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Kyle flew forward, banging his head on the seat in front of him. His eyes went wide. The blurred landscape was slowing; slowing to a complete stop.
All around Kyle, voices threw themselves back and forth; a mess of Russian pelting his ears. He sat up straight, looking forward, searching for the cause of their sudden stop.
Ron Howard had rushed to the bus driver and now was talking quickly and quietly with him. Yuri, Ron's translator, was by his side, relaying the conversation between English and Russian.
Ron stopped talking with the driver, and turned to face the load of passengers. "All right, everybody. I guess the bus that was following us has broken down, and we've got to go back for help. So sit tight."
He returned to his seat amidst a few moans and with another jerk, the bus started up once again, this time heading the other direction.
Kyle slid back against his seat. Wonderful, he thought. What else could possibly go wrong?
Even before the trip had started, Kyle hadn't looked forward to it. He hated camping. Why couldn't they have stayed back at the church in Spassk? And camping at the beach for a week with all the bugs and dirt and grime? Yuck!
The hillsides sped past his window. He could see the faint reflection of the ugly scowl on his face. How could the Russians be so excited about this trip? If he were one of them, he wouldn't go.
Kyle could feel the brakes slowing them down. Thankfully there was no sudden stop as they parked in the dirt by the road. The other bus sat beside them, with the stranded passengers gathered around it, talking.
Ron returned to the front. "Ok, it looks like we might try to fit some kids on, so be ready to make room."
Kyle glanced down at the empty spot next to him, which he had been using as a footrest. Guess I'll have to let one of them sit here. He allowed a sigh to escape his mouth.
The Russian kids from the other bus climbed on, and Kyle swung his legs down to the floor. Ron directed one little girl toward the seat next to Kyle.
She hopped up and smiled at him. He plastered on one of his own to return and said, "Hi. My name is Kyle. You?"
The little girl's eyes twinkled with delight at his use of Russian. In reality, he only knew a splattering of words, and he tried to use them as often as he could.
"My name is Lena."
The bus jerked forward again and they were off. He looked around. They had managed to squeeze quite a few kids on.
"Hey Yuri!" Kyle called above noisy chatter.
Yuri turned around to face him. "Yes, Kyle?"
"What're the other people going to do?"
"They called for another bus to come and get them. They will have to wait a couple hours."
"Man! That's crazy. What happened to the bus?"
"Axle broke." Yuri shrugged. "It is too bad."
Kyle nodded. Little Lena had been listening intently to the strange English words the entire time. He smiled, this time a genuine one. Even though Kyle wasn't thrilled about the whole trip, he still had a soft spot in his heart for little kids.
He put his hands on his head. "Head."
Lena threw both of her hands up to her head as well.
"Head." She nodded back.
Kyle moved his hands down to his shoulders. "Shoulders."
She did the same. "Shoulders."
"Good! Knees." He placed his hands on both knees, and the little girl followed.
The bus slammed to a stop, once again sending everyone bouncing into the air. Alarmed faces looked all about, wondering what was going on. The bus driver stood to his feet and mumbled something in Russian before hopping down the steps and outside.
A small store stood by the road; the clerk waiting in the doorframe for anyone who might come by. The driver walked through the open door and inside.
"Not too long, everybody!" Ron shouted from the back of the bus.
Everyone stood up, stretching and digging through their bags for money. Kyle turned to his backpack, sifting through. He knew he had stuffed a hundred rubles or so somewhere inside, but finding it would be the problem.
After a few minutes of searching, Kyle pulled out a crinkled Russian bill. He bounded down the bus steps and ran toward the store. A few of the other kids were coming out with ice cream cones in hand.
The store was musty-smelling. Items for sale sat along shelves behind a counter, which was also filled to the brim with merchandise. Kyle finally spotted a cooler next to a drab curtain. He paused by the cooler, looking at the many cones frozen solid and piled high inside.
A strong hand grabbed his arm. Kyle whirled around. A man glared at him and pulled him behind the curtain.
A hand threw itself across his mouth. His eyes were wide with fear, his heart pounding faster and faster.
His captor dragged Kyle through a back exit and into another building behind the store. He pulled him through a long hallway to a door at the far end. The man swung it open. Inside, a round table stood with three men sitting around it. Their faces were grim, each having a grizzly, unshaved chin. Their squinting eyes looked up as Kyle entered the room.
The man who had first grabbed Kyle started speaking wildly to the other three, gesturing occasionally at the boy. Kyle bit his lower lip, scared and frightened.
One of the men sitting at the table stood and slid a wooden chair over. Kyle was forced down into it.
The first man crossed over to a darkly shadowed part of the room. Kyle studied the three around the table carefully. They stared right back, their eyes seeming to search his very soul.
The first man let out a cry and one of the three stood to help him.
All four of the men's attention had turned away from Kyle. He saw his chance. He ran.
He rushed out of the small room and into the dimly lit hallway. Doors lined both sides of the passage, and Kyle had no idea which one would take him outside. He raced down the hall, not having time to stop and open any of the doors.
The first man was right behind him, shouting. Kyle ran and found himself face to face with a dead end. He spun around. The man stood there, blocking any hope of escape.
The man had in one hand a large black bag. He reached inside and pulled out a dark, oddly shaped object. He pointed it straight at Kyle.
His heart throbbed with fear, rising higher and higher within his throat.
The man took a step closer. A soft light fell upon the object.
"Photo?" The man asked, holding up a camera. "Photo?"
Kyle let out a breath he hadn't known was holding back. A photo? All that for a photo? "Yeah."
They snapped a quick picture with "the American boy" as they were calling him. After handshakes and hugs, Kyle rushed back outside the store, forgetting completely about the ice cream. He wanted only to be back aboard the bus with the people he knew.
He came through the front door, and his heart fell. The bus was nowhere in sight. They had gone off without him.
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