"Breathe..breathe... come on Mrs. Baxter, breathe!!!"
I could hear those words from a foggy distance, but they were being shouted directly into my face. I felt sudden strong pressure on my chest, and then release. Push Push Push several times, and then release.
"cough cough.. cough... wha....? My throat was burning and I had regained consciousness.
The first thing that I become clearly aware of was the smoke. It was thick and dark, and it was everywhere. It was in my eyes and nose and mouth. It was in my throat. I rolled over in a half crouch and coughed until I vomited.
" Here, eat some of this. It's fresh and clean and it will soothe your throat."
I looked over to my side and saw a man offering me a double handful of pure white snow. I scooped out a small amount and scrub my mouth and chin with it. I rub my hands on my slacks and took some more to put in my mouth. It is cold and soothing on my raw throat.
"Thanks." I whisper painfully to the man who was now putting the rest of his snow into his own mouth.
"You're the FBI agent!!" I managed to croak in surprise, as I recognized the man that had followed me all the way from the magazine publishing house.
"Yes, I'm agent Duncan Price. Are you feeling better?"
I nodded and looked around me. It was like a war zone. Injured passengers, strewn luggage and twisted metal were scattered everywhere. The smell of melted rubber and burning paint made me feel nauseous again.
The bus was on it's side in a shallow ditch across the road. It was shooting sky high flames and billowing thick black smoke from the back end of it. It looked like the gas tank must have exploded.
Luckily there was still a good sized snowbank along the highway this early in March. There was no grassy field to spread the fire to. The snow probably saved the lives of many of the burn victims.
"Do you know what happened ?' I asked, as I got woozily to my feet. I could hear the scream of sirens getting closer by the minute. Good, help was on the way.
"As near as I can figure, the bus slid on black Ice and hit that power pole. The gas tank was ruptured and the live electrical wires ignited the fuel."
He nodded toward a pole that was broken and leaning against the bus. Severed power lines were still sizzling among the mangled mess of metal.
"Black ice? I took this route coming down here no more than six hours ago. The road was bone dry. It's a bright sunny day. Any ice would have melted long ago."
"Really?" Agent Price looked puzzled. "The road was wet and slippery when I crawled out of the back of the bus just before the tank blew up."
"Oh yes, " I said, as memories of the accident began to come back to me.
."The middle and back doors sprang open on impact with the pole. Luckily we hit it past the midsection, so we were able to get out that way. I remember that the road was slippery too, but I couldn't see anything through the smoke. I don't even know how I got up here."
I looked around me, trying to assess the damage to human life. There were people sitting, standing and moving about on the snowy hillside where I was. There were several people lying on the ground here and there. It was impossible to tell from there if they were dead or just unconscious.
"Have you seen that woman I was sitting with? " I asked.
I knew he had noticed Mary Jane because she was sitting with me, and he'd been watching me like a hawk when I got on the bus. He'd also seen me talking to her at the bus depot.
"No, I haven't. I see the police and emergency vehicles are arriving. I guess I better go make a report to the officer in charge. Do you need some help getting down the hill?'
I shook my head. "I'm OK now. Just some smoke inhalation, and think I bit my tongue or the inside of my cheek. I'm still tasting a little blood. I think I'll go look for Mary Jane."