Authors: R. L. LaFevers
Tags: #Fantasy, #Science Fiction, #Fiction, #General, #Legends, #Myths, #Magic, #Fables, #Ages 9-12 Fiction, #Animals, #Mythical, #Juvenile Fiction, #Fantasy & Magic, #Action & Adventure - General, #Action & Adventure, #Children's Books, #Social Issues, #Family, #People & Places, #Adventure and Adventurers, #Parents, #Children: Grades 3-4, #Animals - Mythical, #Girls & Women, #Readers, #Boys & Men, #Emotions & Feelings, #Middle East, #Orphans & Foster Homes, #Animals - Birds, #Birds, #Self-Esteem & Self-Reliance, #Phoenix (Mythical bird), #Readers - Chapter Books, #Chapter Books, #People & Places - Middle East
Up close, in broad daylight, the plane looked old and rickety--flimsy, even. The fabric skin was ripped and patched in places. The metal covering the front was dented and pitted. "Will this thing really fly?" Nate asked.
"Of course it will," Aunt Phil said, steering him to the nose of the plane. "This Sopwith Platypus performed spectacularly in the Great War and still has a lot of good years left in it."
"Why is it called a platypus?" he asked.
"Because it's comfortable landing on both water and land. Now stop dawdling and get up on that barrel. When I give the signal, grab hold of the propeller and give a hard yank."
Aunt Phil left to go climb into the plane. Steadying the barrel with both hands, Nate clambered up onto it, hoping the whole thing wouldn't tip over. Slowly, he stood up. When the engine sputtered to life, his whole body rumbled with the force of it.
"Now!" she shouted.
Stretching up on his tiptoes, Nate grasped the propeller blade with both hands and pulled down hard.
His hands slid off the prop as if they'd been greased. He stared down at them, dumbfounded.
"Probably oil from the barrel," Aunt Phil shouted at him over the engine noise. "Here." She tossed him a rag. He reached out and caught it, surprising himself.
"Good catch! Wipe your hands before you try again."
Nate did as he was told, then stuffed the rag into his pocket.
"Ready?" Aunt Phil yelled.
"Ready!" he yelled back.
This time when he pulled down on the propeller, it spun, slowly at first and then faster and faster. Afraid he'd be chopped into bits, Nate leaped down off the barrel, causing it to tip over. A thick, heavy liquid began to
all over the grass.
"Careful, Nate, that's worth a pretty penny!" Aunt Phil called out.
Nate quickly righted the barrel, wiped his hands on the rag again, then hurried over and climbed into the tiny,
cramped cockpit. He busied himself fastening his helmet and positioning the goggles over his eyes.
"Hold on," Aunt Phil cried, and the airplane lurched forward. The roar of the engine drowned out everything else. Nate gripped the sides as the plane rolled and bumped its way across the field. When it picked up speed, his stomach fluttered and he couldn't tell if he was going to giggle or throw up.
As they hurtled down the field, Nate realized they were running out of room. The neighbor's house was coming up in front of them. Fast.
The engine continued to roar, the motor straining with the effort. The house drew closer. Just as Nate was about to duck, the motor gave a final whine and the plane lurched upward. As the ground fell away, Nate's stomach felt as if it dropped down to his toes.
He wasn't sure, but he thought one of the wheels clipped the chimney as they flew by.
was torn between excitement and terror
as they climbed
higher and higher into the air. The breakfast he'd eaten earlier felt like lead rocks in his stomach. Below him, the entire world fell away, growing smaller and smaller until it looked like one of die maps on Aunt Phil's walls.
Once he realized the plane would stay in the air and not go crashing to the ground, he had to admit it was thrilling to soar through the sky like a bird. Without warning, they plowed into a fluffy white cloud. Nate gasped at the shocking, damp cold of it.
[Image: Geese flying.]
Just as quickly, they emerged once again into the early morning sun.
They passed a small flock of geese flying in formation. Nate wasn't sure who was more surprised, him or the geese. Nate quickly noticed that the higher they climbed, the colder it got. He was glad of his helmet and jacket and wished he had a pair of gloves. His hands were white and numb with cold.
Or maybe he was just hanging on too tightly. He relaxed his grip, his fingers tingling as the blood flow returned.
When they'd been in the air for more than an hour, the excitement of his first flight wore off. The airplane was loud and stank of petrol. It vibrated so hard that Nate was certain it would shake his teeth loose. He was cold and cramped, and there was nothing to do but count the stitches on Aunt Phil's leather helmet in front of him.
Nate quickly became drowsy. He remembered reading somewhere that people fell asleep just before they died of exposure, so he tried to fight it. In the end, he decided if he had to freeze to death, it would be better to be asleep than awake.
Nate awoke with a start as the plane touched down in the night. They bounced along a bumpy road lit by a searchlight mounted on the front of the plane. As his eyes adjusted to the dark, Nate also saw torches lining the runway.
After another minute of bouncing, the plane shuddered to a stop. Nate checked his limbs to be sure he was all in one piece.
"Well, we've arrived in Budapest. Do you want to stretch your legs?" Aunt Phil asked.
Nate very much did want to stretch his legs. Without wasting another second, he scrambled out of the plane and joined Aunt Phil on the ground. A group of men stood before a small fire in front of a rough-looking shack.
Aunt Phil cupped her hand around her mouth. "Halloo! We're here to refuel."
The men nodded and began talking among themselves in a strange language. Two hurried into the shack, then came back out carrying a ladder and a huge funnel. The others had already reached the plane and began unloading fuel cans from the cargo hold.
"They seem to know just what to do," Nate said.
"Of course they do. They refuel the airmail service that runs from London to Budapest. They're old hands at this."
Nate watched as a man climbed up the ladder and began pouring the fuel into the airplane's fuselage through the large funnel. The smell of petrol filled the air.
"I'm going to catch a quick wink while they fill the plane," Aunt Phil said. "They've plenty of cots in there, so you're welcome to do the same. Or wander around and explore a bit, whatever you'd prefer." With that, Aunt Phil disappeared into the shack.
The first thing Nate did was go find some privacy behind the nearby bushes. When he returned, three of the men were still refueling the plane, but the rest had returned to their fire. He wasn't sure what to do, so he wandered over toward them, feeling shy. They stopped talking when he drew close. One of them pointed to his hair, then nudged the man next to him. The other man nodded and smiled.
he said, and they all laughed. But it was a friendly laugh, so Nate smiled back.
Someone shoved a bowl of hot stew into his hand.
they called it. As Nate wolfed it down, one of the men took out a flutelike instrument and began to play softly.
When Nate was done, he thanked the men and went inside the shack. He was surprised at how tired he was, since he'd slept most of the flight over. He fumbled around until he found an empty cot. He settled under the blanket, warm and full with the strange music sounding softly in his ears. Maybe travel wouldn't be that bad after all.
The next morning, they were back in the plane and on their way before the sun had risen. Things quickly returned to the
bone-rattling monotony of the day before. Nate hunched down to stay as warm as possible.
Some time later, Aunt Phil twisted around in her seat. "Something's wrong with the propeller," she called back to him. "I think some debris has gotten tangled up in it. We need to remove whatever it is before the prop stops altogether."
Nate's chest suddenly felt hollow.
"Feel like stretching your legs?" she yelled.
Before Nate could ask what that had to do with the propeller, she shoved a piece of rope at him. "Here. Slip this around your waist."
Wrenching around in the cramped seat, Nate did as he was told.
"There," Aunt Phil yelled when he had it secure. "Now take these and you're all set." She thrust a pair of leather gloves at him. She kept talking as he tugged them on. "I'll slow her down so you can climb out onto the wing and make your way to the propeller. But if I have to slow down too much, we'll stall. So be quick."
Nate looked at her in disbelief. Surely she didn't mean for him to--
"Hurry, Nate! I don't want the prop to give up altogether! Then we'll stall for sure."
Did she mean for him to crawl out onto the nose of the plane to fix the problem? He felt a sharp yank at the rope around his waist. "Get moving!"
Apparently, she did. Very glad for the rope that anchored him to the plane, Nate stood up. Struggling to keep his balance, he crawled out of the cockpit and lowered his feet over the side until they touched the wing. Gripping the side of the plane for dear life, he shuffled his feet along the wing, inching closer to the propeller. The plane bucked and dipped, adjusting to his shifting weight. Even with the slower speed, the wind screamed past him, tugging at his shirt, his helmet, his body, trying to dislodge him from his wobbly perch. His heart hammering in his chest, Nate kept his eyes glued to the nose of the plane and tried not to think about how far down the ground was.
His body hugged the side of the plane as he scooched his way forward. When he passed Aunt Phil in her cockpit, she gave him a cheerful thumbs-up sign.
All too soon, he ran out of wing. He shifted his grip to the struts that held the wing to the plane.
Searching for a foothold among the wires and fastenings, he pushed himself atop the nose of the plane.
He sat there for a moment, trying to catch his breath. He tried to peer down into the propeller but had to jerk his nose back to keep it from being whacked off by the blades. They were moving so fast, he couldn't see a thing.
Clinging to the searchlight mount, he put his hand down to where the propeller met the nose of the plane. He groped cautiously, feeling for something that might be causing the problem.
There was a sharp pinch as his glove got caught in the propeller gear. Alarmed, he yanked his hand back. As he did, something flew out from behind the propeller into midair. It happened so fast, Nate wasn't able to get a good look at it before it disappeared far below.
But the propeller stopped lagging. Nate realized he had somehow managed to fix the problem. Before he could congratulate himself, there was a flurry of movement. With a howl, a small shape launched itself from the propeller toward Nate's face.
The creature--a bat?--latched on to
Nate and began pounding and scratching at his head. Nate tucked his chin under and tried to protect his face. Gripping the nose of the plane hard with both knees, he let go with one hand and plucked the thing from his head. It dangled in front of his face, swiping and kicking.
What was it?
It was about the size of a kitten but sort of human shaped. It was covered with engine oil and gear grease. Large pointed ears stuck out from black hair. It was hard to
tell, but Nate thought it might be a girl thing ... whatever it was. After a second, Nate realized the squeaking sounds it was making were actually words.
"That was me brother, you big oaf! What'd you go and do that for?"
The plane dipped, and Nate flattened himself to keep from losing his balance. He had to get back to the cockpit. Fast. But what to do with the creature? Should he just toss it overboard? That might not be such a good idea. Aunt Phil was a beastologist, after all. What if he'd just caught his first beast?
Heartened by this thought--and the fact that it wasn't a bat--Nate began scooting backwards, inch by terrifying inch. In one hand, he kept the small creature out in front of him, well clear of its flying feet and fists. The other hand clutched desperately to the struts as his feet poked around, looking for the firm surface of the wing. When his feet finally connected, he let out a long, shaky breath, then began the slow, terrifying process of making his way back.
He was drenched in sweat by the time he got back to the cockpit and tumbled clumsily into his seat.
"Hey! Watch what yer doing there, you big dolt."
[I mage: Aunt Phil, Nate and the gremlin.]
"Oops. Sorry." Nate pulled the creature out from under him.
"Good job, Nate!" Aunt Phil's voice came through the wind noise. "You fixed it."
Nate leaned forward and held the creature aloft. "Look what I found up there. There were two of them, but one fell before I could catch it."
Aunt Phil wrinkled her face in distaste. "Gremlins. Nasty things. Always trying to muck up my plane. You can just toss it over the side. They're pests, really."
Nate looked down into the scrunched-up, ugly little face. Throw it overboard?
The gremlin put her hands together. "Please don't toss me over. Please. I'll be good. I promise. I won't drink any fuel or play with the prop again. Just don't throw me over. Without me brother, I'm all alone in the world." Her eyes grew big and wide as she glanced over the side of the plane.
Nate felt a sharp pang of guilt. He knew all about being alone in the world. He had no idea what would happen to him if Aunt Phil hadn't taken him in. "I'm sorry about your brother," he said. "I didn't mean to kill him."
"Oh, he won't die. He'll land just fine. That's why we got
such big feet, see?" She held hers up for him to inspect. They were large--like rabbits' feet. "He'll just have to find himself another plane. That's all." She sniffed.
Nate turned back to Aunt Phil. "Do I have to throw her over? Can't I just keep her until we land, then let her go?"
Aunt Phil shrugged. "I'm telling you, they're nothing but pests. But if you want, you can shove it into your rucksack until we land. I'll deal with it then."