Episode 6: Airship Down
A cold droplet plopped on my cheek. I blinked eyelids of lead and then quickly squeezed them shut as they adjusted to the oppressive sunlight. The tresses of the porch blurred in and out of focus as I finally gained my bearings. I lay on my back, sprawled out across the floor, my feet propped up on a wicker chair. And apparently I’d lost one of my boots somewhere between the barn and the house.
“Not a pretty sight.”
I looked up, and Pike and Ellie were standing over me, watching me like an animal at the fair.
“Good morning, Sunshine.” Ellie smiled down at me, her face a picture of amusement and mischief. “Time to wake up.”
Another droplet pelted my forehead. “What the—”
I turned to Pike, but not fast enough to avoid the wave of water splashing over my head.
I jolted upright and shook my head. “Oh, come on!”
Pike laughed, a booming rumble in my ears. Ellie covered her mouth with one hand, an inconspicuous effort to hide an obvious chuckle, and held an empty pitcher in the other.
“Was that really necessary, Ellie?” I wiped the wetness from my hair and face while my pants soaked up the rest of the liquid that had puddled around me.
“Pike insisted it was.”
“Of course he did.” I rubbed the crick in my neck, but it didn’t do much good. My head throbbed, and my mouth parched with the crust of dried whiskey. “So when do we start the search?”
Pike dropped my missing boot in my lap. “It’s after noon, we’ve already been out and returned, twice.”
“What? Why didn’t you wake me?” With the help of the porch railing, I pulled myself up. The yard spun like a clockwork carousel.
“A cannon wouldn’t wake you,” he said.
“Did you try the cannon?” I smirked.
Pike grunted and shook his head.
“That’s what I thought.” I slid on my boot, an effort involving more support from the porch railing. “So what’d ya find? Anything?”
“Nothing yet. Now who would take seven bodies? It’s not like they’d be all that easy to carry off and hide.”
“Lunch is on,” Mae called out the door. Her eyes widened in a disapproving but motherly way when she looked at me. “Or in your case—breakfast.”
My stomach gurgled. I patted my belly then ran my hands to my belt. My hatchet was missing from its holster. “I’ll be there in a second—just need to find something.”
I waved Pike and Ellie on, then stepped down from the porch. On hands and knees, I searched under the bushes, glancing around at various angles, hoping I’d catch a glimmer of sunlight on its blade. Before long, a glint reflected off the metal, revealing its whereabouts—where the stairs met the foundation of the porch. When I picked it up, the compass housed in the handle twirled and bobbed until it rested on magnetic north. I flicked the switch and let phosphorus seep from one glass chamber to another, creating a bright green glow. “Good, it still works.”
The blade wasn’t too dirty, but I wiped it on my pants before returning the tool to its holster. After I snapped it in, my gaze fell to an object half-buried in dirt just behind the lattice woodworking that closed in the beams holding up the porch. It had been years since Pike and I had played here, a secret hideout only we had dared to enter. I scooted through a narrow opening and along the cold and damp ground as I reached for the object. My prize was a tiny wooden soldier, one from a set my father had carved for my tenth birthday.
Memories grazed my mind; images of Pa in his workshop. We weren’t allowed in there often, but he’d let me follow him one day. He’d shown me a machine he’d built to whittle the soldier. He’d loaded a piece of wood between two ends of a press, then closed a small lever with a flat-head rod attached. The springs and mechanisms slowly creaked to life as Pa had turned a handle. Layer after layer peeled away as the stick was formed into another little man. I pocketed the toy soldier, my own little reminder of better days.
A spider crawled across my forehead, and I startled, banging my head on a support beam—a cruel reminder of how hungover I was. I backed myself out of the nook, looking for any other treasures that might have been forgotten. In my retreat, my hand brushed against a prickly object set just inside the lattice panel.
My brows furled when I realized it was some type of doll, but not the type with glass faces and frilly gowns like the ones that lined the settee in Madeline’s room. This one was primitive, a twisted form of vines knotted around sticks and a painted rock face. I lifted the figure in my hands. “Creepy.”
Looking down to where I’d found the doll, I noticed it had been placed in the center of a labyrinth design etched in the dirt. Each intersecting line was marked with carefully placed objects—Pa’s old pocket watch, a tarnished spoon from the kitchen, a spool of thread from Ellie’s mending basket, another toy soldier, a handkerchief monogrammed with JA.
I traced the russet-colored thread of Jr.’s hanky, and anger flushed through my cheeks. “What is the meaning of this?”
A loud pop cracked high above the house, followed by a whistle like that of a screaming firework. I jumped, hitting my head on the underside of the porch a second time.
Lloyd’s voice echoed from the yard. “Mr. Pike! Mr. Al! Come quick, somethin’ is fallin’ from the sky!”
Footsteps clomped up the stairs, knocking dust and debris into my face as I backed from the crawl space. I sputtered and spat and tossed the doll back where I found it; I’d get to the bottom of that later. As I stumbled to a stand, Pike, Ellie, and Mae burst from the house.
“What is it Lloyd?” I asked.
“Mr. Albright, Sir. Look over there.” He pointed at the treeline behind the barn. A striped balloon carrying a strange metal vessel sank in the sky. A trail of black smoke looped from the back, tracing its downward spiral as it disappeared into the trees.
“It’s gonna crash,” Pike said. “Quick, Lloyd, grab some men and bring the horses. We ride before the wind takes the trail.”
Stay tuned! Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, Episode 7 will post Friday, December 12, 2014.