She hated it. She hated it all. Everything from the huge, industrial looking airplanes to the small, stuffy, overly crowded magazine stands that littered the whole airport. She hated waiting for the plane that she knew would never be on time, and she hated other people breathing her air while she was sitting in that overly stuffed, lumpy airplane seat. And with her luck, she would probably be sitting in front of two bratty little kids who would kick the back of her seat most of the twelve and a half hour plane ride. No. The WHOLE twelve and a half hour plane ride. Basically, Leslie Anderson hated flying. And what, you are probably asking, is a person who hates flying doing in an international airport? Simple answer. Her mom.
It had all started when Leslie's novel had been turned down by a major publishing company. "Go take a break! You've been working really hard and you need a vacation anyway," Leslie's overprotective mom had told her. So here she was. In the Detroit airport, as unhappy as ever. But it hadn't always been like this. She hadn't always been unhappy and depressed. And she was reminded of it every time she looked in the mirror. Leslie's once long, beautiful, dark auburn hair, had lost its sheen after many days spent indoors, working on the novel that she was sure would be published. Her once bright sapphire blue eyes were now dull, tired from reading and editing for long hours. Worry lines that were never there before were etched into Leslie's face, giving her a washed out, tired look. But that didn't matter now. The old Leslie was long gone.
As Leslie settled into seat 28A, she thought about the long flight ahead of her. Maybe it wouldn't be so bad after all. As far as she could tell, it was going pretty well. She didn't see any annoying kids or obnoxious old ladies that complained about "the service these days."
"Ladies and Gentlemen," started the red and blue clad flight attendant. "We are about to take off. Please fasten your seat belts and get ready for take-off." Leslie studied the fight attendant. Perfect hair. Perfect teeth to go with that perfect smile. Perfect "just ironed" uniform. Yuck. And her mom blamed the airplane food for her air-sickness. Then, all of a sudden, Leslie felt the whole plane jerk sharply forward.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, we are ready to take off," said the flight attendant. Leslie sighed with relief. Finally. Now, only twelve and a half hours to go. Twelve and a half hours of pure torture.
Two hours later, Leslie sat in her seat, content. The food was at least bearable and the flight had been smooth so far. Well, almost. It wasn't like the flight had been jerky or anything, but there was something wrong. There was definitely something wrong. It was in the way the plane moved. It was like the plane was flying smoothly, but every now and then, there would be a little drop or a small jerk forward. Or sometimes, the lights flickered just the tiniest bit. They were barely noticeable if you weren't paying attention, but Leslie noticed. And just then, the plane jerked sharply forward, sending Leslie's lunch all over the seat in front of her. The lights slowly started to flicker, but did not go off.
"Folks, uhh... we are experiencing some umm, turbulence right now. If-if you would all take a-a seat and uh, bu-buckle up, it should pass by shortly," muttered a flustered sounding pilot. Leslie's heart started to pound. This is why she hated flying. There was always that chance, that tiny chance that something would happen. Something bad. And it always happened to her. First her dad had died from that heart attack. Then, her book had been turned down. And now this. This was supposed to be her vacation. Her time alone. And look how it had turned out. She stood up. She was going to find answers.
"Umm excuse me?" started Leslie.
"Ma'am, would you please sit down and fasten you seat belt?" asked an overly cheerful flight attendant.
"Why? What's going on?" demanded Leslie. "Is there something wrong with the plane?"
The fake smile quickly faded from her face. "Ma'am, all I know is that the captain said to get everyone in their seats and-" but she was interrupted as the plane lunged forward. Luggage from the over head compartment slid out and landed with a hard crash on the floor. Little kids started to cry as the plane became increasingly jerky, spilling glasses of Ginger Ale and water everywhere. It felt like Leslie was watching everything in slow motion. As the plane took another sharp turn, people started screaming and running, trying to find a way out. They knew they were going to die. And as she watched everything going on in front of her, she remembered.
She was 8, outside with her mother on a hot, muggy summer day. They were drinking lemonade, not too sweet and just a little bit sour, just the way that they liked it. Her mom was sitting in a chair on the lawn, watching Leslie light yet another sparkler. Then, they heard it. At first it was a distant sound, but then as it got louder, they could hear screaming, the screams of people. It was a plane, high in the air, but quickly descending. Smoke billowed out from the plane as the people's screams got louder and louder, piercing the air. They were screams of death. The plane fell hundreds of feet, then disappeared in a cloud of smoke that was enveloping the plane.
"Mommy? Why is the plane so close to the ground? Are there people in the plane? Are they going to be OK?" asked a confused Leslie. But before her mom had time to answer, it hit the ground. And as soon as it crashed, it went up in flames. Her mom was crying now, and Leslie was desperately trying to break loose from her mother's grip, who was trying to drag her inside. She heard her mom yell for her dad, and when he came out, he calmly picked Leslie up, shielding her eyes, and took her inside. Then, all she could remember was darkness.
As Leslie's mind came back into focus, she tried to remember where she was. And once she did, she wished she hadn't. The pilot came back on the intercom, telling everyone not to panic, but nobody listened. Then, it happened. The lights suddenly went out, leaving the whole plane engulfed in darkness. The faint hum of the engine faded out, and then stopped completely. Then, there was silence. In the moment that the engine stopped, everyone seemed to know, they all knew that these were probably their last moments on earth. And so there was silence. And as Leslie felt the plane descending, she thought about her life. Most of her adult life, Leslie had been depressed, pushing anyone that tried to help away. Her mom and her had grown apart after her dad had died, and all of her friends were tired of being pushed away, so they had left Leslie a long time ago. And this was her punishment. The plane took another sharp lunge forward; they were only a few hundred feet from the ground. Then, suddenly, Leslie watched in horror as the engine went up in flames. They were falling fast. Really fast. And only one thing was going through her mind. I'm going to die. I'm really going to die. Then, they hit the ground.
Leslie looked up at the night sky, watching the stars and looking for the one constellation that she knew so well. Her breath was coming hard and the pain in her side was getting worse, but she was determined to find it. Her mom had shown it to a long time ago, maybe when she was in 3rd grade. "Leo is a symbol of courage," Leslie remembered her mom telling her. "Whenever you need a little bit of courage, just look up at the stars." And now, more then ever, Leslie needed that courage. Slowly, Leslie turned her head and took in the scene in front of her. The first thing that she noticed was the plane. The once massive, industrial looking plane was crumpled on the ground, reduced to a pile of trash. It reminded Leslie a lot like...herself. Once full of potential, she had been on top of the world, she was in the middle of writing a book, her dad's cancer was getting better, and she was happy. But then, things had just gone downhill from there. She had finished her 426 page novel, but it was turned down by three publishing companies. Then, her dad's health had slowly declined until finally, the cancer had killed him. And now, she was here. The pain in her side was getting worse now, and when she reached up to rub the sore on her head, she could feel the blood. Then, Leslie panicked. She had to find it. She scanned the sky, looking for that one constellation. Then, her eyes fell upon it. And she smiled. She traced the outline of Leo with her finger. And in that moment, in that one moment that Leslie took her last breath, she was happy. She finally had the courage to let go. She felt almost as if she were...flying.