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Golden Time

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The plane shook from side to side, thrusting Louis headfirst into the adjacent seat. The flight attendant, patrolling the aisle, gave him a nasty look, and pointed to the seat belt sign. Louis rolled his eyes; he loathed seat belts. To him, their only purpose was to make his journey miserable. Reluctantly, he snapped the buckle of the seatbelt and sat patiently. He gazed out his window at the landscape below. Pointed mountains, their tops smothered with vanilla white snow, glistened as far as his eye could see. Louis pulled his red woolen blanket closer. He was glad he was inside a nice warm airplane rather than outside freezing on top of one of those mountains. He eyed his watch and smiled. It wouldn’t be long until he arrived in Denver. At least, that’s what he thought.

The flight attendant handed Louis a drink. He took a sip and then started to cough. Iced tea! Disgusted, he made a face and turned to hand back the drink, but to his dismay the attendant had moved on down the aisle. Just as Louis was about to mutter something that he might later regret, he was thrust into the air, his iced tea flying out of his hand. It made a quick descent and splattered all over the lap of the woman next to him. Horrified, she grabbed her purse and ruthlessly pounded him with it. He barely noticed the blows, however. Loud booms and crashes were coming from the wing outside. The plane suddenly slowed down. Confused people began to scream. Something was dead wrong.

Alarms went off, followed by more screams. Over the loudspeaker came the captain's voice. “Folks, please remain calm. We’ve had a situation, but we’ll be working to get things under control.”

Louis, ignoring the pilot’s advice, panicked, and desperately looked for the nearest emergency exit. He had forgotten that it was in his row – and he was in the window seat! He stared out the window once again but this time recoiled in terror. The plane was much closer to the mountains, so close that he couldn't see the sky. The tea-soaked woman next to him was now drenched in sweat and looked as though she was about to cry. Down the row, every face had a similar expression. The sight made Louis shudder. They all knew something terrible was about to happen.

BAM! An explosion came from the opposite side of the plane. Louis felt the pressure of his seat belt. Another loud blast! He heard a horrendous screeching. It felt as if his seatbelt would break his ribs. There was an acute pain in his head. He winced. The plane was in the air no longer and was sliding to a stop. The lights flickered sporadically, and then went out entirely. Louis fumbled with the seatbelt that had saved his life. He thrust his head over the seat in front of him and scanned the area. Suddenly, a terrible thought flashed across his mind: golden time. It was a period of ninety seconds that Louis had read about in a magazine. After this short time, there was a possibility that the plane might explode. He wasn’t going to wait to find out; he had to get out now.
His fingers found the emergency hatch, and he began to pull with all his might. The window popped open and sunlight flooded into the plane. Desperate to escape, he grabbed his carry-on bag and thrust his head out the hatchway. A firm push from the woman behind him sent him violently out of the plane and into the snow. Not taking time to think, Louis began to run. He felt the air rushing past him and the underbrush tearing at his clothes. The ground shook and a mighty blast of fiery air sent him flying forward. Too frightened to look back, Louis kept his legs churning. With no sense of time, he pushed himself further and further down the mountain. He felt as if his lungs would freeze, then suddenly his legs gave out. His head plunged into the snow beneath him and against something hard. Then everything went black.

When he awoke, Louis found himself in an alien world. The ground was steep and trees rose from the landscape as far as the eye could see. As he brushed himself off he felt the bag beside him. He let out a long and disappointed sigh. The bag was not his but a purse instead, the same purse that had battered his head after his accident with the iced tea. He kicked a stone in frustration, and then abruptly dumped the contents from the purse: a few sticks of gum, a calculator, a wallet, a package of tissues, a pair of gloves, a can of tuna, and a few items that he didn’t recognize. Then he cheered. The last object was a lighter!

Darkness was creeping up on the landscape, and the wind steadily began to pick up its pace. After a few minutes of gathering branches and pinewood, Louis was ready for a fire. He had also gathered a few leaves to burn. He remembered that green leaves produced a very distinctive white smoke, which could attract a rescue plane. He pulled out the lighter and tried to ignite the pile. The flame kissed the wood, but was quickly drawn away. Annoyed, Louis began to search through the wallet. It contained only a miniscule amount of cash. He pulled out a dollar bill, set it ablaze and tossed it onto the pile. The bill proved to be the perfect kindling, and the fire began to pass onto the pile of wood.

The next challenge for Louis would be figuring out how to heat the tuna. He had little experience with cooking, especially under these conditions. He pulled the tab, placed the open can on the firewood, and let it sizzle.
The sun had dropped completely below the horizon now, and things became increasingly harder to see. Louis started to shiver. The snow was not deep here but it was beginning to freeze, and the wind appeared to be brewing into something serious. It looked as though this tough day was only going to get tougher.

Lightning flashed in the sky above and sleet began to pour down. It seemed as though the ground was shaking, and darkness closed in around him. Louis scrambled to save his can of tuna and felt a stinging pain: he had burned his hand on the expiring fire. He leapt up, lifted his hand towards the raining sky, and felt the heat departing.
Desperate for shelter from the downpour, Louis grabbed his bag of supplies and scurried down the mountain. In his panic, he barely realized that the snow had given way to hard ground. Unable to see where he was going, he slammed into a tree, fell backward, and felt a spinning sensation in his head. Afraid to stop, he jumped back up but felt his feet fail beneath him. He began to slide down the mountain, dragging rocks along with him. Flashes of light blinked inside his head and he felt his whole body spinning like a disc in a CD player. The world was out of control, and he blacked out for the second time.
The world stood still again when Louis opened his eyes hours later. He felt paralyzed. His whole body was stinging and aching, and he was pushed against something massive and firm. Using the side of the unknown object as a support, he pulled himself up. Immediately, a splintering pain stabbed through him and he found himself back on the ground with a broken left leg. He limped up once again and began to hop forward on his right foot. The broken leg could not be taken lightly; it needed immediate attention. Louis hopped toward a tree and began prying off two large pieces of bark. He carefully sat down and straightened his leg. He winced. Touching the injury made the pain nearly unbearable.
After gathering the tissues and gloves from the purse and removing his shoes and socks, Louis was ready to create a splint. First, he wadded up the tissues and stuffed them inside of the gloves to act as cushions. He then carefully placed one on a piece of bark and laid it against his leg, then did the same with the other on the opposite side. He felt a spark of pain, but it died down after a few seconds. He breathed heavily as he grabbed his socks and began to stretch them. Ever so slowly, he tied the bark together with the elongated socks. He felt more horrifying pains, but gritted his teeth and clenched his fists. After the splint was securely in place, he fell onto his back in relief.
Only now did Louis see exactly what the unknown object was: an undersized shed. He slowly started to inch his way toward it, but kept his hands tightly grasped on the splint. The socks were insecure, and felt as though they were about to come loose at any moment. The shed was rusty with streaks of blue splattered across the sides. Obviously it is had not been used for some time, since lofty weeds blocked the doorway. Not wanting to release his grip on the splint, Louis bashed his back into the door and felt the musty air greet him. To his dismay, the shed was absolutely empty. At least there was just enough space for him to lie down. His brain seemed to be suffocating and his arms turning into liquid. He was exhausted, yet he could not sleep.
A few minutes later, Louis heard a mechanical throbbing from outside the shed. At first, he discarded it as just another trick of his mind, but it began to grow louder and more distinct. It was a motor; Louis was sure of it. Desperate for survival, he leaped from the shed. His leg exploded with pain as he put pressure on it. The socks had loosened, and the bark of his splint had shifted. Immediately, he fell to the ground and began shouting like a madman. Thoughts of the airplane crash, the storm, and his slide down the mountain all flashed through his mind. He didn’t just want to get out of this place, he had to! He knew that he had no hope of surviving here any longer.
His breath was faint from shouting, and he began to lose consciousness for a third time, when a shadow descended from the sky and the sound of rotor blades pounded in his ears. Dust and pine needles sprayed over him. Just before he closed his eyes he saw the helicopter. It was golden.



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