As the bus pulled up to the corner Mike could not help but glance over to the muddy culvert where on weekends he rode his bike through the watery ditch imitating the way in which his father and his father's friends would drive their 4 wheel drives through swampy mud-holes in the Trinity river bottoms.
Mike was fortunate enough to go on a few of the mud runs including the night that his dad's best friend Steve finally cleared the entire run under his truck's own power. This marvelous feat of machine versus nature thrilled Mike and instilled in him a sense that all obstacles could be crossed with proper tools and a will to win.
Mike's will to win was unmistakable yet his tools were imperfect and underdeveloped. At 5'6", 10 years of age, and well under 100 pounds Mike stood as a lanky, chatty, overly curious, interruption to life for most of the adults and kids around him.
Mike boarded the bus this cold morning and was happy as always to see that there were many empty seats at this point of the bus route, allowing him precious moments to continue the post-game interviews of the escape fantasies that fueled his active imagination during rare times of solitude.
Of course, the bus would begin making its way through the back part of Bristol towards the larger families and depending on how many of them were sick or working hogs each day there could have been 3-6 kids per family. Mike really hated the Maitre family. Most people laughingly referred to them as the "To-Maters". Mike never understood why they always wore the same clothes and 2 of them had these very obvious brown stains on their teeth one of the stains resembling a piece from one of the jigsaw puzzles Mike's grandmother enjoyed assembling.
After 4-5 Maitres boarded on this morning their cousins the Bretons were next to embark. Mike hated the Bretons even more than the Maitres and especially the middle brother, Jay. Jay was 13, stocky, in Junior High, blonde, stocky, bullish, kind of scrunched up in the face, and clearly without much intelligence. Mike knew if he had a seat to himself that Jay may choose to occupy the bench with Mike for the sole pleasure of extorting lunch money or any other gadget that might suit Jay's savage whimsy.
At 10 Mike could not yet conceive that the world was a cold and unforgiving place. Mike adored cartoons and especially the ones where a sense of honor and justice prevailed over the licentious joy in the indignity of others. Because his belief that cartoons fairly mimicked life Mike was optimistic that the frequent torture he faced on Bus 8 could not last.
On this particular day Jay Breton sat behind Mike about midway to the back of the bus. Mike pretended not to see Jay as he slowly edged his way down the aisle glaring at anyone who dared make eye contact with him. After Jay plopped hard into his own seat and immediately kicked the back of Mikes, Mike began busying himself playing with his Flintstone glow-in-the dark wristwatch style secret compartment he had dug from the bottom of a box of Fruity Pebbles. Immediately after the bus got underway Jay leaned up over the seat and asked: "what is that"?
Mike: (hesitantly while trying to cover his wrist with his coat) Its's just a toy from a cereal box.
Jay: ahahhahaha, still plays with toys. why don't you give it to me and I will hold it for you?
Mike: No, my mother told me not to bring it to school and if I lose it she will kill me
Jay: Give it to me!
Mike: No (starting to tear up) my Mother told me...my mother...
Jay: Your mother is not here cry-baby now give me it (Jay reached over the seat and grabbed Mike by the arm ripping at the iridescent green band)
Mike: (screaming) Let it go damn it! Ms Breton!! (the bus driver was indeed Jay's mother) Jay is trying to take my Flintstone watch! (not a watch, but Mike really wanted it to be)
Ms Breton: Jay leave him alone and sit back down before I pull this bus over beat your behind in front of the whole bus!
(the entire bus explodes in laughter)
Jay ripped at the Flintstone case as he let go of Mike's arm, the loosely fitting lid flew open and coins rained down the grooved walkway of the bus. Kids dove into the aisle and wrestled for the change, Mike was able to salvage a solitary nickel and placed it back in the Flintstone case as he huffed a few final breaths of teary air and wiped his sloppy-wet face with his coat-sleeve.
Mike had defied his mother and placed money for a school field trip in the case on his way out of the house that morning. The back of the cereal box had clearly shown that the glow-in-the-dark "secret" compartment would protect secrets and valuables for the user and Mike had dreamed of this morning since convincing his mother to buy the rainbow-colored cereal the afternoon before at Piggly-Wiggly.
Mike never conceived his compartment could be faulty even as he saw it would not completely snap closed when filled with the change his mother had given him that morning. Mike could only admire the easy fitting strap, the embossed picture of Fred Flintstone on the cover, the very faint glow when he turned out the bathroom light to check his prize, and of course the strange word on the back of this and most of his other toys: "Taiwan" This must be the greatest place in the world Mike thought as he squinted to see the very fine print in the waning glow of the convex back of Fred Flintstone's face.
When Mike got to school that day Ms Rivers asked each student for their money to today's play, Hansel and Gretel performed by a traveling play group out of Lubbock. Mike loved nothing more than the times when the elementary went to plays. When the lights dimmed and the music began to overpower the hum of the giant air conditioning system in the cavernous auditorium Mike was able to leave Bristol, Bus 8, and his reality far behind him.
On this day there would be no play for Mike. Jay Breton had robbed him of his joy and Ms Rivers maintained a very strict no credit rule for her students. She would always say to the class, "missed lunches and missed events will teach you all a very valuable lesson at managing money".
Mike thought to himself as the other students lined up to meet the buses bound for the auditorium "I wish Jay was dead! I wish him and his stupid mom would crash Bus 8 down Sugar Ridge and the coyotes would eat their faces off. I hate them, I hate them, I hate them!"
When Mike told his mother that evening she said I told you not to put your money in that plastic piece of shit. Do you think money grows on trees? Why I even gave you money for a stupid play I will never understand. Why didn't you hit that little bastard when he tried to take the money?
Mike said, he's 3 years older than me and he will hurt me.
Well, I will have a talk with his mother and see what that bitch has to say for herself. She drives the fucking goddamn bus and she let's her child steal from mine. I'll kick her fucking ass myself so help me God!
Two weeks later Mike, his mother, Jay Breton, and his mom, the bus driver, were sitting in the office of the JP when
...to be continued