Why do you trouble yourself in a house that is not your own? Let the sight of a dead man be a teacher for you concerning your departure from hence.
~~St. Isaac the Syrian
The darkness of the night sky slowly began to give way to morning. The once quiet landscape eased into its daily birth pangs as gray, diffused light seeped from the sky – draping everything in it’s dissolving, misty shroud. The secret lives of the night shrunk away into their hiding places as yet another New World awakened. In the distant horizon, the glowing edge of the sun pressed its way up into the red abyss; scorching earth, wind and the sky with firelight. Birds began their morning song, the night chill evaporated, the lone coyote hushed his bellow and Rayne Seymour rolled over in his bed, moaning and nursing the worst hangover of his life. Lying on his back, he slowly cracked an eye, as if the coming sunlight might somehow blind him as judgement for his previous night of selfish debauchery. Rather, as his gaze focused on the tile ceiling, nothing happened. Nothing – the story of his life. His head throbbed with pulsing intensity, filled with crazed half-real, half-dreamed images from the before-mentioned night of revelry. Images of the Crow’s Nest Bar and Grille’s kamikaze shooters, the slurred conversation with one of the Johnson Twins, asking the bartender if he was related to Larry King, and the inevitable nose-dive into the damp grass three blocks from his trailer. He sat up slowly in bed and scratched his arms. As he sat zombie-eyed, a small stream of drool crawling down his chin, the awakening nature outside connected with his nature inside and he rushed, stumbling over a basket of laundry, towards the bathroom. A few painful seconds later and not even both of the Johnson twins covered in rose petals could have lured him away from his porcelain throne.
Rayne Seymour was the biggest disappointment that the town of Eagle Pass, Texas had ever experienced. He was from the wealthiest family in town. He was the best looking boy in town. He was the most talented quarterback to ever grace the field in all of South Texas Division 5A high school football. He was an all around sure thing and, unfortunately, he knew it. Having graduated Salutatorian (only because no teacher had the heart to give him a fair grade), he went to the University of Texas on a full, football/academic scholarship. College life, however, brought the high school hero from celebrity to nobody – and fast. Three months later, Rayne Seymour quit college and headed home: a failure. During his entire life, he knew that he was the best, but he also knew how inadequate he was. Each of us has that secret, personal place where we can go and sit and observe the `real’ us. The facades and masks that we wear are made of glass in this inner sanctum. It was here that Rayne Seymour would spend the rest of his life. Immersed in his own failure, self-pity, and self-hate, Rayne retreated totally from his family, friends and fans and moved out to Shady Grove Trailer Park. Once, while leaving the local drug store with a box of nasal spray and a bag of gummy worms, Rayne overheard two old men gabbing on the front steps of the store.
“Yeah that boy, what a let down!” one old man scoffed as he spit tobacco into an old Pepsi can. “He’s lower than a snake’s belly in a wagon rut.”
The old coot chuckled, nearly choking on his wad of chew. The other codger just grunted and nodded his approval as they both watched Rayne’s back as he crossed the street. He could hear their whispers everywhere he went, see the look of hurt disappointment in the eyes of total strangers, and feel the piercing stab of their stares – as if by some evil scheme, he had single-handedly ruined the entire town. He would never amount to anything, they knew it – and he knew it. He got a job at a plastic factory outside of town, took to drinking beer, seducing drunken sometimes-single moms, and never touched a football again. In fact, he never did anything of significance again, and he believed that he never would. In a few short moments, a cold, early morning baptism would change everything.
Finishing his morning deposit to the septic tank, Rayne stared glassy-eyed into the mirror and brushed his teeth. It was 6:45 and he had to be at work in 20 minutes. He treated his headache with 4 aspirin, got dressed, gave up on combing his hair and donned an old John Deere hat instead, took a swig of warm beer from a can on the table beside his bed and disappeared out the front door into a full blown shower of sunlight. He squinted and used his hand to shade his face from the sun. He closed the door to the truck and started the old engine. It groaned and grunted with modest disapproval before firing up, belching a dark black cloud from the exhaust pipe. He popped the truck in gear, backed down the driveway and peeled out, nearly ramming several mailboxes down the dusty road.
Prove your love and zeal for wisdom in actual deeds.
~~St. Callistus Xanthopoulos
Fanny Mae Lotterhorne had been driving her school bus since two years after graduating from school herself. That was 56 years ago. She was nearly 10 years past the legal age limit according to the Eagle Pass Board of Education, but no one had the heart to fire her. Fanny Mae had lived through more loss than most people read about in a month’s worth of newspapers, and driving her kids to and from school everyday was her life. She had received the Eagle Pass Board of Education’s Most Valuable Employee Award 15 times. She was the Susan B. Anthony of southwest Texas bus drivers. She had single-handedly lobbied the Eagle Pass Board of Education for 5 different pay increases and a benefits package for the district’s drivers. She had also been invited to the Governor’s mansion in Austin four times to receive awards for her dedication to children. For Fanny Mae, this was a morning like any other morning. Like countless times before, she had just picked up the Dewly kids (all seven of them) and was rounding the curve at Eagle Pass Lake. The old dirt road was barely wide enough for two cars to pass without one of them skimming the shoulder. The big yellow bus rumbled along, kicking a massive cloud of dust in her wake.
“MOMMA’S DON’T LET YER BABIES GROW UP TO BE COWBOYS…” Rayne’s scratchy AM radio blared as his old Ford careened along the dusty road. He was leaning back in his seat; hat pulled down, sipping on a cold bud skidding back and forth across the road on his approach to the big curve at Eagle Pass Lake. If he hit the curve at just the right speed, just the right angle, he could fish-tail his truck around the curve, spitting up a terrible storm of dust and gravel, just like the dirt track boys did. He gripped the steering wheel and pressed down on the accelerator.
“Okay now Jesse, that’s quite enough. You let go of Darlene’s hair and sit back down. I don’t want to have to…”
Fanny never finished that sentence. She looked down from her big overhead mirror just in time to see the light blue pickup truck skidding sideways. Her small hands were too weak to turn the big steering wheel any faster than she did, but it was enough to avoid a head on collision. The big lanky bus began to groan and spin gracefully across the road.
Rayne never saw the bus, he was fumbling with a half-smoked cigarette he had dropped in his lap and looked up just in time to see the big words, “Eagle Pass Elementary School” in big black lettering on a yellow background. The front end of the pickup slammed into the side of the school bus with terrifying force. Rayne’s head slammed into the steering wheel and he was thrown sideways into the passenger side floorboard as the truck tipped onto its side. Shattered glass and dirt filled the cab as the truck skidded on its side and stopped against a tree. The bus, already sliding out of control, shook violently when the pickup slammed into its side. Two of the second graders sitting on that side were thrown into the air and slammed into the seats on the opposite end of the bus. Fanny Mae struggled with the wheel, held tightly to her seat by the seat belt, as the bus slipped from the road to the dry brown grass. The back wheel struck a large rock and tipped the old yellow bus onto its side as it slid towards Eagle Pass Lake. The empty morning air was filled with the sound of children screaming, metal scraping rock, shattering glass, and a tremendous splash. The bus bore down into the muddy bottom of the lake, half-submerged in the brown, cloudy water. The inside of the school bus filled quickly with water, the twelve young passengers crying and climbing on top of seats were trying to crawl out the shattered window openings, but the water level inside the bus was about two feet below the windows. Fanny Mae struggled to remove her seat belt as she felt the rising water. Her desperation and shaking hands worked to no avail. She glanced back to see all of her passengers still alive and struggling to stay afloat. The old bus groaned and slid a few inches more into the waters. The water level continued to slowly rise, Fanny Mae’s hands struggled frantically on the stubborn seatbelt as Fanny Mae’s shoulders became submerged. She screamed for help.
Darkness gave way to light and a burning, stinging sensation as Rayne slowly opened his eyes. He was lying in a fetal position, crammed into the passenger side floorboard of his upturned pickup. The old truck had come to rest on the driver’s side against a tree. The cab was covered in glass, dirt and some blood. Rayne let out a loud, long moan as he reached up and took hold of the passenger side door handle, located above his head. Using all of his strength, he pulled himself up and positioned his feet so that he was standing on the driver’s side door. His head throbbed and as he wiped his forehead, he pulled his hand away to find it covered with blood. He gingerly began picking the shards of glass out of the passenger side window so that he could crawl out when he heard the screams.
“Help us! Please, Oh God, the children, Help us! We will all drown!”
His mind raced. Images flew past in his mind; he was coming to Eagle Pass Lake, the burning cigarette, the perfect fishtail, “Eagle Pass Elementary School”, and the crash. Like a gun going off he reached up and grabbed the door handle with one hand. His other hand stretched up and out the window and grabbed the side mirror. With all of his strength he pulled himself up and out. Tiny shards of glass ripped his flannel shirt and cut him down his left side as he wiggled his way through the opening. Across the road he saw the bus, lying on its side, three-quarters submerged in the muddy, brown water.
“Oh Christ!” he thought. “I’m coming, hold on. I’m coming” he yelled across the road.
As soon as he had pulled himself halfway through the window, he lost his balance and fell headlong into the grass. Dazed, he scrambled, only half-conscious to his feet and stumbled across the road towards the bus. The once quiet morning was filled with the muffled cries of children. He stumbled across the road, blood dripping down his cheeks and sides. The last thing he remembered was the refreshing sensation that filled his body as he dove into the water towards the bus.
Nothing endures but change.
~~Heraclitus of Ephesus
As far as anyone could remember, nothing like what happened that morning had ever happened in Eagle Pass before. In 1971, an abandoned barn had burned down after being struck by lightning. In 1983 Mrs. Lamar had slipped in the Jone’s Pharmacy and broke her hip, which brought on Eagle Pass’ first civil law suit – later settled out of court. And now, the crash at Eagle Pass Lake.
The Eagle Pass Daily News read:
Yesterday morning, at the sharp curve at Eagle Pass Lake, Fanny Mae Lotterhorne and her twelve students were nearly killed when an oncoming truck slammed into their school bus. The driver of the truck, identified as Rayne Seymour of Eagle Pass, was speeding and driving while intoxicated, authorities believe. While attempting to avoid the collision, Ms. Lotterhorne lost control of the school bus just as Mr. Seymour’s truck hit the bus broadside. Mr. Seymour’s truck then flipped and came to rest against a tree. The school bus, slid across the road, flipped onto it’s side and landed in the waters of Eagle Pass Lake. Mr. Seymour, cut and bruised, got out of his truck and headed for the water. He single-handedly rescued all twelve children from the submerged bus, including one child who had sustained a broken leg. He was able to pull an unconscious Fanny Mae Lotterhorne from her driver’s seat and performed rudimentary CPR until she regained consciousness. This incident is still being investigated by local authorities. When troopers arrived on the scene, they found Mr. Seymour unconscious, surrounded by the terrified, shivering students. Mr. Seymour is being held in the Eagle Pass City Jail and is expected to post bond this afternoon. Mixed emotions of gratitude and anger are spreading throughout the town. One local man, outside the Drug Store was quoted, “Yeah I know that boy. He was the star quarterback that quit his scholarship and school. I seen him nearly everyday of his life. Never been the same since coming back from college. Why he’s jumpy all right. As jumpy as a long-tailed cat in a room full of rocking chairs.”