Previous Challenge Entry (Level 2 – Intermediate)
Topic: On the Telephone (11/18/10)
TITLE: The Final Conversation Before All the Others Began
By Carol Sprock
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Via cockpit radio, he had somehow managed to finagle a phone connection while flying a practice run on some jet—how Navy pilots filled idle time, I guess. Though fiercely proud of my brother with his moniker Bullet, I knew little of his regular duties or hobbies. I knew well that flying was his passion, so was honored and humbled that he had even thought of connecting with me, his little twenty-seven-year-old sister.
He was in the midst of doing slow rolls and loops, no big tricks with government property, all his motions economically described as he performed them. I really couldn’t comprehend the technical context, nor did I really care. Yet my breath caught in rapture as he sketched the vast sapphire ocean of limitless sky above him while flying upside down, sun-glints sparking through cirrus clouds whose tiny water drops spangled the array like diamonds flaring rainbow wheels.
I could feel the heaviness of gravity as he flipped around, the ground a solid arc of geometric browns and greens, tans and golds tugging him downward even as our spirits still soared the heavens. The strangeness of enforced horizontal and vertical made me dizzy, and I clutched the phone hard against my ear to draw conscious breath as he oriented me to level flight. His military, clipped tones reporting to base with the results of the last run rang loud and harsh in my ears.
Just after my breathing regulated itself and as he began to resolve an almost straight run upward into the clouds, I caught a change in his. “Dave?”
“Hey, um, Kay, just a sec.”
I waited, hearing controlled but somehow frantic motions, a piercing alarm almost immediately ceasing, precise outbursts of numbers from Dave with mechanical murmurs in reply.
“Hang on.” I didn’t know if I proffered the words or Dave. Everything, sound and imagined motion, blurred. Another alarm, lasting longer. Dave’s breathing jagged and hoarse. The sky became air shrieking; gravity’s fingernails screeched against the plane’s buckling metal as if across my classroom’s chalkboard, scrabbling for purchase.
“Oh, Kay, I can’t…can’t pull the nose up”
“Kay, I’m going down.”
“Dave? … David!”
The explosion rocked my world and I knew my brother was dead. Still I called his name, not understanding how I could hear his breath over the buzzing phone line until I realized it was my own. I struggled to resolve the rapture of mere seconds before with the devastation of my heart now. I could hardly think or move, muzzy as if in a nightmare.
And so it was. I awoke with bitter ash in my mouth, flat on my back, eyes wet and sore, fists clenched, and throat dry. Dave, Dave was gone. I breathed and sobbed, only to realize there was no phone. Dimly I recognized a certain impossibility about the whole scene, yet the smell of smoke lingered darkly in my nose. I sneezed, cried, coughed, and bolted upright. Dave.
Unconscious of time zones or schedules, I picked up my phone, my hands shaking so badly it took four times to punch in his number. The phone rang three, four, six times and on the eighth came a bleary, “Hello.”
“Dave?” I squeaked.
“What? Who? Kay? Why are you calling? What’s wrong?”
What’s wrong? You died. “Um, nothing,” I felt utterly foolish.
“What? Sorry but I just fell asleep after flying red-eye back to Atlanta from LA.” Dave was no longer with the Navy but a pilot for Delta.
“Oh, well, I just wanted to hear your voice,” I whispered stupidly, while remembering his voice moments before. He was alive.
“Could I call you back, sis? I’m exhausted. We had a lot of turbulence so I had to do most of the run manually.”
“Sure, yeah, of course.” We hung up.
All day my stomach percolated with nausea and my legs trembled, combined hope and horror. I could not shake the dream. I taught my students mechanically and dragged through the day until I reached home where the phone was ringing. With slight panic, I picked up the handset to hear, “Kay, how was your day?”
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