“Mayd–“, a crackle, pop, “–ayday” were the last things to come through on Lochlann O’Connor’s cockpit radio.
Now, an hour later, he had no idea that wife Ailís stood with one hand clutching the edge of the desk beside the air traffic controller, the other pressed flat against her chest as she tried to steady her erratic breathing. That her voice squeaked through her lips, her lilting accent strong as she stared emptily ahead. That her mouth seemed to only form one word, repeating it as if a broken record: “Mayday?”
A symphony of static had been the only response from O’Connor’s plane, the cacophony of sound filling both the air traffic room of the small airport nestled in the Rockies, and the seemingly unending forest that spanned around him in every direction. Visiting the Rockies on their first visit to the US from Ireland, the couple had rented out a light aircraft to explore the dense greenery of the area from above, but he’d told Ailís to stay put when she’d woken up feeling dizzy that morning.
Now, mere hours after that decision was made, his wife was miles away pacing the floor of an aircraft control room, her heels clicking against the linoleum floor. And in a remote area several miles from the main highway, Lochlann crawled out of the smashed cockpit and tumbled forward onto the hard packed earth. As the afternoon drew onward, a heavy mist settled over the trees’ canopy, gradually sinking toward the ground and encroaching on the wounded pilot. By nightfall, Lochlann was completely shrouded in the grey fog, unable to see upward into the sky for signs of help. What was Ailís doing? Was she sending a search party? Was she out here searching the forest for him herself?
He let out a long groan, the sound echoing off the thousands of trees around him and bouncing back to his aching body. In response, the forest replied with a grunt. Lochlann’s eyes scanned the area, squinting in attempt to see through the thick layer of fog. Ever so slowly, a dark figure moved toward him, seemingly gliding forward faintly in the distance, until it’s swaying body emerged from the mist not twenty feet in front of him.
The bear slowly lifted onto its hind legs. It sniffed the air, large black eyes blinking behind a mist tinted deep purple by the last flecks of sunset. Lochlann stared, his breath caught in his throat in a halfway point between crying and screaming. The bear’s paws came back down against the ground, the earth trembling as it threw its head back and roared. When he finally drew in a ragged breath, trembling from fear and cold, the bear sprinted forward.