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Authors: Gary Paulsen

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BOOK: The Rock Jockeys
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J.D. looked up. The trees were so thick he could hardly see the sky. “It’s like that old saying about not being able to see the forest for the trees. I bet it would be something to look at if we weren’t right in the middle of it.”

Spud checked the lens on his camera. He looked up suddenly. “Did you guys see that?”

Rick elbowed him. “Looks like your own ghost stories are starting to get to you.”

“No really. It was over in that direction.” Spud pointed to a dark stand of trees. “I thought I saw something sparkle.”

“I didn’t see anything,” Rick said. “But I’m not having any luck in this direction. We can take a look if you want.”

Spud led the way into what seemed like a black hole. The trees were so dense they blocked out the sun. Branches and pine needles were scattered on the ground, but nothing else. He shrugged his shoulders. “I must have been seeing things.”

“Wait.” Rick grabbed his arm. “There’s something shiny over there.”

The boys ran through the brush in front of them and moved back some branches.

“Would you look at that!” Spud’s eyes widened.

“What is it?” J.D. moved closer to the dome-shaped object.

“A ball turret.” Spud knelt to get a better look. “I read about these. It was the gunner’s station on the bottom of the B-17. The ball gunner actually had to get in this thing to shoot at the enemy. It must have broken off
somehow.” He looked through an opening. “Can’t tell much about it. It’s pretty well smashed.”

Rick looked around. “Do you know what this means?”

Spud nodded. “If the turret is here, the rest of the plane can’t be far away. Come on.”

The boys spread out, working their way through the thick underbrush.

“Over here!” Spud waved at them frantically. Rick and J.D. came running.

Propped against some trees in front of Spud was a giant piece of a wing that had been sheared off from the body of the plane.

They stepped around the wing, moving forward quickly. And there it was.

The body of the B-17.

It had a gash the size of a car on one side and the tail section was in fragments. Pieces of engines and propeller lay scattered everywhere.

They stood transfixed, in awe of the giant plane. It had painted lettering on the side that read
DEATH ANGEL
.

Finally Rick broke the spell. “Let’s get some
pictures and see if we can tell anything about the crash.”

Spud started clicking his camera. They took turns posing beside the plane.

J.D. stuck his head through the opening in the side. “I wonder if we could take a look inside?”

“I don’t see why not.” Rick ran his hand along the plane. “She looks pretty stable.”

J.D. crawled through the gash, walked in darkness down the body, and opened the door to the cockpit. He stopped, swallowed hard, and hurried back to the opening.

“What’s the matter?” Rick asked. “You look kinda sick.”

“I’ll be all right in a second.” J.D. turned away. “You guys go on in.”

Rick and Spud moved to the hole and stepped through. The old fifty-caliber machine guns were still in place. In the corner of the plane near the guns was the radio. The two boys looked into the open door of the cockpit.

Old bloodstains covered the seats.

Spud made a face. “Kinda gross, isn’t it?”

“Strange is more like it.”

“What do you mean?”

Rick scratched his head. “If we’re the first ones to find the bomber … then where’s the crew?”

J.D. stuck his head back in. “I was just thinking about that. The government must have beat us to it after all.”

“You’d have thought we would have heard something about it. Oh well, take some pictures anyway, Spud. It’s part of the reason we came.”

As Spud focused his camera, Rick moved down to the nose of the plane. The navigator’s station was in shambles and the nose cone was shattered. He turned to leave and bumped into a solemn-looking J.D.

“I didn’t think finding it would be like this, Rick.”

Rick nodded. “Let’s get out of here. There’s no use for us to hang around. I’ve seen enough for now anyway.”

C
HAPTER
6

They walked back to camp in silence. Spud had stuffed everything he could carry in his pack—machine-gun shells, the radio receiver, even a piece of a prop. What he had really wanted was a flight jacket, but he hadn’t been able to find one.

Spud sat his heavy pack on the ground. “I’m beat. I guess yesterday’s climb took more out of me than I thought.”

J.D. stirred up the coals from the morning’s fire and started lunch. “I was just thinking … this mountaintop can’t be all that big.”

“It isn’t.” Rick helped him set up the grill.
“Maybe a few square miles at the most. Why?”

J.D. rubbed his chin. “Since we have until Thursday to get back, why don’t we do some more exploring?”

“You must be awfully fond of trees,” Spud said. “Besides the plane, there’s nothing else up here to see.”

Rick opened a can of peaches. “There’s no reason why we can’t. Spud’s right though. There doesn’t seem to be much here except trees.”

J.D. looked puzzled. “That’s the part that’s throwing me. The trees up here are so close together, how did the government get the bodies out?”

Rick shrugged. “They’ve got some pretty specialized equipment nowadays.”

J.D. spooned some beans into his mouth. “All these years, since we were kids—heck, since our dads were kids—there have been rumors about a plane crashing on Devil’s Wall. We know they launched a full-scale search a few years ago. If they found it, why didn’t we see anything in the papers about it?”

“Maybe the plane was on some secret mission. You know how the government is.” Spud gulped down the rest of the peaches and pointed at J.D.’s plate. “You gonna eat the rest of those beans?”

J.D. shook his head and handed him the plate. “Here.” He stood up and looked into the forest. “You guys are probably right, but since we’re here I’d like to take another look around.”

Spud laughed and made a spooky noise. “Who do think got the crew? The boogeyman?”

“Cut it out, Spud.” Rick threw a pebble at him. “We might as well take a look after lunch. It couldn’t hurt. And then, when we get back down, we can say we know everything there is to know about this mountain.”

C
HAPTER
7

“Hey, wait up. My pack is heavier than yours.” Spud tried to move his pack around to adjust the bulky weight. “And another thing, why are we bringing all our stuff with us?”

Rick led the way up the ridge. He stopped to let Spud catch up. “It’s not our fault you tried to stuff the whole plane in your pack. And if you had been listening, you’d know we decided to bring our gear and make camp when it got dark. That way we wouldn’t have to go back each night and waste time.”

“Why didn’t you just leave the heavy stuff back there?” J.D. asked. “It’s not like there’s anybody up here to steal it.”

“I’m not taking any chances.” Spud started walking. “Someday this stuff is going to be worth a lot. Then you guys will be sorry you gave me a hard time about it.”

So far they hadn’t really discovered anything new. The mountain had a few ridges and narrow valleys, but they were all covered with trees like the place where they had found the bomber.

J.D. topped a ridge and leaned against a tree. He started to sit down. “Do you guys hear that?”

Rick came up behind him. “I can’t hear anything over Spud’s huffing and puffing.”

J.D. scanned the valley below looking for an open spot. “I’m not sure, but it sounds like there’s water down there.”

They made their way down the other side of the ridge and at the bottom they found a clear mountain stream running full with pure, cold water.

Spud sat his pack down and scooped handfuls of water into his mouth. “This is great. It beats that bottled stuff any day.”

J.D. walked upstream and filled his canteen. It was beautiful here. He wondered how many people besides them had ever had the privilege of getting to see this spot. To his left he noticed what looked like a natural path to another part of the forest. It was overgrown with plants and bushes but it looked easier to follow than what they had been through so far.

“When you guys are ready, let’s go this way.” J.D. pointed. “Maybe Spud won’t have to work so hard.”

Spud wiped water off his face with his sleeve. “Why don’t we just camp here?”

Rick picked up Spud’s pack. “Here, I’ll swap you for a while.” He swung the heavy pack around to his back. “You be careful with mine, though. We could have a little trouble getting back down if you lose it.”

“Thanks, Rick. I’ll do you a favor someday.” Spud carelessly slung Rick’s pack over one shoulder and started up the hill.

J.D. was already halfway up the next ridge.
The natural trail was perfect to follow. They didn’t have to fight their way through the brush or go around any difficult areas.

Spud trotted up beside J.D. “Now I see why you guys were moving so fast. This is nothing compared to what I was carrying.” He moved ahead while J.D. waited for Rick.

Just as J.D. turned to look back, he heard a loud screech.

Spud was gone.

C
HAPTER
8

Rick and J.D. dropped their gear and ran to the spot where Spud had vanished. A deep hole was in the middle of the path. Leaves and branches had covered the opening and Spud had stepped right into it.

“Spud!” Rick called. “Are you okay?”

They heard a low moan down in the hole. J.D. ran back to his pack for his headlamp and pointed it down into the pit. “I see him. Looks like he’s almost at the bottom.”

“Spud, can you hear us?” Rick called again.

“I hear you.”

“Good. Hang on, I’m going to throw you a rope.”

Another moan came from the hole. “I think I busted my arm, Rick. It hurts bad.”

J.D. yelled down the hole, “Try not to move, we’ll come down after you.” He took off his climbing rope and unwound it.

Rick grabbed the end and tied it around himself. “Use that tree to help lower me. When I get down there, I’ll put the rope on Spud.”

J.D. didn’t argue. He handed Rick his headlamp and moved around the tree to wait for Rick’s signal.

“Lower when ready.”

J.D. let the rope out slowly.

“Give me some slack. I’m almost there, but it’s getting real tight in here. There’s not much room to work.”

Rick pressed his back and feet against both sides of the narrow hole and slipped the rope up over his head. Then he lowered it to Spud. “I’m as close as I can get. Put your head and arms through the loop and J.D. will pull you up to me.”

Rick heard Spud groan in agony as he lifted his broken arm through the rope. “I’m in. Pull when ready.”

J.D. pulled. Nothing happened. Spud was wedged in tight. “It’s no use,” Spud yelled up. “I’m stuck.”

“Tie off and lower a pick down here,” Rick shouted to J.D. “I’m going to try to dig him out.”

J.D. made sure the rope was tight and went to his pack for a climbing pick. He lowered it using a ball of twine. “Heads up down there. Here it comes.”

“This is going to be tricky, Spud.” Rick edged his way around until he was upside down. Still using his back and feet to keep from falling, he inched farther down the hole.

BOOK: The Rock Jockeys
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