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Flight Paths

The dreams were awful on their own. Worse yet, they had a nasty habit of coming true.

I never saw bodies. For some reason, my subconscious edited out the gore. My dreams concentrated on the airplanes themselves; the tangled and gnarled wreckage, smoldering engines or twisted propellers and fuselages that looked like torn open tin cans. I saw the crash sites in vivid color but there was never any sound. My dreams were silent movies.

I have always been fascinated by airplanes. I respect their raw, awesome power. I love to hear their engines wind up to a high pitched scream on the runway just before they launch themselves into the wind.

My father loved to fly. To him, taking a pleasure flight with no destination was as normal as driving to the mall. When I was very young, I went with him. I especially loved to fly at night. With my father at the controls, I would chase the moon and stars until it was time to go home, deliciously past my bedtime.

We owned a house at the beach and Dad would fly down on weekends. One weekend I waited on the beach for him to buzz the house. Finally I saw him—his bright yellow and white Piper skimming the waves. As soon as he saw me he "waggled" his wings and banked rather sharply over the ocean. The sound of his engine was lost in the surf. Or, no it wasn't. The engine had sputtered and died. I heard Mom's voice from the porch. I think she said his name. I couldn't take my eyes off the plane as it twirled gracefully on its wingtip over the waves and was gone.

The first crash dream came years later. In the dream, it was a beautiful summer afternoon and a huge jet flew low over our apartment. As I watched it banked left and then sharply right. It seemed to do a peculiar dance. It rolled completely just before it disappeared. The impact must have been thunderous but there was no sound, only flying debris. The very next day, a plane crashed. It was a beautiful summer evening. A perfect night for flying.

Days later, the experts released an animated video of how the crash may have occurred and it was like watching my dream on TV. The plane banked left, right, then rolled over and died.

Six months later, another dream. The airplane flew through a combination of snow and fog. There was zero visibility. It flew straight into a mountain causing an explosion of snow around the perimeter of the crash. There was no sound, no fire. Mist enveloped the crash site as if the plane had never existed. The day after this dream, a military cargo plane crashed into a moutain. There was no video of the crash site. I didn't need one—all I had to do was close my eyes and I saw it perfectly. I saw the rocky ridge, the fog, and scraps of metal scattered across the snow.

A few months after dream number two: A brightly painted plane took off in the blinding tropical sunshine. It banked over Tampa Bay when something went wrong and it spiraled into the water. Miraculously, the plane did not break apart completely. A large piece of the fuselage hit the water and skimmed under the surface like a fractured submarine before it sank into the sand. The rest of the pieces lay scattered all over the Gulf of Mexico. Five days later, a plane crashed into the ocean off the East Coast. A large piece of its fuselage was found intact, half buried in the sand.

What was happening? Was I going insane? Was I some sort of herald of aviation doom? What could I do? I fought off sleep as much as I could. I tried to stay awake, trying to become so utterly exhausted that perhaps I would not remember the dreams if they came. I refused to fly. I could not bear the sound of an airplane soaring overhead. In spite of my efforts, another dream interrupted my reluctant sleep. This time, I was a passenger.

The aircraft backed away from the gate and suddenly I was very afraid. I tried to get out of my seat but someone pushed me down. I tried to scream but no sound came from my throat. We began to taxi down the runway. We kept going but never gained enough speed to lift off. Suddenly, the airplane turned onto a highway and lumbered along happily as if it belonged there. Cars and trucks whizzed by under our wings. I sat back in my seat and smiled.

That was the last dream. I dare not think too much about them for fear of their return. I got my pilot's license about a year ago. For my solo flight, I headed straight for the ocean. I flew as low as I dared over the beach, banked out over the breakers and did a slow lazy circle. I felt at peace with the sky and the wind and the little four-seater I was flying. I said thanks to my Dad and turned inland toward the airport.

Copyright © 2003 Frances Miller.

Frances Miller was born and raised in the suburbs of Washington, DC. She has wanted to write since age ten. After thirty years of self-doubt, she has decided to pursue her dream. She is married with two small, energetic children and lives in Canada where she writes and longs for a room of her own.