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Today starts off like a normal day. I am going to be flying Albert, back to his home town. I am a private pilot that mainly flies small groups of people in and out of the small town I live in. Three hours after checking in at the airstrip I am flying my small plane. And the last thing any pilot wants to happen happens. The engine stalls out, which is not an immediate problem, however when the fuel gauge tells me there is no more fuel, then we start falling out of the sky. The plane changes to a dead metal bird, useless, we drop for a countless amount of time. It feels like an eternity before we hit the ground
It’s truly amazing how different hearing about something is rather than living through it. Just like learning about how gruesome the battlefields of World War II were, is so much different than actually seeing, smelling, hearing, and feeling the grit and grease of the dirt, blood, and pain that changed the face of the earth. And now, up to my neck in a life or death situation, my whole vision changes. When I look in front of me, I don’t see trees; I see shelter in the sturdy branches with lots of leaves to keep my head dry. I see fire wood, which I use to make a fire, to cook my food, if I had any, or sterilize my water, if I had any. I see warmth that keeps me safe when I sleep, that warmth saves me from the cold, that warmth keeps me alive. I look out in the distance and see my savior. I turn to Albert and say
“We should go that way” gesturing in the direction of a river that splits two mountains with its determination to make it back to the ocean.
“Yeah more water sounds good” Albert says while gasping.
“Just leave some of it for me ok”
“No promises” Albert says as a joke, and in any other situation except for this we would both be laughing, or at least smiling at each other. But instead we look at each other with a sense of recognition, understanding, and sympathy. In that moment we both agree to shut up. And for the rest of daylight we walk in silence. The only thought that keeps us going is the thought of fresh water liberating our stomachs from this internal suffering. However our efforts were not enough to make it to the river in one trip.
“We can’t make it today Albert” A long pause as Albert lets more bad news settle in his head. Finally he turns around and says
“We need to find shelter” I nod my head in agreement.
“Do you have any ideas?” I say. Albert turns his head in all directions and I do the same.
“Over there” Albert points out a fallen tree to our left. The tree is huge. A massive pine tree with roots and branches that could be called trees themselves. I start to walk over to the tree, and on my way over I collect anything that I think I can use to make a roof. Before darkness falls, we transform the uprooted tree into an old fashioned lean-too. A couple of branches give us a roof that is just good enough to protect us from the wind. When the sun falls a new world awakes to walk and spread fear. And the only victims that can feel the new worlds fear are Albert and I. Sleep literally becomes the scariest thought possible. What is going to happen if I fall asleep? Eventually we both close our eyes. And when I sleep I do not dream. I simply do my best to recover all the energy that I have lost.
When I awake the first thing I see is the same thing I saw when I went to bed, the inside of a dirty pile of sticks. The first thing I hear is my growling stomach. I have had slow moving mornings before this morning but this one definitely takes the cake as the slowest moving morning in the history of my life. I wake up Albert and we begin our long walk to the river.
“How did you sleep?” I ask to try and lighten the mood. To my surprise it had a good effect.
“I slept like a rock, last night I was so tired I fell asleep as soon as I hit the ground” I had no idea he slept so easily. I was surprised that I had such trouble finding sleep but it simply was handed to him on a silver platter.
“Well that’s good, you ready to go home?”
“Are you kidding, I was ready to go home the second we started falling out of the sky” And on that note he took off down the mountain towards the river. I follow him quietly, eventually my mind started to wander. I couldn’t stop thinking about water, just water, it was all I wanted. I realize how much I have taken water for granted, water has always been such a given, until now. They give water out for free in restaurants; they just give it away like it’s nothing. The farthest I have ever walked to get a glass of water is fifteen steps at the most. It is sad that it takes a life threatening situation for me to realize that water is valuable.
As we approach the river the trees begin to disappear and a rocky beach is waiting for us. We run to end of the beach and engulf ourselves in the clear water. We drink until we cannot drink anymore and then we talk. Talk about how we are going to get home.
“We should follow the river, eventually we will run into someone” I say with complete confidence.
“No way I’m sure there is a village over that hill” Albert says gesturing to a geological feature too small to be called a mountain, but at the same time too small to be called a hill. It looks like a relatively easy climb, no steep cliffs or rocky areas.
“Are you crazy? That could take days to climb”
“No I’m sure there is a village at the base of the other side of the mountain; I remember seeing it on the map”
“The last time I took your advice for directions we ended up in the wrong airport”
“I am following the river whether you like it or not” I say to him looking straight into his eyes. I can tell he does not like what I said. And just like that the cocky bastard gets up and starts walking off in the direction of the mountain.
“Don’t be an idiot!” It’s no use, no matter what I say he is not coming back. After I can’t see him anymore I start to think. I have to forget about him and focus on riding my savior to safety. I need a raft. It takes me a while to put together a bundle of sticks that would float with me on top. As soon as I can tie them together I set off down the river, exhausted from lack of food, determined by the unexplainable force inside of me I push onwards.
After about thirty minutes passes the river calms down into a straight calm path home. The fatigue of my journey finally catches up to me and I pass out. I do not know how long I was asleep but I will never forget the rude awakening I experienced. The loud roaring of water slamming against jagged rocks fills my body with energy so quick it surprises me. I sit up and stare a large rock in the cold face. Like a deer in front of a car I freeze. As my raft slams into the immovable rock it is cut in half and I fall violently into the cold, rushing water. I swim with all my strength, which by now is all adrenaline, to get my head above the water. The next two minutes feel like an eternity, and during that time all I do is work to keep breathing. Finally the water calms down again and what’s left of my raft appears behind me. I swim over to it and pull myself onto it, but only my upper body fits on the raft. I think to myself, “my god I can’t believe I am alive” and then black out.
The next time I wake up I am staring a local fisherman in the face. His face is filled with concern and my heart is filled with joy, but my face does not show it. My legs are limp and hanging off the edge of what’s left of my raft. My skin feels like a water logged tree lying dead on the cold ground. I have to concentrate on moving individual fingers, and my shoulders lack the strength to carry a pair of shoes. All of this doesn’t matter because I do have energy; I can only utter sounds to speak. I say:
“Help…help…please help me” Besides proving to the fisherman that I am alive, the condition that I present myself tells him I need serious attention. He pulls me aboard his boat, which only looks a slight bit more stable than my raft, however I feel safe. He reaches into a bag and pulls out some kind of berry that could only be indigenous to this region. I cram all of them into my mouth, and without knowing what I am eating, my stomach feels instantly better. After my snack I lie on my back staring up into the sky. The harsh sun forces me to shut my eyes. Not planning on it, but like a mandatory business meeting, I fall asleep.
The boat comes to an abrupt stop that wakes me up. I sit up look around me and see that more people have come to help move me. Two men move me onto a stretcher made from the forest. They carry me into a village, or a large gathering of huts. We start walking towards the middle of the village and after a short time we take a right into the largest of the huts. They set me down on a table set for two people, and leave me. The man that found me comes inside and stands at the back of the room. Another man appears in the entrance and takes a seat at the table that I am on top of. He must be of a higher social class because he instructs the man behind me to leave, and he does as he is told. I get down off the table and sit in the other chair. The man reaches behind his back and pulls out a phone, a satellite phone. I reach for it slowly, and when he sees that I know what to do with it he smiles, and I smile back. I think to myself, “I am going home”. I dial up the number for the control tower at the airstrip and listen to the ringer. When the ringer stops I hear the voice of the person on the other line and tears well up in my eyes.