The wreckage of the plane had lain there since I was a boy. It had aged as the moving sands scoured it and the sun bleached it like the bones of the dead. We were told never to go near it, that it was haunted by the spirit of whatever it was that scared the pilot into swerving and crashing that day.
I yearned to go to the burnt-out fuselage, climb onto the top, and get a glimpse of the world from above. I often dreamed that I flew. That I had been in that burnt-out piece of wreckage. That I had walked, unharmed through the flames to safety and watched it burn.
The adults always became very quiet when I told them of my dreams. Grandmother would spit and trace a sign of safety in the air. My mother scooted me outside to play whenever talk turned to the crash site and what was to be done about it. I would go outside into the vegetable and herb garden that was our subsistence. I wasn’t allowed to have friends over. Except for the odd grocery delivery no one ever came over.
Our whole house – our whole village – was covered in signs and sigils to ward off the evil that lingered outside our borders. But inside our small house I felt safe – dilapidated roof and all. In the garden I also felt safe, though I was only allowed to look at the vegetables, not to help turn the ground or plant the seedlings. Everything that I touched seemed to die, after all. But I would sit between the lettuces – I didn’t mind the lettuce dying – and read books about faraway places and people. Books I could not kill, at least.
On my twelfth birthday I decided to go on an adventure like the one group of kids in a book. I took my notebook – for field notes – stuffed some food into my pockets and crept outside.
I could see the fuselage in the moonlight from the back door of the house and for a moment just stood and stared. Then I slowly crept down the weed-ridden path to the gate and climbed over the rusted gate. Slipping over the road, I headed for the burnt-out plane, the feeling of freedom tingling in my fingertips.
When I reached the moon-bathed wreckage I made the sign to ward off evil and glanced back at our home. From here you could see the whole village. You could even see the world beyond. There was no sound around me except for a few crickets that sent trills shrilly through the night. I walked closer to the fuselage and stretched out my hand. It was still warm from the day’s sunlight. My fingertips brushed over soot-stained metal and I shivered. There was one last test I had decided on for this night – to go inside the burnt wreckage.
I walked to the ripped-off door and climbed inside, tearing my knee open on one of the twisted spikes of metal. I cried out and my voice echoed through the interior. I clasped a hand over my mouth, my heart churning in my ears. A good thing I did, because the sight inside almost made me scream again.
They sat where they had when the plane crashed that day. Now turned to ashen, dust-covered mummies, their empty eye sockets and grotesque open mouths gaped at something in the front of the plane.
I managed to get all my courage together and walked towards the place they were staring at. A single moonbeam lit an old teddy bear. I stooped and picked it up. The moment I did, the recognition flashed through my mind. It had once been mine.