by Rion Wilhelm
Be careful what you wish for.
|I don’t believe in ‘happy ever after’. I don’t believe in Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, in heaven…or hell, or any of the other garbage society propagates to keep the huddled masses docile and obedient while they search for the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
That particular rainbow isn’t likely to appear in their neighborhood anytime soon, and when it does, you can bet it will end in a bottomless bog. Not a particularly attractive viewpoint for a woman to have, I admit, but there you have it for whatever it’s worth.
I believe that the light at the end of the tunnel is an oncoming train and, whatever hell is, it isn’t some sword of Damocles hanging over our heads; it exists in the here and now, and it’s of our own making.
If you don’t believe me, just take a look at the front page of your local newspaper. The only thing that waits in the future is a long dark sleep and that’s as close to heaven as any of us are likely to get.
There is one thing I do believe in. I believe in destiny, or Fate, if you prefer, although sometimes Dame Fate has a really warped sense of humor. If you listen, you can hear her laughing. You might say that’s just the sound of the wind, but I know better. That howl can only be the bitch laughing her ass off. No, our path through life, as well as our final destination, is set at the moment of birth. All we control is the direction of a few detours between point A and point B.
I’ve been thinking about that a lot in the past few hours and now, more than ever, I know it to be true. We can challenge fate as much as we want, but she always gets her way in the end. I should know. As the saying goes, life was something that happened to me while I was making other plans.
My name, in case you’re interested, is Alexis StJames, and I was born in San Francisco in July of 1914. Wrong place, wrong time. My life has been just wrong all the way around. My mother, the former Bernice Wilmington, nice middle-class daughter of “the Nob Hill Wilmington’s”, was delighted when she gave birth to a daughter. That was just what she wanted, a pretty, petite little girl she could raise to be the proper society debutant. Instead, she got me. Poor mom.
Her grief started the moment I pushed away a Cupie doll she had bought me to get at a neighbor boy’s Erector Set. She had a tomboy on her hands. To her credit, she never nagged me about it, even when her humiliation must have been great. But her disappointment was obvious, and never more so than when I fell in love shortly after turning twenty-one.
Only I didn’t fall in love with a suitable young man, as so many of my friends did. I fell in love with an airplane, a Lockheed Electra like the one that was flown by Amelia Earhart on her recent ill-fated flight. It was a beautiful, sleek, silver collection of nuts, bolts and wiring that would eventually break my heart.
Dad had been a flyer, first in an old Curtiss JN4, then later flying Dayton-Wright’s DH-4 in World War I. He had flown eighteen missions before retiring to take a job as a civilian test pilot at a tiny Air Force base in the Southern California desert. He had flown all the newest, fastest, aircraft long before the military had even seen them.
He used to take me flying when I was a child and I fell in love with the freedom of flight. I grew up watching the sky, watching the stars and wondering what it would be like to fly among them, wondering what kinds of creatures inhabited the planets that circled them.
I dreamed of being some small part of answering the same questions that man has asked since he first ventured out of the cave and looked up. I was going to pick up where my father left off. Oh, not as a test pilot, even I had known that was impossible, but I knew I wanted to fly for a living. In the end, that, too, turned out to be impossible. Even today, in the early months of 1939, commercial air flight is still almost exclusively a male province.
And if it wasn’t, a series of middle ear infections in high school had put any hope of a career in aviation out of my grasp. I couldn’t pass the physical. Oh, I could have settled for crop dusting or giving free flights at carnivals. I could have even entered the so-called “Powder-Puff Derbies”, the Women’s Air Derby.
But that just wasn’t enough. I dreamed of the stars. It was a tremendous disappointment that colored the rest of my life. You could say it was, indirectly, what brought me here to a research facility on the northern ice fields.
Disillusioned by the future, you could say I rebounded into the past.
While I was in my second year at San Francisco College for Women, I took a job clerking for the Anthropology department. To my surprise, I found the work fascinating. So I put aside my dreams of flying, switched my major from Aeronautics to Paleontology, and immersed myself in prehistory. No one was more surprised than myself, but I found the work fulfilling and I’ve been busy the last few years. While I’m not exactly a ‘name’, I do have a certain reputation in the ‘trade’, as they say. That is how I came by this ‘opportunity’ and ended up dictating my life’s story into this recorder
The year 1939 was the beginning a period of high sunspot activity. Astronomers expected the effect on Earth’s magnetic field and Northern Lights to be spectacular. Some even suggested that the Lights might be visible as far south as the American Southwestern Deserts. In any case, The Astronomical Society of the Pacific funded a group of researchers to set up a scientific station in the Artic. The project was to observe the phenomenon from close range.
A researcher was installing sensors when he noticed something protruding from a nearby glacier. The focus of the expedition shifted and I found myself in the arctic digging out a complete Mammoth specimen. It wasn’t the stars, but it was almost enough. Almost.
I’ve never considered the concept of time travel a viable one. If it were possible, the time stream would be littered with people trying to undo past mistakes or right some imagined wrongs, myself included.
But yesterday, sitting in the bottom of that hole while stroking those few tufts of shaggy reddish-brown hair, it almost seemed possible. I could almost believe that it was possible to breach the barrier of time and that I was there, 40000 years in the past, when the land trembled beneath the tread of this beast’s massive feet.
It was an exhilarating feeling, a combination of wonder and triumph. It was the kind of rush that I hadn’t experienced since I was a kid watching my father turning Immelmans over Cheeterman’s cornfield. I think I fell a little in love with the beast at that point. Unfortunately, love has the nasty habit of making its’ victims do incredibly stupid things. Even an experienced field paleontologist was not immune, or I wouldn’t have wheedled our pilot into letting me take the airplane up so I could survey the entire area by air. Stupid…Alexis, really, really….stupid….
It should have been simple…I was a licensed pilot, right? One quick turn around the basin under those magnificent Northern Lights, just to see what might have been missed, then back to base. Only blizzards can come out of nowhere when you’re that far north. They have a term for it, a ‘white out’. The land, air, sea, everything in fact, bleeds out into a uniform shade of gray and visibility is down to nothing. Only a fool flies in a storm alone. Say hello to a fool.
So here I am. The interference from those gorgeous lights and the intensity of the storm have combined to make the radio and compass useless. The fact that I am still in the air is a miracle that I don’t expect to continue. The gas in the tank won’t hold out forever and when it goes, this airplane is coming down.
Whether it comes down on land or in water, the end result will be the same. You don’t last too long on the open ice up here, and a rescue party is impossible until the storm dies down. And then, well, they have no way of knowing where I am. In the water, you last an even shorter time, approximately 3 minutes. The human body just isn’t meant to survive at these temperatures.
Do I have regrets? Of course, doesn’t everyone? Is there anything I would change? Absolutely. But it wouldn’t be the usual things you would expect. It wouldn’t be the marriage, husband and children I never had, much to my mother’s chagrin. I could blame that on the demands of my career, but the truth is I never found anyone that I could imagine spending the rest of my life with. In college there were a couple of boys I found interesting, but no but no one who caused the kind of fireworks that one equates with love.. There has been only one great love in my life. That was the stars and they broke my heart.
It’s quiet now. The last of the fuel is gone and this airplane won’t glide for long. I think the storm is breaking up. I can see something through the cloud cover…. it is a sliver of sky and in it I can see the Lights. They are incredible, but they are not the thing that holds my attention as the cold and the dark and the silence settles down around me.
It is the stars. They are so bright and clear and beautiful, a million multicolored points of light spread across the velvet sky, and their beauty is reflected in the dark water that lies beneath me. They seem so close, as though I could reach up and catch them in my hand and hold them close. But I can’t. I never could. I tried to. I tried so hard.. They’re out there waiting, but for someone else, not for me. It shouldn’t be long now and I’m hoping the end will be quick. At least that bitch, Fate, has finally shut up.