We’re back to a more “traditional” Flash Fiction Challenge this week, picking two random items, one each from two lists. My random numbers were six and eight, so my story elements are “an ancient tree” and “a plane or train ride.” My story might be a bit derivative, but not
As always, comments and constructive criticisms are appreciated.
The ancient Beaver’s rotary engine growled as the pilot descended toward the choppy surface. Lines of whitecaps marched toward the horizon, kicking spray into the air. Levelling off at a hundred feet, the plane started a lazy left-handed three-sixty of the small island, staying about a half-mile offshore.
The coast was rocky, consisting of steep cliffs rising vertically from the deep blue waters, gigantic shards of sharp, black stone at the cliff’s base breaking up the surf as it struck. On top of the cliffs a dense tropical forest covered every available inch of ground, the jungle spilling over the edges with orphaned plants clinging to niches and cracks high above the sea. Sea birds circled everywhere, their rookeries disturbed by the noise of the plane. A few hunting gulls, far out from the shore, rode the trade winds before diving after prey.
The island was crowned by a tall spire of rock. Rearing up from the jungle’s canopy for hundreds of feet, its sheer sides gave little purchase for any kind of vegetation. A handful of grass clumps had managed to grab onto their own spots, many also offering shelter to nests. Above everything at the summit, a sole gnarled and lightning-blasted tree hovered, spreading its remaining branches over the precipice.
As the pilot had nearly completed his circumnavigation of the island, his passenger pointed to the small cove and beach, a half-moon of shelter from the elements. An offshore reef also protected the cove, huge breakers dying on its arc, leaving the interior waters of the cove calm. The pilot did one more loop over the cove to judge the winds, before lining up to land just inside the reef.
Once down, the plane taxied across the cove toward the beach. Moving slowly into shallow water, the pilot squared up perpendicular to the sand and nudged the pontoons forward until they stuck. The engine roared to full power one last time before fading to silence, leaving only the sounds of the distant surf and screeching gulls.
As the propeller stopped, the pilot jumped down onto the pontoon and made his way onto the beach. He hooked a rope onto the fronts of the pontoons and anchored them to a hook which he drove deep into the sand ten feet above the high tide line.
The passenger got down more gingerly, balancing gingerly on the bobbing platform while carrying a backpack over one shoulder and a machete in his right hand. When he carelessly put his left hand on the hot engine cowling for balance, his arm jerked back and he splashed into knee-deep water before finally making it back onto dry land.
The pilot looked at him from behind his mirrored aviator glasses, then looked up at the wall of jungle starting twenty feet up the sand. “You’re really going to do this, huh?” he asked.
The passenger squinted up at the stone monolith rising nearly a thousand feet above, crowned by the lone scraggly tree. “I have to,” he said.
A light helmet was pulled from the backpack, fitted with a small video camera on top, and buckled on. He reclosed the pack and shrugged it onto his back.
“We have about eight hours until dark. It’s over two hours back to the base, so we need to be out of here in five hours. Can you do that? Otherwise we’re stuck here until tomorrow morning.”
“I’ll be back down in four hours.” He patted the radio on his belt. “I’ll keep in touch.”
“Okay. Don’t kill yourself. There are probably a lot of ugly ways to die doing this.”
The passenger nodded and set off into the trees. The pilot retrieved a tarp and beach chair from the plane and found a shady spot to wait in what comfort he could find.
The undergrowth in the jungle got thick quickly. The passenger’s arm was tired of swinging the machete before he had gotten a quarter mile. Despite that, he soldiered on, looking for his landmarks, occasionally consulting a small GPS unit.
Soon he was at a small waterfall where the base of the island’s central summit started to rise. Confident that he was where he was supposed to be, he called the pilot to give him a progress report before resuming his trek up the slope.
It wasn’t long before the slope became almost vertical. The volcanic rocks were broken and sharp, but he had trained hard for this. Donning gloves and a helmet, he started free climbing the slope, breaking clear above the jungle canopy after less than a hundred feet.
He climbed steadily, occasionally taking small breaks for rest. The sun was hot as the day progressed and the climbing was hard, but there were plenty of handholds and ledges for his feet. The slope wasn’t quite vertical and there were no overhangs to be maneuvered around, making it mainly an exercise in endurance and not doing anything stupid.
After over two hours of climbing, he pulled himself over the edge onto the narrow summit. He gingerly sat near the base of the ancient tree, moving slowly as he unbuckled and removed his backpack.
He took a few minutes to soak in the view. From one side of the horizon to the other, there was no sign of any other land. No contrails bisected the sky. No ships plowed along toward distant destinations.
He finally took a small box from his pack and put it on the ground near the base of the tree. The side of the rosewood container had a few simple carvings surrounding the word “Noland.” He lifted the lid and let the breeze at the top of the hill take away the first few grains of the dark powder within.
Standing, he unzipped the main compartment of the pack, partially exposing its carefully stuffed contents. He secured the pack’s harnesses tightly around his chest and crotch before standing, holding onto the tree. He looked down at the rosewood box one last time.
“Goodbye, Dad. You’re back, just as you wished.”
He jumped, spreading his arms wide as he embraced the rush of gravity.
He fell for several seconds before pulling the ripcord so that he would be clear of the tree’s branches and away from the cliff face. As the parasail inflated above him and jerked him back upward in his harness, he took one last look upward at the tree, before starting to circle back down to the beach and his ride back to the real world.