American Chimera – 23.2

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At the time, I weren’t ’ware that Stacy’d passed out. Her face was bloody as hell, but she was out of the fire and safe enough.

My beloved daughter was still stuck. The bus’s alarms blared, screaming out that the thing was on fire. Despite the loud noise, I could still hear Dani’s screams for help.

I hustled down the hill, crowbar in hand, and made my way down to the bus. Old Man Potter lay unconscious and drunk in the creek, but Stacy’d gotten him clear of the blazing heat. I shielded my face from the lithium fire as I made my way around the bus.

“Dani!” I shouted. “Dani, are you alright!”

“Help!” she screamed. Her legs stuck out the broken back window, waving for help. “Daddy, help me!”

I looked over the back of the bus. The door was right crushed, no way I could open it wide enough for my girl to get out. As much as it pains me to admit, Dani was stronger than me – even at the time – so I handed her the crowbar. “Here, baby – see if you can crack ’er open. I’m gonna get Mama, see if’n we cain’t get the hinges off this door.”

Over the crackling of the fire and bursts of offgas from the broken battery casings, I shouted up the holler, “Janie! Janie, bring your kit!”

“What?” she shouted.

“The Bojangle’s kit! Dani’s stuck!”

Janie grabbed her kit and slid down the embankment. She steadied herself with a hand, and I caught her at the bottom, but she still managed to get a cut from a stob or summat on her leg. She tossed the kit on the ground and looked at the bus. It didn’t take her long to fish out a can from her kit. “Git Dani away from the door.”

“Why?”

“The composite shell is the same stuff that coats the Bojangles’ machines. It’s hard to break, but thermite can burn through it. It’s hotter ’n hell here, and I’m ’fraid the reaction might start afore I get the powder in place.”

While she opened her canister and screwed on a spout, I went back up to the door. “Dani,” I said. “Dani, Mama’s gonna try gettin’ you out with the robot kit. She’s breakin’ out the thermite, so you best back up if’n it’s safe enough.”

She nodded. “It’s hot in here, Daddy.”

I knew it was. The bottom of the bus burned a white hot. Sparks and smoke exploded from the batteries, the wires, and the pipes running down its length.

“Can you do that for Daddy?”

She scurried off, deeper into the bus. I bit my finger when I heard her coughing, ’cause there was nothin’ I could do but suffer and wait.

Janie secured the canister and came over. She poured the two powders down the spout and onto the door. She poured the powder such that it ate through the ceramic and cut the door in half and ate away the bottom hinge. It didn’t take too long, thankfully, ’cause the canister got too hot and the thermite started burning through. Janie’s still got the scars on her hands to show what she did that mornin.’

She screamed from the pain, but managed to eke out, “Dani! Dani, push the door! I cut the top, so you gotta push it open now!”

Dani put the crowbar in the crack between the door and the bus, and she got it to pop off its threshold. She crawled out, just getting her big ol’ bottom out.

I hugged her when she was free. Her clothes had holes in them, and her carapace felt flaky from where she’d been burned. A human wouldn’t have fared so well.

Though she was still awake and stronger than me or Janie, I pointed up the hill. “Stacy’s up there – head on up. We’ll get Mr. Potter up to safety.”

Dani nodded. She did as I asked, and I sent Janie after her. I dragged Mr. Potter as best I could, but I ended up just takin’ him further downhill to get ’im out of the way of the lithium flames.

We stayed ’til the fire department was called, then went to town with the ambulance that came to get Stacy.

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