I invite you to read a sample chapter of my new book – Zero – just released! As always, all my books have Biblical themes. See if you can guess this one. Download your FREE copy and start reading today! Jack
by JACK DEY
A dangerous rescue mission; a journey of discovery for the truth; a critical choice.
A story of love, adventure, struggle and redemption.
COUNTING: 10 DAYS-07 HOURS-00 MINUTES-56 SECONDS-ACCURACY AFFIRMED
“Hand me that ring spanner please, Matt!” a straining voice called from Esau’s engine cowl, his head buried deep inside the floatplane’s solitary radial power plant while balancing his wiry elderly body over the aircraft’s stubby nose with his feet dangling in mid air. Awkwardly suspended two metres above the waterline and teetering on his stomach, all it needed for Beaver Jack Marshall to plunge into Morgan Lagoon’s crystal clear tarn was a sudden unintended move.
It’d happened before!
Once when a determined fastener resisted the mechanic’s attempts to crack its stubborn hold to the point it refused to budge, things changed abruptly when the resistance churlishly gave way under Beaver Jack’s aggressive shove. The elderly licensed aircraft mechanic groaned as he realised what was coming, slipped and suddenly plunged from the cowl and dropped spread-eagled into the clear and deep water.
Things only got worse for Beaver Jack when, safely confined to the floatplane’s mooring wharf and not more than a metre away from the action, waiting passengers and flabbergasted onlookers erupted with such hilarity, obviously enjoying the consequences of an intensely bad decision. Turning abruptly from mirth to protest, the spectators bitterly complained when they shared the chilling aftereffects as the mechanic’s demise showered an unrepentant audience with cold lake water. Shaking off the deluge with loud squeals, the audience’s laughter burgeoned when Jack disappeared under the water’s surface and intensified out of control seconds later as Jack bobbed up victoriously, showcasing his shining spanner still grasped firmly in his wiry hand.
Floatplane repairs were Beaver Jack’s life, but he was getting older and the gymnastics required to reach the engine bay of a moored aircraft were telling on the old body, nevertheless, he couldn’t bring himself to retire.
“So when are you taking a trip into the big city, Matt?” Jack’s voice distorted, partially blocked by Esau’s metal frame and sounding like his speech emanated from a well.
Matt reached up from the dock where Esau was securely moored and pushed the spanner into Jack’s blindly grasping hand, but winced when Jack’s question drifted down to assault his ears.
“You never give up, do you, Jack?!” Matt sighed good naturedly, yet loud enough, giving the elderly mechanic an indication he’d hit a raw nerve… the same nerve. “I’ve told you before, Jack! Girls just don’t go for blue eyes, pale skin, freckles and red hair!”
Beaver Jack’s head suddenly appeared over Esau’s engine cowl. A greasy smudge ran down his cheek, giving him the appearance of an Indian brave about to go on the warpath. With the spanner being used as a teacher’s pointer directed straight at the younger man, Jack began the recital Matt had heard a thousand times before.
“A woman who’s worth her salt looks past the exterior box and sees the heart of a man. Character and soul are far more valuable to the Lord than fading temporary looks that disappear with increasing age.”
“Character and soul may be valuable to the Lord, Jack, but try offering it to one of today’s women without the handsome exterior and see how far you get. Not everyone’s as wise and discerning as your Nancy!” Matt smiled to himself in victory, knowing Jack’s adoration for his long time wife, Nancy, would easily distract the lecture and send the elderly aircraft mechanic on a tangent.
“Now there’s a woman to be admired. She was the prettiest gal on the block and I was just a mangy mongrel, but she married… me! Don’t know what she was thinking and a finer woman you’d never find…“
Matt grinned as Beaver Jack successfully sidetracked onto his familiar rave, but left Matt’s personal life smarting from the assault. As usual, Jack’s constant hints had found its mark, prompting a mellow mood to drift over Matt, hopeless of ever finding a decent lady to call his own. Even if a pretty girl with character came within shouting distance of his ruddy features, nothing he had would convince her to take a second look.
“There you go, all finished,” Jack’s adoring rave came to a sudden end with this latest piece of news. “Now all we need is that part from the city to complete the job and hopefully it should arrive today or tomorrow on the supply plane.”
The abrupt change of topic and Jack’s unexpected tone interrupted Matt’s sombre thoughts while the elderly mechanic precariously replaced Esau’s engine panels and wiped the gleaming paintwork with a rag before sidling off Esau’s stubby nose. “Better start the cantankerous old man and give his engine a test.”
“Will it be alright to start with the old part still in place, Jack?” Matt appeared a little concerned.
“Yeah, it’s just a precaution replacing it, anyway. Considering the country you fly over, we don’t want to take any chances.”
Once again, Matt obeyed Jack’s spanner-pointing directive and climbed behind the pilot’s seat, making sure the older man was well clear of Esau’s propeller range. With Jack safely on the dock, stretching his arthritic frame and ironing out his bony stiffness, Esau’s radial motor burst quickly into life, showering the old mechanic and the dock in a healthy blue cloud. Grinning from ear to ear and satisfied with the engine’s growling tone, Matt quickly shut down the galumphing machine and gratefully bounced from the plane’s cockpit and onto the dock.
“I don’t know how I would’ve managed without your help, Jack. The tourist season opens in two days. Can I pay you when I get my first cheque?”
Jack nodded, but knew Matt’s tours weren’t very popular with patrons, especially with Mason Brand’s charismatic and handsome features muscling in on the tourist traffic. It seemed Brand had a successful advertising regime in the distant cities showcasing his blond, athletic good looks and his sleek, late model floatplane all neatly pasted to a poster of Morgan Lagoon’s invigorating picture backdrop and the untouched wilderness beyond. Brand’s shameless charm verged deceptively on white lies, but had captured the attention and restlessness of pampered and wealthy, middle-class tourists looking for a dangerous new adventure… all from the air conditioned safety and comfort of a flying picture theatre.
Some operators intent on challenging Mason Brand for business had ignited an advertising war and the once unknown isolated lagoon had become a household word, drawing the complaining stench of idle riches to the settlement in ever increasing droves. Unfortunately, an undesirable knock-on effect developed out of the attention, with Morgan Lagoon becoming crowded by itinerant floatplanes and less than honourable operators hoping to capitalise on the tantalising and free television publicity.
According to Jack’s often repeated legend, the small lagoon had been formed overnight and long ago when a large, spherical chunk of space rock took umbrage to the earth blocking its determined trajectory, hurtling through space and prompting the two stellar opponents to lock horns in a destructive battle. The audacious streaking comet plunged into the obstinate globe, hoping to inflict a mortal wound and gore the planet away from blocking the heavens, but only managed to achieve an open fissure in its dense forest and a blackened, gaping hole in the ground. Within a heartbeat, the spectacular smoking conflict had been settled and the earth declared victory, leaving the comet’s legacy and final resting place to fill with pure water in one torrential rainstorm as Morgan Lagoon was born.
No one, not even Jack, knew or cared who Morgan was or whether he was the first to discover the pristine lake carved into the intense forest. The comet’s scar, however, offered a natural approach through the dense tree line and onto the small waterway, making it possible to land a floatplane onto the restrictive tarn. Without it, the lagoon would be too small even for the legendary and fabled Beaver floatplane. Left for eons undisturbed, Morgan Lagoon had been unofficially discovered by Jack and Nancy twenty years ago on a chance floatplane adventure, and soon after leasing the land, they’d retired to the remote and isolated paradise. The thought of visitors or restricting strangers from enjoying their discovery had never crossed their minds, but now the small but picturesque hamlet bordering the high wilderness’ southern boundary had become insufferably busy.
In the pleasant, dry and mild tropical winter months, the warm and clear winter days offered the perfect ambience as Morgan Lagoon became the base and springboard into one of the world’s last true open and unexplored natural rainforest playgrounds. Accessing the remote village was a bone-jarring, week-long trek on dishevelled, unpaved and maze-like wilderness roads traversable only in the dry season by all-terrain vehicles, or a tedious four hour journey onboard a rattling supply plane.
During the wet, hot and humid summer months, Morgan Lagoon’s itinerant population disbanded and disappeared with the tourists, unable to cope with the unpleasant monsoon season. Although a handful of die-hards remained with their floatplanes, keeping a stake on their rented caravan accommodation and privileged mooring spot for the coming season. This circumvented the angry fights which easily erupted when the squabbling squadron and the tourists returned.
To survive as a successful floatplane tour operator in Morgan Lagoon’s crowded, stiff and highly competitive winter market required a handful of specialist skills. First and foremost, a handsome face and rippling physique, coupled with charisma and a smooth and flattering voice. Then to tie the performance together, an intimate knowledge of the intense wilderness’ outer extremities and a cowboy-pilot attitude, impressing the audience with extreme aircraft acrobatics that would put any circus clown to shame.
The ruthless and vigorously successful pilots had a predictable approach: teasing lady-killer instincts tickling the plain featured and wealthy, middle-aged women passengers with unashamed flattery. Then separating the unsuspecting married couple and placing the narcissistic female victim in the co-pilot seat while their unaware male partner languished stupidly somewhere in the back… completely blind to the game. As the flight skimmed over untouched lakes and squeezed through impossibly tight canyons, exhilarating his prey with delighted squeals, the pilot flirted shamelessly, igniting and toying with long forgotten emotions trapped in the dull repetition of pampered domestic boredom. The experience not only provoked a sense of mystery and strong attraction within the elated quarry toward the handsome pilot, but ensured the unscrupulous businessman would have a ready source of income as word of mouth spread among the well-to-do middle class and likeminded women looking for a dangerous spark.
On the contrary, shy and polite Matthew Hayes couldn’t stoop to such lows, and for his stance his tour operation struggled to survive. But the business he’d managed to secure was a small, select group of satisfied and compatible customers that shared Matt’s desire to keep Morgan Lagoon’s secretive face… secret.
Esau, Matt’s beloved 1956 Beaver floatplane was an immediate hit among his limited and peculiar clientele. Not one tour was complete without a group photograph in front of Esau’s brightly painted scarlet fuselage and an effigy depicting a scruffy, red hairy warrior of Biblical proportions painted on both sides of the plane. Along with Matt’s shock of red hair, the tour wasn’t easily forgotten, with most people able to recall Matt and Esau’s names, even if Morgan Lagoon’s identity escaped their memory.
For the members of Matt’s enthusiastic but meagre clientele, the wilderness experience included a breathtaking picnic and swim at Surprise Eden, the drawcard and jewel in Matt’s invigorating wilderness experience. On a clear approach to the clandestine and mysterious, well-hidden utopia, the view left his exclusive guests speechless as Esau shoehorned along a stretch of tight and heavily forested river canyons snaking just above the waterline and immediately below the impenetrable plateau’s jungle canopy. Then as the river widened and the floatplane landed, Esau bumped along until he reached the obscure entrance.
Although the fabled Eden’s existence had become somewhat of a taunting folklore among Morgan Lagoon’s competitive floatplane operators and their clientele, no one could actually weasel its location from Esau’s tight-lipped redheaded pilot or his guests. To maintain the secretive ambiguity, Matt shut down all positioning instruments just before entering a fifty kilometre radius, depriving any astute passenger a clue to its whereabouts and foil any attempt to sell the coordinates to a rival.
Standing on the jetty next to Matt and busy cleaning up the remnants of Esau’s repair, Jack stole a sideways glance at the young pilot, suspecting the presence of a familiar emotion and the distant fire of unwise adventure burning furiously in a faraway look. “You haven’t got any cockamamy ideas of the deep wilderness again, have you, Matt?!”
Without looking up, Beaver Jack’s voice competed with the tinkling spanners while his hands worked furiously, cleaning his tools of trade before placing them meticulously back into their specific home within the well loved kit.
Matt seemed amused at Jack’s perceptiveness. “Am I that easy to read?”
Jack’s leathery old hands froze in mid-polishing and turned to face the starry-eyed twenty-five year old. “Trying to gain an advantage over the other operators by expanding deep within the wilderness and leaving the other tours to skirt the fringes isn’t a smart idea, Matt.”
Matt became concerned at the rebuke and remembered Jack warning against the prospect before, but considered the elderly mechanic was simply kidding. It was true. No one had ventured deep within the wilderness and lived to tell the tale, especially since the unexplored region had an uncanny knack of throwing up unpredictable dry season storms and exhausting an aircraft’s fuel resources fighting the melee. Some had foolishly attempted the feat but had never returned, with the thick jungle perfectly hiding a suspected crash site in an expansive tangle of constantly changing vegetative conspiracy.
The secretive wilderness was a shy and foreboding place to modern man and his contrivances, pulling the curtain closed against his conquering efforts with a defining clunk and sealing the mysterious disappearances into man’s imagination and the constricting and sticky goo of legend. The fact none of the other tour operators would even consider the deep wilderness had almost become an obsession with Matt. Secretly deciding at some point to push Esau to his limits, Matt was intent on challenging the absurd fairy tales surrounding the legend and conquer the fabled yarn with practical truth.
“Do you really think it’s inconceivable to venture inside the deepest parts of the wilderness and also survive, Jack?”
“I told you about Surprise Eden, Matt. Just be happy with that and leave well enough alone. Eden’s far enough into the wilderness to be adventurous, but close enough to be safe,” Jack seemed less than amused at Matt’s probing.
“Yes, you did and I’m very grateful, Jack. If you hadn’t, I doubt Esau and I would still be here.”
Matt unexpectedly laughed, drawing Jack’s attention while recalling the tricks of other operators trying to pry the coordinates from his grasp; or worse, soliciting information from his elated but stoic passengers. “The competition are still trying to work out whether Eden exists, and if so, where it is. I’m sure they will find it eventually, but there’s a big difference between the other operators venturing the four hours to Eden and a full day’s travel into the deep wilderness. As far as I know, nobody’s ever gone in and come out to tell the story. But if I could…”
“Yeah, they have and trust me, you don’t wanna go there, boy!”
Jack’s accidental disclosure and matter-of-fact statement caught Matt off-guard, interrupting his euphoria and causing the young pilot to stare intensely at the elderly mechanic’s back as he finished packing away his kit. Matt hadn’t heard this story before and Jack’s casual statement broadsided the redhead, igniting a storm of curiosity.
Released: 8 May 2018
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