Magnanimous Proceedings from a Deadly Sport

The steepest descent of the mountainside roared beneath Jancie's six tires. The sharpest turn of the mountainside grinned, immediate, rushing toward him like rabies with a knife. Jancie, white-knuckled, glanced over the steering wheel of his great orange school bus. He edged the other two busses in his heat by a nose. But to no end. Even so advantaged Jancie would lose this race. He glimpsed the kids atop the other two school busses. At The Whip the busses would fling those children from their rooftops. At The Whip the busses would throw those kids over the cliff side, or to the roadway, and to their deaths. The school busses roared toward the maniacal grin of the hairpin turn. The roaring of this stretch always enlarged Jancie's sternum. This roaring always heavied the base of his skull. Overfilled, Jancie became at these weightless terrible minutes. Resonant, he became, omnipotent, the whole of his being congealing. But then Jancie heard the school kids atop his own bus. They stomped and hollered at the coming thrill of The Whip. Jancie grimaced.

His little monkeys...

Only here, taking The Whip, might Jancie jettison a child. Always they withstood the other turns. So only here, taking The Whip, did Jancie lose the race. Everyday he led before the turn. And everyday he lost the lead at it. The other drivers did not care about the fate of their grade-schoolers. Only Jancie cared. This disadvantage was mortal for him. Everyday he lost the race because of it.

His little monkeys...

A tow-headed fourth grader dropped to Jancie's hood, gripped his side mirror and swung through the folded door. Another blond kid dangled from the roof rack, locked his knees through an open window and squirmed in. A third-grade girl scaled the rear ladder, shimmied through the emergency door and raced down the aisle. And another kid, and another kid, and another. They toppled and skid. They balanced and bounced. They slung and twisted through windows and doorways. All at once, they came. Like two dozen little monkeys, they came. Each an immeasurable daring. Each unflinchingly sure, moving swiftly, quitting rooftop for aisle, shrugging off demise. These children were part and parcel of Jancie's school bus. Scores of races had made them so. Every nuance of its behavior the kids understood. Wind shear or pothole. Side swipe or swerve. All these would try the children. But agility and limberness and practice always preserved. Not one had ever been pitched from Jancie's rooftop. Not one. Not ever. The daily trial had hardened the school kids. They were as callous and as synchronized as a crew of cutthroats.

His little monkeys...

"Take it, Jancie," a bullish sixth grader cackled to him, leaning now on his shoulder. "We're gonna take it this time," he swaggered. "We got it figured."

The boy slapped Jancie's back with his small hand. He turned to his cohorts.

"Let's romp 'em!" he cried, raising a balled fist. The peal of soprano voices rang over the scream of bus tires. But the cheer disintegrated instantly. The kids scattered then, each to some assigned place, each toward some predetermined role.

And...What is this? Jancie wondered.

This positioning was new.

Jancie wondered if they might be right this time. His grade-schoolers were far more seasoned than any others. By default, they were. By simply still living. Daily they raced with Jancie. For months now. And daily he watched them widen their comprehension of the course, adapt quickly to its changeful moods, acquire greater latitude in technique and boldness in execution. Other drivers had sown dozens of batches of children in that span, each morning tossing off each naive new class. But even keeping to the race's rule that the school kids stay atop the bus through every curve, Jancie still rode with his original draw of two dozen.

And this new positioning?

He heard them over their whisky and cigars last night cussing their perennial defeats. The kids had debated today's run. They had argued some novel approach. The rooting must come from that, Jancie concluded. This new positioning must come from that, Jancie concluded.

But all this just fleet impression now. Their roaring downflight raging toward a climax now.

"We're goin' to romp 'em this time!" the bullish sixth grader proclaimed with heat. He spoke these words almost as underbreath, but their vengeful charge sang through the others, electrifying them.

Stillness then. And study. The fidgeting of the children ceased, and their riley chatter. Each pressed at his window now, anxious. Each gauged the moment now, judging. The Whip lie dead ahead. The three busses soared cliffward, abreast, crowded onto two narrow lanes of roadway. The three busses howlingly jostled, butted. The three busses clamoringly flew, abreast.

"Look at those little idiots," a fourth grader suddenly spat. His face was already slapped by sidedraft.

The kids atop the other two busses had just seen that the road disappeared at The Whip. The turn there was so sharp that only in the final seconds did its existence become apparent. Until then the busses sped headlong, it seemed, intent on breaching guard rail, intent on careening over cliff. The kids atop the other two busses were screaming.

"Yeah! They're scared! Ha!" the sixth grader gloated. "We got it Jancie. Just do your stuff. We figured it last night. We know how to work it. It's because you saved us so many times that we could see how to work it."

The careering orange school bus felt weightless to them all. It was just turbine yowl, just tire shriek. It was just the raping of wind by twelve thousand pounds of unchecked steel flying downward.

Twenty seconds from The Whip.

Jancie's bus emptied.

The little monkeys grappled through the windows and hopped from the doorways. They sprang from the hood and clambered to the roof rack. Window by window, they fled. Front door and rear, they escaped. Emergency ladder, they climbed, and side mirrors; in unison acting, flexing themselves upward. Quicker. Quickly. With the last seconds ticking off before The Whip, the school children hurried to top Jancie's bus and forestall its disqualification. Jancie heard them shouting now over the windroar. Profanities, they shouted. They were taunting the opposing bus kids.

And a mangled guardrail rushed at them.

The feeling of weightlessness heightened.

Jancie broke right, attacked.

A great crashing. A bellow of metals.


Six or so kids glanced off the guardrail, over the cliff.

Two more kids body-blowed Jancie's windshield, bouncing into the gorge.

Yelling above him now. Tires shrieking.

And the other busses led, one listing heavily.

The listing bus tipped onto two wheels, catching Jancie's flank.

The listing bus dumped its remaining children. Five slammed Jancie's grill, rolled under his keel. Three more passed under his starboard tires, bumping. Jancie barely retained control.

Then the bus on two wheels fell back to six.

Jancie heard a whooping, a whooping over the squealing rubber, over the grinding chassis. He opened the throttle--completely. Jancie rode close, but behind.

But the whooping.

Jancie looked up.

And the shock of what he saw took his breath away.

His little monkeys!

Jancie's grade-schoolers swarmed the second bus's rooftop. Over it they crawled, dozens of sure sneakers picking sharply through the luggage rack. They jumped busses when it listed, Jancie realized. He raced bug-eyed now, aghast at their daring. Jancie shifted gears and glanced again. They were hurdling onto the second bus's hood, diving for its mirrors. They were spinning and twirling through its windows, penetrating its doorways. The second bus yawed unexpectedly then. Jancie accelerated. Was this their plan? The second bus side-scraped the third bus then; then ran just beside the third bus. "What?!" Jancie cried. In a heartbeat the remaining kids atop the second bus had leapt to the third bus. A baby-fatted girl slid a distance along the roof. A lanky boy dangled, swinging by one hand from a window stile. But both righted themselves. None were lost. A moment later the children stood atop that third bus. In formation, they stood, gesturing violently. Then, like the kids of the second bus, those of the third flowed over the bus's edges, stormed its apertures.

The third bus swayed then.

It bucked.

Something was wrong.

Or was it?

A grown man bounced on the asphalt. He rolled beneath the second bus, tumbling under its keel.

Jancie braked.

Jancie roared by a crippled form.

The second bus swerved into the guardrail. The third bus swerved into the second bus. Jancie scudded outside them. He rode up even with the entangled vehicles. He looked. No! Impossible! Ha! His little monkeys! His little monkeys were piloting the other two busses! Jancie honked his horn uncontrollably. Look at that kid standing in the driver's seat! Watch him shouting orders! But the kids of the second bus were already leaping to the third bus's rooftop. And immediately Jancie understood their design. Jancie side-swiped the third bus. He rode there. He felt the thumping of his grade-schoolers' weight. They were jumping back to his roof.

A last sweeping curve now and the straightaway to the finish. Jancie heard the rhythmic victory drumming of children's sneakers atop his roof. He leaned into the turn, checking his mirrors. The second and third busses ran behind. Still they hung to each other. Jancie watched the two busses ram the last curve's guardrail. Jancie saw the guardrail buckle. The two busses skid, spasmodically, then swept over the escarpment.



Incendiary boom.

And the straightaway. And Jancie's little monkeys swinging back into his bus.

They flailed through the windows. They flung down the ladders. They rushed like waterfalls of flesh and bone--over mirrors, through folded doorway, all elbows, high-stepping, breathless. The children shot up the aisle, cackling. The grade-schoolers converged on Jancie, ecstatic. They mobbed him with cheers and guffaws.

"Did you see that, Jancie?!" the bullish sixth grader yelped, panting. The children fought to surround him, wild-eyed. They hovered over Jancie, sweating. They trembled still in the backwash of their raids. One kid cradled a broken arm.

"Did you see that?! You're never going to lose again, Jancie! We got it figured now! None of those other squirts have got a chance against us now! They get killed off too early! They never get no chance to figure it! Goddamn! Did you see that!? Did you see that?!"

The great orange school bus roared across the finish line, victorious.

Reports of Jancie's triumph changed downhill school bus racing worldwide, and forever. The strategy of the sport changed forever. The tactics of the sport changed forever.

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John Dishwasher

Magnanimous Proceedings from a Deadly Sport