Authors: Caroline B. Cooney
Her mother, who had not cooked in years, cooked up a storm. Her grandmother, who had never cooked to start with, stocked up on food as if Carly’s only hope was eating. Her father suddenly painted Carly’s bedroom walls. The room still smelled paint-ish. The letter sat in the center of the dining table, to be held, fingered, folded, reread whenever anybody passed through the room.
Carly’s coming home. We’ll be a family again.
Shirl won the argument. There was something mystic about being twins, even failed twins like Carly and Shirl. Her parents finally said Yes, she could go alone. Her grandparents finally said Yes, we’ll wait here.
Shirl went by herself. But she would not be coming home by herself. She would have her twin to hold, she would be a twin again. She would say to her sister, whom she loved,
I’m sorry, too.
Shirl was one of the ones who could not sit but stood a few feet away from the TV monitor, sipping her soda, studying the line that meant Carly: Flight One One Six. She was breathless, and excited, and very very close to tears.
My sister is coming home.
ATURDAY 5:41:01 P.M.
Tuck was fast asleep, drooped over the seat, his neck almost severed by the hard plastic cover on his magazine, which had stayed in reading position even when he fell asleep on top of it. Daniel was sort of awake, awake enough to hear the flight attendant say sharply they were to fasten seat belts. He had his on, but Tuck’s was off.
The plane changed angles abruptly. We’re here already! thought Daniel, and he was afraid. Afraid of meeting his father and Linda; afraid of a new family; afraid of his own temper. What if his fury exploded during the ceremony—“Don’t you do this! I hate you!”—when everybody else was laughing and happy? Then they would hate Daniel, all these new people that so frightened and outraged him.
Daniel’s stomach lifted up to fill his throat. He could not believe how swiftly they were landing. He reached for Tuck’s seat belt to pull it over Tuck’s lap and buckle it, but the plastic magazine cover was in the way. It was
and the cover looked interesting. Daniel was sorry he had not noticed it before.
Behind Daniel somebody screamed, a horrible high-pitched scream that he heard not in his ears but in his spine, so that he curled forward in the seat. Daniel’s fingers closed around Tuck’s seat-belt latch.
The flight attendant’s voice was fierce; it was full of force, like his mother’s when she kicked Dad out. “Clasp your hands on top of your head!” shouted the flight attendant, her voice turned up like a boom box. “Bend over!
“God!” screamed somebody in the back. “We’re crashing!”
Darienne checked her watch. It was a lovely watch, one in her extensive collection of watches; a circle of jadelike stone with four tiny diamonds to mark 12, 3, 6, and 9. She admired her wrist, which was slim, and her hands, which were exquisite. She admired her blouse, which had tight sleeves blurry with watercolored leaves and spinning falling flowers. The neck was high, with two bands of dark red, and the general effect was of a girl from Victorian times, a girl of wealth and leisure, of beauty and grace.
It did not entirely satisfy Darienne to look down, so she reached into her leather handbag and took out a small mirror. She admired her features. Really, at school it was considered correct to complain about how you looked. Darienne thought that was ridiculous and never went along with it. She looked wonderful all the time and she knew it.
Across the aisle the plump woman who had refused to exchange
with her said, “Please help me. I can’t seem to fasten my seat belt.” There was a note of frenzy in her voice, which surprised Darienne. The flight attendant had been babbling at the front of their section, but Darienne made it a point never to listen to stewardesses. It was repetitive, all that blather about oxygen masks, and how to give them to babies (after yourself, which Darienne thought reasonable). Besides, what was a stewardess except a glorified waitress? You were supposed to call them “flight attendants” now. Darienne didn’t mind, as long as it was Darienne they attended. But
had failed to do that.
had been solely interested in the little dweeb Teddie.
Darienne looked curiously at the matronly passenger to see what caused such distress.
The woman’s mouth had opened as if she were yawning deeply, but a scream was emerging: an immense, shattering scream, the likes of which Darienne had never heard before: a scream such as primitive soldiers must have given as they rode into battle with lances pointed. The woman’s lipstick was fresh; she had just reapplied it. The scream was framed in an orange shade that Darienne found particularly repellent.
The woman’s seat belt dangled in the aisle. The woman’s hands scrabbled in the wrong place.
The plane jolted. It seemed to be a child’s toy now, which somebody was taking apart to reassemble for another project. Darienne could not believe what the plane was doing. It turned left, turned right, turned down. Planes couldn’t do that. They were not jointed in the middle.
If I miss my connection, thought Darienne, I will sue.
Heidi would have said it was too cold for rain; that the temperature was below freezing, but perhaps that was the wind chill. She and Tally-Ho walked down to the reflecting pool, to see how frozen over it was; ice came and went at this time of year; the pool was shallow, and when she was little she skated there. Skating was something you did only when you were little.
The rain was pellets now. Ice granules. Rice ice. It hurt her face, and even Tally whined.
“Okay, we’ll go in,” she said, thinking, I’ll start a fire. Maybe she would start two fires: one in the toasty little library off the Gallery, and maybe even one in the Hall. Her mother called the big living room the Hall; it was large enough for a meeting to nominate the President. Heidi’s mother joked that if they ever ran out of money, they could host conventions in the Hall. The Hall had a stone fireplace two stories high, rustic and yet imposing. A fire in the Hall fireplace didn’t take mere split logs, but trees. Starting a fire in the Hall was a major undertaking.
But what else did she have to do on a Saturday night?
Pathetic, thought Heidi. Sixteen years old and all you can think of to do is melt chocolate and light a fire.
The noise began.
Noise like an electric guitar stuck on one note, while the acoustics engineer turned the volume up, and up, and up, and up. A thrumming single note that sucked in the world.
The noise expanded like a planet exploding.
A wind with the force of a fire truck’s hose lifted her hair right out of the hood of her tied-tight jacket. One of her mittens was actually sucked off her hand. Her scream she could feel in her throat but not hear; she was deaf; the entire world was screaming.
It was huge and black. A flying saucer, a nuclear bomb, a tornado on its side.
It was in her yard, in her rose garden.
Heidi’s scream threw her to her knees.
Carly had taken off her seat belt to reach beneath the seat ahead of her and hold the sweater, as if she could hold her twin, her childhood, good times, love.
And then weirdly, she who had little flight experience, she who had no grounds for comparison, knew that whatever maneuver the plane was doing was abnormal. The force, the sound, the angle—it was all wrong.
The flight attendant suddenly interrupted, saying in a harsh, almost scalding voice, “Everybody fasten seat belts.
Fasten seat belts.
Clasp your hands on top of your head! Bend over as far as you can!”
Carly was momentarily diverted by the prettiness of
’s uniform: the wine red silk bow tied beneath the white collar, perfectly offsetting the dark gray militarylike jacket. Nice outfit, thought Carly. I’d like to do this, too. I’d be good at this.
In the nanosecond before she accepted what was happening, Carly watched a thousand thoughts race through the flight attendant’s mind and be discarded; everything condensed. “Bend over!” the woman shouted. “Stay down!”
The plane inverted.
Heidi struggled to figure out the origin of the sound, but like the wind, it came all ways at once, attacking her. A noise so great it entered her spine, penetrated her brain cells, would kill her by volume alone.
Her eyes filled with the water of horror, as she crouched, trying to escape its notice, while her mind screamed,
Dear God! Dear God!
and she was aware of how strange that was, because she was not religious and did not pray. There was time to think that she should have gotten closer to God while there was time, and time to think that maybe He would understand, and time to think
what is this?
The black thing avoided the safe open stretch of grass and pierced the woods beyond. The tangled, twisted, spooky woods, where icy rivulets crept through ancient evergreens, over ravines littered with glacial rocks. Red lights glittered; a spray of light, as if a row of cars ahead had put on their brakes. The tops of trees were sheared off and in the dark Heidi saw darker things hurled into the air: missiles, the beginning of the ground attack.
And yet, she had already discarded that theory. Even as she was thinking of bombs and UFOs, she knew. It was a plane crash. In her woods. There were people in there. That’s what those flying missiles were.
Bodies. And seats.
Teddie put her face directly into Bear’s squishy softness. She did not mind breathing through the acrylic fur. The darkness of Bear pressed against her eyes was better than looking around. She wanted to hold hands, but she had the window on one side and the mean woman on the other. Teddie thought vaguely that windows were glass, and glass broke, and that was bad, but she did not know what to do about it and then the glass broke.
Daniel thought: neat. We get to use that emergency chute.
He pictured it: it was going to look sort of like a swimming-pool raft—an inflated tube or sled. He thought: I forget where the exit is, though.
He jerked the plastic magazine out from under his brother’s chin, knowing that it really would decapitate Tuck, no joke. He shoved Tuck’s head down toward his knees, when he realized it was not going to matter where the exit was. The plane had come apart right in front of them; the row of seats in front of Daniel’s eyebrows spun away like pancakes flipped by a great spatula.
Daniel and Tuck’s row, as open as an amusement park ride, hurled forward into the unforgiving branches of trees.
ATURDAY: 5:42 P.M.
Pieces of tree, pieces of metal, pieces of seat and wing gleamed in the moonlight. Some plane lights remained on, so what was left of the plane twinkled in a friendly way. The plane was immense. It seemed impossible that such a huge thing had ever been airborne. It looked bigger and longer than the house, garages, and stable. Like some incredibly large, white celestial cigar, suddenly ripped in pieces and thrown to the ground.
After the deafening roar of the engines ceased, there was a hideous grinding and gnashing of metal. Tree and rock and earth screamed as they were hit.
Then came a queer heavy silence.
She could hear the icy rain hitting the fallen plane, drumming gently on metal that should not have been there.
A single second went by, as if the world were drawing its breath.
How many human beings had that plane held? How many seats must have been crammed into that smashed cylinder? How many passengers—
Screams began. Screams for help. Screams of people’s names. Primitive screams. Voices stuck on single vowels.
The ferocity with which the plane smacked the ground seemed fatal in noise alone, never mind impact. She looked at the wreckage, the stupefying array of wreckage, and could not believe there had been survivors. The plane had divided itself all over the estate, split open like samples for biopsy. It had amputated woods, flung its parts as far as the old pony field.
But people were alive in there, and they were hurt. They needed help.
For a split second, Heidi actually turned around to see who was going to help them.
I’m alone, she thought. There is nobody else to help but me. And I’m not even good enough to sing in a choir or make a friend.
Anxiety seized her chest so painfully that Heidi almost thought she, too, was wounded.
What do I do now? Where do I go? I have to do the right thing!
She could not waste time screaming like those passengers; she was the one who had to get help. To use the telephone.
Sensible, Heidi, she said to herself, be sensible.
But she did not run toward the house with its phones and extensions; she ran toward the plane, thinking,
Pull them out—something smells—it smells like the oil delivery—what if there’s a fire—get them out—
Down the hill and far to her left, a football field away, began a noise as immense as the end of the world. Heidi whirled to see a section of plane burst into flame. One vast wing, still connected to a cut away circle of passenger seats, was on fire.
The flames stretched higher than the trees themselves. Or perhaps there were no trees; the plane had flattened that part of the woods.
The screams from the burning section were muffled. Or perhaps Heidi was deafened. She felt queerly packaged, her head and ears throbbing with white noise. She could hear another noise more clearly: panting, as if all the dogs were exhausted from running, were gasping for breath beside her.
It was her own lungs breathing like that. She had not moved since she stopped screaming herself, and she was out of breath and panting.