Mileage to Manuscript
GRAND CANYON - ARIZONA
March – 2009
My wife Elly and I are from South Wales, UK. In March 2009 we were on a touring holiday in the USA. With a lifelong love of movies I am in my element when we spend a day at Universal Studios and visit such things as the set for the movie, Backdraft, whose deafening noise and surges of flame are awesome. Even more captivating is the set for Waterworld where they re-enact the battle scene and for good measure, catapult a life-sized aircraft into a huge water-filled arena surrounded by hundreds of spectators.
Moving on to Arizona, when our fixed wing flight over the Grand Canyon is cancelled due to low cloud, our tour guide ‘Dennis’ offers an alternative—a helicopter trip into the canyon for a picnic. The next day we meet our incredibly young pilot who will fly six Brits of assorted ages into the canyon in what he assures us is a 2.5 million dollar helicopter.
When we lift off, tightly compacted and wearing headphones, the noise is deafening. After passing Lake Mead and the Hoover Dam, the pilot points out the vast plateau the US War Department leveled the top of to simulate the deck of an aircraft carrier for training pilots. Next, he draws our attention, and our digital camera’s, to the Skybridge, which stretches out over the canyon rim a mile above the ground. Entering the canyon to a spectacular visual experience which defies belief, as we hover near several wooden picnic tables not a stone’s throw from the mighty Colorado river, the earphones crackle into life with the daunting comment:
“Folks, when we land, stay on the aircraft until the rotors stop! You can wander
around and go down to the river if you like, but be sure to keep an eye open for
rattlesnakes and scorpions!”
As we clamber down into the blistering heat, pygmies among the towering canyon walls, the pilot places wicker basket food hampers onto the tables and grins, knowing, as I do, the phenomenal downdraft will surely clear the area of any creepy crawlies. It’s an unforgettable bit of mileage but I have to say, it wasn’t the most relaxing picnic I ever had.
On the flight back, as we have a final panoramic view of the vast barren interior, I look down to see an RV leaving a cloud of dust in its wake as it moves toward some distant mountains.
Combining it to the heat, the arid landscape and rattlesnakes, I know I have elements I can write into a spellbinding, good old-fashioned adventure yarn. Two thirds of the story will explore the relationship between the two central characters, a father and son. The remaining third will plunge them into a terrifying, seemingly impossible dilemma where survival appears remote. When all seems lost, the son will conceive a daring but ingeniously simple escape plan. I will create him as a movie addict, a budding writer looking for a good story to write into a screenplay.
For that reason, I’ll call it… ‘Movie Idea’ …
It will of course have a sting in the tale. Perhaps… even two…?
Folks who leave the Arizona interstate highway and venture into the barren mountainous interior do so for many reasons. The isolation, to capture on film the awesome scenery, or perhaps to imagine they are walking in the footsteps of such famed Apache warriors as Cochise or Geronimo.
In his unrelenting pursuit of wealth, multi - millionaire Jeffrey Tenision loses all rapport with his fifteen year old son Paul, a highly sensitive movie fanatic and budding writer. To salvage their relationship Jeffrey takes Paul on a 'man to man' vacation in a robust, go anywhere Recreational Vehicle.
Eventually resolving their differences and picking up a passenger, a stray dog Paul names Beric, father and son head into a bleak mountain range where they spend two idyllic weeks at a little known lake called 'Prairie Basin'. All goes well until Beric warns of a distant rattlesnake, which Jeffrey shoots and kills.
Unnerved by this close call they hastily pack up and leave, but when a dense mist shrouds the mountains and they become lost, they settle down for the night unaware that at daybreak, events will plunge them into an ordeal of terror beyond imagination...
CHAPTER TITLES AND CHARACTER ONE LINERS
(Central character Jeffrey Tenison- reflecting on his tenuous relationship with his son Paul)
"I've been a damned fool! I've accumulated more money than I will ever spend, and it won't buy a friendly grin from my own son!"
(Jeffrey, to wife Elena) (Lenny)
"There's no way I can force him to go, but if anyone can persuade him, you can!"
THE SCREAMING EAGLE
(Lenny to Jeffrey - two days later)
"Paul came out of his sanctuary this morning! He's agreed to make the trip!"
WHITE KNUCKLE RIDE
(Fifteen year old Paul, (furiously angry), to Jeffrey as the trip begins)
"I don't want to be here! If I could get out of this rusted heap right now and head back home, I wouldn't hesitate!"
(Paul to Jeffrey - just prior to picking up stray dog Beric)
"History is filled with the same mistakes we make over and over, yet rarely, if ever, do we learn from it!"
(Jeffrey to Paul - after Beric saves them from a distant rattlesnake)
"That's a hell of a dog! If he hadn't warned us, we might have walked straight into this thing!"
(Jeffrey to Paul as their ordeal begins)
"PAUL! Listen to me and listen good! If you don't get a handle on this here and now, you're going to carry it around forever!"
(Jeffrey to Paul - realising they are trapped in hell itself)
"There's only one way out of here! That's to get to the cab and drive out!"
(Paul to Jeffrey - (very adamantly) - after defining his ingeniously simple plan for survival)
"You said yourself, we're in this together! We'll damn well get out of it together!"
(A tranquil moment before the final sting in the tale...?)
Except for the inevitable slight creak as the engine cooled, the RV stood silent and forlorn.
The sun began a new day with a dull orange glow hesitantly illuminating the horizon.
Intensifying and remorselessly devouring the fleeting supremacy of darkness, it painted the singularity of the sky with transient streaks of glorious bronze and gold that gently dissipated into daylight. Sending warm fingers to caress the land and explore the dark recesses of canyon and gully, daybreak was complete with the arrival of searing, unrelenting heat.
* * *
Inside the RV the bedroom was gloomy and totally silent. Like dust filled beacons of light, shafts of bright sunlight came from the tiny gaps in the closed curtains and sliced through the semi-darkness. Beric was sound asleep but stirred, glancing up at his sleeping master. Seeing no sign of movement, he plodded over to his stainless steel dish in the far corner and lapped up the remaining water. Returning to his place between the lower bunks, he flopped down contentedly. Yawning, in seconds, he was sound asleep...
* * *
Five miles away, floating effortlessly on the rising currents of warm air, an eagle alighted on the summit of a craggy butte and surveyed the rugged, endless panorama of its domain. Suddenly its gaze was drawn to a light emanating from a distant mountain range. Watching curiously as the light intermittently appeared and disappeared, the eagle flew toward it. Minutes later it soared high above a Recreational Vehicle standing motionless on a wide section of track that wound precariously down the mountains. The source of the light was the sun's reflection from the side mirror. As if to boast its mileage, the vehicle was layered with dust. With its side door open a few inches it appeared uninhabited and abandoned. Losing interest and about to fly off, a tiny movement in front of the huge boulders beside the vehicle compelled the eagle to immediately tilt one wing and lose altitude for a closer look.
Gliding in vigilant silence directly above the RV, it saw dozens of western diamondback rattlesnakes basking in the sun's early warmth. Rapidly gaining height as it changed from passerby to predator, the eagle turned in a wide circle. Then, like a fighter plane lining up for a strafing run, it came in low over the area and plummeted down with its razor sharp talons extended and fully open. Just when it seemed it would overshoot the ample waiting targets, with astonishing precision it scooped up one of the snakes. With its random meal dangling helplessly beneath it, predator and squirming prey became little more than a dot in the sky. The remaining rattlesnakes, unsettled and reminded of their vulnerability to this deadly airborne hunter, instinctively slithered toward the protection of the dark shadowy recesses between the boulders. As this fleeting moment of everyday death and survival passed, the area lapsed in to silence. Much later, from the warren of tunnels among boulders that had sat undisturbed for centuries, the snakes once again ventured into the increasing heat of the bright sunlight.
* * *
For no apparent reason, Beric awoke and raised his head.
Fully alert and listening intently, he sprang to his feet and walked briskly to the bedroom door where he passed back and forth along its base, urgently sniffing the slight gap beneath it. breaking the absolute silence, he began to whimper and scratch at the door. Jeffrey lay undisturbed and continued to sleep. Not so Paul who immediately awoke and sat up on his bunk. Blinking, rubbing his eyes and grinning with adoring satisfaction that Beric would plead to go outside rather than relieve himself indoors, he hastily pushed back his blankets. Naked except for boxer shorts, he swung his legs over the side of the bunk and dropped neatly to the floor. Beric instantly ran to him, but when Paul attempted to tousle his ears affectionately, he pulled away and hurriedly returned to the door. Glancing at his clothes casually discarded on the lower bunk, Paul considered getting dressed, but decided the impatient Beric must come first. When he pulled the bedroom door open and Beric surged through into the lounge, Paul followed and raised his hand the shield his eyes against the glaring sunlight cascading through the lounge windows. Suddenly stumbling into Beric who had halted and was growling ferociously, he looked down. He gave a shriek of terrified revulsion and instantly leapt backward from the half circle of rattlesnakes that layered the floor just inside the open side door. After a delay lasting a fraction of a millisecond, absolute mayhem erupted. Before Paul could grip his collar and restrain him, Beric, now barking incessantly and with his hackles rigid as he sensed his masters fear, ran into the mass of deadly snakes that reacted with instantaneous aggression and collective, hideous rattling. The snakes, collectively and continuously lunging at Beric, his desperate plight became terrifyingly audible as his defiant barking dwindled to submissive panic stricken yelping. Paul, utterly petrified but having the sense not to attempt to retrieve his beloved Beric, fled for his life into the bedroom. Yelling hysterically and violently slamming the bedroom door, he scrambled in frenzied haste up to his bunk where he crouched, trembling uncontrollably. He noticed then, that because of the force with which he had pushed the door shut, its catch had failed to engage, causing it to rebound open. A mere seven seconds had passed since he and Beric had left the room.
Sitting up on his bunk, half asleep, half naked and totally bewildered, Jeffrey had no idea which of the horrifying noises had awoken him, the sudden crescendo of rattling, the pitiful, terrified wailing of Beric, Paul's high pitched screaming or the thunderous slamming of the bedroom door. As his gaze settled on Paul, cringing with abject terror on his bunk, Jeffrey murmured incredulously...
"What the hell is...?"
His words stopped abruptly when Paul, incapable of speech, his eyes broadened to their limit, stared down and pointed. Looking at the floor just four feet below his bunk, Jeffrey stiffened in disbelief when an eighteen inch long rattlesnake, retreating for the vicious carnage in the lounge, cautiously slithered across the threshold and entered the bedroom. Halting between the lower bunks, it maneuvered itself into a coil inside which it writhed continuously as it pensively sniffed the air. With it tail fully erect and quivering furiously, it was highly alert and defensively poised to attack anything that came near it.
Jeffrey, shrinking back on his bunk but continuing to stare down at the snake, was mesmerized as nullifying fear froze him into horrified immobility. Paul, equally entranced, but looking into the lounge, saw the valiant Beric kneel and then roll onto his side. Panting heavily as he briefly glanced at his master, his head slowly sank to the floor. Seconds later his breathing dwindled and ceased...
Choking back overwhelming grief, putting both hands over his eyes as though they could somehow stem his flooding tears, Paul emitted a mournful cry of despair, barely audible but which compelled Jeffrey to tear his gaze from the reptile on the floor and gaze across the chasm between the upper bunks to his son's terrified vulnerability. Instantly overtaken by the instinct to protect that comes to any parent, man or beast, that sees its young threatened, the hypnotic spell of the snake vanished. Glancing into the lounge and realizing even more reptiles might well move toward the bedroom, Jeffrey, with astounding control, snatched up his pillow. Leaning slightly out from his bunk he swung it in a wide arc that contacted with the top of the door and gently buffered it closed. A distinct, reassuring click confirmed the catch had engaged, but the brisk sudden movement elicited a fearsome reaction from the snake on the floor, causing it to rattle more belligerently than ever.
Jeffrey's eyes began to trawl every inch of the tiny bedroom for a weapon. Any weapon. Envisaging the Winchesters hidden in the sofa base and therefore useless, his gaze dropped down to their clothing, randomly discarded on the lower bunks. Noting their cut down jeans, each with a sheathed Bowie knife dangling from its leather belt, his thoughts raced. To reach down and attempt to retrieve them would undoubtedly put him within range of the snake, which can strike with breathtaking accuracy faster than a man can blink. Reasoning it would be suicidal, and that a knife would be of little use, his gaze settled on the floor to ceiling cupboard that dominated the entire rear end of the bedroom. Immediately clambering to the end of his bunk, oblivious that he was shouting with massive relief - "THAT'S IT!" - Jeffrey was forced to pause when rivulets of perspiration freely trickled into his eyes stinging them into temporary blindness. Snatching up a handful of cotton bed sheeting and wiping his saturated face, he vigorously shook his head, sending large globules of sweat in all directions....