Walking from my car to the runway, I could feel all eyes on me. At my day job I was just a name on a time card, but here I belonged to a tribe of elite beings. The people watching were kind of skydiving groupies, and I was one of the rock stars of the group.
I looked up into the grinning face of my friend and mentor, Dan. He was one of the first Americans to become a D-licensed skydiver after World War II. Dan was a living legend in a sport now being taken over by a new wave of extreme sport pioneers.
The farmland of Ohio spread around us like a golden quilt as we gathered in the shadow of the plane that hot August evening.
Walt signaled that it was time to load up.
I moved forward to a spot on the floor beside Walt, who was flipping switches and doing preflight checks. Finally he pulled back on the throttle and we started a quick sprint down the runway.
The drone of the engine and the extreme summer heat lulled me into a twilight sleep almost immediately. I was jolted awake when Walt pulled the throttle wide open for takeoff.
The aircraft picked up speed, and soon I felt the wheels pull away from the asphalt. Still a bit drowsy, I sensed the pilot had pulled way back on the stick, resulting in an unusually steep climb.
But then, still at low altitude, there was a strange sound. Silence.
The engine died and we lost all of our lift, plunging to the ground at a horrific speed. Walt frantically tried to restore power, but it was no use.
“That’s it!” he cried. “We’re going down!”
A huge tree loomed in front of the cockpit window. There was no time to brace myself. I didn’t even have time to swallow before the Cherokee 6 took full impact on its wing and midsection against a tree, hurtling me forward and slamming my face against the instrument panel. As the plane cartwheeled before skidding to a stop on its belly, the ruptured fuel tank spewed gasoline throughout the cockpit.
I lay there barely conscious for a few moments before the splattered fuel ignited into flames. As if in a dream, I felt pieces of the burning, melted material falling on me.
Stuck like a fly in a web of burning metal, the adrenaline finally reached my gut and coaxed a sound from the only part of me that wasn’t numb. If it hadn’t been for my screams, I would have burned to death.
Dan was just a few yards from the wreckage when he heard a loud whoosh followed by the terrified screaming of a man on fire. Going back into that plane was like running toward a bomb ticking off its last seconds. Still, he ran toward the sound of my voice.
I didn’t see Dan enter the cockpit. My jumpsuit and equipment were soaked with fuel and on fire when I heard his familiar voice say, “Help me, Mickey. Help me!” I twisted with my last ounce of strength as two inhumanly strong arms heaved me out of the wreckage.
Dan let go of me to run back inside. In that second, the left wing, which had been drained empty to reduce weight, exploded. I somehow managed to stagger fifteen feet farther away before my fuel-drenched jumpsuit ignited again. I collapsed on the ground. Immediately Dan was at my side, rolling me back and forth until the last flame was quenched.
“How bad?” I whispered. “How bad am I?” The words rasped out of my throat as the right side of my face was horribly burned.
“Can’t tell, Mickey,” Dan responded. “Don’t talk. Just lie still.”
Something was soothing the fear and numbing the pain. I was sinking into the peace of perfect shock, a merciful hand lifting me out of my tormented body.
As white fingers slid an oxygen mask over my face, my blackened flesh peeled off and slid onto the ground. Someone carried me through flashing red lights and thudding doors until I couldn’t see the sky anymore.
Then I saw a boy standing on a windy hill. It was me. But my intimate romance with the sky in free fall was brutally terminated when we hit the ground.
This must be the end.
I had no way of knowing it was just the beginning. For more information on BroadStreet Publishing and Falling into Heaven go to http://fallingintoheaven.com.