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4. Sprout Wars 6. Sweet as Sugar

August 6th, 2020

Pilot Light

The sunset was directly ahead, and reflected in the black tinted glasses that he took off to wipe clean, blinking hard to clear the sleep from his eyes, where red was beginning to seep into the whites, an intricate network of streams that preluded the fatigue that he felt sapping his senses away. The noise of the engines behind him had drowned out any passing thought he'd had for the last hour, the smell of the oil dripping into the empty room had clogged his brain with heady nausea. He flexed his fingers, stretching them out, feeling the ache that had built from a light throb into a dull cramp, gripping the muscles in his wrist and hand. His eyes stayed staring dully ahead as he reached into the locker the beside him and took out a package wrapped in oiled paper. Slowly he peeled back the covering to reveal the uneaten half of a sandwich which he chewed with deliberate steadiness, his mouth opening and closing like a gnawing grandfather clock. As he finished the last bite of his sandwich he began to feel a swirling sensation in his feet. He gave them a shake, trying to get the blood to flow through the stiffness in legs but the detached, churning continued and now began to spread up his calves which started to shiver and twitch. Breathing hard he grasped his leg tightly, pinching into the skin of his thigh. The sun set. The cabin lights glowed dully, reminders that, though outside the world turned crimson, ruby wine, then bible-black, still he flew, thousands of feet above a distant world that reflected nothing of the cloudy moon's light. The lights around him began to blur again and he shook his head, stretching out his jaw and pushing his eyebrows upwards in an effort to stake up his lids from closing, but he could feel it was a losing battle. He let out a groan and voiced a yawn, holding it into an elongated shout, frantic and rasping. No one or thing replied, except the familiar chugging rumble of the engines. He looked down at the array of lights, switches, charts and dials that kept the plane in the air. How funny, he thought, that so much time had gone into designing and maintaining, into safety checks and assessments. Words like Standard Operating Procedure and Emergency Response Plan swam through the empty sky alongside him. He reached out and touched them as they flipped and span, like dolphins with a canoe, leaping and diving before disappearing into the gloom. Other headings in the Aircraft Operations Manual brushed up and sat with him, purring their Safety Management Systems. He closed his eyes laughing as the Fatigue Management Scheme he had discarded opened the door behind him and took the empty seat where the shadow of a man lay sleeping, dark. A light flickered on above him. Must be the seatbelt sign. They'd be taking off. Sitting up he pulled the leather strap tight, feeling the surge of power that pushed him tense against the seat. The cabin started to shake as the air became thick, wind slamming into the glass windows that rattled in their fittings. He felt the familiar tipping sensation as the craft leant into the sky which lifted the nose forwards, propelling the craft into a spiral. As the room span something cracked through the air slamming hard into the sight of his head and his vision snapped clear. With new found energy he grasped wildly at the controls, gaping at the displays which showed he was not lifting off the earth but plummeting towards it. Gently he eased the stick to the left, then to the right, stopping the plane from spinning, before leaning back into his chair and pulling the lever with him, pushing the nose up into the wind and bringing the plane to a gliding horizontal. He sat panting for a while, his eyes blood red and wide with fear and exhilaration. He looked around, still nothing but the night, but at least the stars were above him now. The instrument lights glowed softly as he let his head roll back until he was staring at the cabin roof, he sighed, breathing slowing, eyes threatening closure again. He looked at his hands. The one which gripped the stick was clammy with sweat and he reached with it for a towel from a locker below him with which he wiped his hands, the stick and his face before noticing he had somehow covered the towel in blood. Then he felt the warm trickle of liquid pooling around his crotch. He swore and checked his head and chest for injury before the feeling he had lost in lower half started to return in the form of intense aching pain in his legs and the realisation that the skin of his upper thigh had been cut open. He felt around in the gloom and found the marks where his nails had punctured the denim. He looked more closely at his left hand and gagged when he saw the colour of his finger tips. All except his little finger were swollen to almost double the size and turning blue and purple by the second. Flexing them gently he tested each to see if they were broken, but they seem intact apart from the severe bruising. He wiped down the useless hand and wrapped it up, no use causing more damage. Then he addressed his leg, which thankfully wasn't as bad as it had first appeared, pushing some torn bandage into the holes and wrapping tape around the whole of his upper thigh. Then it was quite again. He looked up at the stars which blinked off and and on as he passed clouds which passed them. He looked down at the earth which stretched out like a sea of pitch below, though on the horizon, barely creeping over the line of his window, he thought he saw a distant glow.

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