For the Terribleminds challenge, Write What You Know, I decided to both fictionalize and sensationalize the car crash I was in.
It’s funny how your brain starts click on after it’s been smacked around.
First thing I get is a smell. Gasoline, or something more potent. Imagine that smell you can’t get off your fingers after filling up your car at a two-bit gas station, then multiply it by about twenty. That’s what I’m smelling. I blink, and as soon as the light show in my eyes is done, I’m looking out the windscreen of a small, one-prop airplane. I remember getting in it; I remember flying towards Cusco; I remember needing to sneeze. Pollen, probably. My sinuses hate that shit with an unholy passion. I remember all of that, the date, the current President, my name.
I certainly didn’t remember laying on my side in my Beechcraft.
Normally if I’m sideways in a plane, I’m trying to do something fancy, to get out of trouble or to impress a girl. I’m not that flashy a pilot. It’s never been a major skill for me. Not like the self-defense course I’ve been taking. But that still doesn’t explain how I ended up nintey degrees to my left from upright in the middle of a rainforest.
I think back, trying to remember how I ended up here. It takes me a second; my brain must have been rattled pretty good in the crash. My bag ended up in the window to my left. Inside are the letters I got from the British Museum and the Smithsonian, a few days of rations, my canteen, water purification tablets, first aid kit, GPS locator, a couple flares, some ammunition, good old-fashioned matches, and a map. It’s old, laid out on some sort of animal hide – Druthers in London likes to think it’s human flesh, but it’s definitely not that, probably some sort of cow or pig hide. The point is it’s a map to Huayna Capac’s Tomb.
I use the history to get my head back together. Story goes that Huayna Capac was taken by disease before Cortez showed up, which touched off a nasty war for ascension. His wife and closest friends, according to the tale, carried his body, that of his son, and a good portion of his belongings to this secret place to keep them away from the invaders. The US and the UK have already worked out a deal: if I can find these treasures, they’ll spend half the year in Washington, the other half in London, occasionally getting loaned out around the world for a substantial sum. I’m entitled to a cut of it. If I live.
I gather up my bag as well as I can, unbuckling myself from the pilot’s seat. Getting myself upright is a bit of a chore. I look out my side window again, towards the ground. I see, instead of dirt, a lot of aluminum. The wing clearly snapped when I hit the canopy of the jungle. That explains the smell. Fuel is leaking, and that’s never a good sign.
I can’t open the passenger door, with gravity against me, but I can wind down the window. The plane was made for low altitude short flights, not high-speed trips at high altitudes where you have to worry about cabin pressure. It felt a shame to leave her like this, after several successful years together, and after the trouble of getting her onto the freighter that brought me down here. But I didn’t really have a choice. A part of my brain is asking me how I’m going to get out of the forest, but I hush it. One problem at a time.
I reach up and pull myself out of the plane. Sure enough, she’s leaking from her left side, and one of her engine panels is loose. I’m not sure if anything is loose in there, but it’s best if I get out as quickly as possible. I’m turning towards the trees before I remember something important.
I look back down into the plane, and it’s up against the windscreen. I stretch out and reach, the tips of my fingers brushing the leather. I got this akubra during my first trip to the Outback, from the man who taught me everything I know about surviving in the wild and not dying to poisonous bites and my own panic reflex, and I’m not about to leave it behind.
I hear a hiss from the engine compartment. That’s my cue. I grab the hat, slap it on my noggin, and jump from the fuselage. I get about ten paces from the plane at a dead run before the damn thing goes up in a really nasty fireball. The forest around me starts catching fire, and I keep running. I don’t stop until the fire’s a dull red glow behind me. It starts raining; that should help keep the damage to a minimum.
I check my inventory again, draw my revolver to make sure it’s not damaged (there’s no way in hell I’d bring an autoloader to the jungle – too much can go wrong with complex machines), and drink down a bit of water. I check the map, and pull out the compass I keep strapped to my belt.
I’ll figure out how I’m getting home first. I’d rather not get back to the States with only my swank hat to show for my trouble.