“Look!” Darius cried, pointing out the window at the distant line of trees. I turned in time to see a streak of flame arc through the sky above the trees and then disappear behind them.
“What is that?” Emily shouted excitedly. She grinned. “I bet it’s a meteor!”
The sound reached us then, a low rumble followed by a strong thud that shook the ground and rattled the glass in the windows. The fiery glow beyond the trees grew brighter for a few seconds and then faded, and I thought that Emily might be right. But Michael had another idea: “It could be an alien spacecraft!” he announced happily, running to the front door. “Come on, Caroline!” he said to me. “Let’s go see what it is!”
Darius scoffed at Michael’s notion. “It’s not an alien!” he said dismissively. “But it could be an airplane,” he offered, and also moved to the front door. “We should go see.”
Emily and both boys were looking at me expectantly, and I had to admit I was curious about whatever it was. What if it was an airplane? Shouldn’t we go see if anyone needed help? I was sure our parents wouldn’t object if I drove just to the woods, on what might very well be a mission of mercy. “All right,” I said with feigned reluctance (I didn’t want them to think they had the upper hand, after all). “But just to see it, and come right back.”
They cheered and pulled open the door, tripping over each other in their eagerness to get into the car. I grabbed the car keys and shut the house door behind me, my eyes on the red and yellow haze in the distance.
It had seemed to be much closer than it turned out to be; we drove almost five miles before we reached the crash. Darius’ idea turned out to be the correct one, and we all stared dumbfounded for a long moment at the toppled trees and tangled chunks of metal that spread out in front of us.
“Caroline,” Michael said soberly, his eyes wide. “Is it really a plane?”
The excitement had completely left all of us. “It is,” I said. I could hear sirens already, no doubt the fire crews driving up from Willoughby. They would probably be here in less than ten minutes … but … what if someone were alive in all that wreckage? Someone who wouldn’t be if they waited for the fire crews?
I opened the door and stepped out, surprised at how hot the fire was even from this distance. I turned back to the others. “You stay in the car,” I said firmly. “You stay in the car.” None of them seemed inclined to disobey, and I shut the door and walked closer to the crash.
The fire was really a series of little pockets of fire that danced over the broken pieces of the plane. I was certainly no expert, but I could tell that it wasn’t a big jumbo-jet kind of plane. It looked like one of the littler ones that carried about a hundred people. I didn’t know how to feel – it didn’t look anything like crashes on television. The heat was almost unbearable.
“Hello!” I shouted. “Can anyone hear me?” I took another step toward the wreckage, holding my arm up to shield my face. “Hello!”
I didn’t hear anything, except the faint wail of the sirens.
I looked around, steeling myself to the images I expected to see – all the people who couldn’t answer me, laying still and burned and dead … but I did not see them. I peered as closely as I could into the flames and the smoke, but nowhere in the wreckage did I see anything that looked like a person, or even a part of a person. Where is everyone? I wondered. Maybe nothing looked the way it did on television; maybe when people crashed in a plane, they just stopped looking like a person at all.
But that didn’t seem particularly reasonable.
I stepped as close to it all as I dared to, my eyes darting all around, but I couldn’t see anyone, not anyone at all.
The fire crews arrived then, careening into the woods and stopping at the edge of the smoky clearing. One man came toward me. “Are you all right!” he shouted. I held up my hands as though he were trying to place me under arrest.
“We just came to see what it was,” I explained. “But … there’s nobody here!”
He stared at me strangely for a second, then turned his attention to the wreckage. “Stay clear!” he bellowed, stalking away from me. I did as he said, stepping backwards toward the car until I bumped into the front of it.
“Caroline!” Emily called through the closed car window. “What’s going on?”
I shook my head, and opened the car door. “There’s nobody here,” I told them, climbing back into the car. “I don’t see anybody at all.”
We sat in the car and watched in silence as the fire crews made their way into the crash site. They battled the little pockets of fire, and began moving the twisted pieces of metal.
But they weren’t seeing any people either, and it became obvious fairly quickly that they were as surprised and perplexed as I had been.
We stayed until another man came and told us to clear off, but in all those long moments – half an hour, I guessed – none of the fire crew found a single person.
I drove back to the house, as quiet as my brothers and sister. What did it mean, I wondered. Where had all the people gone? I knew not every plane travelled full; it made sense that there wouldn’t be a hundred people in the clearing. But why weren’t there any?
There weren’t any.
Maybe Michael had been right after all.