“Fred. Fred, wake up.”
He stirs from his wounded slumber as Amelia squeezes his shoulders, shaking him gently. Fred is leaning against the trunk of a palm tree, his eyes squinting at the dry blood on his pants. Every part of his body is sore and he protests from the inside, but Amelia is insistent. He looks up at her, feeling what remains of his existence spill out like water on a hot skillet.
“What is it? Are you hurt?” he asks in a gruff whisper.
“Can you walk, Fred? You have to see them. Their wingspan must be fourteen feet! They’re absolutely breathtaking!”
Amelia is giddy, with cuts on her face and hands as if she had walked through brambles. Without thinking, she kneels and pulls his arm around her shoulders, trying to pull him up to a stand. He wails, stomach churning at the pain. Unphased, she starts to hobble forward, but it’s no use. Fred falls to the sand, too weak to weep.
“Oh, do get up! We may never have another chance to see such magnificent creatures! To think, they live and we thought them to be the stuff of legend!”
Fred feels his consciousness as he rolls over onto his back, his right leg throbbing as pain rides up through his back and down to his toes. He cannot comprehend Amelia’s mania, her inconsiderate obsession with whatever winged creature she happened to come across while he very well might be dying.
“Don’t worry, Fred. You’ll see them. I’ll even bring one to you if I can!”
He doesn’t hear her run off when he blacks out.
The sun is high in the sky when his eyes flutter open. Amelia must have moved him because he is lying on a blanket next to a small campfire. He hears something boiling when he turns his head to look around. Amelia is squatting about ten feet away, covering her mouth with the back of her hand as she giggles. After some time, Fred realizes she’s speaking French. But there’s no one else around. However, the way she’s carrying on he nearly doubts himself.
“Amelia, dear, who’s here?” Fred asks.
A quick turn of her head in his direction, then she remembers the pot of boiling water over the fire. Amelia removes it, then crawls to Fred’s side.
“Captain, I’ve brought one to you. They speak French!”
Fred’s heart begins to race, jumping to the conclusion that they are rescued. The adrenaline gives him enough energy to sit up so he can behold their rescuers with his own eyes.
“Thank God, we’re saved,” he breathes.
“Fred, this is Malory,” Amelia coos as she gestures past the fire.
There is no one. Fred’s breath picks up and panic begins to set in as it did those first few moments after he crawled from the wreckage of their crash.
“Amelia, I see no one,” he says evenly.
She huffs and walks back to the spot where she had been squatting, pointing with both of her hands like knives to the space in front of her.
“Honestly, Fred. I know you’re not feeling all that well, but she’s hard to miss.”
Amelia speaks again in French, and Fred can feel his heart leaping toward his throat as a deep fear sets in. He searches his memory for clues. There was the crash. There were the attempts at radio communication from what was left of the plane. There was his weakening body as blood oozed from his wound, and Amelia stitching it up. And then there was a fish roasting over a campfire. He could not eat it, but she could. Fred remembers the cautionary tales of eating the heads, that you can lose your mind for hours, sometimes for days.
Fred’s terror gives him the strength to stand.
“Forgive me, Miss Earhart. My vision has failed me since the crash. I can barely see you at all,” he lies.
“Ah, Fred, you poor dear,” Amelia says as she leads him around the fire. “Perhaps Malory will let you see her with your hands.”
And she takes his left hand and runs it through empty space, touching nothing, but Amelia speaks with awe.
“Feel the wings, Fred? A single feather is nearly a foot long. Wings for arms, but they keep everything else. She is the truest representation of an independent woman - a harpy, a woman who can fly.”
It’s too much. The world fades, and Fred’s last thought is the hope to wake up saved.
Fred wakes up screaming. Amelia’s fingers dig into the stitches on his right thigh and her other hand is wrapped around his throat.
“So, was this your plan all along, Fred? To rip me from the sky as I closed the circle of the globe? Was this part of your plan?”
She rips the wound open and the blood oozes heavily. Fred wretches and weeps, too weak to pull from her, nearly delirious with pain, dehydration, and hunger.
“Malory told me everything,” Amelia continues. “She heard you radio FDR, tell him our coordinates, tell him that you were successful. That you thwarted me. That you failed me as a captain and friend.”
Fred can smell his own blood and the ocean. He can feel the wind and hear the crash of waves below.
“You won’t take my wings, Fred.”
Amelia kicks his body over the edge of the cliff and he tumbles down toward the ocean. She sneers down at the ring of foam on the surface of the water before looking up at the sky. The sun melts behind the horizon and the stars begin to peek. Amelia spreads her arms and breathes deeply, closing her eyes as she recites:
“For life is not the thing we thought, and not the thing we plan; and Woman in a bitter world must do the best she can - must yield the stroke, and bear the yoke, and serve the will of man.”
Written by: Natasha Akery
Photograph by: Matt Crump