HER NAME WAS JOY, though most of her adult life people had called her Daisy on account of the flower tattoo she had on her wrist.

She wasn’t too fond of the nickname, and so for the purposes of fostering positive vibes, she will be known henceforth in this tale by her given name.

Joy was a bus driver for an elementary school. Though to tell the truth, the act of driving chills her to the bone. She’d always been afraid of the responsibility of trying to control such power.

Her fear wasn’t baseless. When she’d been just fourteen, she’d been riding home in the family station wagon with her father. They’d driven into town to get milk and eggs, and as they had arrived home, her father had stopped at the bottom of their driveway.

To understand what happened next, you must first understand how long this driveway was. Which it was. Long, that is. Really long.

Joy and her family lived out in the country. They were fabulously wealthy due to her mother inventing a certain kind of flange that helped make teleportation possible. Their home had been built on the top of a hill and the driveway that led to it was like another road. In fact, they’d had to build a gate with an elegant looking sign at the bottom of the drive stating that what lay beyond the gate was a private driveway so that people wouldn’t mistake it for a county road and drive on up it, which had happened on more than one occasion.

So yes, as you can see, the driveway was pretty long.

“You want to park it?” He’d asked, nodding to the steering wheel.

“What?” She’d responded. “The car?”

“Heck yeah,” her father said. “You start Driver’s Ed next summer and you shouldn’t go into it with no experience at all.”

So they had switched places.

“Keep your foot on the brake,” he said. “And move the lever from P to D. P is Park, D is Drive.”

She did as he said and as the indicator slid from P to D she felt the car change all around her. It wanted to move forward, needed to move forward, it strained to let go. All that stopped the car from fulfilling its destiny was her little foot.

“Okay,” her father said. “Hands at ten and two on the steering wheel.”

“Ten and two?”

“If the steering wheel was a clock, put your right hand where the two would be, and your left hand where the ten would be.”

She did so, the car still yearning to be set free.

“Now,” her father said. “Ease up off the brake and let the car idle forward.”

She exhaled, let her foot off the brake, and though the car eased forward at a brisk two miles an hour, for Joy it was as if they were off like a shot. Her head rocked back into the head rest and she screamed, slamming her foot back down on the brake, halting the car’s forward momentum instantly, which then caused her body to fly forward against the seatbelt. She’d never been so scared.

Her father, on the other hand, laughed in the seat next to her.

Joy loved her father. He had always been a rock of support in her life. Why was he being so mean now? Tears formed in her eyes.

“Oh, hey now,” her father said, the laughter still present in his voice. “Don’t cry.”

“Don’t laugh,” she said, swiping at her eyes. “That was really scary.”

“Okay,” he said. “I won’t laugh.” He laughed again.

Joy glared at him.

“Alright,” he said. “This time I mean it. Serious time.”

Her dad did his best to put on his serious face, the act of which had her laughing after a few moments of watching his facial muscles struggle. Her dad always knew how to make her feel better about things.

“Okay,” he said, finally getting his face under control. “Let’s try that again.”

It went better the second time. Again, they eased forward at a brisk two miles per hour, but this time Joy had been prepared. After a few feet Joy realized that it wasn’t that bad and quickly got used to keeping the station wagon going in a straight line.

“Good,” her father said. “You’re getting the hang of it.”

She smiled, but was unwilling to take her eyes off the road.

“Now give it a little gas,” he said.

She put her foot on the gas pedal and the car shot to ten miles per hour. Then twenty. She screamed.

“Brake,” her father said.

She couldn’t move. The car hit thirty miles per hour and they were nearing the top of the driveway. Soon there would be nowhere to go but through the garage.

“Brake,” her father repeated with a little more force.

Joy wanted nothing more at that point then to take her foot off the gas and apply some pressure to the brakes, but her foot wasn’t listening to her.

“Brake!” Her father shouted as he slid across the bench seat and stomped on the brake pedal.

His shout had ripped her out of her frozen funk and her foot fell off of the gas. They came to a sudden and abrupt stop just inches before the station wagon could plow through the back wall of the garage.

Unfortunately, the car had already ripped through the closed garage door.

From that moment on, Joy had carried around a great fear of automobiles. Her mother, however, had always taught her to stand up and face her fears head on, not run away from them. And Joy had done just that the day she had accepted a job driving a school bus for Schuyler Colfax Elementary. Which is how Joy enters our story.

Three days ago, on the day of her tenth anniversary with Schuyler Colfax Elementary, her bus, trusty Bus Number Seventeen, stalled and died as she was crossing a set of railroad tracks. The bus had been full of children at the time, and while they were quite young, they were all keenly aware of the dangers that went hand in hand with loitering on a set of train tracks.

Regardless, most everyone remained calm. After all, it wasn’t like there was a train speeding toward them.

That is, not until there was. But not quite yet. So far the mood on the bus had been somewhat serene.

Joy had begun to formulate a plan. First, of course, get the kids off of the bus. Next, get them a safe distance away that also keeps them out of traffic. Luckily the small highway they had been traveling cut through nothing but farmland, so other than the pockmarked blacktop, there was nothing about them but fields waiting for planting. So she had a place to take the kids while they waited for a tow truck. No need to panic.

Then the alarm sounded. The clanging bell that warned of an oncoming train. And sure enough, coming at them from the east, said train.

The children panicked. Can you blame them?

Joy managed to get the kids under control and shuffled them off of the bus in a quick and organized manner. She directed them to the nearest field, walking with them part of the way to ensure they knew where to go.

The sound of the train grew louder, like a tornado coming down on her, as she ran back to the bus for a final check. That’s when she found him. She’d managed to get every student to safety but one. Oscar Price.

Oscar, at nine years old, had autism, and he sat in one of rear benches, staring out the window at the oncoming train. Oscar was high functioning, and while last year he had always been accompanied on the bus by a paraprofessional educator, or para, the school and his parents had decided that he didn’t need one with him this year. Joy had agreed. Oscar was a good kid. But the sight of that rain had triggered something in him. Something that kept him glued to the seat.

She didn’t shout his name, didn’t try to get his attention. She didn’t have time for any of that. The train was right on top of them. Instead Joy sprinted to the back of the bus and snatched young Oscar up. The emergency door was right there in the rear of the bus and so she threw it open. The bus vibrated all around her as the train drew closer, the noise nearly driving her to her knees. She’d run out of time. She had no options left. So, with all the strength she had inside her, she tossed Oscar from the open door as the train collided with the bus.

She survived. Let’s make that clear. Didn’t want you getting through all that just for Joy to come up dead at the end. That would have been tough.

Oscar made it as well, in case you were curious. Cuts, scrapes, a couple of bruises, but he made it out fine.

Joy, on the other hand, woke up three days later encased in a body cast and sharing a hospital room with a man who dressed as a piñata. Which, as you might guess, was the last thing she’d expected.

He’d been talking to her incessantly since she’d woken up. Something about dying and coming back to life as a soldier for justice. She’d been going in and out for a while there so she can’t be sure what he’d been going on about. But before she could get a handle on things, two men with guns had come into the room, both dressed almost as silly as the man in the piñata suit.

The drugs they had her on kept her fear at bay, but she’d been more than a little impressed when the man who dressed as a piñata had taken the gunmen out single handedly. Then he’d made his escape out the window.

All in all it had been an eventful week for Joy.

She’d been about to drift off to sleep when the room was suddenly full of people holding rifles. They were all dressed in red, military style jumpsuits like the two previous gunmen. All but one. The odd one out was a woman, and Joy would swear she had been dressed in some sort of lobster motif, but again, they had her on a lot of drugs.

“See to them,” said the woman who may or may not have looked at bit like a lobster.

“Yes Lobstress!” Said the others in unison.

Whoever she was, she was obviously in charge as the others jumped to do her bidding.

The woman, Lobstress, strolled over to the window as four of her lackeys carried the two unconscious men from the room. Her hands were clasped behind her back as she gazed out into the sunshine.

She turned to the remaining soldiers once the room had been cleared.

“King Crab will need to know about this,” she said, with what Joy could only describe as a sneer plastered on her face. “Prawn Bob, inform him as once.”

“Yes, Lobstress,” shouted one of the men. He saluted and ran from the room.

“What about this one, Lobstress?” One of the soldiers pointed her rifle at Joy.

“Leave her,” said Lobstress. “She’s going nowhere.”

With that, the woman they called Lobstress left. And, as the others followed her out, two of the soldiers lingered.

“How does she know she’s a her?” One said.

“Pardon?” Said the other.

“Lobstress, she called her a her.” He’d gestured to Joy as he spoke.

“Does it matter?”

“No, I guess not.”

Joy watched as the two left. Once more she was alone. She tried to make sense of everything that had happened in the last fifteen minutes or so but in the end gave over to the pain medication and went to sleep, secure in the knowledge that whatever was going on in the hospital, it didn’t involve her. She could sleep peacefully knowing that her part in this tale, small as it had been, was over.

Or was it?

  • Will Joy be back?
  • Will we see Prawn Bob again at some point later in the story doing something heroic?
  • May I have some pancakes?

Find out the answers to none of these questions in the next exciting installment of: The Mighty Piñata!

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