On July 9th, 2016, at exactly 1:45 pm, a hole in the sky opened up over midwest America.
It happened fast. Just a few milliseconds, then back to normal.
Various governments would probably notice later, if they had the equipment to even register the event in the first place. A number of individuals would speculate if what they saw was just a glitch in the machine. A possibility so strange the only reasonable reaction was to laugh it off.
A day later, a missing person case would be submitted concerning the disappearance of 172 Cessna, and the teenage boy flying it. The family were undoubtedly confused, for this young man was responsible and not prone to running off without warning.
The fact that these events correspond at exactly the same moment is not a coincidence.
Let me back up a bit.
Hi. My name is Jacob Taferin. I’m a rather average 17-year-old kid. I attend high school in the small town of Pleasant Hill, Missouri. I play the occasional sport, make decent enough grades to make my parents happy, and try my best to get along with two older and two younger siblings.
I have a few hobbies. Carpentry (by which I made side money during the summer), dirt biking with a few of the other guys in school, and hitching rides in my uncle’s crop-dusting business. That last one is the most important. Why? Because that’s what got me into this mess.
On Saturday, the day of the event, I had managed to convince my oldest brother Brandon to let me borrow his truck for the summer. It took a bit of bargaining, but eventually, he agreed that I could use the vehicle whenever needed, on the condition that I paid off his last parking ticket.
Meh. I couldn’t really figure out how the heck he got a parking ticket in a town like ours (I mean, there weren’t exactly full parking lots anywhere), but he managed somehow.
Regardless, I figured it was worth the price. Cause it meant I now had transportation out to the airfield where my uncle Tib had his hanger.
Giving an air pump of excitement, I threw together some lunch to go, kissed my mom’s forehead, tickled my little sister Beth till she couldn’t stop laughing, fist-pumped my little brother Simon on the way out, and gave a “Yeehaa!” to some very surprised cows in the home pasture.
I love flying. Always have. Likely always will.
There’s a feeling of freedom that can only be obtained when you’re in the air, when you have the feeling of sky beneath you and above you, when the birds become your only company in a vast wilderness of wind.
It’s how I would describe true freedom, and the closest I can achieve it is by flying in a single-engine prop plane. A hunk of metal that by all reasonable rights shouldn’t leave the ground, propelled by power and physics, beating the air into horizontal submission, and slipping through the streams of gravity.
I fell in love the first time my uncle ever took me up as a kid, and have been begging him ever since to teach me all he knows. He grinned so wide when I first asked that his smoky laugh came out all in a bellow. When he finally caught his breath, he promised to take me up again “Sure as shootin!”
That was eleven years ago, and it probably isn’t much of a surprise that I ended up getting my pilot’s license two years before my drivers’ license. Now, I fly sorties for Uncle Tib, scouting out fields that potential customers need dusted; sometimes even pouring a load of the stuff myself. Tib covers the gas needed and pays me under the table, so I don’t make as much as most of his licensed pilots, but then again, I don’t really do it for the money.
It was a beautiful afternoon. The skies were clear with a slight wind out of the west. No exams to worry about, no chores required to block my concentration. Today’s flight was purely for pleasure.
I drove up to the small airfield, taking the back gate that completely surrounded the field, and punched in the same numbers used for as long as I’ve been alive. Five, four, three, three. The fence was mainly just to keep out stray livestock anyways. As I pulled up to the back hanger, one of the mechanics currently working stepped out from under the engine block of the latest downed aircraft, and nodded in my direction.
“Hey there Jacob! Looking for Tib?”
This was asked by what can only be described as a bush of a man. Five-foot six, tan skin and a grizzled brown beard that stretched to his gut, Glenn’s defining feature was his hairy limbs that would have put any local Bigfoot to shame. Scratching his cheek with oil slick fingers, he seemed more than happy to take a break from his current occupation.
“Heya Glenn. Nah, I don’t need to talk him if’n he’s busy.” I nodded to the coverless plane that sat naked between multiple tool chests. “Working on the 182? Hundred Hour?”
“Ya, your uncle wants this one back out by Tuesday at the latest, but there’s some issues with the mags, so it’s a toss-up till the parts come in. If you want to take something out for a spin, you pretty much got the 172 or the Piper. Everything else is on a job or scheduled for one right now.”
“That’s fine, I like Papa Ten.” I nodded towards the small above wing Cessna sitting near the taxi line. “Mind if I?”
“Nah, go ahead. I filled her up this morning, so you should be good for a few hours.”
“Thanks man.” I gave Glen a last nod, before parking the truck off to the side of the hanger and walking over to what was probably my favorite plane on the field.
With its weathered paint job and slightly warped panels, the old Cessna 172 had endured many a year, and with Uncle Tib in charge, would likely endure many more. I began the rundown and pre-flight checklist, enjoying the combination of cool breeze and golden sun rays as they warmed my back. Finishing up quickly, I glanced in the cargo space to confirm the Go Bag (a small compact tool and emergency kit) was onboard.
Finally, I settled in the Pilot’s seat and began warming up the engines. It was flying time!
There was a little sputtering as the engine turned over, but a few turns and pulls on the gas knob caused it to flatten out. After carefully winding my way over the taxiway and onto the runway proper, I radioed in with the nearest local tower. Receiving the all clear, I finished my check. Less than two minutes later and I was taking off, enjoying that sudden feeling of weightlessness that falls in your gut when you leave the planet’s surface.
The sky was beautiful this time of day, a grand mist hung over the world, and the Midwest of America seemed to exult in it. Small puffy clouds dotted the deep blue surrounding me, and I breathed in the quiet and serene landscape.
Time passes quickly when you’re in the air, and that day was no exception. As I settled into the familiar routine of a standard sortie, the minutes just flew by. Pun intended.
Looking back on that flight, I don’t really know of any way I could have prevented what happened next. It was something quite literally out of my control, almost even out of my understanding.
The sky opened up and time froze. I was aware of the plane no longer moving forward, the propeller no longer spinning. I could feel a heaviness around me, as if gravity had increased. The sharp smell of ozone filled the air.
And there in front, a yawning portal begin to stretch into existence. A surge of power washed over me, through me. I could not resist, though I tried. I could not move, though I desperately wished to. I couldn’t even draw breath, and my chest hurt for lack of oxygen. I knew my death had come, and I had no frame of reference to even understand it.
The portal… no… the void of space began to fill everything in my vision. I could see into infinity… a kaleidoscope of existences stretched from an origin into the beyond. All connected by branches of lightning so vast, they challenged the scope a mind could handle. A light made of colors I could not recognize, and energy formed of power I could not fathom.
It would not stop, but instead grew worse.
My body felt stretched and my mind began to close down. Yet, before my vision faded completely I reached forward across space and pushed the throttle for all it was worth, then threw the landing gear down. If I made it through, I would be crashing. I didn’t think in this moment, I simply reacted.
I felt Death’s teeth on my soul, and it tore and burned. Darkness filled my vision, creeping up the corners of my peripheral then shattered by the brightness of space.
I died. And death was pain. I was ripped apart and then stitched together, again and again. I could feel movement, but I was not the cause. I could think, but my mind was too overwhelmed to comprehend.
I survived. And life was glorious.