D. M. King
Chasers: Generation One
June 7, 2017
Please dont let me die. I whisper through the yellow oxygen mask strapped around my nose.
Small suitcases and carry-ons break free from the overhead compartments and bounce aggressively about the cabin. They mimic the downward plunge of the brand-new Boeing 787. Im not sure where we are on our flight back to Alpha, New York from London, but I know we havent flown quite long enough to be over land yet, which only means one thing--Atlantic Ocean. I hate the ocean. I freak myself out with Jaws flashbacks and watch the left engine ignite. What next?
Boom. Another explosion rocks the cabin. Brilliant flashes of glass shards race across my blurry vision. I swear Larry, the forty-five year-old stockbroker sitting next to me, takes one of them straight through his temple. A fresh splash of his blood spray-paints the side of my face and enters my mouth. Damn. I wipe it off in a panic with my shaking left shoulder.
A symphony of terror fills the air as two-hundred and thirty-nine passengers scream their disapproval of the pilots flying abilities and wage an unwinnable war. I brace myself in my seat, face-first into the crash pad that moments ago doubled as my seat cushion---the pungent smell of carbon from the ear-splitting explosion stuck in my nostrils.
I look up for an instant to survey the gruesome sight. Still hanging nearly upside down in the aisle like a ride on the Nitro roller coaster at Six Flags, were about to make contact with the swiftly tilting planet. My morning omelet reemerges in all its glory, and oddly enough, its as if time stands still for a moment then disintegrates like the charred wreckage of the massive plane. Rather than a hungry shark, pure darkness swallows me whole. Whoever said crash-landing on water is softer than on land must not have understood the laws of physics. Even at only five-thousand feet, the impact forces the life right out of the airplanes lungs and all the rest of the passengers on-board. All except me, 17 year-old Neal Champion.
A black screen of nothingness eventually gives way to sketchy deformed bodies moving back and forth above and around me. I blink several times hoping to clear my vision. For the time being, Im still staring desperately into distortion. Hours or maybe days pass before I lift my head and open my swollen eyes. Once again, the scenery has changed. Soon, shapes take form, and sideways people with masks and white coats appear upright now, like someone has finally fixed my vertical hold, and my television signal returns.
Wha--? Im unable to speak with two tubes rammed down my throat and a clear mask over my mouth and nose.
Mr. Champion? His voice is faint, but Im anxious for answers. Why cant I speak? How did I get here?
No need to talk. A machine is breathing for you. Were trying to save your life.
I mouth the word, though the sound never reaches the airwaves any better than before.
Head trauma. I capture a few more words thrown my way. Otherwise, youre a mighty lucky kid. Rest. Well take care of you. The doctor assures me.
Tears trickle down my burned cheeks and cloud my vision once again. Its so difficult to believe all I am hearing. The unforgettable sights and sounds of London are still fresh in my mind. I drift off again recollecting a paltry piece of yellow caution tape blowing down the steep steps of the embassy. No longer a deterrent to my somber memorial visit, yet a stark reminder that my moms footsteps will never again touch that cold marble. Her face now just a picture on the dresser in my mind. I plunge back to my current surroundings and glance at Dr. Zawis name tag. Unbelievably, Im somehow back in upstate New York. Memorial Hospital. In moments, I surrender to the void again.
Vaguely hanging on to the date of my flight, May 25th, I sleep in and out repeatedly and awake to a series of annoying beeps and buzzes. I move my head from side to side hoping to catch a glimpse of a doctor or nurse. Incredibly the place is empty, or so I think. Still slowed by a painful headache and what appears to be a surgically repaired left wrist, I push the button to raise my bed and find the nurses alarm. One push. Nothing. Two pushes. Still no one. I sit upright, and my focus clears considerably as I notice the last date marked on my IV bag is June 3rd. Have I been out that long?
My intravenous drip has long dried up, so I end some of the incessant noise by hitting stop on the machine. According to the fancy monitors, my heart rate seems normal enough along with my blood pressure, but wheres the staff? Why isnt there anybody taking care of me?
Unsure of what may happen, I tug lightly at the tubes still clogging my airway. After a few short pulls I realize I no longer need to have this machine breathe for me, so I gradually disconnect it. Pulling the flexible tubing out of my lungs and throat resembles a sword swallower yanking steel from his jowls---it burns like I drank an entire bottle of rubbing alcohol straight.
I watch my blood trickle down the side of the bed from the tubes and onto the tile, and thats when I jerk back with a start. Lying on the floor next to my bed is Dr. Zawi. Intense tightness grips my chest cavity and limits my breaths, but I fight back against it and win. My watery eyes blink violently clearing some of the cobwebs lodged in my brain. I swing my legs weakly over the side of the bed and reach down to check his pulse. Hes still alive but barely. He looks like he hasnt slept for weeks. His dark Indian skin is now pale and cold. I stretch for the full water pitcher on the food tray, open the lid, and splash him in the face with the lukewarm liquid. His eyes open for only an instant then close.
Dr. Zawi! Please! Whats happened? Wake up! I shake him a few times, but he never opens his eyes. One last muffled word leaks out before he dies.
Letter? Not as mobile as I need to be, I make a painful decision to break free of my final umbilical cord, separating myself from my IV. An extended burning travels slowly up my arm finally touching the part of my brain that reminds me that I have nerve endings. Needles. What an incredibly cruel invention. I scream in anguish for some help but to no avail. I am on my own---rich red plasma streaming down my unbroken arm as if Ive scratched it on a sharp nail.
I tear some gauze from the cabinet over the sink and wrap white tape around my wound protecting my aching right arm from my self-inflicted ignorance. Like a drunk trying to do the tango, my wobbly legs seek my center of gravity. I stumble around the room searching for a letter. Nothing. Taking a quick glance at myself in a stainless steel surgical tray, Im surprised at how awful I look.