Bad Children/Good Children


John W. Cowart

Billy Holden leaned over the seat back and whacked Terry on the head with his social studies book.

Terry twisted around grabbing the book with both hands and ripped off the front cover. Billy grabbed a handful of hair and pulled as hard as he could bracing his foot against the seat back for leverage.

With Terry stretched backward against his seat like that, Monica, a third-grader from Ms Carson’s class who sat beside him, took advantage of his strained position to poke his belly with her purple false nails.

Nat, who sat with Billy, pushed over the seat to snatch Monica’s lunchbox off her lap. “Give that back’” she shrieked. “That’s mine. Give it back right now”.

“Or you’ll do what” Nat sneered.

“You kids stop that right now! Get quite. I won’t have this racket on my bus’” yelled Old Miss Evert from her driver’s seat. She was not watching traffic but looking in her rear view mirror trying to see who was being bad this time. She swerved to avoid creaming a tiny Ford Escort in the left lane.

“Old witch,” Bobby said giving the handful of hair an extra twist before shoving Terry’s head forward.

Mrs. Evert hated bad kids. She hated having to drive the school bus through evening traffic with 34 kids screaming and fighting and squirming in their seats. Some afternoons they threw spitballs at the back of her head. Sometimes they threw things at passing cars when drivers got so stupid as to pull up along side the big yellow bus. They pushed. they shoved. They yelled. They fought. They teased. They made nasty signals with their fingers.

Day after day after day this went on.

Well-behaved kids, and few they were, ended up knocked to the floor and stomped by the others. They broke one kid’s glasses. They took one girl’s Harry Potter book, one she got for her birthday, and threw it out the window.

Mrs. Evert lectured them to no avail.

“Old hag” they called her to her face. “Stupid old witch”.

 She even reported them to the principal.

“What happens off school grounds is not the school’s responsibility,” the whimp said. “You are in charge. These precious children are our future. You must maintain discipline on your bus. And remember, there’s no such thing as a bad child”.

The principal has a master’s degree in educational theory. All day he stays in his office doing paperwork. With the door closed.

On Monday afternoon a new kid got on the bus. A good kid. His parents were from China or Viet Nam or one of those country.

 “Slanty-eyes” Billy called him and the name stuck.

 “His skin is yellow and he’s got a yellow streak down his back,” Terry said.

“You people eat puppy dogs”, Betty Jordan said. “Is that what you bring in your lunch box”?

“Naw,” Bret said. “He’s free-lunch. Poor yellow trash”.

Mrs. Evert called back, “You hooligans stop teasing the new kid. Ain’t proper to tease somebody just because they’re different”.

 “You’re the one whose different, you old witch,” Monica called.

“Who said that? Who said that? Who was it said that?’ the driver yelled

“Who. Who. Whooo”. Chanted the bus load of children. Imitating owls. Cackling like witches.

Miss Evert reported the incident to the dean of boys. “Now, Miss. Evert, it can’t be that bad,” he said. “The children have been sitting quietly in class all day; when they get out it’s only natural for them to release some of that pent up energy. All kids are good kids. You need to focus their creative energies… Maybe you could teach them to sing Row, Row Row Your Boat on the bus”.

Tuesday afternoon Nikita sat in the very back row of seats and when the bus picked up speed on the Interstate, he pulled down his pants and mooned passing cars.

Wednesday, Mary Lou teased Rodney till he threw up on the floor. All the kids laughed and pointed and held their noses. Kenny held Rodney down and rubbed his hair in it. Mary Lou kicked Kenny and got some on him. Broyston stabbed Rachel in the arm with a pencil. And Marvin took Paula’s Simpson watch.

When the bus got to the stop where Marvin’s mother met it every day, Miss. Evert told his mother about the watch.

“Are you accusing my child of stealing? I’ll have you know my Marvin’s a good boy. You’re a bitter old witch. Just because you don’t have children of your own… My Marvin is not a thief. He got that watch in a Happy Meal. Didn’t you, Honey. I’m going to report you to the school board. If you can’t handle little children, you shouldn’t be driving a school bus. You’re not suited for the job”.

Thursday, Tina scrubbed a picture of a bat with black crayon in Sandy’s library book. Patricia chewed a big wad of bubble gum and pressed it into Leslie Martin’s long blond hair. Pressed it in and smeared it around so good that her mother would have to take scissors and cut those tresses. That’ll teach her to show off… But while Patricia was leaning over to glop up Leslie’s hair, Carl unwrapped a Baby Ruth, warmed it in his hand and put the candy bar in Patricia’s seat so that when she sat back down it stuck to the back of her dress and when she got up to leave the bus at her stop, all the kids laughed and pointed and she didn’t know why at first. But when she brushed the back of her skirt, she flew into a rage and bit Tonya.

Miss. Evert had to break up the fight and both girls kicked her shins and yelled, “Leave us alone, you stupid old witch. Leave us alone. Child abuse! Child abuse!”

When the last child finally got off the bus, Miss. Evert circled back along her route, turned down a dirt crossroad, parked the big yellow bus beneath a tree, got out, walked into the woods and had a long talk with two of her oldest friends.

Friday, Billy Holden brought his basketball on to the bus. He bounced it off the heads of kids sitting in front of him. Somebody got hold of it and soon it was ricocheting all over the inside of the bus. Nobody was safe.

Willy used a knife he’d snuck into school to cut both straps on Cindy’s backpack. Cindy swung the book bag by one strap and hit him in the face. His nose bled. He wiped with his finger and flicked blood at everybody in the first two rows. “Hey, Dweebs,” he yelled. “Suppose I got AIDS” Huh. Suppose I’m infecting your asses”.

Kids screamed and climbed all over the seats to get out of the spatter.

Miss. Evert did not say a word to quite them.

If anyone had noticed, today she wore a set of headphones with her Walkman tuned to a golden oldies station. She hummed along with the Beachboys to Help Me Rhonda as she signaled for a left turn off the main road. The basketball bounced off the back of her seat as she slowed to a stop beside the crumbling brick wall of the old Anderson cemetery. Out of habit she flicked on the bus’s flashing red safety lights; no car is supposed to pass a stopped school bus when its loading or unloading children.

Releasing her safety belt, she pulled the lever to open the bus door. Standing up she called above the din of the children. “Everybody off the bus. Everybody off the bus”.

“This ain’t our stop’” several children protested.

“Ran out of gas’” the old witch lied. “Everybody off the bus. Wait right here. I’m going to fill the tank and I’ll be right back for you”.

Pushing and shoving, gouging and hitting, the children clambered down the bus steps. They milled around in a pack as Miss Evert closed the door. They watched the big yellow bus pull away leaving a hanging cloud of dust as it bumped down the dirt road out of sight.

Some of the kids fought with sticks they’d picked up off the ground. Some threw rocks at birds. Some chased others, pulled hair, taunted the weak.

It got dark.

Two huge shapes rose from behind the brick wall.

 And stepped over.

Morg and Taint, two gigantic trolls, friends of the old witch, herded the squealing children up against the wall. Some kids tried to scatter and run. Morg caught them and dropped them in his basket.

Some kids clustered together hugging eachother and sniveling in fright. Taint scooped those into the basket picking up six or eight at a time.

Tommy Norton tried to poke Morg with a stick. Morg snatched him up in one claw and squeezed his head till his brains gushed out his nose.

Monica tried to hide in a niche in the wall. When  Taint tried to pull her out, her arm came off, so he ate her on the spot before she bled out.

Soon every kid left alive was safely in the basket.

 The only thing left on the road was the basketball.

 Morg kicked it into the bushes.

Late that night, Morg and Taint lounged in front of their camp fire. Taint stretched leisurely and yawned, his yellow fangs reflected the moon.

Morg covered his mouth politely as he gave a soft belch. “Excuse me,” he said. “Those certainly were good children.”

“Yes, indeed. Best we’ve ever had. Don’t you think. Miss Evert out did herself this time”.

“Yep,” Taint said. “Those really are good children… any left?”

“Six or eight, I think,” Morg said,  lifting the lid of the basket and reaching inside. He lifted our a squirming child, admired it in the moon light then bit down. Juices ran down his chin and dripped on his hairy chest. “Good children,” he said wiping his mouth on his forearm, “Really good children”.  


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