It almost feels peaceful as I plummet to my death. The rest of the world fades away while the wind rushes against me and chills me to the bone. It’s only a matter of seconds, I tell myself. Only a matter of seconds before this is all over, before everything is over.
SPLASH! It feels like I’ve hit solid ground, even though the sensation of sinking into the water is all-encompassing. I land on my stomach. The wind is knocked from me. My lungs ache and the urge to inhale is overpowering. I open my eyes in a panic and struggle wildly to determine which way is up, which way is to the surface, which way is to freedom.
An arm wraps firmly around my waist and the cold rush of air fills my lungs. I sputter crazily, spitting out water with every cough. I open my eyes to see Maxine, who is using one arm to hold on to me and the other to hold onto the seaplane’s pontoon.
“You okay?” she asks me as my eyes finally find focus.
“Yeah,” I cough again.
“Good. Get in. We must be going now. Fast!”
She pulls me to the white flotation device and lifts me out of the water with one arm. My head spins as I scramble to my feet and turn to look at her. She holds her hand up for assistance, which I weakly provide. As soon as she’s up, she climbs into the plane through the passenger door and disappears within. I follow as fast as I can, and as soon as I shut the door behind me, I’m knocked from my feet as the plane pulls forward.
“Sorry,” Bruno yells back at us. “Gotta move fast. Drones are heading this way!”
I find an open seat next to Eve and buckle the seatbelt around me as the plane speeds up.
Eve gives me a smile and a wink before resting her head on my shoulder. I wrap my arm behind her head as the plane begins swaying. Within seconds, everything goes quiet and I realize we made it. We’re invisible. We’re safe.
At least for now.
“Hey, you kids could probably use some towels, huh?” Bruno says loudly across the silent cabin.
“Yeah,” Eve says, shivering. “That would be great.”
I’m in a state of shock, unable to respond to the situation. My inability to move or talk or barely even breathe makes me wonder how I even made it into the plane in the first place. The thought helps wake me from my stupor and after a few quick blinks, I hear the end of the sentence Bruno spoke during my internal thought process.
“—the seat you’re sitting on there.”
Eve stands and looks at me sternly. “Come on. Get up already.”
I blink a few more times and look at her stupidly.
“Didn’t you hear him? Bruno said the towels are under the seat.”
“Oh, yeah,” I blurt out, leaning against the side of the aircraft to pull myself up.
Eve pulls up the seat cushion and pushes aside a few MREs to find a hidden cache of gray towels. She grabs two and thrusts one into my arms. “Dry up quick, tiger. You don’t look so good.”
“Yeah.” I give half a laugh as I lamely wrap the towel around myself.
Eve gets to work vigorously rubbing the towel against her clothes to try and get as much of the wetness off as possible. After a few minutes of this, she looks up at me, notices I haven’t moved from the moment I wrapped the towel around myself, and gives me a curt glance.
“You okay, Cyrus?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I reply.
“For goodness sake,” she says, annoyed, as she pulls the towel from around my neck and begins rubbing it against my hair, quickly moving down my body as she works to dry me off as well. “Don’t suppose you’re hiding any blankets around here or anything, are you? I think Cyrus might be going hypothermic on us. We need to get his temp up.”
Maxine immediately jumps into action. She pushes behind Eve and digs through the confines of the hidden cabinet under the bench.
“I think there might be a few thermal blankets hiding behind the captain’s seat here,” Bruno says urgently. “There’s a floor panel right behind me which should come up easily.”
Without a word, Maxine runs to the front of the plane and rips up the floor panel. She pulls out a large silver sleeping bag and runs it back to me and Eve. “Clothes off,” Max says firmly.
“Okay,” Eve says, looking at me in hesitation.
Maxine pushes her out of the way and makes a rough effort at pulling my hoodie and shirt over my head. She unbuttons and unzips my pants like a pro and before I’m even able to fully register it, my clothes have come off, I’m standing in the back of the sea plane with my pants and underpants around my ankles, shivering uncontrollably, with Eve looking at the ceiling as Maxine wraps the silver bag around me and lays me down on the bench.
“Are you okay, girlie?” she asks Eve.
“Yeah, um,” Eve stammers. “Yeah. I just got a little scared is all.”
“Must work fast with hypothermia. Fast or die. Remember this.”
“Right, I know, I—“
“You’re young. Don’t worry. You’ll get better at it. With time.”
Maxine returns to the passenger seat next to Bruno and Eve is left standing alone, staring over me as I continue to shiver. She finally decides to kneel down on the floor next to me, instead of taking one of the seats in the center of the plane.
“Cyrus?” she pleads. “Can you hear me?”
“Yes,” I say through chattering teeth.
“You’re going to be okay, alright?” she says, unconvincingly attempting to console me.
“I kn-kn-know,” I stutter.
“Can we turn up the heat back here?” Eve shouts to the front.
“Already up as high as it can go,” Bruno says back calmly. “Don’t worry, with the blanket on, he should get back up to temp and be able to self-regulate again in no time. Let him rest, sweetheart. Unless you want to climb into the sleeping bag with him, there’s not much more you can do.”
I notice Eve look at me contemplatively for a moment before she finally kisses her hand and places it against my forehead.
“I’ll be right up here.” She points to the seat in front of me. “Make any noise and I’ll be at your side immediately, okay?”
I attempt to nod my head in response. It’s cold. Really cold. But I begin to feel a glimmer of heat in my chest.
Go to Chapter Twenty-Two