The Alfonso Reader II Three Stories from Bonacca
[private] The Last Flight
Dedicated to Herman Haylock
After arriving in La Ceiba it was apparent that they would have to charter an airplane if they were to keep their appointment in Guatemala City. The two Bonaccans, Herman and Olsen, then started to look around for the other two men from La Mosquitia who also had appointments for the following day with the same gentleman in Guatemala City.
The purpose of this trip was to secure lobster-fishing permits in the neighboring republic of Nicaragua. This was during the rule of the Sandinista regime and Honduras had severed diplomatic relations with that country. Hondurans were not permitted to travel to Nicaragua, but someone in Guatemala City was selling lobster-fishing permits for Nicaraguan waters in the Caribbean. Olsen and Herman, having found their other two traveling companions, made arrangements for an airplane at Aerolineas Saso–a six-passenger Cessna 206.
When Herman and Olsen finally started on the first leg of their journey, which was to Tegucigalpa to pick up a fifth passenger, they had no notion that this trip, an ill-fated voyage, would be etched in their minds forever. Their morning had slipped away with the usual delays, so the second leg began late as they taxied down the Tegus runway heading for Guatemala City.
The first hour of the short hour-and-ten-minute flight passed rapidly, as everybody on board except the pilot knew each other quite well. The plane had been flying for quite some time before anyone noticed that they were behind schedule. The sun had set and from an altitude of eight thousand feet it was impossible to distinguish any landmarks. But they continued on their westerly course and soon spotted a bunch of lights which they logically supposed to be a city or town. By the reflection of the lights they knew that the town was on or near a body of water. The pilot, realizing that something was wrong, placed the plane in a holding pattern circling the body of water which, in the darkness, they assumed to be Lake Amatitlan-all the while sending out mayday calls on the radio.
With their fuel getting low, some of the passengers thought it was better to ditch the plane in the water and take their chances swimming to safety. The pilot, however, kept assuring them that if they flew towards the north they would make it to the Aurora airport in Guatemala City. A few minutes into the holding pattern the pilot got in radio contact with the crew of an Eastern Airlines plane heading for or leaving Aurora.
The jet informed the Cessna that the airliner would turn on all its lights, and if the Cessna could see these lights then its pilot could head for the lights and begin his descent toward the airport. The pilot of the small airplane radioed a confirmation of a visual sighting and began his decent. Some of the passengers questioned his sighting, and in an attempt to confirm the sighting Olsen unbuckled his seat belt to look over the pilot’s shoulder. It was then that the plane made contact with the trees.
The first impact tore at the wings and the right side of the fuselage, destroying part of the main door assembly. Olsen, being unrestrained by the seatbelt, was propelled out of the airplane and landed on the door that had broken away under the momentum and the weight of his body.
Olsen suffered a blow to the head and was in a daze for quite a while. He heard someone calling to him as he was coming out of his stupor. He then followed the sound of the voice and inquired of the caller: “What happened?” To which Herman replied: “We’ve had an accident and you had better snap out of it or we’re going to die up here!”
On the second and final impact of the little plane Herman had been thrown clear of the fuselage. The force of the final impact had wrenched his seat from the floor and he was still strapped to it. Herman was seriously wounded but he was well aware of their predicament. Olsen, on the other hand, was in a state of confusion not unlike a person suffering from a concussion of the brain. Olsen kept heading towards the burning wreck of the aircraft in what seem like an attempt to rescue the remaining passengers and the pilot. But Herman finally conveyed to him that only one had survived the impact but had been unable to get out of the burning plane and had died along with the rest.
Herman insisted that they had to get away from the gas drenched area before the fuel tanks blew up, so Olsen pulled Herman towards a big tree and sat him against it. Even in the dim light of the fire Olsen could see by the position of Herman’s extremities that the wounds were serious. He knew that his friend would die without immediate help. Olsen first searched the area for anything of value that could tempt passing guerillas or other persons, fearful that if anyone came upon the wreck they would probably collect the valuables and then think of finishing off eyewitnesses to their crime.
Before Olsen then started his trek for help, he supplied Herman with a long stick to fend off any night predators that may be attracted by the smell of the blood which constantly poured from his compounded fractures.
Olsen headed towards a small light in the distance but had not gone very far when he fell into a hole. After freeing himself from the hole he began calling out and listening for an answer so he could return to where he had left Herman. Knowing that in the dark Olsen would either kill himself in a hole or would not be able to find his way back to the big tree, they decided to wait for morning light before initiating another attempt.
Olsen started his second attempt down the mountain at daybreak yet with enough darkness to see the solitary light burning in the distance.
After what seemed like an eternity he arrived at the light source to find only an unmanned transformer power station. A highway passed nearby, so he positioned himself on the road in an effort to hitch a ride. Realizing that no one was stopping because he must look terrible, he knew he must force someone to stop. Olsen ran in front of an oncoming bus and was able to jump onboard when the driver opened the door to question him. He was about to be ejected from the busload of disgruntled passengers until a man dressed in a full suit and tie stepped forward and said: “This man is not drunk he is hurt!” The bus then proceeding to the nearest public hospital.
The doctors insisted on detaining Olsen, despite his refusal to waste time on examinations and other routine medical procedures in order to get back into those mountains where his friend Herman lay dying.
Olsen had not been abandoned by his guardian angel, however. While placing a phone call to family members in Honduras, the gentleman from the bus had called the local fire department rescue team. The gentleman returned with the rescue team to pick up Olsen and return to the spot where the bus had found Olsen. Though the man in charge insisted that they needed a helicopter to get up to the place of the wreck on the slopes of the Pacaya volcano, Olsen insisted that there was no time for that and started up the mountain on his own.
Followed by some of the rescuers, Olsen came to the place where he believed he’d left Herman. But when they called out, no answer came. Thinking the worst, Olsen sat down and cried tears of desperation and grief. A little while later from somewhere in the distance a voice yelled: “He is alive! He’s still alive!” Olsen jumped up and got to the scene in time to see them loading his friend onto a stretcher. Herman’s countenance had changed, probably because of the massive loss of blood, but he was still alive and conscious. In the daylight his wounds looked even worse, and for the first time Olsen doubted that his friend would live through this ordeal.
In the government hospital the doctors seem unable to come to a decision as to what should be done for Herman and it looked very much like they had rolled him out on a gurney to let him die. Olsen tried in vain to get someone to attend to the wounds of his friend for some time, until the very man they’d come to Guatemala to obtain fishing permits from arrived on the scene. Being a medical doctor himself, he took charge of the situation by first cleaning up the patient and then commandeered an ambulance (at gun point) to take the patient to the Cedros de Libano, a private hospital in the city. There is no doubt that this move saved Herman’s life.
Olsen returned home a few days later, with a wound on his forehead, burns on hands and arms and lacerations on his feet; Herman had to remain a few weeks longer until he became well enough to travel.
What had sealed the fate of Sierra Alfa Tango? It was deduced later that the pilot had erroneously set up his ADF on the low frequency beacon of Puerto de San Jose. The body of water they had spotted had been the Pacific Ocean. When the aircraft had turned north the pilot had seen some other light and mistook it for the Eastern Airline plane. Their original altitude of eight thousand feet was fine for approaching Aurora from the east, but coming from southerly Puerto de San Jose they would have to pass over the Pacaya volcano, which pushes its summit eight thousand three hundred feet into the air. On that night in April a miracle took place on the slopes of that volcano. We’ll never know what prompted Olsen to take off his seat belt. But we know that had he remained strapped into his seat no one would have walked away from Sierra Alfa Tango. Until this day my brother Olsen never buckles his seat belt whenever he travels by airplane.
The Lil’ Flat Incident
This story begins on a desolate road that leads from the foot hills of Lil’ Flat towards the village of Mangrove Bight. The day was sunny but cool as the seven-year-old boy treaded his way through the long grass that almost covered the rarely used short cut from the little farm to the store at Red Hill. This short cut was not used much anymore because most of the people used the main road and shopped at the new store in the village. The boy was on an errand for his stepmother, and though he was slightly retarded he was aware that if he tarried too long he would have to answer to her. And his stepmother was not known for her kindness. As he remembered the words of his stepmother he grasped the coin in his hand with added strength and kept repeating to himself the last words she had said to him, “one pound of salt, one pound of salt, one pound …”
In the bright sunshine the butterflies fluttered in every direction and their variegated colorings added a flower batch like mantle to the wind swept guinea grass. Maybe it was the beauty of the moment or maybe it was his attempts to catch a blue butterfly that was much larger and more beautiful than all the others. Whatever it was, the boy forgot all about the urgency of his errand and was soon lost in play.
A distant sound brought him back to reality, and he remembered the errand. But the coin was no longer in his hand; and though he searched everywhere, it could not be found. Sometime later he appeared at the little grocery store that was his original destination.
He told the attendant that he wanted something but could not remember what it was, and besides, he had lost the coin somewhere along the road. The owner of the store had known the child’s now-deceased mother and he also knew that this kid was in serious trouble with his stepmother. The time was about mid-day and the clerk assumed that the boy had come for something that would have been used for the evening meal. So out of the kindness of his heart he gave the boy a one-pound bag of sugar. The boy started for home with the package in his hands, not realizing that the half an hour errand had taken almost three hours.
About half way home he was met by a furious stepmother and she carried in her hand a strip of rawhide that had been soaked in the river. The stepmother ordered him to place the bag on the ground and then commenced to brutally chastise the child with the homemade whip. The screams of the boy could be heard for miles. Then suddenly, with the blows still lashing into his flesh, the boy stopped screaming and uttered one word: “Mama!” The boy had fixed his gaze on a spot behind his stepmother. The stepmother, with her whipping arm still raised high, froze in her tracks as the hair on the back of her neck stood straight up. She knew without looking behind her that they were no longer alone. And she also knew who the newcomer was because the boy only ever called one person Mama–his now dead mother.
The stepmother felt a chill right to her bones and a wind on her face as if someone was breathing heavily right next to her. As she stepped towards the child, all the tall grass laid down and then lifted up again with such a force that the whip was torn from her hand. The stepmother turned towards home and the grass rolled as if moved by a great wind in front of her blocking her path. She then extended her empty hands towards the child and both of them started the journey home. The rolling grass followed them all the way but only on the stepmother’s side of the road. She tried changing the child from side to side but the rolling grass would always change to the side next to her.
Before the stepmother had left the house she had tied the dogs so that they could not follow her when she went to fetch the boy. When they approached the farm house, the dogs began their welcome bark. But as soon as the boy came into view, the barking changed to an angry and then a frightened bark. This was unusual because the dogs all loved the boy. The stronger dogs broke their leashes and took off running into the woods yelping as they went. The ones that could not break their leashes were going on like they were mad with fear. When the stepmother and the boy entered the kitchen they found sitting on the table, a coin, a one pound bag of salt and a small machete. The stepmother swears that the coin was the exact coin she had given to the kid to pay for the salt. The little machete belonged to the child but had been missing for some time now. The child looked over his shoulder as if spoken to by someone standing right behind him, he then nodded his head affirmatively and said, “Okay Mama!”
Without uttering another word he walked over to the table, took the little machete in his hand, turned and walked down the road away from the farmhouse. The stepmother called to him but he did not pay her any mind and after what had just occurred she was afraid to follow the child. The young boy was found the next day sitting in a pool of his own blood leaning against a big cashew tree with a smile on his face and the little machete through his chest. Some people said that the boy had fallen and accidentally stabbed himself with the machete. But other witnesses claim that he had been stabbed on purpose. Whatever be the case, everybody knew that his real mother had carried him home forever.
If you ever find yourself on the road to Lil’ Flat, go to the big cashew tree just south of Rocky Road gate, step on the spot of soil between the two exposed roots that extend into the road. You will feel the ground tremble, and then from the bottom of the tree, you will hear the sad moan of a person in pain.
A FEW PIECES OF SILVER
Two out-of-work farm boys, Jim and Bee, were on their way home after having a few drinks in town. As they passed a lonely house that sat next to the road they noticed a dim light coming from a window at the side of the house. Jim decided that they should have one last drink and what better place to have a drink than this house, whose owner operated a small estanco (retail liquor shop) from his kitchen window. The rum seller catered to all comers no matter what time of day or night, just as long as they had the money. There was only one thing wrong with these two having a last drink–neither of the two had a penny to their name. Jim suggested they try for some credit, so he proceeded up the stairs to knock on the kitchen window. But at that moment, he heard the clinking of silver coins.
Jim motioned to Bee to come up and take a listen. Keeping very quiet, they both heard the old gentleman counting his money–past five hundred and still counting. The two farm boys came down the stairs and walked a good distance from the house before they made any comments. Jim spoke first, “Did you hear that? That old bastard has a lot of money in that back room!”Bee was younger than Jim and sort of look up to Jim for leadership, so he said nothing in reply and simply waited for Jim to continue.
Jim said, “Hey, that’s more money than we could make in a year!” Bee did not like the tone of Jim’s voice, knowing that Jim was contemplating robbing the old man. Bee had accompanied Jim on robberies before, but those robberies had been different, only stealing coconuts, plantains, yucca and such and only when there were no witnesses.
This robbery would be different because the old man never left the house and many other people also lived in the house. Bee did not like it. But by the time the two had reached Meana Gate Jim had formulated a plan. He decided that this was not the night for the robbery because a lot of people had seen them leave Savana Bight, headed down the road that would lead them past the old man’s house. Jim decided that they would return another night, gain entrance to the house and then rob the old man blind.
True to their plan, two days later in the late afternoon and, this time dead sober, the two left Ranchy Point and headed down the road to Mangrove Bight. As they approached the village they greeted everyone they saw and they talked loudly and whistled in an attempt to have themselves seen by as many people as possible. As darkness came over the land they made plans to return the way they had come. They then proceeded very quietly to exit the village, because for them to get back onto the road to Savana Bight they would have to go back over Soapy Hill. The two would-be burglars made their way quietly through the now pitch black night, not daring to light the pine wood torches they carried. When the light from the house came into view they decided to go over their plan one more time.
The plan was simple, Bee would tell the old man that he had a sack full of coconut to trade for a litro of rum. The old man would then insist on seeing the sack but the trader would have to convince him that it was a big franklin baker sack and it was too heavy to bring up the flight of stairs. The plan was that when the old man came downstairs Jim would conk him over the head. Then with the old man out cold they would enter the house and search the back room for the money. The money would not be too hard to find because five hundred in cash was a large amount of silver and so it would not be too easy to hide.
Bee easily enticed the old man to come down the stairs because the old man thought he would be getting the better end of this bargain–a franklin baker sack can hold up to two hundred coconuts. The old man took a lantern from the table, opened the door and he picked up a machete with his other hand. This was not good and Bee felt a little scared, but the plan was in action and there was no going back now.
As the old man came down the stairs with the lantern in one hand and his machete in the other he moved to the side that placed Bee between him and the waiting Jim.
The old man must have spotted the club in Jim’s hand because he turned to go back up the stairs and cussed the two, saying, “Here you die, you bastards!” The old man raised his machete to bring it down on Bee’s head, but he was too slow because by this time Jim had unsheathed his own machete. With one fell swoop he had taken off the old man’s hand at the wrist and it fell to the ground still clinging to the machete. The old man was screaming in terror and pain and was still trying to go back upstairs, but the second blow of Jim’s machete caught him in the soft spot where the neck joins the shoulder. The blow was such that the old man was thrown off the stairs and fell to the ground where he lay motionless, no longer able to scream and bleeding his life away.
Jim looked around for Bee and saw him standing near a post of the house with his hand over his mouth. Bee was petrified with fear because, in spite of the darkness of the night, the light of the lantern had illuminated very well the foul deed that had just occurred. Bee found his voice and muttered, “Let’s get the hell out of here!” He turned towards the gate, but at that moment another lantern appeared at the top of the stairs. Jim turned around and fixed his eyes on the woman who looked down on the gruesome spectacle. The woman turned and ran back into the house screaming and shouting, “Those no-goods from Ranchy Point have killed him!”
Jim started up the stairs and yelled back at Bee, “This thing is not over yet!” Bee was not sure what he should do, but maybe he could try to stop another murder. So he pick up the lantern and followed Jim up the stairs. The house had a few partitions but the rooms had curtains instead of a wooden door. Jim followed the woman into the one room where her children were covering in fear. Bee was ordered to check out the other room. When he hesitated Jim lifted his blood red machete and made a slashing gesture through the air. Bee, with lantern in hand, entered the indicated room and to his surprise found someone under the covers on the bed.
Bee poked the bedding with his machete and he heard someone cry out. With the blade of his machete he lifted the covers and was even more surprised to see a baby girl under the sheets crying and bleeding slightly from the scratch he had inflicted on her chest with his machete. Bee thought that surely Jim would not expect him to kill this innocent child, but not being completely sure of that he looked around the room to find a hiding place for the little girl. In the far corner of the room he saw a wooden wash tub and decided to place the child on the floor and then turn the tub bottom-up over her. Bee then placed a lot of bedding over the tub to stifle the sounds of the girl’s crying.
All this while, Bee could hear the screams of the people being killed in the other room and he could also hear the whacks of Jim’s machete even after the screams had stopped. Jim exited the room where he had killed everything that moved. Jim looked into the room where Bee had hidden the child and asked, “Anyone here?” to which Bee replied, “No, no one!” Jim retorted, “You sure took a long time to find that out.” Jim then grabbed the lantern from Bee and ran into the back room and snatched up a bag of coins from the small table next to the old man’s bed. Jim returned, held up the bag and said, “I’ve got it, let’s go!” They both ran down the stairs and were off into the darkness of the night.
The boys stopped at Lime Tree Gully so Jim could have himself a good wash, including his clothes, shoes, machete and all. They would sneak back into Mangrove Bight that night and tomorrow they would borrow a dory to cross over to Ramos Landing from where they could walk to Ranchy Point. All this was in case anyone asked them where they had spent the night. In this way they would try to prove that they had spent the night in the village because everybody had seen them come into town last evening and everybody would see them leaving the following morning.
This whole scheme might have worked for the boys. But when the mangled and dismembered bodies were discovered the next day, the only survivor of the massacre told them that Bee had placed her under the tub.
Both of the young men were found guilty and were sentenced to long jail terms. Jim would die in prison before serving his sentence. Bee received a lesser sentence because of his indirect participation and also because of the testimony of the little girl that Bee had hid her away from the bad man that had killed her mother and her brothers and also the old man. The motive for the murder was greed and the amount of the booty was a mere fifty three Lempiras. Apparently the old man had the habit of counting his coins over and over before going to bed. That habit cost him and five others their lives. [/private]