Chapter Twenty Three

A crackle of electricity cut the air. Through tears I turned up to the hazy sky, dismissing the sound as an echo of my imagination, until shock waves rattled through our bodies, a furious explosion of light erupting from inside the helicopter, out into the half light.

Clambering to my feet I ran, vision fixed as the aircraft became unsteady, smoke circling out, whisked away by the speeding rotors. Stumbling, my face turned to the ground, I leapt to recover, looking skyward as quick as I could, watching the body of the chopper spin. My feet took me right, veering as the path of the rotating fuselage sped through its turn, my eyes fixing forward, seeking any sign of my friend, or what was left.

The grass grew thicker and I slowed to raise my legs high, the ground uneven, hard going, my attention elsewhere. Out of the corner of my eye I saw the helicopter falling to the ground a few hundred metres away, a second explosion coursing outward. The tail caught, stopping the spin, sending the fuselage over on its side, the rotors crushing down, splintering, pinging off in all directions. Falling to my hands and knees I buried my head, interlaced my fingers over my hair, tucking into a foetal position, shrapnel falling to the grass, the burn of oil and hot metal all around.

With the last of the debris falling I stood, giving only a casual glance over to the wreckage as it rocked to a halt, ending its final barrel roll.

“Andrew,” I screamed and paced forward again, my eyes all over the dense grass, spying the road, the mottled surface cut to shreds, fractured with lead still steaming from the small craters. “Andrew,” I repeated, my voice breaking at the last. Crunching loose tarmac on the road I stopped, pivoting, letting my crackling voice sing out into the surrounding nothing. I saw him over the verge climbing to his feet, rising from the tall grass, a wide smile on his smoke blackened face, hands out, red and charred black, his near empty pack hanging in the crook of his arm.

I ran, bounding over the verge, skidding down the side and jumping the shallow ditch, grabbing him as he sucked through his teeth at my embrace. He pressed his elbows at my side, it was all he could manage as he winced at my grip.

“You suckered them in,” I said, through laughter. “You sneaky bastard.”

“Saved the biggest to last. The Brimstone. You should have seen the size of the fucker,” he said and I could hear the grin in his voice, but it turned to a wince as I hugged tighter. Drawing back, I took first notice of the sun above the horizon, the sky free of cloud, the blue softening with every moment. Brushing my hands to my jacket to clear the loose dirt to take a look at his burns, my hands came away with blood, but my jacket was unbroken as I looked down. Pain opened inside my stomach, but I knew it wasn’t my blood when I catch sight of the hole in the side of Andrew’s dark woollen coat.

“Shit,” I said, showing Andrew my hands, pointing down to the hole not part of the design. His eyes grew wide, his hands still out in front, the smell of charred flesh in my throat. With great care I pulled the bag from his arm, minding the rawness of his hands, then unbuttoned the jacket, his face wincing with every movement. Peeling the coat back over his shoulders, his thin brown jumper was soaked red underneath. I tried to keep my expression straight. I knew despite not looking, Andrew’s eyes fixed on mine, keen for my reaction. Pulling up the jumper, the t-shirt too, I folded up the layers dripping with fresh coppery blood, drawing a sigh of relief as I saw the line traced down the side of his skin.

“It didn’t go in,” I said, the words breathless. He relaxed, tensing again, air sucking through his teeth with every movement. I took a second look, the bleeding had already slowed. We were safe. A calm air settled. We’d survived another moment of terrible history, but the elation was short lived when an animal like scream cut through the air.

“Help,” came the elongated call.

It was a young woman’s desperate voice.

 

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