Day 1 - The Passengers

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Upon returning to the bus, he took attendance, popped the list back into the envelope and slipped both into his inner jacket pocket. He slid himself in the driver's seat, started the engine, and drove the bus slowly onto the highway, following road signs which pointed the way up the mountain and toward the lodges.

After what seemed like an age of zigzagging through the forest on dirt roads, Paul finally turned the bus onto the steep curve of asphalt which hugged the sides of the mountain in spirals. The twenty or so passengers seemed to be either asleep or wowed by the breathtaking scenery. They were to be the first lot to try the renovated Snow Valley Lodge situated deep in the holds of the mountain region.

Outside the frosty windows, more snow-covered plain came into view, the wilderness stretching out before them as far as the eyes could see. As evening approached, darkness slithered across the landscape. The sun made its slow descent toward the horizon and splashed a soft golden hue onto the icy canvas of the snow.

Paul felt exhausted as he turned the steering wheel in his hands like a little toy that might belong to his two-year-old son. Perhaps he had really bitten off more than he could chew. He was surprised at how hard it was to keep his hands on the wheel, let alone concentrate on the road.

He glanced in the rear-view mirror, at his passengers scattered around the seats. For the past three hours he'd noticed a young man either concentrating at the windshield or out the side of the bus, forever moving charcoal over a notepad hidden from Paul's view.

Two passengers, no doubt husband and wife, seemed to be in deep argument every few minutes. The busily sketching young man behind them displayed a tortured expression every now and then, shooting angry darts at the older couple. Paul didn't doubt that the young man might actually harbor negative thoughts towards the warring couple.

Paul looked ahead; the road was still winding up the mountain but never seemed to grow shorter. He glanced in the mirror again. On the other side of the bus too. There was plenty of entertainment.

"But, like I was saying, skiing is a dangerous business. I've broken the same leg twice at two different places, trying to do mid-air tricks the Olympians do too easily."

Clare chuckled loudly, causing everyone in the bus to turn their way. The guy looked sheepishly back at her and whispered something else that made her laugh more. Paul smiled. The young woman looked very much like his wife when she laughed. He sighed, stepping on the accelerator some more. The next kilometres or so were one of the steepest strips of road on that mountain, one that concerned him a bit. The engine ground and whined and pulled the heavy bus further up.

He glanced in his mirror again. The noise hadn't seemed to faze anyone out. In fact, one seat behind the giggling brunette and the young man, another young man was keeping busy. He doodled pictures on the condensation that clung to the window. The things people did when they were bored! Paul turned back to the road...and his eyes flew open. He was quite alert now, perhaps for the first time that day.

He was looking at a bus coming at them from around the bend. His mind sounded alarm bells. They were on a collision course. In a split second instinct kicked in and he slammed on the brakes. Before rationality took hold, his foot hit the pedal beneath him. Don't skid, don't skid, he mumbled beneath his breath. He gripped the steering wheel tightly, trying to keep the tyres on the road. The passengers screamed fearfully as the bus jerked to the left. Where the hell did it come from? No lights, nothing! Paul's thoughts reeled. Wild Thing was on the verge of the road, a little nudge and it could fall onto the slopes below.

Paul hated to admit, but he was losing control of the bus on the icy road, wheels refusing to follow his steering command. Heart thundering its flesh and bone cage, Paul stared at the oncoming bus. A sudden jerk grabbed his attention and he eyed the side view mirror. The back wheels had run off the edge of the road. At that moment, his wife's fear rang loud in his ears.

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