By: Barry D. Frisbee (BornToVector)
"It's so cold," he mumbled, forcing the thought from his groggy mind and into spoken words. "Why is it so dark?" he asked a little clearer, but in a quiet whisper.
The feel of the seatbelt firmly affixing him to the cushioned seat, reassured him that he was still in the twin-engine commuter that had been commissioned to take him and two other athletes to the Winter Olympics.
Along the edge of his hairline, something warm and soaking coated his forehead. He wiped it clear as it crested on his brow, figuring it was blood, but couldn't tell for the sheer blackness around him. He'd never known such total darkness and it made him uneasy.
Through the mental haze he grasped for an illusive morsel of information he'd read or seen somewhere. Cold and black, he thought, cold and black. Then it came to him. His breathing suddenly became short and labored as the lifelong fear of being buried alive settled over him. The plane had to have crashed; causing an avalanche; burying him alive in the cold depths of snow. Cupping his face into his hands, fisting two handfuls of moist hair, he was near the breaking point when he heard the faint sound.
Struggling to quiet his breathing, he listened intently. There it was again, faint, but he was sure he heard it. He felt for his seatbelt, unbuckled it, and began to feel his way through the chaos of the fuselage.
"Hello?" he said to no answer. "Hello? Who is there?" still nothing.
He struggled to remember the layout of the aircraft, wishing he had listened and not joked while the attendant had explained the exits.
He stopped just outside the cockpit door, leaned against the wall and listened. "Salt Lake Center, Salt Lake Center, this is November . . . two . . . four . . . bravo, do you read? Over."
Pulling on the fractured door, the voice stopped with the loud squeal of metal to metal.
"My God," the co-pilot said. "Is anyone else alive back there?"
"I don't think so. Are you okay?"
"I've got some busted ribs and I'm pretty sure both legs are broken. When I get the feeling back in them, they're gonna hurt like hell. Other than that, I'm pretty damned good compared to most here. How 'bout you?"
"I don't know. I've got some sort of cut on my head. Is there anyway to get some light in here? Doesn't this thing have battery backups or something?"
Confused, the co-pilot watched him more carefully. His fixed eyes seemed to stare into the distance, not focusing on anything. "What's your name, son?"
"Dillon Cross, most folks just call me Crash though."
"Crash, Huh? That's fitting. I'm Ray, the co-pilot. You're the snowboarder, right?"
"Yeah, but I don't think I can snowboard out of this one. How far beneath the snow you think we are?
"Dillon . . . Crash . . . we're not under the snow."
"How the hell do you explain this darkness then. I can't see my hand in front of my face."
"I know, Crash . . . but I can see your hand. It must be the head injury."
"What . . ." suddenly he realized the darkness was not around him, but within him and he began to lose control.
"Crash, it's quite possible that it's something temporary and if we can get out of here alive, you'll see more than one gold medal around that young neck of yours. I can't walk and you can't see, but together . . . we could make it out of here."
"What about rescue? By now, they have to know that we've gone down."
"Normally they would, but we were afraid a free ride, however innocent, might screw up your amateur status, so we didn't file a flight plan, and no one is expecting you for days yet. If we're gonna make it outta here, it's gonna to be up to us to do so."
"What about the radios?"
"I've tried, but the geniuses who designed this crate, figured the radio reception would be better if the antennas were on the bottom. That works great if you're in the air or land upside down. Landing hard like we did pretty much destroys the antenna systems"
Crash thought for a moment, sighed with a sound of determination, then spoke again. "You know? My Dad always said, 'You do with what you got. You don't whine. You don't complain. You take what you're given and make it work' He was thought by most to be the town idiot, but he had the brains where it counted. Let's get out of here."
A bandaged head, two painfully splinted legs, and a makeshift sled later, they were on their way.
"Which way we headed, Ray?"
"Well, the best I can tell from these navigation maps, the Indian reservation is about ten miles south, but so are the Bad Land Cliffs. Highway 191 is about fifteen miles west, but so is a lot of water. I think our best bet is north, to highway 40. The ground will be rough for a few miles, but then it smoothes out."
"About thirty miles . . . once we reach level ground."
"Can we make it that far?"
"You tell me. You're the one that gonna be pulling my fat butt."
After a moments thought, he stood, took a hold of the sled and started northward under the step-by-step directions of borrowed eyes.
Two days of struggling and only four miles laid behind them. With each bump Ray cried out from the stabbing pains that migrated from his shattered legs. Still no glint of light through Crash's eye and with each forced step his hopes dwindled. After several bad falls, he was happy to finally feel the earth begin to flatten beneath his feet.
"Not much food left," Ray said inside their improvised tent. "Why don't you take it? You're the one that has to keep his strength up."
"When we started, you said we had enough for four days. What happened?"
"We do have enough for four days, but we've made about four miles in two days. We have thirty to go."
"The ground is supposed to be flattening from here on out, right?"
"According to the map, yes."
"Then eat, Ray. I'll hit that highway in two days or die trying."
In awe of the young mans courage, he didn't answer. Two quick bites, and he put the stale sandwich back into the bag, rationing himself, just in case.
The next two days his admiration for the kids resolve grew even more as the miles clicked off behind them. Things were going great and it looked like they were going to make it. Then he saw it. "Stop, Crash! Stop!" Ray cried out.
With all the might his tired body could muster, he pulled, trying to slow the sled's movement down the slope. "What is it, Ray?" he asked, finally coming to a rest.
Ray looked at the edge of the protruding cliff beneath the front edge of the sled and caught his breath. "There's a drop off down to water below, not big enough to be on the map, but enough to make a good mess of us two."
"Is there anyway around it?"
"Possibly downstream, but the brush looks too thick for the sled."
"What about upstream?"
"Rocks, lots of rocks. We might could climb down, but then there's the water to contend with."
"How wide is it?"
"Forty, maybe fifty feet, but it looks like smooth sailing on the other side."
He didn't immediately answer, but turned away and cocked his head oddly to the side.
"Crash, you okay?"
"Listen," Crash said. "Do you hear that?"
"What? All I hear is the water."
"Not that, listen. There it is again. It's the sound of the highway."
"You're right. Yeah, I hear it now. It can't be more than a mile away. We've gotta find a way down this bank and across that water. We're too close to stop now."
"You'd never make it down the bank," Crash said. "The bank on the other side . . . is it higher or lower than this side?"
"Lower, a good bit lower."
"And there's nothing between that and the highway?"
"Not that I can see. It looks like soft powder. What're you planning?"
From the bottom of the sled, he pried free the snowboard that had taken him to regional, state and national championships. "This," he said, holding the board in the air. "This is what I'm planning. You'll have to let me know when I am about twenty feet from the edge."
"I don't know, kid. If you don't make it, then we're both gonna be stuck and all busted up"
They way I see it, Ray, we're pretty much stuck either way. Besides, I can do fifty feet with my eyes shut . . . no pun intended"
Ray laughed, but agreed to his logic and was moved off the path the sled had packed down on the hillside.
Feeling his way, crawling on his hands and knees, he carefully worked his way up the hill, getting a feel for it, learning its contour, its form, its personality. With the course etched clearly upon his mind, he strapped the old, comfortable friend to his feet, and signaled ready to Ray.
At first, the icy slope challenged his balance, but soon gave way to the smooth, steady style of a champion. The sound of snow beneath the board, the feel of the wind on his face, brought back hope. Ray's voice grew louder, counting off numbers as he approached the edge. Forty . . . thirty . . . TWENTY! He flexed his legs, pushing off with all his strength; he leaned into the wind and flew.
Ray watched as he landed on the other side and freed a yell of joy that echoed over the plains. "God speed, kid. God speed," he said watching him zigzag across the soft, white powder.
* * *
Standing high on the platform, under the world's watchful eye. He held the Half-pipe freestyle gold medal above his head and mouthed the words, "Thank you, Ray."