Cold from the hard cement seeped up through her trousers.
The word ‘disoriented’ barely described her state of mind. Worse, she felt bone deep that she should be remembering something…but just couldn’t.
On the other hand, the incredible feeling of happiness—even relief—flooding through her was very nice. Why?
As she rolled her head and uncrossed one leg to stretch out a cramp, an acrid odor penetrated the haze. “Huh, motor oil.” With that, she studied the space more closely. “Oh, this is the hangar.”
I should go. She’d just got her hands on the ground to leverage up when a small aircraft passed by the open door, filling the air with its rumble-roar. The sound was unmistakable. Adrenaline prickling, on instinct she grabbed the white plastic bag beside her and sprinted, barely avoiding a wooden crate before pushing out into the sun.
At that very moment the silver and red airplane lifted off the runway. She chased after the craft a short way, crying out “No!” But it was obviously too late. As the plane banked toward the ocean she moaned, “Why did Alexa leave?”
A dread welled up. Could Mac have told? No way. Baffled, she stared at the plane droning in the distance.
Scorching blacktop brought her back, and Rachel yelped, “Where are my boots?” While jumping from foot to foot, her gaze rose from her painted toenails to the faded cargo pants she wore. And somebody else’s yellow T-shirt—with a smiley face? Not my clothes.
The plastic bag in her hand contained a newspaper so she dropped it to the ground. With tender feet no longer being sizzled, she could study the environment. This was the small airport she’d known since childhood. The air shimmered in heat, puffball clouds sailed by in the sky, cicadas shrilled their magical music. Everything was as it should be. Yet it felt as if the whole world had changed.
A man had ambled over from the terminal, his old Jedi Master pullover stained with engine oil. He grumbled at her, “Rachel, what are you doing here? I thought you were flying with Alexa.”
“Hey, Morty.” Turning to him, she threw out her arms, and said, “I don’t know.” A memory of laughter with Alexa brought it all back. “Oh yeah. I went to the hangar to get the newspaper you sold me.” She turned to watch the plane disappear into the clouds. “And well, it looks like Alexa left without me.”
Morty shook his head. “Why did you want that old thing anyway? You already know what happened.”
“It’s so weird,” she said, rubbing her face. “I can remember being with Alexa in the plane.” Rachel almost fell off the bag when a gust of wind kicked up. “But maybe the memory is from when I flew with her before.”
Morty waved at her, muttering something about people being nuts, and turned to leave. She picked up the bag to follow and unfolded the thick bundle to peek at the newspaper. “Hey, you sold me a paper with writing on it.” In disbelief, he grimaced and reached over to take it. At that moment, though, Rachel recognized the scribbles as her own. Hard to miss the all-cap style she cultured while dating an engineer.
Bright purple ink screamed at the top:
ONLY FOR THE EYES OF MAC OR RACHEL
RACHEL, IMMEDIATELY CONTACT MAC
She pulled the newspaper to her chest. “Never mind,” she said in a small voice. “It’s fine.”
As Morty headed back to the office, Rachel shifted from heel to heel, rereading the note. Even a third and fourth pass made no sense. More odd, her writing also flowed around the margins, mentioning places and people she’d never heard of.
She tiptoed to the nearest shade at the hangar before stopping to locate her mobile phone in a pocket. The autodial went through to the right number, but instead of Alexa it was their friend Becky who answered. “Rachel? You calling about Alexa’s phone? She left it here…”
“I need to find Mac.”
At the far end of the tiny airport, Alexa Jane Alden radioed the tower and announced, “This is November5337Victor, departing on runway Bravo-2.” Seconds later, the Cessna 195 reached takeoff speed and Alexa pulled back on the yoke, grinning as the plane lifted into the sky. That almost human leap always gave her a rush. It was one of the experiences that kept her flying.
Still, this particular takeoff had gone kind of strange. She could no longer ignore the odd twisty sense that began while the plane had been taxiing. In fact, the feeling had grown to a conviction inside her that something just turned very wrong.
Alexa glanced around the cockpit: The motor sounded normal, and no smell of burning engine oil or anything else could be detected. Vibrations were minimal. It shouldn’t be those old pre-flight jitters, because they always disappeared by this time. Alexa frowned and wrangled her hair back into a barrette. The emotion was astonishing. Almost despair. She hadn’t felt something that strong in years.
Maybe she should have listened to her instinct fifteen minutes earlier, a clear intuition to leave Donny Dixon behind. He had arrived more than twenty minutes late and then delayed them another ten minutes to go to the airport office. And I woke up before dawn to get in my meditation so we could leave early.
At that moment, Donny sat in the backseat of the plane, crinkling paper and tossing things from his duffel bag. He gave a grunt of satisfaction before sticking a faded Cubs baseball hat over dishwater hair, and added the plane’s communications headset.
By the time her plane approached cruising altitude, the sadness plaguing her had begun to disappear. Still, she felt it might be a good idea to scan the airport. Tucking a curl behind her ear, Alexa twisted to peer out the window. Two figures, barely discernible, stood on the airport’s empty tarmac.
Her friend, Rachel Mulligan, also turned back around from looking at the field. Settling back in the seat, she even appeared to shiver a bit.
“Wonder who’s down there,” Alexa said into the headset. “Think there’s a problem?”
While rubbing her face, Rachel said, “I don’t know.” Then she checked her mobile phone and considered for a moment. “Nah. They’d call, or radio you if anything was wrong.”
Alexa opted to review her standard to-do list: Handled that detail. That’s done. Okay. Yes. Oh, oops. She picked up her backpack from the floor between the front seats and felt around inside. Then she investigated each pocket on her cargo pants. “You know what, I forgot my cell phone.”
Rachel flipped her hand, and said, “They know my number.” After that, Rachel took up her puzzle book and filled in another blank. The purple ink from that funny pen could about blind a person.
The plane began pitching, to the point that even Alexa’s pack bounced around on the floor. After some time working to keep wings level, Alexa realized the strange sensation was almost gone. Brushing a red-gold wisp from her face, she glanced at Rachel, whose outfit practically glowed neon. “I see that you’re wearing your man-killer uniform.”
“That cute gallery owner in Nassau mentioned he likes kids,” replied Rachel, while ducking her head. “I want him to really notice me this time.”
Her friend had been refining the look since high school. That exact pink shirt with a deep V-neck, supercharged by a push-up bra, had once attracted the attention of every guy in a bar. Alexa smiled, remembering how the men had almost fallen over each other.
Personally, she never felt the need for such efforts. Attracting male attention had never been a problem, though she wouldn’t mind being a bit less petite.
Rachel paused from biting a cuticle. “I thought Mac was supposed to fly you to the Bahamas.”
“Called away on business, as usual,” said Alexa, without taking her eyes off the plane instruments.
“Do you really think he’ll take time off to go with you to the Himalayas?”
With a resigned nod, Alexa acknowledged it would be a stretch for Mac. Her parents had trekked in that region before they were married and she wanted to replicate their route. Her mother’s stories about esoteric destinations had tugged at her since she was a little girl. After the trip, with her parents honored, perhaps she could settle into her own life. “I hope so.” After a shrug, she said, “There’s still a lot to do. Thank goodness, we still have almost a week before the wedding.”
Armstrong MacPhearson, her lovable workaholic fiancé, had called two days ago about a quick flight to close a business deal, explaining, “I know, I’m supposed to come get you. I received a message from Brahmaji. Still, my new investor suggested this deal. And for Fahlsteder to fund the new lab, I must bring back a signed contract. I told you investors need a lot of strokes. I’ll be back to help with the wedding details as soon as I can, I promise.”
Alexa didn’t bother to protest, since airport sounds were obvious in the background.
However, if Mac thought a signed contract would clinch the deal with his investor, what a shock when last night Sterling Fahlsteder telephoned Alexa directly; a surprise since she’d barely met the man.
Fahlsteder announced to her an intention to leave the Bahamas, perhaps forever. Her heart clinched; Mac had been so excited about his interest.
Before the man hung up, he asked, “Do you still intend to sell your airplane?” When she said yes, he seemed to relent a bit. “If you get it here tomorrow, I may decide to stick around.” His tone implied that, otherwise, he’d leave. When she didn’t quickly agree, he offered encouragement with, “I could make it worth your while.”
She’d tried to contact Mac, but her messages on his cell phone refused to produce a response. Ultimately, the thought of losing an opportunity to sell the aircraft helped her over any reluctance about piloting.
In the plane, Alexa verified their bearings. They were on course to Nassau.
Rachel said, “I’m amazed you were willing to do the flying this trip.”
“Everyone at Becky’s house last night had an opinion,” said Alexa, and grimaced. “Someone would say, ‘you can do it.’ Then they’d all go quiet. It was obvious they were thinking about my grandfather’s death.” Then she confessed, “To tell you the truth, it came down to selling the plane. If this man buys it, we’ll have the down payment for the cottage I told you about.”
“As nice as your family home up north?”
“Nice enough,” said Alexa, waggling her hand. Again, she silently reviewed her decision. Flying to Nassau makes sense. Let it go.
She jerked to the present when the aircraft leaped to the right by maybe a football field, lost altitude like a rock, and drifted to back on course, leaving her insides somewhere behind. “What is this?” she muttered. “The weather forecast was perfect earlier.” Alexa looked over at Rachel. “You’re unfazed by this turbulence, aren’t you?”
Her friend threw out her hands, as if to say “sorry.”
Funny how different they were. Through the years they might bicker or rant at each other, and once disastrously competed for a guy. Yet that didn’t matter between them.
Maybe to distract her, Rachel began effusing about the contents of the white plastic bag on her lap. “I am so glad I went to the hangar for this. See, I scored a Sunday Times!” She hefted the newspaper up and down. “The paper was in a corner of the airport store and it’s a week old. But that’s okay. I loved reading it in New York.” On the front page she pointed out a photo of her favorite Yankee, and slid the paper back into its bag.
Donny stuck his head forward between them. “You gals want some coffee? It’s the best the airport can offer.” Evidently, he’d decided to offer an apology of sorts.
When the plane’s nose dipped and lurched, he steadied a paper cup with steam coming through the hole in the plastic top, before handing it over to Rachel. Alexa declined. “I have tea in a thermos.”
Donny said, “Also have some bagels and cream cheese,” and Rachel stretched her hand to receive a bagel encased in cellophane. At the sight of a hunk of cream cheese smashed into the wrapping, Alexa wrinkled her nose. Donny shrugged.
At least he’d brought food. He’d been mooching off her friend Becky for days, even considering nobody in town had ever laid eyes on the guy before he showed up for the first time about a week ago. Alexa included him today only because of a request from Becky—who always was a sucker for a cute dimple.
After a sip, Donny leaned forward again. “My grandmother has raved about the Bahamas ever since she visited there five years ago on a cruise.” As the plane bounded twice, he held onto the back of Alexa’s seat. “I also found this map with the latitudes and longitudes of old shipwrecks.”
“You hunt pirate treasure?” joked Alexa.
Donny looked away out the window. “I guess.”
At the same time, Rachel said, “Yeah?” as she twisted to take the map. She unfolded the paper, then turned it around a couple of times, almost hitting Alexa in the eye. At last, she lined it up with the horizon and pointed at a dot on the map with her pen. “This is Bimini.”
The pen had to be from her eight-year-old son, Sammy. He was crazy about a space man from a recent movie, and that cartoon character bobbled around on a spring on top of the white plastic. Using it, Rachel then pointed toward a smudge on the water, to the right of them. “And there is Bimini on the ocean. I’ve heard of several wrecks near there.”
“Cool,” said Donny. “Besides Atlantis ruins around here, they’re also supposed to be on the Yucatan and maybe some near Portugal. I heard that storms uncover new stuff all the time.” He lowered his voice into the scary register. “And there were a couple of good ones here recently.” Rachel chuckled.
The whole Atlantis thing made Alexa cringe. She said, “If you believe in that, and the fairies, I have a parcel of land for you with only a few alligators.” Donny sat back and got quiet.
At last, the plane stopped bounding through the skies and Alexa began to relax.
“Dolphin pod below.” Donny had the excited tone of anyone from the middle of the country. He’d mentioned his hometown was in Nebraska.
A few moments later, Alexa was happy to announce, “All right, I think we found an altitude with smoother air currents.”
With the plane in good order, she reached to reposition her backpack. She also took time to verify the wrapping around the “very important package” given to her last week by Brahmaji, her family’s meditation teacher. She had put it in the wall safe at the house of another of her high school buddies when she arrived ten days ago, and picked it up this morning. It would be a relief when she could deliver the package to Mac, per Brahmaji’s instructions.
With that thought, Brahmaji’s words when he gave it to her appeared in her mind. “Please hand this to Mac when he comes to you.” Huh. Didn’t exactly wait for Mac to come to me. An old twinge of concern pricked inside her. But then her intellect kicked in. Shouldn’t be a problem.
Everything was quiet for few minutes, giving Alexa the opportunity to realize her nose tickled. She scrunched it around, trying to get rid of the itch, but that didn’t work.
About the time she noticed the smell of ozone, a flare of light nearby about blinded her. But the plane’s instruments showed normal. “What was that? It didn’t come from inside.”
An odd luminosity began coursing around them. In her peripheral vision, she noticed Rachel craning to see around outside the plane.
Then mountain-size clouds began manifesting in front of them. Some parts were dazzling white, others scary dark. Pretty, when viewed from the ground. But up here, they make me nervous. Alexa scanned the horizon for the best way around the thunderheads.
A glimpse of the ocean below showed waves churning at crazy angles, producing huge whitecaps. Soon after, the plane began to jerk like on the end of a cat toy. Alexa glanced at Rachel, whose face reflected her own shock.
Suddenly, a fiery column shot up in front of the plane, scintillating. Donny pushed between them and called out, “Oooooh, ET.” Blinding brilliance began at the water and zapped up straight out of sight.
On top of everything, a downdraft caught the plane. Alexa cried out, “Jeez, strong!” But she almost felt grateful for something to focus on. Another downdraft, and the nose dropped further. No way to avoid that light column. “Too close. Going through!”
From one moment to another, brightness enveloped them, outside and in.
Energy pulsed, tingling.
Effulgence stretched, redder and redder to darkness.
Alexa felt a swirling, whirling, toward a single point.
Just as she realized that the plane was really flying forward, not spiraling in a dangerous dive, the tumult inside her began to circle down, quieter and quieter away.
Last sound she heard was a whispered “oy” from Rachel.
Then utter silence. No sensation. No smell. Five seconds passed, ten seconds, fifteen, twenty, infinite seconds.
--Laure Edwards Reminick