Back

Not a Bad Way to Go

  Up front, on the flight deck, Whitey was trying to fly the plane --- now reduced to a big, overweight glider --- while Smitty urgently shouted into his helmet-mounted microphone, “May Day!  May Day!  This is Malamute Air, flight 37.  Our coordinates are ...”

Walter blocked the voice out of his consciousness.  Whitey’s last warning, yelled back over his shoulder, creased through his mind.

“We’re going in!  When I yell ‘Brace’, lean forward and strain against your harness!”

“Are we going to die?” Walter thought of shouting back, but he swallowed the words.

He could see the big, single prop ahead, vibrating but not spinning in the howling slip stream.  Why wasn’t it turning?  Why wasn’t Whitey trying to restart the engine?  In the same heart beat it became clear that that was precisely what Whitey was frantically trying to do.  But something had gone terribly wrong.

Walter looked out the window across the aisle.  The barren, sub-arctic landscape zipped by at a dizzying pace.  He wanted more time to marshal his thoughts --- to go over his life --- to calm down and decide what he’d do after they crashed.

“If you’re alive,” he thought grimly.  Time!  He needed more time!  But he wasn’t going to get it.

“BRACE!” Whitey yelled.  And then there was the ugly sound of metal being torn away from the plane’s belly.  Whitey and Smitty were rocking back and forth violently.  Walter looked out the front window again, just in time to see the ice chimney loom large.  And then ... nothing.

Although he had no sense of time when he came to, the fact was that he’d been unconscious for thirty minutes.  It took him a few moments to realize where he was and what had happened.  Up front the airplane was an unrecognizable, twisted mass of wreckage.  Whitey and Smitty were just as twisted, embedded in what had once been the front of an elegant turboprop aircraft.

There was blood, but not much of it.  It was no doubt crushing that had done them in.  Or had it?  Perhaps there was still life!  He’d have to crawl up and see if there were pulses.

Walter unsnapped his seat belt, and the pain hit him.  His left leg ... his left leg.  He could see from the grotesque way it bent that it was broken --- shattered at the knee.

“How in the hell?” he growled.  The aft part of the plane --- the part he was in --- was relatively intact.  And then he saw it, wedged in the wreckage up front.  His brief case.  It had been lying on the seat behind him.  When they crashed it had become a missile, smashing his leg and stopping only when it careened into one of the flight deck seat backs.

“Whitey?  Smitty?” he called softly.  But there was only the sound of a wind sweeping across the frozen tundra.   He tried to move toward the lifeless forms, but the pain was more than he could bear.  He all but blacked out.

“Well, me boy-o,” he muttered.  “You’re going to have to stay put until help arrives.”

If it arrives,” he thought.  What if no one had heard Smitty’s frantic May Day calls?

His down parka was stashed in the plane’s storage compartment.  It might as well have been back in Seattle.  And he knew that the wool shirt he was wearing wouldn’t get him through the night.  It occurred to him that he very well might die here --- might join Whitey and Smitty in the big sleep.  But it had been over for them in a flash.  For him it would happen more gradually.  Would there be even more pain?  He’d read somewhere that freezing really wasn’t a bad way to go.

With a shudder, he felt the cold penetrate into his bones.  He looked at his watch.  2 PM and already starting to get dark.  Nightfall came early this far north.  And as the sun skirted the horizon he could literally feel the temperature dropping.

“This is it,” he thought calmly.  There was no way search aircraft would find the wreckage before dawn.  And there was no way he’d make it through the night.

Again he shivered violently.  It was, he knew, his body’s automatic attempt to generate heat.

With a sad sigh, mourning his imminent demise, he took stock of what he was leaving behind.  Marge would be okay financially.  There was the life insurance policy, and another that would pay off the mortgage on their elegant home in Redmond.  And there was the educational trust they’d set up for Timmy when he reached college age.

He of course wished that he hadn’t made this stupid trip.  All to shoot a hapless moose.  It had all seemed so glamorous when he’d made the reservations.  But now ...

“The animals’ revenge,” he thought ironically.  Whoever would have guessed?

He wondered if Marge would remarry in time.  It made sense that she would.  But he hoped that she wouldn’t.  Perhaps, in due course, she’d sell the big house and she and Timmy would move into a smaller one.  She might even leave Washington and move back to Minnesota to be near her folks.

He knew now that the big house was more vanity than necessity.  It wasn’t important.  But what was?  What really counted?  It was, he knew, their life together, and of course Timmy.

“That’s really all that matters,” he thought.  “A good marriage --- and they’d been blessed with one of the best --- was infinitely more important than a half million dollar house, with all the conspicuous consumption that went with it.

He realized, almost languorously, that the violent shivering had abated.  And his leg didn’t hurt anymore.  He was actually beginning to feel cozy.  With his eyes still open, the inside of the plane faded and he began to dream.  He was in a sunny, springtime meadow, watching Marge and Timmy.  Yet they didn’t see him.  It was as if he was a ghost.

Marge was sitting on the cool grass with the bottom of a pretty dress arranged in a circle around her folded legs.  Timmy ran a little way off and picked a flower.  He brought it back to her and she hugged and thanked him.  But Walter couldn’t hear her voice --- only the odd whistling of a wind that was out of place there.

These were his life ... these two.  In the final analysis, they were all that mattered.  His heart ached to be with them ... for them to be able to hear his voice.  And then, slowly, a golden light began to envelop them.  Where had it come from?

“No, No!” his mind cried out as the light grew stronger, hiding them in its radiance.  “Don’t leave me yet!”

And then, of a sudden, the light cleared for a moment and he could see them again.  Marge hugged Timmy and pointed up at Walter.

“’Bye ‘Bye, Daddy,” he heard her say.  Timmy looked at him too and waved his pudgy little hand.

“’Bye ‘Bye,” the little boy called.  And then the light enveloped them again.  They disappeared in it.  It continued to grow, and Walter could feel rather than see it embracing himself too.  A never before felt warmth and peace permeated his spirit.  His thoughts were becoming simpler --- less complex.  The higher thought centers in his brain were shutting down.  His pulse was fading.

“Take care of them,” he begged the light.  But there was no answer.  Only a vow from the more primitive part of his brain --- the part that went back thousands of generations to more innocent times.  It was a promise whose like had sustained his ancient ancestors through tough times.  It was a surrender to what he felt for the mother of his son ... to the center of his existence ... to his treasure, his wife.

“Marjorie, Marjorie,” he heard his soul whisper.  “I love you so.”

And then ... and then  

The End