The June Selected Writer is Jeff Parsons
Please feel free to email Jeff at: email@example.com
OVER AND OUT
She was on the last leg of her 260 mile triangular flight plan, almost home, when trouble appeared on the near-horizon in the form of dangerous thunderclouds.
“Brookhaven Flight Control, this is Pilot Renee Thibeault, November-5-7-9-0-Alpha, requesting course change to 1-6-0, over.”
The response: “November-5-7-9-0-Alpha. This is Brookhaven Flight Control. Course change approved, maintain altitude 5,000—”
And it stopped in mid-sentence. Suddenly Renee heard nothing but static.
Huh? she thought. She tweaked the radio’s microphone again and said, “Brookhaven Flight Control, this November-5-7-9-0-Alpha, over.”
She repeated her dialogue three times on the same frequency with the same results.
Out of the corner of her eye she saw a bright red streak, zipping down through a break in the clouds. In her vision, its afterimage reminded her of a meteor. It startled her, but she remained focused on flying.
She checked her instruments. 160 degrees, 90 knots, 5000 feet, level flight…
Every minute or so, she did this, taking in the data with a sweeping glance. Not that it was necessary to do it that often. She could feel any major flight changes through her left hand on the steering yoke, her right hand on the throttle, her feet on the rudder panels, and her butt on the uncomfortable seat. Flying by the seat of my pants…
Just ahead, as she watched in disbelief as the wall of those dark, angry-purple clouds billowed upward from the Connecticut landscape. The upper level was already becoming a dark grey, overcast mass pressing downwards upon her; the thunderclouds ahead made her flight all the more oppressive.
Well…that FAA forecast sucks… this isn’t clear and sunny like they promised.
A slight tremor began to affect her every movement. She was terrified and rightfully so. Her Cessna wasn’t built for flying through thunderstorms. If she flew through the heart of those clouds, her plane could be tossed to the ground, twisted and crushed, discarded like an empty beer can on a Friday night drinking binge.
Where was flight control? She was frightened to be alone.
She knew there wasn’t enough fuel to fly back to her last airport. If she chose to possibly survive the experience by flying through the thunderclouds, the FAA might revoke her student’s license. They had their insane rules; she was only VFR rated, not IFR rated; she was supposed to fly in clear skies only.
And why aren’t they answering? Even the stationary radar beacons weren’t working. Thunderstorms messing with radio signals—that didn’t sound right.
She called in again, this time directly to the FAA, hoping to reach Poughkeepsie, Westchester or MacArthur Towers…or anyone at this point.
Static. Not even scratchy static with the hope of a snippet of conversation. Just the universe’s eternal hissing white noise.
Was her radio broken? Not possible. It had been thoroughly checked before takeoff.
Ugh! The plane unexpectedly dropped about thirty feet. She fought with the controls to level the plane out.
The thundercloud ahead was exerting its disruptive influence on the surrounding atmosphere. The effects would get worse. No wonder, because the cloud’s shape swelled like bubbles frothing from an overheated pot of boiling blood, reacting almost irritably, as if sensing her presence and being most displeased.
The rain began in earnest, changing from a spray of mist to staccato bursts of big drops cracking upon the Plexiglas windshield. She hoped that wouldn’t keep up—the noise was shredding her already frazzled nerves.
Right now, she experienced the epitome of being alone: isolated in a small confined cabin, a mile above the ground, surrounded by approaching clouds, the smell of nervous fear wafting in the musty air, and an ever-present damp coldness that the heater couldn’t dispel.
She was running out of time and getting closer to the thunderclouds.
Where the hell are those airport towers? She spotted an area near the bottom of the thunderclouds that appeared to be clear of turbulence. Maybe that would work, if she lost some altitude.
That’s when she saw it. It looked like…a kid’s Mylar balloon?
How did it get up here? Maybe a thermal updraft from the storm?
She peered through the rain-streaked window on her left, and suddenly she could see hundreds of silver balloons rising from the foggy ground, some already near her altitude.
The balloons rose from a huge building, directly below. She could barely see through the fog, but she could tell that the building was on fire, surrounded by pinpoints of lights from emergency vehicles. Must’ve been a balloon factory?
Oh no! If she could see the building fire, then she was way too close to the ground.
She pulled up on the yoke to rise in altitude, realizing that if one of the balloons got caught in the plane’s air intake, the engine could shut down, and she might go into a stall, or worse, a spin. Once, during a flight lesson, she had accidentally sent the plane into a nose dive, spinning, spinning, spinning, before her instructor pushed on the right rudder to stop the spin and pulled them out of the heart-wrenching acceleration, a certain preview of death.
Since then, she’d had more training, but, if the engine fully shut down, she’d still have to land somewhere: in a parking lot, highway, or open field.
Looking back up, she noticed that there were several balloons in her flight path, and more were rising to her altitude. She almost felt as if they’d hurried to get here and go no further. Well, thunderstorm updrafts were fickle. Time for evasive maneuvers.
With gradual sweeping arcs, she flew around the balloons. She took care to make no more than forty-five degree angle turns. Any more than that could cause a stall.
While performing this aerial ballet, she called on the radio, trying to keep her voice calm and not yell with frustrated fear, “Anyone out there? This is November-5-7-9-0-Alpha, pilot Renee Thibeault, third leg solo, Poughkeepsie to Brookhaven, requesting altitude change from 5000 to 1000, over.”
While on the radio, she hadn’t see a balloon near her left side, then…the impossible happened. It exploded like flak in a World War II movie. Her aircraft lurched sickeningly in the air. Her fast reflexes countered the violent clockwise spiral and brought the plane back into level and steady flight.
She fought the sudden urge to throw up.
She hadn’t hit the balloon, yet it had exploded near the left wing. The wings were situated above the cockpit, so she looked up at the wing’s lower surface to check for damage. It wasn’t broken or warped, but structural damage was often hidden—the wing could snap off at any moment or it could be just fine.
And then she saw that on the wing’s under-surface, there were several dozen gobs of a mostly translucent, goo-like substance, the size of chicken eggs, each containing a glowing silver dot inside. They reminded her of a predator’s eyes shining with malicious intent on a cold, wintry night around a camper’s nighttime fire. They’re alive!
They had come from the balloon. She remembered how it had looked, close up, just before it exploded. Those weren’t balloons…they were living creatures…eyes.
The balloon-creature on her plane was arranged like a large shiny cluster of bulbous grapes, consisting of so many eyes, along with several ribbon-strands dangling below, whipping in the wind.
Mother of Mercy! The eyes were oozing along the wing towards the cockpit. They were moving, even against a vicious cross wind!
She couldn’t just get out of the plane and slap them off the wing. She felt frozen with terror. She had to get a grip; she had to fly the plane. Maybe she could outrun the creatures in the sky.
Yet more of the eye-monsters appeared ahead. They were closing in on her plane’s trajectory. She banked the plane, left or right, as needed, swerving to avoid the floating eyes.
Another explosion on the starboard side! Are they full of hydrogen like an old Zeppelin?
The thundercloud was fast approaching. To get to the clearer area beneath the thundercloud, she had to lower altitude now, FAA be damned. She couldn’t do a descending corkscrew pattern to lose altitude. Not with those monsters chasing her. They’d be on her plane in an instant.
She pushed forward hard on the yoke and accelerated downward in a ramping slope, being mindful of the increased speed. The left wing was in questionable shape—hopefully, it’d be okay with this steep dive.
About a half-dozen of the eyes were still clinging to the wing, the closest being an arm’s reach away from the cockpit. That one seemed to stare at her. What if it gets to the cockpit?
Her plane skidded sideways and her air speed was dropping…dropping…dropping. The plane could stall!
If it stalled and went into a spin, the excessive wind speed could snap the left wing off. She upped the throttle— she had no choice. The engine protested mightily, but the airspeed picked up.
The wings were intact, the eyes were gone, the rudder was… not just sluggish, it refused to move. She looked towards the rear…and screamed.
Something huge engulfed the entire rear of the plane. Writhing against the Plexiglas exterior, it was fleshy, wriggling, feathery and colorful. It looked like a winged starfish.
She was momentarily thrown off guard as the plane was jerked sideways. She quickly countered the violent movement and held the yoke steady in a controlled dive. She must have hit one of the floating eyes dead on.
The windshield was covered with a clear, runny goo. The propeller’s outline appeared to be uneven, ragged and fuzzy. The plane started to vibrate terribly. Prop strike!
She looked desperately into the overcast dark sky. There were more balloons floating towards her plane. Their spectral light was highlighted against the dark skies above. She’d be might have been enraptured by their beauty, if she wasn’t so terrified.
Maybe the approaching storm would prove a blessing after all. Maybe she could hide inside the clouds. She was enormously relieved to be approaching the lowest part of the thunderclouds where the air was still shrouded with delicate vapors, but hopefully, less dangerous.
Wisps of fluffy white whipped by the windows and surprisingly, there was little rain. So far, there was only mild turbulence, so she pulled back on the yoke and leveled the plane out at a two-thousand feet elevation. No sign of the eyes! They must have followed her last trajectory or simply refused to enter the thundercloud.
I lost them! Feeling very lucky, she quickly checked her map and did a quick course guesstimate. She figured out that soon, she’d be over the Long Island Sound, that short stretch of the Atlantic Ocean that separated Connecticut and Long Island.
The plane bucked upward once, then fell a few hundred feet. This happened several times again, but to a much lesser extent. The thundercloud was like a rollercoaster, but not as scary as she thought it would be. The storm was only just starting to form, so perhaps she’d be safe for a while.
She tried to relax, but couldn’t. Sweat trickled down her itchy body, adding to the chilling effect of the cabin. On the verge of panicked tears, she felt like she was missing something important, something terrible. The creatures could be sneaking up on her and she’d never know until it was too late. In her imagination, she could almost see shapes moving within the mist…
She fumbled with the radio, hands shaking, and called in to Brookhaven Airport again.
Static. Before. During. After.
I just want to go home.
She thought she might be over land by now, so she gently pushed forward on the yoke and lowered her altitude. The plane was holding together, despite the teeth-rattling shaking. If the cloud mist cleared away, she’d need to keep an eye out for roads and fields in case she needed to make an emergency landing.
At a thousand feet, she leveled out the plane. Everything below was shrouded by patches of shifting fog, making it difficult to see any details, but she could see the welcoming lights of her airport tower ahead—Brookhaven!
Her flight plan was nearly completed. She was going to make it! She was going to be safe!
As she approached her airport, the fog below began to clear, allowing occasional glimpses of pandemonium: fire trucks were parked on the smoky streets, nearby fires were blazing out of control; cars were being driven recklessly, accidents were everywhere; scattered police and National Guard were trying to herd terrified people, who were running away from…what?
The world below seemed filled with horrible monsters: swarming clouds of ravenous lights roiling through the fog, tentacled mushrooms sprouting from the earth, blood-hued spider webs blossoming like frost patterns across a windowpane, all of these nightmares and more, stalking, trapping, attacking and devouring people. Chaos, fear and death.
She engaged the wing flaps and decreased the engine speed as she brought the rattling plane in for a landing. The plane’s flight leveled out close to the tarmac and landed with a single mild thump.
Her trembling body slumped into the seat. She eased up on the throttle and the zipping by of runway lights slowed to a crawl as she taxied to the central hanger. She pulled up to a parking zone and shutdown the plane. The engine coughed loudly and shook the plane’s frame as it abruptly shut off.
She was shocked by the sudden appearance of two creatures emerging from the wind-swept fog. They stared at her, at her doorside only several feet away. As she stared back, her overwhelmed mind threatened to slip away into a fugue of numbed confusion and disbelief.
Almost humanoid in shape, but only in a crude, vague sense; they were bereft of unique patterns like unfinished clay figurines. As they approached, their appearance transformed, randomly emerging on their anatomy. Their skin surface sprouted armored bone and barbed quills, a myriad of fierce eyes glared, large teeth gnashed from orifices diverse and deadly, and slim appendages, four in all, crackled with ozone as they whipped through air.
They stared at her, at her doorside only several feet away. As she stared back, her overwhelmed mind threatened to slip away into a fugue of numbed confusion and disbelief.
Seeming to shrug, simultaneously, their appearance shifted into a human form, albeit with large-framed bodies and features, similar to an artist’s depiction of Neanderthals.
They talked in a guttural language with each other, and one of them yanked her cockpit door open. Dank, earthy air rushed into the cockpit. He extended his hand to her.
She hesitated, then took his hand. For a monster, he had a surprisingly gentle touch as he helped her exit the aircraft.
Jeff Parsons is a professional engineer enjoying life in sunny California. He has a long history of technical writing, which oddly enough, often reads like pure fiction. He was inspired to write by two wonderful teachers: William Forstchen and Gary Braver.
Jeff got his first break with his book of short stories titled Algorithm of Nightmares. He has been published in Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine, and in these anthologies: Chilling Ghost Short Stories, Wax & Wane: A Coven of Witch Tales, The Moving Finger Writes and Golden Prose & Poetry.
His most recent work is included in the anthology titled Our Dance with Words.