Here’s the first chapter in a story that I started several years ago. This was way before I committed to finishing a novel and was probably the umpteenth novel that I had started and abandoned. My biggest problem was that the story didn’t have the feel that I wanted it to have. I’m revisiting a lot of my old work to see what is salvageable. Maybe I’ll finish this one. Who knows?
“Awwww, God!” the large woman exclaimed as she walked down the aisle of the airplane and saw the baby sitting with its parents across the aisle from her seat. “God damn it, Shirley, we’re sitting next to another baby on this flight too. I cannot believe our luck on this fucking trip,” she continued in a quieter voice as she made her way to row 27.
“Fuck!” Shirley hissed under her breath cutting her eyes at the couple with the baby as she whispered in large woman’s ear. “I tell you Angie, after that last flight, I wanted to cut out my ovaries and shove them down that baby’s fucking throat. It just wouldn’t stop crying. Parents should fucking stay home. They shouldn’t travel with those little shits.”
Shirley rolled her eyes as she approached row 27 and slammed her bag into the overhead in protest. Angie pulled her lips back in a smirk of disgust as she slumped down in her aisle seat across from the fawning couple and their infant. She kicked her bag hard under the seat in front of her for emphasis.
“Maybe the flight’s not too full and we can move,” Angie suggested suddenly excited and hopeful in the same breath. They watched eagerly as the rest of the passengers loaded onto the plane and became less and less enthusiastic as one after another came through the boarding door.
“Damn it!” Shirley hissed. “This fucking plane is packed. There’s no way we’ll be able to move.”
Angie shifted in her seat and started to stand up but she was wedged between the arm rests. She wiggled and pushed the armrest down. “Can I push that armrest back?” she asked nodding her head toward the armrest that separated her seat from Shirley’s.
“Why?” Shirley asked.
“Because they make these damn seats too fucking small and I’m very uncomfortable. We have to sit next to that god damned baby, and I’m closer, so give me a fucking break.”
“Okay, but you have to stay on your side. The last flight you took up half my seat.”
“Shut up. These seats are too small.”
“Your ass is too big.”
“Bitch!” Angie hissed.
“Slut!” Shirley whispered.
The two women sighed angrily and looked away from each other. None of the surrounding passengers seemed to notice the heated yet hushed exchange between the two. Across the aisle, John and Mary Dobson sat with their six-month old daughter, Grace. She was lying with her head on her mother’s shoulder facing the aisle absorbing her surroundings. It was near her nap time, and her eye lids were getting heavy.
Angie grabbed the in-flight magazine from the seat in front of her and snapped it open still disgusted with Shirley. She looked up and saw Grace staring blankly at her. She smirked at her disapprovingly and gazed back into her magazine cursing her bad luck and her careless friend. Grace’s eyes shut slowly and she drifted off to sleep quietly sucking on her pacifier.
“Ladies and gentlemen, the boarding door has been closed. Please turn off all portable electronics including cell phones, laptops,” the flight attendant began. She rambled on with further instructions as passengers shifted around in preparation for takeoff. Angie grabbed her seat belt for the first time and tried to buckle it but the belt was not big enough to get around her. She was embarrassed. Not only were the seats made too small, but the seat belts were not long enough for normal-sized people she thought.
“Excuse me,” she said to a passing flight attendant. “This belt is too short.” The flight attendant looked down at her and shook her head affirmatively acknowledging the problem.
“Just a moment,” she replied and she hurriedly went to the back of the plane and moments later returned with a seat belt extension.
“I didn’t need this on the last flight,” Angie explained as the attendant walked away.
“That’s because you didn’t wear your seat belt on that flight. You big moron,” Shirley interjected.
“Fuck you!” Angie hissed quietly.
Shirley sighed angrily and turned to look out the window. She smiled slightly at the pain she had inflicted on Angie. The two had spent two weeks together traveling around the country on a mission for their church in Birmingham. When the trip began, they couldn’t wait to start traveling together, but after two weeks, they had grown weary of each other. Now that they were heading home, they had apparently reached the breaking point in their relationship.
Angie kept looking over the next row glancing at the baby as the plane taxied toward the runway and prepared for takeoff. She just knew it’d start screaming as soon as they began their ascent and its ears started popping, but so far the baby slept contentedly on its mother’s shoulder sucking on its pacifier in a slow rhythmic motion.
The plane paused at the end of the runway and its engines started to groan louder as it slowly moved forward gathering speed as it rolled down the runway. It lifted off the ground and floated in the air as the landing gear retracted into its body. Angie could feel her ears begin to pop as it ascended and she winced expecting the baby to startle awake suddenly and scream as if it had been stabbed in the ears with tiny daggers. Instead, the baby continued to sleep peacefully.
After a while, Angie relaxed. Shirley was still looking out the window, or so she thought. Angie glanced around at Shirley and realized that she had fallen asleep against the window. Angie searched for the seat recline button for her seat and realized it was on the armrest she had pushed up between the seats. She struggled to reach the button, but after pulling the armrest down against her side, she was able to push the button with her left hand. The seat groaned as it reclined and Angie shifted to get comfortable.
“Excuse me,” a woman said. “Excuse me, Ma’am.”
Angie looked to her right and the infant’s mother was talking to her. “Yes?” Angie asked unsure if the woman was talking to her.
“I’m sorry to bother you, but my daughter’s pacifier just fell out of her mouth and I cannot reach it without waking her. Would you mind handing it to me?”
Angie looked at the baby and saw that it was still asleep but its mouth hung open as if the pacifier were still there. She thought about the crying that would certainly ensue if the baby awoke without its pacifier. She looked at the floor and saw the pacifier at the foot of her seat just in the aisle, and she reached down to grab it.
“Thank you,” the woman said presuming that Angie was going to get the pacifier for her.
Angie struggled to reach the pacifier as it was just beyond her reach. She tried to sit up so that she could bend over and extend her arms, but the seat in front of her had been reclined and prevented her from getting up.
“I can’t reach it,” Angie exhaled breathing heavily from her effort.
“I’ll get it,” a flight attendant said as she approached from the rear of the plane. She picked it up and handed it to the mother who thanked her quietly.
“God damn! They make these planes so small,” Angie thought as she laid her head back in her seat. She watched the woman put the pacifier back in the baby’s mouth after she cleaned it. “Thank God. Hopefully, that damn thing will sleep the whole flight.” She closed her eyes and drifted off to sleep.
The plane had leveled off at its cruising altitude and most passengers had settled in for the flight from Chicago to Birmingham. The flight attendants busied themselves with preparations to serve drinks and snacks to the passengers. Mary Dobson held Grace firmly in her arms listening to her tiny breaths as she slept. She loved how the baby girl felt against her body. She was still enamored with being a new mother, and she dutifully cared for the little girl’s every need, but Grace wasn’t a difficult baby. She already slept through the night, was rarely fussy, and seemed to absorb the world around her with the gleeful innocence that only an infant could indulge.
Mary glanced over to her husband, Joe, who thumbed through a magazine. Sensing her attention, he looked up and smiled. “So far so good,” he said. Mary just smiled and nodded slightly not wanting to disturb Grace. This was Grace’s first flight, so they were unsure of what to expect. They’d heard horror stories of traveling with infants and had been on the receiving end of such horror when they had traveled before Grace was born, but Grace was different. She simply wasn’t a difficult baby.
In many ways, Grace was a miracle baby for Mary and Joe. They had been married for almost ten years and spent most of that time trying to conceive a child. They had endured many tests and special procedures to get pregnant to no avail, and just when they were about to give up, Mary became pregnant with Grace. Despite such good fortune, the pregnancy was fraught with stress as Mary and Joe worried about the fate of their pregnancy. Mary had had many false starts only to lose the baby shortly after conception, but the pregnancy had gone surprisingly well and Grace was born a healthy, normal baby.
Mary’s mother, Thelma, insisted that God had graced Mary with the baby and suggested that she name the baby Grace in honor of “the good Lord” as she put it, but Mary had resisted such notions. Mary had grown up in a strict Southern Baptist home and had drifted away from the religion as she grew up and now she wanted no part of its “cult of eternal damnation” as she had told Joe.
For his part, Joe understood Mary’s reluctance, but he also loved the name Grace since his beloved grandmother’s name was Grace. After much discussion, Mary relented and named the baby Grace, but she was quick to tell her mother that Grace was named after Joe’s grandmother. Thelma quietly told everyone in her family that Grace was named in honor of “the Lord”. She couldn’t care less about anyone in Joe’s family because they were Catholic, and if there was anything she hated more than Lucifer himself it was a Catholic.
As Grace slept in Mary’s arms, Joe looked up from his magazine and surveyed the scene outside the window as the plane leveled out over the plains of Illinois and headed south toward Birmingham. The clear blue sky provided miles of visibility. Joe could see the perfect square plots of farmland below and the amazingly straight roads that linked the sparse farm houses. He thought that they could not have picked a better day to fly out of Chicago. The weather was perfect. He had checked the weather forecast for Birmingham, and while it was supposed to rain early in the day, the forecast called for clearing in the late afternoon and clear skies for the rest of the week. The temperature was considerably warmer in Birmingham, so he was looking forward to enjoying some early spring warmth outside without his heavy coat.
“Did you pack the receiving blankets?” Mary asked abruptly interrupting his daydream.
“Yes,” Joe replied nonchalantly.
“In the carry-on?”
“No, in the checked suitcase.”
“Do we have any blanket in the carry-on?”
“I don’t know.”
“I think it’s too cold for Grace,” she fretted. Joe looked over her shoulder at Grace and looked back to Mary.
“She looks fine. Is she shivering?”
“No, but I’m cold, and if I’m cold, then she’s likely twice as cold,”
Joe had grown used to Mary’s constant fretting over Grace. To say she was overprotective was a nice way to say she was obsessive compulsive. Joe bore the brunt of most of Mary’s obsessive antics. He always had to fetch the blanket or hat, check the child-proofing, and ensure that Grace wasn’t cold, wet, hungry, or locked in the jaws of some wild animal. When Grace was first born, he was eager to help. After all, his involvement in the pregnancy, aside from the worry, was very limited. He almost felt guilty that Mary had to carry the child and endure all of the pain of childbirth, so the least he could do was fulfill his duty as the provider for the family. But after almost four months, he had grown skeptical and tired of Mary’s fretting.
“I think she’s fine. If she were cold, she’d start crying. That’s how babies tell us there’s something wrong.”
“Are you sure?”
“I’m sure,” he said. “I read that in one of the parenting books.”
Joe had learned to invoke the “parenting books” reference when Mary obsessed over trivial matters. It seemed to put her at ease and kept him from being bothered. She seemed satisfied with his answer and settled back into her seat with her hand rubbing Grace’s back softly. Joe returned to his magazine.
As the plane sailed over southern Illinois and into Tennessee, the weather changed dramatically. It went from clear skies to cloudy with intermittent thunderstorms. The quiet, smooth ride gave way to occasional bumps and jerks as turbulence shook the plane.
“We are experiencing some rough air and we expect it to continue until we begin our descent, so we are turning on the seat belt sign and ask that you stay in your seats for the duration of our flight,” the captain announced shortly after the plane hit the first rough patch. “Weather in Birmingham is rainy with scattered thunderstorms and a temperature of 72 degrees.”
The plane jerked and rattled for several minutes after the captain’s announcement, but Grace slept peacefully with not so much as a twitch to indicate that the turbulence bothered her. Another baby further back in the plane began to cry as the plane rumbled. After the captain’s announcement, most passengers continued on with their conversations, reading, or whatever they were doing, but as the turbulence continued and worsened, the cabin became eerily quiet with only the cries of the baby in the back of the plane providing any background noise beyond the high whine of the engines.
Many passengers stared out their windows. Some had worried expressions that only grew deeper as the turbulence continued. Others grew tense and tried to rest in their seats only betrayed by their white knuckles as they gripped their arms rests. The turbulence grew stronger and dislodging several canisters and utensils from the galley in the back of the main cabin. One lady gasped out loud as the canisters thumped on the floor and rolled down the aisle. No flight attendant attempted to retrieve them since the captain had asked them to remain seated until they found a smoother flight path.
“That fucking captain doesn’t know how to fly a goddamned plane,” Shirley hissed obviously rattled by the turbulence.
“No kidding,” Angie agreed. “I wish he’d get this thing under control. I have to pee.”
“Well, if we go in for a rough landing, you may as well piss yourself. You don’t want to risk a ruptured, full bladder.”
“Ha. Ha. Do you have to make a crude joke about everything?”
“I’m just trying to lighten the mood.”
“Well, it’s not helping. I’ve got to fucking pee and it makes me very uncomfortable.”
“Don’t be a bitch. You’ve been a bitch ever since we left St. Louis. What’s your fucking problem?”
“I have to pee. That’s my fucking problem. Why don’t you just shut the fuck up?”
“Bitch!” Shirley hissed and turned to look out the window. They exchanged their words in hushed tones, but the emphatic nature of their comments clearly indicated they were fighting. No one around them seemed to notice.
Angie let out a disgusted and exasperated sigh and turned her attention up the aisle where she noticed a young woman crying. It wasn’t a vocal cry and wouldn’t have been noticeable had she not looked directly into the young woman’s face. The tears were streaming down her face, and she could see that the woman was talking to herself. The woman crossed herself.
“Why is she praying?” Angie thought to herself. “It’s just a little turbulence. We’ll be fine. Maybe she’s never flown before.” The woman looked up and noticed Angie staring at her.
“God bless you,” the young woman whispered pressing her hands into a praying position under her chin and looking across the rows at Angie. Her smile was weak and tears were still dribbling down her face.
Angie shook her head and looked away unsure how to respond. She had gone on quite a few missions with her church and had flown each time, but never had she encountered such a response to turbulence. The young woman’s actions frightened her. In the deep recesses of her mind, she thought she should pray too.
She looked directly across the aisle at the baby. It was still asleep on its mother’s shoulder. The mother looked anxiously around the cabin as the turbulence persisted and her husband quietly tried to reassure her stroking her arm and saying things to her that Angie could not hear.
“This is definitely the worst turbulence I’ve ever experienced,” Mary told Joe in a subdued, nervous voice.
“It will be fine. The captain said he was trying to find some smoother air. I’m sure it’s just a matter of time,” Joe coaxed.
“What about the oxygen masks? Will there be one for Grace?” Mary asked suddenly stricken with the fear that she may have to decide between getting oxygen for herself or her beautiful baby.
“Don’t worry about it,” Joe admonished. “We won’t need them.”
At that moment, the plane jerked down as if they had just reached a dip in the roller coaster they were riding. While the sudden drop wasn’t far, it forced more than a few screams from several passengers and jarred open one of the overhead compartments at row 20. A handbag and a briefcase with several books fell from overhead. A man in the seat below the overhead grunted loudly as the bags smacked him on the head and shoulder. He looked okay after the impact, but the incident raised the fear level in the cabin. One woman in row 21 prayed loudly. A man in row 25 forcefully assured his preteen children that they were going to be okay.
Angie looked down in the floor at the bags that had fallen. The briefcase had come open and its contents were strewn down the aisle. Two books from the briefcase slowly edged down the aisle to the rhythm of the shaking cabin. She noticed that one of the books was a Bible. A bookmark with a cross on a tassel was wedged midway between the pages. The Bible was worn with dog-eared pages and had the name “W.J. Bryan” embossed in gold on its black cover. Angie sighed nervously and tried to reach the Bible from her seat, but her large body could not bend far enough within the confines of the seat.
“Can you put your seat up?” Angie asked the lady in front of her. The lady turned back to Angie clearly frightened by the turbulence and gave her a look as if she had just said something in a foreign language.
“Your seat. Can you put it up so that I can reach that Bible in the floor?” Angie asked using her beefy hand to tug at the seat back. The woman appeared to snap back to consciousness and recognized what Angie was saying and dutifully raised her seat back to the upright position.
Angie had a few more inches in which to bend and try to retrieve the Bible. The book had slid closer to her seat, but Angie still could not reach it. She would have to unbuckle her seat belt to reach the Bible.
During the these few nerve-wracking moments, Shirley had pushed herself back in her seat and closed her eyes silently praying that the turbulence would end soon. Shirley considered herself a devout Christian, but her superficial piety was often betrayed by her behavior. In fact, she was really a convenient Christian, one who used the religion when it fit her needs, praying when it seemed like she would get some benefit from it. She was a crude, bitter middle-aged woman who felt cheated in her life. She had never been married, never had much in terms of a relationship, and had always felt slighted by everyone she had ever met.
Shirley had never been particularly religious in her life, but she had joined Birmingham Baptist because she had thought it would be a way to meet people who accepted her for who she was even if who she was wasn’t what they wanted. While everyone in the church seemed to take her in, they were more interested in damnation and converting others to their religion than they were in understanding that Shirley was a lonely woman who needed companionship more than she needed God.
After a few months in the church, she had become disappointed that it didn’t fill that void she had felt inside her. Then, she had met Angie, and although they often quarreled, they had become best friends. Angie really was the only friend Shirley had. Angie seemed to understand her and to appreciate what it felt like to be a victim shunned by society at large. Angie appreciated her knack for finding the worst attributes in other people and tearing them down from the high pedestal upon which they perched. Angie understood her because they were very similar.
Shirley opened her eyes and looked over at Angie only to find her seat empty. Angie was on the floor in the aisle of the cabin on her hands and knees facing the rear of the plane with one arm draped over her armrest. She grunted as she appeared to reach for something. Her large rear end filled the aisle, an unnecessary reminder that Angie was severely obese.
“What are you doing, Angie?” Shirley screamed trying to look at the floor behind her row. “Get back in your seat! You’re gonna get yourself killed!”
“Shut up! I’m holding onto my seat,” Angie retorted. “This Bible fell out of the overhead and I’m tryin’ to get it.” She stretched for the Bible, but each jerk of the plane pushed it further away. She would have to let go of her seat. The plane lurched suddenly jarring the cabin once again unleashing a series of screams and cries from the passengers. Angie kept her grip on her seat but now she clutched the armrest with both arms. Her legs were weak with fear and her heart raced. She could see the Bible had inched down a few rows behind her and come to rest against the seat of a little boy.
During the commotion, baby Grace continued to sleep. Mary’s attention moved from worrying about Grace waking up to worrying about whether or not they were going to land safely. Joe did his best to comfort her, but as the plane lurched to and fro, he, too, became worried. He was a veteran air traveler thanks to a sales job that often took him to many different cities and towns around the country, but he had never experienced such a tumultuous ride. He was getting more nervous each time the plane lurched unnaturally. He could tell the plane was descending although it was a little early to do so since they were still well outside Birmingham, but he figured it was just a maneuver to get out of the rocky airspace.
Joe squeezed Mary’s hand lightly and acknowledged the worry that consumed her face. “I love you,” he said.
“I love you,” she replied feigning a smile. She felt her heart in her throat and her breathing seemed difficult as the plane lurched again. The plane rattled like car on one of those old wooden roller coasters except this was no carefully engineered joy ride that everyone sought for the thrill of it. Baby Grace continued to sleep nestled on Mary’s shoulder and seemingly oblivious to the fear that washed over the cabin.
Joe could feel the plane descending at a faster pace as the rattling continued. The pull of gravity was unmistakable and his stomach seemed to lurch forward as the whine of the engines fought the pull downward and struggled to control the aluminum bird. Neither the flight attendants nor the captain had made any announcement in a while, and this worried Joe. Normally, in such situations, the captain makes an announcement to calm the passengers’ nerves. This fact worried Joe even more. Was the situation so dire that the captain was focusing all of his energy on landing the plane safely?
Joe shook these thoughts from his head and looked around to distract himself. He saw a rather obese woman struggling to gain her feet across the aisle from Mary. “What the hell is she doing up?” Joe thought to himself.
The woman had long, tattered hair that hung haphazardly around her chubby face. You couldn’t tell where her chin ended and her neck began because of the rolls of fat that hung off her face like rolls on a Roman shade. She wore thick glasses that magnified her pinhole eyes making her appear cartoonish. She had a hairy mole that clung to the side of her left cheek like a grotesque spider. She was short and almost as big around as she was tall. Her stomach rolled out like the aftermath of an avalanche and her breasts lopped to each side like obscenely large sock puppets long since abandoned. It had to be impossible for this woman to see her own feet. Joe winced as he took this all in, but for the brief moment he watched Angie, he was distracted from the worries at hand.
Angie finally regained her feet despite the continuous rumble of the plane and side stepped her way slowly to the Bible, which was still lodged next to the seat of the little boy. She bent down awkwardly to pick up the book and grunted as she folded into herself. She raised up almost out of breath and felt a sense of relief at having retrieved the book. She peered down at the little boy who looked up at her obviously frightened.
“It’s okay, son. God will help us through this,” she smiled as she started back to her seat. In truth, the boy was as much afraid of Angie as he was the shaky ride. To him, the rattling was something akin to one of the amusement rides he had ridden at Disney World last summer. He didn’t understand the need to be worried. He did understand that he just witnessed a large, monstrous-looking person slowly edge her way toward him only to stop at the last moment and return to her seat. He was just happy that she didn’t hurt him.
As Angie backed into her seat and slumped down hard, the plane began a more rapid descent and the rattling increased. The whine of the engines sounded different now as if they were sputtering or struggling to stay engaged. The plane felt like it was gliding toward the earth. The cabin lurched downward and Angie momentarily hovered out of her seat. The sensation made her panic as she struggled to find and buckle her seat belt. At that moment, Shirley grabbed her arm and began to cry uncontrollably repeating, “Oh God! Oh God!”
“Help me buckle my seatbelt, Shirley!” Angie screamed. Shirley was in full panic and didn’t hear her. In fact, the whole cabin was consumed by the din of people panicking. People cried and some men cursed the crew for not telling them what was wrong. The baby in the back broke into a loud cry as if it had been doused in scalding hot water. Other children screamed for their parents who could only offer limited comfort as they were overcome by their own fear. It seemed that the passengers all reached the realization of their fate at the same moment. The plane was hurdling to the ground and there was nothing they could do to stop it.
“Goddamn it, Shirley! Help me!” Angie screamed. Shirley buried her face into Angie’s arm and cried uncontrollably. Shirley’s grip was painfully tight around Angie’s arm, and in an instant she thought about pulling her arm away, but she knew she could not move away without getting out of her seat again. Instead she wrapped her right arm across her body and put her hand on the back of Shirley’s head and began to pray incessantly as tears streamed down her face.
Across the aisle, Mary had already begun crying before the latest descent began. Joe had tried to comfort her, but he had given up as the situation appeared graver by the minute. He had insisted that he hold Grace in the event that they had a crash landing because, he reasoned, he’d be more likely to hold onto her since he was stronger. He held the baby in his arms tightly as Mary leaned against him crying and trying to reason away the fear that engulfed her. Grace stirred slightly and cooed into Joe’s ear. The sound had an odd calming effect on him.
Joe scanned the plane to locate the nearest exit. It was behind him. He thought back to the safety instructions the flight attendant provided and rehearsed his escape from a burning plane in his mind. How would he manage to get himself, his wife, and most importantly, Grace out of the plane once it landed? He assumed that the plane would land roughly and that there would be a chance to escape. Unfortunately, his assumption was incorrect.
The plane banked to the right in a jerking motion and righted itself just as quickly. It continued to descend and rattled incessantly with each twist and turn. Each move elicited cries from the passengers as the gurgling engines gave no indication that the plane would recover. Outside, the rain that had begun over Tennessee pounded the plane hard. Visibility was near zero in the torrential downpour. The plane flew a slow descent into northern Alabama as it struggled to make it to Birmingham. Over Eden, Alabama, fifty miles north of Birmingham, the plane began a more rapid descent and began tilting side to side as if the pilot had lost control and was just trying to keep the plane steady.
The chaos in the cabin erupted into anarchy. One man at least ten rows up from Mary and Joe cursed loudly wondering why the pilot couldn’t get the plane righted. Others prayed loudly begging, screaming even, for their god to save them. The baby in the back had screamed continuously for most of the last ten minutes of the plane ride. Other children begged their parents to get off the plane.
Grace stirred and rubbed her nose with her tiny fists. She looked up from her dad’s lap at her parents. Joe squeezed her tightly. Mary cupped her tiny head with her hand trying to focus through all the tears. “I love you, my little darling,” Joe said leaning forward to kiss her head. Mary leaned in and kissed her head too.
“I love you so much my beautiful angel,” she said. “I never believed in God, but I hope that if there is a god that he will always be with you.”
A man on the left side of the plane saw it first. The ground. Coming fast. He screamed, “Oh Shit!” In that instant the shock of hitting the ground reverberated through the plane with tremendous force. The plane rolled and broke into many pieces as seats and people were flung in all directions. The odor of jet fuel consumed the entire plane and a flash of intense heat torched the cabin as the fuel exploded shortly after the plane struck the ground. Those passengers that remained in the main part of the airplane were burned to death immediately as the intense flames shot through the cabin. Their bodies melded with the seats and became unrecognizable from other charred parts of the wreckage.
The tail section of the plane had broken off on impact and had rolled away from the main section that had burned immediately. The break in the tail section occurred at row 27, but one would struggle to identify the row itself. The mangled section of the plane was twisted and crushed much like a race car after one of those horrific end-over-end crashes at dizzying speeds. Inside the fuselage, many seats were emptied. Their occupants ejected by the force of impact or the subsequent rolling of the tail away from the main wreckage. The bodies that remained were mutilated and crushed by the compressed metal body of the airplane.
Angie’s seat was empty. Shirley’s headless body slumped in its seat crunched between the rows which had shifted violently forward on impact. Something had impaled the fuselage where Shirley’s window had been leaving a ragged hole that dripped with rain from the downpour that continued at the crash site. Mary and Joe still sat in their seats lifeless and slumped forward. Mary was impaled with a piece of the fuselage, while Joe’s right leg had been ripped loose and dangled from the opening in the tail section. Grace was nowhere to be found.
The burning section of the airplane crackled and popped as the rain battered the remaining shell of the fuselage. No one had survived. No one wandered among the wreckage trying to make sense of what had happened and thanking whatever god they worshipped for saving his or her life. No one wailed in pain begging to be saved. The chaos in the seconds before the crash had ended in an instant with 153 people losing their lives. Or so it seemed.
The residents of Eden had heard the plane descending over their town and many near the crash site had wondered why it was flying so low. The sound of its engines was not normal reasoned many since they often heard planes in the flight path into Birmingham. The torrential rains made it difficult to see where the plane was in the sky, so many remained in their homes despite the plane’s apparent distress, but once they heard the impact and ensuing explosion, many residents near the crash site came running from their homes to see what had happened.
John McDermott raised cattle on his farm in north Eden and had heard the plane flailing in the sky above. He had stood by the large bay window in his living room trying to locate the plane in the sky, but visibility was too low because of the heavy rain. The sound of the engines seemed to get louder as he looked on and suddenly he saw the plane glide into the pasture behind his house and explode into a ball of fire. It was far enough away that he could not see the wreckage, but he felt the jolt of the impact and explosion. He saw the flames shoot up above the trees in on the horizon. His house shook briefly and the bay window rattled when the plane hit. It happened so quickly, he was stunned. He stood frozen for a few seconds before he darted to the phone to dial 911.
“There’s been a plane crash near my house!” he said hurriedly when the dispatcher answered.
“Can you give us your location, sir?” the dispatcher asked assuming the authoritative, calm tone that John had heard on so many 911 calls on TV.
John gave her his address and explained what he saw. She asked a few questions about the type of plane and if he could see the wreckage now. The dispatcher assured him that emergency personnel would be there soon and advised him to stay away from the wreckage because it could be dangerous.
Immediately after John hung up the phone, he slipped on his boots, jacket, and hat and rushed out the door to his pickup. He needed to find the crash site to see if he could help any survivors. He drove down his driveway from his house and turned toward the gate that led to his pasture. Several cows were huddled near the gate enduring the rain as they ate the grass. He hopped out of his truck shielding his face from the pouring rain and unlatched the gate. He waved the cows aside to move them away from the gate and returned to his truck to drive through. The clueless cows watched as John got out of his truck again and returned to re-latch the gate. He quickly returned to his truck and spun the wheels as he drove off toward the crash site.
The ride through the rain-slicked pasture was bumpy and slippery. John’s truck slid side-to-side as he went up and down each little hill in the pasture. He drove as fast as he could following the plume of smoke that danced fiercely on the horizon. Finally, he reached the far edge of his pasture where the field merged into a stand of trees. He couldn’t drive any further. He put the truck in park and cut the engine. He jumped from his truck into the muddy ground below and started running toward the smoke. He could smell the jet fuel almost immediately. The rain pelted his face, so he put his hand up to squint at the horizon trying to locate the wreckage. He could see a clearing up ahead as the pasture continued beyond the trees and that’s when he saw the first part of the fuselage.
The clearing was as broad as the pasture behind his house and extended to the forest that abutted his land in the distant horizon. The wreckage of the plane was strewn across the entire field. The tail section was closest to him as he stood at the edge of the trees. The tail was mangled but remarkably identifiable compared to the rest of the plane. The main section of the fuselage lay further down the field, but it was nothing more than a black hulking piece of twisted metal after the explosion. Pieces of the plane including metal, luggage, seats and other items covered the field. John squinted as he peered through the rain trying to determine if there are any survivors. It was remarkably quiet save for the faint crackling of the fire that had remained after the initial explosion of the crash.
“Hello!” he screamed. Nothing. The rain began to let up for the first time in hours. He looked up at the sky, which personified the gloomy nature of the tragedy before him. He broke into a jog as he moved closer to the crash to look for survivors. He kept his eyes on the tail section as he approached it preparing himself for the inevitable carnage he would see. He had never seen a dead person outside of a funeral home, and even then, the deceased were usually old relatives who had died of natural causes. He didn’t know anyone who had died in such a violent fashion as a plane crash.
John didn’t pay attention to the ground below him and abruptly kicked a piece of the wreckage, which caused him to fall face-down to the ground. He caught himself with his hands as he squished the muddy earth with his weight. Mud splattered up onto his face and temporarily obscured his vision. He pushed himself up to his knees and used the arm of his jacket to wipe his face clean. His vision returned. The rain had completely stopped. He rested for a brief moment until he saw the baby.
At first, he thought it was a baby doll from one of the children that must have been on the plane. It had landed in a very muddy section of the field and lay under a piece of the fuselage that had pierced the ground and stood upright in the field. The fuselage provided a canopy and the baby lay under it submerged in about an inch of mud. It was still and quiet. John froze the instant he saw it and prepared himself for the gruesome sight of a young life ended mercilessly in a violent crash.
John rose to his feet and made his way to the baby anxious of what he would find. As he reached the fuselage, he looked down at it and wondered how it could have made it through the crash remarkably unscathed. The pink outfit the baby wore was torn in spots and covered in mud, but beyond the numerous scrapes and scratches on its hands and face, there appeared to be no serious injuries. He bent down to pull it from the mud when it suddenly turned its head and began to cry. John jumped, startled that the baby was still alive.
“Good God almighty!” he exclaimed. “You’re alive! Oh my God!” He quickly removed his jacket and wrapped baby Grace in it. She continued to wail uncontrollably. John began to run back to his truck with the baby coddled tightly in his arms. If there was any chance of saving her, he had to get her to the hospital soon as possible. He ran as fast as he could with Grace in his arms praying along the way that this baby would make it. All along he was thinking that this was a miracle. God had led him to this little baby for a reason. It was his duty to ensure she survived. A miracle indeed.