Last week, I included Chapter 1 of my W-I-P sci-fi thriller novella, “Tafelberg”.
Here is a chunk of Chapter 2 (1,151 words):
Excerpt Two from: Tafelberg
By Mitchell Toews
Chapter 2 – The Landing
The thing that brought us here in the first place was the combination of bad timing and proximity. When our Dash-8 lost an engine en route from Costa Rica we landed at the nearest possible airport – Hato in Curacao. We were fortunate, we thought, as our second engine sputtered and died ominously just after landing when the plane turned to taxi back to the terminal building.
As we walked across the silent, windswept tarmac in the setting sun, Willem and Jan came roaring across the runway, each in a matching, gleaming new Mercedes G-Class SUV with miniature Curacao flags snapping urgently on the front fenders. Their horns honked incessantly, like a presidential procession, as they sped towards us.
Our pilot and co-pilot were still in the plane – trying to determine the cause for the normally reliable Dash-8’s sudden drop out of the sky. They were about a 3/4 of a mile back from us.
Willem screeched up to us, shouting incoherently at us in Dutch and then German, then pidgin Papiamentu – demanding that we get in the lorries immediately. Jan, seeing the maple leaf t-shirts some of us wore, had called to us in English and French and we understood.
When we left Costa Rica, we knew that there had been some kind of disaster on Curacao, but for the most part, we had only seen stories about a multitude of US warships and UN troops surrounding massive tent camps that had been set up to quarantine evacuees on Aruba and Bonaire. It had furthermore become an international political incident when Dutch Navy vessels were not permitted entrance to Venezuelan ports, during the crisis. The whole situation was highly secretive and we only knew that the airport was closed – but we could not go anywhere else, so we had landed despite our misgivings and several terrifying full-burner fly-bys by US Navy fighter jets.
With the sun setting, we all shouted questions at Willem as he leaped out of one of the Mercedes and began grabbing us and pushing us inside, throwing our luggage aside. “Hou je bek dicht! Kijk uit je doppen, kakkerlak! Kakkerlak!”
We argued, some of the boys running to retrieve their bags. “No, no, no! Just get in! Vee having to go, NOW! The bugs are coming soon.” he screamed. He was unshaven and his eyes were bloodshot and his lips blistered. The boys looked to me and the other coach, Eddy.
“What about the pilots?” Eddy said, to me, and to Jan and Willem, who were tossing boxes out of the vehicles, to make room.
“Where?” Willem implored. Eddy pointed back to the Dash-8. Willem looked, then stared at his watch. “No time, no time,” he shouted. “Jan! U zeg!”
His friend, Jan, stared at the mangrove trees – strangely bare and brown – that fringed the runway. “Geen tijd! No time, guys, we gotta go now or we won’t make it back up da hill! No room either. They be OK in the airplane for night – let’s go tell’em!”
With that, Willem resumed physically pushing us into the trucks, urging us to throw out any cargo that prevented us from getting in. We left everything on the runway and filled the trucks to absolute capacity. “Windows shutting! Tight!” Willem yelled, then jumped in and floored the SUV, heading for the airplane where the two pilots were now walking swiftly towards us in the dying light.
“Hoe laat, hoe laat?” he shouted into a ship-to-shore handheld walkie-talkie. Jan’s voice came back, urgently, “Zeven!”
“Accchhh, shit!” Willem growled, slamming his hand on the dash. “Seven o’clock, seven o’clock!”
Then we saw it. As we rushed forward towards the plane, we saw some debris and dust come up from the mangrove forest near the two men. We could see the pilots, looking over their shoulders at the noise of it and then saw them pick up their pace, running earnestly with their arms pumping. They had reason to be afraid, even though the bugs were slower than them; they had outflanked the men and had a good interception angle on them.
Willem made sick, guttural sounds; they may have been words, I was not sure. I heard Jan honking his horn – a single long blast as he accelerated slightly, nosing ahead of us. I glanced at the speedometer, we were doing 140 KMPH. Just when we began to be able to see the men’s faces – sheer terror – Willem slammed on the brakes. The tires shrieked and we could smell the melting rubber in the cab. As he braked and we slid across the hot pavement, the host of giant beetles engulfed the running men. The two, their white shirts standing out in contrast, disappeared as in a wave, not 150 yards in front of us. The line of insects now piled up, pulsating and churning furiously on top of the point at which the men had been swallowed by the swarm.
We stared in disbelief. Then, all of us in our SUV saw at the same instant that Jan’s vehicle had kept going and was braking hard now, all four wheels locked and the big SUV slaloming from side to side as though the runway had been lathered with foam. It punched into the front edge of the quaking pile of bugs but they appeared unconcerned; if anything, mildly repulsed by the hot engine.
We held our breath and Jan blew the horn again. Then, miraculously and as if out of a dream, the Costa Rican co-pilot, Leonardo, stood up at the edge of the ghastly spectacle, a dozen or more of the huge bugs clinging to him. He shook himself violently, almost falling, and then stumbled like a zombie towards Jan’s Mercedes. The passenger window opened and our trainer, Teresa, reached out and pulled Leonardo’s head and shoulders into the truck. As she did so, Tyrus, one of our setters – an Olynyk from Winnipeg – leaned out from the rear window and began pulling and batting the squirming roaches off of Leonardo.
As all of this happened, Jan reversed the powerful vehicle, speeding back away from the throng that now moved hesitantly forward. Seeing this, Willem gunned our vehicle and drove directly into the gap between Jan and the wave of bugs. Ours was like a car speeding along the edge of the high-water mark on Long Beach on Vancouver Island, sending a plume of water – in this case, crushed giant cockroaches – spraying out from the tires.
We cheered as one when we saw Tyrus and Teresa clear the last of the bloody roaches from the co-pilot and he was hauled inside of the automobile. Our SUV followed, charging across the eerily empty runway in the gloaming light, leaving the bugs behind us.
“Which way?” squawked the radio as Jan called Willem, who knew the roads better.
Copyright Mitchell Toews ©2016
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