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They crouched together like endless rows of tilted tombstones, reposing somberly one behind the other, far into the horizon – ravaged hulks huddled under the desert twilight, clutched nose-to-tail, and wing-to-wing, clinging haplessly to their own rusty remains.  By nightfall, history had turned another silent page over these voiceless hundreds, and each night they waited in their suffering - waited for them – the dreaded birds.

In daytime, soft winds swept waves of hot sand carelessly over their rotting tires that stank like old shoes – footgear long past its usefulness.  A callous sun glared down upon blackened cockpit windows looking like oversized aviator’s goggles, but devoid of the pilots’ eyes and heads.  At one time gallant, sleek and shiny, now deposed and darkened by dust and neglect, the elderly squatted without noses or tails – dusty body parts, gaping cabins, stripped wheel gears, decapitated, and discarded.  The once powerful stood sulking – herds of infirmed elephants huddled in the Bone Yard, deprived of their supremacy and prestige.

By early evening the guards had driven off towards home, and to their families, leaving the Bone Yard gated and unattended.  As the fiery orb disappeared in a green flash over the horizon, an evening breeze sprang up carrying faint voices – restless moans and recurring sighs, a gathering of mourners at graveside.  Throughout the Bone Yard, loose flaps creaked and groaned metallically - a tire squealed and exhaled, an occasional cabin door fell open and banged itself closed again, repeatedly, witlessly.  A short silence – a battered propeller squeaked, groaned, and expired, dropping silently into the sand.

A new breeze sprang up, cooling the perfumed air that reeked of sweet cactus and desert rose and then, just before moonrise, the birds came . . . hundreds of them: Vultures, ravens, hawks, screeching and circling, roosting rudely on rusty wings, tails, and split-bellies, releasing their droppings as loathsome reminders that they, after all, were still flying.  Flocks of them descended, perched, and became still – anthracite statues staring mirthlessly into the desert dusk.
 
The Bone Yard became mute, there was no conversation; nobody was actually awake. Then, there were murmurs.

“I want to go now . . . it’s my turn,” said a timid voice.  It was Jonah, a silvery hulk, once the pride of TWA, a Constellation Starliner.  Jonah tried looking about, but could not move an inch.
 
“You wanted to go last month,” rumbled Buff, a decrepit   B-52 Stratofortress bomber, about to lose a wing.

“Why don’t you just go?”
 
“I’m afraid,” was the whispered reply.

“Of what, you knucklehead?” Buff was in a bad temper tonight, and everyone knew it.  Of course, B-52’s were often this way; they knew there was nothing for them beyond the Bone Yard.  Only last week, a group of bomber pilots had toured the Yard looking for their old planes and when they left, some were crying.

“My old captain found me last week,” replied Jonah eagerly.  “He said we’d fly again, I knew we would.”
The Bone Yard remained quiet, and then Buff spoke.  Buff was the most senior, and the group respected his understanding.  “No pilot will come, Jonah - you’ll have to do it alone, just like the rest of us and remember, you’ve got one shot at it.   So, just go and have a wonderful ride, for god’s sake. We’ll be waiting to hear all about it.”

“Like stories around a campfire,” crackled a dust-shrouded Boeing 377, listing on its flat left wheel.

Suddenly, an odd choir of hollow voices rose in harmony, some quivering and coughing, others strong and resolute, and a few so decrepit they could hardly speak, but each had their say.

“All we want is one more --”

“Why have they left us here?  We can still make it.”

“I am . . . I am strong enough.”

“Others went back, we want to go too.”

In fact, some did make it back up one more time – one final ride, just for the memories, and there were people on the ground that could hear them, but not everyone.  The rides happened only at night and although no one ever actually saw them, hearing the familiar overhead rumble of those old engines was enough – for pilots, their families and occasional friends who, if they didn’t actually believe, were kind enough to pretend.
Some air-traffic controllers also heard them – first, the radio identifiers, always beginning in sporadic gasps of ancient Morse code, fading in and out of the ether . . . a few dots and dashes crying out to ask if anyone was listening:

“Hello, hello, hello . . . do you copy?”

No images appeared on their glowing green and blue radar screens, no reports were filed, and although not everyone believed, the old-timers knew well enough, choosing to remain silent.  It was their time – private moments with tears and flecks of memories.

***

A few weeks later, on an uncommonly bright and star-filled night, when the guards left and the birds had gone to sleep, Jonah summoned his courage and declared he’d go next -- tomorrow night, for certain -- no more waiting, no more excuses. Buff and the others were elated, relieved that Jonah would finally have his moment and they’d all be there waiting -- waiting to hear the story, eager to share every detail of his journey, from take-off to landing.

Early the next morning, just at sunrise, as the guards returned and the gates opened up, a small green utility truck moving workers wearing sunglasses and hardhats, and carrying heavy tools, sputtered across the Yard and parked right beside Jonah.  In that anguished, unspoken moment, his comrades realized that old Jonah had waited one day too many. 



Nathaniel lives in Rockport, Massachusetts, and is active in local writers groups and online at Francis Coppola's
Zoetrope Virtual Studio. His most recent works have appeared in AlienSkin and Boston Literary Magazine,
Writer's Stories, SNM Horror Magazine, Every Day Fiction, and Absent Willow Review. 


 


Having written foolishness all my life, I decided to get throw my pen into the fray and go for the big brass ring. For years, I imagined myself as successful screenwriter; Orson Welles was my hero, and we spoke many times by phone about the folly of this pursuit.  Heeding Ray Bradbury’s sage advice, I am currently reading like a mad man, writing poetry, and volumes of short stories in the wholly misguided belief that one day, I might author The Great America Novel.

 





  


Copyright 2009