By: Catherine Olaso
The windows stopped rattling when the airplane leveled out at 32,000 feet. The fasten seatbelt sign clicked off with a loud ding. I released a trembling breath. I hated flying, and take-offs and landings made me especially anxious.
“You prefer the ground to the air.” The twenty-somethingish man beside me smiled sympathetically while my heart rate slowed.
“True,” I said with a shaky laugh. “But I have to fly a couple of times a month for work.” At twenty-six, I was the youngest employee to make senior sales rep. for Mayfield Pharmaceutical. No way would I let my phobia devastate my career.
“You should not fear…only trust,” the man said, taking in my business skirt and matching blazer before locking his hazel eyes on mine. An odd tingling rippled over me. I had the strange feeling that he knew more about me than I was comfortable with.
“What makes you think I’m afraid?”
He raised a brow, the hint of a smile in his luminous eyes. “Your knuckles are white.”
I looked down at my solid grip on the arm rests. “Oh.” I self-consciously folded my arms over my chest.
“I’m Samuel. Don’t be uncomfortable. Airplanes make a lot of people nervous.” He adjusted his tie. “You’re going to Minneapolis.”
“Yes.” I frowned. It unnerved me that this stranger spoke in accurate statements rather than questions. Still, I found a calming quality to his voice. “Where are you headed?” I noticed Samuel’s suit and thought the red rose tucked inside his left breast pocket somewhat eccentric.
He flashed an alluring smile. “I am exactly where I need to be.”
Again, an odd sensation tingled over me, raising the hair on my arms. Samuel laughed softly and pointed to the scar on my right knee. “You never could ski.”
I gasped. How did he know about the accident? The stewardess interrupted us.
“Something to drink?”
I shook my head.
“No thank you, Carol.” Samuel declined with a friendly wave.
Carol looked startled at his familiarity, then shy as she fidgeted with her red ponytail.
She didn’t wear a name tag. “How did you know her name?” I asked when the stewardess continued down the aisle, my internal radar pricking.
“A guess.” Samuel shrugged, but his eyes sparkled with a secret.
I chewed my lip and studied him a minute longer before closing my eyes with a sigh and settling in for the three-hour flight.
“You’re feeling better,” Samuel observed. “I deeply regret what you will experience two minutes from now.”
His words brought that same, intense tingling that I couldn’t ignore. I stared at him, paralyzed by what I saw. It was as if I viewed him with new eyes. His pale skin glowed with an ethereal quality and his eyes took on the luster of fire. My heart raced. No ordinary man sat beside me.
The cabin lost power as the plane jolted to the right, then plummeted. Emergency lights flashed a bright green. Alarmed, I felt the air lock in my chest. Seats shook and oxygen masks dropped from the ceiling. My screams joined the mob of others as I clenched the arm rests, fighting to stay upright in my seat. The pull of gravity made me dizzy.
My eyes darted to Samuel. Despite the chaos, he sat infinitely calm. No trace of fear marred his serene features. Stunned, I reached for the oxygen mask dangling above my head. Samuel stopped me, his hand covering mine.
“That isn’t necessary,” he said, a perfect tranquility in his tone.
I shoved his hand away, grappling for the mask. “Are you crazy? We’re going to crash!” Terror threw me into hysteria.
“I don’t want to die!” The words rushed out with the pounding of my pulse. The ground came sharper into focus. Only seconds remained…
“Elizabeth,” Samuel whispered. “Your name isn’t on the list. It isn’t your time.”
His eyes flared gold, and his hand clamped hard onto my arm.
A great, rushing wind roared in my ears as everything collapsed around me. It felt as if I were trapped inside a giant wind tunnel. I closed my eyes, aware of Samuel’s firm touch on my skin. Weightlessness merged with timelessness until gradually the air calmed and I felt the blood course through my body.
Through the darkness, I struggled to open my eyes. Someone shook my shoulder.
“Miss, are you alright?”
My lids parted and I met the soot-smudged face of a firefighter. Relief softened his expression as I sat up and took in my surroundings. Grass and cement headstones – a cemetery. Black smoke billowed into the sky. Chunks of airplane littered the ground.
I remembered. Tears stung my eyes. “The crash…did anyone…”
The firefighter shook his head, his voice grim. “You’re the only survivor.”
Shouts for equipment pulled his attention to the wreckage. “Stay put,” he said. “I’ll send the medics.”
Numb, I sat in the grass, my emotions a jumble I couldn’t sort. Something red caught in my periphery. A red rose… I picked it up and held it to my cheek.
“Samuel!” I called out. He’d been with me just a second ago…hadn’t he?
Something else caught my eye. A stone statue only feet away. I shook my head and gaped at the etched face. Samuel’s face. Strong, angelic features…eyes that held a secret under the hint of a smile. It couldn’t be him!
Carved roses wreathed the statue’s feet. I squinted at the fresh chip in the stone. A bare spot marked the missing rose. Shivers overwhelmed me with the realization that all of the statues inside the small cemetery had missing roses…not just Samuel’s.
I sucked in my breath as the unmistakable tingling returned.