Lost in Another World
March 10th 2791
When Alan next woke, it was daylight again. The Aurora had disappeared and the morning sun shone brightly overhead. He no longer felt dizzy or nauseas, but his head now ached painfully; feeling his skull just above his hairline, he traced a little lump growing from where he had struck the pilot’s console. Probably just a minor concussion, nothing serious. He turned and shook his companions awake.
Derek sat up groggily in their bed of leaves and brambles, followed by Robbins. The engineer’s busted nose had stopped bleeding but still looked badly bruised, having turned the purple shade of a plum; Robbins's eye had also turned a dark shade of blue, but didn't look serious. Now that it was daylight again, the three survivors were able to get a better look around at their mysterious, but stunningly beautiful, surroundings.
The entire countryside, aside from having been inexplicably swiped clean of snow last night, had changed completely. It was as if they were in another hemisphere altogether; the environment, although mostly temperate like England's, felt warm and humid, like in mid-spring, with all vegetation in full bloom. They were on the edge of a marshland in the middle of a vast meadow, surrounded by thick woodland, but otherwise they had no idea where this was. Their crashed plane lay out in the marsh, only a few yards away, all smudged and splattered with mud, but seemingly in one piece.
"Well, it appears last night's events were no dream after all. In fact, the mystery couldn't get any crazier. Not only have the time zones shifted but now it seems the seasons have also been reversed," said Alan, staring open-mouthed at their unfamiliar surroundings, "Where are we?"
"If your brilliant mind can figure this craziness out, do me a favour and share it with me first, and I’ll give you a bloody Nobel Prize,” said Robbins sarcastically, staring up at the sun, “What time is it, anyway?"
Alan consulted his watch, "Well, according to this, it's around nine-thirty in the evening - in other words, rubbish." He looked up at the sun again, measuring its approximate height in the sky, "With the sun in that position, I figure it's probably around ten in the morning."
"How far off-course do you reckon we are?” asked Derek, staring at the unfamiliar countryside, “We were definitely retracing our original course backwards, towards the flight club. Even if we were slightly off-target, shouldn't we have at least still have made it back to the Newbury area?"
"Then where the hell is the town? The roads? The flight club?” said Alan, rubbing his temple in frustration, “This can't be the same place we started from! If I didn't know better, I'd say we might be somewhere on the uninhabited edge of the dead zone - only that place is supposed to be a radioactive, desolate wasteland. And that doesn't explain this impossible shift in the time zones and seasons... It's just crazy…"
"Then what has happened to us, Al?” Derek pushed it, almost desperate for some sort of explanation, “How could the entire world just…cease to exist as a result of a storm hitting us in flight? Whatever kind of freak storm that was…"
"Sorry to interrupt your debate, gentlemen,” said Robbins, “But maybe we should focus on a few priorities first, like treating our injuries and maybe look for some food?" Alan rolled his eyes; he hated complainers but didn't want to offend the man who was paying them for their time and services. Besides, Robbins had a point; whatever had happened to them, it seemed they might be stuck here for a while and, thus, should determine where they stood with regards to survival - something he would have to supervise all the way.
"All right, first and foremost, let's go back to the plane and salvage what we can; we need to take inventory of our supplies. Then we can look for some food." They turned and headed back to the crash site. They found the plane exactly as they had left it last night, the undercarriage partially submerged in the mud of the marsh, looking slightly buckled from the rough landing, but otherwise undamaged. Julio's rigid body was visible through the side window, still strapped firmly into his seat.
Using some rocks and branches, they made stepping stones so they could walk out to the plane without getting wet again; they moved Julio's body out first and laid it under a tree on the edge of the woods, and out of sight. Reaching into the back, Alan found the plane's small emergency kit and passed it out to his companions.
Opening up the yellow box, Alan realised they didn’t have much to work with: a couple of flashlights, a red marker, a small hatchet, and a medical kit. There were no emergency rations, no signal flares, and no wilderness equipment of any kind. Even the medical kit consisted of only a few old band-aids and sterile pads, a single icepack, and a box of aspirins. Although meagre, to say the least, they would just have to make do with what they had.
Soon, the ice pack was being passed around between the three men. Alan took his turn, swallowing a couple of aspirins to relieve the pain, feeling the bump on his head slowly start to go down. Derek had found his thermos where he had left it on the seat, miraculously intact, and each man had a cupful of cold coffee for breakfast.
"Before we do anything else, let’s give the boy a decent burial,” Alan said, gesturing at Julio's lifeless body lying in the grass a short distance away, “His body will soon start to rot in this warm weather and I don't know how long we will be stranded here…"
"Bury him?" asked Robbins incredulously, "What for? A rescue should be here soon. Let's just take the body out of camp and leave it somewhere for retrieval." Alan and Derek looked appalled at their employer’s cold nature.
"Just because he's dead, doesn't mean he's garbage!" replied Alan sternly, "We might be stranded here for a while, and an unburied corpse can quickly present a health hazard. Besides, if we lose touch with what we believe in, could affect our morale..."
"What we believe in?" sneered Robbins, "What, you got some religious qualms about the deceased, professor? A man of science prone to superstitious rubbish? Charming… We’ve got enough problems as it is, than to waste precious time digging a useless grave, which is in no way going to help us out of this fix!" Although obviously disgusted by the man’s appalling attitude, Alan was not in the mood for a row and cut the argument short. Poor fellow is probably just scared by suddenly finding himself in such an uncertain situation, which he has never experienced before…
"Okay, nobody asked for your help, Mr Robbins. So why don't you start salvaging anything useful you can find from the plane, while Derek and I bury the pilot?" He turned to his friend, "Come on, Deke, let's get started."
Using the hatchet from the plane and a couple of jabbed stones as makeshift shovels, they dug a shallow grave at the foot of a nearby tree. After emptying the pilot’s pockets, so the man’s personal effects could be returned to his family when they were rescued, they lowered the body into the ground and covered him up. Using his knife, Alan cut away a patch of the rough bark and, with the emergency marker, made an inscription onto the smooth wood beneath:
REST IN PEACE
"Eternal rest grant unto him and may he rest in peace! In the name of The Father, The Son and of The Holy Ghost. Amen." After a moment of silence, with Julio Andre having been laid to rest with all the decency in their power, they returned to the plane, to take full inventory of what they had to aid them in their plight.
Robbins had finished unloading their baggage and anything else he could find onboard and they set to work. Going carefully through their bags, they discovered, to their utmost dismay, much of their fragile camera equipment had been ruined in the crash landing.
"Wish me luck getting back the guarantee," Derek said grimly, emptying some loose glass shards from his bag that had once been the screen of his shattered laptop. Robbins’ camera was also trashed (While they had been busy burying Julio, he had removed his revolver and stun gun from their decoy housing and hid them in his pockets). Only their cell phones, which were getting no reception, Alan’s binoculars and camera, which had been safely tucked in the shockproof pockets of his traveller's waistcoat, were undamaged.
Going through their pockets, they also included their watches, handkerchiefs, notebooks, pens, a couple of cigarette packs, Alan’s knife, his anti-depression medication, his matches, and hipflask, to the inventory. A small brass compass on a chain, taken off Julio’s body, and the flight charts from the pilot's seat pocket completed their take. Then came the question whether they should try hiking to the nearest town or sit tight and wait for rescue.
"I think it's best if we sit tight and wait," said Alan, "Someone is bound to pick up the ELT's distress signal soon; help can't be long coming. However, just to be on the safe side, we should make preparations for a lengthy wait right away. First, we need to find nourishment. Let's split up; gather any fruit, berries, nuts and mushrooms you can find. But don't eat anything before I've had a look at them first, in case something’s poisonous. One of us should also stay with the plane, just in case."
"I'll stay, to set up a sundial, for a navigational reading," Derek said, pocketing the chart and compass, his notebook and Alan’s binoculars, "Since we have no working GPS, maybe we can figure out where we’ve been blown to by tracking the sun’s motion." He glanced at his watch, “My watch is still set on Greenwich time; you’ve changed yours to the approximate local time, right?” Alan nodded, “Good, I’ll need it for my calculations.” Alan handed it to him, smiling at his friend’s plan: Derek could determine their longitude by measuring the angle of the sun against the sky and, likewise, determine their latitude by measuring the time difference on the two watches. Although a lengthy process, not to mention crude without proper instruments, it was nonetheless important that they got a general idea of where they were.
"All right Deke, Robbins and I are off to find some food. We’ll rendezvous back here in an hour. But, remember, don't stray too far; we don't need anyone getting lost out here." Leaving Derek to his task, the two men split up in different directions.
Alan soon found himself walking alone through the woods, keeping track of his heading by the sun. Αs he walked along, he studied the changed environment, admiring the stunning, almost paradise-like, beauty of this place: a rich variety of plants, at the peak of physical perfection, even of Kew Gardens, could be seen everywhere. The flora, although apparently wild in origin, bore no signs of parasites or contaminates, aside from a few fungi and club-mosses growing on trees, and absolutely no signs of pollution. The environment had somehow been cleansed of all effects of human impact, left pure and untouched. Although feeling at a total loss to explain this impossible transformation, the natural splendour of this place still amazed him. And it wasn’t the only surprise he was to encounter on that day.
Staring at a bed of mushrooms at the foot of a birch tree, he realised the flora hadn’t only turned pristine, but it also somehow become enlarged! The mushrooms before him were almost the size of one of his favourite tweed caps; all the surrounding trees towered above him, fifty feet high! What was this place?
Drawing his knife, he cut the stem of one and picked it up for a closer look; it looked like an ordinary field mushroom with all the usual characteristics, except its inexplicably enlarged size. Identifying it as edible, he placed it in a paper bag he had taken from the plane, along with several golf-ball sized blackberries. Food would definitely not be a problem here!
As he paused to take a sip of grog from his hip-flask, he was suddenly startled by distant voices coming from close by. It’s the rescue party…! He was about to call out to attract attention, but then realised something was wrong. Why aren't they using vehicles, choppers?
Suspicious, he ducked under the thick foliage and held his breath, trying to listen, but couldn't make out any recognisable words. Whatever language it was, it definitely wasn’t English. Slowly and cautiously, he crawled in the direction of the voices and soon found himself on the edge of a clearing. Positioning himself behind some bushes, he chanced a peak at the ‘people’ out on the meadow. He had to restrain himself from yelling out loud in surprise, as the most incredible sight he had ever seen before, met his eyes.
What the bloody hell…?
Out in the clearing were not people, but rabbits, grazing; only these rabbits were unlike anything he had ever seen before. Amazingly large, some almost three-quarters the size of a full-grown man, Alan realised these rabbits were actually talking in some mysterious, yet vaguely familiar, language. Although they wore no clothing and didn't seem to have any tools or weapons of any kind, they seemed to have their own intelligent society, almost like a native tribe. Alan felt like he had just tipped over the rim of reality and into madness! Petrified in amazement, he glanced at a comical-looking buck with dark brown fur and a good built, chatting with a greyish doe with stunning blue eyes.
"…A laynt meth il Toadflax a veth hay nildel hrow me a e hray varu El-ahrairah!" The buck rolled over laughing at his own joke. The doe, apparently his mate, shook rolled her eyes at him, "Pathun, a bral thum neylfa-rah Hleengar tringil vao ven u Owsla," she muttered in faint amusement, lovingly nuzzling him.
"Thaf u thrang blel, ma varu nyt Violet, neylfa-rah Hleengar laynt tring ma ven u Owsla. E methil thum a lay u atha ol u Owsla. Asith u naylfa varu Thlayli, thli lay thaf fran. Hrairoo bralil…"
"Meth ol ma rusati roo?"
Another rabbit had walked up to the couple. This one was slender with creamy-brown fur, the colour of coffee, his warm, reddish brown eyes giving him an air of a fellow very caring and loving. Although he didn't share the first rabbit's large built, he obviously knew how to take care of himself, judging by his well-groomed fur and slender physique.
"Oh, vao ni-Frith, Kothen. Tring seth flayrah?"
"Nahl il ma, Pathun; A laynt dayn hli yayn seth flayrah il Hrairoo." The bushy-furred buck, apparently a rabbit of some authority, nodded his permission and passed a patch of clover - a rabbit's favourite delicacy - to the brown-furred rabbit. His friend nodded in gratitude and turned to leave, carrying the clover in his mouth.
Alan, still hiding in the bushes, was completely dumbstruck. All these strange names he had just heard; Kothen, Hrairoo, Pathon, Thlayli… Where had he heard them before…? Why, of course! He had read them in his favourite novel, Watership Down! Translated into English, they were Hazel, Fiver, Bluebell and Bigwig, the key characters of a supposedly fictional story, come alive!
Is this a dream? Or is my concussion worse than I thought? Alan thought, rubbing his eyes, not trusting his own senses anymore, thinking he was hallucinating. But the rabbits out on the meadow didn’t disappear.
What had happened to the world? Apparently, he and his companions had somehow been thrown into the world of a storybook, or something. But how was that even possible? Was this even real? Or was it just a wild hallucination brought upon by his drinking? However, real or not, he wasn't going to wait there to be spotted by those creatures, not while he was unarmed. Quiet as a mouse, he crawled away. After he had put a safe distance between himself and these creatures, certain he was out of earshot, he turned and ran back towards the plane, as fast as his legs would carry him.
When he got back, he saw Robbins had returned and was busy painting large red SOSs on the plane’s wings using the marker, for any passing rescue plane to see. Deciding to keep the details of what he had seen to himself for the moment, Alan showed them the giant mushrooms he had gathered. As it turned out, Robbins too had found similar souvenirs while out looking for food. Derek also had news.
"I’ve determined our longitude; although I can't be 100% accurate, my calculations put us somewhere just off the western side of the Greenwich line. I’ve also tried measuring our latitude by comparing the time difference on our watches; according to the math, we should be somewhere out in the North Atlantic! It doesn’t figure…"
“Are you saying we’re still in England? Then how do you explain this place?” asked Robbins, looking just as puzzled and just as unable to explain all this as his companions. But they were too hungry to bother with that right now.
"I swear this place is looking more and more mysterious by the minute. Just look at the size of those berries! It really is supernatural, isn't?" Derek asked, staring at the mushrooms and fruit they had piled onto a rock, "What do you think, Al? Could it be some sort of freak mutation caused by radiation from the dead zone?"
"I’m not sure, but I do know something else: at least, we won’t starve out here. There's plenty more where this came from and we can pick it up with our bare hands. Now, as soon as I’ve sorted out the good stuff from the bad, lunch is in order!" Despite their enlarged size, everything was easily recognisable to Alan’s botanical mind, and had soon sorted out the good stuff, discarding the rest.
"Why are you keeping the stuff that’s been nibbled at by insects?" asked Robbins, with a hint of irritation in his voice, seeing all those beautiful mushrooms he had carried back here being discarded, “You sure have a weird taste for food…!”
"This is a survival situation, Mr Robbins, not a picnic,” said Alan calmly, fighting the urge not to laugh at all that load of inedible waste he had broken his back carting back here. Apparently, the snobbish journalist didn’t know a weed from a flower, picking up anything in sight, “If insects can eat them, then it means they’re not poisonous. Besides, that pale yellow one you got there is a Death Cap; it may be enlarged but I can recognise those gills anywhere. Also, we’ll need to roast them first, to kill any parasites they may be carrying." Although, in the back of his mind, Alan didn’t feel the least keen at building a fire, which, he now knew, could attract unwanted attention, the absurdity of risking food poisoning over, what had probably been, just his imagination, won out.
They build a small campfire and started cooking. Since they had no dishes, cutlery, or cooking utensils of any kind, they had no choice but to improvise, using Alan's knife as their only tool. First, they cut several straight sticks into spits, to grill the mushrooms on. Using a stone and a flattened piece of bark, Alan mashed the berries into jam, with some crushed nut seasoning. Using a bunch of leaves as a food brush, he applied the 'sauce' over the roasted mushrooms. Soon, a hot lunch of mushroom and blackberry jam was served on makeshift dishes made of willow bark. Chopsticks, made from twigs, served as cutlery. Alan took the first bite out of his portion. Although not exactly gourmet cuisine, it certainly surpassed any cheap, fast-food takeaway.
“My compliments to the chef!” said Derek enthusiastically, raising Alan’s hipflask and proposing a toast, as he passed it round. Alan, however, seemed uninterested in joining in the festivities as he absent-mindedly took a sip of grog before turning back to his food without a word, lost in his own thoughts…
Later that afternoon, the trio sat, waiting for the rescue to arrive. Alan, who had been rather quiet all afternoon, was pacing around restlessly, thinking over and over about what he had seen that morning. Half of him was urging him to go back to get a closer look, while the other half kept telling him it wasn’t a good idea. Meanwhile, another, bigger problem was beginning to worry him.
So far, there had been no sign of any rescue. What was taking them so long? What if there wasn’t anyone out looking for them at all? And with those humanoid rabbits out there – if they had been real -, it was only a matter of time before they were discovered. Then what? But how exactly could he explain what he had seen to his companions? They'd never believe him, not in a million years! However, they too, were slowly beginning to catch on to the hard truth.
"You know, I don't think anyone is coming for us,” Robbins said, “It's been nearly a day and no one has shown up. How about if we rig some wire to the radio and make an extension antenna? Increase our frequency strength and transmition range?" Little did they realise that Robbins was indeed impatient for someone to arrive - but not for a search and rescue, like his companions were.
“I’ve been thinking about it, too,” said Derek, who had been busy examining the plane for hours, although he wouldn't tell them why. Like Alan, he preferred to keep his thoughts to himself until the right moment, “Unfortunately, it won’t work; we simply haven’t got a power source strong enough for a relay tower. However, there might be another way.” He turned towards the stranded aircraft out on the marsh.
"I’ve been inspecting the plane; aside from the ruined paintwork and a mild buckling of the undercarriage, there's no serious structural damage. If we can taxi it out of there on a ramp, which we can make from timber, and clear a runway, we could take off again. We’d definitely stand a better chance of finding our way back from above…"
Robbins, although intrigued by the idea, had doubts, "Interesting plan, Dr Shaw, but I am afraid there is a little flaw," he said, "I don't think we can get the plane out of that muck, at least not without a tow truck or several mules…" Alan however, was more optimistic.
"It is worth a try. Derek is right; the plane is our best bet of reaching safety - assuming we can find it of course, if and when we're airborne again. Unless you'd rather we flip a coin and begin a long trek on foot, hoping to stumble across safety?"
“All right, let’s do it.”
Under Derek's direction, the men placed some flat bits of timber under the wheels to improvise a ramp for the plane to slide on; Alan climbed onboard and seated himself in Julio's seat; with the pilot dead, he was the pilot now, inexperienced or not, and this was his plane. Fastening his seatbelt, he set the master controls, preparing for ignition.
"Ready to start. Everybody clear!"
He hit the ignition switch; the prop began to spin wildly, the pistons racing. Pushing the throttle to full power, he tried to manoeuvre. He could feel the undercarriage straining beneath him, struggling to loosen from its muddy entrapment, but it wouldn't slide up onto the ramp. Then he heard Derek's voice shouting to him over the roaring noise of the engine, "Alan, stop it! It's no good. You will tear the plane apart. Stop it!"
Seeing the engine was indeed quickly overheating and close to seizing, Alan gave it up and powered down. Although the plane had managed to budge forward a few inches, it remained firmly stuck in the mud. What they needed was a winch to get it out, which they didn’t have.
"Well, it was worth a try. It looks like we won’t be getting out of here by plane."
“Yes, we’re stuck here and we’re stuck good…” Derek muttered, kicking the ground in frustration, seeing his plan to get them out of here gone to the dogs. Alan, however, knew he had no choice left but to try and make contact with those giant rabbits. They seemed to be the intelligent inhabitants of this strange land and they were stranded in their world now, with little or no chances of being rescued anymore. An encounter was simply inevitable.