Nothing brings people together like a life-threatening crisis. Especially when it leaves a man and a woman stranded in the middle of nowhere. Dan and Samantha might be lost, but they’re not alone, and Geoff LaCasse tracks their journey to a destination that may or may not be worth the journey.

Welcome. And, enjoy!

Fleeting

by Geoff LaCasse

‘Sarah’ he thought he heard, but then he was bad with names and it might have been something else. He met so many people in his world that he recalled few; really, only his regulars.

The company had shoehorned her into the only space available in the floatplane, the right passenger seat. She was a poor flier. After seven years of moving people around, he recognized the signs, the rapid head movements, hands never still, chattering constantly to mask her nervousness. She was going to visit her boyfriend Roy, a chef at one of the local logging camps, hadn’t seen him in almost two months, what a great guy he was, hoping to get enough money together to move back to the city and a job in one of the local restaurants, move in together. He noticed that she wore no rings.

The chatter didn’t intrude, her melodic voice a soothing background to the growl of the engine, a perfect complement to the sunny day and bright scenery. He let all of it roll over him, lost in his own thoughts, flying the plane subconsciously. Unlike her, he was not really involved with anyone. Terrible hours. Inadequate pay. Not always at home regularly. His job could be lonely and the passengers he carried no substitute for friendship and more.

He became aware that she had fallen silent. When he looked over, she seemed to be staring indistinctly at the scenery below, hopefully feeling better about the flight which had been exceptionally calm up to that point. In fact, conditions were so good that he had been able to take a favoured shortcut through a pass normally shrouded in cloud at this time of the year.

He didn’t expect trouble. Weather could be a problem, but today all was good – warm, the sun shining welcomingly through a gossamer layer of cloud. Mechanically, he’d had his share of niggling problems over the years, but fortunately nothing serious. He could see her look over to him, relax and smile tentatively, for the first time seeming comfortable in her seat. Two seconds later he thought the plane was coming apart. The vibration was immediate, the whole plane shaking like a leaf in the wind, the noise from the front of the plane almost indescribable. He could see the instant panic on her face, and he thought she was about to scream and throw up at the same time.

“Please stay calm!” He shouted at her over the chaos in the cockpit. “And pull your seatbelt as tight as you can get it! I am going to put the plane into the lake below.”

At 1500 feet above the ground, he had no time to diagnose the problem, and little enough time to get them down safely. His training kicked in instantly, and he slammed off the engine. Now he needed to get them down safely in the next few seconds. With no engine this was going to be a bitch. The small lake below was going to be tight – very tight. And downwind. There could be no mistakes on approach. He had a fleeting thought that in the worst case, hopefully, the ELT, the emergency locator transmitter, would activate when the plane hit the water.

A shallow turn to the left. Talking to himself, as much to keep himself calm as to go through his internal checklist. Keep the speed up … keep the speed up. He just cleared the trees at one end of the lake and touched down on the water while still having adequate speed. But he couldn’t control it! Instead, the plane started to violently swing to the right and dig in the left float.

He yelled over to the girl. “Hang on tight! We’re going over!”

He had seen videos where such things happened so quickly that no one in the plane had a chance to prepare. Here, it seemed so slow and methodical, and absolutely unavoidable. A swing to the right, and then the plane flipped on its back with a violent thump. From his seat, he could see the nose dipping under the water.

The crash left him disorientated for a few seconds, upside down but, fortunately, still in his seatbelt. Other than being sore, he seemed to be unhurt. When he looked over at the girl, he could see that she was unconscious and with blood dripping into her hair from a cut on her forehead, probably from banging it off the dash. Time to get out: unbelt, fall into the rapidly pooling water, reach over and lift her out of the seat. Her door was jammed tight by the crash and wouldn’t open even when he slammed his shoulder against it. Instead, he was forced to drag her across the cockpit and through his door.

The water was bitterly cold, and he had a hard time holding on to her and swimming to the surface. His lungs nearly done, his head broke the surface, and he took a first deep breath. She felt like dead weight, but he could feel her heart faintly beating under her sweater.

They had been lucky in where they crashed although that seemed small consolation at this point. They could have ended up on the other side of the lake and facing a long, cold trek to the only habitable cabin in the area. Instead, it was just a short swim and walk from the plane. The cabin wasn’t much but it had a rudimentary kitchen and wood stove to his left, a ramshackle bed in a far corner, and straight ahead a cluttering of two rickety chairs and small table and what looked like hunting and fishing gear and other supplies on shelves on the back wall. No bathroom but there would be an outhouse nearby. 

He sat the girl down on one of the chairs, her head on the table. She was still unconscious but seemed to be breathing okay, and not shivering too badly. He pasted a bandage on the cut over her left eye and wrapped an old blanket he found in the back around her and went to look for food and fire. They would be comfortable enough in the short term.

And for the first time since the plane had crashed, he thought about rescue. No chance to send an emergency call before they crashed, but tomorrow he would swim out to the plane to check if the ELT had gone off, although he was not looking forward to another swim in that frigid water. Right now, he needed to change his clothes, find some wood, get a fire going for warmth, and see to a meal.

“How are you feeling? I found some clothes and I need you to get changed so that you don’t get hypothermia. They are on the bed, and I am going out to get some more wood. I will knock on the door and wait for your OK before I enter.” He smiled slightly, voice low, aware that she still seemed woozy and probably suffering from a bad headache. In fact, he was not sure she recognized him. “Once you have changed, I will try and cook us a dinner from what I can scrounge up.”

She looked up at him when he returned, a slight figure in a loud, striped red shirt and faded pants, both way too big for her. She had her arms crossed across her breasts and a wry look on her face. He gave her a shy smile back.

He asked her, “I’m sorry, I don’t remember your name. At the dock I thought you said Sarah?”

She replied rather hesitantly, “My name is Samantha, but most of my friends call me Sam for short. And yours?”

“Dan. Dan for short.” She smiled weakly at his joke. “I hope that you are feeling better? … Why don’t you relax on the bed for a bit. I am about to make dinner. I think I can find something that is edible without resorting to swimming back to the plane to find some of the camp’s provisions.”

As he searched through the cabinets for food, he was worried about her. She was sleeping now but hadn’t looked too good when he first came in. He hoped it was nothing more than bruising from being banged around in the crash, otherwise he needed to get help as soon as possible. First thing tomorrow, he would swim out to the plane and check out the ELT. If it wasn’t damaged, then hopefully Search & Rescue already knew they were missing and where they were. In that case, they would only be here for a day or so. Hopefully. If not …

By the time they had finished eating dinner, an eclectic and, judging by the look on her face, not necessarily enticing combination of beans and tinned vegetables, she was looking far better. The short nap seemed to have done some good, she now had a little color in her cheeks, and her eyes seemed less stressed. 

As they ate and made quiet small talk beside the stove, he realized that they had a fair amount in common. Like him, she didn’t seem to be a party person, drank little, didn’t smoke, and had a wry, even subtle, sense of humor. He thought she rather liked his incisive thoughts on music and movies – movies that she had seen, music that she had listened to. 

But the crash had obviously taken its toll. Finally, she looked at him and said, “I’m sorry but I am starting to get a headache. I think I’m going to lie down for a while. Thanks for the dinner and making me comfortable.” The bed had not looked promising earlier, and he doubted she would be comfortable in it now even with all the blankets and pillows and sheets he could find. But it was the best in the house. At least the two of them would be warm enough tonight in the cabin with the wood stove going.

As he stoked the fire, he was pleased that she had finally fallen asleep. The headache worried him, and he definitely needed to get her to competent medical care. He felt useless, the more so because he had put her in this situation through his carelessness taking a shortcut and allowing the plane to overturn.

He was tired, more tired than he had been for a long time, more tired than after his typical 16-hour days of moving people and goods. He had begun to realize the impact a crash had on a person. It was a mind-numbing experience even without injuries like the ones Sam was enduring. Their only good fortune was the fact that the lake had been immediately below them, and on it a cabin with supplies readily available. A fluke and not due to any skill.

He woke up with a start, groggy, stiff from laying on his makeshift bed. The stove must have died down because it had become slightly chilly in the room. After he had added some logs to the stove, he lay on his back on his bed, puzzled since he was normally a good sleeper. As he closed his eyes, he heard Samantha cry out and thrash in her bed.

When he stood over her in the dim light, she was on her left side, shivering underneath the blanket, her face shiny with sweat, mouth opening and closing but no sound now except for a faint whistling in her throat. He could see that the bandage was now stained with blood and soaked in sweat.

As he put his hand on her shoulder, she seemed to wake and at the same time recoil from him. “It’s alright. It’s just me, it’s Dan. I heard you call out something and came over to check if you were alright.”

She seemed to relax as he changed her bandage and wiped the sweat from her face. As he stood up to go back to his bed, she reached over and put her hand on his arm. “Don’t go. Stay with me tonight.” He started at this. What did he feel? Puzzlement? Discomfort? Disapproval?

As they lay together, he could feel her shivering disappear, heart rate slow, and breathing become more regular. In a few minutes she had dropped off to sleep, to leave him in the uncomfortable position of sleeping with someone he didn’t know, in a bed that wasn’t his, in a place that didn’t belong to him.

He thought about her. She had surprised him several times with her calm, first during the crash, second, when she had woken up in a strange bed, hurt in body and perhaps spirit, with an unfamiliar person leaning over asking how she was. Yet no complaints. And now this. He didn’t think he had handled it well. He was sure that she had caught his shocked look. He did not know her, was not comfortable in this situation, and yet couldn’t refuse her. He had enjoyed their conversation at dinner. She had a strong sense of right and wrong but without any arrogance about it. She was not beautiful in any classical way, but he could admire her expressive wide-set brown eyes, attractive smile, and nice figure.

It was a pleasant dream, full of beautiful women rescued from demon dragons, and a grateful king willing to give his lovely daughter to her rescuer. The princess had been very beautiful as princesses should be, and grateful as they always were. And was about to show her gratitude as he hoped. But sadly the dream slowly drifted from his grasp as he started to wake up.

At first, he didn’t know where he was. He was in bed, but an unfamiliar bed, and he couldn’t recognize his surroundings. And when he moved his arms, he could feel the warm and comfortable shape of a girl. He knew it was a girl because as he ran his hands over her body over her clothes he could feel breasts. He reluctantly resisted stroking her some more.

His touch must have woke her, because she made a ‘Hmmmm’ sound, got herself more comfortable, tucked her butt in closer to his stomach, and grasped his free hand, wrapping it across her breast. That woke her properly with a start, almost falling out of their makeshift bed. She seemed part bemused, and uncomfortable but relaxed by her actions, still, wrapping the blanket around her modestly. He sensed she did not understand the whys of her action.

She looked contritely at him. “I’m sorry about last night. I hope you are not feeling badly about sharing a bed with me. I think I needed to know there was someone close who was looking after me after all that happened yesterday. Roy … well, Roy would not have …”

He thought she picked up the rather embarrassed smile on his face – that is certainly how he felt – and the fact that he was blushing. He stammered his reply. “I think I understand what you needed and am glad that you seem to be feeling better because of it. If I could sleep with anyone, I am happy that it was you.” This slight joke brought a smile to her face and a fleeting but real laugh. A good sign.

He continued. “Now that we are up, we have to get going. I hope that we will be rescued today, and we need to prepare in case any search planes fly in our vicinity. I need to get out to the plane and make sure the emergency device is working. I have a hunch it isn’t otherwise I think we might have been found by now. Let’s get breakfast out of the way, and then I think I will take a swim.”

She wanted to help him, but he suggested that she relax in the warm cabin. The weather had changed overnight as he suspected it would: wind and rain and much colder, although not as cold as the lake, and would not do her injuries any good. As he stripped to his underwear, he sensed that she was watching him, but whether as interest or fear of the conditions, he could not tell.

The water seemed much colder today. But perhaps the adrenaline from getting them both out of the plane and then out of the water had given him a false sense of warmth then. Whatever the case, he could feel its iciness penetrate right into his bones. He realized he would have only a few minutes at the plane before he would have to get back to shore to warmth and dry clothes. The plane was submerged, only the tail and lower aft part of the fuselage visible. Fortunately, that didn’t matter since the rear cargo door was barely underwater. 

Despite the miserable weather, she met him as he climbed wearily out of the water, wrapping a warm blanket around him. He collapsed on the bed, his teeth chattering so badly she obviously couldn’t understand a word he was saying. “I don’t know if the locator is on or even working. And I don’t think it would have mattered anyway because it looks like the cargo is jammed tight against it. We’ll have to hope that Search & Rescue realizes what happened and are able to track my path. Sorry.”

He was disgusted and angry with himself. Her life could possibly depend on him, and he had failed miserably again, defeated not only by the cold water but also his own weaknesses. What did she think of him? Failure? Idiot? Coward? Why had he taken that shortcut through the pass to their destination instead of his normal route? For some reason he hoped she would understand the situation and realize he was doing all he could, no matter how limited it might appear.

As he dressed, he could see her stoking the fire. For all her injuries, she had helped to the best of her abilities and he appreciated that: the blanket from her when he got out of the water, and her not saying anything negative when he returned to the cabin in failure.

After lunch, the two of them established a routine for the rest of the day. He cut more firewood to make sure they had enough for several days. Just in case. And she relaxed in the cabin near the fire. He didn’t want Sam doing too much physical work in case it brought back her headaches. She looked better but he had heard head injuries could be tricky. 

He left her alone for most of the afternoon. He had noticed her reaction to his bad mood after his swim this morning. She seemed to be startled (astonished?) by his frustration, but at that point he didn’t care. He knew he was being childish, but he was too angry at himself for all the problems that seem to be piling up one after the other. And the solace helped. Stupidly, he had forgotten that he had a flare gun located behind his seat which could be used to signal any planes in the immediate area.

He saw she was astonished when he apologized for his abrupt behavior. She came up to him and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “Thank you for all you have done. I think I would always feel safe in your hands.” He was surprised by her words. Surprised and more relaxed. He grinned and gave her a quick squeeze of her shoulders.

He thought the water was even colder than the morning. The weather had closed in even more, the clouds lower, the skies darker, and it was now raining heavily. The change was not a surprise in this area at this time of the year, but a pain in the ass, given they were stranded in the middle of nowhere with no easy way out. It would be difficult for any search party to get to them, much less see them. In these conditions, his hands, feet, and head were chilled to the point that he could barely feel them. For some reason, he wondered if other more delicate parts of his body would be affected. Why that thought struck him, he couldn’t even imagine in his cold state.

He knew he only had a few minutes to find the flare gun before he would be so chilled he might not even get back to shore. He was a good enough swimmer but not in these conditions. He found the door to his side of the cockpit missing, probably lost when the plane overturned although he had no memory of that when getting out. The cockpit was completely submerged, and he had a hard time finding his way through despite good visibility. And no flare gun in its rack. It had obviously been knocked out of its housing during the crash and he doubted he would be able to find it. Time to get back and report another failure to the Sam. Damn it!

He could see her looking through the kitchen window at his naked and cold body as he picked up his towel and made his way slowly to the cabin. When he reached the cabin, he just shook his head sadly and sat down on one of the chairs she had put near the stove, the towel still around his waist.

She came up behind him and wrapped one of the blankets around his shoulders. He must feel icy cold to the touch. She began to knead his neck and shoulders slowly. He reached up and touched one of her hands briefly and gently to show his appreciation before allowing her to continue for a few minutes.

He told her, “I’m going to lay down for a few minutes to relax.” Even though the cabin was warm from the stove, she grabbed a blanket to put around him. As she went to place the blanket, he reached up to her and pulled her down to him. There was no resistance as she wrapped her arms around his body and held him close.

He didn’t really know why he reached up and pulled her down. He rationalized it was the cold talking – he couldn’t stop shivering after the swim – or perhaps being exhausted and frustrated, or perhaps he just had reached a breaking point in his life, but he wanted to hold her, to feel her, to see her. As he warmed up, he wondered what was going through her mind. He knew she had been stunned by what he had done but then had willingly climbed in beside him, warm body to cold. It felt good to have someone like her beside him. It had been far too long, and she was so comfortable in his arms. He traced his hand down her back, and she responded with gentle kisses on his cheek and neck. He turned his head and gave her a kiss on the lips, a long slow kiss that she responded to with enthusiasm. It was magical, a person he had never expected to meet again. He undid the buttons on her shirt and slowly lifted it off. He undid her bra and tentatively reached out to cup her breasts. He reached down and undid her workpants and then her panties and slid them off. As he looked at her face, he thought she was telling him yes, I want you too, right at this moment. He hoped so because she was so beautiful, laying on her back, eyes wide open.

* * * * *

It was twilight when he woke up. He was laying on his side, his arms wrapped around Sam, one leg over hers, both of them naked, warm from the heat of the stove and the blanket and each other. He remembered what they had done, and he hoped she had no regrets. He thought she had enjoyed it, and she had been enjoyable in return. She was so comfortable in his arms. But they needed to get going. With no power in the cabin, they needed to have dinner before it got too dark to see.

As he moved, he must have disturbed her slightly because she murmured something before opening her eyes. She also seemed to be disoriented at first, but smiled shyly as they looked at each other, a smile mixed he thought with a touch of embarrassment. And gave him a kiss on the lips as if to say, I don’t regret what we did. When she got out of bed, she didn’t worry about her lack of clothes either. She held out a hand to him and he took it in his and kissed it.

It seemed to him that dinner was a much more enjoyable meal. They did not touch or kiss, but he thought the both of them were much more relaxed around the other, not so stiff with unfamiliarity and embarrassment compared even to their lunch earlier. They chatted about friends and family, laughed at gossip, argued over politics and events, and ignored the fact that they were having beans again. They did not talk about what had happened, although it was never far from his thoughts. Not, he hoped, far from hers as well. She was looking much better, the swelling on her forehead reduced, and the bruising not so noticeable. He had tried to be careful when they had been having sex, and she had not complained of pain or winced or even shown discomfort.

By the time they had finished dinner, the sun had set, and it was nearly dark in the cabin. While he went to get more wood to replenish the stove, she remade the bed with clean sheets. He watched as she also cleaned herself in the icy lake water. Despite her obviously shy nature, she was sexy as hell. And he wished he knew a lot more about her. Two days and one night weren’t enough. He wondered about tonight. Was this afternoon a one time thing because of the circumstances? Or could it continue?

He was nervous but it was a mutual decision to share a bed. She took his hand and led him over to the bed, taking off all his clothes before allowing him to do the same to her. It was as magical as earlier this afternoon. Although he still knew very little about her and her world except for the unfortunate Roy, she was beautiful and intelligent and plucky and enthusiastic. And the two of them seemed to have a connection, although he wondered if it was something that he wanted rather than something that actually existed. But he found it difficult to believe the latter given where they were and her response. And as he continued to stroke her, he could feel her responding again.

He could feel her move slightly, thought that she was probably awake, but didn’t want to disturb her as she relaxed against him. If the night before had been something special what did that make yesterday afternoon and last night? Where he had always referred to her as a girl before, she had shown him she was a woman. Yet this wasn’t the real world, and he didn’t think he was a real solution. But, not yet time to give in.

He couldn’t believe he had fallen asleep again. He was as relaxed as he had ever been. No idea what time it was, but it was quite light out and he didn’t hear any pattering on the cabin roof to indicate it might still be raining. Hopefully, it would be a nicer day today, and they might have a better chance to be found. But what about Sam? He could feel her heart beating slowly and her breathing steady. All he could see was the back of her head, so he gave her a quick kiss and a gentle shake to wake her. An expressive brown eye looked at him. She looked content.

“Time to get up, Sam. We need to get cleaned up.” She gave him a quizzical look. He turned his head and sniffed at his armpit, and she laughed and grabbed him and gave him a big kiss.

“Before breakfast, let’s grab a couple of towels and jump into the lake.” He was not sure that went over as well because she shuddered, although he was not sure it was because she remembered how cold the water was, or whether it might be a first time skinny dipping in a lake. But she nodded her head, although dubiously. He grabbed her by her right hand and lifted her out of bed, gave her a big hug, then ran out the door and down to the lake. He could see her following at a slower pace, not quite so enthusiastic. But he didn’t care, he was feeling great, and her reluctance wasn’t bothering him at all.

The water was ice cold, especially after the warmth of the cabin. And he reveled in it, oblivious to everything else, splashing like a little kid. He could see her standing on the shore, one big toe just touching the water, and he raced back to grab her, throw her over his shoulder, and race back out to deeper water. She was weakly beating on his back, giggling the whole time, until he dropped her into the water.

“You bastard!” And jumped up to give him a quick kiss before rushing back to the shore to get dry. When he caught up to her, she had finished toweling herself off. As she started on him, he looked at her – really looked – and wondered again what she was thinking. They had not spent a huge amount of time talking to each other about wants and needs and desires and goals. Instead, they had done actions. Was she comparing him to Roy? Was this just a simple fling for her? Would this have happened if the flight had ended successfully? If they had met elsewhere? To finally meet someone special and not be able to do anything. To him, whatever the reason or the circumstances, he was entranced by her – her intelligence and personality and soul. And he would be sad, maybe even devastated, by her loss. But he had no right to intrude on her future if it did not include him.

He caught the sound in the midst of some funny joke from Sam. My god, it was a plane, and nearby and low. He rushed out, not wanting to take any chances, leaving Sam to follow. He could see it was one of his company’s aircraft, and as it flew past at low level, he recognized the pilot as John, a good friend. He raised his arm to attract his attention and could see that John was going to make an attempt to land. He heard Sam come up behind him, her previous smile just before they were interrupted now replaced by a neutral look that he couldn’t read. He gave her a quick squeeze of the shoulders and a peck on the cheek, both to say that he was here for her. A look of hurt seemed to cross her face; he didn’t think that she understood his sudden more distant, cool personality, the face that he needed to show to the world outside his special life in a cabin beside a lake in the middle of nowhere.

As he introduced Sam to John, and as he spun a (brief) story of what had happened and how they came to be at the cabin, he could see that John was puzzled. Almost like he did not believe his friend’s story or thought it lacking crucial details, about him and Sam and crashes and cabins. That moment passed when they began to arrange for getting both of them out to the plane and off the lake separately. Sam quickly agreed to go first, but only after changing into the clothes she had been wearing at the time of the crash.

He was astonished by the change. She looked much less the woman he had come to know since the crash, her body language now more remote, nothing like the woman he had slept with last night. Even her facial expression had changed subtly. The world that had existed the past two days was gone, possibly forever, to be replaced by something resembling their old worlds, prior to the flight.

He couldn’t read her expression as she got into the plane. Even his quick kiss before John had landed had gone largely unreturned, and he was not sure if it was because of watching eyes or she had begun to reconsider what had happened. Was she thinking about Roy who was waiting for her at the company base? Regret? Sadness? He didn’t know what to do. He had never been so paralyzed by indecision in his life. He had wanted to give her a hug and a big kiss before John helped her into the plane, but he had received no encouragement – no eye contact, no touch of hands, not even a smile. He had just let her go. Damn it!

It was a quiet flight back with John. He let the details of the search flow over him, a stream of noise that barely touched his consciousness. For a moment he felt like the lost little boy of fourteen who had witnessed the devastating loss of his father and for a time had been unable to comprehend why it had happened. But he had been resilient then, and he would be resilient now. Life goes on with the good and bad. Mostly good, to be honest.

He was surprised when he caught sight of Sam, moving quickly along the dock. Surprised and pleased until he saw another person, a male about his height but bigger, meet her, claiming his place at her side. As he climbed out of the plane, she came up to him, shook his hand, and introduced him to Roy. Roy had a wide grin on his face and one hand on her shoulder, obviously pleased to have his girlfriend back again safe and sound.

She stepped closer. “Thank you for all your efforts. I appreciate everything you did.” And came up to him, gave him a kiss on the cheek, her right hand on his upper arm, and said so quietly only he could hear, “Everything.”

As they walked back up the wharf, he could see the two of them hand in hand.

* * * * *

Sitting comfortably on his sofa, deep in thought and memory, Dan was startled by the phone. When he picked it up, he heard a familiar, quiet voice ask simply, “I was wondering if I could come over now to talk to you?”

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