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First Chapter of novel, Blamed.

 

BLAMED Small-promoChapter One

 

The crushing pain radiating up from my legs yanked me out of unconsciousness. My arms dangled above my head and my hands rested on the overhead panel of the aircraft. Comprehending I was upside down was difficult to grasp with the fear of blacking out again threatening to overtake me.

I yelled and squirmed in an attempt to stop the slide into nothingness and to relieve the agony in my legs. Neither relaxed the all-consuming pain. If anything, my thrashing sharpened it.

We were on approach to Dallas-Fort Worth when… what? Nothing came forth that explained why I’d be upside down and in such misery. A black hole occupied my memory of what happened between everything being normal as we approached the runway and… now.

Wind whistled through the smashed cockpit windows, ruffling my hair. Shards of glass littered the overhead panel. Smoke that stank of burned jet fuel and something else I couldn’t place drifted in.

Where there’s smoke, there’s… Fire! I had to get the flight attendants and passengers to safety! Then a realization hit me. We had been ferrying the empty aircraft from a maintenance facility in San Salvador.

Ned! Why hadn’t the first officer, who had been the pilot flying, made a sound?

When I looked across the cockpit, I shrieked.

The overhead panel had bowed in and crushed the forty-something husband and father’s head backward at an extreme angle against his headrest. A lifeless eye bulged from his distorted, bloody face. It stared straight ahead.

The laid-back pilot with a dry sense of humor looked like a ghoul from a Hollywood movie.

How could he be dead? He’d been joking with me just moments ago.

To distance myself from the sight, I squeezed my eyes shut while fumbling for the seatbelt buckle of my five-strap harness, then hesitated. If I released it, I would plant my head into the overhead panel, which was filled with numerous toggle switches. Even if I didn’t impale on a switch or break my neck, the agony in my legs made me question if I could work them enough to crawl from the aircraft.

I risked a glance. Whatever had happened to us had bent the instrument panel down, trapping my lower extremities under it. The femur in my right leg poked out through a tear in my pants. A constant stream of blood ran from the tip of the broken bone.

I recoiled, and the bone moved.

An intense spike of nausea erupted, emptying my stomach. Vomit burned my throat, ran into my eyes, and up my nose.

I swiped my face with my arm to clear my vision. This movement sent a wave of blackness rolling through me. A part of me welcomed it to end my misery. Another part worried I wouldn’t ever wake from it. I couldn’t leave my wife, son, and daughter.

The sounds of large diesel engines approached. Air brakes hissed. Were they from the crash and rescue trucks?

“Help.” My cry was a gurgle from the vomit in my mouth. I spit.

The smoke outside was now so thick, I couldn’t see the ground. Would they find me before I was consumed by fire? “Help!”

I didn’t detect any movement or hear any voices. I would not become a victim. I had to get out.

A stabbing pain in my side had grown in intensity, making it harder to breathe. When the yoke was rammed into me, had it broken a rib or my sternum? Punctured a lung?

A shove on the yoke to move it forward proved futile.

With a heave, I pushed against the edge of the glareshield, normally at shoulder height but now waist level, hoping to ease the pressure against my chest. The crushing force didn’t slacken.

It also intensified the torture in my legs. I doubted a chainsaw cutting into them would hurt worse. The bellow I unleashed didn’t summon the strength needed to distance me from the yoke.

I sat as still as I could, panting.

The gulps of air I took didn’t relieve my shortness of breath.

If I could slide the seat back, I might breathe easier and free my legs.

Why hadn’t I thought of the seat adjustment lever?

Twisting to yank that lever at the base of my seat felt like a knife stabbing my chest. With my free hand, I shoved on the crushed instrument panel. The intensity of the torment was so great, I almost blacked out.

If I did, I might either bleed or burn to death.

Through gritted teeth, I pushed on the glareshield yanking on the seat adjustment lever. When I didn’t move, I unleashed a howl.

I stayed rammed against the yoke.

When I attempted to shove with my feet, unimaginable agony consumed me, bringing on the darkness I’d been fighting.

Hunter’s Journey

IMG_0386[3697]In a blink, my pain is gone. I have the energy of a pup again.

I hop to my feet like I would have years ago to look for a toy.

A light, as bright as the ball in the sky, catches my attention. I can’t look away from it.

A figure begins to take shape. As the being becomes more defined, it’s apparent it’s another dog. There’s something familiar about this canine. Is that… “Casey?”

The dog fully materializes. “It is you. I haven’t seen you since Becky and Dana took you in the car without me. You never came home after that. Where you’ve been?”

Casey looks the same as the last time I saw her years ago. Her face, which had been predominately white, hasn’t aged a bit.

She stares at Becky and Dana’s bed where Becky lays alone. “Thanks for looking out for them after I left.” She wears the smile I feel I portray when Becky and Dana come home. Then she looks to where I’m standing.

A motionless Golden Retriever lays on the floor near my bed.

Is that… me?

It can’t be. How could I be looking at myself? Then awareness comes to me. “Have I gone where you went?” I ask.

“Yes.”

Somehow, I knew that. “I’m going away too?”

Casey doesn’t answer. She doesn’t have to.

“I can’t go. I haven’t felt good for a while and I don’t have the energy I had, but they still need me. Charlie loves them, but he doesn’t follow them around the house like I do. How will they know they are loved? He’s sick and may not be with them much longer. Who will look out for them? Greet them when they come home? Show them they were missed? Who will keep them company when the other is away?”

“Those are all questions I asked myself too,” Casey says. “Yet, it worked out.”

The longing need to jump on the bed and get petted is dwindling. I’m coming to realize, I can no longer show them they are loved.

“Will I see them again?”

“Yes,” Casey says. “Time is meaningless where I’m guiding you to. Before you’ve realized they’re not with you, you’ll see them again.”

“How can that be? I already miss them.”

So many regrets flash through my head. “I wish I could thank them for rescuing me. For all the walks we took in the woods with all the interesting smells. That I didn’t mean to make them upset when I rolled in deer or goose poop, but couldn’t help it. For taking me with them in the camper instead of leaving me with strangers. For letting me sleep with them. And most importantly; for showing me my love for them was reflected back unconditionally.”

“They know,” Casey takes one more look, than walks into the light.

I take a last look at Becky. “Wait, Dana’s away. I need to see him before I go.”

“Follow me.”

The room changes to a bedroom I’ve never seen. Dana sleeps in one of the two beds. Is this where he goes when he leaves for several days?

While we stare at him, he opens his eyes, then closes them.

Casey sighs, then walks into the light.

“I turn to follow her, then stop, taking a last look over my shoulder seeing both of the beds they sleep in. “I don’t want to leave them?”

“It’s okay. They’ll be sad for a while. They’ll miss you. In time, they’ll find peace in knowing you aren’t suffering. They’ll never forget you. You’ll always hold a place in their heart.”

Casey wouldn’t lie to me.

“Come on” she says. “Ella’s got a ball I know you’ll love.”

“Ella? She’s here too?”

Independence Day

B737 In FlightCleared for takeoff, I advance the power and the whine of the two jet engines increases then stabilizes to a steady growl.

The one-hundred-sixty-six of us onboard the 737 are shoved back into our seats, bringing a smile to my face. The brisk acceleration tapers off at one hundred knots but continues bringing the airplane closer to flying airspeed of one-hundred-fifty-two knots.

The end of the runway is getting closer. An engine failure or fire no doubt would let a few expletives slip from my mouth as I brought the airplane to a stop on what seems like a football field length of concrete. I mentally prepare for that emergency in case it happens. The white striped lines of the runway centerline increase in their flash under the nose.

A quick scan of the engine gauges reveals they are healthy. My inattention allowed the aircraft to wander a foot to the right. The nose gear rolls over the center line lights with a thump, thump, thump, before I correct the swerve and plant the tires back on the white stripes.

“V1. Rotate,” the first officer calls out.

With both hands on the yoke I ease it back raising the aircraft’s nose. We roll another thousand feet down the runway on the mains before the lift generated by the wings eases them off the concrete. We’re flying.

I continue bringing the nose up to establish a climb speed. “Positive rate, gear up,” I say.

Several seconds later the rumble of the nose gear tires retracting under the cockpit has halted. The only noise is from the engines, the airstream sliding by the cockpit at one hundred and eighty knots, and the control tower ordering us to contact departure.

Within a couple of minutes, the controller watching our blip on his radar screen has given us a couple of turns, pointed out other airplanes, and cleared us to a higher altitude. While adhering to these instructions I’ve accelerated to two-hundred-fifty knots and raised the flaps.

Below us on this Fourth of July families and friends are gathering to cookout, go to the beach, swim, campout or some other activity that’ll put them together. I could gripe I have to work and can’t be with my family. If I had a desk job I might have this day off.

Everyday around the world little boys and girls dream of flying as I used to. Unfortunately becoming a pilot is prohibitively expensive for so many. Hanging out at their small town airport and begging and bumming flights until they can pilot their own aircraft will be impossible. The desire to fly will be so strong for some they’ll leave their country to live in the U.S. where pursuing a career as a pilot is feasible.

For me, an American, becoming a pilot though not without its challenges was relatively easy. There have been times during airline bankruptcies and mergers that moved me down seniority lists that caused me to miss holidays and family events when I questioned if I made the correct career choice.

I wish I could have more time at home and holidays off, but what other profession would give me the satisfaction I receive every time I advance the power to begin flight?

There isn’t one that I know of that I would experience the excitement of taking a one-hundred-seventy-five thousand pound machine into the air and fly it across the country at three quarters the speed of sound at thirty seven thousand feet.

Becoming a pilot has been almost as fulfilling as being married to my wife, a father to my step-daughter, and a step-grandfather.

On this Independence Day I give thanks to those who have fought to provide me with the freedom to chase my dreams and live them to their fullest.