The finger of land on the horizon seemed so close at the time and in his naivety Jingles thought they would be there in no time; but it was not to be.
The sun rose and travelled in an arc over their heads, disappearing out of their sight behind the Walrus before the land got close enough for Jingle to start thinking about where to land, or if they should land at all.
It was little more than a wilderness down there. The edge of the island fell into the sea in sheer cliffs and tall trees lay in tangles across the land itself. Nothing could be seen for miles but a green carpet with the occasional ribbon of water running through it.
The rivers Jingle considered and he dropped the aircraft lower and followed the snakelike waterways for a time. They were narrow and filled with dangers; at one point Jingle clearly saw the remains of a paddle steamer that was partially over turned and half buried with creeping vines. A hole had been torn in its side and Jingle clearly saw something twitch and writhe in the darkness there.
Whatever it was it was big to be seen from this height, he thought.
The Walrus climbed, and climbed some more in an attempt to see some sign of civilization or, failing that, just a space to rest the plane and find supplies. Jingle would not let himself look at the engine gauges or fuel supply, he knew there was nothing he could do if either ran into the red so he just flew and hoped.
Echo had fallen into a deep sleep from which he muttered the occasional nonsensical word or whistled his high pitched whistle. It hurt Jingles ears, but he let the bat sleep covered by the protection of the dinghy.
It surprised Jingle how much comfort he derived from having the strange creature aboard. He thought back to the leap into the Man’s mind he had taken without thought or concern and could almost curse himself for it.
It had happened the better part of a day ago in imagination time, but for all he knew only seconds had passed in the real world; wherever and whatever that meant in the grand scheme of things. For all that Jingle could ponder, this was the real world.
In his philosophical meanderings he almost missed it, a spire of black out of the corner of his eye; he swung the aircraft around and headed toward it. As it grew closer he began to pick out details; it was not a spire as such but in fact a high square building topped by a pyramid roof. Its sides were not naturally black either, in places Jingle could see filthy tan brickwork but mostly the building had been burned almost completely black. Near the towers top, molten and seared almost unrecognisably was the circular dial of a clock face.
The Walrus flew past the clock tower and over a valley behind it; Jingle banked the Walrus and circled. Below was a large building of grey stone that stood on an island set dead centre of a lake of near black water.
Like a castle and moat.
But it was not that which drew his attention.
Hooked on the high tower set at one corner of the building was draped the sail that Jingle last saw over the storm clouds a day before.
“Echo!” Jingle called to the bat hidden under the dinghy behind the co-pilots seat. The yellow inflatable shifted but no sounds came from underneath it. “Echo!” He called again and this time he was sure he heard a grunt. “Wake up,” He took off his flight hat and threw it at the soft bottom of the boat.
“Five minutes more, ma…”
“I’m not your mother Echo.”
“Aw, c’mon. A few minutes…”
How can a bat be so hard of hearing? Jingle thought. He took a moment, checked his heading and altitude and looked around for something else to throw at the sleeping creature.
When Jingle turned to answer he almost screamed when he turned his face into a million pin-fangs. Echo was stood so close that Jingles blue nose almost touched Echo’s chin as he turned.
Jingle recoiled as if bit.
“Whoah, sorry mate.” Echo patted Jingle on the shoulder with one bony hand in what he obviously considered to be a companionable way.
Jingle hurriedly pointed toward the co-pilot seat and Echo climbed in. As Echo’s hands touched the controls Jingle was out of his seat and into the supply locker behind it. In seconds he was kitted out and was buckling the last of the straps when Echo turned to see.
It seemed if a thing were possible, that Echo’s eyes grey even larger than usual.
Jingle twisted the hatch in the side of the plane open and leapt from the aircraft.
The last thing he heard from Echo was four words that followed him through the cold mid-morning air as he fell.
“You… are… not… Rudolf…!” Echo screeched as the aircraft swooped away.
Jingle fell and time seemed to stand still a moment. The air rushed past him and he wondered if he had completely lost his senses.
Back in the aircraft he had quickly understood that he had to do this quick, without thought or discussion; else he would never have the courage.
Now it surprised him how little fear he actually felt.
He reached to the circle of steel that would send his parachute unfolding into the air and hesitated.
What if it was tangled? He thought. What if the old ‘chute tore?
He pulled and the six hundred square foot of silk erupted from the pack on his back and unfolded into the air.