The Tabernacle of Eternal Peace Junior Choir was traveling through the city that day in a long yellow bus to a regional qualifying tournament when another bus, not dissimilar in size, but gray and marked with white stenciling reading JUVENILE CORRECTIONS DEPARTMENT, hove to alongside. Delinquents, Mrs. Winstone said. Give them berth.
Dutifully Mr. Winstone steered left. Just then the sliding windows of the gray bus lowered, and the delinquents, with frowns and yellow eyes, fired several volleys of grapeshot that peppered the length of the choir bus.
Beat to quarters! Mrs. Winstone cried. She stowed her songbook and produced a rusty cutlass from beneath her seat. Rath Gordon opened his backpack and drew out a brace of pistols which he strapped about his narrow chest. Creed McGrew tied his hair up with a ribbon given to him by Sophie Smith. Beef Cooper, big for his age, sucked his teeth, secured a swivel gun pointing starboard to its base and made it ready. Little Tommy Ferdinand beat time on his tiny drum.
Mind the fuses, Harvey Owen said as he passed the grenados Amelia Currier was assembling to the front.
From the grim mute belligerents grappling hooks came bursting forth through the door and windows. All hands stand by to repel boarders! Mrs. Winstone called. Mr. Winstone scowled, tightened his grip on the steering wheel. From his many pockets he had taken caltrops and tossed them over his shoulder so that they littered the floor and shone dully in the light. The windows fogged under Beef’s breath. They could all smell his anticipation.
A surly degenerate began to pull himself along the rope. Rath shot the boy through the eye, and his body fell limp and was crushed by the wheels of his own bus. Little Tommy Ferdinand took a ball through his arm and fell against Beef as he lit off the swivel gun. The shot went wide. As the buses closed with one another Mrs. Winstone thrust her cutlass through the window. She whooped and her mascara ran.
Hold fast, Mr. Winstone yelled as the buses collided. Harvey Owen was thrown forward and partially out of the mangled door. Beef Cooper caught his foot and dragged him back inside.
Amelia died painting flowers on the sides of her grenades. There was no time to mourn her. Between the seats Creed McGrew and Sophie Smith copulated in the manner of those whose bodies sparked with the proximity of death, until Mrs. Winstone slapped at them with the flat of her cutlass and urged them back to their stations. Sophie Smith was soon afflicted with a wonderfully barbarous head wound.
Harvey Owen was the next to perish. His blood gave peril to motion as the bus pitched and rocked. Another salvo took out the Tabernacle’s front passenger tire and spidered the windshield. Mr. Winstone screamed a woman’s name. It sounded like the keening of love.
Once beyond the city limits the gray bus fell back as quickly and surreptitiously as it had appeared. Those left among the choir settled into the dull routine that occupies the space between battles. Weapons were stowed. The dead and dying were placed in the rear under blankets and the wounded and the well resumed their seats. Now wheeling through humid day, listing heavily and trailing smoke, slick with blood and the waters of the body, this vessel and those aboard, intrepid hearts all, sailed on.
Christopher Allen is a native of Texas. He recently completed his MFA from the University of Mississippi.