Copyright © 2003, 2015 by D'Artagnon
Josh the Hawk
Hands still in his pockets, Josh reached the spot on the long road where he normally would have turned his bike downhill. The hillside was mostly laying fallow now. A farm field overlooking the river, its crops had long since been harvested, brought in and the refuse brought back to the field and churned under, to make the soil richer as the detritus decomposed.
He had found a seam in the field, following the irrigation lines, that could accommodate his bike, and let him race down the hill. The thrill of the corn stalks going by his head, the long, wavy leaves whipping by him as he fought against the wind itself was almost a song in his heart. The blur of the greenery, his focus at avoiding the tall sprinklers and hop over the hoses with his bike had been his sole joy in life. His escape.
Josh was a loner by nature. At 14, he didn't have many friends and considered himself lucky in that. Friendships were an avenue of vulnerability. A way he could be hurt. People, he had realized long ago, weren't as reliable as he himself was. People could go away.
His cherished bike, now virtually junk, the frame twisted and battered, would never help him achieve the speed he needed to break free again. It would never help him chase the wind. He stared down the seam. He knew that at the bottom of the hill, the seam lead into a long used trail through the woods at the water's edge. Boulders and tree stumps along that trail had only been obstacles before. Things for him to pull tricks off of. Makeshift ramps and hop-over spots. Climbing obstacles where he could test his strength and skills.
And now, the whole of it was lost to him. Lost because he took one wrong turn, slammed up over one boulder and nearly impacted another, face first. He had escaped certain death just then, some trick of fate pushing him up higher than his bicycle itself, and he slipped past that boulder, less than a foot between it and himself. He had landed rather hard, mostly on his feet, but collapsing to the ground and rolling several times before he himself came to a rest.
But now, the field was empty, plowed under for the winter. The tall sprinkler spikes and their attendant feeder lines were still in place, clearly marking the seam. It all seemed so bleak now. So devoid of the joy he once felt.
Staring down the seam, he felt his anger rise. A sudden need to be not only alone, but to be fast, to be free. But his bike was a wreck, his field was an open scar that anyone could see down and he stood, alone, exposed and flat footed by the side of the road, just two football fields distance away from Barnie's Burger Barn.
He heard it before he saw the flash of motion out of the corner of his eyes. A large log truck, probably bringing recent forest clearage out of that construction site up the road, near the ski hill. Josh looked at it for a moment and then looked back to his path, his runway, now lost to him. Then as he stood, nearly letting angry tears slip out of his head, the wind picking up and lifting the front bangs of his hair, he heard another noise that froze him to the core.
He had heard a similar noise once before in his life. When he was 7, half his life ago, yet it seemed like so much longer than that. He had been going into Boston with his older brother, The Red Sox were playing in Fenway and they had won tickets on a radio show. His brother's old beat up Dodge had been Josh's first taste of speed, and he always went with his brother whenever asked to just come along for a ride. Josh even got to sit on his brother's knee as they drove around town, little Joshy steering, with a little help. Darren had been a perfect big brother, and Josh loved him dearly.
It was going to be a perfect day, assuming that the Sox could put the kybosh on the hated Yankees for once.
Then the noise caught up with them. A large trailer truck, several cars back of them made a sudden turn to avoid smashing into a giant Lincoln driven by a little old lady who couldn't see over the steering wheel anymore. The trailer was going too fast for the turn, however, and the truck section suddenly folded away from traffic as the trailer section jack knifed over it
The whole truck rolled over several times, starting out like a giant "L" and then just rolling, crushing other cars in its path. Josh screamed in terror as the trailer rolled right up onto them, smashed in the driver's side of the Dodge and took his brother from him forever. Josh himself hadn't been scratched. Neither had the little old lady driving too much car for her diminished capacities. But Darren, Josh's only real friend, and fourteen other people, including the truck driver, all lost their lives. That horrible noise would forever be etched into Josh's soul.
And now he heard it again. The snap and metallic grinding noise of the linkage joint popping, dropping, the way the log truck's back end seemed to just twist slightly and then tumble, screeching metal and the thunder of tons of logs tossed against the ground, all doing over sixty miles an hour. The truck section had skidded to a halt, half in the drainage ditch beside the road. But the trailer and its entire contents of fresh cut timber kept going, doing a high speed cartwheel right at Josh.
For the first instant, he was completely terrified. Surprised. The impending doom of the tumbling logs and trailer were almost upon him when he unfroze enough to understand that he needed to move, that it was coming straight at him. But by that time it was too late. The logs were too close, he had no cover, there wasn't enough time to get clear. He was about to get plowed, just like the field behind him.
Yet something inside still screamed at him to move. To not give up. To find his speed. Josh turned and started running along the seam, hoping that the downgrade of the field might impact how the logs fell and give him a chance to duck and avoid them, to not get impaled on the rough cut timber that now sounded like the rush of bass drums being struck with typewriter speed and the voice of an angry god.
But even his desperate hope to outrun them wasn't going to work, and he knew it. He just wasn't fast enough. If only he'd had his bike! If only he could run faster! If only he could fly!
A log smashed near him, gaining ground, several of its siblings tumbling close in its wake. Josh felt his chest heave with his exertions, felt the burning in his thighs and belly as he ran, his hips shifting over the rough terrain of the farm field. He looked back and saw the logs gaining ground on him, one take a header and stand up, tumbling end for end, right at him. The earth churned up under the relentless crush of the logs, fanning out to give him no place to run, no chance to turn and outflank them.
And in that second, something unexpected happened. Josh's foot passed too close to one of the sprinkler spikes, caught just enough of the top of his sneaker to turn him around and drop him to the ground. The slope of the hill was such that even as he fell he had gained a little air over the ground, and would probably stay airborne right up until a log could smash him hard against the ground. His desperation and panic flared and in that moment, he knew he would be dead. There was no escaping gravity. It was over.
Still twisting as he was in the air, falling, he reached his arms out, on instinct, and prepared to take the fall, to feel the wood smash into his body, crush his bones, let his blood squirt out like a dropped ketchup bottle, pulp his brain, his mind, and all his organs. He closed his eyes, terrified at what awaited him on the other side of death's door, hoping that his end would be swift, painless. Fast.
The crush of lumber smashing into the ground grated on his nerves and he involuntarily flinched, his shoulders lifting up to protect his neck. Any second now, that grinding crush would be on his back, even as his body would be landing on the cold, hard soil.
Any second now.
Any second stretched longer than a second. Then longer than a few seconds, and Josh cautiously opened one eye, expecting at just that moment for the harsh hand of death to crush the life from him. And then he opened both eyes. He gasped in surprise, at first at not being dead, and second at not being anywhere near the ground or even near the fall of timbers as they reached the tree line, piling up, knocking over lesser growth.
He was borne on the back of the air itself. His hair lifted back and away from his face as he suddenly realized that he not only had escaped certain death, but he was flying. Not merely streaking fast over the ground, but high over it, stretched out like a hero in a comic book. The grin of elation that crept onto his face felt like 7 years of guilt and pain washed away. Like a new lease on life itself.
He laughed and shouted in the wind, glorying in his power, in his near crush with eternity. He had escaped, he could fly. He was free of the surly bonds of Earth. He had beaten odds and discovered things about himself that he never thought even possible.
The logs had lost. He had won. He had…
The image of the log truck rolling over came back to him and he turned around, somehow intuitively knowing how to use his flying power, as if it were hardwired into his body and instincts he barely understood just took over. He flew, pouring on the speed, back to where the truck cab was. The truck had jack knifed for a reason, and Josh knew that the driver might be in trouble.
He flew swiftly and was back at the truck, pitched forward into the ditch as it was, in no time. He landed lightly and jogged to the driver's side door. The trucker was still in there, leaned over the wheel, clutching his chest, his eyes squinty with pain, but still alive and awake.
"You okay, Mister?" Josh said, banging on the window to get the trucker's attention.
"Can't breathe!" the man squeaked out.
Josh tried the handle on the driver's door, but it was dented in too much. Far more strength than Josh had would be needed to rip that door free, and tools as well, doubtlessly. Josh ran around to the other side, hoping that the door there was unlocked.
As he rounded the back of the truck, he noticed three things. First, the connection where the trailer hitched into the back of the truck was sliced open, a clean cut, not the shearing of metal or just left open as if it had uncoupled on its own. It had been cut, just as the truck split and kicked up.
Second, he noticed that there was a small leak in the fuel tank on the driver's side, and that the petroleum was dribbling out at a fairly fast rate. Josh kept that in mind, knowing that crashed cars had all kinds of fluids that leaked out, and often such fluids were fire hazards.
Third, as he rounded the back end, he noticed that there was a sparking pair of wires dangling from the back of the rig. Obviously they were the wires that led to the break and turning lights on the back of the trailer. But they were still carrying charge. Josh realized that he and the driver were still in danger. The wires might spark the fuel. The truck was now a bomb waiting to go off. And the wires dangled dangerously close to the spilling petroleum.
Josh ran for the passenger door and grabbed the handle. He squeezed several times, but the door was locked. Time was running out. He searched around for a stone he could break the window with. Fortunately, Canterbury, like most New England towns, had thousands of rocks just lying about the countryside. He grabbed one about the size of his fist and ran back to the truck. The smell of petroleum was thick and heady now as he got back to the truck. The driver seemed to have passed out from the pain.
Josh leapt into the air, trusting his new power to kick in, hoping it wouldn't fail him. As he came level with the top of the truck, he hurled the stone down, hard, right into the passenger side window. It smashed though and Josh lowered himself in the air. He reached inside and found the door lock, simultaneously yanking the door latch from the outside. Once he had the door open, Josh quickly wormed his way inside and freed the driver from his seat belts. Half dragging the much heavier man back out, Josh again called on his new power. His physical strength alone wouldn't be enough to lift the man out of the truck and away from the ditch. Maybe his flying power would help.
They shot out of the passenger compartment like a cannon and Josh had to grip the man tightly as the altitude increased. He changed the angle of his legs to the ground and tried to bring them both down safely. The trucker was passed out cold from the collision. A dead weight in Josh's narrow arms. He landed them in a patch of hard packed earth and grass, rolling twice as they not quite landed, but not quite fell.
A loud bang and then a muffled explosion sounded behind them, several dozen yards away. Josh looked up to see the truck cab split in half, twisted, burning metal decorating the ditch like a thick wick in a pool of warm tallow on a wide candle. Josh gulped, realizing just how close he had been to death, twice now, all in under ten minutes.
He looked down at the trucker, seeing the man's chest rise slowly and painfully. He was hurt but he would live. Because Josh had acted quickly, this man would live. Because Josh could now fly, a tragedy had been averted. He inhaled and exhaled loudly, feeling his own pulse thundering in his ears. He closed his eyes and let himself relax visibly, the wind from the burning wreck lifting his bangs clear of his eyes again.
The farmhouse door opened and the middle-aged man who lived there, his wife and his daughter all came out, gasping in awe at the wreckage. Josh stood up and waved to them. "He's hurt! Call an ambulance!" The man ran inside and the two women crossed the roadway to see how they could help. Josh backed up and let the women attend the man. He'd never had any first aid training and didn't know what to do. With everyone's attention focused away from him, Josh made another decision and acted on it. He stepped back further, ducked behind a thick elm tree, and flew off, lifting into the sky.
From above, the damage was fairly impressive. He could see the deep wounds that the tumbling logs had dug into the field. The truck fire was burning a decent patch of brown grass black, but recent rains had left he ground wet, so the fire wouldn't spread far. He stared down, even as he realized he was far higher than he had intended to go.
He had saved a life. He had saved his own life. He had a power he was just beginning to understand and needed time to think. He needed to feel the wind in his face a little, too. So, without hesitating, he flew down to the river, following the tree line, staying out of sight, and headed for a place he was sure would be deserted this time of year, this early in the day. He flew to Watching Rocks, enjoying the thrill of speed, yet still wondering how this wonder was even possible. The answers might not be waiting for him at the Watch, but he needed that place's solitude to think it through more. Everything for Josh had suddenly changed.
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