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Amelia and Fred

by Scott D. Williams 10 months ago in Historical
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Love and tragedy, lost forever to history

Purdue University archive

“I’m sorry, Amelia.”

She rummaged through the pockets of her leather flight jacket for the fourth time, vainly searching for something they could use. “Nonsense,” she replied. “It was a lucky landing. All that soft sand and rocks – it’s a damned miracle we’re alive, I say.”

“Still, we wouldn’t be in this mess if I had just calculated our course accurately.”

“Look, Fred, you did the best you could,” she answered soothingly. She glanced at his prostrate form, shaded by the coconut tree. He was hurt, badly, and she didn’t know how to help him. Frustrated, she stood up, wincing at the pain in her knee.

“I’m going to gather some driftwood and build a fire. They heard our transmission. They’re sure to come looking for us soon.”

“Don’t be long,” said Fred. His voice was weak, Amelia noted with alarm.

“Back in a jiffy,” she replied.

She limped awkwardly to the beach and put her hand to her brow to shield her eyes from the glaring sun. It was almost a tropical paradise, she thought, under more favorable circumstances. Gorgeous blue water, white sand, swaying palms. But the Electra would never fly again. It was in pieces after the crash. How had they survived after that jarring, bumpy landing? The right wing shorn off by a tree, the landing gear collapsed, the extra fuel tanks bursting into fire…she shook his head. No use living through that moment again.

She returned with an armload of gnarled wood and proceeded to build a fire, using strips of cloth from her shirt as tinder. She counted only six matchsticks left in the little waterproof cylinder she kept in her pocket. As the fire grew, she mentally checked off the list of the few things she’d managed to scavenge from the wreck: a compass, two canteens of water, a handful of 5th Avenue candy bars – Fred’s favorite.

“What will the world think of us now?”

His strained voice interrupted her train of thought. “What will the world think of us now?”

She studied him. His straight dark hair was matted with blood on one side and his shattered cheekbone was one big angry bruise. The fire had charred his left arm and hand, leaving a black and blistery mess. She’d dragged him out of the burning, twisted hulk, his broken legs leaving furrows in the sand. Other than a broken nose and twisted knee, she’d managed to escape any real injury. It was her luck, or perhaps the fact that she was in the front seat when the fuel tanks blew that kept her alive and relatively well.

“I’ll still be the ‘Queen of the Air’ when we get back,” she responded firmly. “And you’ll go down in history with me.”

Fred managed a crooked smile. “That’s not what my wife will think of me.” He began to chuckle, but coughed up blood instead.

“Save your strength,” Amelia insisted. She scanned the adjacent lagoon. “I’m going to look about and see what I can find. Perhaps,” she grinned, “The press is waiting for us.”

She stumped off in a northwesterly direction, following the sandy shore of the lagoon.

It was twilight when Amelia returned to the campsite with an armload of coconuts. She unceremoniously dropped them to the ground, startling Fred out of his hazy nap.

“Good grief,” he croaked.

“I’ll have supper ready in a few minutes,” she said. She grabbed a rock and used her pocket knife as a wedge to crack the shell open. Handing him the partially broken coconut, she quipped, “Just try to imagine it’s a steaming bowl of clam chowder.”

“In this Hell’s furnace?” he asked, waving his hand in the sultry air. “You must be mad.”

“Mad as a hatter,” she cheerily replied.

“Is that all you found?”

“Oh, it was a regular tour,” said Amelia. “Why, there were these white tropical birds with red beaks and red tails that looked like whips. No animals of any kind, except a rat. Very few trees and no fresh water. Kind of like New York, I suppose.”

“I dearly wish to live long enough to see New York again,” said Fred.

“Now don’t go talking like that.” She gave him a stern look. “As long as we keep the fire going, they’ll find us. After a luxurious stay in an elegant hospital, you’ll be back up in the skies in no time.”

“Amelia, what if I don’t make it?”

“Amelia, what if I don’t make it?”

She paused, unable to come up with a speedy rejoinder. Fred was dying, she knew, and there wasn’t anything she could do but keep his spirits up. He needs more than my witty remarks, she cursed herself. He needs sustenance and a doctor.

She suddenly remembered the wrecked freighter she spotted on the northern coast. Perhaps there was still some food, or water, or a working radio?

“Look, I saw a shipwreck today. It’s aground on some coral reef. I’m going to try to swim out to it and see if it has something we can use.”

“Beef Wellington would do just fine,” Fred said. Her voice lowered to a whisper. “Mary and I used to order that at our favorite restaurant.”

Amelia sighed and desperately tried to come up with a distraction. She looked up at the dark sky. “Ah! I see Venus.”

“So do I,” Fred said. “Come, keep me company while I catch a few winks.”

Amelia curled up next to him, taking care to place herself on the unbroken side of his lean body. She listened to his breathing settled into a slumbering rhythm before she allowed herself to think about their hopeless situation.

If I were more than just a pilot, I’d have figured a way out of this by now, she chided herself.

Amelia awoke to the odd sensation of something tickling her feet.

The tide!

The water in the lagoon had swelled, practically covering the entire beach up to the tree line where she and Fred rested. She heard him moan next to her.

“Mary, please. Don’t call me a failure,” he whispered. “I love you.”

When they got back – if they got back – she would confess her feelings to Fred.

Really? Amelia pondered. She’d always thought Fred’s marriage to be one of social convenience. After all, he was a divorcee who drank heavily, and Mary was…well, convenient. They hardly spent any time together – he was more wedded to aviation than staying on the ground as a loyal husband. She was married too, but she’d made it clear to George that she had to live life on her own terms, and he didn’t complain. It didn’t change anything, Amelia decided. When they got back – if they got back – she would confess her feelings to Fred.

“I’m just going to put you in the shade,” she said as he picked him up by his good arm and dragged him away from the high tide. He mumbled feeble, nonsensical words in return. The delirium had set in, she concluded. He didn’t have long. She had to find food and water. They’d finished the last of the 5th Avenue candy bars and the coconuts were a lot of work to get a little juice.

She set him down, well away from the water, and headed for the shipwreck more than two miles away. It was a race against time.

She trotted along as best she could with her balky knee. She paused frequently to catch her breath – he was an aviator, not a runner. After a while, she spotted the rusting hulk resting on a coral reef about 600 feet from the beach. She stripped off her clothes and waded into the water. The surf first tugged at her ankles then slapped hard at her waist as she took long, careful steps on the gravelly rocks, until the bottom suddenly fell away.

Amelia was never much of a swimmer. She could keep her head above water, mostly, and thrash about enough to move in a direction, but she was no Olympic medalist.

She felt like a porkchop between the teeth of two competing mongrels.

The forces of nature were working against her. The tide was pushing her toward shore and the underlying current was pulling her away from the wreck. She felt like a porkchop between the teeth of two competing mongrels. A few minutes of struggle had done little but tire her out, and she knew she couldn’t keep this up for long.

Amelia’s breathing came in heavy gasps as she gazed at the ruined freighter. It had broken its back in at least two places, she noted. Not much more than part of the deck house and two funnels were still above the surface. No sign of a radio mast either. How the hell was she going to get inside? Besides, she reasoned, anything worth salvaging was probably already gone. She looked despairingly at the still faraway wreck, decided there probably wasn’t anything worth risking her life, and turned toward shore.

It took almost a half hour to reach the beach. She’d swallowed more than a mouthful of seawater before she was able to drag herself onto the sand. Amelia collapsed in a heap, coughing and spitting up the hostile sea before surrendering to fatigue.

Hours later, Amelia awoke with a start. The sun was well into the western horizon. She had to get back. Perhaps she’d pick up a few coconuts along the way. She was dying of thirst, and God only knew how Fred was faring without her. She gingerly put on her clothes over her sunburnt body and struggled through the soft sand.

Amelia was lucky enough to find a couple of coconuts as she meandered through the trees and scrub. She tripped over an exposed root and landed face first in a patch of scratchy weeds. Cursing, she picked up one of the nuts and searched for the other. She followed a slight downward slope to the lagoon and there she encountered a fearsome sight.

Crabs!

Hundreds of them. And they were huge.

Amelia jumped back in fear as a blue crab, almost three feet wide from spindly leg to leg, brushed past her. The thing paused to stare at her with its beady eyes, wide claws snapping menacingly. More crabs followed, shuffling along the beach in a mass as if they were a hostile army storming an enemy’s trench during the Great War.

Amelia quickly retreated to the trees and suddenly had an awful realization. Fred!

She threw down the coconut and ran, pumping her arms to help her overcome her bum leg. Her lungs burned as they struggled to take in enough air to keep her going and her heart beat wildly, threatening to burst from her chest.

She came upon the campsite at last and fell to her knees as she stared in horror. The crabs swarmed in a mound over the place where she’d left Fred. She cried out as she saw little more than the toe of his boot sticking up from the writhing, blue mass of arthropods. Hot rage poured through her veins. She picked up a fallen palm frond and thrashed at the crabs, swing it wildly back and forth, up and down, until they scattered.

He was unrecognizable. She fell down next to him and wept. Amelia convulsed with heavy sobs so strong that her soul joined her in agony.

There was no more hope. They weren’t coming. She wouldn’t live long enough to tell the world about her brave, beloved Fred.

There was no headstone, no marker. Amelia sat with her back against a coconut tree, eyes unfocused. Digging the shallow grave after the fight against the crab horde had drained all of her remaining energy. Her mouth was beyond parched. She could feel her swollen tongue greedily claiming all of the room in her mouth like some fat, grotesque landlord.

There was no more hope. They weren’t coming. She wouldn’t live long enough to tell the world about her brave, beloved Fred.

God, it was so hot.

Amelia rolled over to her side and slowly crawled on her hands and knees toward the lagoon. The crabs had passed on to some other destination in their march of destruction. There was only the soothing water now.

She sat in the shallows at first, dumbly watching the tiny waves lap against her chest. After a while, she pushed herself away and floated on her back. She closed her eyes and waved her arms in the saltwater, pushing herself further out into the deeper part.

She looked up at the peaceful, blue sky and thought of him. She closed her eyes one last time, let her breath leave her chest like a ghost, and slipped below the gentle waves.

Historical

About the author

Scott D. Williams

Scott is a writer, family man and San Diego Padres fan.

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