The Diner and That Same Old Feeling Again
by Jeff Brown
|Table of Contents|
Part 1 appears
in this issue.
|part 2 of 11|
The Island and the One Left Behind
He slowly began his ascent once again, trying not to look down as he went.
I’ll talk to Calvin, he thought. I’ll tell him I want to leave the group, that I just can’t take the constant badgering anymore. I’ll faze myself out, little by little until I am no longer around them. Yeah, that’s what I’ll do.
The swaying of the tree brought Dale from his thoughts. He hadn’t realized he had still been pulling himself up further and further as he lost himself in his thoughts. He looked down and quickly decided that was a mistake. He could hear everyone yelling and screaming at him from below, yelling their approvals of how high he had gone.
The tree was swaying well now. Dale continued to climb higher, pulling himself along with his arms and feet. The tree began to sway in a circular motion instead of side to side like Pete’s tree had done.
This can’t be right, he thought. A fear began to creep into him. That dread that he had felt moments earlier was back, rearing its ugly head as if teasing Dale. He steeled himself trying to will the fear and dread away. He took several deep breaths.
“Let go with your legs,” Pete yelled up to him.
Without thinking much about what was said but remembering how Pete had released his legs of the tree and then ridden down to the ground with the tree, Dale let go with his legs. He felt himself spinning in circles as the tree swooped around and around. He closed his eyes tightly to keep from getting dizzy. Then it happened. The tree began to bend and Dale began to descend with it.
The guys were whooping it up from below him as he began the ride down. They quickly ceased their yells and cheers when the tree snapped in half about two thirds of the way up. There was a collective “oh shit” that came from their mouths as Dale began to plummet downward.
Dale’s eyes snapped open when he heard the cracking sound the tree was making as it bent. The crack ended with a loud snap then the slow ride down became a free fall. He yelled as he dropped toward the ground.
He had a sudden thought that he wasn’t falling straight to the ground, but instead, at an angle. The tree had thrown him when it had broken in half and without thinking he had let go of his hold on it.
Dale felt the bushes breaking under him as he reached the ground. He felt the small branches of the bushes splinter under his weight and felt the pain explode into his body. He let out a loud moan of pain and then relaxed his tensed muscles. His breathing was hard and rasping, rattling when he exhaled.
I’m dead, he thought at first then realized he couldn’t be dead. There was pain and if he were dead he shouldn’t be able to feel pain. If I’m not dead then I’ve broken something — a few somethings, was his next thought. It was his ribs he had thought he had broken, but as he lay tangled in the bushes and briars the pain dulled into something more like a sting or a burning pain. He moved his neck, rolling it on his shoulders.
Neck’s not broken, he thought. That’s a good sign.
He then moved one wrist, then the arm and shoulder. He did the same thing with the other arm. He moved one ankle next, and then a knee, then he did the same with the other leg. Slowly, he began to try and right himself and get out of the bush he was in.
Dale reached up, grabbed a limb of a bush and began to try and pull himself to a sitting position. He reached up and grabbed another oddly thick branch with his other hand. As he hoisted himself up he realized something was wrong. The bush he had fallen into was large, with branches as thick as very old tree branches. They were brown like most bush branches but the leaves weren’t green or even yellow. They were black. The leaves were black with red veins running through them. It wasn’t hard to tell that these leaves were not brittle, decaying leaves of some long dead plant life, but living, vibrant leaves of a flourishing plant that would likely live for many more years to come.
Dale reached with one hand and plucked one of the black leaves. He looked at it intently, flipping it over to look at the gray underside with the bright red veins spread through it. Where he had plucked the leaf from the branch a yellow colored fluid leaked out. He looked at the fluid, started to touch it then thought better of the idea. Instead he dropped the black leaf and looked around him. Dale was never claustrophobic before but he had an inescapable feeling he was trapped in a hole and there would be no way out for him.
Dale looked upward and saw the lip of the hole he was in. The ground there was also black and the normally green grass that would have been there was replaced by velvety black blades of grass.
He had heard his friends calling him but it hadn’t registered in his mind until then. Now, it was registering and they were getting closer to him.
“I’m down here,” he called out. “Somebody get me out of here.”
“Hey! Guys! Here he is,” Calvin called out. The rest of them went up to the edge of the hole. It was easily fifty feet across and probably twice as wide. It looked to be deep — real deep that stretched into darkness where the eyes couldn’t see. The hole was filled with the large brown branches that seemed to grow out of the sides of the hole. The black leaves were sprouted everywhere. Some were even threatening to spill out of the hole and onto the dirt around it.
There was something else... something else in the tangled mass of leaves and briars with very sharp thorns on them.
“Awe, man,” Tony exclaimed when he reached the hole. “Do you guys see that?” Tony was pointing past Dale and a little further up from him.
“Wow,” Pete said in a stunned voice.
Dale turned his head to look behind him. His eyes grew a little wider with what he saw there...
It wasn’t hard to believe that he was looking at an old plane that was partially hidden by the brush and bramble of plants that had overgrown the large hole. After all, his grandfather had told him of the air force planes that went down in the lake in the late thirties and early forties. Dale never expected to see one of those planes up close (close enough so he could step from branch to branch to reach out and possibly even touch the plane). What was hard to believe was how good a shape the plane was in. Dale remained still as he looked at the plane (or at least what he could see of the plane, which was part of a wing, the tale poking up like a middle finger and part of the propeller).
“Go check it out, Dale,” Tony yelled down.
Dale looked up toward his friends. He had to shield his eyes with one hand, blocking the bright sun so he could see the silhouettes of their bodies. To him they looked like black shadows on a blue backdrop with a bright yellow light gleaming all around them. He could make each one of them out easily enough. Pete and Dolan were both standing upright, their shadowy hands on their shadowy knees. Tony was leaning over, bent at the waist and his hands on his knees. Dale couldn’t see Tony’s shadowy face but he was positive it held that maniacal look of excitement that it always did when he “had a plan.” Calvin was on all fours, his head poking over the edge of the hole. Dale could tell Calvin was the only one looking at him and not the plane.
Dale turned his eyes back to the plane, scoping out the easiest — and safest — way to reach it. He glanced down and quickly looked back to the plane. He couldn’t see the bottom of the pit he was in. There were only branches, vines and those black leaves. He closed his eyes and tried to see the bottom of the pit in his mind. He still couldn’t see the bottom of it — even in his mind — and that scared him more than being up in the giant tree that seemed to be growing out of the pit itself.
“Go check it out, Dale,” Tony yelled down again. His voice echoed inside the pit.
Dale opened his eyes and looked down at his feet, focusing on the branches he needed to step onto. Just don’t fall, he told himself as he reached for a branch with one hand and stopped with the opposite foot. He reached with the other hand, grasping a limb as he had done with the opposite hand. Again he stepped to another limb, steadying himself with his hands. He found the branches and limbs to be sturdier than he thought they would be. A touch of confidence began to grow in him, washing the fear away slowly, as he stepped from limb to limb continuously steadying himself with the branches that were all around him.
“What do you see, man?” Dolan called out.
“Nothing, yet,” Dale answered.
In front of him was a wing overgrown with vines and branches. Dale slowly stepped onto it, leaning one foot on it. He bounced gently on the wing to see if it would hold him or crumble when he stepped onto it. The wing didn’t move. Dale stepped his other foot on the wing but still held on tightly to the branches and limbs around him.
From where Dale stood on the wing he could see most of the plane and the remarkable condition it was in. The plane was a dark green/gray color with little rust to be seen anywhere. There was a large white star on the wing underneath his feet. On both sides of the star were two large stripes. The same type of star and stripes were on the side of the plane with the number fourteen to the left of it. The tail stood straight up in the air at the rear of the plane. The propeller at the front of the plane was long and looked very sharp. It was also the only part of the plane that had any rust on it. It was covered in rust. The cockpit with its glass and steel hood was shattered with plenty of jagged edges poking out.
“Hey, Dale,” Tony called out. “What do you see?”
“A plane,” Dale called back. “It’s an old World War Two plane.”
“Really?” Dolan asked, sounding surprised.
The others echoed him.
“I’m going to get a little closer,” Dale said. His curiosity was getting to him, drawing him nearer to the plane with each passing second. He no longer held any fear inside of him, only bewilderment and astonishment.
He made his way through a series of limbs and leaves, snapping some of them as he went, until he reached the shattered remains of the cockpit. Peering over and into the cockpit Dale could see the remains of the pilot.
“Mother Mary and the Heavens above,” he whispered.
The skeletal remains were a light brown and broken up in places. There was the helmet the pilot had worn leaning to one side, its weight pulling the skull and neck bones to the side with it. His uniform had holes eaten into it and Dale could see a name tag on it. He leaned a little further in to read it.
“Crispin,” Dale whispered as he leaned further into the cockpit. He could see the pilot’s hand still holding tight of the flight stick, the bones there amazingly still intact.
“Oww!” Dale said aloud as his hand slid across a sliver of glass. He pulled his hand away and watched at the blood began to flow from the cut in his palm.
“What’s wrong?” Calvin called concern in his voice.
“Nothing,” Dale responded. “I just cut my hand on the glass in the cockpit.”
“The cockpit?” Tony asked loudly.
“Yeah, the cockpit,” Dale responded. “And, you guys aren’t going to believe this.” Dale looked away from the cockpit toward where his friends were.
“What’s that?” Dolan asked.
“Yeah, what do you mean, man?” Pete also called down.
Dale turned back to the cockpit and the decades dead pilot in it.
“The pilot’s body is still... oh...”
“... shit,” Dale yelled.
“Dale, what’s wrong?” Calvin yelled out in an almost panic.
Dale responded with a scream of pain the likes none of them had ever heard before. It was a scream that would haunt them for the remainder of their lives.
It was only a brief moment when he turned away after slicing the palm of his hand on the cockpit’s remaining broken glass. Though brief as it was it was still enough time for the pilot’s dead skull to move and his body to rise. When Dale looked back to the pilot its hand was rushing in on him. Sharp, bony fingers swiped at his face slicing through the side of it like a razor. Blood flowed quickly and heavily from the wound as Dale fell backwards, both hands going up to his face.
He screamed. He screamed loud and long and so much like a little girl (at least in his mind it was like a little girl’s scream). Dale rolled around in pain on the gray wing of the plane. Blood sprayed from the side of his face and through his hands and splattering on the plane, limbs and leaves.
His screams stopped temporarily when he heard the sound of the pilot stirring in the cockpit. Through his heavy breathing and his racing mind Dale could hear a clicking noise like a switch being flipped. His eyes grew wide when he looked back to the plane. Then came the deafening explosion of gunfire from the plane — a 1942 Corsair — let loose with a spray of fifty caliber bullets. Dale gripped his ears tightly as pain ripped through his head.
The bullets clipped limbs of trees, both thick and thin as the gun released round after round into the foliage. The wall of the giant pit began to spray dirt as the bullets became embedded in it.
Dale screamed louder, but was drowned out by the sound of the six fifty caliber machine guns discharging all at the same time. His ears began to bleed, the blood seeping through his fingers. Dale tried to stand, stumbled back down to all fours and then stood again. He tried to walk across the wing of the plane holding to the limbs above him as the world around him shook as if during a massive earthquake. He turned and looked back before stepping off the wing and onto a thick tree branch.
There were yells from all four of the men as the bullets began to spray in their direction. They stumbled and bumbled along as they ran from the pit leaving Dale behind. They all could still hear the sound of the machine guns as they reached the clearing. The only one to stop running was Calvin and that’s only if you didn’t count Dolan, who had tripped over a stump and fallen to the ground. Calvin helped him to his feet and then watched as Dolan ran.
“We’ve gotta go back,” Calvin yelled as he began to chase after Dolan, Pete and Tony. This time instead of trying to escape something he was trying to catch the other three before they could reach the boat. He didn’t succeed and he stopped just short of the boat.
“We can’t leave like this,” Calvin yelled.
“Get in the boat, Cal,” Tony yelled back.
“No, man,” Calvin yelled and looked back to where they had just come from. He pointed toward the woods. “We can’t leave Dale — he...”
“Get in the damn boat, Big Bird,” Pete then yelled.
“No! We can’t leave him behind like this!”
“He’s dead, Calvin,” Tony yelled. “He’s dead.”
The sound of the bullets stopped, bringing with it a sudden and terrible silence. All four of the men turned to look back to the trees. They watched for a minute, possibly hoping Dale would just strut out of the woods smiling his goofy grin and brushing himself off. After several minutes of nothing Tony motioned for Pete with his head. The two of them grabbed Calvin as Dolan started the boat. Calvin yelled as they pulled him into the boat. He was trying to pull himself free as the boat began to try and pull away.
“The anchors,” Tony said.
Pete was quick about it, loosening the anchors from the boat and letting the ropes drop from his hands and into the water.
“Go! Go! Go! Go!” Pete yelled.
“No,” Calvin screamed. As they pulled away he began to cry. If Tony had released him, Calvin would have been in the water swimming back to the island for his friend.
It was only one bullet that pierced Dale’s chest. It was all it took to send him backwards into the branches of the pant life growing in the pit. Dale had barely seen the skeletal pilot standing up in the cockpit of the Corsair. He barely saw the gun pointed at him. He barely reacted except to fall backwards when the bullet sent him on his way to darkness.
Copyright © 2005 by Jeff Brown