In front of Bree and Pattie, the distant hills looked a dark blue above the grey slip face. A line of dark green undergrowth showed to the right. This was where she decided to go. If she got to the corner it could be in line of site of Wharite Peak, the highest hill in the district. On Wharite was a television transmission tower that also held the mobile phone relay stations. Anyway, that’s what Ray had told her earlier.
She moved on, her gaze darting between the distant trees and the dog. Not once did she glance down into the valley nor did she turn back to view Ray and Jenny. The soil was so loose she sank in up to her ankles and left grotesque footprints behind. She swallowed any remaining pride and sank to her knees. Now half crawling and half ‘spider walking’ with hands and feet working in unison, she moved diagonally across the slope.
After twenty minutes, the edge seemed just as far away as when she had left. It was only when she finally stopped and glanced back that she realized that the waving Jenny was way below her.
“Well, Pattie,” she said. “We’ve come a long way after all.”
Pattie placed her nose on Bree’s knees and gazed up with large brown eyes.
“You’ve done so much, girl,” Bree said and patted Pattie. “You came back to us, led us here, helped us dig Ray out and now you’re looking after me.” She cuddled the Labrador in her arms and blinked back tears. “I love you, Pattie. Come on!” she said.
The next section was steep but the ground became solid with stunted shrubs growing on it. It appeared she was now on an older slip. The thick undergrowth and trees were also close but the shadows became longer as twilight arrived. She’d been climbing for close to an hour. If nothing happened within the next hour she’d be stuck on the slip face until morning. It would be too dangerous to return to the others in the dark.
“Goddamn hills,” she cursed and yanked the mobile phone out for the umpteenth time. She pressed the on switch and a green light shone. She stared at it, exhaustion momentarily numbing understanding. “Oh shit!’ she gasped.
Reception. She was in range! She sat down and, with trembling fingers, punched in one, one, one.
She watched the animated picture show that it was ringing. She placed it back over her ear. Ringing. Ringing. Why didn’t they answer! Where were the bastards?
“Good evening,” a precise female voice vibrated in her right ear. “Please state which emergency service you require.”
Bree froze, then mumbled something incoherent.
The person on the other end must have thought she couldn’t speak for some reason. “Don’t hang up,” the voice continued.
“Help us, please!” Bree finally blurted.
“I can help but you’ll need to tell me who and where you are.”
“Bree. Bree Ashworth. We’re from the aeroplane that crashed on the way to Palmerston North. I’m calling on a mobile phone.”
“Bree, this is Gwen. I can hear you clearly so just relax. Where are you calling from?”
Bree could hear a keyboard being tapped. “The mountains,” she sobbed. “No, I’ve got it wrong. Ranges! We’re on a cliff face under thick forest. Ray’s caught in a slip. He needs emergency help.”
“You’re doing well, Bree,” Gwen said. “Just explain everything. We’ll get a trace on you and send out an emergency helicopter. Palmerston North Emergency Services have just indicated they are patched in and, as soon as we get a grid reference, we’ll be on our way. First of all …”
Gwen’s soft voice continued and Bree stopped trembling. Tears rolled down her cheeks but she regained some composure. She told what had happened, what the terrain looked like and spoke to two other people before Gwen came back on the air with more encouraging words.
“We have a trace, Bree. The rescue helicopter has just left Palmerston North. You should hear it in about twenty minutes. If you have some clothing to wave…”
“Go to Ray first. I’m okay.”
“We’ll get you all, Bree. It’s quite a large helicopter.”
“Oh, thank God.” Bree couldn’t stop her chin trembling as her voice turned to sobs. She glanced up and saw the distant hilltops bathed in sunshine. Somehow, they seemed so friendly. She reached out, found Pattie beside her and just held the dog in her arms. My God, she’d done it. Ray and Jenny would be safe!
Bree wiped her eyes, hugged the dog and gazed around. She was in the middle of a pile of loose debris but a little above her there was a grass knob where a couple of trees grew. One was the bushy type they’d walked through all day and the other was a tall multi-branched palm tree that Ray had talked about when they were back at the hut. It had the unique name of cabbage tree.
Her thoughts went from the cabbage tree back to her friends. She stared down but could not see them in the deepening shadows. “Come on, Pattie, we’ll go up to that knob and you can relax. A big machine is flying in to rescue us all.” She laughed at her effort to explain things to a dog.
The outcrop provided a little shelter but a breeze had risen. Bree shivered. Her thin clothes offered no warmth and now that she’d stopped moving, a chill crept through her body. Her ribs began to throb. Bree grimaced. Other parts of her body hurt, too. Her face, arms and leg tops burned and there was a distinct line between the white skin beneath her blouse and the bright red skin over the rest of her body. Her legs and arms were scratched and she knew the blisters on her feet had enlarged. But that didn’t matter. Help was on its way and that more than compensated for a few physical ailments.
As the blue sky turned to purple, Pattie cocked her ears up and whined. Suddenly, Bree saw flashing navigation lights and heard a thump of beating rotors. A black dot materialized between the lights, the noise became louder…and there it was. A helicopter was heading up the valley!
“Oh my God!” Bree screamed. She climbed to the outer edge of the knob and waved frantically.
The craft slowed, hovered and turned towards her. “Get Ray first!” she screamed, then realized her words were useless. She clung to a branch and just stared.
A chirping ring made her jump in fright until she realized it was the mobile phone. “Hello,” she gasped.
“My name’s Grant. I’m the pilot of the rescue chopper. We can see you and your friends. Are you okay?”
“Yes, fine.” Bee shouted above the engine noise coming through the speaker and from above her. “I’ve got Ray’s dog with me.”
“No problem. Just stay where you are while we manoeuvre in beside you. A crewman will drop in and help. Just wait for him. Okay!”
The purple, green and white helicopter with Square Edge Rescue painted along the fuselage hovered in. Dust blew everywhere. Bree grabbed Pattie and watched as a man in an orange life jacket descended from the craft.
“Hi,” he shouted. “I’m Tom. I believe you’d like a lift?”
Bree didn’t know whether to laugh or cry so merely nodded.
Tom was beside her. “We’ve got a stretcher coming down,” he said. “It won’t take long.”
Minutes later, Bree found herself swinging upwards with Pattie strapped in beside her. Wind tore the dog’s hair, as the tree-tops disappeared. Arms reached out, a man grinned at her, shouted something she couldn’t comprehend above the engine roar and guided them in. Tom was brought up, the door shut and the helicopter moved forward.
Tom wouldn’t let her climb out of the stretcher. “Just relax, Bree,” he said and guided an amazingly placid Pattie to a lead attached to the wall. “There you are, doggy,” he said. “I’m in no doubt you’ve been a great help.”
“Thank you,” Bree sobbed.
“Part of the service.” The pilot’s voice came back. “I’m Grant. We spoke on the phone a few moments ago. You’ve met Tom and the doc, James Langton?”
Bree turned to the third man. “I’m sorry, Doctor Langton,” she said. “I never knew you were a doctor.”
“Welcome to New Zealand,” James replied in a casual manner, “And where in England are you from, Bree?”
“I think I’ve heard of the place,” the doctor said. There was a distinct twinkle in his eyes. “So let’s have a look at you…”
Bree nodded but her gaze searched through the side windows. The slip dipped away and only the distant ranges and sky remained in sight. She noticed a sole star twinkle above the hills. Perhaps it was a satellite. The helicopter changed direction and the cliff face appeared again. She gasped. There were Jenny and Ray. She could see hair blowing across their faces. Jenny was holding Ray’s arm with one hand and waving with the other.