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Authors: Gary Paulsen

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BOOK: The Rock Jockeys
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When he got closer he could see that Spud was in a tight little ball. His knees were under his chin and his left arm hung limply to the side. Carefully, Rick started digging around his friend until Spud’s legs could move a little.

Rick cupped his hand. “Try it again, J.D.”

J.D. pulled and this time Spud moved up a few inches.

“Hold on,” Rick yelled. “Let me get out of his way.”

Rick worked his way up a few feet and tried to get as far to one side as he could. “Okay, J.D.… pull!”

In a few seconds, Spud was beside Rick. His face was pale and he was obviously in pain. Rick helped push him up. J.D. kept pulling until he dragged Spud out over the edge.

J.D. quickly slipped the rope over Spud’s shoulders. “You all right?”

“I’ve been better.”

J.D. helped him to a tree and propped him against it. “Can you hold on here till I get Rick out?”

Spud closed his eyes. “Don’t worry about me. I’ll be fine.”

“Dropping rope,” J.D. yelled. He released the end with the loop down into the hole. “Can you reach your backpack, Rick?”

Rick had been working on that problem. He could see his pack at the bottom of the hole,
but it was so narrow he didn’t see how he could get to it.

He slid into the loop and yelled up to J.D., his voice echoing in the hole. “The only way to get it is to go in headfirst. Even then it’ll be a tight squeeze.”

J.D. looked anxiously down the hole. “I don’t like it, Rick. Let the stuff go. We’ll make do without it.”

“No way. I’m already here. I might as well make a try for it. Get ready.”

Rick wrapped the rope around one leg and started down. “Keep giving me slack.”

The hole was only a foot wide at the bottom. Rick could see the pack but couldn’t quite reach it. “Pull me up about two feet. I’ve got some digging to do.”

He dug at the sides of the hole until his shoulders would fit through. “Okay, give me slack.”

Rick pointed the light down the hole. There was something else at the bottom beside the backpack. It looked like a log or rocks. He worked his way down and reached as far as
he could. The tips of his fingers found the strap on the pack.

He put the pick in his belt and hauled the pack up. There wasn’t much room to see with the pack in his way, but he pointed the light anyway. His eyes widened in disbelief.

The things at the bottom of the hole were bones.

Human bones and a skull.

C
HAPTER
9

Rick turned his head and clutched the pack tightly. “I’ve got it, J.D. Get me out of here.”

J.D. used the pine tree for leverage and pulled Rick up.

Rick threw the pack over the top edge of the hole and crawled out behind it. “How’s Spud?” He took the rope and headlamp off.

“I’m fine,” Spud answered, “except I feel like a total jerk.”

Rick brought the first-aid kit from his pack. “I wouldn’t if I were you. Turns out you weren’t the first guy to fall in that hole.”

“What are you talking about?” Spud tried to sit up and winced with pain.

“Easy. Lie back down so we can splint that arm.” Rick gently felt Spud’s arm until he located the break just below the elbow. J.D. found two straight sticks for splints, and together they wrapped it with elastic bandage from the kit.

“Sorry we don’t have any painkiller. You’ll just have to tough it out.” Rick put the kit back in his pack. “Can you stand?”

“In a minute. What’s this about me not being the first one to fall in that hole?”

“You’re not going to believe this. When I was reaching for my pack I nearly came up with some bones and a skull.”

“Human?” J.D. suddenly looked sick.

Rick nodded. “Sorry, guys, but we’re not the first ones to explore up here.”

“I don’t care. I’m just glad I didn’t wind up like the last guy.” Spud tried to get to his feet.

J.D. helped him stand. “It’s gonna be dark soon. We better find a place to camp.”

Rick shouldered both his pack and Spud’s. “Hopefully there’ll be a good spot just over this ridge. If not, I’m leaving some of this stuff for the next fortune hunters.” He looked back at Spud. “It’s amazing what some people will do to get out of work.”

C
HAPTER
10

Spud’s eyes flew open. For a moment he thought he had dreamed the whole thing. Then the pain in his arm reminded him that it was definitely real.

His arm was killing him and, except for the last couple of hours, he hadn’t really slept at all. Spud raised himself on his good elbow and looked around the campsite. He was alone.

They had left him some cooked powdered eggs and tea near the fire. He made his way to it and awkwardly sat down to eat.

“How’s your arm this morning, Sleeping
Beauty?” Rick moved a large tree branch and stepped into camp.

“It’s a little swollen and it aches—kind of like a toothache. But other than that, it’s coming around. Where’s J.D.?”

“Out looking for the best route back through the woods so we can get you off this mountain quicker.”

“You guys don’t worry about me. My right arm is just as good as ever.” Spud flexed his muscle and rotated his right arm in a circle. “I’m a mountain-climbing machine.”

J.D. stepped out of the trees. “We weren’t worried about you. We’re just getting kinda tired of this place.” He looked at Rick. “It’s brushy all the way. I say we travel as the crow flies. It’ll be hard no matter which way we take, but that will be the shortest route.”

Rick checked Spud’s arm and loosened the bandage in a couple of places. “I’ll kill the fire. You guys make sure we have everything.”

When they were ready to leave, J.D. picked up Spud’s heavy pack. Spud put his hand out
to stop him. “I don’t need all that stuff. Let’s lighten it and then I can carry it.”

“Are you sure?”

Spud nodded and started pulling things out. He took out the prop and a little black book fell on the ground. Rick reached down and picked it up. “What’s this?”

Spud shrugged. “I haven’t had a chance to look at it. It’s probably a logbook or something. I found it wrapped in a plastic sack stuffed down in a hole in the wall of the plane.”

Rick opened it and started reading. He flipped through a few pages. “It’s a diary.” Rick sat down on a nearby boulder. “This is incredible.”

“What?” The other two boys crowded around him.

“One of those guys survived the crash. Listen to this.…”

August 25, 1945

It is now the third day since the crash. I have decided to keep this journal as a
way of passing the time until help arrives
.

My name is Lieutenant James Dowling. I am—was—the navigator of the ship
Death Angel
and am the only surviving member of the crew. Miraculously I have come through with only a flesh wound to my forehead
.

Rick turned the page and continued.

I have explored my surroundings and have found them hostile. There is no immediate food source and as yet I have not been able to find water
.

August 28, 1945

Today I buried the crew. It was hard work in such rocky ground, but it needed doing. I have been using the plane for shelter and it is adequate although it is growing colder each day. But that is not my main concern. If help does not come soon I will surely starve to death
.

The following page was blank except for one word.

Food
.

The next entry wasn’t dated.

I have found water and it has given me a little hope but on my second trip to the stream I nearly fell into what looks like a bottomless pit
.

“He must be talking about the same hole I fell in.” Spud looked over Rick’s shoulder. “Does he say how those bones got in there?”

Rick flipped though the pages. “It’s hard to tell. From here on he sort of rambles.”

Dan Thorton was a great pilot. He made it through the entire war without a scratch. We were on our last flight together. It was Dan’s idea to stop off at the club for a couple of farewell drinks
.

We had great plans for civilian life. Dan was going into business for himself. He invited us all to come in with him and
run a small airfield near his home in Memphis
.

The next paragraph was smeared. Rick could barely make it out.

I set the course and then relaxed. The next thing I knew the captain was on the radio. Something had gone wrong with the plane. It was going down and he didn’t have a clue where we were. I tried desperately to get us back on course, but by that time it was too late. Too late
.

My fault, all of it. As navigator I am responsible
.

J.D. let out a low whistle. “Poor guy,” he said. “Up here starving to death with all that guilt on his shoulders. Does he say anything else?”

“There’s one more entry. It’s dated much later, in September. That’s odd.…” Rick scanned it quickly.

“Well?” Spud asked. “What does it say?”

Rick snapped the book shut. “Nothing.” He moved to the spot where they had built the
fire earlier, kicked some of the dirt off the coals, and threw the little book on it.

Spud watched the flames lick at the yellowed pages. Within seconds the book had turned to ash. “Why’d you do that? That’s a historical document.”

“Not anymore.” Rick picked up his gear and headed down the hill.

“I don’t get it.” Spud scratched his head. “What’s wrong with him?”

J.D. frowned. “I’m not sure. But I’m starting to piece it together.”

“Are you gonna let me in on it?”

“You remember earlier when we found the plane and we were wondering why the government didn’t tell anybody anything about the crash or finding the bodies?”

“Yeah? So?”

“I think they put it together too when they found the lieutenant’s body in the plane and didn’t find all of the crew in their graves.”

“What are you talking about?”

“You remember those bones we found in the bottom of that hole?”

Spud nodded.

“How do you think the lieutenant managed to stay alive as long as he did?”

Spud shrugged. “I don’t know. Maybe he—wait a minute. You’re not saying … I mean, you don’t think he dug up one of those guys for food, do you?”

J.D. picked up the rest of the gear. “We may never know. The bones are at the bottom of a pit and Rick just burned the only other evidence.”

C
HAPTER
11

“Here, let me carry that.” J.D. reached for Spud’s gear.

Spud moved it out of J.D.’s reach. “I can manage. Besides, I’ll be packing it off the mountain tomorrow so I better get used to it.”

Rick hadn’t said a word since burning the diary. He stopped and turned. “You don’t have to come down with us tomorrow.”

“What are you talking about? Sure I do.”

Rick chose his words carefully. “If J.D. and I leave you our rations, you could stay up here until we get down. As soon as we hit bottom we’ll go for help and—”

“Forget it. I’m a Rock Jockey. There’s no way I’m going back in a helicopter.” Spud stiffened and headed down the hill in front of them.

BOOK: The Rock Jockeys
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