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by Nicholas Camden Ridino
222 Stonybrook Drive
Ione, CA 95640-9670
THE BOEING 737, BOUND TO LOS ANGELES, CALIFORNIA from East Haven, Connecticut, cut through the ceaseless black veil of night nearly 52,000 feet above ground.
The jet traveled swiftly through the cold January night, occasionally rocked by fierce winter winds and expected turbulence; nevertheless, its hulk was enduring, and withstood these treacherous acts of nature. Inside slept its passengers—thirty two in all, less than a third of its carrying capacity. It was January the twenty-first. The long Christmas holiday had gone by weeks before, 1990 had made its way into 1991 at New Year’s, and much of the world below had done enough flying to last them until the next holiday season. What remained on the 737 were thirty-two drifting souls and sixty-seven empty seats scattered between them. The time was nearly eleven. While most slept, there still could be seen from outside faint lights burning here and there beyond the thick plastic windows. Some of the windows were shuttered, blocking off these burning lights, but behind one or two of them, faces could be seen peering out, searching vainly for a sense of direction in the impenetrable blackness.
The man in 12 – D, the one in the black suit and the loosed tie, was not looking outside—could not, in fact, for his seat was next to the aisle. Across the aisle from him, a man with glasses dangling from his long nose had his head leaned back and was dozing. Likewise, in 12 – F, two seats over from his own, a blonde-haired woman was also sleeping quietly. Her head was resting against a pillow wedged into the groove of two seats. From what he could see of the woman’s face, he thought that she was very pretty indeed. However, he had no memory of seeing her until now, or even of looking over at the seat underneath the window since they had left Connecticut. How long was that? he asked himself. But he did not know the answer. It seemed a long time, however. There had been the late departure at the airport (which had stalled their flight for a half an hour or so), the ascent, the initial announcement from the flight attendant, the first round of drinks, the movie, Top Hat, that they had showed shortly after that, and
then. . . .
And then he did not know. His watch said 11:03. He vaguely remembered that the movie had started at 8:00 or so, but that had been hours ago, and he had not really watched the movie, anyway. It had just been an excuse to start in on the whiskey he had sifted into his flask before leaving home—an excuse, just like all those other dark and confused times. 8:00. Yes, now he did seem to remember that it had been around that time it started. Top Hat was nothing more than a blur in his memory, but he began to recall more and more of the picture, little bits and pieces that meant nothing when laid side by side. And one more than all the others: Fred Astaire dancing with Ginger Rogers in some distant hotel dance hall, and serenading her as they danced:
Heaven. . .I’m in Heaven. . .And my heart beats so that I can hardly speak. . .And I seem to find the happiness I seek. . .When we’re out together dancing cheek to cheek. . . . Heaven. . . I’m in——
“Heaven,” he finished, looking up from the book he held. From seemingly everywhere the dull throbbing of the Boeing engines could be heard. These thuds trilled mercilessly through the man’s body as he looked about the dimly lit airplane. On either side of the long carpeted floor behind him, he could make out other faces in the gloom; most were sleeping, but there were some small lights shining at intervals. The woman at his right and the man across the aisle were not one of the latter: they continued sleeping their deep sleep, perhaps lulled by the hypnotic whir of the plane engines.
Turning back in his seat, he brought his attention back to the book he had been reading since he had awoken. The book was called The Dead Past, a paperback he had procured at the gift shop back in East Haven. It was by an author he had never heard of, someone named Kerry Chamberlain. He didn’t know why he had bought the book, but he had been out of the literary circle for some time, and its purchase had seemed a kind of reemergence into it (if such a small and pathetic act could signify such). As intriguing as the synopsis had sounded, he saw that he had yet to reach page seven, or the end of the first section.
Frustrated, he released his grip on the book and set it onto the flip-out tray on the back of the seat in front of him. The tray was littered with plastic glasses (EAST HAVEN AIRLINES printed onto the side in thin red letters), bits and pieces of candy, a pack of Marlboro’s and three empty souvenir-sized bottles of London Dry Gin. He looked dejectedly at the empty bottles of gin, and then put his hand to his breast pocket of his jacket.
Reaching down, he picked up his black leather briefcase from the floor. The case was already opened, and he rooted through it until his hand touched on something cold and metal. Hopeful, he brought the object out. It was his flask, which he had consigned to his briefcase from his jacket pocket before entering the airport. When he shook it, however, he found that it was empty. Desperately he unscrewed the cap and tilted the flask until it was upended. But there was nothing left: not even a single drop to remind him of the sweet and intoxicating flavor of the whiskey.
Christ! I thought I filled up that goddamn thing before I left?! Did I drink it all? Must have. But I don’t remember drinking it all—anymore than I remember ordering those puny bottles of gin during the movie.
Heaven. . .I’m in heaven——
He cast the bottle angrily back into the case and let it drop to the floor; the woman next to him remained unmoved. He looked over at her for a few moments, envious that she had been able to stay asleep while he had not. The more he looked at her, sleeping dead to the world in the dim corner underneath the window, the more envious he became. She was wearing tan-colored slacks, a white fleece sweater, and no shoes—a portrait of comfort. And her blonde hair as it dangled over the armrest was straight and beautiful. He desired to reach out and let his fingers play in those conditioned and non-parched strands. With an effort he removed his gaze from her, feeling uneasy about staring at her while she was sleeping and vulnerable.
Reaching up to the compartment panel, the man depressed the button which signaled for assistance. Within a few moments the soft steps of a flight attendant could be heard coming up the aisle behind him. When they reached him, he looked up and saw that it was a woman. She was young—twenty-four or five—fair-skinned, and had light auburn hair just like Janice had.
She had been older than twenty-five, eight years older, but even that had still been too young for her to have died. At thirty-three she should have had a lifetime in front of her, still young enough to be naïve to the possibility of death. But death had indeed taken her, eight years after he had first sat beside her in English Literature at New Haven College. She had been young then, Janice; she had been sharp and quick and ready to embrace life.
And later, after they had graduated, they had embraced life together. They had eloped and gotten an apartment. She had gotten a job at a flower shop, and he had gone to work as a columnist for the New Haven Journal. After two years of researching stories that no one applauded him for, his first book had been published and he had been able to become a full-time writer (even though he always had been deep down). His degree in English had helped, of course, but even without it, he had still been clever enough to hook romance admirers on his every word. With the publication of The Bleeding Heart, he and Janice had finally been financially secure and had been able buy the two-story Victorian on the edge of town—the red one with the gated fence that stood proud and tall against the New England sky.
They had been content then, life had been for the first time solid. But the solidity had not lasted as long as he had hoped; for rather than giving them more time together, his new occupation had unexpectedly separated them from each other. He would spend long hours in his upstairs study, peck-peck-pecking at his electric typewriter, while Janice would stand on the landing outside listening. . .and hesitating to disturb him.
“May I help you with something, sir?”
The woman’s voice had roused him. He had been so lost in thought that he hadn’t been able to answer right away. At a momentary loss, he shifted his eyes around. Once they landed on the empty bottles of gin, he opened his mouth to speak. “Ugh, y-yes, you may,” he stammered. “I don’t suppose I could get another drink, could I?” he asked. He tried to sound casual, but failed.
The woman looked at him for a moment, studying his bloodshot eyes and pallid face, doubtlessly wondering at the nervous tone that he had been conscious of speaking with. Then, unexpectedly, she pointed to the package of cigarettes that lay opened on the tray in front of him. “You know you’re really not supposed to smoke in here,” she told him. “It’s against regulation.”
He looked over at the cigarettes disinterestedly. He had bought them back at the airport, along with the book, and had smoked three or four of them in the lounge before departure. “I know that,” he said, suddenly discomfited. “I just like to keep them out. I’m abnormal: the more I don’t see them, the more I want to smoke.”
A hint of a smile appeared at the corner of her lips. “I see,” she said at length. “I apologize. Though I’m sure you understand why I had to ask.”
“You needn’t apologize,” he assured her, then reminded her about the drink.
It was her turn to be at a loss. “I’m sorry, sir, we’re only allowed to serve you three during flight. However, I can offer you——”
He cut her off. “No, no, I don’t want anything else. Nothing else would help me right now.”
She eyed him indecisively for a second, not oblivious of the weary, guttural tone of his voice. “Is everything alright, sir?” she inquired, concerned now for the passenger in 12 – D. “Can I get you an aspirin? Or a sedative to help you sleep, perhaps?”
“That’s not necessary,” he said curtly. “I just need. . .one more drink. . .another one of these gins and I’ll be alright.”
“Yes, sir, but you see we’re only supposed to——” But then she stopped herself. With a sigh she collected the empty bottles, stowed them in a pocket in her uniform, and withdrew back into the aisle. The man looked up and watched her go. He had the shadow of a smile on his face too, now; though at the same time he was ashamed that he did not care that his vices could potentially get the woman in trouble. As he watched her go, he thought again of the resemblance she shared with his late wife.
Janice had been kind, too—perhaps too kind for her own good. She had been complacent on the top of the stairs, and for years she had allowed the door to stand closed between them, between her and his precious stories. For years she had hesitated to knock on the door, to ask him to take her out to dinner, to ask him to go on walks with her through the country. . .to ask him to love her.
On the other side of the door, he had been able to finish Wounded Heart, the sequel to his first best-seller, which had concluded the story line he had started in the original. And then of course there had been Dark Heart, his third and last “good novel”, which had been written with most of his creative mind still untainted by alcohol. Success had been achieved after thirty years worth of hard work and dedication. But then everything had been shattered two years later, when the stories had stopped coming, and his wife had finally broken down. After that change, a dark period had fallen on his life. Deep down, he knew that Janice’s frustration with him had been his own fault, and that it had manifested itself through kindness and love.
He could almost hear her pleading to him now, nearly five years later:
Come on, Michael, open up! You’ve been up here for hours now——
Not now, Janice! I’ve got a lot of work I’ve got to get done. Just leave me alone for Christ’s sake!
A silence. And then he would hear the sounds of her weeping in the hallway. He would pour himself another drink and pretend he couldn’t hear her crying. After she had stopped, he would go out into the hall to investigate. Once he had found her lying on the floor, one leg dangling pitifully over the top stair. Her tears had been dried by the time he had sat down in front of her, but it had still grieved his heart to see the red, sunken-in eyes.
Don’t you love me anymore? she had asked him on that occasion. He had been looking at her levelly, but when she had spoken to him, she had been looking through rather than at him.
(Like she was afraid to look at him)
He couldn’t remember how he had answered her—wasn’t even sure if he had answered her at all—because when she asked it he had been so troubled by guilt that he had almost not heard her speak. But the answer at any rate was yes—yes and yes over and over again to infinity. Even at that time Janice had been right to doubt his love for her. Gone were the days of English Literature at New Haven College, and walks in the park and evening coffees under the spell of young love. Those things had indeed been gone—replaced with a big lonely house, a once-successful career threatening to consume him, and a wife no longer sure that her husband loved her.
“Here you are sir,” said the flight attendant. The man swam out of thought, starting at her voice. She did not notice this last as she discreetly set down another bottle of gin in front of him. The glass bottle seemed to glint under the light of the panel light overhead. “This is definitely the last one though. Any more and I could get in real trouble.”
“Thank you,” he said abjectly; “—and I’m sorry.” In his brooding he had forgotten about the drink. Now that its intoxicating liquid was within reach, the craving came fully upon him again. Trying not to let his desperation show, he searched his coat pocket, brought out his wallet, and slowly thumbed through the various bills until his finger came upon a five. “I don’t need any change,” he told her as he held it out.
He was thankful to hear her withdraw once more, but considered that her prying glance would not be worth the momentary pleasure he would derive from the gin. Nevertheless he did not drink it right then; rather he hesitated with it the way he would have hesitated over his last cigarette. Consulting his watch, he saw that the time was now half past twelve. He wondered how much longer it would be before the plane landed in California. He judged that they had been in the air for some time now, but how long that had been, he did not know. How long since the movie? How long since he had awakened and struggled with that damn book? Those questions he could not answer either, though it seemed that a long time had gone by since the movie, and decades since he had left his house in Saybrook Manor. The more he tried to piece together his departure from East Haven, and the flight itself, the more his head began to ache. Ever since he had awoken, there had been a dull pain in his temples, which he had at first attributed to the altitude. He knew better, however.
He snatched up the bottle of gin and twisted off the cap resolvedly. At the same instant, a strong gale smote the outside of the plane. The man raised his head in alarm and peered apprehensively out the window. Like many of the other passengers, he had been composed in his seat; now, however, the incident had caused his heart rate to increase drastically, and the solid blackness beyond the window only caused him additional disquiet. He tore his glance away from the window. But what he saw next caused him to shudder—icy cold fingers tickling sadistically at his spine.
Below him, the white surface of the flip-out tray was dotted with blood. The bottle of gin was still in his left hand. Turning the right one over, he saw a cut along the underside of one finger. The sight of the cut and the black liquid issuing from it made him shudder once more, freezing up his innards and making him want to scream.
Not blood, no not blood, I hate blood, NO!——
Hurriedly he reached up and depressed the call button again. After a moment the woman with the auburn hair appeared again. “Yes, sir——” she said, and he showed her his cut hand. After she saw it she led him into the back where she applied anesthetic to the wound and bandaged it up. While he stood by the first aid table, the voice of the captain sounded out from a speaker overhead: “We’re approximately an hour out of California now,” the low, scratchy voice said, “and we seem to be experiencing some tough turbulence at 51,500 feet. It’s nothing to be alarmed of as yet, but I am going to ask that as a security measure you make sure that you are fastened in your seat for the remainder of the flight. We’ve picked up some eastern-blowing turbulence a while back, and though we’ve avoided it so far, it is upon us now, and I want to make sure that everybody is buckled up tight in case we get another one of the jolts that we had a few minutes ago. So, please, if you haven’t been buckled up, we are going to ask that you do so now, and make sure that your family members and those around you do the same. Thank you. On behalf of East Haven Airlines, we apologize for the inconvenience and hope you have a nice rest of the flight. The time is currently 11:22.”
When he got back to his seat he began to feel weary. Without debating the matter further, he picked up the bottle of gin (unscrewing the cap more carefully this time) and drained the contents in one swallow. The liquid was tasteless this time because of his apprehension. After he set the bottle down he leaned back in his seat and closed his eyes for a moment. When he opened them again, he looked over at the window and saw that the woman with the white sweater was looking at him with sleepy, newly-awakened eyes.
“Hello,” she said. Her voice was soft and comforting below the dull droning of the Boeing engines.
The man loosened his belt and shifted in the seat so he could look at her more fully. Now that her overhead light had been switched on, he could see her features clearly: she had thin lips touched lightly with burgundy, dark cerulean eyes, and fair unblemished skin.
“How long have I been out?” she asked when he only sat there secretively lusting over her.
“Oh, I don’t know,” he said, getting back to himself. “I nodded off myself a little while ago—during the movie, I think. Though the announcement said there’s just about another hour to go.”
“Yes, I heard that faintly.” The woman had still been huddled up against the two seats; now she straightened herself up. She was about to crack her neck when she looked over at the littered tray in front him. “What happened to you?” she asked, pointing to the splotches of blood on it.
“Huh?” he murmured. Then he looked down as well. On the corner of the tray, beside his package of cigarettes, were two spots of blood which he had evidently missed while wiping up the mess with the damp rag the flight attendant had given him. “Oh. That. Cut myself on this damned bottle here when that gale hit.”
“What gale?” the woman said.
He looked at her confusedly. “Why, the one that hit a little while ago. It wasn’t very strong, but it kind of snuck up on me. I wasn’t paying attention when it hit and I cut myself. That happens sometimes after I’ve had——”
(too much to drink)
He stopped himself, looking away from her.
The woman appeared to know what he had meant. Whether she did or not, she didn’t say anything and let the moment pass. “So do you live in California?” she asked instead.
“No,” he grinned.
“Didn’t think so,” the woman laughed quietly. “You’re just about as white as I am. That’s Connecticut weather for you.”
A moment of silence passed, broken only by the faint and continuous droning of the engine, which pulsed with red and vengeful hatred beneath their feet. She looked away from him, directing her gaze out the window; he did the same and saw his ghostly shadow in the blackness beneath hers.
In an effort to keep the conversation up he said, “What’s waiting for you in California?”
“It’s a seminar for where I work,” she explained. “I work for a consulting firm back in Connecticut—David Meyer Consulting. Have you heard of it?”
“No, can’t say that I have. That’s sure a long way to travel for a seminar.”
“Tell me. It’s the second one I’ve gone to since I started four years ago. It lasts five days. I don’t really mind it. I get the Tab, plus I get to be away from the city for a while.”
“Is it being held in Los Angeles? Your seminar, I mean.”
“Actually it’s being held in Anaheim Hills, which is outside of LA. I’ve got to take a taxi to the hotel from the airport. It takes a good hour, all told. I can’t wait until we land so I can just hop in the taxi and then get secured in my room—catch a few more hours of sleep, hopefully.”
“I couldn’t sleep myself,” the man stated.
“So why are you on this flight?” the woman asked him a minute afterward. “Quid pro quo, right?”
The man smiled faintly at that last, but it was gone a second later. Up until then, he had been under the illusion that the flight would go on forever; for up here in the blackness of night, the flight seemed only a dream, and the possibility of landing and afterwards facing his past were things that he could not do. . .save in dreams. “I’m going back to see my daughter,” he said finally. “She’s been living with my sister for the last eight years.”
The woman had a concerned look about her, which indicated that she was interested in what he had to say. But again she did not patronize him by asking him why or looking incredulous. Instead she simply asked him what his daughter’s name was.
“Christina. . . .” he said fondly.
Christina. Christine. Christa. Chrissy. Chris. He wondered which she went by now. They had had her two years after publication of Wounded Heart, though she had been conceived on the same night that he had found Janice huddled on the floor outside of his office door. After he had found her, he had embraced her and they had held each other on the top of the stairs for a long time. She had cried once more, but with him in her arms she had been able to regain control of her emotions quickly. He would have liked to have said that he, too, had shed tears, but that had not been the case.
The tears would come later.
That night they had had dinner together—a real dinner in which they both sat down and spoke of things that had been left unspoken for years: hopes, desires, expectations, concerns. By candlelight he had finally admitted the thing that he had not even been able to admit to himself: that he was struggling with writer’s block, and feared that he would not be able to come out of it. Telling that to Janice had been like releasing something dark and malignant that had been infecting his heart. After he told her, Janice had reached out her hand to him and kissed it compassionately. Then filled with a renewed sense of love, she had led him upstairs and they had made love to each other under the blue-black autumn night. In her arms he had felt safe, felt the sense of security and nurture that a baby feels when held against its mother’s breast.
. . . Wakening at the still hour of three o’clock he had detached himself from Janice’s warm body and gone to the window. He had stood there looking out into the dark and somnolent town of New Haven for a long time, thinking vainly that he would regain what he had lost with the passing of the night.
Christina Anne Carlisle was born on October 21, 1977. She had been so delicate at first, and then to both their surprise they saw that the gene that had given Janice the red of her hair had passed over Christina; instead, the girl had received her father’s straight brown hair. However, while she had not received her mother’s hair, she had received her lovely and sparkling blue eyes. For a very long time after the birth he had been enamored with her—she had been a ray of light shining out in stark contrast to the darkness that had comprised the previous two years. He had held her small body in his arms and had been able to forget for awhile his dwindling career as a writer. In truth his career had been over by that time, although he hadn’t completely accepted it as a fact. The calls from the publishing houses had all but stopped calling by the time Christina turned two.
Still, late at night, he would gather courage and go into his office and switch on his electric typewriter. Writer’s block is a difficult thing to deal with. Some writers find that they can write, although the thoughts they are trying to articulate on paper don’t make it. Others become so paralyzed by anxiety that even the act of sitting down to write is impossible. For Michael Carlisle, the later had been most often the case. In turn, he would have to resort to alcohol to “get him through” the act; he needed to be out of mind, lest he see with his own eyes what his true condition had brought him to. As a result, he would end up with mostly ramblings and incomprehensible lines of text when he read through what he had written the next morning. He would tell Janice that he had gotten through the problem when she would ask.
After many months had gone by he had contemplated suicide. He did not own a gun, but even a failed alcoholic writer had enough foresight to plan his own death easily and successfully (he was drinking up to a bottle a day at that point; toss in a five or six Valium tablets and that took care of the rest of the equation).
When Christina had turned four, his life had broken. By that time he had gotten to understand the term “drinking binge” all too well. The binges would leave him alone for weeks or even months at a time, but when they returned, he would be unable to stave them off. After one such binge he had found himself in a downstairs closet, cradling an empty bottle of Jack Daniel’s in one arm and a butcher’s knife in the other. On another such incident, he had awoken shivering in the bathroom of the guest house adjacent to main house. When he had opened his eyes, he found himself naked and submerged in cold bath water. And he had screamed out in horror when he discovered that the water had not been clear but crimson, and that he had dark and ugly blood-clotted wounds on the undersides of his wrists.
Janice had died during one of his binges. Yet like the movie earlier, the incident was now nothing more than a series of distorted and vague images that he would never be able to put in any kind of discernible order. On her death certificate, the “cause of death” had simply stated “Broken neck sustained by a fall from staircase.” Furthermore, it had been termed “Accidental” in nature. Nevertheless, the authorities and the local townsfolk had never been content with that ruling. For there had been enough second-hand talk to support the possibility that Michael Carlisle had been involved (however indirectly) in his wife’s death. His sister Barbara in California believed that he had been innocent, but for the most part doubt had ever remained on him—even after the New Haven Police Department had released an official statement absolving him of any wrongdoing.
Consequently, he had removed himself from his place of residence and moved to another district outside of New Haven. And since he had not been able to trust himself with his daughter, he had placed trust in his sister with her care. It had been a hard decision to make—the hardest in his life—but after he made it he knew that it had been the right one. And now it had been eight years since he had made that decision. He had made a few trips over the years to visit, and Barbara and Ted had even paid a visit to Connecticut for Christmas once, but at present it had been four years since he had laid his eyes on his daughter.
Two days ago he had gotten the call—the call he had waited for eight years to receive—the call that, deep down, he had feared to receive. Nonetheless it had come at an opportune time in his life (or as opportune as he was accustomed to): he was writing again, and in the last stages of the publication of his new and overdue book Tainted Heart, and though he was still drinking, it was not to the former excesses. She got it this afternoon, Michael, Barbara had told him on the phone two days ago. She came to me and she wasn’t even nervous—her friends had all got theirs, so by the time she got her own, it wasn’t anything unexpected. Fourteen’s a little late I suppose—mine came a year earlier—but everyone’s different, you know. When he had given Christina to her, he had told her to call him right away after she had had her first menstrual bleeding. And he had told himself that when that time came, he would come for her and take her back with him.
And here he was.
But of course he did not tell all of this to—— “You know, I don’t think I even asked you your name.”
“Oh I’m sorry,” the woman said. “It’s Leigh. Leigh Prescott.”
“I’m Michael Carlisle. I’m a writer—a noted writer once upon a time.”
She looked at him interestedly. “Are you really? What kind of books do you write?”
“Carlisle. . . .” she mused. “I don’t think I’ve every heard of you—sorry.”
“Don’t be,” he assured her, and for some reason felt sad as he looked at her in the corner.
Suddenly a loud tearing sound of metal on metal could be heard from somewhere deep inside the plane. The sound was reverberating, seemingly emanating from every crevice. The man looked up instinctively, his heart pounding furiously inside his chest. He took Leigh’s hand in his own. Even as he did so, the loud wrenching noise increased: the sound was like steel scraping on steel, and it filled him with an unfounded dread and apprehension. He looked into Leigh’s soft blue eyes. They were as confused as his own were, and in their depths he could find no comfort. The squealing sound continued, vibrating coldly and mercilessly though his limbs. And then the plane shifted, and the passengers were jerked forward unexpectedly.
The voice of the captain broke out again—the composed voice of a man who knows death is near, but fears it not: “. . . .are experiencing a power failure in the auxiliary engine compartment. . .we apologize for the noise and the jolt. . .please stay calm and remain fastened in your seat belts. . .will be trying to resolve this problem as fast as we can. . . .”
He looked frantically at Leigh. She was not crying but her face was flushed red with nervous fear.
“Oh, no, god—what’s happening?!” she cried.
He squeezed her hand tighter, so tight that their palms were sweating. Then from below came a rumbling sound, and the floor beneath their feet pulsated as if filled with a sudden life. The next moment the lights flickered, on to off, and then wavered back on again. In a nightmare instant, the overhead compartments opened, and oxygen masks spilled out and hung above their heads like omens of death. And somewhere, echoing up the darkest pits of a nightmare, another voice rang out: “PLEASE PLACE THE ABOVE MASKS ON YOUR HEADS IMMEDIATELY! WE FEAR THAT WE HAVE LOST ONE OF OUR CONTROLLING ENGINES AND THAT WE MAY HAVE TO MAKE AN EMERGENCY LANDING! PLEASE STAY UNDER CONTROL AND AIDE THOSE NEAREST YOU—THOUGH STAY FASTENED IN YOUR SEATS. IF WE SHOULD SUDDENLY LOSE POWER ALTOGETHER, THE OVERHEAD OXYGEN MASKS WILL PROVIDE YOU WITH——”
The lights flickered off and came reluctantly back on again. The man looked down and saw the drops of blood that were still on the tray. There were two of them, small yet disheartening. And then, as if seen through a pane of broken glass, he saw Janice again—Janice in the darkness. She was standing outside his upstairs office, and she was screaming at him and beating on his chest with her fists. He saw her damp face lined with tears; he saw himself reaching out and pushing her; he saw her falling silently down that long flight of stairs in their old home. That was the last thing he heard or saw.
The plane crashed.
At a crowded Los Angeles airport less than three hundred miles away, a young girl with fine brown hair sits beside her aunt and uncle, eagerly awaiting the arrival of her distant father.
Nicholas Camden Ridino