In school, kids are always hearing horror stories about teachers, principals, custodians, and lunch ladies, but what about bus drivers? Back in 1999 Edd Phoenix lived three days he would never forget.
School had only been in session two months when Edd's regular bus driver, Mr. Huffler, announced one Monday afternoon that he would be out of town the next three days.
"Who is the sub?" Manty Totem, a friend of Edd's, blurted.
"I believe it will be Mr. Mercer," remarked Mr. Huffler.
The children gasped, their mouths as wide as moon craters, their eyes as big as oranges. "Oh, no! Not No Mercy Mercer!" they shouted.
"I know you have heard dreadful rumors about Mr. Mercer, but you can't always believe what you hear," said Mr. Huffier. "He's actually a very pleasant man. Just remember: be on your best behavior."
Tuesday morning, as Edd crawled out of his water bed, his first thought was, Is No Mercy Mercer really as mean as they say? While Edd showered, dressed, and ate breakfast, No Mercy Mercer kept flashing on and off like a lightbulb in his mind.
On his way out the door to catch the bus, his mom reminded Edd, "Did you feed Friskus?"
Immediately, he dropped his backpack by the front door, dashed to the garage, and scooped Friskus a bowl of Kitty Chow. Then Edd sprinted toward the bus stop.
The bus was already waiting at the end of the street. Behind the wheel sat a man who resembled an army sergeant. You could tell by his bulging biceps that he lifted weights. His gray hair was buzzed all the way down to the scalp. Instead of a uniform, he wore a sleeveless muscle shirt and blue jeans. Covering his eyes was a pair of aviator sunglasses, like the ones Tom Cruise wore in the movie Top Gun. Mr. Mercer was large and in charge.
As the doors to the bus opened, No Mercy Mercer looked him square in the eye and growled, "About time, son. Don't keep me waiting tomorrow."
After being lectured for the ten-second delay, Edd quickly sat down next to Manty, who was tightly grasping a Hot Wheels car in his right hand. "Manty, don't get any wise ideas. I think we just need to lay low."
"He'll never know who threw it," snickered Manty.
Just as the bus was coming to a stop in front of the school, another boy encouraged Manty to throw the car.
"Yeah, I think I should too," Manty chuckled. "That will make that scrawny old No Mercy Mercer regret the day he ever subbed on this bus."
Manty swiveled around in his seat to grin at Edd. Edd was staring upward.
"He's behind me, isn't he?" murmured Manty.
"Yep. He sure is," Edd whispered.
Manty spun in the direction of the six-foot bus driver to find that Edd wasn't joking.
Taking the metal car out of Manty's hand, Mr. Mercer said, "Not a good idea, son. If I have any more trouble out of you, you'll be visiting the principal's office."
Manty looked like he wanted to dig a burrow and hide. Edd could see that Manty's heart was almost pounding out of his chest. His heart was running like a generator. Even though Mr. Mercer wasn't talking to Edd, he was still scared stiff and shaking like a leaf.
Finally they reached school. Edd was never happier to enter a school building in his entire life. All day long all he could think of was boarding the bus of doom that afternoon. Of course, the school day went by quicker than a blink of an eye.
Ring, ring, ring—there was the horrible sound of the bell, telling him it was time to venture to the bus and No Mercy Mercer.
"After this morning's incident, this is a no-talk afternoon!" the sub demanded loudly. All of the children were petrified and quiet as mice. Edd decided that for the next two days he would be sick.
The next morning Edd's mom went into his bedroom to wake him up. He rolled over and whimpered, "I don't feel so good."
She walked over to his bed and felt his forehead. "Well, honey, you don't feel hot, but let's take your temperature to be safe," she said. When the thermometer read 98.6 degrees, she urged, "You don't have a fever. What's wrong? Has something happened at school?"
Hesitating a few seconds, Edd answered, "No."
"Edd, I know when something's wrong. Usually you can't wait to go to school," said his mom. "What happened?"
"It's our totally horrible bus driver!" he admitted.
"Mr Huffier? You love Mr. Huffier!" Edd's mom exclaimed.
"No, not Mr. Huffier," said Edd, "the substitute for the next couple of days!"
Edd's mom bent over and listened to his story. Then she replied, "Edd, you need to go to school. You're not sick. He's probably not as bad as you say. You just need to get to know him. Remember, you can't always judge a book by its cover."
Reluctantly, Edd crawled out of bed and dressed, dreading to face a duplicate of the previous day. He rushed eating his sausage and biscuit, and left ten minutes early.
When the bus doors opened, Mr. Mercer commented, "Thanks for being on time today, son." Edd nodded, then searched for a seat. Noticing that Manty had a grin plastered from ear to ear, Edd chose an empty seat. Whatever Manty was up to, he didn't want any part of it.
Five minutes down the road, Manty was standing in his seat. Edd dropped his head and sputtered, "When is he ever going to learn?"
No Mercy Mercer stared into the visor mirror and ordered Manty to sit back down. Manty obeyed, but just as the bus was merging back into traffic, Manty changed over to Edd's seat. Edd shook his head and moaned, "Why me?"
SCREEEECH!!! The bus came to a halt. No Mercy Mercer roared, "That's it, boy. I had trouble out of you yesterday, and twice today, but I won't tomorrow. You're going to the principal's office!"
By the last morning, there was no doubt who was in charge. Everyone heard that Manty's trip to the principal's office got him expelled for a day. No one whispered a word or moved a muscle the entire trip to school. That afternoon his mother was picking him up for a dentist appointment. Edd was lucky. He would never have to suffer the pain of No Mercy Mercer again.
That following Saturday, Edd was in the park practicing baseball with his team. Since it was a beautiful spring day with the temperature in the seventies, the park was overflowing with people. While Edd waited for fly balls in the outfield, he caught a peek of a man who seemed awfully familiar. He had on a sleeveless muscle shirt and blue jeans, his hair was buzzed down to the scalp, and he wore a pair of aviator sunglasses, but he was sitting in the sandbox, playing with a two-year-old. Is that. . . ? No, it couldn't be! Edd reasoned and continued with practice.
When practice ended, Edd strolled over to get a closer look. There were sand castles everywhere, and a couple of younger kids had joined the fun, all laughing and having a grand time. About that time the man looked up to see Edd frozen beside the sandbox. "Hi, young man. Don't you ride the bus I just subbed for?"
"Y-yes," Edd stammered.
"What brings you to the park on this lovely spring day?" Mr. Mercer asked.
Edd thought, I think I've finally gone crazy. This guy looks like No Mercy Mercer, but he sure doesn't act like him.
While Edd was lost in thought, Mr. Mercer continued, "Saturday is the day I spend with my grandson, Timmy. Since the weather is so agreeable, we're doing what we love best: playing in the sand. My little Timmy is the sand castle king!" Timmy wrapped his arms around his grandfather's neck and gave him a gigantic SMOOCH, right square on the cheek.
"No M-M-Mer-, I mean, Mr. Mercer, you're acting so different away from the bus," said Edd.
"Oh, you know how kids are always trying to take advantage of substitutes. Once I retired from my regular bus route and started subbing, I realized that the only way I could gain respect was to have some rumors floating around. Do you think I got my bluff in?"
"I guarantee you have!" Edd confirmed. Mr. Mercer grinned. "Promise that you'll keep my secret?"
Edd nodded in agreement and headed on home.
The following year, Mr. Mercer was their regular bus driver. Mr. Huffler had retired, and No Mercy Mercer had come out of retirement. Standing large and in charge, he provided everyone with his rules, sat down, and gave Edd a quick wink in the visor mirror.
Now, whenever Edd meets someone new, he wonders what they're really like. He'll never forget Mr. Mercer.