Page 17 of Starlit Skies

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“Oh, shush. I’m not injured, and I’m the better choice. You see if you can find a first aid kit or something we can use to bandage your leg, while I’m gone. I won’t be long.”

He stared at her for so long she was sure he was going to ignore her and jump out of the helicopter, wounded leg, and all. But he finally said, “Are you sure?”

No, she wasn’t sure, but this was a life-and-death situation, and she wasn’t going to be one of those women who went all to pieces when things got bad. Daniella had brought her up to be strong and resourceful. If she couldn’t bring those traits into play now, when would she ever be able to?

“I’ll be back with Paul in tow soon, and then we can all get out of here,” she replied.

“Be careful,” he warned as she moved to the front of the wreckage.

It was harder than she expected to get out of the cocoon of metal. The ripped fuselage was sharp, and it was covered in trailing wires as well as broken plastic from the interior. She finally found a hole large enough to crawl through—scrapingher bare knee on the way—and lowered herself gingerly onto the ground. The front half of the chopper was five or six meters away, and she craned her neck to see if she could locate Paul amongst the debris. She could make out the rear of the two front seats. They seemed to have been pushed forward, into what was left of the front windshield. As she scrambled through the broken underbrush, climbing over smashed branches, and skirting around large pieces of metal, she discovered that perhaps it was the other way around, and the windshield had been forced onto the seats. When she finally got close enough, she edged around to the side where Paul had been sitting.

Skylar covered her mouth with her hand, and her stomach roiled dangerously.

Oh, no!

A large boulder had caved in the whole front of the chopper and was now sitting where the controls had once been, the windshield shattered into millions of shards of glass. Paul’s chair was wedged up against limestone.

She didn't want to look.

But she had to.

“Paul,” she called out tentatively, even though she knew he wasn’t going to answer. As she edged around farther, she could see a leg and a foot protruding from the side of the seat. Blood trickled down, running over the mangled floor and pooling in a bright-red puddle in the dirt below.

Skylar gagged again.No, no, no.She couldn’t look.

But she had to do this. She had to make sure. For Paul’s sake.

Closing her eyes for a second, she steeled herself and then crept a few more feet around the side until she could look into Paul’s chair.

She gasped and drew back in horror. Then promptly threw up, retching over and over again into the uncaring greenery.There was hardly anything left of Paul, besides a mangled mess of crushed bones and flesh.

She’d never seen anything like it before. And hoped to never see anything like it again.

Despair overtook her, and she sank down onto the ground, her legs unable to hold her weight any longer. Paul was dead. Had died a horrible death. Because some strangers had shot him out of the sky. For what reason?

Now, bugs were beginning to swarm, attracted by the warm, sticky pool of blood forming beneath the chopper. Their annoying buzzing was enough to finally drive her to her feet.

She and Nash were still alive, she needed to remember that. She had to get back to him. There was no way she was going to search the front of the cockpit for a first aid kit, she couldn’t bear to go any closer to Paul’s body. Instead, she struggled back up the hill, but instead of returning to the where Nash sat waiting inside, she worked her way through the encroaching vegetation to see if she could locate the luggage compartment, situated behind their seats. But when she got around the back, she was surprised to see the whole tail section missing, sheared off by the force of the crash. Her gaze followed the trail of destruction back toward the edge of the clearing, and there it was, bent and twisted almost beyond recognition, around twenty meters away, with their luggage strewn all over the ground in between.

A white T-shirt dangled from a branch a few feet away. She reached for it almost on instinct. Did it belong to Nash? Or Paul? She had no idea, but it might make a good bandage. A blue backpack lay on the ground a little farther up the hill. It might’ve belonged to Paul, there was a book and a pair of shorts still left inside. She slung that over her shoulder and went to retrieve a ripped, dark-blue shirt from the ground a few feet away. Part of Nash’s police uniform.

Wait. She suddenly remembered her phone. How stupid of her. She’d heard Nash try and call in the emergency while they’d been in the air, but then he must’ve lost his phone in the crash. And Paul had issued a Mayday call. But she should call emergency and let people know where she was. Quickly, she dragged it out of her back pocket and held it in front of her face. A large crack split the screen, but it still lit up when she pushed the button. No reception. Shit. There might be reception higher up the hill. Holding it aloft, she walked forward, keeping her eyes on the little bars that’d tell her she had reception. Still nothing. She twirled around on the spot, hoping, praying for one bar that would connect her to the outside world. Her foot caught on a trailing vine as she spun around. Because she was still looking upward, she stumbled, off balance. She grabbed a small shrub beside her, but it didn’t save her downward plunge, and she landed heavily on her backside, knocking the air out of her lungs. Instinct made her put her palms out to save her from tumbling over backward completely. Her phone was knocked from her hand, landing facedown on an outcrop of limestone a few feet away.

“Oh, no. Please, no,” she said softly. But when she scrambled to her feet and picked up the phone, her worst fears were realized. It was smashed. No longer working. What had she done?

“Skylar, are you there?” Nash’s worried voice filtered through the underbrush. She tucked the useless phone into her pocket once more.

Hanging her head, she returned with her meagre provisions back to their broken chopper, clambering through the same hole she’d left by.

Nash stretched out a hand to help her in. “Paul?” he asked. But the hopeful light in his eyes died as her face crumpled.

“It was horrible, Nash. I can’t even begin to describe it.”

“I’m so sorry. I shouldn’t have let you go. I should’ve been the one to find him. It’s my job.” He dragged her down to sit next to him, cradling her in his arms and soothing her like a lost kitten. She made sure not to look directly at his wounded leg, not wanting to start retching again. Her body began to shake, a reaction to what she’d just seen set in. But her eyes remained dry. There would be time to cry for Paul later. First, they had to survive.

She sat up. “I broke my phone,” she said. “Where’s yours? Did you find it yet?” she asked. “We need to phone the police. Get someone up here to—”

Why was Nash shaking his head?