Authors: Caroline B. Cooney
Patrick shouted, “Everybody who can walk, help somebody to the house! It’s about two hundred yards out of the woods and up a grassy hill. You can see it as soon as you’re out of the trees. Get in out of the rain and get warm. Help is on the way.”
A woman took off her sweater and wrapped it around somebody’s bleeding head, and then the two of them aimed for the house. A rather small man carried a similar-sized victim in his arms, like a newborn, apparently not noticing the weight. A big man in a sweatsuit and socks, no shoes at all, he must have taken them off to snooze comfortably while airborne, carried a young boy piggyback.
Patrick was able to get two people into the house very quickly. They were hardly hurt at all and used him like a conveyor belt. One was a woman who said she would make coffee, which struck Patrick as very peculiar: who would respond to a plane crash by perking coffee? The elderly woman in the pink slippers, however, was back inside, and she seemed to think that was an excellent idea. The women bustled away.
The other was a man who said he didn’t like dogs, which also seemed to Patrick to be peculiar. What did dogs have to do with anything?
He had a sense of his mind being too full; he had to think of his mind as shelves, and allow only the important things to sit on them. Coffee and dogs he could cut. Patrick went down the hill again, and it was even more slippery; the treading feet had mushed the old wet snow into a ski slope. He ended up skidding on the other side of a large plane piece.
It was crushed and mangled, like a car run over by big-wheelies at the coliseum. Nobody in there could be alive. The ripped-open end of the plane had come together like jaws clenching.
At his feet lay a person, or what had once been a person.
Patrick sucked in air to stop himself from vomiting or weeping. Get up, get going, he willed himself. Don’t think about this body, find somebody you can help.
Inches from his face hung a pair of dangling feet. Boys’ white high tops. Brand-new. Not a single scuff. As he walked away, knowing that it too was dead, the feet swung. Whoever owned them was alive, trapped in a roll of plane.
Hanging onto plane pieces for support, Patrick curled himself up and around gaping, torn metal corners to see the tiny space where the victim lay. The space was so narrow it did not seem as if a magazine could have escaped being crushed, let alone a human. Then he saw that the passenger had not escaped being crushed. It was a boy, his own age or a little younger. That could be me, thought Patrick. The boy caught Patrick’s hand. The fingers were so bony: Patrick felt as if a skeleton were clenching his hand, a person already dead and buried.
“Help is coming,” said Patrick. “We’ll have you out in a jiffy.”
But there was going to be no “jiffy” here. Getting this kid out would be a terrible job. They’d have to peel back entire plane walls.
I wished for this, Patrick Farquhar thought. I drove around half an hour ago and wished that a really decent emergency would happen. “I’m Patrick,” he managed to say. “What’s your name?”
“I’ll get somebody down here right away, Daniel,” said Patrick, thinking. Yeah, like who? Where are they? What are they doing?
He knew what they were doing. They were still driving from their homes to get to the rescue vehicles; rescue vehicles with full crews were still driving around the twisting narrow roads, trying to find the driveway in the dark.
“Hang in there,” said Patrick cheerily, as if the boy had a choice; as if the boy had been thinking of watching a little TV instead.
But he could not stay. There was nothing he could do for Daniel. He had to go to somebody he could actually move to safety.
Daniel’s hand tightened, keeping him there.
Patrick removed his hand anyway. He thought he had never done anything so cruel, so cold. He was careful not to look into the boy’s eyes, because if he did, he could never sleep again. He was abandoning this kid. Patrick was almost sorry he had asked Daniel’s name. It was better not to have a name if you were going to walk away.
It was called triage. The art of helping people who could be helped, and the terrible moral decision of walking away from those who could not.
Patrick said, “I’ll be back.”
Teddie decided not to look at her leg again.
She also decided not to use her ears again.
The screams all around her were so horrible, like nothing she had ever heard before. Like a hundred nightmares, in which everybody woke up screaming, wanting their Mommy.
Teddie buried her face in Bear and sobbed. “I want my Mommy, too.”
She opened her hand and peeked to be sure she still had her quarter.
The Band-Aids were flapping, attached on only one side. They were not catching the blood that covered her hand. Teddie hated blood. She wiped it off on Bear, but that was a terrible decision; now she could not bury her face in him; he was ruined.
The quarter was gone.
“My quarter,” said Teddie. “I can’t call Mommy.”
She called Mommy anyway. “Mommy!” sobbed Teddie. “Mommy, come and get me!”
A woman moved an entire plane seat off Teddie, which helped a lot, but the woman did not stay to help. Teddie tried to run after her, but she couldn’t move. “Mommy, come and get me!” Teddie shrieked over and over.
It was not Mommy who came. It was a big man. He said, “Let’s get you inside where it’s warm, okay?”
“Okay,” said Teddie. Then when he touched her, she screamed again, “Mommy! Mommy!”
“Where does it hurt?” said the man.
Teddie said, “I dropped my quarter.”
“I’ll get you another one,” said the man. He was kneeling, and then his hands were under her and he was picking her up, infant-style, so she sagged like a hammock across his arms. It hurt her so much that she screamed “Mommy!” over and over and over.
“It’s okay,” said the man. It did not reassure Teddie that the man was crying now. “It’s okay,” he said, though it obviously wasn’t.
He fell down on the ice, and she screamed again, reliving the entire crash in the few inches of this second fall. She turned Bear around to a clean side and stuck her face back into Bear.
“Sorry,” the man said to her, “I’ll slow down. What’s your name?”
“Mommy,” said Teddie instead, getting the man’s priorities in order.
“I’ll go back and get Mommy next,” said the man.
“She’s not here,” said Teddie. “She’s waiting for me. That’s my quarter, to call her.”
“I’ll call her,” the man promised. “You don’t need the quarter anyway. It’s not a pay phone.”
They were inside.
It was a house. It was not a plane. It was warm. It was not raining anymore.
The man handed Teddie over to a woman in a bathrobe, a fluffy one, like grandmas wear. Teddie screamed when they passed her around. Then she said, “I’m sorry about all the blood.”
“That’s okay, honey, don’t you worry. Now, what you and I are going to do here is fix this poor old leg. Let’s lie down on this couch and see where we start.”
The nightmare of rescue overwhelmed Patrick.
Even assuming rescue trucks could get down that narrow, stone-walled driveway, there was no town water out here for fire trucks to tap; no hydrants. How could they fight a fire? Even if they got around the house and broke free of that courtyard, the slope would skid every piece of equipment into the wreckage.
As for the ambulances, even if they did get down the hill, they’d never get back up without a tow.
Which meant carrying every single wounded body out of the woods, up the hill, through the house, and out to the courtyard … where, unless they had a terrific traffic management plan, the ambulances could never get out again to reach the hospital anyway.
If it was indeed a 747, there could actually be
four hundred people
needing backboards and stretchers.
Or body bags.
The next nightmare was the icy rain, pelting down on injured passengers who were of course not wearing coats. So they’d freeze if they didn’t burn. The ice made everything slippery. Its only possible benefit was to damp the fire out, but if there was another fuel tank, rain wouldn’t have much effect on the explosion. Just add sizzle.
However, there were some good things. The house was immense. The heat was on; plenty of room to get warm, lie down, be treated. Phones and lights and electricity were available.
He helped an elderly woman who did not seem to speak English. She patted his face desperately, repeating syllables that meant nothing to Patrick. Patrick thought the only thing that could possibly be worse than being in a plane crash was to be in a plane crash in a foreign country.
Heidi set off through the woods, getting whiplashed cheeks from low twigs. She was carrying every coat and jacket in the entire coat room by the front door, and that was a great many. Her parents were fond of clothing. The first woman to whom she gave protection from the rain was trapped by a tree whose branches, on impact, had pierced the ground like so many stakes, and the woman was not going anywhere until somebody with a chainsaw arrived.
“Oh wow,” said the woman, quite cheerfully, considering the inhuman angle at which her right leg lay. “A mink coat,” she said. “I used to be against furs, but what the hell.”
She and Heidi even laughed.
Heidi gave out another coat and hit an obstacle.
A large group of victims were on the other side of one of the many tiny ravines that filled these woods. The ravine was probably only four or five feet deep, and only six across, but icy water slithered over the rocks; there was nothing to hold onto; she could not both carry coats and cross the ravine. She was not sure she could cross the ravine at all, let alone bring aid to those passengers.
Anyway, there was a person lying across the bottom.
Heidi had not known that she would recognize death, never having seen it for real. Death by plane crash, however, left visible tracks. It was not so much a person as mangled flesh. To cross the ravine, she’d have to step on him.
I can’t, thought Heidi. I can’t step on a dead—
Across the little ravine, hands were waved from the debris. Someone crawled toward her. The person could not see Heidi but crawled in a circular way, like a bird with one wing.
Bridge, thought Heidi. I have to build a bridge. She tried to think of something long and solid, something light enough to carry down here.
Even in the smoky, stinking, icy air, Patrick could see that this girl passenger was stunning. He found himself glad that somebody so beautiful was not hurt, that she was walking around. “There’s a boy back there caught under the wreckage. Go sit with him, okay?”
The beautiful girl looked at Patrick. Her eyes were immense, framed by a romantic cloud of hair that somehow was not touched by the rain, and in spite of the horror around him, Patrick was turned on.
But a hand touched his leg. A voice said, “Help me, I’m right here, please, there’s something in me, something went right through me, please, please.”
He forgot the beautiful girl, kneeling down to the horror of seeing some sort of metal rod going straight through the chest of a woman in a short-sleeved sweater. “I’m so cold,” said the woman, and although he could not see her tears in the rain, he could tell she was crying.
Patrick took off his jacket, crying himself. He wanted to put it under her and protect her from the cold ground, but she could not be moved, so he tucked it over her, wrapping his jacket around the rod, saying, “Ambulances are coming. We’ll have a stretcher down here in no time.”
The woman smiled at him gently, and he could read her smile as if her lips spoke.
I have no time.
From beyond the hill and the ravine came the wandering wail of the first siren.
Never had Patrick heard such a beautiful sound.
ATURDAY: 5:59 P.M.
Darienne could not believe that some filthy, mud-encrusted teenage boy was giving her instructions.
She had been standing there in an odd frozen position with interior noise she could not get rid of ricocheting inside her head. She had been knotting and unknotting her hands, counting the number of times she was doing it. She had the weird feeling of being asleep on her feet: walking alive through the nightmare of other people’s dreams.
But now she was awake; that grimy boy touching her sleeve had brought her back to her senses.
She understood that phrase now: her senses really had abandoned her—thought, smell, vision, touch—but now they were back; Darienne was whole and wholly calm.
She walked carefully past the debris. She had to focus enough not to stumble, but she managed not actually to discern what lay on the ground. She even shut the noise out of her ears. When she came out of the wooded part, she could see the house clearly. Every light was on. How beautiful the place was against the night sky. It was also immense.
These people have money, thought Darienne with respect. Serious money. Old intensive-style money.
She wondered what kind of cars they drove.
She got up the slippery hill without stumbling and found a back door. A large copper red dog attempted to hand her a saliva-lathered latex toy. She kneed the dog away from her.
Firemen and ambulance people, policemen in uniforms, who-knew-what in special jackets were pouring through the house and out the back, like a tide. About time, thought Darienne irritably. She surveyed the scene.
Blood, mud, melting ice everywhere.
Antique rugs with a silken sheen were being ignored, and bleeding people were actually lying down on them. Darienne thought blood was the most disgusting thing in the entire world. She could not tolerate the idea of what the human body was like beneath the skin and felt strongly that as long as she kept her own skin flawless, she would never have to think about things like blood.
Shuddering, Darienne steered her way through the chaos into the kitchen. It was huge; semiremodeled from the days of many servants. Darienne shook her head, thinking of another age. She would have liked to be rich back then.