Authors: Ryan C. Thomas
Tags: #Action & Adventure, #Horror, #High School Students, #Fiction, #Coming of Age, #Science Fiction, #Adventure, #Zombies, #Horror Fiction
The force of the impact knocked the wind out of him. He looked up and saw her looking down at him, total surprise and fear written in her eyes. He watched as the massive, flaming wing of the airplane sliced through the air above them, missing them by mere feet.
It severed the trees around them like a scythe through wheat, crashing through the woods with the squealing protest of twisting metal. Tree tops and bifurcated trunks toppled to the ground, rumbling against the forest floor. Branches exploded outward and struck the dirt with enough force to crack a skull. The flora rained down on top of them, cutting their bare arms, breaking their skin like BBs shot from an air rifle at close range. For a fleeting moment Connor thought his actions would be for naught, that they’d be shredded by the trees, but the wing lodged itself in a towering pine with an ear-splitting crunch, gave one last creak, and finally came to rest.
“You okay?” Connor asked, his breath coming back to him. He could feel Nicole’s lips just about touching his.
She pushed off of him and brushed her hair out of her face. She was shaking, and had a superficial cut above her eye, but otherwise looked in one piece. “Yeah. Thanks.”
“No problem.” Connor stood up and took note of his own injuries. Twigs had lacerated his shin pretty badly, cutting through his jeans. Blood was running into his sock from a deep gouge. The entire area felt numb, but it didn’t hurt to stand on. He could feel a bruise forming on his shoulder. “Seth? Amanita?”
“Over here.” Seth’s hand stuck up from a mound of broken branches.
Connor and Nicole rushed over and pulled the larger ones off of him. He emerged covered in dirt and bleeding from his nose. “What the hell was that?”
“I think it was the wing of the plane.”
“I felt the air from it.”
“Yeah, it was close.”
Nicole stepped over a fallen tree and picked up the broken bottle of Jack Daniels. “Where’s Am?”
Both boys spun in a circle, kicking aside the piles of branches now littering the ground. Amanita was nowhere to be found. They found Nicole’s purse and handed it back to her. She accepted it with a thanks, too concerned about Amanita to bother checking inside.
“She’s got to be around here somewhere,” Seth said.
Nicole put her hand to her mouth. “Oh my God, she wasn’t standing when that thing…when it…”
Nobody dared finish the sentence for her, the thought was too horrible. If Amanita had been standing when the wing flew over them it would have crushed her instantly and sent her flying through the air like a ragdoll. She would be nothing but a lump of broken bones deep in the woods.
Nicole began to cry, which prompted Seth and Connor to start overturning branches at a frantic rate. They called out for Amanita but got no response. Connor started to think Nicole might be right. Amanita must have gotten hit by the—
“She’s here!” Seth exclaimed.
Nicole and Connor rushed over and found Seth lifting up one of the pallets from the fort. It must have ricocheted away from the fort when the wing did its damage. Amanita was lying under it, her eyes closed. She looked dead.
“Oh no, Am. No, please be okay.” Nicole bent down and lifted Amanita’s head, put two fingers against the girl’s throat. “I…I don’t know how to check for a pulse. I mean I do, but I’ve never done it. Not for real. I don’t feel anything. Oh my God, she’s dead!”
Connor knelt down beside her. “Is she breathing? Feel her chest.”
Nicole put her head on Amanita’s chest. She actually cried harder. “Yeah, she’s breathing. She’s alive.” She wiped her tears away and sniffled.
Connor shook the unconscious girl and gave her a little slap in the face—the same kind of medical treatment he’d seen in so many bad movies—hoping to jar her awake.
Amanita’s eyelids began to flutter.
Shit, it actually worked.
“She’s coming to!” Nicole yelled.
“I’m to already,” Amanita said. “For fuck’s sake stop yelling in my ear.”
“Sounds like her,” Seth said.
“Can you walk?” Connor asked.
Amanita rolled herself onto her knees and then steadily got to her feet. She moved all her joints and didn’t scream out in pain. Like the others, she had cuts on her bare skin, and her shirt was torn near her right hip, but she was fine to travel. “Something hit the back of my head,” she said, rubbing the spot in question. She pulled her hand away but there was no blood.
“You might have a concussion,” Nicole said. “Do you feel dizzy or is your vision wobbly?”
“I’m fine, McDreamy. Really. Except my fucking shoes are gone. I just bought those shoes. Damn!”
“So we’re all okay, then?” Connor asked.
“McDreamy is a guy,” Seth added. This generated looks of disbelief. “What, it’s a good show.”
For the next few seconds everyone checked themselves over once more and concluded they were all just the worse for wear. The worst of the injuries seemed to be Connor’s shin, which needed stitches and a bandage.
“What do we do about that?” Nicole asked, pointing into the woods where the wing had gone. A pool of fire was casting orange light up into the surrounding treetops.
“More importantly,” Amanita added, “What the hell do we do about
?” They followed her finger as she pointed out over the town.
A trail of fire cut through the center of Castor. Flaming debris was spread out in what had to be a mile-wide radius. Nearby houses had been torn to pieces, businesses reduced to kindling, trees and cars smashed to bits. The smell of burning wood and metal was everywhere. The plane itself, throwing walls of fire into the sky, was situated just beyond the pizza place.
As the four of them stood on the hill, looking down in awe, rubbing bruises and wiping blood off their skin, they heard the cries of the entire town float up the thermals from the crash site and wash over them like a nightmare.
Their friends and families were injured, dead or dying.
As a tight group, the four teens hobbled through the dark woods, careful to find footing over the newly fallen trees. Their flashlights were gone, and even though the severed wing was still burning and lighting nearby vegetation on fire, dense shadows still made it dangerous to walk.
The path led down to the south end of Farmers Road, which was flanked on both sides by woods. Farmers Road cut like a river through the center of town, passing by the park and angling up toward the Jefferson Bridge on the north end, winding through many miles of wooded nothingness on the south end until it met State Road 134 to Wallington. It was just the one road into and out of town unless you counted a few dozen dirt “roads” that cut through the wooded hills encircling the majority of Castor. There had once been second bridge over the Jefferson River’s deep but empty riverbed, but it had been deemed unsafe after a wild storm had loosened its struts in 1987. The town had voted and eventually torn in down.
Connor, Nicole, Seth and Amanita reached the bottom of the dirt trail and began jogging down Farmers Road. The blaze from the crashed plane seemed brighter, hotter.
Connor stopped at the edge of the park and pointed across the giant green lawn. “We can cut across the soccer fields to Union Avenue and hop over the chain-link fence around the supermarket. That’ll put us on top of the hill near Pizza King.”
Nobody protested, but Nicole pointed to his leg. “Can you climb like that?”
“I’ll be alright.”
“I have a feeling you’re not going to be high on the ER’s list of priorities,” Amanita added.
The park lights were off, the games having ended for the day. In the near distance they could see the orange glow of the blazing fire reflecting off the low clouds. It looked like a gigantic pit from hell had opened under their town and was trying to crawl up to the sky.
“I can’t get service.” Nicole held her cell phone up, trying to find reception. “One hundred and twenty bucks a month and it doesn’t work.”
“There’s a cell tower on top of the high school,” Seth said. “That’s not too far from the crash. Maybe some debris hit it? Knocked it out?”
Connor shook his head. “We have to have more than one tower.”
“I can’t get Internet on it either,” Nicole added.
Amanita took out her own cellphone. Its face was cracked and dirt fell out of the battery housing. “Mine’s busted. Shit, I don’t even have insurance on it.”
Connor said, “The plane must have messed up the town’s system. But we can hear sirens so somebody already called.”
Not that the whole town wouldn’t have felt that, he thought.
Nicole put a hand on Connor’s shoulder and stopped him for a second. “I need to make sure my Mom’s okay.”
“Yeah sure, but—”
“I feel like we should get to the crash and see what’s what. I’m sure we’re not going to be able to do anything anyway, but we witnessed the whole thing so you never know. We’ll head home right after.”
Nobody spoke as they crossed the remaining fields and emerged onto Union Avenue. The backside of the local supermarket was before them, the fence to the truck loading docks already locked for the night to keep riff raff out.
Amanita climbed up first, cursing as she went, but her body was toned and she had no problem lifting her weight. Nicole went next and Connor stayed back to help her in case she fell. But like Amanita she proved athletic enough to hold her own.
She landed on the other side and waved for Connor and Seth. “Come on, let’s hurry.”
Seth went next and got halfway up before he stopped. He was having difficulty getting his weight up to the top. On the other side of the fence Amanita rolled her eyes. “Oh for fuck’s sake just put your foot there—”
“I can do it,” Seth yelled back. With a grunt he rolled himself over the top and almost fell all the way down to the ground on the other side but both Amanita and Nicole put their hands up to stop him, allowing him to get a grip.
Connor went last, and while he had no problem getting over, he felt his shin burning as he used his calf muscles. At one point the open wound grazed a link and sent shockwaves of pain up his back. He winced when he landed next to Nicole.
They walked around the side of the supermarket, across the small parking lot, and onto the road. They followed it up a steep grade until it was level with the rooftops of the surroundings homes and businesses. Here they stopped and stared at the scene before them.
The Pizza King was gone. The gas station across the street was just a pile of flaming tinder. Up and down the street debris burned and keened as it melted. The fuselage of the plane lay in the middle of what had once been a house, now torn in half, passenger chairs piled up around it, everything alight. The cockpit had driven further into the surrounding homes, leaving a trail of destruction and fire in its wake. The other wing was nowhere to be seen, neither were the jet engines. The tail of the plane had been sheared off as well and was also missing. It was hard to tell what had gone where, but judging by the number of burning houses surrounding the crash it was obvious the rest of the plane, like the wing that almost crushed Connor and his friends, had been flung off on impact.
Sprawled on the street at varying intervals were dead bodies, some of them in one piece, others missing essential parts. One of them was headless. Limbs poked out from under burning bits of metal. Some limbs were not attached to a body.
A fire truck sped to the scene, joining two others that were already on site. Long arcs of water shot into the towering flames but did little to extinguish the blaze. The entire town’s collection of police cruisers was on site, red and blue lights all but lost in the intense orange blaze of the fire. An ambulance appeared out of the black smoke and pulled to the stop near one of the fire trucks. More sirens could be heard approaching. All of the emergency personnel were so overwhelmed they looked like baseball players caught in a pickle, frantically running back and forth but not sure what to do.
But worse than this, worse than the sight of the giant mangled and burning plane sitting in the middle of a residential street in Castor, worse than the dead bodies with broken bones splayed at unnatural angles, were the people on fire, running around in the street. Even from the top of the hill Connor could hear their wails of agony and wanted to cry; they were burning alive.
Firemen and police officers emerged with fire blankets and portable extinguishers and tried to spray down the victims, but there were too many to attend to at once. The lucky ones were hosed down, their skin blackened beyond recognition, the unlucky ones writhed on the hot street while their flesh melted off.
None of the four friends made an attempt to move any closer. This was disaster on a scale they had never seen. This was more than the town of Castor was ever meant to handle. Seth finally stepped forward and said what they were all just realizing. “The plane hit Jason Drake’s house. It’s completely gone. I mean, look, it’s just gone.”
Nicole turned to Connor but was unable to speak. There was something she needed to say, something profound, but the realization that they could have been at the party was too fresh for her. Tears welled up in her eyes and fell down her cheeks.