The Pilot by Ben Loory

A man is flying a plane across the ocean. He is exhausted, and getting more and more so by the moment, but there is nowhere to land, nowhere to pause– nothing but ocean for hundreds and hundreds of miles. The man’s eyelids droop; his concentration wanders. He begins to fantasize about a tent– about pitching a tent right there in the sky, and crawling inside to take a nap.

No sooner does this thought cross the pilot’s mind, than a tent becomes visible directly ahead. It is floating there in mid-air– bright orange, like the pilot’s life preserver. Its fabric is waving, billowing in the wind.

The pilot can hardly believe it. He circles his plane, around and around, staring down at the tent. How badly he wants to go inside. How badly he wants to lie down in it!

He rubs his eyes and looks again; it’s still there, it’s still there, it’s still there.

Finally, the pilot can’t take it anymore. On his next pass over, he bails out. The pilot pulls the cord on his parachute, and floats down slowly through the air. He grabs the tent, pulls himself inside, then turns around to gather in his parachute. And, as he does so, he sees his silver plane– his beautiful silver plane– as it plummets straight down out of the sky toward the ocean below.

The pilot doesn’t care. He can no longer stay awake. He curls up on the floor of the tent. And, using his parachute as a giant blanket, he closes his eyes and goes to sleep.

When the pilot awakens, it is to a strange, insistent drone. He looks out through the tent flap at his feet. And there in the distance, out of the blue, he sees his silver plane coming back for him.

My plane, the pilot thinks, shaking the sleep off. I have to get back to my plane. He moves to the tent flap and stands at the edge. He waits for just the right moment.

And when that moment comes, there is no hesitation.

The pilot steps into the air.

Gracefully he falls, gracefully and surely, everything under control. But then– with a jerk– he finds his parachute hung up, entangled in the abandoned tent above. He struggles and manages to pull the fabric free, but the damage has already been done. His timing has been thrown off. He drifts past the wing– just barely past the outstretched wing of the plane. And– reaching and missing, reaching and missing– he falls and falls toward the ocean below.

When the pilot hits the water, it’s like the world breaks. And through the cracks, sunlight pours in. It swirls through the cabin, and fills the pilot’s eyes.

In the distance rises the land.

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