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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesThe Thunder Bird - Chapter 5. Gods Or Something
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The Thunder Bird - Chapter 5. Gods Or Something Post by :marrion Category :Long Stories Author :B. M. Bower Date :May 2012 Read :499

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The Thunder Bird - Chapter 5. Gods Or Something


"Well, here we are," Johnny announced with more cheerfulness than the occasion warranted. "Now what?"

Bland was staring slack-jawed after the squaws. "Wasn't them Injuns?" he wanted to know, and his voice showed some anxiety. "We want to get outa here, bo, while the gittin's good. You bring any guns?" His pale eyes turned to Johnny's face. "I'll bet they've gone after the rest of the bunch, and we don't want to be here when they git back. I'll say we don't!"

Johnny laughed at him while he climbed down. "We made a dandy landing anyway," he said. "What ails that darned motor? She didn't do that yesterday."

Bland grunted and straddled out over the edge of the cockpit, keeping an eye slanted toward the brush fringe. What Johnny did not know about motors would at any other time have stirred him to acrimonious eloquence. Just now, however, a deeper problem filled his mind. Could he locate the fault and correct it before that brush-fringe belched forth painted warriors bent on massacre? He pushed up his goggles and stepped forward to the motor.

"I put in new spark plugs just the other day," Johnny volunteered helpfully. "Maybe a connection worked loose--or something." He got up on the side opposite Bland, meaning to help, but Bland would have none of his assistance.

"Say, f'r cat's sake, keep a watch out for Injuns and leave me alone! I can locate the trouble all right, if I don't have to hang on to my skelp with both hands. You got a gun?"

"Yeah. Back in Tucson I have," Johnny suppressed a grin. Bland's ignorance, his childlike helplessness away from a town tickled him. "But that's all right, Bland. We'll make 'em think we're gods or something. They might make you a chief, Bland--if they don't take a notion to offer you up as a burnt offering to some other god that's got it in for yuh."

Bland, testing the spark plugs hastily, one after the other, dropped the screwdriver. "Aw, f'r cat's sake, lay off that stuff," he remonstrated nervously. "Fat chance we got of godding over Injuns this close to a town! They're wise to white men. Quit your kiddin', bo, and keep a watch out." And he added glumly, "Spark plugs is O.K. Maybe it's the timer. I'll have to trace it up. Quit turning your back on that brush! You want us both to git killed? Hand me out that small wrench."

"Say, I know what ailed them squaws, Bland. Gods is right. You know what they thought? They took us for their Thunder Bird lighting. I'll bet they're making medicine right now, trying to appease the Bird's wrath. And say, listen here, Bland. If they do come at us, all we've got to do is start up and buzz at 'em. There ain't an Injun on earth could face that."

Bland lifted a pasty face from his work. "Fat chance," he lamented. "You'd oughta brought your gun. Back there at Sinkhole you was damn generous with the artillery--there where you had no use for it. Now you fly into Injun country without so much as a sharp idea. Bo, you give me a pain!"

Johnny spied an Indian peering fearfully out from the branches of a willow. He ducked behind the motor and hissed the news to Bland. Bland nearly fell from his perch.

"Gawd!" he gasped, clinging to a strut while he stared fascinatedly in the direction Johnny had indicated. "Git in, bo, and we'll beat it. She may have power enough to hop us outa this death trap. We can come down somewheres else." He clawed back and climbed in feverishly.

Johnny emitted a convulsive snort. "Death trap" sounded very funny, applied to this particular bit of harmless landscape. Behind him, Bland was imploring him to hurry, and Johnny climbed in.

"You let me pilot the thing," he ordered. "I know Injuns. I still have hopes of saving our lives, Bland. We'll scare 'em to death. We'll be their Thunder Bird for 'em. Now lemme tell yuh, before we start--oh, we're safe for the present. They'll stutter some before they attack us in here--say, good golly, Bland! Is that your teeth chattering? Hold your jaws still, can't yuh, while I tell yuh what we'll do?"

"F'r cat's sake, hurry! I seen another one peekin' around the corner of the house!"

"Now listen, Bland. The Navajos have got a Thunder Bird mixed up in their religion, and I guess maybe these Injuns will have, too. If so, we are reasonably safe. They must not know we're plain human--we've got to be gods come down to earth, and this is the Thunder Bird. Or another kind of bird. We'll make 'em think that. They don't sabe flying machines--see? And we'll find out where they're all at, and fly low over their heads to convince them that didn't see us come down. It'll scare 'em, and work on their superstition, so when we come down again to locate that motor trouble, they'll stand in awe of us long enough to give us time to get in shape. You leave the soaring to me, Bland. I'll pull us through all right. Think she'll lift us off the ground?"

"She's _gotta lift us!" Bland chattered. "She's runnin' better since we landed. And say, bo, don't go any closer to them--"

Johnny told him to shut up; he was running things. Whereupon he circled and taxied back down the field, thankful that the soil was sun-baked and hard. The motor ran smoothly again--a fact which Bland was too scared to notice. He gasped when Johnny turned back toward the huts, but beyond a protesting look over his shoulder he gave no sign of dissent.

They started to climb, got fifty feet from the ground and the motor began to spit and pop again. Then it stalled completely, and they came down and went bouncing over the uneven surface and stopped again, a rod or so nearer the willows than before.

Several scuttling figures left that particular hiding place like rabbits scared out of a covert, and Bland took heart again. A few minutes he spent crouched down in the cockpit, watching the willows, and when nothing happened he ventured forth, armed with pliers and wrench, and went at the motor.

"Sounds to me like poor contact," he diagnosed the trouble. "Like the breaker-points are roughened, maybe. You'll have to work the gawd stuff, bo, and work it right. Because if I start tearing into the hull ignition system, we ain't going to be able to hop outa here at a minute's notice, nor even start the motor and buzz at 'em."

"Fly at it," said Johnny, eyeing the huts speculatively. He was hungry, and certain odors floated to his nostrils. Something left cooking over a fire was beginning to scorch, if his nose told the truth, and it seemed a shame to let food burn when his stomach clamored to be filled.

With Bland watching him nervously, he crossed the little open space and entered the hut nearest, presently emerging with two flat cakes in his hand. Another hut yielded a pot of stew which he thought it wise not to analyze too closely. It was this which had begun to burn, but it was still fairly palatable. So, with a can of water from a muddy spring, they breakfasted, their hunger charitably covering much distrust and dulling for the time even Bland's fear of the place.

The sun, shining its Arizona fiercest though the season was early fall, brought a cooked-varnish smell from the wings. There was no shade save the scant shadow which the scraggly willows and brush cast over the edge of the parched field, and of that Bland refused to avail himself. He would rather roast, he said.

Johnny conscientiously carried the kettle back to the hut, then set to work helping Bland. Which help consisted mainly of turning the propeller whenever Bland wanted to start the motor; a heartbreaking task in that broiling heat, especially since the motor half the time would not start at all. Crimson, the perspiration streaming down his cheeks like tears, Johnny swung on that propeller until Bland's grating voice singing out "Contact!" stirred murder within his soul and he balked with the motor and crawled under a wing.

"Yon can start her yourself if you want to start," he growled when Bland expostulated. "I've turned that darned propeller enough to fly from here to New York. Why don't you get in and locate the trouble?"

"There ain't any trouble--not according to the look of things. Acts like water in the gas, or something. F'r cat's sake, don't lay down on the job now, bo! We gotta beat it outa here."

"I'm ready to go any time you are," Johnny retorted, mopping neck and chest while he lay sprawled on his back. "But I'd rather stay here till Christmas than get sun-struck trying to start, I'm all in."

Bland could not budge him and swore voluminously while he worked over the motor. Finally he too gave up and crawled under a wing where the heat was not quite so unendurable, and tried to think of something he had not done but which he might do to correct the motor trouble. No Indians having been sighted since their second landing, he could push his fear of them into the back of his mind until a dark face peered out at him again.

Miles away to the west men were sweating while they rode, searching for this very airplane that sat so placidly in the midst of an Indian corn field. Farther away the news went humming along the wires, of a young aviator lost with his airplane on the desert. The fame of that young aviator was growing apace while he lay there, casually wishing there was a telephone handy so he could call up Mary V and tell her he had a plan which might make him big money without his having to sell his plane.

Not once did it occur to him that any one would be especially concerned over his absence. Not once did he look upon this mishap as anything more serious than an unpleasant incident in the life of a flyer. He went to sleep, lying there under a wing of his plane, and presently Bland himself drifted off into dreams that would have been much less agreeable had he known that a full two dozen Indians had crawled into the willows and were peering timorously out at them.

It was past noon when Bland awoke. Johnny was still sound asleep, snoring a little now and then. Bland grumbled more profanity, sent a questing glance toward the willows and saw nothing to alarm him, crawled out into the searing sunlight and tried to work. But the motor was so hot he could not touch it anywhere. His pliers and wrenches were too hot to hold, and his face felt scorched where the sun fell upon it. So Bland crawled back again and cursed the land that knew such heat, and himself for being in it, and presently slept again.

Hunger woke Johnny at last, and he straight-way woke Bland, politely intimating that it was about time he got busy and did something. Johnny did not propose to settle down for life in that neighborhood, he pointed out. There must be something they could do, if the darned engine wasn't broken anywhere.

Bland, too miserable to argue, sat up and pushed greasy fingers through his lank hair. Having remained alive and unharmed for so long in that neighborhood, his faith in Johnny's knowledge of Indians waxed stronger. He began to think less of his danger and more about the motor.

The thing mystified him, who could tear a motor apart and put it together again. What he felt he ought to do was impossible for lack of the proper tools, Johnny's emergency kit being quite as useless for any real emergency as such kits usually are. Merely as an experiment he removed the needle valve and washed several specks of dirt off it with gasoline. Without hesitation the motor started, and Bland cursed himself quite sincerely for not having sooner thought of the simple expedient. He must be getting feeble-minded, he said, while he adjusted the mixture and made ready to fly.

Once more they taxied down the denuded corn field, turned and ascended buoyantly, boring into the hot breeze that rose as the shadows lengthened into late afternoon. They circled, climbing steadily. Then pop--pop-pop-pop--pop, the motor began to stutter. The earth lifted to them as if pulled up by a string. They could see more huts and tiny figures running like disturbed ants. The field where they had spent most of the day broadened beneath them, like a brown blanket spread to receive them.

They came down with a jolt that bent the axle of the landing gear, sent them bounding into the air, and all but wrecked them. They went ducking and wobbling up to the willow fringe and swung off just in time to escape plunging into a deep little creek. As they stopped they heard a great crackling of brush and glimpsed many forms fleeing wildly, but they were too engrossed in their own trouble to be greatly impressed. One wing had barely escaped damage with the tilting of the machine, and the near-catastrophe chilled them both with the memory of a certain other forced landing which had not ended so harmlessly. They climbed down soberly and inspected the landing gear.

"Well, that can be fixed," Bland stated in the tone of one who is grateful that worse has not befallen. "I'll say it was a close shave, though, bo."

"I'll try and straighten the axle, while you see what ails that cussed motor. Good golly! We'll be here all night at this rate. And if we keep on hopping over this field like a lame crow, we'll be plumb outa gas. For a mechanic that can _make a motor, Bland, you sure ain't making much of a showing!"

"Aw, f'r cat's sake, lay off the crabbing! Gimme the tools and I'll rip your damn motor apart so quick it'll make your head swim! I'll say I've tied into a sweet mess of trouble when I tied up with you. I mighta knowed I'd git the worst of it. Look at what I was handed the other time I throwed in with you! Got stuck in a cave and had to live like a darned animal, and double-crossed when I'd helped you outa the hole you was in. And now you wish this job on to me and begin to lay the blame on me when this mess of junk fails to act like a motor. Come off down here with a monkey wrench and a can opener and expect me to rebuild a motor that oughta been junked ten year ago!"

"Aw, shut up!" snapped Johnny, and stalked off to find something they could eat. "Monkey wrench and can opener are about as many tools as you know how to use--unless maybe it's a corkscrew."

He went on, muttering because he had ever let himself be imposed upon by Bland Halliday. Muttering too because he had started out that morning to do stunts, instead of trying to find a buyer for the machine as he had first planned. Now the prospect of getting back to Tucson that night looked very remote indeed. And the winning of a fortune doing exhibition work looked even more remote. "Unless we take up a collection amongst the Injuns cached out in the brush," he grinned ruefully to himself. "We're liable to take up a collection all right, if we have to sleep here--but it won't be money."

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