With renewed excitement,
Jake Brennen and Skylar Haines approached two silver Pitts high performance biplanes,
designed around Vedeneyev M14P engines. Their trusted mechanic limped wearily
toward them, wiping crumbs from his thick handlebar mustache. Ethan Edwards had
been named after the main character in The
Searchers, an unlikely hero. But according to Ethan, he’d already become
one with the endless hours he put into keeping their planes in the air.
Unfortunately, the grimace on his narrow face reflected the
concern in his voice. “Jake, I know Skylar is an excellent pilot and has been
going to airshows for years, but do you really think it’s a good idea to let
her tackle those stunts alone?” The forty-four-year-old grease monkey had
become a father figure to Jake after his dad died twenty-some years ago, and he
never minced words when it came to voicing his opinions.
“Skylar says she’s ready to do it,” Jake assured him. “We’ve
been going over these stunts for several days now.”
“In the air?”
“Yes, of course. We went through the whole routine twice. I’m
pretty confident that—”
“You of all people should know that it takes months to
“I realize that. But Skylar’s got her mind set on doing this,
and I believe in her abilities.” Jake glanced at her and smiled. “If I didn’t,
we wouldn’t be here.”
Ethan followed Jake to his plane, shaking his head, and
Skylar trailed close behind. “Honestly,” Ethan grumbled, “I just hope you’re
not making a huge mistake.”
“I agree with you there,” Jake said, settling into his seat.
“Okay, fine…if that’s the way you want it. Come on, Skylar.
I’ll help you get strapped in.”
“Thanks, Ethan!” Jake called out.
A short, middle-aged woman with shoulder-length brown hair
approached Skylar, waving her hand excitedly. “Miss Haines! Miss Haines! Please
wait. I’ve been trying to reach you for two days now. I’m Samantha Jackson. I
can’t tell you how exciting it is to meet you in person.”
“Exciting?” Skylar’s lips held a faint smile.
“Why, yes. I read about you in the newspaper this morning and
understand you purchased one of my books. Women
in Flight? I wrote it four years ago.”
“Really? In the newspaper? Somebody actually wrote a story
about me? Was Jake mentioned too?”
The kindly woman smiled. “Jake Brennen was interviewed about
the airshow and said you were performing today. I’m sure your family is very
proud of you, Miss Haines.”
Skylar almost laughed out loud. Her grandfather had no
interest in any aspect of her life, especially after having her arrested for
stealing his motorcycle. Moreover, the hostility between them had increased
exponentially when he insisted she be sent away to reform school. At the time,
he claimed he was doing her a real favor and she did him a better one by
“Anyway,” the writer added, “I want to wish you good luck
today, not that you’ll need it. Mr. Brennen said you’re one of the most
talented pilots he’s ever worked with.”
“What? He actually said that?” The stupid smile, which had
left her face while the woman was speaking, reappeared.
“Indeed, he did. You can see for yourself right here.” The
woman handed her a torn section from the local newspaper. “You can keep that if
you’d like.” The story she was referring to filled most of the page and
continued on the backside. Skylar took it, folded it, and slipped it into her
backpack, promising herself to read it later.
“I also thought you might also like to know that I’m working
on a new book,” the woman added. “It’s all about female stunt pilots and—”
Skylar was only half-listening. “You don’t say?” Her
attention had drifted to Jake in the neighboring plane. He had his sunglasses
on, covering his stunning green eyes, and was adjusting the headset on top of
his shaggy blonde hair.
“When you have some free time,” the woman added, “I’d love to
sit down and talk with you. Maybe even include your story in my new book.” She
handed Skylar a business card and smiled.
“Yeah, sure. Why not?” Skylar shook the woman’s hand. Then
she watched her walk away. She glanced at the ivory business card’s elegant
scrolled lettering and made a mental note of the woman’s name before adding it
to her backpack.
smiled to herself. Jake was certainly full of surprises today. She’d have to
remember to thank him for the compliment—one that she was determined to earn
“Looks like you have a new fan,” Ethan said, reminding her of
his presence. His face was serious as always, but his blue eyes were
brighter than usual.
“I can’t imagine why.” Skylar glanced toward the stands,
filled to capacity with spectators. The realization
of what had taken place made her cheeks flush. “Jake’s the one with all the
talent, not me.”
“I don’t think so,” Ethan
said. “Far as I’m concerned, you’re both gifted.” As they reached her
plane, he laid a hand on her shoulder. “I just hope you know what you’re doing,
“Yeah, so do I.” An unseasonal breeze had picked up, sending
a chill down her spine. Her hands trembled and her arms ached, reminding her of
her hidden obsession and Jake’s disturbing remark during breakfast.
“I don’t understand why
you wear long sleeves all the time…even when it’s unbearably hot. I hope you’re
not shooting up drugs or something.” He smiled, and she shook her head. She
tried to smile back, but failed miserably. She wasn’t about to tell him that
she was emotionally scarred by childhood abuse
and had anxiety-driven roadmaps on her arms to prove it.
okay, sweetheart?” Ethan brought her back to the present. “Cause if you’re not,
there’s no way I’m sending you up.”
fine…honest.” She could hear the scared little voice in her head disagreeing.
Eight maneuvers were not part of the original plan. At least, not until two
weeks ago. With very little preparation, a lot could go wrong, and Ethan knew
it better than anyone.
right,” he said. “I’m holding you to that.” She gave him a quick smile before
climbing into her seat. Apparently, he sensed her fear as he continued
to reassure her, while strapping her in. “Just follow Jake’s lead and his
commands. Keep an eye on your airspeed and altitude. Stay a comfortable
distance away from each other. And break off if things get sloppy. Is that
Skylar whispered quietly. It’s
just you and me now, Roxy. Let’s do this right.
“Yes. I understand, Ethan.”
“I’ll be listening.”
“Okay. Sounds great.”
He patted her shoulder and winked. “You’ve got this. In fact,
I bet you ten bucks no one’s going to be as incredible as you two. Just
remember that, Sky, and you’ll forget about all your fears.”
She managed a weak smile. “Okay, you’re on. But you still owe
me six dollars from poker.”
“What do you say? Double or nothing?”
Ethan checked her straps and gave
her a thumb up salute. She returned the gesture, confirming she was ready to
go. Then she heard Jake’s voice on her headset. “So, how’s my girl doing?”
“As well as can be expected,” she said. In all truth, Skylar
was a jittery mess—anxious to get this show over and on with her life. She
closed her eyes and exhaled all the breath from her lungs for a count of five.
Then she repeated the relaxation technique, holding her breath. You can do this, you can do this, she
kept telling herself.
“Heck, you’re far better than that,” Jake said. “You’re
friggin’ amazing…for a woman anyway.” He was grinning, motioning his head
towards the empty seat in front of him. “What do you say? Care to tag along?’
She touched her necklace and smiled. “That’s the plan.”
He mouthed the words I
love you, and she instantly relaxed.
There were moments like this when she was tempted to repeat
the words. When for three seconds, she didn’t believe in the notion that love
gave someone the power to destroy you.
She was only six years old the day her mother asked her,
“What’s more beautiful than life itself…devours you inside…makes you laugh and
cry all day…and makes you do anything, anytime, anyplace?” Of course, the
answer to her riddle was love. But after everything her mother had gone
through, Skylar was frightened to say it.
So is that why she was doing this now? Why she was willing to
risk her life to please the only man she truly cared about?
Jake’s voice came back on the radio, directing
her step by step. “Okay, Skylar, let’s do this just like we planned.
Remember…pay attention to our distance. Do everything like we practiced. I’ll
count us through. You got this! And don’t forget, sweetheart…this is all about
timing and having fun too. Is that clear?”
“Yes. Crystal clear.”
“Okay. Ready to go?”
“Then let’s do this. Nice and easy.”
Jake taxied his biplane off the grass and onto the runway,
and Skylar followed close behind. Then the airshow announcer’s voice erupted
over the loud speakers in the stadium. “Our next act, ladies and gentlemen,
boys and girls, are the Twin Arrows from the Ace Flying Circus. Let’s give
these two a big round of applause.”
A cheer rose in the air, and Jake’s voice came through
Skylar’s speaker. “Roger, Mitchell Tower.”
His plane rolled forward and Skylar trailed behind him, increasing her air
speed as she pulled the stick towards her. She looked at the tower and knew
that Ethan was keeping an eye on her from there. For the first time all day,
the announcer said nothing. The crowd hushed and even the children watched
silently as the two old war planes took off full throttle, one after the other.
They swooped upwards and their engines roared.
The wings made it difficult to see, but Skylar witnessed bits
and pieces of Jake’s first maneuver—enough to know that they were perfectly
executed. He flew out of the spectator’s view allowing her center stage. Now it
was her turn. The plane responded instantly to her touch and she became a
sculptor carving the air. Spins and turns, drops and climbs. Her individual
routine had been flawless. To finish, she climbed high above the runaway. The
hangars, taxiways, and crowded tarmac became the size of miniature replicas.
When the plane could climb no more, it stalled and fell to one side, dropping
into a spiral heading straight for the ground. Instead of recovering and
pulling out of the dive, Skylar let the ground rush toward her until she knew
the crowd feared for her life. And because she had spent countless years
watching airshows, she knew the audience had exploded with cheers when she
added power and regained control. She climbed back into the sky feeling
electrified, brimming with adrenaline.
Jake met her in his plane directly over the runway, front and
center for the cheering crowd. They climbed in unison, turned on their tails,
then stalled and dropped in opposite directions. They proceeded to fly the
identical acrobatic routine: tailspins, four-point rolls, flat spins, figure
eights, snap rolls and hammerheads. Flying together, they were a reflection of
each other—perfectly matched in speed, altitude, and control.
The other pilots could do these stunts too, skillfully even.
But each time Jake was in the cockpit, he became an artist. Everyone who
watched him knew they were seeing something remarkable. But this time, Skylar
was right there with him, matching every move. The feeling was pure energy and
They flew out and around to get enough distance and speed to
do their final stunt. Descending even lower, it appeared as if they were going
to land. Then Jake yelled, “Here we go!” He dropped even lower and did a smooth
barrel roll directly under Skylar. They kept the bellies of their planes in
perfection position from one end of the runway to the other—blasting by the
audience, a plane and its reflection.
Jake called, “Clear out!”
Just as they had rehearsed, Skylar broke off to the right and
went into a climb. She couldn’t see him, but she knew that Jake was completing
his barrow roll and would soon follow her into the sky.
The exhilaration she felt was beyond description, beyond
anything she had experienced before. Skylar could almost hear the cheers
erupting from the ground below, as she soared higher and higher. She was
heading straight toward a cloud bank that hadn’t been there before—not when
they started their routine. It was like a wall that reached higher than she
Skylar heard a crackle on her radio and then Jake’s
reassuring voice. “Honey, that was amazing! I knew you could do it.”
His praise was a salve for her soul. “Thanks for believing in
“You would have loved this, Roxy,” she said quietly. “It was
just like we talked about.” All of her dreams were coming true, exactly the way
she imagined. With Jake’s help, she had accomplished a remarkable feat, and now
her name would be synonymous with female stunt pilots all over the world.
The wall of clouds was getting bigger at a rate Skylar had
never seen before. Even intense thunderstorms didn’t grow this rapidly, and
there were no storms forecasted in this area.
“Jake? Do you see this?” Skylar couldn’t believe the size of
this weather system in front of her. She couldn’t even begin to see the top or
The radio crackled but he didn’t respond.
“Jake? Can you hear me?”
Static erupted in her headset but then cleared. “Baby,
listen. There’s something I’ve been meaning to tell you.”
“Jake? Is that you?”
“I don’t know why it’s taken me so long to say this out
“What are you talking about? Jake? Is something wrong?”
“Skylar…I…you.” Static blocked out most of the words.
“Sky…do…hear me? …get what…saying?” The static was increasing. “…honest…love
“Jake! I can barely hear you. Can you hear me?”
He kept talking, obviously unaware that the call was breaking
“Jake! I can’t hear you! Jake! Repeat.”
“Get…here…quick.” The static was getting louder.
The static ended and silence filled her ears. It was time to
get back on the ground. “If you can hear me, there’s a weather system
approaching and it’s a biggie! I’m on my way back.” Then she added, “Taking it
nice and easy.”
However, nature had a different idea. It was as if the wall
of clouds had swallowed her whole, darkening the cockpit in an instant. The plane danced and swayed
in the turbulence, constantly buffeted by the increasing wind. Skylar’s head hit the canopy and
her knees slammed against the sides of the plane. She had entered the eye of
the storm and was being thrown around like a toy plane. Lightning flashed across the sky, followed by the crash of thunder. She
tightened her grip on the controls and released a ragged breath.
Holy shit. Skylar was in the bowels of a storm with no end in
sight. She could only hold on and pray that the plane wouldn’t break into
pieces. The turbulence grew wilder, tossing her around like a rock in a can.
She regained control of her plane for seconds at a time. When she could, she
started a turn in an attempt to break free from the storm—to exit the way she
came in. She kept an eye out on the windscreen to stay oriented, but it was
hard to keep her head still long enough to see clearly.
The dark ominous sky
revealed glimpses of white clouds sliding behind fast-moving black curtains,
giving her a sliver of hope. Then, from out of nowhere, a red and white plane
descended from above, headed straight at her. We’re gonna crash!
Skylar gasped and veered her biplane to the left. They were
bulleting past each other, but there wasn’t enough time to get out of the way.
Her right wing clipped the tail of the other aircraft, sending her plane into a
“Oh, my God!” she yelled into her radio. “We collided!”
The radio was quiet.
“Jake! Can you hear me? It’s Skylar! I’m going down!” She was
spiraling and plunging straight down, holding on for dear life.
Why wasn’t he
answering? Where the hell was Jake?
Skylar had the stick close to her chest pulling up for all
she was worth. “Ethan, are you there? Ethan, it’s Skylar! Why isn’t anyone
responding? I’m going down!”
A man’s voice came through the speaker. “Skylar. Let go.”
Who was that? It was an unfamiliar voice.
“I can’t recover the controls!” she yelled. “I collided with
another plane! Help me! Please help me!”
“Skylar, listen. You know how to do this. You just need to
“I can’t! The controls were damaged. I’m going down!”
The man’s voice remained calm. “You can do this. Your plane
is fine.” He might as well have been ordering dinner at a restaurant. “Listen
to me. You’re in a stall. Let go of the stick. Let the wings do their job.”
Her knuckles were white.
“Skylar, listen to me,” he repeated. “You know how to do
this. Let go!”
She blew out a deep breath. The ground was getting closer by
the second and her nerves were jumping. She needed to act before it was too
Against everything her brain was screaming, she followed
stall protocol. She pushed the stick away from her and shoved in the throttle,
increasing her descent into the ground. As soon as she heard the power of her
engines, relief poured over her. She pulled back on the stick and felt the
gloriousness of her wings taking hold, creating lift and allowing her aircraft
I’m going make it!
“Nice one, Skylar! You did it!” The stranger cheered.
She leveled off and the sky around her lightened, allowing
her to see the runway below. She had fallen a long way. “Thank you.
“Just land and be done with it,” he said. “That was quite a
“Coming around.” She headed for a final approach and used the
time to breathe and wipe the tears from her eyes. There was nothing she could
do about the shaking. Her whole body was trembling.
“Jake? Ethan? Are you there?”
The radio remained silent.
Skylar touched down with a gentle bounce. She taxied off the
runway and pulled around to a stop in front of a black hanger that she didn’t
recall seeing before. But then after that harrowing experience, everything in
the world seemed new.
She shut off the engines and the airplane shuttered. The
propellers slowed and stopped with a jerk. Silence. She started to remove her
headset but stopped and said into the mic, “Are you still there? I can’t thank
“It was nothing. Glad to help.”
“I don’t know what got into me. I’ve never panicked like that
“No problem. Happens
to the best of us.”
“But I’m used to emergencies. I’ve done it a thousand times.
I do stalls for a living!” She hesitated, embarrassed to admit such a thing.
“Well, thank you. I really can’t thank you enough.” Then she realized she
didn’t have the foggiest idea who he was—this guardian angel who saved her.
“Can I ask who this is?”
“The name’s Haines,” he said. “It was my plane your clipped
up there. But I managed to bring her down safely.”
“That was you! I don’t know how that happened. You just
appeared and I only had a second to react. I’m so glad you’re okay. That I’m
okay too…thanks to you.”
“Like I said, glad to help.”
“Wait a minute. Did you say Haines?” She must have misheard.
Or perhaps it was the near-death experience confusing her further.
“Yep, that’s right. Dylan Haines.” He paused, then he asked,
“Have we met before?”
“Um…I…” Skylar looked around and realized that she wasn’t
sure where she was. None of this was making sense. She pulled off her headset,
thinking she could see better without them. She looked around for Jake. Where
was Ethan? The airshow was still going on and groups of people were gathered
here and there, filling the open spaces outside.
Leaving her backpack behind, she climbed out of her seat and
hopped to the ground. Where was everyone?
Where was Jake? She was having trouble believing her eyes. A short distance
away sat the brick traffic control tower and administration building. People
were milling about, going in and out of the buildings. And she knew these
buildings well. She saw them every day. She also knew that they had been
remodeled a few years ago. But the building in front of her had clearly not
been remodeled. It had the old windows and doors, and the addition that gave
them more offices wasn’t there.
What was going on here?
Draped across the
black façade was a huge white banner with black letters. She couldn’t believe
Welcome to the ’98 Reno National Championship Air Races & Air
What? 1998? Was this
some kind of joke? Skylar looked around, half expecting someone to jump out
and yell, “Gotcha!”
All the buildings around her looked the same but different.
Everything was just a little bit off. She took another look around. The hangers
were there, but where was the shed? She used that shed daily for tools and wash
pails. The small maintenance building was there, however, the large newer side
wasn’t. It was just a parking lot.
Skylar scanned the
whole airport and realized it wasn’t making any sense. This wasn’t right. None of it was right!
Antique planes of every make and model were lined up in neat
staggered rows. Pilots were checking engines, climbing in and out of cockpits,
and studying the reader board for their positions. Red and white checkered
canopies had replaced the black vendor tents that had been there this morning.
The grandstands were still filled to capacity, yet none of the faces looked
familiar. Not even the faces in the “Employee Section.” And there was still no
sign of Jake and Ethan. Plus Jake’s biplane wasn’t there and his hanger was
nowhere in sight.
Was she losing her
A striking man with wavy brown hair and an athletic build
strode up to her, wiping his hands on a rag. “So, you must be Skylar. It’s good
to meet you. And all in one piece.” A bright smile stretched across his face.
She returned his smile and realized that she recognized him.
Her brain started filing through faces and names, searching for something to
remind her who this man was. Then a picture came to mind. She knew a picture of this man. That was it! Skylar had seen his
face in her grandfather’s album. Only, that album was filled with photos of her
He looked exactly like a picture of her father. But that was
impossible. Wasn’t it?
Skylar looked at him a little closer. Same hair. Same sea
blue eyes. If her father had a twin, this would be him. But wait…it couldn’t be. He didn’t have a twin and this man looked
to be 25-years-old.
The world came to a standstill. It was 1998. Her father would
have been twenty-five in 1998. This was crazy, and so was being here, in this
place—in the same year and place where her father had died.
Skylar kept her clammy hands clenched at her sides and
squeezed her eyes tight. This is all a
dream…just a dream. Either that or she was dead. She must have crashed and
died on impact. That was it! She was…dead. She opened her eyes again, but
everything was the same. Still 1998.
She broke out in a
cold sweat. A tingling sensation began in her hands and feet and then quickly
spread to her entire body.
Her father stepped forward and reached out a hand. “Skylar?
Are you all right?”
She simply stared, mystified. “This…this isn’t real. It…it
can’t be,” she stammered. “It’s…a dream. Just…a dream.” He was tilting off
center before her eyes, blurring into fuzzy grayness, disappearing as the world