There were seven passengers in the twin engine plane. All on a company return flight from Los Vegas. George Howard, owner of Howard’s Art and decoration’s, was pleased with the results of his market expansion. The whole reason for the trip was to get the products into a wider market. The problem with Howard’s productions, was that the products were little more than curios. Something one might buy as an afterthought for a present. The company had done well for several seasons, then sales dropped and sellers no longer needed a resupply.
John Applegate had just finished an upgrade of a dairy companies packaging. A simple redesign of the milk carton, with wider lettering in a deeper color red. The product was the same, just the packaging up graded. Sales picked up and it was all attributed to John’s changes. With that success, he picked up a bonus and became known as a trouble shooter.
George Howard hired him as soon as he came on the market again. With John’s eye for details, he was sure the Art and Decoration sales would improve. The trip to Vegas was to explore the different retail giants and push the product on them. Returning home with several offers to handle the products was the high point of the trip. George was elated with hope.
Everyone on the chartered plane was celebrating the successful trip, and the promise of yearend bonuses. John wasn’t enthused, as he wanted to add more variety to the products. The promises to buy were not sales, but George didn’t see it that way. The product was good, all it needed were better salesmen. That was why the rest of the passengers were manager trainees. All had been given a crash course on improving their sales pitch. George had ideas on how to sell his products and only needed his sales people to go along with them. It would take some encouragement and extra cash to get the girls to go along with the more explicit persuasions, but he was fairly sure he could convince them.
If the buyers had been influenced, John wasn’t sure. The late hour cocktail party wasn’t part of his duties. He opted to leave early and not witness the debacle. The sight of the young man, Ronald Rudd, trying to cajole some signatures, turned his stomach. It mattered not to John, if a man was gay, but he didn’t like watching one obviously acting it out. The display of effeminate manners was like finger nails on a chalk board. It shivered his nerves.
To John’s thinking, there wasn’t much he could do for George. He made the decision last night during the party, he would resign. Course he had to wait until they returned home, as many personal effects were in the office at company head quarters. Once he retrieved them, and safely out of the building, he’d strongly let George know he was quitting. He wasn’t going to let anyone escort him out of the building, holding his personal items in a cardboard box.
John settled into a comfortable position and closed his eyes, while one of the pilots sat back from the controls and chatted with the girls. The drone of the engines was pleasant enough, and if he relaxed just a little more, he could have a pleasant nap.
Somewhere along in the flight, a bright flash blinded the pilot. The copilot still trying to entertain the girls, was not affected. The starboard engine suddenly quit, and the other slowed, the engine’s sound lowered in pitch with the power dropping. John woke with a start, when he felt the plane slide to the right dipping the wing.
Everyone was wide eyed now. The girls gasped and a couple screamed, knowing something was terribly wrong. The Copilot grabbed the controls and fought to bring the plane level. Barking commands to the pilot to help pull back on the stick, all went unheeded. John reached for the seat belt and desperately tried to buckle himself in as several passengers rose out of their seats, as the plane dropped through the sky.
“Drop that,” The copilot yelled at him. “Get up here and take the pilots place. I need help with the controls.”
It was a struggle getting the pilot out of his seat, and taking it over. The pilot could only hold his hands over his eyes and kept exclaiming he couldn’t see. The way he acted, John figured there was pain involved too. Once the pilot was out and John in his place, he grabbed the stick and pulled back as the copilot was doing with his control.
“No power, the controls are stiff.” the copilot Mark Donovan. explained in shouts, the plane’s controls were power assisted. Without power, it took more strength to use them.
Together the men were able to level the craft, but with only one engine, they continued to loose altitude. Mark shoved the throttle forward to speed up the engine, but nothing happened. The throttle moved but no change. Mark yelled back at George to get the girls buckled in their seats. The plane was going down.
“We have to pitch forward. Need to gain air speed so we can land this right. Were just falling now, and that ain’t good.” Mark told him.
John tried doing as Mark commanded, the plane responded slowly. Finally he could perceive the nose dipping down. Sweat was beading on Marks forehead, he strained with the controls. From a look out the window, John thought they were still at altitude. Even he could tell that the failing engine couldn’t do the work of two. At the moment the single engine couldn’t even keep the hydraulics powered.
Mark put the plane in a steep dive, gaining air speed. The controls were still stiff, but the plane was starting to respond to their efforts. Once he had ample air over the wings, Mark leveled the dive to a milder pitch. “Were not going to get the wheels down, but that may be better for us. I don’t see a road or air strip.”
Suddenly there was another blinding flash, but this one came from the rear. Mark fumbled with a closed over head compartment, and two pairs of dark glasses fell out. “Take one, get it on, Hand me the other.”
John grabbed both and did as Mark instructed. Once they were on, Mark yelled to the back, telling them all to draw the curtains over the windows and if they didn’t have dark glasses to keep their eyes closed.
“I think we’ve just been nuked.” Mark said to no one in particular.
John was watching the ground come up, as Mark leveled out the plane. The aircraft was responding better to the controls, but there was still no place to land.
They were coming down west of a mountain ridge, and heading towards rolling hills with trees scattered along the slopes. For a few minutes Mark feared he would have to set the plane down on a long sloping ridge, but then there appeared a flat long valley with a river winding through it.
“That’s where we’ll set her down.” Mark said, tossing the dark glasses off. “Can’t see with those on. Only had them in case we got another nuclear flash”
Mark was able to get landing flaps down, to lower the speed. Now that they were landing, they didn’t need the speed.
The plane barely cleared the tree tops at the edge of their approach, and missed the left side of the long meadow where the flat ground was wider. The plane hit hard, and bounced back into the air. The nose came up and when the craft hit again, it was more of a pan cake landing. They slid forever across the grassy flat, until the river turned again and they splashed through, embedding the nose into the opposite bank.
The landing was rough, bouncing everyone hard against the restrain of the seat belts. The girls were the first to moan about the pain. They all were feeling pain in various parts. John was trying to gather his wit’s, and think of the next thing needed done. He could see that Mark had taken some serious jolting from the bashed in side of the craft. He was slumped over, bleeding from a head wound, but it was on his right side, and John couldn’t tell how bad it was.
“Okay, every one check out the person next to you. See if they need help.” John called back at the passengers when they began stirring. “He reached over and checked to see if Mark was still alive. Blood was dripping down on Marks shoulder, John couldn’t be sure if it was a simple cut or more serious head wound.
AThe first thing we need to do, is get out of this wreck.” George finally decided to speak up. A mumble of agreement from the rest of them, and someone began trying the hatch.
Mark slowly gained conscious. Miss Wheeler left her seat and found some napkins to press against his bleeding head. The others were exiting the plane, some jumping out on the bank. A couple unable to get footing, slid back into the swirling water.
It wasn’t as big a river as it looked from the air. It was shallow, barely up to ones knee. Those in the water, managed to scramble up the bank and onto the grass covered meadow. After several minutes they were all out of the plane and some standing while others lay on the grass. The fear of fire, spurred them to exit the plane, but once out, they were feeling the cold.
John was able to convince two of the girls to help him grab items from the plane. Several blankets were tossed to those standing on the bank. John also pulled two seats that were loose and tossed them and the emergency survival gear, including a flare gun and several reloads.
A blanket was spread out, and all they were able to salvage laid on it. The items included a small box of emergency rations, that had been in the plane since construction. A signaling mirror and flint for starting fire. Several space blankets, that were just thin plastic sheets with a coat of reflective silver. Three bottles of scotch, vodka and bourbon, left over’s from last night’s party.
The most important item was the compass. It was a good one, incased in a brass holder it had a strong cord with it. John took it and hung it around his neck. Several pairs of eyes, watched and said anything against his taking it. He figured he was the one who could keep it safe.
With Mark injured and the other pilot blinded, they had their hands full. Ronald Rudd, the manager trainee complained of a sprained ankle. He was laid on a blanket with the blind pilot. While the others helped remove what was possible from the plane.
“We should go to the trees, and build a fire there.” George announced as he stood surveying the surroundings. “We’d be out of the wind there.”
“Go ahead.” John told him. “Get one started and the rest of us will see about moving our injured.” He didn’t say it sarcastically, but it had a touch that everyone thought he had.
“Shouldn’t we shoot a flare?” Ronald complained from the blanket.
“No one to see it.” John muttered. “Even if they did, there’s no help coming, and no one looking for us.”
“You can’t say that.” The girl, Shelly admonished him. “When we don’t arrive at the airport, they will organize a search and rescue party. It’s only a matter of time.”
John shook his head in disbelief. “Okay, lets get an understanding here. There will be no rescue party coming for us. We are on our own.” Pointing to the sky, he continued with a heavy feeling of exasperation. “Those bright flashes of light, weren’t cameras taking our picture. What you witnessed was explosions. Nuclear explosions. Bombs going off.” he raised his voice, hoping to get the concept across.
“The world has bigger problems than wondering about us.” John spread his arms out, to emphasize all of them. “Were on our own. Don’t expect or rely on anyone coming to look for us. I think the rest of the world is busy saving their own ass.”
“What he’s telling you is the bitter truth.” Mark sat with Miss Wheeler wrapping his head with gauze from a first aid kit. “What happened up there, was exactly what I was told would happen in a civil defense class. A magnetic pulse burned out the electronics. That’s why the engines went gunny sack. Were lucky to be alive.”
“Well, as I said, we should build a fire over there in the tree’s” George stated with an air of authority.
“And as I said, go ahead and do it.” John derisively told him. “Well be there after we tend the injured. We have to get them ready to move.”
“You best watch who you’re talking too.” George reminded him. He didn’t like the edge in Johns voice.
“I’m talking to a man, that no longer has a company or a business for that matter.” John reached down and helped Donovan to his feet. The man had a sprained ankle and needed help walking. “If we’re going to get there,” he nodded toward the trees. A we better do what we can. Some of us need help.@
The survivors slowly made their way over to the trees. Phoebe Porter a good looking redhead led the blinded pilot Hal Cluster to the trees and the camp John began setting up. Mostly he cleared a wide area of sticks and other debris. The idea that smooth ground would be more comfortable to lay on.
George got his fire going, and the injured sat around it in a circle. Shelly and Connie helped John get several more seats out of the broken plane. The seats could be reclined to sleep on, which would be better than laying on the ground. Judging by the shadows cast by the trees, they had several hours before dark. John was determined to put the time to good use.
Thinking one of the wings, which was almost ripped off the plane would make a partial shelter, It was examined, but found to have a large amount of fuel in it. It would be too heavy to move by hand. They couldn’t have it around a fire, as they could smell fumes. Some where there was a leak, or maybe just a busted line on one of the engines. They still needed the fuel, if only for a fire starter.
A petcock was used to drain some of the fuel into the empty plastic water bottles. Several hadn’t been removed from the previous time the plane flew, and were put to good use. Thinking ahead, Mrs. Wheeler tried to make a lamp out of a couple. She didn’t want to be dependent on a campfire for light.
The wreckage was at such an angle it couldn’t be used as a shelter. If they tried, the tilt would slide them all to the low spot where water pooled. They didn’t have the man power to pull it up onto the bank and flat ground. They tried with every one helping, but parts of the plane were imbedded in the soil and couldn’t be budged. They did rip several pieces off the fuselage that could be used for digging or a club.
They had five seats from the plane, and propped them into the recline position for sleeping. The girls still in their dresses, were given first choice, which they all wanted to use the seats. John and the other men, formed a half circle around the bonfire that night, and slept on the ground. Using clothing from the suit cases, they were able to make sleeping pads. It was a help, but after a day or two use, the sleeping pads drew moisture from the ground and were very cold at night. After that, they hung everything on bushes the next day, to dry in the open air.
John looked around at the small group that he was now a part of. He wasn’t very impressed with some of the men, but the women he thought might prove to be useful. Especially Connie Wheeler, secretary to George. She was dependable and alert, still trying to take care of her boss. The young women were healthy enough, John hoped they would be strong too. It would take strength to survive the days ahead.
Phoebe Porter, a young twenty three year old red head, was more than attractive, she was just about every man’s dream. Shapely, pretty and moved like only a woman could. John felt strongly attracted to her, but hung back. This wasn’t the place to build a relationship. Especially with a woman that was counting on her looks to rise to greater heights in the world. There wasn’t room for a man with no connections.
Kristy Connor a blond girl, who acted much younger than the age her shapely body presented. She was more excepting of their condition than the rest. Maybe it was because she didn’t fully understand the situation.
Then there was Shelly Lester, a dark brunette. John wondered if George had selected the girls because he wanted a diversity. Shelly wasn’t dark as a Negro, but she did remind John of several of his black acquaintances. He wasn’t able to tell what racial group she was related too. All three seemed capable of making a career choice of several directions. He had to remind himself that they had made a choice, and that was a career in business. For the time being, that choice was on hold.
The first night they the fire didn’t last all night. The next morning every one that could move, helped gather a pile of fire wood, for the next night. No one wanted to suffer another cold night. The rest of the luggage was removed from the plane. The girls dug through and put on pants outfits and warmer blouses. Wearing two of everything helped fight off the cold wind.
Hunger set in, so John began making spears for fishing or simply killing something to eat. Using wiring pulled from the plane wreck, snares were set out, and fishing lines were fashioned. Flashing lures, were made with pieces of the plane. All these projects were assigned to each of the passengers, but only half hearted attempts were made to construct anything.
No fish were caught that first day or the next. They did have luck with the snares, and used clubs to finish off the trapped rabbits. The hides were welcomed by the women, after John fashioned simple foot wear out of them.
The high heel shoes were useless, even after breaking off the heels. The shoes didn’t provide enough protection against stickers and thorny vines. The girls feet were all bleeding by the second day. So the skins provided protection from the low brush and sticker vines.
Hope that the blind pilot would regain his sight, slowly faded as he didn’t improve. They covered his eyes with bandages, with the idea he might heal and a miracle could happen. Only time would tell. The bandages were further insurance of keeping dust and other things from collecting in his unseeing eyes.
After studying the river, John came up with a plan. They placed a line of rocks in the water, like a fence. The object was to drive the fish up river to the water fence, and get the fish to swim into a pool dug out of the low side of the stream bank. A ditch was dug up stream to fill the pool, and could be blocked off with a single large rock. Once the fish were herded into the pool, the water intake would be closed, and also the exit with a netting fashioned from the plane’s debris.
The trap worked, and they caught several large fish, enough for one meal. The next time, there wasn’t as many, and they realized that fish, didn’t always run the length of a river or stream. It seemed that they tended to stay in certain portions of the river. They had fished out the immediate area.
They tried herding them into the pool, by starting much further downstream. It worked, but was very fatiguing. Over the next few days, they took turns, starting down river and splashing their way towards the trapping pool. They also went up stream and tried spooking the fish down below the trap. It was difficult keeping the fish from darting past them, but they were able to keep catching a few each day.
Injuries slowly healed. Hal Cluster was still blinded, but could see some light and shadow. It was an improvement, and the bandages continued to be applied. Marks head wound healed and only a slight scar remained. Ronald Rudd was up and limping around on his sprained ankle. It too was getting better. He said most of the pain was gone.
The girls were getting better at making their foot wear out of hides, but still didn’t like using the fresh raw green ones. John showed them how to stake the hides around the camp fire. Letting the heat and smoke dry the skins. It took time, but that was all they had. Nothing but time. He suggested they try making sandals out of the tall grass, but none tried.
Taking a long look around at the survivors, John felt it was time to move on out of their valley. They were running out of rabbits and other small game. The snares were being set further and further away from the camp. Only occasionally did they catch a rabbit or any other varmint. The reason he’d stayed this long was because of the injuries. Now it was getting late in the year. The leaves of the vine maple were turning red, a sure sign that summer was about over. With the coming fall, it would bring snow, especially in the mountains. If they were to get out of the valley and anywhere near civilization, they had to leave now.
That night around the fire, his point about dwindling game and natural supplies, was also driven home, by the meager fire wood gathered for the night. They were having to drag larger and larger chunks from further away. They needed to move the camp further down the valley or leave the valley altogether.
George didn’t like the idea of climbing over mountains, he was sixty two and plagued by weak knees. He feared the strain would be too great, and he’d be left by the wayside. Connie was of the same mind, but she knew they had to do something. She didn’t have the clothing for a winter in the valley. None of the luggage they had from the plane was fit for winter wear.
Hal Cluster, knew they couldn’t last the winter in the valley. The valley was still high in the mountains and the snow level was known to reach several feet. It would be hard to move about once winter set in.
Mark tried his best to remember what the lay of the land was, before they crashed. The air map that was in the plane, disappeared shortly after landing, and hadn’t been seen since. No one knew what happened to it. He surmised it had been used to start a fire, and dismissed it from his mind.
Surviving the cold and finding food, took all of their time. None of them had spent anytime socializing or learning much about each other. What John did learn about some of the girls was they had to be forced into helping with gathering fire wood, or any other chore, including herding the fish up stream. Two of them, he pushed in the water, as a hint they needed to help. He was tired of the struggle to get any work out of them. It was apparent they couldn’t stay in the valley with all its resources running out.
John announced that they should leave, and if they didn’t, he was going without them. The rest could see it was time, and shouldn’t wait much longer before setting out. The days were getting colder, and the sun didn’t rise as high in the sky.
A week of rain descended on them, soaking the underbrush and sousing their clothing by the slightest touch in passing. Leaving was put off because of the rain, and wouldn’t be discussed again until the sun came out and dried the forest. Footing on uneven ground was precarious at best, wet with rain it was slippery and dangerous. Following the river out of the valley was determined to be too dangerous as years of debris blocked potential paths.
If it had only been John leaving, he would have gone in a minute. Bringing the injured and lame out with them, required secure footing. A slip and fall could cause greater injury and even death. So after waiting and letting three days of sun to dry out the hill sides, the survivors set out on their journey.
They carried with them their hand made weapons and tools. Dried fish and smoked meats were packet in grass woven baskets. Everyone had something to bring with them, even the blind Hal Cluster carried a pack. The coverings from the passenger seats, were stripped off and made into packs. The left over remains of the seat coverings, found usage as foot wear for the ladies. Once stuffed with rabbit fur, walking was better.
John wearing dress shoes, changed socks every day. At night he formed the habit of washing the pair he wore and hung them to dry over night. They didn’t always dry out. Some days, it wasn’t until the afternoon before he could take them down. Now that they were moving, he attached the drying socks to his back pack and let the sun and air dry them. It worked surprisingly well.
Climbing out of the valley, took an effort and sapped the strength of every one. Starting out it was a steep climb, until they found game trails that zigged zagged back and forth up the mountain sides. On the trails, walking became easer and they were soon high enough to look out over the surrounding hills. The saw what seemed like a never ending carpet of green tree covered mountains extending in all directions.
The first night out of the valley, the group made camp among an out cropping of rocks. With the aid of the last butane lighter, they had a large fire going. It heated the area, with a rock wall reflecting the heat back. A few eatable mushrooms they found that day, they roasted over the fire. At first hardly anyone joined John and Hal, but after seeing the men eat, and enjoying the Chanterelle, they hesitantly joined in. Hal ate, after John told him what they were. Once he bit into one, he smiled knowing it was a true Chanterelle.
Having left all the extra luggage in the valley, they had to use ferns and other grasses to make a comfortable sleeping mat. They were tired from the days climb and long walk, but wanted to talk. The subject was about what to expect now that they were out of the valley.
Both John and Mark, told the group that there had likely been an exchange of missiles, bombs and other means of destroying the nations. What they might find if and when they reached civilization, could be a shocker. They probably wouldn’t find the world as they left it. It was understood, but even John and Mark along with the rest of them, hoped they were wrong. The empty skies the past month, was a sure sign that things were different. In the past, one couldn’t look at the sky and not see a vapor trail of a passenger jet. The whole time, there had been nothing, only birds flying around the clouds.
With daylight the next morning they took a good look around. To the west they could see a gap or space in the never ending spread of mountains. A faint hint of a canyon dented the lush green forested landscape. That was the way they would try to go. The canyon should provide a road or at least a river to travel down. Plus it was more likely they’d find food and shelter there.
What little food they still had was parceled out one bite at a time. No one suffered any more than the next person. Hunger was constantly with them, and complaining had finally stopped.
With a goal in mind, the slow traveling was torture to the healthy ones. It took three days before they came out on a paved road. It was void of traffic or abandon vehicles. If the world had been attacked, it didn’t happen along this highway. Each night they camped early, gathering enough wood to make a fire to last till dawn. It was a practice they would soon stop after the first people they met burst into their camp along the highway.
Men with guns, were suddenly among them, kicking the sleeping survivors out of their blankets. Each woke to a gun barrel pointed at their faces. A burly man dressed in camouflage like the others with him, said to fork over their food and weapons.
Faced with overwhelming force, they did what they were told. The Burly man looked at the spears and clubs they offered and laughed. “Okay, keep your toys.” he said as the others with him laughed too. “In the morning, make sure your gone. We don’t want your company. Too many trying to live off the land. This is our part, and we will defend it. If you’re still here tomorrow, we’ll kill you.”
The men with him made several denigrating comments about the dried fish and mushrooms, but they took the food anyway. The robbers left, fading into the dark beyond the camp fire light. Everyone was quiet for several minutes until Shelly remarked that at least they left them the blankets.
“What are we going to do now?” Ronald Rudd whined in his effeminate way. “We don’t have anything.”
“Were going to get guns of our own. That’s what were going to do.” John spoke through clinched teeth. “And were going to camp further from the highways and trails. This is the last time were going to be taken by surprise.”
The first thing he did was kick the camp fire out, after telling George to take the women and injured back into the trees. “Wait for us there. We should be back before day light.”
“Why, what are you going to do.” George asked along with several others, with the same question.
“I’m going to get one of those guns they stuck in my face. Alone if I have too, but I’m going.”
“You’ll be killed,” George scoffed. “And they’l come back and kill us too.”
“You just stay hidden, and maybe they won’t find you.” John picked up his sharpened spear, before heading out into the darkness.
“Want some company.” Mark said joining him.
“Company’s good. I haven’t got a plan yet. Just waiting to see how they’re camped.”
“Can’t be too far.” Mark surmised. “They must be camped nearby and saw our fire. It was a pretty big one.”
“How many did you count?”
A Five, there were four in our camp and one stood back. They left in the same direction they came. That kind of tells me they’re close. So we better travel silent, lest we stumble into the middle of them.@ Mark picked up one of the spears and followed after.
Sticking to the center of the highway, away from the shoulders and gravel that made noise, they walked quietly along the highway. There was just enough star light, they could make out the outline of the other. John warned Mark against moving with the lighter river side behind them. They stayed on the opposite side of the road, where it was darker and nothing would silhouette them.