tagRomanceBeyond and Within

Beyond and Within

byAdrian Leverkuhn©

He was lost to the fire, in the dance above the embers. Lost in that glow -- pulsing red tinged with black and white -- feeding ascent, always to the stars, force always dissipating.

A snapping sound, pulled from the trance, and he watches sparks lift in the twilight, climbing towards fronds leaning from the trades. He saw them then. The girl -- no, a woman now -- and the dog. He met both so long ago. Impossible, he knew, the fragments of him that remained.

His eyes followed a floating ember until it disappeared high among the early stars.

"What was it like then, King?"

"Hmm? Oh, our mother was a much smaller place in those days. People from the far side came to swim in the sea for a few days, then they flew home in vast machines. We could not sail so far in a lifetime."

"So? Is that important?"

"Mother is large again, as she must be. That is what's important."

"As she must be?"

"It is a question of balance. Nothing is as it should be when life is out of balance." He turned and looked at the girl and the dog sitting on the point above the rocks, watching the same place in the sea.

"Are they out of balance, Grandfather?"

He turned and looked at his children's children, and he could see that they had followed his eyes. They too were staring at the girl and the dog.

"I did not see the signs -- until it was too late. But in the beginning all was as it should be. We were so far apart, and yet so close. He studied ways to move around the mother, and so did I. That is how we became friends." He turned his face to the dome of the night and listened to a star for the longest time. "Yes," he sighed a moment later, "I should have listened to you. But, you see, I had forgotten how."

+++++

On another night years before he turned to face the night sky and studied patterns caught within the fabric of time; some time later he turned and studied the surface of the sea for signs he had memorized when he was very young. Signs that were echoes of stories his father had told him, stories of currents and wind patterns, stories of what had been, and, sometimes, stories about the music of things to come -- about the music of the stars. What seemed like hours later, at least to the men rowing that night, he turned his face ever so slightly and closed his eyes, and with his face just into the wind he saw the scent of blooming flowers and fresh rain borne on a darkening breeze.

He pointed to a star low on the horizon and one of the men adjusted their course; moments later the great sailing canoe turned ever-so-slightly, tracking true on the new course. He looked at the star once again, listened to the music that had crossed the gulf of memory and he nodded, acknowledging the blessing.

His name was King -- because his name reflected his place among the people, and King was sailing now, visiting his many islands before the season of storms. He looked at the star until the point of light was lost behind the line that divided the earth from the sky, then he looked down at his wife -- still lost in the fever sleep. There was nothing he could do now but wait for the music, so he turned his face to the ringed one and opened his arms, waiting at the edge of the world for the first chord...

+++++

"American two-two-tango, turn right to one-three-three degrees, descend and maintain one-nine-hundred and report passing NITER; expect a straight-in one-three left, contact Love tower one-two-three-decimal-seven and good-night."

"Center, two-two tango to one-three-three and nineteen hundred, one-two-three-seven."

He turned and looked at the FO candidate in the right seat and tried not to shake his head. An FAA examiner was sitting behind the rookie -- writing down every mistake the kid made -- and he knew, just by listening to the pen grating across the paper, this would be a report for the record books.

The kid's father was a board member and had somehow gotten this boy into a transition class, and yet already the word was the kid had blown every sim-check but one. He shouldn't even be on this ride, he thought as he shook his head. Had things really grown so warped? Could money indeed buy anything?

Lining up for runway 13L at Dallas Love Field, all the kid had to do was hold 133º and nineteen hundred feet and he'd be golden. The examiner would check to see if the kid could hold their altitude at plus-or-minus fifty feet and a heading within two degrees, yet already to kid had blown the limits and was three hundred feet below their assigned altitude.

"Captain?" the examiner asked.

He sighed. "My airplane," Captain Denton King said, taking the yoke in his left hand and putting his right on the throttles.

"No," the kid said, contradicting his captain and breaking one of the biggest safety rules in a commercial cockpit, "I've got it."

"Stewart --?" King said, his voice now sudden, deep growl. "Get off my flight deck. Right -- now."

The kid seemed to shake when he caught the tone behind this captain's words, and he nervously shook off his harness and scrambled out of cockpit door.

Without saying a word, the FAA examiner slipped into the first officer's seat and buckled in. "Your airplane, Captain. I'll handle the checklist."

"Thanks, Ben."

"That pecker-head is even worse than the scuttlebutt. He's got no business being in an airplane."

"Yeah, and he'll be right back up here next month -- at least until someone passes him, anyway. You wanna call us in?"

"Got it," the examiner said, putting on his headset. "Love tower, two-two-tango passing NITER."

"Two-two-tango, roger, wind now out of the north at one-seven, gusts to two-three knots. Thunderstorm now three miles north of the airport."

"Two-two, we have the lights."

"Understood. Clear to land one-three left."

A bolt of lightning arced across the sky, seemingly between their 757 and the threshold, and then the bottom fell out. "Uh, a little wind-shear," the examiner said, his voice steely calm.

"Got it," King said. They'd lost another three hundred feet in a heartbeat and now the old Boeing 757 was just a few hundred feet above some apartments buildings. He watched the rate of climb indicator register positive and he eased off the throttle a little, at least until he was back on track to intercept the glide-slope, then he shrugged his shoulders, eased the tension in the small of his back. More lightning, one arc hitting Bachman Lake, and the runway lights flickered once -- then lights all over the airport blinked out.

"Uh, two-two-tango, I think we're going around now."

"Two-two, missed approach approved, turn right to one-eight-zero passing one thousand, contact Center one-two-five-two."

"One-eighty at one and one-two-five-two," King said as one of the other instructors came into the cockpit.

"Real vomit-comet back there, Cap. What's up?"

"Just lost power at Love."

"Was that wind shear, or what? How much did we lose?"

"Three hundred and a little bit."

"Ouch. Glad Stewart was off the stick."

King thought about that for a moment then got his ass back in the cockpit and worked the new approach into KDFW that they picked-up from Dallas Center. Still, the thought was out there waiting for him, and driving home on LBJ an hour later it was all he could do to get the kid's mistakes out of his mind -- and the inrushing memory of all those apartment buildings just below. Stewart had already lost almost 300 feet when ordered off the flight deck, but what if he'd let the kid figure it out for another few seconds? What if the examiner hadn't chimed-in when he had? At the very least they'd have burned some shingles off those apartments, but he couldn't bring himself to think about the other likely outcome.

He turned south on Central and got off on Mockingbird -- and made it home in time to see Sharon and Jennifer load-up and head off to school. After he kissed them both he watched them drive away, and after he closed the door to the house he peeled off his uniform and went straight to the shower, tried to wash all the lingering uncertainties out of his mind -- yet in the hot mist the vision returned. All those rooftops down there in the night, all the people sleeping, dreaming, every one of those souls oblivious to the little drama playing out just over their heads.

The line between life and death was often razor thin, but this night had been a little too tricky. How many times, he wondered, had he cheated death. How many more times could he get away with it? When would the bill come due?

He let the hot spray beat down on his neck and shoulders long enough for the water to cool a little, then he turned off the tap and toweled himself dry, put on his pajamas and went to his office to check email before grabbing the officially mandated eight hours. Nothing, not even the usual junk mail -- then he realized this was Saturday and even the spammers took weekends off. But no, Sharon and Jenn had just left for school -- so it was Friday...? He shook his head but knew he was too tired to think about anything else. Bed was calling now...

He had just slipped under the sheets when he felt sleep running through the dark, then a giant hand pushing the 757 down towards inrushing rooftops just below...he looked to his right, to the FOs seat, saw Stewart sitting there -- grinning maniacally as the rooftops reached up for them...like the very earth was reaching up to swat them out of the sky -- like an impudent fly.

Then he heard warning bells and distant impacts, noises that did not belong in his cockpit and his eyes opened. He still heard the bells -- no, the doorbell -- and it was ringing insistently. His eyes felt like burning gravel as he sat up and reached for his bathrobe, then he staggered for the entryway. By the time he got to the double-doors he could see two cops out on the walkway, one with an aluminum clipboard in hand. He rubbed his eyes as he opened the door...

"Yes...?"

"Sorry, sir," one of the cops said. She had her clipboard in hand now, a pen poised to write. "May we come inside?"

He shook the cobwebs from his mind as he looked at the girl, then he stepped aside and opened the door. "Please. Could I get you some coffee?"

The policewoman was older, and he thought the other cop with her looked impossibly young, almost a teenager.

"Thanks, no," the girl said.

"You'll excuse me," he said, "but I didn't get in from work until almost eight this morning and I'm still a little beat. I'll be right back. There's bottled water in the fridge," he added, pointing somewhere towards the kitchen. "Please, help yourself."

He walked to the head and relieved himself, threw on some cargo shorts and sneakers, then a clean t-shirt before heading back to the living room. Both of the cops were still standing at the door, waiting stoically, if a little impatiently...

"Sorry 'bout that," King said.

"No problem, sir. Is a Sharon King your wife?"

"Yes?"

"And are you the owner of a 2021 Volvo e90 wagon, silver in color?"

"Yes? What's wrong? Has something happened...?

"I'm sorry to tell you, sir, but another vehicle hit the car she was driving this morning. Your wife was killed in the collision, sir, and..."

He felt her words, saw the rooftops reaching up through the night -- clawing into the sunlight for him once again. "I'm sorry? What did you say?"

"Sir, is there someone I can call? Someone to be with you right now?"

"Was she alone?"

"Sir?"

"Was there anyone in the car with her?"

"Oh yes, sorry. A young girl, and she's reportedly stable and on her way to Baylor." She looked at the man, at the calm professionalism etched on his features and she wondered what he did for a living as she watched him pull a cell phone from his shorts and dial a number.

"Dad? Look, it's Sharon -- she's been in an accident of some sort and they're taking Jenn to Baylor. Yes...I think so; look, I know it's early but could you come over? I just got in and I'm in no condition to drive. Yeah Dad, thanks." He flipped off the phone and turned to the cop with the clipboard. "You say she was hit by another..."

"Actually, sir, it was a dump truck. Ran a stop sign, hit the driver's door broadside at a fairly high rate of speed. Looks like airbags saved your daughter from the worst of it." She watched her words penetrate the fog this time, looked at his shaking hands and knew the dam was about to break. She put her clipboard down and moved to him, took him in her arms as the tears started, and by the time she had cupped his head to her shoulder he was almost out of control, sobbing as he realized his world had just come undone.

His eyes were closed tight, the flames of burning wreckage all around him, the apartment buildings on fire as tons of jet fuel cooked-off several wood-framed buildings. "Oh God," he cried. "Not again!"

The girl held him, not really sure what had happened in that moment -- only that this fellow human being's need was real, and she felt she could meet that need. "Are you all right," she whispered a moment later, and she felt him stiffen as resolve and control reasserted and pushed aside that other layer of feeling. Another gulf of infinite space passed and he finally pulled away.

"When you're ready, we need to ask you a few questions," the patrolwoman stated, calmly reasserting another layer between herself and this sudden stranger. He walked to the kitchen and she followed, watched as he popped a pod into a coffee-maker on the granite counter and started a brew.

"Sure I can't make you something?"

"Have any decaf?"

"I think we have half-caff. Will that do?"

"Yessir."

"What about you?" King asked the other officer -- the one that looked about thirteen.

"Water, sir -- if you have any handy?"

"Bottles in the 'fridge, or grab a glass and help yourself. Ice and water dispenser in the door, glasses in the cabinet," he added, pointing in the vicinity of the refrigerator. When he finished her coffee he walked to the living room and sat down heavily, rubbed his eyes once. "You said Baylor? They're taking my girl to Baylor?"

"Yessir."

"Could you tell what kind of injuries she has?"

"No, sir...I'm not qualified, but she was sitting up and talking the last time I saw her."

He nodded his head, rubbed the bridge of his nose. "You have some questions for me?"

"Yessir. When did you see your wife last?"

"As I was coming in this morning?"

"From?"

"Training flight, all night."

"Training? Who?" the young officer asked.

"I was the senior captain on a training flight last night. We take off from DFW with a half dozen first officer candidates, a couple of captains up for a recurrent check-ride, and we cycle back and forth between Houston-Hobby and Love Field, let each pilot make one take-off or landing."

"Really?" the patrolman said, now clearly interested. "Who do you fly for?"

"American."

"What type..."

"Look, if you want to talk about this stuff some time, call me and come over. Right now I need to grab a shower and put on some clothes..."

The doorbell chimed and he went to the front door, then walked off to his bedroom, leaving a wizened old man at the door -- staring at the two cops. "What's happened?" Bennett King demanded, and the two cops snapped-to when they recognized the old man's face, and that voice.

Pushed by the unseen hand of protective obedience, the patrolwoman came to the old man and told him everything she knew.

+++++

King stood before the towering flames and watched his wife's wreathed form disappear within tendrils of crackling black smoke; in time he watched embers pulse and fade, and as one last orange spark left her body -- beginning their journey to the stars -- he stood and watched the glowing orb ascend past the known...and on -- to what? The unknowable?

He remained with his people -- as cold and quiet as stone -- through the night, yet when the great star came and chased away the night everyone saw that King too had gone. Had he journeyed to the stars -- again -- and would he return this time?

His people stood around their morning fire, watched the night's last embers fade in the coming of day, and they looked for comfort in the afterglow -- but they were afraid now -- afraid of the stars, and what waited beyond. Where was he, they wondered?

+++++

When he and his father made it up to surgery they learned Jennifer had a ruptured spleen and other, suspected, internal bleeding, but that "the best surgeons in Dallas were working on her." It would be, a candy-striped volunteer told them, a few more hours before word came down from the O-R, but they were welcome to wait here or in the well-stocked cafeteria...

The policewoman and her rookie showed up a half hour later and she produced a photo of Sharon -- taken at the Medical Examiner's basement facility over at UT Southwestern-Parkland -- and she asked him to identify the body.

He had looked at the image, a quick, evasive, sidelong glance and then he turned away quickly -- somehow nodding his head while trying not to fall down. Her beautiful face looked purple and contused in the greenish light, the left side of her skull was grossly deformed, but yes, it was Sharon. The same girl he'd met on a flight to Amsterdam once upon a time...now more than fifteen years ago.

He turned away from this cops portion of reality and drifted back to that night. The captain asking him to make a round through the cabin, a "meet and greet" to calm passengers after a little rough air off St Johns. Sharon had been sitting alone, was obviously terrified of flying, and when she looked up, saw his uniform she had almost burst out in tears. He knelt beside her in the aisle and talked with her, and later the next day he met her at her hotel and they talked some more. Within a week he loved her and knew his life would never be the same.

And now, looking around the corridor outside of Surgery he knew that was irrevocably true.

His daughter, fighting for her life. Sharon, on a cold stainless steel table just a few miles away, her remains now a broken, misshapen shell. Suddenly it was impossible to reconcile the various images in his mind -- then he saw Sharon looking up at him through a veil of tears, asking..."What happened to us? Why am I here?"

'I'm sorry, babe. There's nothing left of us now but the memories,' he whispered, and her bruised face nodded.

"If there's anything I can do to help," the policewoman said, her voice softly sincere as she handed a card to him, "please call me."

He looked up at the girl and nodded as he fumbled her card into a pocket. "Thanks. Thanks for, you know, being there."

She nodded, then turned abruptly and walked away. And he was surprised to see tears in her eyes -- and that the image of those tears remained with him for hours.

Were all women, he wondered, destined to cry after they met him?

"Her spinal cord is intact," Jennifer's surgeon advised when he finally came out the double doors, "though we found some swelling around the third cervical vertebre. Internal bleeding appears to be under control..." and they heard that Jennifer's prospects were guarded -- but good. He tried to listen to the surgeon after that, but waves of relief surged over him and he knew he was drifting off. When the physician went back inside the double doors he walked to a window and looked at the setting sun, then at his watch. He and his father had been in the same squalid waiting room for almost ten hours, and that meant Jenn had been under at least that long. Something wasn't right. Her injuries were worse than the surgeon was letting on.

He was aware his father was beside him and he turned and looked at his old man.

"It's tough, son, but she'll get through it. So will you."

He nodded.

"After all you've been through," his father added, his old voice now a whisper as he rubbed his eyes.

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byAdrian Leverkuhn© 18 comments/ 10342 views/ 13 favorites

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