Kip Hensley had been drinking beer the better part of the afternoon. Several empty bottles were lined up along the shorn wing of the downed airplane. It really was a miracle that had happened to his scruffy twenty-something body were mere cuts and bruises, and another marvel that most of a case of Skol survived unsmashed. After the plane’s engine had sputtered and died, he had managed to steer the old Cessna down through a slight clearing in the trees. If not for that blessed little gap he might have found himself strung up a hundred feet or more in the dense jungle canopy.
It definitely seemed like a good time to celebrate with a few semi-cold ones.
The binge was also a good way to avoid dwelling on certain pressing problems. The plane’s radio was broken in the crash. Kip fiddled for an hour before giving up in frustration and smashing it against a tree. Very shortly after that he’d opened the first beer.
A thick tangle of creepers had softened the impact, though the left wing was sheered off. The old plane was destined to rot where it lay, a tilted crumpled wreck that would be completely obscured by vegetation in a few years. Kip emptied another bottle and threw it angrily into the jungle. Diverse wildlife hooted and hollared from the seething depths around him; a dark biomass of vines and racaus monkeys and slithering snakes. It was a familiar enough environment after a year, but hardly a pleasant one under the circumstances. Downright menacing even, he thought, glancing about warily.
Rubbing his bloodied elbow and cursing loudly at the mosquitos, Kip finished the bottle and set about hauling useful items from the wreckage. This consisted, thankfully, of a decent amount of food rations, purchased just the other day in Manaus. A few sacks of rice and beans, for which he’d payed twice as much as on the last supply run, had weighed down the plane and made for a dicey take-off. There was a flashlight, some rope, and a machete. It also looked like most of his father’s lab supplies had survived too, which, thought Kip with some consternation, would probably please the old b**tard more than the unharmed condition of his son. Standing up, he tossed a pack of waterproof notebooks back into the wreckage, and wondered how he could possibly find his way back to the camp. The site lay at least 25 kilometers to the south with nothing but thick jungle from here to there and it was unlikely that anyone would come looking for him anytime soon.
Sh*t, he thought. Sh*t sh*t sh*t! If only he’d checked the plane properly before takeoff! Maybe there was something wrong with the fuel.
Turning back to the case of Skol, his mood darkened even more, noting that only a few were left in the torn cardboard case. It wasn’t bad as far as South American beer went. Twas mighty fine right now, in fact. Thoughts of beer sent his mind travelling back to his recent three-year stint at Idaho State, and the obscene quantities of alcohol he’d consumed at every possible opportunity. There didn’t seem much point in being serious about getting an education. He’d never been an optimist, and he’d always been prone to alcoholism.
The economy had nearly ground to a halt by then, and prospects were looking dim at best. Right after getting his private pilot’s license, he finally decided to accept his father’s offer to join him in Brazil. Just in time, too. The big crackdown started in earnest mere weeks later, under the pretext of keeping order, and now soldiers and hired thugs patrolled the streets of most major cities and towns in much of the country, enforcing marshal law. People were rumoured to be disappearing. Misery and hardship had come home to roost in the USA, which had come to resemble something out of the worst of Soviet Russia, complete with long lineups for food and other goods, which with all the droughts and floods were getting more expensive and hard to come by. It was starting to make depression of the 30’s seem like happy times.
Kip took another long swig.
Disruptions were worldwide, of course. Fragile powerstructures were disintegrating, often violently. Fire and revolution was sweeping the planet, and by comparison the jungles of Brazil were a tranquil paradise. At least people here still knew how to survive without grocery stores and stripmalls for life’s necessities. Life went on mostly as normal in the smaller towns and villages. Kip found himself part of a new American diaspora, far from the homeland with its gestapo and its hurricane seasons. President Schwarzenegger liked to keep a tight reign on things, especially with the ever-present threat of civil war. Local militias were forming out of the broken remains of the US military, and the union seemed poised to break apart at any moment.
Kip didn’t regret leaving all that behind. Not at all. He’d managed to find some purpose out here with his oddball father, the maverick archaeologist.
However, in the midst of this new predicament he dearly wished he was back in the pool hall in Pocatello, Idaho. Before a reddish light of sunset filtered down to the jungle floor, Kip Hensley was unconscious, snoring loudly, stetched out on the shorn left wing of the cessna.