“Hope Comes in the Morning”

For Kate, morning wake-up usually came with a knock on the door and, “it’s time to get ready for school,” from her mom.  Saturdays and Sundays were the exception. This morning would be a little different. Much too early, she was disturbed by soft tickles on her cheeks and nose. Half awake, she rubbed her cheeks and scratched her nose. When she opened her eyes, a little village girl was kneeling down next to her with a feather in one hand and the other covering her mouth to hold back the laughter.

Kate sat up; the rest of the gang was getting the same treatment. The village kids could not hold back the giggles. They were all soon awake, except for dead to the world, Ben. Tali decided to join in the fun. She untied one of Ben’s shoes, then carefully slipped it off and did the one thing he hated, she tickled his foot. It wasn’t the first time she had used this tactic.

Startled, Ben rolled over and jumped to his feet. Everyone  burst into laughter. He looked around, wiped a little drool from the corner of his mouth and then cracked a smile. “Why do you have my shoe Tali?” ask Ben. She handed back, “here ya go sleepy head.”

The villagers gathered around. Bananas along with left over rice and chicken were on the menu. A cup of tea came with the meal. It wasn’t a flavor that any of them recognized, but it was good. Tali was the first to be handed a bowl of rice. She had seen bare cupboards and an empty refrigerator more than once and sensed that providing this food was a sacrifice. She patted her stomach and puffed out her cheeks as if she was full. She ate half of her banana to be polite and then gave the other half to one of the village kids. Kate knew exactly what Tali was up to and did the same. The guys didn’t catch the clue.

One of the men, probably an elder of the village, started talking and motioning. He mimicked what Ben had done the night before. Using his hand like an airplane while making a motor noise. Then he pointed back across the rice fields.

“He knows where the Shirley Ann is,” said Kate. “I’m sure of it.”

“Yeah, what else could he possibly be trying to tell us?” asked Ben.

The village kids started walking and motioned for the gang to follow. The rest of the villagers stood, gave a little bow, then waved them on and pointed. They had work to do, no more time for visitors.

The gang followed the kids once again. Across the rice paddies and into the jungle. They weren’t afraid anymore; they just hoped the village kids were taking them in the right direction. Bandit was in heaven, stopping to sniff everything.

The sun was directly overhead, and the jungle was steamy. They had been walking for hours. “Hey Ben,” said Willy. “According to my compass we’ve been headed west this whole time, we gotta be getting close.”

Before Ben could answer, Bandit barked and took off running. Jold sprinted after him, he wasn’t about to lose his dog again. Everyone raced to catch up. They were all in a full-on sprint when they broke into the clear.

There it was, the grass runway with the Shirley Ann sitting right where they left it at the far end of the field. While the others slowed to a walk, Tali never broke stride. She just kept running for the plane, tears streaming down her cheeks.

When they reached the plane, they stopped and looked at each other in amazement. The village kids swarmed the Shirley Ann. In, under and around they went, inspecting everything. Then one of them discovered the cooler in the back of the plane. He slid it to the door where Ben was standing and pointed, as if to ask, “what’s this?”

Ben lifted it down and opened it.  He handed each of the kids bits of ice. From their reaction, they had never seen ice before. Ben put a chunk in his mouth, the kids did the same. Several reached in the cooler for another piece and rubbed it on their face and arms.

Grandpa Jimmy had put a few sandwiches and drinks in the cooler too. Ben handed them out to the village kids. They divided the sandwiches among themselves so that everyone had a few bites. Ben had to show them how to open the bottles. He didn’t know if it was the taste or the bubbles, but there were plenty of funny expressions  when they tasted Mountain Dew for the first time. When the kids were finished and the ice was gone, they waved and disappeared into the jungle. The gang could only imagine what must have been going through their minds.

“What do we do now?” asked Jold.

“I’m gettin’ in the Shirley Ann,” said Willy. “Have any of you noticed that she has both engines attached and there doesn’t seem to be any missing parts?”

While Willy was talking, Tali climbed in the cabin then reappeared in a few seconds, eyes as big as saucers. She jumped out with the old picture in her hand. “Look at this.” she said. “Can this be real?”

They all stared in disbelief, looking down at the picture then back up at the plane and then back to the picture. “Let’s back up a little,” said Tali. The further they backed away the more the picture looked exactly like what they were seeing in front of them.

“This would be awesome, if it weren’t totally weird,” said Ben. “I think it’s time for a club meetin’, we gotta figure somthin’ out.”

They walked back to the Shirley Ann and jumped in. Jold was last, he lifted Bandit up and then climbed in. Without thinking he closed the door and pushed the handle down in the locked position. He turned and looked at the gang; those were not happy faces staring back. “Uh, uh, uh, should I have not done that?” he asked.

“Probably not,” said Kate.

He reached down and pulled up on the handle. It wouldn’t budge. Ben and Kate grabbed hold and pulled too. Nothing! Then, a familiar shaking, a loud belch and the left engine was running. Willy dashed to the cockpit and slid into the left seat. Ben followed and jumped into the right seat. Jold, Kate and Tali crowded forward to see what was happening. The gauges and instruments came to life. The two matching levers in the center of the console moved forward in perfect unison. It was like they were locked together. The engines revved up and the plane began to move.

“Are you doing that Willy?” exclaimed Jold.

“I’m not doing anything; it’s doing this by itself!”

The Shirley Ann turned and pointed her nose straight down the runway. The two levers went full forward and they were rolling. Ben grabbed them and tried to pull back, no use. A few seconds later they lifted off the ground and were climbing for the clouds. A small handle with a knob on Willy’s side of the center console moved to the  up position. Underneath that handle were the words, “landing gear.” A slight banging sound and three lights above the handle turned red.

“I think those lights mean that the landing gear is up. At least that’s the way it is on my computer at home.” said Willy.

The Shirley Ann kept climbing until they were in the clouds. Then it seemed to level off. The windows again fogged over, zero visibility. They couldn’t even see the wings through the windows. Bandit curled up for a nap in one of the cabin seats.

“Maybe she’s taking us home.” Said Jold.

“She is, I know she is.” said Tali.

Willy had flown his flight simulator on his computer hundreds of times. He knew the yoke, or the steering wheel, moved the aileron and elevator and that the pedals moved the rudder. The ailerons made the plane bank left and right while the elevator made the nose point up or down. The rudders helped point the nose of the plane left and right. Willy rested his right hand on the two levers, those were the throttles. He placed  his left hand on the yoke and rested his feet on the rudder pedals. He wasn’t pushing or pulling on anything, just feeling the movements as the plane flew.

All eyes were fixed on the cockpit, no one dared look away. Then the throttles moved back, and the engines slowed. A few seconds later the land gear lever moved to the down position. Another pop and three lights went green. The Shirley Ann was slowing on her way down. The nose pitched up just a little, a squeak from the tires told them the plane touched down. It rolled for a little distance, swung around and stopped. The engines went silent, the gauges went dead. And still they could see nothing.

Kate made her way to the cabin door, Tali was right behind. Kate reached for the handle. Where has the Shirley Ann taken us this time? she thought.

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