Copyright © 2015 by Steve Hobbs
I guess I knew the plane had crashed. I didn’t really remember it but we weren’t flying anymore, the lights were barely working, my seat was leaning sideways and my head hurt. The musty compartment stunk of gas fumes that burned my nose and papers and dust were floating all around the compartment. My head was aching so much that I reached to see if there actually was a spike of some kind jammed through my skull. There was no spike but the top of my head was wet with something, probably blood. I was shivering from the cold.
Something was leaning against me and it was heavy. I pushed at it and it felt lumpy and human. The lights flickering overhead were enough for me to recognize Mr. Carson, my chaperone for the flight. He was a big older man with a big smile and he had worked for my dad all my life. His arm was around me and I guess the sight of him jogged my memory of the plane’s sudden descent, the twisting confusion of a plane out of control, Mr. Carson’s strong arm gripping me as though he was shielding me from the crash. I remembered him whispering that it would be all right. Just words.
“Mr. Carson,” I said. “Are you okay? Can you hear me?”
His eyes were open but dusty and lifeless. His head tilted unnaturally and I wondered if he had a broken neck. I couldn’t be sure.
“Oh, God,” I whispered. “Why?”
The clouds in my head were fading and were being replaced with panic and terror. I realized I was crying, sobbing really, and my chest wouldn’t stop heaving. I took a breath and it helped with the crying. What would my father do? First, get out of the seat. Look for other survivors. Get out of the plane. Wait for help. Easy.
I had to squish my hand past Mr. Carson’s big belly to unsnap my seat belt. I wriggled from his death grip and slid down the seat until my hip thumped onto the floor. It sounds shallow but I was afraid that I’d torn my Tory Burch jeans. They were my only pair and I didn’t see a Neiman Marcus out through the tiny windows that dotted the walls of the plane.
The plane was a little sideways but not enough to restrict walking. I stood up, still dizzy, and looked for signs of life and saw nothing. I remembered some of the crew had been huddled in the back, talking and laughing. They were wearing blue pants and shirts that had the name of my father’s company scrolled across their backs. Someone had mentioned my butt loud enough for me to hear. Mr. Carson told them to be quiet and they did.
I moved in their direction.
There were a lot of crates and netting scattered all about but I’m pretty nimble and I was wearing my Nikes. My dad wasn’t that keen on me doing sports, he considered them unladylike, but I loved them. I was a natural at gymnastics, because I was so small, and I played point guard on the girls’ basketball squad. Climbing was easy enough, even with my banged-up head.
I got to the back of the plane where the gas smell was much thicker. There was another couch thing that hooked onto the floor; no one was strapped in. I tried to remember if the crewmen had been seated before the crash but I guess my mind had been on other things. Specifically, screaming and crying. Maybe praying.
I heard a noise, a crunch, coming from the rear of the plane. It echoed sickeningly around the dead quiet airplane. The cruncher was seated on the floor, staring at me as he finished his meal. A sandwich, maybe? Who could eat at a time like this? The flickering lights only reached him in bits and pieces. He was watching me, too. I could tell.
“Are you all right?” I asked. “Can you get up?”
I took a step toward him and almost fell as something gripped my ankle. I looked down, terrified, and saw one of the crewmen, the oldest one, seated Indian style across from the cruncher. He let go of my leg but lasered his gaze straight ahead. He was holding a metal rod in his other hand.
His voice was deep and raspy. “You don’t want to go over there.”
“Why not?” I asked.
I was frustrated. “Look at what?”
“What’s he chewing on? Can you see?”
I stared for a handful of seconds, and then stepped back. The panic was back and the breathing trick wasn’t going to stop it this time. There was a crewman on the floor, hopefully dead, his arm being casually munched like some long Charleston Chew bar. I looked closer but couldn’t see the face of the demented cannibal. I wanted to scream. I wanted to run. But I just stared and listened to the ringing in my head.
The man with the stick said, “He’s been eating my friends for a while. That’s the last one.”
I couldn’t think of what to say.
“There’s a string above you. Do you think you could pull it down?”
“Yes,” he said. “It pulls down a ladder to an upper compartment. We store things in it when we’re overflowing with cargo. It should be about empty now.”
“I’m not going up there with you,” I said. “I’m getting out of this airplane.”
He shook his head. “He’ll be on you before you get there. He’s fast.”
I guess the guy had looked at me and broken the stare contest because the cruncher stood up and pounced. The crewman was fast, too, and he pointed his stick out. Blue fire sparked at contact and the cruncher lurched back. He turned my way and the crewman zapped him again. The lights flickered on enough for me to see his face. He was no crewman. He was an animal of some sort. A horrible animal.
“Jesus, what is that?” I shrieked.
It took another step and the crewman poked him again. This time the blue flame was much larger and seemed to turn red. The cruncher backed into its corner but made some crazy barking sound as it did so. It kept its eyes on me, too. It wanted me, I knew---it wanted to eat me…
“The rope, Miss Collins. Fast.”
I reached around, found the string and pulled hard enough to bring the retractable ladder down with a thud. I climbed the tiny steps into the darkness and quickly bumped my already sore skull into the roof of the compartment. I got down on my knees and waited for the crewman.
I could see him as he backed slowly away from the animal. It made a move at him but its foot seemed stuck on something. The creature barked and growled as the crewman climbed backwards up the ladder, his glowing stick pointing right at the man-eater. When he reached the top, he pulled the ladder up with a snap and we were in total darkness.
I heard him rummaging in the darkness until a light went on.
The compartment was long and claustrophobic. I looked around and saw some luggage here and there and a few blankets. The floor was damp and sticky. I wondered what usually went on in the tiny little hiding spot. It was probably best not to ask.
The crewman was on his knees in front of me. He was holding one of those green Coleman lanterns my dad and I used when we went camping. He was an older guy, probably in his forties, a normal looking guy. I remembered him from the group of crewman. He was the quiet one, the one that seemed so serious.
He said, “I think his claws got stuck in one of the latches on the floor. He would have gotten me otherwise.”
“Wha…What was that thing?” I asked. My voice sounded huge in the tiny compartment.
The floor shook suddenly, the noise bouncing around the cabin.
The crewman smiled. “I guess he’s angry.”
My stomach was rolling. My arms were shaking. I was as scared as I could ever remember. I said, “I think I might throw up.”
“It’s probably from all the fumes,” he said. “I was afraid the prod would set the place on fire.”
I sat down, wrapping my hands around my knees. I said, “My name is Gillian. Gillian Collins.”
He nodded. “I know who you are, of course. The boss’s daughter.”
My dad was John Collins, owner of everything that involves fly fishing. His products were on shelves everywhere, and Alaska was one of his biggest markets. I had come up so we could have an early Christmas together. We took a cruise together. It was the time of my life.
“We missed our flight,” I explained. “But this plane was heading to Seattle, anyway…”
“You’ll see him again, Gillian,” he said. “I promise.”
The floor shook again and I jumped. My head bumped the low ceiling and everything got swirly. I said, “I think I might have a concussion.”
“Tip your head toward me,” he said. “Let me take a look.”
I did as he asked and he looked my skull over under the bright light of the lantern. He said, “It looks a little nasty but you’re not bleeding anymore.”
“Thanks,” I said. “Not just for looking at my head but for grabbing my ankle down there.”
He nodded. “My name’s Ken. Ken Logan. I just started with the company. This is my second flight, can you believe it?”
The floor rattled once more but I barely noticed. We seemed safe.
“Ken, I must ask you something,” I said.
“You want to know where that thing came from.”
“Yes. Also, why did you happen to have that electric prod? It seems like quite a coincidence.”
He sort of shrugged. “There were some crates that didn’t look like they really belonged there. And some of the men had the prods. They all looked nervous but I’m new and I guess I didn’t want to rock the boat.”
“You’re saying they smuggled something onboard?” I asked. “Where from?”
He said, “One of the crates said Nepal on it. Maybe they were Nepalian apes.”
I was pretty sure his story was crap but it probably wasn’t a good time to argue so I let it go. I said, “What do we do next?”
Ken said, “We can crawl down to the other end of the compartment. There’s another ladder.”
I shook my head. “I’m staying.”
He was calm. “Gillian, do you smell those fumes? This plane could catch fire with any spark.”
I was crying again. “I don’t want to get eaten.”
The cruncher wanted to eat me, I was sure of it, and I wasn’t going to give him the chance. I’d rather burn in a smelly overhead compartment than be torn apart by some hairy creature. Nothing was going to eat my arm. The more I thought about it the more my stomach tied up in knots. Finally, I upchucked onto Ken’s lap. The puke smelled almost as bad as the gas fumes. He barely flinched.
Ken looked around for a rag, found something, and wiped his pants off as best he could. He said, “The stairs come out right by the cockpit. If the radio works we can call for help.”
“What about the cruncher?” I asked.
“He’s eating right now.”
He squeezed past me and started the journey to the other end of the compartment. I thought about staying put but I guess I was too chicken. What if the creature was able to pound its way into the compartment? I couldn’t fight him off alone. I followed.
We crawled as deliberately and quietly as we could. It only took a few minutes to get to the other end. Ken turned the latch and the ladder lurched downward into the main compartment. There was a thud and my stomach crawled again. That thing must have heard the noise.
Ken stuck his head into the hole and twisted about. He pulled out and said, “Looks clear. The cockpit door’s closed but I don’t think the captain locks it.”
“What if he does?” I asked.
He didn’t answer. Instead, he climbed down the ladder and out of my sight. The Coleman lantern was still on the floor near the ladder. The battery must have been old because the light was flickering from bright to dim and back again. I didn’t want to get too close to the hole in case the cruncher was chewing on Ken at the bottom of the ladder.
“All clear,” he whispered. “Come on.”
I was trembling and my hands were sweaty but I worked up my nerve, like I was getting ready to dive into a chilly pool, and just climbed down into the silence. Ken was at the bottom and he guided me so I didn’t fall. His grip was reassuring.
I looked back into the darkness of the hold. Everything was quiet, nothing was moving.
Just a few yards from me sat Mr. Carson, still slumped to the side. His head was shaking a little but otherwise, he was still. I turned to see if Ken had the cockpit door open but I began to wonder, why was Mr. Carson’s head shaking? I looked again.
It wasn’t his head shaking at all. It was the cruncher’s head moving to and fro as he tore at poor Mr. Carson’s bloody neck. I made a gurgling sound and the cruncher turned his head. His eyes locked onto me as chewed. He took a step and then leaped.
Ken pulled me out of the way and prodded the animal as it landed. It barked its creepy bark and backed away. Ken tried to pull me toward the cockpit but I couldn’t stop staring at the creature. It had to be some kind of ape but unlike anything I’d ever heard of. It was as tall as Ken, and he was tall, and covered in long silver hairs. Its yellow fangs hung out of its mouth as it barked at me and foam was streaming down its chin. Or maybe the foam was blood from Mr. Carson’s neck.
Ken pulled at me harder and I relented.
The cockpit door stuck a bit but it wasn’t locked. I pushed at it a few times and it opened.
“I’ve got it,” I said. “Come on.”
We both backed toward the safety of the cockpit when I saw Mr. Carson stand up.
“Oh, my God…he’s alive!” I squealed.
Ken grasped my shoulder. “Gillian, no. That’s not your friend.”
He was right. There was another cruncher standing by the poor man’s body, a much bigger one. I guess the crunchers were eating him together. Maybe one of them was a girl and they were on a date. Like sharing a sundae.
They were both barking at us now and we sprinted into the cabin. I slammed it shut with all of my strength and Ken bolted it. Something hit the metal door with force and the door bowed slightly. The creatures barked and growled but they didn’t hit the door again. After a minute, I couldn’t hear them at all.
“Where’d they go?” I asked.
The lights weren’t working but there was a lot of sun coming in through the tinted windows. I looked outside and snow all around us. It was swirling. Great, we’re going to get outside and freeze to death. I was never going to see my parents or my friends again. I was going to die a virgin.
The worst thing was that it was all my fault. I said, “Do you know why I had to take this flight?”
Ken was looking at some shattered electronics on the dashboard. Everything was smashed.
“I was shopping, that’s why. I stopped at the mall and I found some great deals and time just slipped away from me…”
“It’s not funny.”
“This isn’t your fault, Gillian. You had every right to be here.”
I nodded. “Is the radio working?”
“No, we have to switch to plan B.”
I knew he didn’t have a plan B but it sounded reassuring. He started searching the cabin until he found a gray metal box on a shelf. It had a lock on it but he slammed it against the door a couple of times and it opened up and he pulled something out. It was better than gold to me. It was a pistol.
“Will that kill them?” I asked.
“Maybe,” he said. He was looking at something on the floor. It was a body.
I guess I was numbed to the sight of death at this point. I asked, “Who is that?”
“The pilot. I think his name was Frank or Phil.”
Frank or Phil was wearing dark pants and a white shirt that was stained with blood. He was face down and neither of us felt like turning him over. His body was twisted in much the same way as Mr. Carson’s. He was dead, for sure. He was lucky.
“What are we going to do?” I asked.
I looked through the window at the endless snow until my attention turned to my reflection in the dark glass. My face was puffy and pale. My blonde hair was completely Hermioned out. My clothes were ratty. I was shivering from the cold. Was that really me?
The crunchers began pounding on the door, barking horribly with each strike. It was only a matter of time. It seemed so unreal.
Ken was staring at the pistol. He said, “I want you to know something, Gillian.”
Cold clouds were coming from his mouth as he spoke.
“I was involved. I knew about the boxes…”
I said, “I know. That’s why you knew how to use the prod.”
“My kids,” he said. “My kids barely look at me anymore. Not since I stopped working, since I became a disappointment.”
Honestly, I didn’t care at that moment. My mind was on other things.
He grabbed my arm and stared deep. “I just hope you can one day forgive me.”
“What are you going to do with that gun?” I asked, concerned.
He shook his head and put it in his pocket. “There’s a floor panel in this closet space.”
He got to his knees and pulled on something. A medium sized piece of the floor popped out. Suddenly, I had hope.
“Hopefully we had the landing gear down when we crashed. You should be able to squeeze through the hole and out by the wheels. Follow the light.”
“But what about you?” I asked. I already knew the answer.
He handed me the prod. “Don’t use it unless you have to. The gas is everywhere.”
The top of the door was bowing forward enough for me to see furry arms pushing through the door. Ken pulled out the pistol and shot one of the arms. Blood sprayed across the door as it snapped awkwardly back into place. The barking got louder.
“No time,” he said. “You have to go.”
He shook his head. “Come on.”
He held my hand and lowered me down into the tight hole. I squeezed his hand gently before I let go and started crawling. There was a bright spot past the center of the plane and I crept toward it. It took less than a minute to get there. The wheels were down and there was probably enough room for me to pinch through. I looked down and saw only snow.
I heard a pop and a scream. Then a lot more pops.
And more screams.
I practically had to swim through the stuff to get out from under the plane. When the snow was only knee deep, I began to walk. My eyes burned and watered from the bright sunlight and my lungs gulped hungrily at the crisp mountain air. The relief I felt was dizzying.
I looked up at the dark cargo plane sitting partly sideways in front of me. It seemed so much smaller on the inside. Now it looked big again. Normal.
There were brown puddles, some of them the size of small ponds, dotting the snowbanks and I knew I was looking at fuel spills. I tried to dodge them but the gas was everywhere. I trudged for a few feet then stopped. Where should I go? My head pounded.
I heard a bird somewhere and wished that I could hitch a ride.
Then I heard a bark.
I looked up at the tilted airplane and saw that the side door was open and flapping in the wind. Clank, clank. I gripped the prod, trembling from fear and cold, and moved slowly backward.
The door flew open again and this time one of the crunchers stepped out and looked down at me. I recognized him. He was the one that wanted to eat me. They all wanted to eat me, I knew, but he was the first one. The one that hated me.
He climbed onto the wing and jumped down into the snow not ten yards from me. Snow splashed everywhere and I struggled to see him, his silver fur camouflaged by the slush. I saw him when he stepped out from the splatter. Upright, he was much taller than he had been while chewing on that crewman’s arm. His torso was huge, as were his legs and arms. He looked remotely human in daylight but his face was more ape than man. His beady eyes were dark and cruel and burned with hate.
His growl was low but it grew stronger until it morphed into that hideous bark.
“Get away!” I screamed. I pointed the stick at him and backed away.
He followed, like a cat playing with a mouse.
I looked down and saw that I was standing in one of the fuel ponds. I stepped out and backed away. He was on the other side of the pond, drooling and spewing. I had an idea.
I screamed, “Come on, come get me.”
For a second, I thought he might go around the spill or jump over it. He looked at me and down at the rusty mess in front of him. He took a step, then another. He was ankle deep.
I pressed the button and poked at him. He knew what it could do and dodged me. He was used to moving around in snow.
“Screw you,” I said. I poked at him again and zapped his arm. He twisted and stumbled to one knee. I zapped his leg, not letting go of the power button. He swatted at the prod and I fell backward, my finger still on the power switch.
The puddle started to burn, I guess from the prod’s blue spark.
The cruncher tried to run but the fuel was all over and there must have been little streams between the ponds. Everything began to burn, including the cruncher. I looked up at the plane and remembered the fumes. It was going to explode.
I turned and ran clumsily from the blaze. There was a bit of a slope in front of me and I dived over it, not caring where it led. I heard the rumble of the explosion as I slid headlong into the snow ravine. I kept my arms around my head and let my body take the hits from the rocks and ice as I slid to a stop maybe twenty feet below the peak. Bits of the plane rained down on me, piercing my arms and legs. The ringing in my head hit a fever pitch and refused to recede. I could have passed out and the darkness would have been welcome but I knew that would be bad. Did I want to die now after everything I just went through?
Climbing the slope was tougher than sliding down it. There were rocks and crevices to grip but I was determined. My hands were bloody and numb but they were still doing what I told them. Grip. Pull. Repeat. It only took a few minutes before I felt the heat of the flames. A few more good tugs and I was at the top.
Flames were stabbing into the clouds as the wreckage of the plane burned and snapped in front of me. The tragedy of the situation wasn’t lost on me but I bathed in the warmth of the burning wreckage. I felt reborn. Free.
I thought of Ken and his courage and promised myself that no one would ever know of his involvement. I might never tell anyone about the crunchers. Who would believe me? Anyway, they were all dead now, weren’t they? They had to be.
In the rubble, I found a charred piece of cloth that might have been a blanket once. I wrapped it around my shivering frame and edged as close to the flames as possible. The air was thick with smoke and fumes but not enough to turn me away. I could take it.
The plane was still burning when I saw the helicopter circling overhead.
I stood up and waved.
Five ECOPIES of Steve Hobbs’ NEW HOPE!!!
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Steve Hobbs finally began putting his long-simmering stories to paper while mourning the loss of a parent and found the experience therapeutic. His family liked the new Steve and encouraged him to continue. After a pair of shoulder surgeries, Steve found himself unemployed. He used his free time to edit New Hope and find a way to publish it unconventionally. He continues to create stories about seemingly normal people caught up in extraordinary situations. Steve was born and raised in New England and still lives there with his growing family. He will happily respond to anyone who writes him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
DESPERATE EVIL descends on a quirky Maine town in Steve Hobbs’s gripping debut thriller, New Hope.
Seventeen year old Miri Jones has always wanted to be a detective. When she discovers mutilated human remains during her morning run, she’s found her case.
But the bizarre nature of the crime will shake everything she believes in and might just get her killed. The town of New Hope is about to make its last stand in a war Miri never knew existed.
Only the brave will survive.