don’t understand what could have happened.”
“Okay Ma’am, we will get right on it as soon as we can,” said the police officer. “But could you please check around to see if anyone else may have seen her?”
Danielda’s mother was frantic, “She should be in school. She could be anywhere! Are you going to look for her?”
“Ma’am, we’ll find your daughter. Right now, dealing with a major situation. What is your daughter’s name?”
“Her name is Danielda MacDonald, she’s—”
“Did you say Daniel-Da?” the man interrupted, exaggerating the pronunciation, “You said you put her on the bus, do you know what route number?”
“Number One Twenty, why?”
He paused, then said, “Just a minute please.” The man spoke to someone else, putting his hand over the phone so all she could hear was muffled voices. The man came back with a completely different tone in his voice, one that she had heard many times before.
“Ma’am you’d better come to the station. We have a situation involving your daughter. What’s your location? We’ll pick you up.”
She slumped into the chair and put her head in her one free hand. She was shaking as she fought back tears, “What’s wrong, what’s happened?”
“Ma’am, we can’t begin to explain this on the phone. We’ll be right there.”
She hung up, grabbed her coat and ran out of the office with a quick “I have to go,” to the receptionist as she pushed through the glass doors.
On the bus, Danielda was imagining what people would say about her after this was over. She had no idea what was going to happen once she got off this bus but it would certainly be bad for her. The Police, her school, her mother, the bus driver. She managed to make everyone angry this time. The more she tried not to think of it, the worse it got.
“Danielda finally goes too far and lands in jail,” the newspapers would say with a picture of her being carted off in handcuffs. She could hear Brittany and a chorus of kids and teachers at school as they laughed and pointed. Mr. Barkus, the principal, would be the judge and Mrs. Grouch and Mrs. Hart would be the jury shaking their fists and screaming that they should lock her up forever.
“So, now you’re stealing buses?” Mr. Barkus would say, looking over his desk in his white wig and with his double chin as his white and grey moustache twitched under his nose, “I told you, you were nothing but trouble. It’s jail for you.” He was pointing at her while the voices cheered.
“Go to jail. Go to jail.” They sounded really happy. A shiver ran down Danielda’s back. She held the wheel tighter as she thought out her defense. This happened because the driver left the door open. He should have never left the bus running like that. If she hadn’t taken the wheel they would have crashed and hurt someone. No, this was not my fault, she thought. She was the one fixing the problem.
“That’s right,” she said out loud, “It’s not my fault. They can’t blame this on me.”
Her nerves were twitching as she remembered all the times she’d been blamed for things she hadn’t done. All the times she had tried to defend herself and no one would listen. Her stomach burned and she gripped the wheel tighter.
She thought about her principal and the teachers and the bus driver. They found it so easy to assume that whatever happened had been her fault. Everyone makes mistakes, and everyone has accidents. It wasn’t right to always blame her. None of those things that happened were her fault.
Then there was silence. The hum of the bus motor and the chorus of sirens was all she could hear. The old man was sitting with his eyes closed, probably sleeping again. The quiet made her nervous, like she was expecting something to happen.
“Not my fault,” she said again to the silence, shaking her head.
“Then how do these things happen, Danielda?” Her mother’s voice came to her as clear as if she were standing right there on the bus. Danielda remembered her mother’s expression as she held pieces of the broken china plate that been knocked off the counter and shattered. That was a few months ago. It was old, it belonged to her great grandmother and her mother was angry, or sad but she wasn’t yelling. She just looked very disappointed.
“It’s not enough to say it’s not your fault or it was an accident, Danielda. You need to realize that you caused things to happen, even if you don’t mean to. But you have to take responsibility. You have to say you’re sorry and sometimes you need to do more than that to fix it.”
Danielda thought about what her mother said, and a new feeling of determination came over her. Her mother had been talking about the dish but now, as Danielda sat in the driver’s seat holding the steering wheel, she knew it meant something much bigger.
“This is my fault,” she said out loud, “Things happened because of me. I caused this and I am going to fix it. I am going to stop this bus if it’s the last thing I do.” Danielda declared.
The old man cleared his throat and said, “Okay then.”
She looked ahead and got an idea. “Sir, you were a bus driver, right. I mean a really good one.”
The old man sniffed, “Yer darn right I was. The best of the bunch.”
“Did you ever drive across a dirt field? A big muddy one?” she said as loud as she could.
“Don’t be silly. You can’t drive a heavy bus through the mud,” said the old man, ” I would never do that.”
“You’d never do that because you might get stuck and the bus would stop moving, right?”
“Well of course,” he said, he said dismissively.
“Thank you,” she said.
The police escort had been surrounding this bus for only fifteen minutes but it felt like hours. Officers Smiley and Haggerty were still driving next to the bus, arguing about how to stop it.
“We need to get inside the bus,” said Smiley.
“We can’t do that, there’s no time. We have to find some way of turning her around,” said Haggerty. “She’s about to drive into the park and that will be dangerous.” Then he pointed. “Look, she’s trying to say something.”
Danielda was waving her hand out the window and calling to them. Then she pointed ahead to the left.
“What’s over there?” asked Smiley. He looked and saw a large, fenced dirt field with a bunch of construction equipment inside.
“There’s nothing there,” said Haggerty. Then he smiled and nodded, “That’s it, there’s nothing there. It’s under construction. It just—”
“Nothing but mud.” Smiley interrupted, “What is she planning to do? Oh, no.”
“Smart girl,” said Haggerty as he slowed down and let the bus get ahead. He picked up the radio and called to the other cars.
Inside the bus, Danielda took a deep breath and held the wheel firmly, fixing her eyes on the large muddy field ahead. She knew how she was going to fix the problem. She made sure that the road was clear and there was nothing in the way.
“Excuse me, sir.” She said, being both loud and polite as she could.
The old man woke up. “Hmm?”
“Sir, you need to hold on please. I’m going to turn into that field.”
“What, oh my.” The old man grabbed the handrail with both hands.
She counted out loud slowly, “One. . . Two. . . Three,” then she turned the wheel as fast as she could.
The police had stopped well back of the corner to keep the road clear.
As they watched, the bus passed them and rolled half a block further before it turned. The big bus leaned as it pulled a sharp left. It crossed the road, bounced up and over the sidewalk, through the fence and into the open field. The bus kept moving through the dirt but it was slowing.
At the police station, Danielda’s mother was beside herself, waving her arms and almost screaming at the policemen.
“She’s ten years old, how can she be driving a bus?” A policeman brought her a chair in case she fainted.
“We don’t know how it happened. We think the brakes might have failed on the bus and she took the wheel,” A nervous police sergeant was searching for something to say, “We’re taking care of it. She’ll be fine, don’t worry,” he insisted.
“She’ll be fine? Where’s the driver?” Danielda’s mother was not going to be satisfied with “don’t worry.” She had spent a lifetime worrying about Danielda. She believed her daughter was accident prone—but never in her wildest imagination would she have pictured Danielda driving a bus through the city.
“The driver was on a break when it happened. We’re getting the details now,” the Sergeant said.
Danielda’s mother sank into the chair and wiped her eyes, “It just gets harder being a parent. How can anyone handle this?”
The phone rang and the sergeant answered, listened for a moment and smiled. “Good news, Ma’am.”
Danielda held the wheel tight as it struggled to pull free. The bus rolled for another few seconds, over bumps and into the wet, soft mud. The wheels sank until the big machine came to rest with the thick dirt up to its doors. The noise, the sirens, everything had stopped. The silence took a few moments to settle into Danielda’s ears. She sat, shaking in the seat, hands still gripping tight on to the wheel. Breathing hard, she slowly looked around. The bus appeared normal, nothing was broken. The old man still sat, holding on to the bar, unhurt.
“I did it!” she cried, “I stopped it and nothing got broken. I can do something right!”
TUNE IN NEXT SATURDAY FOR THE FINALE OF “DANGEROUS DANIELDA” BY JIM SELLERS!