tagRomanceThe Mountain

The Mountain

byDreamCloud©

Authors Note: I started with an idea that I reached quickly in the first page or so. Then I let the story take me on a journey. Hopefully you enjoy the ride.

*****

I dislike puddle jumpers. Unfortunately, they were part of my life. When you travel the world, searching out unique products to excite American minds, you have to accept a few risks. Small planes with duct taped seats are one. Pilots with questionable credentials are another. Today, I was gambling in a twin engine prop plane that was badly in need of a paint job.

The pilot did a lot of smiling and nodding when I boarded. His knowledge of English was poor. My knowledge of Azerbaijani was even weaker. I had separated from my translator earlier that morning since he wasn't following me into Russia. Hilal had been invaluable while I searched for rug manufacturer that would suit the tastes of our discerning customers. His ability to convey meaning in translation was rare. Most of the translators I worked with could only think in one language, and that invariably lead to misunderstandings. Hilal understood nuance in both languages and chose words, at least in English, that held the true intent as well as meaning.

The plane had room for eight passengers, four on each side of the aisle. I took a seat in the back hoping I might rest in privacy. My internal clock was still messed up with the time change, and I had learned early on to take naps whenever I could. I watched two elderly gentlemen board. They wore old suits that looked like they once belonged to Al Capone's gang. Like the rest of the country, they smiled at me, and I smiled back. It seemed to pass as a greeting here though the smiles were practiced and meaningless. They took the seats in the front that gave me hope for the privacy I desired.

The trip had been a successful one. With Hilal's help, I had secured a manufacturer of high-quality hand loomed rugs, intricate designs at a high 60 x 60-knot density. They used only spring sheared wool that, I was informed, gave the carpet a softer texture. It also made them more expensive. One would think that people in the more remote parts of the world would be ignorant of the price Americans were willing to pay for quality. Negotiations proved that theory false. They also had a good handle on marketing. They affixed small labels to the underside that included the signature of the artist who did the looming. A family crest used for generations joined the signature and guaranteed authenticity. It was highly profitable for both their firm and mine.

I watched a slim women climb on board with a small child. She was holding him tight to her breast; his legs were not quite reaching her hips. He looked asleep which I dearly hoped he would remain. She had soft raven hair that cascaded down her back in natural waves. I could see the strain in her eyes that spoke of a difficult morning. Her contented sigh when she took the seat in front of me confirmed my hypothesis. A soft baby powder odor wafted back to my seat. It was pleasant.

I was still three days out from Kimberly. The mother in front of me somehow triggered the thought. She was about the same size as Kimberly. The hair was completely different from Kimberly's short brown, but the ages were comparable. If it were up to Kimberly, she would be holding a child as well.

Kimberly was my enigma. She was a joy out on the town and passion personified in bed. If that were life, I would have married her long ago. It was the nothing parts of life where she, or we, failed miserably. The parts that made up the bulk of living. I missed her and didn't miss her at the same time. I loved her some of the time.

After four years, we had gotten used to each other and suffered through the silence as penance for the good times we knew were never far away. I didn't have the heart to marry someone who I tolerated most of the time. I didn't have the heart to disconnect either. Right then, sitting on the plane, I missed her.

The pilot, in his greasy overalls, closed up the door and pumped his fists together at his waist. The international buckle-your-seatbelt gesture. He smiled and said something in Azerbaijani and then looked at me.

"We go now," the pilot said in deeply accented English. I nodded my head, and he seemed happy I understood. He turned, ducked his head and entered the cockpit. That was the breadth of his in-flight safety briefing. The engines struggled to start, coughed, then kicked into a loud roar after producing an uncomfortable amount of white smoke.

The child startled awake and lifted his head from his mother's shoulder. He looked surprised at his surroundings and locked his eyes on mine. I thought I saw fear, so I smiled. His mother patted his back, and he quickly dug his face back into her shoulder. The plane began moving forward.

The takeoff was smoother than I expected. The pilot was obviously skilled though he looked more like a mechanic. We were in a steady climb when I leaned my head back and closed my eyes. The engines, now that we were airborne, sounded more even and confident. I let them lull me to sleep.

++++++++++++++++++++

The alarm woke me rudely. I reached over, as if at home, and found the window instead of the snooze. I opened my eyes and felt the plane in a steep climb. The alarm was insistent, and the plane climbed harder. I looked out and saw nothing but white, thick clouds. I heard the pilot shouting. It sounded like encouragement, not instructions. He was yelling at his plane, not to us.

My hands gripped the armrests as the mother in front of me called out. She received no response, and her child was staring at me from over her shoulder. He looked more curious than frightened. I gave him a forced smile as we came out of the clouds.

"Fuck!" I yelled as I saw the trees. I could count the branches. The mother screamed, and the horrible sound of the left engine disintegrating into the treetops vibrated violently into the cabin. For a brief moment, I saw the child ripped from his mother's arms and began to fly free toward the front of the cabin before my head exploded into the seat in front. I knew no more.

++++++++++++++++++++++

The cold woke me. I found myself laying sideways in my seat, the seatbelt and armrest digging into my hip. The strong smell of fresh cut evergreen was out of place. The breeze I felt equally so. My eyes found it hard to open. The sun, dulled by clouds, was still too bright for the ache above my eyes. I took long blinks to allow my sight to adjust. The vision was surreal.

I lay against the window along the side of the cabin. The other side of the plane was gone, ripped unevenly along what was the ceiling and floor. The seats in front of me were intact. The ceiling was now made up of large conifers; their broken branches lay in my lap. I could not see a cockpit nor any sign of the other side of the plane. It was as if my portion of the plane had been peeled away and laid on its side.

I pushed up, away from the window, and released the clasp on the seat belt. Maneuvering slowly between the seats, I crawled off the metal and onto a cold hard natural surface dragging a few branches with me. Standing caused bile to rise in my throat. The world was not wholly stable and chose that moment spin. I grabbed the bottom of my seat and let the feeling clear.

Strangely, it was the silence I noticed next. I would have expected fire and explosions, but all I heard was the breeze whispering in the trees. The air was cold and crisply fresh. I stood taller and let go of the seat. My head ached. Reaching up, I found a knot half the size of a golf ball high on my right temple. I remembered smacking into the seat in front of me. Obviously, it was the cause of my equilibrium problems.

I turned around, looking for the rest of the plane. I could see nothing but trees, their dense foliage blocking out anything beyond twenty feet or so. I started going through the checklist of things I should do. It would be a few hours before anyone would come looking, maybe a day before they found us. I wondered why I wasn't dead.

"Hello," I called my voice strong but raspy. Gathering everyone was the first thing on the list. "Hello," I called louder after coughing some phlegm away. The greeting was met with silence. A grim thought came to me. "Hello," I yelled. Silence. The cold felt colder.

I stepped forward, toward what was once the front of the plane. The mother was childless, eyes closed and blood coating part of her face. The memory of the boy flying came back. I looked quickly forward again. Just trees. No boy.

Crawling, I was able to reach the woman's neck and tried to check for a pulse. Nothing, but the skin was warm. I checked my neck. No pulse. Too many movies and no practice. I shifted my fingers a few times, gave up and tried my wrist. I found my pulse and tried the same on the woman. She was alive with a heart that was beating steady.

Leaving the woman in her seat, I moved to the next seat. It was as empty as when we took off. The front seat made me gag. I looked again, and then leaned over promptly losing what little breakfast I had eaten before we left. There was no reason to check for a pulse. A large portion of the old man's face was missing, sheared off during the crash. I could only hope it was instantaneous. I shifted away quickly, wiping my mouth on the back of my sleeve.

"Hello," I shouted again. This time, I added the desperation I felt. I was praying I would hear a young boy though the memory of him leaving his mother's arms left me little hope. Again, there was no answer but the wind in the trees.

I turned back to the mother and crawled onto the side of the seat. I shook her shoulder and lifted her arm and babbled a few 'are you all rights.' Nothing. No response. I needed to get her out of that seat. Leaving her there just seemed wrong. I found the seatbelt and undid the clasp. She slipped toward the window, her body moving with gravity.

Moving behind the seat, I tried to figure a way to lift her up. It took a few aborted tries before I realized I didn't have the leverage. I would have to lift her straight up while standing on her window. I walked around, stepping carefully, removing larger branches as I went. Squatting, I was able to get my arms under hers and lifted her up. Half pulling, half lifting, I squirmed back to the natural ground, dragging her feet between the seats. I laid her down on the ground, her head hitting harder than I would have liked.

"Sorry," I apologized though she was unconscious and knew nothing of my efforts. I straightened her legs then sat near her head, pulling it into my lap. She had a shallow cut just above the hairline that had caused the blood. I felt carefully around her head and found a large swollen bump behind her right ear. I suspected that was the cause of her silence. I sat there, lightly stroking her hair, hoping she would wake up and share the disaster.

The ground had a gradual slope to it. Uphill was behind me, toward the row of seats. My feet were pointing downhill. It would be easier for someone to find us if we stayed with the wreck or what's left of the wreck. If not, walking down seemed more reasonable than walking up. I looked up at the sky, or where the sky broke through the trees. I didn't have high hopes an aerial search would be effective. Maybe the rest of the plane, wherever it was, was more visible. It couldn't be too far away.

Coherent thoughts returned to me, and I fished my phone out of my pocket. My usual bars were replaced by 'no service." I tried calling and texting anyway. Nothing. Until the battery died, at least I would know what time it was.

The coldness of the ground and the chill in the air was concerning. I figured we might be stuck outside for the night. The temperature would only drop lower when the sun went down. I would have to find some shelter to block the wind and try to trap our warmth. Maybe build a fire. A vision of Tom Hanks jumping up and down in Castaway brought a smile to my face.

"Lady," I said casually to my patient, "we are going to need shelter. I have to leave you here and see what I can come up with. I suspect we may smell like air freshener when we're done." Pine needles will end up being our mattress. The woman didn't acknowledge me or chuckle at my humor. A bad sign for our bunking together.

"I'll be right back," I said as I laid her head carefully on the ground. I didn't want to leave her there, but I couldn't take her exploring. I walked perpendicular to the slope, winding around the trees. I turned back to the seats, and they were out of sight. Taking a deep breath, I walked back to the woman. I wouldn't be able to go far, maybe a 100 yards in each direction. Everything looked the same and becoming lost was a strong possibility. I tried my phone again, in vain.

I decided to search in a series of four straight lines. Uphill, downhill, and to either side. Short searches so I didn't lose my way back. Uphill became steeper quickly. It wasn't long before I decided crawling wasn't worth it. The trees seemed to ignore the slope and grew tall where I could barely stand without their help. Opposite to my first search, I located two suitcases. Neither were mine, but they were intact, showing little damage beyond scrapes that could have happened in any airport. I hauled them back to the seats. The lady still lay still.

Downhill held a surprise. A clearing developed ahead that excited me. At first, I thought it was a road, maybe a river or lake. I slowed as fewer and fewer trees blocked my view. Acrophobia invaded, and I could not go to the edge. I clung to a sturdy tree and stared out at a chasm so deep, I feared to look down. Across the vast space, many miles away, mountains grew similar to what I now knew I was standing on. We had most likely crashed into the Caucasus.

Thinking made me ill. There was little chance of a ground rescue. Parts of the plane could have plummeted into the valley below, further limiting the visibility of our location from the air. I tried to lean over to see the steepness of the descent. I could not see the cliff side and the slope made further investigation chancy. I created a new rule; no walking around at night.

I returned to my only friend, sat down and sighed. "We may be in a bit of trouble," I told her, "looks like it will be awhile before anyone finds us." I watched her face and saw no reaction. I hoped things weren't worse for her than I thought. "I did a quick search and found nothing but trees and a cliff. I think we'll have to sleep under an evergreen tonight and work out something better tomorrow." I might as well have been talking to a soccer ball.

My nearly useless phone told me it was going on three in the afternoon. I decided to get started. I chose a large tree, close to the seats, with low hanging branches. Underneath, I found a thick bed of pine needles. I didn't know where I got the idea they would be comfortable. They were dried out and pricked me often. Still, it was the only raw material I had.

The wind was picking up when I crawled back out of the tree after making room by ripping off some small branches. Ripping was the correct term. The saplings were so green they more ripped then snapped, leaving short trails of exposed wood and sticky sap.

"I need to gather some branches for a windbreak," I told my silent partner. I wasn't sure why I informed her. I knew I didn't want to be there alone, and it was better than talking to myself. The smaller trees provided easily accessible branches with sturdy needles. These needles were softer, less brittle. Possibly the basis for future bedding if that should become necessary.

Using the loose branches, I stacked them on the live branches then wove them together. I created the walls and ceiling of a tiny hovel big enough for two people, about three feet high. It took the better part of two hours and covered my hands with splotches of sticky sap. I decided to use the suitcases as the door.

I moved back to the woman after I finished. She hadn't moved an inch. Leaning down, I made sure she was still breathing. Smiling, I listened to her slow, steady breathing. She seemed more asleep than unconscious. No struggling for air, just soft breathing.

"Well, my dear," I chuckled, "for the first time in my life, I am going to drag a woman into my bed unwillingly." I thought for a moment. "Of course, I am going to need to give you a name. I can't imagine sleeping with someone without, at least, knowing their name." I stared at her silent face, so calm in the face of the danger. Her skin looked soft yet was paler than I would expect. I placed the back of my hand on her cheek. She was colder than I thought she should be.

"Dorothy," I announced as I stood up, "this is definitely closer to Oz than anywhere else, so until you tell me otherwise, your name is Dorothy." I rolled her on her side, then rolled her back into an almost sitting position. From behind, I tucked my arms under hers and lifted. I tried to keep my grip modest, away from her breasts, but gravity fought me. "Sorry Dorothy," I whispered as I walked backward toward the makeshift hut.

Dragging her inside was more difficult than I imagined. It would have been better to put her in first then build the structure around her. I damaged the right wall getting her in, but it was easy enough to rebuild. I laid her head on the pine needles, wishing I had thought of a pillow first. I extricated myself, crawling backward.

The first suitcase was locked, and I wasn't yet willing to break the clasp. For all I knew, the owner was doing the same thing we were. The second suitcase opened freely and contained a man's clothes. I was hoping it was the guy I left in the chair since he wouldn't need it anymore. A set of wool sweaters made the most sense. I folded one, crawled back into the hovel and placed it under Dorothy's head. I left the other for me. I crawled back out and examined the rest of the clothes.

Nothing of great value jumped out at me. Pants and shirts that wouldn't work as blankets. Underwear I preferred to leave alone. The socks might come in handy as mittens if it got really cold. I wadded up two pairs and tossed them inside. It would have been nice to find a blanket or large coat. I closed up the suitcase, leaving the rest of the clothes inside.

Searching the seats and what was left of the cabin wasted more time. I could find nothing we could use as a blanket. I thought about breaking the lock on the first suitcase. I shook my head and decided that if there was to be a second night, the lock was toast. Right now, I would allow the lock to do its duty.

It was getting dark when I gathered more fresh branches full of soft needles. I would build a natural blanket to hold in the warmth and, I was sure, make us really sticky. I crawled back into our tiny house, pulling the branches in with me. I closed off the end with the suitcases and spread out the makeshift blanket as best I could. If either of us rolled over, the thermal properties would be lost.

"Good night, Dorothy," I whispered as I laid my head down on my wool pillow. Dorothy didn't answer so I leaned my ear close and listened to her breathing. The reassurance that she was alive made me braver than I actually was. I needed her to stay that way. I wasn't sure I could handle it alone. Saving her gave me the mission I needed and kept my mind on an even keel.

I woke when it was still dark. My chest and hands were shaking. It was colder than I had anticipated. I tucked my hands under my arms and tried to warm them. The wind was finding its way through the walls, blowing our warmth away. Remembering the socks, I reached out of the needle blanket and rummaged around until I found them. I quickly put a pair on me and warmed my hands.

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byDreamCloud© 159 comments/ 203733 views/ 561 favorites

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