The plane’s wreckage had been there since I was a boy. It had aged as the windblown sands scoured it and the sun bleached it like the bones of a long-dead animal. I was told never to go near it, that it was haunted by the spirit of whatever it was that had caused the pilot to crash on a clear day in spring.
Yet I yearned to go to the burnt fuselage, climb to the top and get a glimpse of the world from on high. I often flew in my dreams. Dreams of being on the plane before it became a piece of twisted metal. Sometimes, in my dreams, I walked — unharmed — through the flames to safety and watched the plane and the forest around it burn. There was no forest anymore.
Mother and father always became very uneasy when I told them of my dreams. My mother would chase me outside to play whenever talk turned to the crash site and what was to be done about it. I would go into the small garden with a few flowers, vegetables, herbs and a forlorn oak tree in the corner.
It did not matter how hot it was, I would not sit beneath that tree. Rather, I would huddle between the pungent leaves of the tall tomato plants for some shade. There I could sit and read, but still had a view of the street and the village’s people that passed along the chain link fence. Except for the odd grocery delivery or postman at the gate, no one ever came over. And I never left its confines. Our house — our whole village, Father said — was covered in signs and sigils to ward off the evil that lingered outside our borders. But inside our small house I felt safe, dilapidated roof and all.
On my fourteenth birthday I decided to go on an adventure like in the books I always read. After everyone had gone to bed, I crept through the dark house, stopping in the kitchen to grab the flashlight on my way out.
I could see the fuselage on the hill across the road from the back door. My heart caught in my throat and first I could do nothing but stare. Gathering all the courage I could muster, I crept down the weed-ridden path and climbed over the rusted gate. Slipping across the road, I tasted my first steps of freedom, of being Outside. I headed for the burnt plane, freedom tingling in my fingertips.
There was no need for any fences around the plane. No one ever went there, not even on midsummer when mother and father carved the sigils deeper into the worn wood of the house. I slipped on soft black soil as I climbed up the slope to the wreckage. When at last I reached the top, heart beating in my ears, I made the sign to ward off evil . I turned around then, looking back at the village I’d left behind and gasped. From here you could see the whole village and even the world beyond. No lights lit the windows of the houses this late, though, and the only sounds came from the crickets that sent their trills through the night. I walked closer to the fuselage and stretched out my hand. The scoured metal was still warm from the day’s sun. I shivered. There was one last test I had decided on for this night — to go inside the wreckage and see for myself what lay within.
The door was partly ripped off and fire-stained. Thanks to the angle the plane was laying at, I could climb inside without much difficulty. I set a trembling foot inside the plane and grasped at the warped frame to pull myself inside. A piece of metal tore open my leg just underneath the knee and I cried out even though there was no blood. My voice echoed through the interior of the plane and I clasped a hand over my mouth, blood still churning in my ears. I could no longer hear the insects’ shrill song.
I swallowed back another cry when I saw what was inside the plane, lit by the slanting moonbeams. No fire had penetrated the interior of the plane, it seemed. All who had been on the flight, though, still sat where they had been when the plane crashed that day. Now turned to ashen, dust-covered mummies, their empty eye sockets and grotesque open mouths gaped at something in the front of the plane. Strangest of all, though, was the thin veils the women all wore. Covering their heads and hanging to their shoulders, their faces were only half-obscured by the thin fabric.
Curiosity pulled me further inside the wreckage, urged me deeper and deeper towards something dust-covered that lay on the floor at the front of the plane. The long-dead seemed to be staring at with empty eyes. When I got closer I saw that it was an old teddy bear. I stooped and picked it up. The moment my fingers brushed it, the recognition flashed through my mind. It had once been mine.