Chapter Three (Part One)
The young man awoke in the dark to the smell of burning. His head throbbed with an immense pressure, and his ears sang with the thundering pulse of blood. He opened his eyes to the mangled metal of the cockpit, scattered with an array of smashed instruments, nothing of which he recognised. An icy wind blew through the shattered windscreen, biting at the exposed skin of his face. Blinking, he peered out and was surprised to see that the world outside had not only turned completely white, but also turned upside-down.
There were straps biting into his shoulders and chest, holding him captive. He felt his way along them with gloved hands, searching for a release, and his fumbling dislodged the identity tags that hung around his neck. They fell down and hit him on the nose with a jangle, making him jump. It was then that he realised. It wasn’t the world that was upside-down; it was him.
Reaching for the identity tags, he scrutinised them. The letters swam before his eyes until, with effort, he managed to focus.
“J Fairchild, Pilot,” he read out loud.
He repeated the name a few times with a voice he didn’t recognise, and wondered why the tags said ‘J Fairchild’ when his name was… was…
Looking again at the twisted metal in front of him, it occurred to him that it might once have been a plane. The tags around his neck said ‘Pilot’. And as there was nobody else around…
“Hello?” he tried.
… As there was nobody else around, he must have been flying the plane. But how could he possibly be a pilot? He didn’t know the first thing about planes or how to fly them. He sifted through his memory, searching for the merest scrap of knowledge about flying. And as he was sifting, it became clear that there was nothing to sift through; he didn’t seem to know anything at all about anything at all. Not about flying, not about his name, not about where he came from, or about how he’d ended up hanging upside-down in a crashed plane in the snow.
He hung there a while longer as he thought about this. There were suddenly questions everywhere, pecking at him like hens.
Who am I? How old am I? What am I doing here? What day is it? What did I have for breakfast? Will anyone miss me?
The last question seemed the most important, for with all these questions came a profound sense of loneliness. And above all else, what he needed right now was the feel of someone else’s arms around him, the whisper of comfort in his ear, the soft press of lips on his cheek. He closed his eyes and was horrified when a tear squeezed out and dripped down his forehead.
Was this the kind of man he was?
But he let the tears fall. He allowed himself the self-pity. After all, there was nobody around to see it. And if the sobs that escaped from his mouth were too loud, what did it matter?
When there were no more tears he sniffed loudly a few times, and then continued the search for the catch that would release him from his straps. He couldn’t remember how the harness worked so he tried everything he could think of. The last thing he wanted was the indignity of dying upside-down.
“At least let me walk a few paces so that they know I tried.”
Quite who ‘they’ would be, he didn’t know. He imagined some faceless creatures dressed in thick overcoats and hats trudging through the snow with a stretcher. They would find him, not in the cockpit, but stretched out as a frozen slab of flesh in the snow a hundred footsteps away, eyes closed, but jaw set with determination. ‘At least he tried,’ they said to each other, ‘We can tell his parents he was brave.’ If he had any parents.
Just when he was trying to picture what he looked like; what he would look like dead (he couldn’t), his gloves snagged on the release catch and the harness regurgitated him unceremoniously onto the shattered ceiling of the cockpit. The pilot discovered that he knew quite an impressive range of swear words, and also that he had broken his ankle.
Pain screamed up his left leg and a tidal wave of nausea caused him to retch. He swallowed hard, fighting the urge to vomit, aware that his body may need all the nutrition it could get. As the blood that had pooled in his head began to flow back down to where it should be, his ankle began to throb. The slightest movement was agony. The pilot gritted his teeth in an effort to control the pain and the panic that came with it. He wouldn’t be walking anywhere. He would be hopping. He would be lucky to get out of this alive.