36,000 feet. Reed tried to put it in perspective, but he was having a hard time. The Burj Khalifa was only 2,717 feet. He was currently magnitudes higher than the tip of that building, a fact that wasn’t lost on him as he glanced out of the window at the shadow of the plane coasting across the tops of the clouds. He glanced over at Kara, her hair splayed across her face, her breath coming in a quiet drone. He wondered how she could sleep in this tin can, with the small seats and the stale air and the stale peanuts.
Movement from the corner of his eye drew his attention, and he caught a woman’s pumps striding toward the front of the plane across the threadbare carpet runner in the aisle. He caught a hint of her perfume, lilac, and then she was gone, past the curtain that separated coach from first class. The plane rocked, and he forgot the stewardess, his attention back on the window. There was nothing there of course – you couldn’t see turbulence.
Something touched his cheek, and he brushed it away. One of Kara’s hairs, black and fine, came away on his fingers, the ends floating in the breeze. Breeze? The hair drifted off, like seaweed caught in a current. Movement again caught his eye, and he looked out the window. The wingtip was waggling – a slight dance in the stream of air, but enough for him to take notice. He felt that breeze against his cheek again.
Another stewardess passed him in the aisle, brisk walk and head forward, and he thought about getting her attention. Instead, he put his hand up to the vent over his head and held it there for a moment. His heart did a little jig when he realized it wasn’t on. He looked over at Kara, and saw her hair, stirring, her eyelids fluttering. There was a creaking sound coming from the wing, and then a drone, like a thousand, no a million, angry bees, and oh God, Kara was going to wake up, and they were going to-
There was a great CRACK, like the world had split in two, and he had a moment to register the bright blue of Kara’s eye before he was sucked up and back from his seat into the blue. Cold struck him like an icy fist, and for a moment, he was aware of his lungs struggling to take in breath. Something black and thin clung to his face and tickled his cheek, and he had the thought that it was another of Kara’s hairs, and that he should brush it away because the tickle was maddening, and then there was another crack, smaller but no less important, from somewhere deep inside, and the world went white.
When Reed Michael’s frozen body fell into the field, it hit the ground with the sound of a Thanksgiving turkey hitting concrete, and dug itself a small crater in the soft loam. Tucker was fixing a fence about fifty yards away when it happened, and as a result, nearly pissed his Wranglers. Still, his Pop would have said You don’t leave a job half-assed, so he tied off the last of the wire, packed up his tools, and stuck Ruckus (his farm mutt) back in the barn.
When he was done cleaning up, he ambled out to the field and peered into the small crater in the dirt. Clods of soil had been thrown up around the rim, and the ghostly white thing inside was speckled with brown and black. Tucker leaned in and took a closer look. The body was twisted and balled up, like someone had taken a perfectly good human being and wadded them up like a piece of paper. He straightened and sighed, and pulled out his phone.
He dialed the number for the sheriff, and waited for someone to pick up. After a couple of rings, Donna, the secretary picked up.
“Hey Donna, Hank in?”
“He’s away right now, but I can give him a ring.”
“Sure, sure. Say, I got a body in my field.”
Donna chuckled. “You pullin’ my leg, Tuck?”
“No ma’am. Damn thing fell out of the sky.”
Donna cursed under her breath. Tucker could tell she was holding the phone away for it, but he heard it anyway. When she came back, there was no more laughter in her voice.
“All right. Well, Hank’s gonna be gone most of the night. Most of the boys are. Conference in Bismarck. I’ll get him down your way as soon as I can.”
“What do I do with this thing in the meantime?”
“Cover it up. And for God’s sake, don’t touch it.”
“All right. I got a tarp. I can do that. Thanks, Donna.”
“All right. Goodbye.”
“Bye.” He hung up the phone and pocketed it. After a moment, he headed back to the barn.
There was a tarp on top of the small tractor he kept for plowing the drive and pulling stumps, and he grabbed it while Ruckus watched. When he went out, Ruckus followed at his heels. He unfolded the tarp while the dog sniffed around the crater, and Tucker had to shoo him away twice before he finally got the body covered. When it was down, he hauled a couple of bigger rocks over form the pile at the edge of the field and weighted down the corners. That done, he called Ruckus over, and they closed up the barn and went inside for dinner.
Outside, the wind began to pick up.
Fuck, it’s cold. The thought flickered through Reed’s head like a fluorescent coming to life. The second thought that came, like the next light in a series, was that the wind had picked up. The third that came to him, more like a flame than a light, was that he hurt. It wasn’t a hurt like you felt with the flu, or the deep ache that came with a broken bone, but an agony that buzzed in his limbs like someone had set fire to them.
A moan escaped his lips, and he tried to suck in a breath. It came in a tight wheeze, which sent him into a small panic. He could feel his heart, hammering in labored time to his fear, and he forced himself to take breaths as deep and steady as he could, despite the needling pain that flared in his ribs. His heart slowed, and he was able to rope in his fear before it grew into terror. After a moment, he opened his eyes, and tried to figure where he was.
Darkness surrounded him. His lips were cold and chapped, and he was sure he could taste blood in the back of his throat. He managed a little saliva and spit to clear the taste. Something fluttered above him, and he tried to turn his neck to look up. His body groaned in agony, and he only managed to untangle himself a little, his left arm hanging unnaturally, his neck twisted painfully. Above him, he could see something somewhat glossy, fluttering in the wind, the underside occasionally lit by the morning light.
Sunlight. I only need to get there. He twisted again, and a scream that sounded like a teakettle ripped its way out of his throat. His leg sent up a signal flare that told him if he continued to move, it would in no uncertain terms make him black out and quit all that bullshit. He grit his teeth and took another wheedling breath, and tried to concentrate on anything but the pain. The tarp is black. No, blue. It’s blue.
He tried his arms, and found only his right responded. He pushed it forward and out, the fingers clawed like some sort of deformed steam machine. He dug them into the dirt that surrounded him and pulled, his teeth set. For a moment, nothing happened, and he almost screamed again in frustration. He stopped, panting as deep as half his lungs would allow, sweat sending runners of salty mud into his eyes, and then tried again.
The tarp is blue. He heaved with all his strength. He thought he felt something in his back give, probably something important, and still he pulled. His body lurched and slid, and when it was over, he let his hand go, the muscles on the back of it tight and aching. He stopped, breathless again, and managed to look down. There was a definite drag mark behind him, the soil churned where he had drug himself forward. His shoulder ached.
He lay there in the dirt then, half-alive and on mental fire, and wondered if Kara had made it. If some stray wind had brought her to Earth, or if she had been strapped in and managed to ride the wreckage down. He tried to remember if she had unbuckled her seat after takeoff, or if she had been sucked out and away, and if she was laying in some field somewhere, he long legs and pale skin snapped and twisted and red. The thought of her wreckage, the thought of her death threatened to fill him until it was a tide pulling him under, and with an effort, he wrenched his neck upward again, and stared at the tarp in the wind, and the light that flickered there. The tarp is blue.
He took another wheedling breath and flung his arm out. It was easier this time, though his shoulder protested. He reached, and dug, and with another flare of pain and a hissing scream, he pulled himself up. Again. He repeated the process. On his third try, something in his arm gave with a twang he felt in his ribs, and his arm quit. He was beyond pain at that point, but not frustration. With a cry, he kicked his legs and screamed into the dirt.
He lay that way for a while, chest rattling against his own weight, the smell of loam creeping into his sinuses. His body throbbed, and he felt warmth against his belly. He wondered how badly he was hurt, and discounted it. If he thought about it, he would give up. If he gave up, he’d never know about Kara. The tarp is blue.
He tried a leg. His left kicked, his right flopped like a dead fish, and sent up a bout of hatred. He ignored it, lifted his chin, and began to push himself forward. He imagined what he must look like, and laughter came bubbling up from his broken chest. He remembered a documentary he’d seen once, about fish with lungs – he thought they were called mudskippers – and thought he must look like one of those.
He kicked again, and surged forward. The flapping sound was louder. He craned his neck upward and saw the blue was true blue, like a summer sky. The tarp was close enough he could imagine sticking his tongue out and tasting it. It would taste like plastic and soil, maybe motor oil. He pushed again, and his right leg screamed at him. The pain rose and rose, a crescendo in an inferno, and he screamed again and again. His brain shut off the lights, and he passed out, a scream dying on his lips.
Outside, the wind blew on.
Hank Tuttle pulled into Tucker’s drive and cut the cruiser’s engine. He radioed his position and time, and got out. He left the big trooper hat in the cruiser – the thing was just as likely to blow away in this sort of wind as not. He stood outside the car for a moment, looking over the farm and cursing Tucker in a good-natured way. He had been at the Radisson – granted, it wasn’t as nice as sitting on a stretch of back road on a sunny day, but they were going to have waffles in the morning – those big Belgian bastards. He loved those things.
He sighed, popped a stick of gum, and walked up to the farmhouse. Three solid knocks – his kids would’ve said it was his cop knock – and a wait. He heard Ruckus start up, and Tucker cussing the big dog out for a moment before the door opened. Tucker opened the screen door.
“Hey, Hank. Thanks for coming down.”
“No problem, Tuck. Donna says you got a body in the field.” He half-grinned, and put on his ‘aw-shucks’ attitude. “You didn’t put it there, did you?”
Tucker frowned. “Hell no. You’ve known me for a while, Hank.”
Hank nodded, and let the smile drop. Tucker went on.
“Damn kid fell from the sky.”
Hank’s heart dropped. He’d heard something about an aviation emergency on the way over, but that it had been buttoned up by now. Which meant that poor kid had fallen out of the plane. Damn. He sighed.
“Better show me where, Tuck. I’ll radio for the wagon.”
Tucker lead him out to the field, where a blue tarp fluttered in the wind. The stood over it for a minute.
“How bad is it?” Hank asked.
Tucker shook his head. “Looks like someone balled him up.”
Hank nodded. “All right. Go ahead and move it.”
Tucker moved the rocks holding the tarp down and peeled it back. The body inside was twisted and broken, and in a weird sort of face down, ass up position. Tucker frowned.
“Wasn’t like this last night.” He said.
“Huh.” Hank leaned in. The dirt around the kid’s face was wet, and there was a big streak on his chin.
“I don’t know that he was totally de-”
Movement from the crater cut Hank off as Reed snapped an arm out. The clawed hand grabbed his uniform leg, and Hank fell on his ass as the kid clutched at him. Instinct kicked in, and he leaned forward. The kid’s lips were moving, and he put his ear to them.
“The tarp is blue.”
In the distance, sirens picked up on the wind and carried across the field. The kid’s hand stopped clutching and went limp.