Bitter cold, little to eat, and the small plane lies in pieces. Jenny Lithart can depend on her theatre coworkers when they’re on the stage, but they know nothing of survival in the Rocky Mountains. With Jenny’s experience in the great outdoors, and director Tom’s unflappable leadership, the group scrapes by while they await rescue. If rescue fails, Jenny must chose a hiking companion to blaze a trail to civilization to find help for her coworkers. Tom is as taciturn as he is intriguing, but Jenny fears he is the best choice. Jenny and Tom will learn about survival and each other in Descending.
Reviews for Descending:
Descending brings to life a realistic nightmare. What would you do if your plane crashed in the Rocky Mountains? How would you survive? Would you know how? Jenny is level headed, which I appreciate in a female lead. There are excellent theater details and metaphors (burning pages of the play for fire, costume shears as a knife/cutting implement) which made the characters feel three-dimensional. I enjoyed the character’s immediate reliance on their memories of books like Into Thin Air and shows like Myth Busters and Survivor Man. That’s exactly what I’d be thinking too! There’s immediate conflict between characters, such as Betsy’s freaking out and doing stupid stuff while Tom and Jenny try to keep her calm and contained. I really hated Betsy. The survivors face one obstacle after another, from finding food and shelter to bears, cougars, and wolves. This was a fun, taut adventure read with some romance thrown in.
Three chapter sneak peek follows:
Jenny Lithart was dozing when the floor dropped out from under her and her heart rose to her throat. Jumping awake, she looked blearily around her at the small plane cabin and tried to figure out what was going on.
“Better fasten your seatbelt,” Tom said beside her. His words were calm and even, but a glance at his face showed his concern.
“What happened?” she asked.
“Air pocket. Nothing to worry about.” The tone of voice was now reassuring, but Tom’s eyes were still widened with alarm.
“If it’s nothing, why do you have something face?”
Glancing around first to see if anyone was paying attention, Tom then leaned towards her to say something softly, “The pilot made an announcement that there was going to be turbulence from a storm we are flying through. The man sounds like he’s been drinking to me, but I didn’t want to worry people.”
He wasn’t quiet enough.
“Drunk as the proverbial skunk.” Art said jovially. “The man probably shouldn’t be drunk flying, but he could at least have the decency to share.”
Art was an actor who liked to drink a little too much. He’d been disappointed when he had boarded the small feederliner and found out that there was no drink service on the short flight to Denver.
“We’re all going to die!” Betsy wailed from the seat behind her. “We’re going to crash and die!”
Betsy’s reaction was not a surprise to Jenny. Her supervisor was easily excitable. Art’s trouser zipper had broken in the middle of performing Box of Envy at the Northwestern Theatre Conference. While she had calmly sewn Art into his costume, Betsy had run around like a chicken with her head cut off spouting doom and gloom. It was unclear why Betsy came on the trip in the first place. As an experienced wardrobe manager, Jenny was capable of handling any issues that happened with the costumes. She suspected that her boss had wanted to come along for the trip itself, not because she was needed in her capacity as costume shop supervisor.
Her musings were interrupted by the plane falling again. It seemed to fall for an age, and then it caught the air and wallowed back and forth. She and Tom both reached to clutch the armrest that was between them, and ended up clasping hands instead.
“Well, ain’t this a pretty pickle?” the pilot’s voice drawled over the intercom. “You folks better stay strapped in. This ride’s a real ass clencher.”
“Damn,” Jenny said. “He does sound drunk. He didn’t sound like that when we boarded.”
The pilot had seemed perfectly competent when he had greeted them before the flight began. The plane was small, only about twenty seats, and had two propellers. There was no airline logo on its side, and the pilot had said it was a Viking Twin Otter when she had asked. Jenny had never flown on a plane that small, but their St. Louis theatre had been on a strict budget when they planned the trip, and they had chosen the cheapest option rather than the nicest. They’d flown in a small jet from Salt Lake City to Grand Junction, Colorado. Then they’d had a six hour layover before catching the feederliner to Denver, where they would board another jet that would take them home. It was two in the afternoon now, and they weren’t scheduled to get home until nine in the morning the next day.
“Why didn’t they just rent us a van?” Betsy said, her voice loud and shaking.
“I explained that to you, Betsy,” Tom, the director of their production, said patiently. “Paying our per diem for the trip plus the expenses for gas and renting the van was more expensive than the plane tickets. They sent the set in the theater’s truck, but it was cheaper for us to fly.”
The plane bumped sharply upward, shaking the cabin and jolting the passenger’s in their seats. Jenny lifted partway out of her seat with only the seatbelt keeping her in place. Amusement park enthusiasts would call that ‘air time,’ but it was more fun on a rollercoaster than in an airplane.
“I’m wishing they’d been a little less chintzy with the money myself,” one of the actors, Clara Walters, said.
“Oh, come on now,” the third actor in Box of Envy said, his voice playful and upbeat. “Ride in a stuffy old van and miss this adventure? What’s the fun in that?”
Jenny opened the shutter on the tiny window next to her seat. Water streamed against the window and nothing could be seen but grey clouds and flashes of lightning. They had flown deep enough into the storm that she couldn’t even tell it was daylight outside. The plane rocked again, shaking them in their seats. Several of her fellow passengers cried out, and Betsy burst into sobbing tears.
At least they didn’t have to worry about things falling out of the overhead compartments, because the small plane didn’t have any. All of their carry-on luggage, even the women’s purses, had been stowed in the cargo area in the tail of the plane. Above her head was bare white ceiling, lacking even compartments for oxygen masks to fall out of, not that the little Otter flew high enough to require such things. The cabin of the plane was pretty bare. There was a tiny aisle, with rows of two seats on one side and single seats on the other. In front of the seating area was a wall that divided the cabin from the cockpit and had a small, hatch-like door.
The plane bounced several times which was nauseating. Before she had time to worry about that, the front of the plane dipped suddenly downward, and she was too frightened to vomit.
“Everyone,” she shouted. “Put your head between your knees and cover your heads with your arms.” She’d seen enough movies to know that much, though she wasn’t sure it would help them if the plane crashed. They were flying over the Rocky Mountains. It wasn’t like the pilot was going to find a convenient place to land.
“Why are you saying that!” Betsy screamed. “You’ll jinx us! You’ll crash the plane!”
“For god’s sake, Betsy,” the stagehand, Gary, spoke for the first time since the plane had begun to shake and roll. “Shut the hell up and do as Jenny says.”
Gary was the most laid-back person she knew. His agreement made her truly feel that things were not looking good. Letting go of Tom’s hand, she took her own advice and lowered her head to her knees, wrapping both arms over her head and neck.
The nose of the plane seemed to catch the air and lift. She had just enough time to breathe a sigh of relief before there was a sudden roaring explosion of sound. The plane shook like it was experiencing an earthquake, then the entire cabin veered to the right. Despite her precautions, her body was flung against the wall next to her and everything in her world came to a stop.
When she opened her eyes, she could not at first make sense of what she was seeing. She was leaning heavily against the side of the plane, and it took her a moment to realize that she was looking through the small window. On a ripped up piece of barren earth a large piece of jagged metal rocked back and forth on a fallen tree like a child’s ride at a neighborhood park.
It took Jenny another moment to realize that the thing she was looking at was a wing from the plane that she was supposed to be flying in.
She tried to stand up, but was jerked back by the seatbelt she still wore. As her hands fumbled with the latch, she looked around. Beside her, Tom seemed unconscious, but a close look reassured her that he was still breathing. Across the aisle, Art seemed awake but dazed. He was holding his left arm in his right, and his expression looked pained. The latch of the seatbelt finally parted, and she stood up. She immediately stumbled, both because she felt dizzy and because the floor was slanted nearly forty-five degrees.
Taking a moment to catch her balance, she climbed carefully over Tom and made it into the aisle. With her hands on the backs of two seats to steady herself, she turned to Art.
“Honey, are you ok?” she asked the older man.
Art looked at her for several seconds before he replied. His salt and pepper hair was tousled and his face looked very pale. At fifty-five, he was older than anyone else in the theatre company, and she was worried about him.
“I’m fine, sweetie,” Art began, attempting to smile at his young friend. “I’ve hurt my arm but that will keep. Go check on the others.”
“Just stay here and try not to move your arm.”
“Believe me, the last think I want to do is wave my arm around. It hurts like a son of a bitch.”
Turning away from Art, she went back two rows of seats to check on Betsy and Gary. Gary was unconscious, and had a gash on his forehead that was bleeding enough to run down his face and coat the collar of his polo shirt and leather jacket. Beside him, Betsy was wide awake and whimpering to herself. Betsy had both arms wrapped tightly around herself and was rocking back and forth.
After checking to make sure that Gary was still breathing, she took her own jacket off and then removed the button-front plaid shirt she was wearing over a t-shirt. It had been warm in Utah but cold in Grand Junction, so she had dressed in layers. Folding the plaid shirt into a thick pad, she held it over Gary’s wound and applied pressure.
“Betsy, I need you to hold this for me so that I can check on the others.”
Betsy whimpered louder.
“Betsy,” Jenny snapped, “I need you to hold this. Come and help Gary.”
“Gary?” Betsy asked, looking up at her with unfocused eyes.
“Yes, Gary,” Jenny said, patiently like she was talking to a small child. “Gary’s got a cut on his head, and I need you to hold this to stop the bleeding.”
“Yes, Betsy. Hold this for me so we can stop the bleeding.”
She was about to give up on the woman when Betsy held out a trembling hand. Jenny placed her hand over the folded up shirt and pressed it down.
“Hold it tight, Betsy.”
“Yeah, tight,” Betsy said, and seemed to come back to the world a little.
She glanced behind where Gary and Betsy were sitting, though none of her party had been seated in that section. There was a ragged hole in the plane where the wing had been wrenched off and a gaping crack that ran up and over the ceiling. The seats next to where the wing had been were simply gone, and she mentally thanked God that none of her coworkers had been sitting there. Outside of the gaping rent, the storm seemed to have passed. Sunlight and furrowed ground was all she could see through the hole.
Retracing her steps, she saw that Tom was awake and standing up.
“All right, Tom?” she asked.
“Fine,” he replied. “Bruised and sore…but fine.”
“Can you help me check on David and Clara?”
“Yes, if I can get there without falling over. This floor is steeper than a raked stage.”
She continued her journey, using the backs of empty seats to steady her on the sharply tilted floor with Tom trailing behind her. She was surprised that she felt so calm. Certainly she’d always prided herself on being able to stay calm in a crisis, which was one of the reasons she made a good dresser. This situation was a little more serious than a broken zipper backstage.
When they reached where David and Clara were sitting, David seemed awake and alert, though confused. He had undone both his own and Clara’s seatbelts, and was sitting with his arm around her.
“What happened?” he asked
“Plane crashed,” Tom said.
“Why is everything so slanty?”
“Plane crashed into a mountain, I expect,” Jenny said. “We were flying over the Rockies. I haven’t gotten a good look outside yet.”
“How’s Clara?” Tom asked David.
“Out like a light. She seems ok, but she’s got a big goose egg on the back of her head. She assumed the crash position as soon as you said to, Jenny, but we got thrown around pretty roughly.”
“Yeah, I got knocked out too,” she said, “but I’m ok. We’ll have to watch her for signs of a concussion.”
“Well listen to you, Doctor Fancypants,” David joked.
“You can thank St. Louis Rep for that. This year they offered free CPR and First Aid classes to the backstage workers. I’m a certified fancypants.”
It seemed strange to laugh in a crashed plane in the middle of God knows where, but she was just happy that she and her coworkers were alive. She figured that they could be forgiven for some inappropriate giddiness.
Leaning over the petite actress, she put a palm to Clara’s face and called to her gently. “Clara? Clara, honey, can you hear me?”
Clara squinted her eyes tighter together and groaned.
“Clara, can you open your eyes for me?”
Clara slowly opened her eyes and looked blearily at her.
“What happened? My head hurts.”
“David says you hit your head pretty bad. Can you tell me how many fingers I’m holding up?”
“I can barely tell you that you’re holding your hand up,” Clara said, grimacing. “Everything is blurry.”
“You probably have a concussion,” Jenny said. “You take it easy, and don’t try to stand up.”
Turning to Tom, she asked, “Can you check on Art? I’m worried about him. His arm hurts and it might be broken. I’ll go check on our drunken pilot.”
“Sure thing. Be careful. If he gives you any trouble, just shout and I’ll come running.”
As Tom went back to Art, she continued forward. It took some time on the uneven floor to drag herself to the hatch-like door that separated her from the cockpit. Once she got there, it took her a moment to figure out how the door’s latch disengaged.
When she opened the door, bright sunlight greeted her. In front of the pilot and copilot’s seats, the nose of the airplane didn’t exist. She was distracted at first by gently sloping ground and strands of pine trees. In the distance, the ground rose up more steeply to a pair of snow topped mountain peaks. They appeared to be in a valley of some sort, and she was glad that they hadn’t crashed into the snow. The snow might have lessened the impact, but it would be very cold for people who were dressed for spring in Salt Lake City.
When Jenny turned to the seat on her left, she saw that the pilot was still strapped into his seat. The steering thing was still in his hands, though it was no longer attached to anything.
She found the pilot’s head in the seat to her right. It was staring up at her.
Jenny fled from the gruesome sight of the decapitated pilot. Rushing out of the cockpit, she entered the cabin and slammed the door shut behind her. She closed her eyes for a moment, and tried to slow her rapid breathing. Nothing in CPR and First Aid class prepared one for the sight of a headless body.
“Get a grip,” she muttered to herself. “Get a grip, there’s things to be done.”
Opening her eyes, she looked up to see how her coworkers were fairing. David was still sitting with Clara and chatting with her as if nothing had happened. The actress was leaning on him with her eyes closed, but she was talking and appeared to be doing all right. Tom was perched on the armrest of his tilted plane seat, talking in soft tones to Art, who was still holding his left arm.
Behind Tom, Gary was awake and getting to his feet. He had ripped a strip off of her plaid shirt and tied it around his head. He climbed into the aisle, and then Betsy pushed past him and started towards the front of the plane.
“Where is that wino of a pilot? I want to talk to him,” she said, her voice loud and her expression angry.
“Tom,” Jenny called. When he looked up, she looked at Betsy and then shook her head.
Tom caught on quickly. Standing up, he blocked the narrow aisle so that the angry woman couldn’t pass.
“Now, Betsy,” he began. “We’re on the ground, we’re safe, there’s no reason to rush into anything.”
“I want to give that damn pilot a piece of my mind!” Betsy shrieked.
“I know, I know,” Tom said, patting her on the shoulder. “And I’m sure that you’ll have plenty of time to do that. Right now, why don’t you sit here with Art while I see what’s going on?”
Placated, Betsy took over for Tom, and Tom made his way up the aisle to Jenny.
“What’s up?” he asked.
“The pilot is dead,” Jenny said quietly. “It’s not a pretty sight, and I don’t think any of them need to see it. I wish I hadn’t seen it.”
“How about the radio? Can we radio for help? I tried my cell phone but there’s no service up here.”
“Damn. Well, I’m not surprised. I got a look outside and we seem to be in the middle of nowhere. As for the radio, it, and the rest of the nose of the plane are no longer attached. It’s just a big hole up there.”
“What the hell do we do now?” Tom said, shaking his head back and forth slowly.
“First, we get everyone off of the plane. It’s too tilted in here, and people are going to hurt themselves if they keep climbing around. Then, we go through the cargo hold and look for anything useful. First aid kit, food, water, things like that.”
“Sounds like a place to start. Let’s get them out. Through the door?”
“I don’t think so. It’s pointing up towards the sky. There’s a big hole back by where the right wing got ripped off. We should be able to get out there.”
As Tom headed back to herd the others off of the plane, Jenny called out to him, “Just keep them away from the front of the plane.”
Gritting her teeth, Jenny went back into the cockpit. She avoided looking directly at the pilot’s corpse, and searched what hadn’t been sheared off of the plane for storage compartments. There wasn’t much to search, but she did find a metal box under the copilot’s seat with a flare gun and a small first aid kit. She grabbed it by the handle and headed to the back of the plane where the hole was. Tom was just helping Art negotiate the opening. Everyone else had made it outside.
The sun blinded her for a moment. Then she stood gazing around herself for several minutes. They were in between three tall mountain peaks, in a wide valley that sloped gently downward in one direction. There wasn’t much to look at. Pine trees, rocky places jutting out of the valley floor, and dead vegetation left over from the past summer. Little bits of green showed here and there, proving that while spring had begun in the mountain valley, it hadn’t gotten a strong foothold. It seemed warm enough for the moment, but she knew that would end when the sun went down. The group had gathered near some large flat rocks that made convenient if chilly seats. Clara was laying with her head in David’s lap and her eyes closed. Art had a grimace on his face, and Jenny expected that the climb out of the tilted plane had jostled his arm.
Setting the metal box on a rock, she opened it and rifled through the contents. There was some old ibuprophen, but it was well past the expiration date. She had better in her wardrobe panic box, the kit she used on the road that held everything she needed to make repairs on the costumes and keep the actors comfortable. There were some bandages in the plane’s first aid kit, and a big roll of medical tape.
“Ok, guys,” she began, “there’s some things we need to do before the sun goes down. I think if everyone does what they can, we’ll get it done in time.”
“What do you mean we have to do stuff?” Betsy said, furrowing her brow in puzzlement. “I’m sure they know where we are and they’ll be here to pick us up any minute.”
“Betsy, when you say ‘they,’ exactly who do you mean?” she asked.
“Well, the airline people, I suppose.”
“The airline might not know where we are,” Jenny said, picking her words with caution in an effort not to panic anyone. “Now, they might. It’s possible that the storm and our drunk pilot didn’t get us too far off course, but the smart thing to do is see to our safety and general needs just in case it takes rescuers time to find us.”
“That doesn’t sound smart to me,” Betsy argued. “It sounds like a whole lot of work for no reason. I’m not going to slave around with a sprained ankle when we won’t be here very long.”
“Now, Betsy,” Tom began, his voice placating. “No one expects you to run around on a sprained ankle, but I think Jenny is right about this.”
“I don’t think so,” Betty said, her voice sounding petulant. “What does Jenny know about anything other than costumes anyway? And if she was better at that, I wouldn’t be here in the first place.”
“Yeah, right,” snapped Jenny, as she started to lose her temper. “You were so helpful when Art’s zipper broke. Oh, wait, no you weren’t.”
“I don’t know what you would have done without me,” Betsy shouted.
“Well, when I need someone to wail like a banshee, I’ll let you know,” Jenny shouted back.
“Now, ladies,” Tom said, holding his hands up. “Let’s try to get along.”
Jenny could tell by his expression that Tom was trying not to laugh about her banshee comment. Betsy seemed aware of this as well.
“I am not going to argue with a stupid little girl,” Betsy said. “I want to talk to the pilot. I’m sure he’s radioed for help and we’ll be out of here in no time.”
“You can’t talk to the pilot,” Jenny said. “He didn’t survive the crash.”
“How do you know?” Betsy asked. “You aren’t a doctor. I’m sure he’s just knocked out of something.”
“Betsy, that is enough!” Jenny said, tired of talking when there were things that she needed to do. “Let me spell it out for you. We are crashed in the middle of nowhere. There is no radio, the entire nose of the plane was ripped off and landed god knows where. The pilot is dead, and believe me, it’s so easy to tell that even you could do it. It’s not too cold right now, but it’s gonna get very cold when the sun sets, and we have people who could go into shock, and a woman with a concussion. It’s spring, and we happen to have crashed where there are bears, and wolves, and fucking mountain lions, all which are hungry after a long winter. We’ve got a dead body that’s going to draw those animals like flies. It will be dark soon, and no one will be looking for us in the dark. Even if they rescue us tomorrow, we have to get a fire going, bundle up, and get that corpse out of here. You saying no to everything I suggest is not doing us any good. If you don’t want to help, fine, but if you don’t have anything constructive to say, then shut the fuck up.”
“You can’t talk to me like that,” Betsy snapped, seeming to have completely missed the point of the conversation. “I’m your boss.”
“Well then, I’ve got some news for you. I quit!”
Turning on her heel, Jenny stomped to the cargo door in the rear of the plane. They were lucky about one thing; the plane had landed on uneven ground and she could at least get to the cargo bay. The tail potion of the plane was tilted up slightly, so that the body of the plane wasn’t on top of the door. By the time she had managed to get the door open, Tom, Gary, and David had joined her.
“What do you need us to do?” David asked, sounding like a little kid ready for an adventure.
“Don’t pay any mind to Betsy,” Gary added, “we all know how she is.”
“What’s the plan?” Tom asked.
Jenny blinked at them for a moment. It was strange to have three men standing there asking her what to do. She guessed her little speech had affected them. Good. She hadn’t been exaggerating about how much they needed to get done before sundown.
“First, we need to get some things for Art and Clara. I need my panic box, and some fabric for a sling. Just rip up one of the costumes.”
“Betsy is going to love that,” David said, and then chuckled.
“She’ll have to get over it. We also need to get clothes and costumes out to keep warm tonight, especially for Clara. I don’t want her going into shock and we have to keep her warm.”
“What else?” Tom asked.
“Art needs something hard and straight to splint his arm. Maybe a tree branch or a piece of metal from the plane.”
“And what about the body?” Tom asked.
“We have to get it away from us. I wasn’t joking about the smell drawing animals. And we have to build a fire and keep it going. That will help ward off animals too.”
“Can’t we sleep in the plane?” Gary asked.
“I don’t see how,” Jenny said. “The floor is so tilted and everything is so busted up. With the holes and cracks in it, I think we’d be warmer out here with a fire.”
“Then that’s what we’ll do,” Tom said. “Ok, let’s get what we need out of the cargo hold, and look for anything useful. After that, Gary, you help Art and Clara, and David and I will help Jenny get that body out of here.”
“Sounds like a plan,” David said, his expression more grim than Jenny had ever seen it.
“If you guys will start getting stuff out of the plane, I’ll look around for someplace to take the pilot. We can’t dig a grave, but if I can find somewhere with enough loose rock, we could cover him. Might keep the animals out.”
“Do it,” Tom said. “You were right. We need to get him out of here, and I don’t want to be stumbling around in the dark to do that.”
“Gary,” Jenny said, “there’s bandages and a bottle of disinfect in that metal box I carried off of the plane. Clean that gash on your forehead and get it bandaged. We don’t want it getting infected.”
“I will,” Gary replied.
As Jenny left the group, she heard Gary say, “She acts like we could be here a while.”
“That’s smart,” Tom said. “For all we know, we will be.”
Jenny examined the immediate area. Though they were in a valley of some sort, there were enough ridges of rock, brush, and pine trees that she couldn’t see far in any direction. She’d have to be cautious. It would be easy to get lost in a place like this. Looking down the slope of the valley, she saw an outcropping of rock that made a good landmark. It stuck up higher than anything in the vicinity, and it was bare on top, which made it easily visible amongst the pine trees. She walked towards it for a few minutes, and then looked back the way she had come. The peak of the tallest mountain of the three they were nestled between stood out in the distance. Perfect. As long as she could see the bald outcropping, and the highest mountain peak, she could find her way back to the camp.
All the time she had spent in her youth hiking and caving with her older brother was paying off. She was no extreme adventurist, by any stretch of the imagination, but she knew that when blazing a trail, you had to look behind you as much as in front. It wasn’t enough to know where you were going; you had to know how to get back.
The hike was difficult with no trail to follow. Everything seemed hell bent on tripping her, and the last thing she needed was a sprained ankle. Fallen logs and rocks made for uneven footing. The ground was covered with a thick blanket of pine needles in some places, which made it spongy and difficult to traverse. Within ten minutes, she had worked up a sweat in the cool spring air, and paused to tie her jacket around her waist. A further ten minutes and she found the creek.
Finding water was a godsend. Betsy might believe that rescue was imminent, but Jenny knew better. Growing up with a brother six years her senior had made her a tomboy, and a nut for the outdoors, just as Dillon was. Though she no longer had much time for it, like she had when she was young, she hadn’t lost her interest. A fan of shows like Survivor Man, and Into the Wild, she was probably the group’s best bet for getting out of this alive, even if she wasn’t an expert. She also loved to read, and true adventure stories were her favorite. While Into Thin Air, the story of a doomed Mt. Everest expedition would be little help in her current situation, tales of real wilderness rescues gave her hope that her group of theatre workers could pull through this, even if rescue took a while.
It was likely to take time. Even if the authorities had a general idea of where the plane had crashed, it’s hard to find something that’s on the ground from the air. It’s a bit like dropping a penny in the tall grass and then trying to find it again. Sure, you might know the area where you dropped it, but that doesn’t mean that you’ll ever see that penny again.
With water available, they could last a long while, though it wouldn’t be any fun. If she could find some sort of food, they could live here indefinitely. Not that they would have to. Rescue was bound to find them eventually. Having water only a twenty minute walk from the plane, and between two easy to see landmarks, made much of Jenny’s worry lessen. Sure, they were still in trouble, but not dying of dehydration trouble.
There were also piles of loose rocks around the winding creek. Getting the pilot into a makeshift grave would be easier here. Turning to find the mountain peak that marked her way back to the plane, she began retracing her steps.
She heard Betsy shrieking before she saw the plane. Walking back into the space that the plane had cleared in the trees when it crashed, Jenny saw Betsy, pacing back and forth with her arms flapping around dramatically.
“I still think it’s going to explode!” she shouted, her voice so high that it hurt Jenny’s ears. “Things always explode when they crash!”
“Betsy,” Tom said, sounding like even his patience was wearing thin. “We already checked around the whole plane. There is no sign of a gas leak. The plane isn’t going to explode.”
“This isn’t the movies,” Gary added, sounding like he was through being patient altogether. “Things don’t just explode at the drop of a hat. In fact, it’s hard to get a vehicle to explode. Don’t you ever watch Myth Busters?”
“You don’t know,” Betsy said, her voice clipped and disdainful. “You don’t know anything about it.”
“I know a damn sight better than you.”
“Well, I am not going near that plane.”
“Betsy,” Tom said, putting a hand on Gary’s shoulder and giving it a squeeze. “No one is asking you to. We checked for gas leaks and there are none. So do whatever you want.”
The irate woman tried to get the others to move farther away from the plane with her. When they all declined, she stomped further away and sat down on a fallen pine log, turning her back on the group.
“That woman is going to be the death of me,” Gary mumbled as Jenny walked up to the group.
“Some people are no good in an emergency,” Tom said, “but arguing with her will get us nowhere.”
“Hey, Jen,” David said, and then smiled at her. “How’d it go?”
“Good,” she said. “Really good. There’s a creek not far from here. Lots of water and plenty of rocks to build a cairn.”
“We’re a bit behind schedule,” Tom said. We haven’t gone through the entire cargo hold yet. We had to stop to check for gas leaks.”
“That was smart,” Jenny said. “I didn’t even think of it. So, the tanks hold up?”
“Yeah,” Gary said. “We’re not sure where the tanks are, but we didn’t see anything leaking out. We didn’t check the nose of the plane, Tom said not to bother because it got ripped off.”
“Believe me, you don’t want to see what’s up there,” Jenny said, as a shiver went down her spine. “How far did you get with the cargo?”
“Your wardrobe and panic box are out. Gary found a gallon jug of water, and we got the box out with the coats and jacket from the play. Clara’s bundled up, and Art’s keeping an eye on her.”
“Ok, let’s take care of Art’s arm first,” Jenny decided.
With the three men trailing behind her, she headed for the tail of the plane.
Jenny went straight for her wardrobe box, and began rifling through it. It was a large, wooden box on wheeled castors that the scene shop had made for her, and it held quite a lot. She pulled out the muslin pressing cloth that she used for ironing, and it took her only a moment to fold it into a triangle and tie it into a sling for Art. She’d been proud of how quickly she had learned the technique in First Aid class. It helped that she was used to working with fabric. She’d never have imagined that she would be using that skill so soon. After making the sling, she dug through the large wooden box until she found a bottle of ibuprophen. She also found a short metal ruler that she’d forgotten about.
“Gary, would this do to splint Art’s arm, or is it too short?” she asked.
“That should work fine,” Gary said. “It’s sturdy and straight enough.”
“Are you ok with splinting it yourself?”
“Sure. There’s still plenty of medical tape in the box you found. That should make it easy.”
“Take this ibuprophen to him, and tell him to keep that sling on.”
“He won’t argue. I don’t know if his arm is broken or not, but it’s hurting him pretty bad.”
While Gary headed to splint Art’s arm, Davis and Tom began searching through the cargo again. Jenny continued to look through her wardrobe box. Though it wasn’t exactly a survival kit, it was amazing how many useful things she had stored there. True, she had no use for starch and her heavy steam iron, but her roll of gaffer’s tape would come in handy. In the tackle box she used to keep her sewing things sorted, she found her shears. Gingher scissors were not cheap, and her pair with eight inch blades and leopard print handles had cost her sixty bucks. With a sigh, she took the screw out of her favorite shears and was left with two separate blades. They wouldn’t be quite as good as having a knife, but she kept the blades sharp. Tucking the blades in her back jeans pocket, she then removed her small whetstone that was wrapped in a bright pink scrap of fabric and stuck that in her pocket as well.
Digging through the large wardrobe box again, she was unhappy when she found that she was almost out of garbage bags. They might have been handy, especially if it rained again and they needed to stay dry. There were only two left, and she had a much less pleasant use for them in mind. She grabbed the bags and the gaffer’s tape and headed for the front of the plane.
The nose of the plane was tilted up high enough that Jenny could not climb into it. She detoured to the hole where the wing had ripped off and made her was awkwardly down the aisle of the canted vehicle. She opened one of the garbage bags before she even opened the hatch to the cockpit. Once inside, she kept her eyes averted slightly away as she tipped the pilot’s head into the open garbage bag and tied the top of the bag into a knot to close it.
The body was harder to deal with. The pilot hadn’t bled much, which led Jenny to believe that he had died nearly instantly. Nevertheless, it was a gruesome sight, and she had to stop work twice because she was gagging. When she was finished, the second garbage bag covered the top half of the corpse and was securely gaff taped to the pilot’s lower body. It struck her as disrespectful, to wrap a dead man in garbage bags, but they had to carry him away from the plane, and she couldn’t think of anything else to do. This way, the pilot wouldn’t drip blood all over them, and her coworkers could be spared the grisly sight that she had endured.
Tired and mentally numb, Jenny stepped carefully over to where the nose of the plane had been torn off, and sat down at the edge, letting her feet hang into space. It wasn’t so far that she couldn’t jump down, but then she would have to climb back through the plane when it was time to get the pilot’s body out. She didn’t want to do that again. When the men were done with the cargo hold, she figured they would come to find her.
She fished a battered pack of cigarettes out of a pocket, and lit one with a match from an equally worn book of matches. She should probably conserve her matches, but she just wrapped a dead man’s head in a garbage bag, so fuck it. There might be another matchbook in her sewing kit. She usually kept some spare fire around for her smoking habit. It would have been nice to have her lighter, but you couldn’t take those on planes any more. She probably wasn’t supposed to take the matches on the flight, but they didn’t set off the metal detector and she hadn’t been searched.
There was about half of the cigarette left when Tom walked into view and looked up at her.
“Got another one of those?” he asked.
“I didn’t think you smoked.”
“Quit five years ago. I have one every once in a long while. Look, I don’t want to take your cigarettes when we don’t know how long–”
“Nonsense,” Jenny interrupted. “I don’t mind sharing. You just surprised me is all.”
While she got her pack back out, Tom surprised her again by grabbing the sheared off edge of the plane’s nose and pulling himself up beside her. While he was over a head taller than she was, she hadn’t realized that he was so strong.
While he smoked, Tom looked over his shoulder at the half wrapped body of the dead pilot and the smaller package beside it.
“You’re right, even Betsy could tell that guy’s dead. No wonder you got so mad. You protected her from having to see it, and she doesn’t even figure that out, she just gives you a hard time.”
“She’s difficult at the best of times.”
“And this is not the best of times. Betsy is going to cause trouble. I know you don’t have to go to production meetings, so you haven’t seen her in action. That woman would argue that the sky was green if she it means she gets all the attention. Makes it hard to get the job done.”
“Why does the theatre keep her if she’s so much trouble?” Jenny asked.
“She’s been the costume shop manager forever. Honestly, I think the artistic director is afraid of her.”
They were quiet for a few moments while Tom finished his cigarette. Then Tom climbed to his feet, picked up the small bundle that was the pilot’s head, and dropped it out of the nose of the plane. It rolled in the dirt and fetched up against a tree that had been knocked over in the crash.
“Tom,” Jenny said, her voice high in surprise. “That’s so disrespectful.”
“This is the drunk bastard that got us crashed in the mountains. I don’t have a hell of a lot of respect for him. We’ll cover him with rocks if it makes you feel better. But, honestly, I say let the wolves and bears and cougars eat the bastard.”
With that, he wrestled the rest of the body out of the pilot’s seat, and set it tumbling the way of the head. Tom jumped down as well, with little trouble.
“Come on down, Jen,” he said, raising his arms in readiness to steady her. “We’re wasting daylight.”
Jenny landed fairly steady on her feet, grabbing Tom’s arms to get her balance. She couldn’t help noticing his biceps under her fingers. It was little wonder he’d had no trouble getting up into the nose of the plane.
As they walked back towards the tail of the plane, Tom spoke. “David has volunteered to help us carry the body. Gary is going to try to get a fire started. We didn’t know you had matches. That will make things easier.”
Jenny stopped by her wardrobe box, and found that she had two small boxes of kitchen matches tucked into it. They should still be careful in case rescue took more time than they hoped, but the matches would make their lives much easier. She grabbed a few of the zip-lock bags that she used to keep small costume pieces like jewelry and handkerchiefs in. Taking her cigarettes and book of matches out of her pocket, she sealed them in a bag and then put them back. She then put each box of matches in its own bag. The matches would be useless if they got wet.
They found Gary by the ripped off wing of the plane that was resting on a log looking like a teeter-totter. He seemed to be trying to lift the side that was resting on the ground and he was able to get it raised a few inches.
“What ‘cha doing?” Jenny asked.
“Trying to see how much this thing weighs,” Gary said. “It seems like it’s made of aluminum. Pretty light for the size.”
“What do you want it for?” Tom asked, his brow furrowed in puzzlement.
“Well, I was going to make a fire, but it could rain more. A fire won’t keep us warm tonight if the rain puts it out. That is, if I can get one lit at all.”
Jenny held out a bag with a box of matches in it as if she was awarding Gary a Tony award.
“Brilliant!” Gary said, and then grinned at her. “I was going to try to use Art’s glasses, but that’s pretty iffy at best.”
“So what do you want the wing for?” Tom asked again.
“Well, we know there’s no gas tanks in the tail of the plane because it’s hollow for storage. I was thinking that we could lean this wing against it, and build the fire underneath it. This part of the wing is only about six feet wide, but it’s about twenty long. Might be enough room for us to sleep under it, if we cuddle up.”
“That’s a great idea,” Jenny said, clapping Gary on the back.
She wasn’t surprised that Gary had found a way to get them a little shelter. In between productions, he worked in the scene shop building the sets. He was the perfect person to figure something like the wing shelter out.
“Can we lift it?” Tom asked.
“Yeah, I think so,” Gary replied. Then he called loudly to David, who was sitting with the other actors. “David, come give us a hand.”
David joined them, and Art came as well. His left arm was in the makeshift sling and his expression was far less pained that the last time Jenny had seen him.
“What’s up?” David asked, his voice almost annoyingly cheery.
“I’m hoping we can take this wing and lean it against the tail for a little shelter. If we can lift it.”
“I’m game,” Art said. “Let’s give it a try.”
“Should you be helping?” Jenny asked, mock-scowling at the older actor.
“Hey, I’ve got one good arm!” Art exclaimed, pretending to be offended.
It took all of them, but they got the wing moved and braced against the tail of the plane. There was room under it for a fire and for them to sleep, if they stayed close together.
“If I put the fire near where the wing touches the ground,” Gary began, “it will be the most protected. And it will heat the metal of the wing up too, which will help us stay warm at night.”
“Just warn everyone not to touch the metal,” Jenny added.
“True dat,” Gary agreed.
“That expression isn’t hip anymore,” Tom said drily. “You might as well say word up.”
“What do you know?” Gary said. “You still use the word hip.”
They broke apart after that. Art went back to keep an eye on Clara and Gary went to gather wood and sticks for a fire. Jenny, Tom, and David headed back to the front of the plane to start the unpleasant task of moving the body away from their camp.
Jenny picked up the garbage bag with the pilot’s head, lifting her arm to hold it away from her body. She couldn’t stand the thought of it bumping against her as she walked. With David’s help, Tom got the body into a fireman’s carry over one shoulder. The plan was that he would carry it for a while, and then switch with David. The men thought that position would be easier on the uneven ground than it would be to try to carry it between them.
Turning towards where the bald outcropping marked her destination, Jenny led the way towards the creek. About a quarter of the way there, the men stopped to switch the body to David’s shoulder, and Jenny had to switch hands. She had never realized how much a person’s head weighed, especially if one was trying to hold it away from oneself. They switched two more times before they came to the creek. Once there, they put their unpleasant burden down and sat for a moment to catch their breath.
“Thank you for wrapping up the pilot,” David said, his voice uncharacteristically solemn. They he ruined the seriousness of his statement by saying, “I’m glad not to have dead pilot goo running down my back.”
Jenny made an exaggerated expression of distaste. “I so did not need that image.”
“I’ve disgusted Jen. My work here is done.”
“Unfortunately not,” Tom said. “Do we really have to cover him in rocks?”
“Yes,” Jenny said.
“But he’s a bastard and I hate him,” Tom grumbled. “Besides, the poor mountain creatures have been starving all winter and they need a good meal.”
“Are you seriously suggesting we let critters eat the pilot?” David asked.
“Yes, I am.”
“Works for me,” David said, nodding his head.
“That’s enough, you guys,” Jenny said. “We’re covering him.”
“Why?” Tom said, his tone bordering on whiny.
“Because even drunk asshole pilots have families. They’d appreciate having something to bury if we can manage it.”
“Fine,” Tom said with a loud sigh. “I didn’t think about that.”
“Where do you want to put him?” David asked, getting to his feet.
“We should go a little bit downstream,” Jenny decided. “If we come here to get water, we don’t want to be looking at him all the time.”
Tom put the body over his shoulder again, and Jenny picked up the bag with the head for the last time. They found a spot a little way from the banks of the creek that had a great deal of loose rocks of a decent size and set the body down. It took a half hour’s hard work to get the body sufficiently covered.
“Will that do it?” Tom asked. He was breathing hard and he sweating by the time they were through, as they all were. “Will it be safe from hungry beasts now?”
“Hopefully,” Jenny replied. “A determined animal can dig him up as easily as we covered him, but hopefully it will be enough to discourage them.”
“Why am I so out of breath?” David asked. “I mean, I know that was hard work and all, but I stay in good shape.”
Jenny felt out of breath as well, unusually so.
“It’s the altitude,” Tom said after a moment’s thought. “We’re higher than we’re used to. It will take a couple days for our bodies to adjust.”
Returning to where they had first reached the creek, they sat down to rest before heading back to their makeshift camp.
“God, I’m thirsty,” Tom said. “How dangerous would it be to drink out of the creek?”
“Could be dangerous,” Jenny said. “There’s bacteria we aren’t used to, and there could be parasites. If you don’t boil it first, it could give you diarrhea or make you vomit. It’s not worth risking.”
“Well,” David began, “I’m sure that we can find something in the plane to boil water in. If we have to.”
They heard a strange pop and whistle from the direction of their camp. Turning towards it, they saw the orange red light of a flare streaking into the sky. A moment later, a second flare followed the first.
“What the hell are they doing?” Jenny asked. “We might need those flares.”
“Maybe they’re trying to signal something,” David said.
“But what?” Jenny asked, as she studied the empty sky. “The only plane around here is the one we crashed in.”
“We’d better head back,” Tom said. “Even if we have to take it slowly.”
“Yeah,” Jenny agreed. “We’d better find out what they’re up to.”