by Roger Haller

Third Place, ST "Eat Me" contest

D I S C U S S I O N  F O R U M  |  R E T U R N  T O  S T  O N L I N E



Half their lives were over before Doug and Jaye found each other. Doug had two adult kids with kids of their own, and two ex wives. One was still a friend, and one, the mother of his spawn. Jaye had two left at home. One on the edge of the nest and one still had two years to mature.

Three weeks ago, they were flying back from their honeymoon in Alaska. The Rocky Mountains of British Columbia crawled through the lumpy gray cloud cover below. The ridges reminded Doug of the Loch Ness Monster of Scottish lore. The plane seemed to be flying low for a jet liner and he noted they were flying lower than some of the peaks. Before he could ask the flight attendant, a blast from the rear of the plane stole his consciousness.

The plane fell from the sky and the cockpit and galley were sliced off the body by a jagged peak as it dropped like a disgraced Samurai Warrior, belly first, on his sword. The body of the plane surfed backwards down the ninety-degree face of the peak until the blast-broken tail section shot through a gap between two spires and ejected out into the snow slope below, depositing wings in a ball of fire on either side. The broken tail dug in and the fuselage pole-vaulted over it to make a cartwheel through empty air and into the snow a couple hundred yards below, now on its back, and without the remaining tail. An avalanche built around the fuselage creating a tube surfer, enveloped in folded wings of snow. As the angle of descent leveled off, the speed of the dropping plane body slowed and the avalanche rolled up around it, stuffing every crevice it could with suffocating powder and ice that pushed six rows of seats back over the rest.

The metal cocoon was deposited under several feet of pack-snow, but for a three-foot cavity leading to the hole that was once the passageway between the rear seats and lavatory. A white painted sheet of aluminum skin flopped uncomfortably in the constant alpine wind.

Cold seeped into Doug's consciousness until he twitched, groaned, and pulled against the restraint on his lap. He was hanging upside-down. There were people hanging toward the seats in front of him. It took him some time to understand his surroundings, but when he did, his focus went immediately to his right. Jaye was unresponsive against the starboard window. He remembered now. The plane had been in a tumbling free-fall. It didn't last long enough to pray or tell Jaye how much he loved her. Painfully he checked her neck for a pulse. He found it, and her skin was warmer than his fingers. Thank God. He pulled the handkerchief-thin airline blankets on the ceiling below him up over them both and checked for broken bones, first himself, then Jaye. He found both of her ankles took right angle turns under the seat in front of her. A splinter of bone stuck out the back of her left calf, and he promptly turned to be sick in the aisle.

Doug used all the strength in his left arm to pull himself to his seat, and with his right, flipped the 1960s Chevrolet seatbelt release. This caused him to pile ungraciously on his head and shoulders. It also highlighted the many bruises he was going to have. His first thoughts were to get his bride stabilized and as comfortable as possible. Scooping a handful of fresh snow from the ceiling around him, he squinted and rubbed it around the exposed bone at the back of Jaye's leg, and quickly pulled both legs straight, sucking the bone back into the wound. He could feel the bones drop into place. Next, he gathered three airline pillows and his and Jaye's scarves and tied the limbs together with one pillow between and two in front of her legs.

Doug looped one set of ties above, and one below. He released Jaye now, onto his shoulder, then gently to the ceiling somewhat above where he had spilled his cookies.

He pulled their parkas out, put hers on, and wrapped her warmly. By now, he was shivering constantly, so he pulled his parka on as well.

Doug began a survey of vitals down the dark tunnel. He found pulses in only three. He noted that many had obvious broken necks. They hadn't suffered. In turn, he pulled breathing passengers down and made them as comfortable as possible. He noted that the smaller ones could fit in luggage racks, now at foot level, as long as they bent their knees. Perhaps if he kicked the partitions out, he could make a chamber for each for comfort and possibly protection from the direct effects of the freezing cold in the tube. He would make that his next objective after getting a look out of the tube.

He climbed to the light at the tail end of the blackened fuselage and pushed the aluminum skin aside to the blasting assault of pinprick-painful light. Doug went back for his backpack and pulled out his Ray-Bans. Another attempt at reconnaissance won him a view of a massive snow meadow surrounded by countless, brilliant mountaintops poking up through cotton batten clouds. The bright radiating heat of the sun on the snow momentarily countered the cold, but he knew things would be drastically different when that sun went down.

Below him, the glacier meadow was fringed with a comb of treetops. They were not far from the tree line, but where, he had no idea. If they were to survive, he had to find a source of heat. He took a moment to ponder if the ship's black box or beacon locator was calling for help. He thought of his cell phone. He pulled it from his pocket and dialed 911.

He was ecstatic. It rang and a voice came on.

"This is the 911 operator, what is your emergency, please?"

"We crashed… Our plane from Alaska to Denver crashed in the mountains."

"What is your location, sir?"

"I have no idea, just the mountains in British Columbia. Big mountains, with sharp peaks. We are above the tree line."

"What is your flight number, sir?"

"Let me see… I think it's 221."

"Ok, sir, please take note. I want—"

The signal was gone. Doug tried again several times, but his battery icon was transparent. He was going to need to find a fresher cell phone on the plane, but he also needed to find heat real soon. The front and rear of the plane were gone; all that was left was the body with rows of seats full of hanging dead people. He figured the 911 dispatcher would be working on the problem now; the tree line would perhaps supply dry wood for a fire.

Doug climbed out into about a foot and a half of new powder snow that covered a broken shelf of three-inch ice slab created by a melt and freeze prior to the new snow. It held his weight. His jeans were not made for this trek, so snow packed up under his pant legs and stung his calves, but he was thankful for his laced up hiking boots with aggressive tread.

It only took an hour to plow through to the edge of the sloping meadow, rewarding him with the dried wood he sought. The trees were a high mountain band of uniform aged Lodgepole Pines that were packed around centuries of windfall and broken branches. The mountain air and constant sun at this altitude ensured the deadwood was tinder-dry and brittle. This would do.

Sunset was near, so Doug headed back to the plane. He would need to shelter there tonight, then drag the survivors down to make shelter and fire in the morning. He made it back to the plane, kicked out some partitions, packed Jaye and the others in blankets and coats, collected Bic lighters and cell phones. None of the phones had signal or battery. He had to count on his one and only call.

* * *

During the week, Doug managed to build a rudimentary shelter with a pyramid of Lodgepole trunks and sticks, packed it with snow to keep out the draft, and left the top unpacked so smoke could escape. He had a healthy fire burning from the first day. Each day grew tougher, because the junk food he could scavenge and ration was gone by the third day. He, Jaye, and one beefy guy in his early twenties who had suffered a broken leg were all that were still alive. They had lost one of the survivors during the first night, and one woman had made it for two days. He couldn't deny the fact he had been favoring Jaye with the scraps of food, and it was probably the only reason she was still breathing after a week on the mountain. He managed to melt snow for water, in a pair of steel coffee mugs he found.

Doug had gone through the pain of the crash diet like the rest, but his strength was waning drastically now. Something had to be done. They had to eat. He knew there was no food source unless they were rescued soon, but he had not heard one plane since day one. He hadn't even seen a jet trail in the sky since being stranded here, and he figured the search would be all but given up by now. There had been some nasty weather below them, but they had lived this nightmare in bright sun so far.

A trip back to the plane proved that all the bodies were well frozen and he couldn't help thinking they reminded him of slabs of meat hanging in a processing plant. He had to do it.

Doug ripped a jagged chunk of aluminum airliner skin off the flap over the entrance and hefted it with satisfaction.

Later in the day, he built a cooking fire outside the shelter and rigged a spit using a steel bar he found in the luggage hold. Doug managed to feed Jaye and the kid who identified himself as Dan that night. He told them he found a beef shipment in the hold. Life continued for the next few days. Jaye and Dan were gaining strength and Doug had come back to form as well. The only problem that kept them from being too mobile was the constipation that follows a complete protein diet and the immobility of Jaye and Dan.

Doug started adding inner bark from the surrounding trees to their diet for roughage. The kid wouldn't eat it, but Jaye, trusting her new husband, forced it down on Doug's example.

They had shared a lot of conjecture and depression this last week. It's amazing what starvation will do to your outlook on life. Jaye counted on Doug almost as a father figure now, and Dan would not stop complaining and whining.

If they were going to survive this, they needed to build some will, and the first sound of helicopter rotors brought them back to hope again. This continued several days.

* * *

For two days, they waved at the helicopter that hung around the peak and would not venture down the hill. The fire they burned was so dry and hot, it produced very little smoke, and the plane fuselage was invisible in the snow pack. Doug scrambled back up to his meat locker and ripped plastic doors and wall coverings off the plane. He dragged them back to his camp and threw them on a new fire he planned away from the camp. Night fell by the time he finished his quest, so he decided to hold off until the daylight.

The hope held at arm's length made them miserable last night. Combined with the extreme constipation pain Dan was howling about, no one slept. He still wouldn't eat jack pine bark, and now he was so stopped up, he couldn't stand to even force down water. Doug felt he wouldn't last too long now, without giving birth to a cantaloupe.

He tried a different tactic.

"Dan, I'm afraid I have a confession to make. There was no beef in the hold of the plane."

Dan hardly looked up from his pain, but Jaye's eyebrows went up. She peered at the flame flickered profile of her new husband. She knew what he was going to say, but wished with all her heart he wouldn't voice her fear.


"Yes, I'm afraid the only thing that has kept us alive during this time is the fact that our fellow passengers have been donating life to us until we can be saved."

Now Dan was interested. He groaned.

"Are you saying you have been feeding us human flesh?"

Dan pulled himself out of the shelter and they heard him empty his stomach. A few moments later, there was a scream and a muffled explosion out his other end as well. Jaye didn't make it out of the shelter; she deposited her supper in a stainless steel sink Doug had managed to find near the plane. This she had been using as a bed pan for two and a half weeks.

She broke down in tears.

"I knew it. Somehow, I knew it. That wasn't anything like beef, but I wanted to believe."

Sobs took over and her body shook.

Dan stumbled back into the shelter.

"You bastard, why didn't you tell us you were feeding us our friends and family? Was that my mother?

"No, none of us knew that person."

"You bastard, you fucking bastard." He didn't know what else to say.

Doug sat back against the wall of the shelter and looked into the fire. No one spoke and no one slept. As dawn broke, Doug left the shelter to build his smoke fire and work at getting them spotted. He looked around the shelter. Jaye had finally cried herself to sleep and Dan sat glaring at him from the darkness of the pine lodge. Before he left, he noted the human thigh, cooked medium well, sitting on a pair of sticks by the newly stoked fire.

"I'll be back with help."

He turned and left.

The day had been long, but his smoke plume had done the trick. A rescue helicopter sat next to the opening to the plane body and flares sent orange plumed ribbons of smoke skyward. There were a half dozen of the crew exploring the plane.

In a daze, Doug nodded as the crew commander asked him to lead them to the survivors.

They followed him down the snowfield to the brim of Lodgepole Pine and the pole shelter. As Doug pulled the blanket back from the entrance, Dan dropped the thigh he had been feeding on.

Doug couldn't help himself. "Want fries with that?"

Jaye still hasn't spoken to him, and probably never will again.

He shook his head. They were alive.





Copyright © 2008 Roger Haller

A B O U T   T H E   A U T H O R:

Roger Haller, a cowboy geek with a seemingly paradoxical love for gripping fiction and quiet cowboy logic, has several works published to the web and an old history of newspaper drama stoked up as fuel behind his consuming need to have his first novel see print.

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