Thursday, November 29, 2012

"The Bird-Man Legend" by Anonymous

The Bird-Man Legend

"This," said Al Bronson grimly to himself, "is the well-known IT! Pretty soon I'm going to find out how it feels to die in a plane crash!"

Al sat perfectly relaxed and calm in the cockpit of his tiny Piper Cub plane. His calmness was not heroism; it wasn't even the phoney kind of heroism that many people put on when they don't want to admit, even to themselves, how frightened they are. It was, rather, a sort of calm acceptance of whatever fate was in store for him, the attitude which had been bred in him, and all the other boys he had flown with in the terrible days when Eisenhower had battled to establish a safe beachhead on the narrow shores of Europe.

Al knew he had done everything possible to help himself—and he also knew that it wouldn't work. It was pretty ironical, at that, to come out of five years of daily danger with the Eagle Squadron of the RAF and then with the USAAF, to wind up dead on his first easy civilian job of exploring the back stretches of the Amazon Valley. But it was just one of those things, he thought, as he shrugged his shoulders philosophically.

He stared ahead of him, through the small cockpit of the plane. There, a couple of miles away, clearly visible through the clear morning air, he could see safety, as represented by the smooth plateus on the other side of the tremendous chasm which separated him from them. If he could only reach that side of the chasm, everything would be fine. First of all, it was smooth and even, and he could set his plane down in comparative comfort. Then, and more important, Al knew that a few miles down from his present location, there was a fairly good path that led down the thousand-foot side of the cliff, and once on the floor of the chasm, he'd be less than ten miles from base camp.

Automatically, Al yanked back the joy-stick of the plane as far as he could, to keep the little ship as high as possible. As he did this, he sensed that it wouldn't help. He had lost too much altitude, and he would be sure to crash on this side of the chasm, in the dense, thickly-wooded forests which lined the cliff right up to its very edge. Methodically, he unloaded the camera which he had been using to get shots for the aerial map, and stowed the metal-cased rolls of film in his pockets. At least, if they ever located his body, maybe the photos would be of some use!

Suddenly Al's eyes narrowed sharply. Out of one corner of his vision, he had seen two things which gave a quick lift to his sinking hopes. There, a trifle north, was a narrow rope-and-vine bridge over the quarter-mile-wide chasm, which meant that there must be human beings living somewhere in the neighborhood; and also, he had caught sight of a tiny clearing near the approach to the bridge.

Al yanked savagely at the rudder, and the Piper Cub veered north. Maybe he could make it, after all! If he could only set the ship down without smashing himself into the atoms, he could get across to the other side of the chasm, and he'd be okay! For a few minutes Al fought the cross-currents which twisted up from the wooded region, handling his motorless ship as though it were a glider. And, as he slipped and swirled downward in a glide he knew he would make it!

As he approached the cleared spot, his sensitive fingers holding the end of the joystick alert for any slight adjustment, a sudden updraft flung his ship fifty feet into the air, and dropped the plane like a dead weight toward the ground. Al's last conscious recollection was of the lush green grass and towering trees, which seemed to rush up at his face with the force of an express train. Then everything disappeared in a blinding collision, as he hit the ground and the tiny plane splintered into a mass of twisted metal.

When Al Bronson regained consciousness, his first thought was that he was pretty cramped. When he shifted his shoulders to ease the pressure of his flying suit and the parachute pack on his back, the tension increased, and his hands bound tightly with strong vines which circled his waist and were knotted further to restrict his movements.

Al struggled to his feet, to find himself surrounded by a grim-faced circle of ominously quiet, almost naked natives, each staring unblinkingly at him and each carrying a wicked-looking spear in the right hand and an equally wicked-looking machete in the left. He fought down the quick fear which welled up within him, and forced his voice to be reasonably calm as he tried the few words of Spanish which he knew, to explain that he was a friend and wanted to help.

Silence greeted his speech, and Al realized with a sinking heart that if the natives spoke any language besides their own dialect, it would be Portugese, the language of Brazil, of which he didn't know a single word!

He struggled to free his hands, hoping to be able to utilize some kind of sign language. With a gesture of contempt, the tallest of the natives stepped forward, slashed downward with his razor-sharp machete, and Al's hands were free. Al grinned in his friendliest way at his liberator, but in that second his hopes died, as the natives spoke. The words were thick pidgin English, but their meaning was clear.

"You bird-man," the native grunted. "You white man. Me work white man. Me learn speak white man talk. Indian hate white man. White man bring trouble. Indian kill white man. Then trouble go. Come. You see."

The leader grunted a command and in a second Al was seized by both arms and hustled toward the edge of the high cliff.

With a complete indifference to the vertigo which overwhelmed Al Bronson, as he hung over the steep edge, held by the iron grip of two warriors, the native leader barked another command, and one of his men darted into the underbrush, to return a moment later with three wristwatches, which the chief took and held out for Al to see.

"We take white man magic. Then we kill," the native said calmly. "Like this." He made a swinging gesture with his two arms, indicating clearly the act of throwing something over the edge of the cliff to the floor of the chasm a thousand feet below!

At the chief's next command, the two warriors holding Al loosened their grip of his arms, grabbed his left wrist and stripped off the watch which was strapped there. His arms freed, for a brief fraction of a second, Al found a sudden inspiration! He smacked his right arm down against the open flap pocket on his pants leg, grabbed the magnesium flare which he held there for photos at night or in fog, and all in the same gesture dashed it violently to the ground!

As the flare blazed forth in a terrific spurt of furious fire, Al seized the brief second, in which the natives jumped back in alarm, to sprint at top speed for the narrow, swinging rope bridge which he could see less than a hundred yards away. In his heart he knew the gesture was futile; he was handicapped by his heavy clothes and parachute pack, while the practically-naked natives could certainly move faster than he. But the driving urge for self-preservation forced him on, in spite of his bursting lungs, and before the startled natives could recover enough to speed after him, Al had made the bridge and was crawling out along its swaying, sagging length!

Al worked his way out along the crude chasm crossing, conscious of added vibrations as the natives started to cross the bridge.

Then he heard a booming voice, yelling in native dialect, and over his shoulder Al saw the natives on the rope bridge turn and scuttle back to the edge of the cliff. As he continued across, wondering at the change in his enemies' plan, the leader's booming voice came again. "White man, you die!"

Al froze to immobility and stared as two native warriors, who had just been waiting for their fellows to reach safety, chopped their heavy machetes down on the vines holding the bridge! The entire bridge shook under the impact of the savage thrusts and suddenly free, it dropped like a stone, flinging Al Bronson into the void!

As he dropped, Al's instinctive recollection of years of training came to the fore. Without any conscious realization of what he was doing, his fingers reached up to his breast and yanked at the rip-cord of his parachute!

As the huge nylon sheet opened and caught the wind it fluttered aloft like a giant flower with Al Bronson swinging easily in the harness. Down to the safety of the chasm floor, which would lead him back to his own camp, he drifted. Then Al glanced upward to see the awe-filled, superstitious natives on their knees at the edge of the cliff, salaaming in terror of the white birdman who could sprout his own wings and fly off to safety!

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