Freedom is just a flight away.
Turbulence shook the plane and Sarah's nails dug into the armrest. "Nervous flyer?" a voice asked her from across the aisle. She turned to look at the source and saw an old man.
"No, I have no problem with flying," Sarah replied, "it's planes I don't like."
He chuckled at her response, "The former is rarely an option without the latter, I'm afraid. Don't worry, I flew jets in the air force for over two decades. If a plane was going to crash with me in it, it would have happened already."
"Stay calm, everyone. We've just hit a brief spell of turbulence. Remain seated and all will be fine," the air hostess said as she stood out from behind a curtain. This calmed most of the passengers down, although a couple still seemed uneasy. Sarah loosened her grip on the armrests and took a deep breath. It was probably fine, she thought, she usually encountered a little turbulence when she flew, too, and it never did much damage. The plane creaked and shook again, this time more violently. Sarah looked to the stewardess and saw her smile fade.
"It's just turbulence," she insisted. "I'll just go speak to the pilot." She turned sharply on the spot and began to walk calmly towards the cabin, but her composure failed partway, picking up the pace into as much of a run as her pencil skirt would allow.
The plane lurched again, and the hostess was thrown upwards, colliding with the ceiling and then falling flat on the ground. She did not get up.
Up and down the plane people began to murmur and fiddle with their seatbelts, fastening them as quickly as they could, oxygen masks falling down in front of them. Some made it in time, most didn't, but in the end, it didn't make a difference.
With one more lurch and a terrible screech, the plane was ripped in two. The tail end fell away a few rows behind Sarah, and air rushed out as her section decompressed, taking unfastened luggage and passengers with it. Across the aisle, the old man gripped his armrests with white knuckles in a futile attempt to stay seated, having been unable to fasten his own belt in time. His grip began to give and the armrest slipped from his fingers, Sarah quickly reached out to offer him a hand, but he was already gone.
The engines failed shortly after and the front section of the plane began to plummet. Sarah wasn't in a hurry to go down with it. She, too, fumbled with her seat belt but unlike everyone else on the plane, she was undoing hers. Once she was free, she stepped into the aisle and let the wind take her out of the plane and into the open sky, tumbling head over heels twice then stabilising. Floating in midair behind the falling plane, she could see people still trapped inside. Sarah spotted a young boy clinging to his mother's arm against the harsh winds. His grip failed him and he was flung out. Sarah's body acted before she even realised she'd made the decision and swooped into the boy's path. She caught him in her arms, pulled him tight against her chest, and allowed his momentum to summersault her backwards a few times, as to not hurt either of them with a sudden stop. Fortunately, the boy was small; anyone else would have been too heavy for her to catch. As the plane vanished from view, plunging into the jungle below she floated there with the boy, holding him against her with both arms.
As the sound of creaking metal vanished with the plane, Sarah heard a frantic gasping. The boy. At first, Sarah thought he was just scared and possibly having a panic attack, but when she looked down at him, she saw he was making a gesture in front of his mouth imitating an inhaler. He couldn't breathe up here. Sarah's body was adapted to high altitudes but the air up here was too thin for any normal person. She swooped down into the tree canopy below and placed him at the foot of a large tree to let him catch his breath.
"Breathe. It's okay, I have you. You're safe," she assured him.
He managed to calm down and regulate his breathing, but it was still shaky. He'd be fine for now, Sarah thought, but he likely wouldn't survive another attack. His words confirmed what she was thinking.
"Asthma," he managed to stammer out after a while.
"I know. Where is your inhaler in your carry-on? What does your bag look like?" she asked.
"My backpack is green and yellow, with a lightning bolt, and lots of badges," he replied.
"Stay here, I'll see if I can find it," she said.
His eyes went wide with fear and grabbed her wrist.
"I'll be back soon, I promise. It's not safe for you to fly with me without it," she said.
He looked unconvinced yet released his grip all the same.
She kicked off the ground and took to the sky again, breaking through the trees into the open air. She scanned the canopy for luggage, then spotted some caught on top of a group of trees ahead. She flew towards it and dove back under the tree line. She saw a trail of baggage but, thankfully, no bodies. She began searching through it all. Handbags and satchels everywhere, but no green and yellow backpack. She threw a suitcase aside in frustration.
"This is hopeless," she said, then turned around and gasped. Nearby was a briefcase that had split open when it hit a large rock, spilling its contents all over the rainforest floor - which took the form of a huge pile of US bills. The briefcase was totally destroyed - there was no putting this money back where it came from - but it wasn't like Sarah wanting for baggage right now. She grabbed a nearby satchel and emptied it on the ground, spilling clothes and sunscreen out, then quickly grabbed the bills and shoved them inside, closed it, and threw the whole thing over her shoulder. It was heavy, she'd be able to fly with it still but it would be pushing her limit. She was about to kick off and fly away when she realised she hadn't found what she was looking for: the boy's inhaler. Without it, he would die, and even if she flew to a nearby city for help instead there was no way she'd be able to find her way back to him.
"Why couldn't I have grabbed anyone else?" she asked nobody, as she threw her head back and closed her eyes. "I'm never going to find that bag."
She opened her eyes again and gasped for the second time at her unbelievable luck. Hanging from a branch directly above her was the rucksack. She gently kicked off the ground and floated up to it, reaching out to grab it when something lashed out at her. She instinctively dropped out of the air and landed hard on the floor. Looking up again, she saw a large snake coiled around the branch, apparently looking to defend its new prized possession. She scowled. She had never liked snakes, and that was before one had tried to tell her what to do. She lowered the money satchel off her shoulder into her hand and then floated back level with the branch. She made eye contact with the snake and swung at it, aiming just above its head. A warning shot. It ducked under and hissed, but did not back away. She swung another warning shot, this time it did not dodge, allowing the bag to miss it by mere inches. It hissed again.
Sarah's eyes narrowed, she grabbed the satchel strap with both hands and swung it into the side of the snake's head. It went limp, its coils releasing the branch, and fell from the tree to the floor below. Sarah looked at it feeling guilty for a brief second before it began moving. The snake looked up at her, gave a final hiss, and then slithered off into the greenery. She didn't exactly speak snake, but somehow it felt that she had just been sworn at. She considered going after it and teaching the thing some manners but decided there wasn't much pride in winning a fistfight with a snake. She grabbed the rucksack from the branch and rummaged through it quickly just to check the inhaler was in there and undamaged. She found it wrapped in a pile of socks, which must have lessened the impact enough to protect it. The refills, however, were all broken. She hoped one would be enough and flew back to the boy.
When she returned, he was asleep, curled up at the base of the tree she'd left him under, no doubt exhausted from the experience and jet-lagged from the flight. She didn't have the heart to wake him. His mother was certainly dead, and Sarah thought he deserved one last night's rest before he had to face that. She sat down next to the boy and began to count the money. It was in small bills, stacked together, and then wrapped in rubber bands. There was a lot of it, twenty-thousand US dollars at her count. Not her home currency, but at that price that barely made a difference. She threw the last bundle back into the satchel and closed it, then looked down at the boy. She couldn't carry them both, but if she left either behind she knew she'd never find them again.
She pulled out a small black book from her pocket and opened it up. Inside was a long list of creditors, banks, and friends to whom she owed money. This $20,000 could pay a good deal of it off, or it could be enough for her to start a new life away from them all. With the plane going down and her name on the manifest everyone in this book would think she was dead. It was perfect. Almost perfect she corrected herself, as she once more looked down at the sleeping boy. After a while, he awoke and asked her the question she had been dreading.
"Where's my mum?" he asked.
"I don't know," she replied, which was mostly true.
"Then we need to find her," he said.
"No. We wouldn't be able to out there. When we get back to a city, we can send people out. They can find her."
He pouted. He didn't like that answer - maybe he could sense she was hiding something - but didn't protest any further.
"We can get help, okay? I can fly you out of here and..." she insisted.
He cut her off by shaking his head violently.
"Listen. If I fly then I can get us to a city in a matter of hours, but if we have to walk it will take days. The rainforest is thick; it's easy to get lost," she explained. "There's snakes, too. Flying is the easiest way. I've got your inhaler, see?" She held it out to him, "I won't go too high and if it gets too much for you, just tap me on the shoulder and I'll land so we can take a break."
He looked unconvinced but stepped forward so she could take him in her arms.
"Please don't drop me, okay?"
"I won't. I promise," she pulled him tight to her chest and kicked off the ground, taking to the air and leaving the bag full of money on the rainforest floor.