by Donald Capone
Jesse opened his eyes and thought he was an astronaut. He was suspended upside down by straps that held him tight. The only sound was a metallic, groaning noise—the sound the space shuttle must make after it breaks free from the earth’s atmosphere and enters the cold void. And it was dark, too dark to see. Soon there were other sounds that he focused on: A drip, drip, dripping, and the low moan of another person. He wasn’t in the shuttle. Where was he?
His head was pounding, throbbing with the beat of his heart. Blood was in his hair, in his eyes. A flash of memory came to him, a twisted face, the side of a big rig sliding toward him. Someone moaned again, and he tried to turn his head.
He was tumbling—no the car he was in was tumbling, rolling down an embankment. Wait, that already happened. He looked down, felt the release to the seatbelt and pressed. The pain as he hit the roof of the car was overwhelming. He was out again, strapped into the space shuttle, and looking at the blue planet covered in cotton. Water visible through the cotton. He was so thirsty.
A moan brought him back to earth. It wasn’t as dark as before. A drop of something dark landed on his face. He looked up and saw Helen hanging from the passenger seat, strapped in, bloody. An immense feeling of love for her washed over him.
The truck had jackknifed, was coming at them, its length spanning the entire road. He jerked the wheel hard to the right, which only succeeded in pointing the car toward a rocky cliff. Then they were tumbling, glass was breaking, limbs of trees, boulders, bushes. Something sharp struck his forehead. Soon he was floating, looking at the darkness, marveling at the moon.
“Help...” He looked up again. Helen had her eyes open. “Help me...Jesse.”
Jesse was alert now, okay, he needed to get help. Where was the cellphone? There, on the floor, no, ceiling, of the car. He slid it over. Did it still work? He flipped it open and the glow lit up his bloody face.
“I’m getting help, honey,” he said, and dialed 911. He saw the signal bouncing off a satellite.
“This is 911. What is your emergency?” a female voice said.
He thought of a joke, but didn’t voice it. Houston, we have a problem. “There’s been an accident...”
“Is anyone hurt?”
“My wife. And me. We’re hurt.”
“Was it a car accident?” the female voice said.
“Sir, can you tell me where you are?”
“In the car still. There was a truck, I think.” His mind was off again. Images of astronauts floating inside a spacecraft, weightless, objects drifting by as they smiled at the camera.
“Sir...sir!” the voice again, insistent. “Stay with me, keep talking until help arrives.”
But he was gone, thinking of the stiff flag, and the footprint that is never erased. He was cold, and began to shiver. A voice was calling him, a female voice through a speaker. Was it the NASA control center? “Sir, help will be there momentarily. Can you hear me?”
Then another voice: “Jesse. Where are you? I’m scared.”
“Don’t worry honey...Houston is coming.”
Time passed, or did it? He couldn’t tell. He felt hands, strong hands, pulling him free, a male voice saying “We have you. Everything’s okay. What is your name, sir?”
“Jesse.” He was lifted, then was on a bed, no, a stretcher. Red lights strobed and pulsed, blinded him. Wavy figures moved to and fro, blurry, all wearing the same color orange. Were they aliens?
“Jesse, we’re here to help you and your wife.” He was brought inside a vehicle, or capsule, or maybe the shuttle again. He was strapped down, ready for launch. When he opened his eyes next, he saw Helen being lifted into the capsule, also strapped down, ready for launch. The door was shut and the shuttle rocked gently, from side to side, like a boat in dock. The sound of an engine started, raw, powerful. It grew louder with the addition of a beating, rotating, flapping noise, Whap, whap, whap!
Jesse thought that the countdown must have begun. 10, 9, 8...
Suddenly they were airborne and he felt his stomach lurch. The shuttle turned right, then gained speed.
“Helen,” he said. “We’re flying.”
Then they were on the ground again, hands were lifting them up and out, placing them on concrete, rolling them toward bright lights, open doors, where figures in white waited. Was it heaven?
“Helen, we made it.”
“Yes,” she said.