“Can I survive a 1200-foot fall?”
I asked myself this as I watched myself cruise toward a lush, beautiful forest near Augusta, Maine. We were about to land — that is, our bodies were being yanked back to Earth one way or another.
“Is treetop impalement possible? What if I bounced off enough branches? Would I live?”
CHAPTER 1: NORTHGRAVES
“Looks like we’re across the aisle from each other,” said my wife in the gate entry line. “There weren’t any seats available next to each other.”
It was weird until our flight number was called and only seven people got in line. I mean, it’s not like people exactly flock to Augusta, but still: only seven? Rather than walk through a tunnel, we were marched right out onto the tarmac. A bucket hat-rockin’ young lady herded us and took attendance. Six names, all here, plus Northgraves.
Northgraves. One word. “North as in up, graves like where you put the dead bodies,” were close to if not his exact words. It just didn’t compute for the attendant (North is a first name now, after all). “NORTH … GRAVES.” He spoke with his hands, fingers like pickles, palms like Thickburger patties, very loud hands. The attendant figured it out, or maybe she didn’t, but he flew.
The plane rolled up, a Cessna 402 that looked like something out of a cereal box. The attendant opened the door, which pulled down and doubled as the boarding stairs. This wasn’t a joke. We were about to fly over half of New England in this.
We walked up the door and got seated while the attendant shut the staircase behind us.
CHAPTER 2: SORRY HONEY
I don’t remember why my wife wasn’t talking to me this time, but she dove eyes-first into a People the instant her belt was fitted. The tiny air vent above her seat didn’t work, but mine did. It allowed air from outside to blow in directly onto the top of my head, the way it does through your car’s dashboard vents. On the Cessna, this is called “air conditioning.”
The middle-aged woman who conducted herself like a well-seasoned jet setter felt compelled to hurry into the co-pilot’s seat. I’m not kidding: this woman, if she wanted to badly enough, from her seat, could have reached over and fiddled with dials or jerked at the steering wheel. She was the co-pilot. If I’d have gotten that seat, I could have been the co-pilot. Next time.
I was in Row Three, staring forward into a shitshow of ebony hair. It was a man, about my height with hairy arms and his sleeves rolled up. I can respect a pair of carpeted forearms and a good mess of hair. Hell, I might as well have been sitting behind myself.
We were ordered to shut off our cell phones. The plane rumbled and shook down the runway, and trudged into the air like it was doing an afternoon chore. My wife turned a page, and the man behind me kept dicking around on his phone.
Of course it was Northgraves.
CHAPTER 3: DUNKING AN AIRPLANE
Takeoff was definitely something. I’m surprised no screws were shaken loose. Through the apocalypse, Tucker remained undeterred.
Have I not brought up the pilot yet? That sharply-dressed babyface with the sharply-cut hair, Tucker. His long arms and legs made me assume he was a nightmare match-up in varsity hoops. In conversation with his co-pilot, I overheard things like “three years” and “first.” For all I knew, he was skipping practice to fly us out to Augusta.
I bet he can dunk, though. Come to think of it, he looked a lot like Kristaps Porzingis.
His soft-looking hands led us through turbulence within turbulence. You know how bartenders lift that shaker over their heads while making your drink? During our ascent, I felt like one of the ice cubes. Ever gone 10 miles on ice, fishtailing all the way? That’s what being level felt like. At least my air conditioning worked.
I saw sailboats on the Atlantic, seemingly miles from anything else. I saw houses, humongous houses. I saw Cities and tried to guess where I was. In time, fright became tribute. Chaos became peace. A seat in a 747 may as well be a seat on the bus, but there’s no mistaking it in a Cessna. You’re flyin’!
You know what they say about what goes up, though.
CHAPTER 4: NOTHING ELSE, JUST “CHAPTER 4”
A woman was seated in front of my wife. I couldn’t see her face, just an overgrowth of cinnamon hair and hands that looked overcooked. She was reading a book about biochemistry, or at least a book with “biochemistry” in the title. My wife, meanwhile, had moved on from Kardashian drama to … wait, JENNIFER GARNER IS SINGLE NOW?!
I felt the plane jerk out of its level tranquility and dive toward the Earth like a dart. This is when I saw the trees whizzing by out the window. The ebony shitshow was somehow asleep. Northgraves, not really thinking about him right now.
This was the fourth time I’d ever been in an airplane, of any kind. I thought about the Japanese, and how they feel about things coming in fours. My eyes zoomed and locked onto Tucker. I watched his dials and tried to make sense of the numbers. He hadn’t mentioned anything about grabbing oxygen masks or calling a priest yet. I waited for a command.
The woman in front of my wife was freaking the fuck out. Her hands went from tepidly swimming around each other to sweeping her bangs back and pressing themselves over her ears. She rocked a little. Her head got freakishly close to her lap. The nose of the plane jerked downward, jolting the sleeper awake. The woman curled up into a seated fetal position. I wondered if she was going insane right in front of me.
The plane jerked downward again. Oh, shi —
CHAPTER 5: INSIDE OUT
You should have seen the interior.
The seats reminded me of the buckets in my first car, and this earthy tan polyester covered the ceiling. I couldn’t stand up without hunching over a little, and one of the escape doors? One of the escape doors was a window. Tucker and maybe his co-pilot could have realistically fit through it. The rest of us would’ve been stuck jumping out through the stairs.
It got us to Maine, though! I stepped onto the pavement, stretched, and headed into Augusta’s “airport.” It was more of an office building, really. Attendants wheeled the bags in on a luggage cart, the type you see at hotels. I collected ours and we parted.
My wife, having spent the last hour leafing through celebrity marriage dysfunction, was no longer angry at me. She asked how I enjoyed the flight.
I shook, I swayed, and I rumbled. I got queasy, I probably prayed once or twice, and I obsessed over dials. I do lots of scary stuff, but nothing that could realistically kill me. I could have fallen out of the sky, but I didn’t.
I said, “I thought it was awesome.”