This story is by Maria Caesar and was part of our 10th Anniversary Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It was a peaceful section of beach: secluded, with just the tiniest strip of sand in a small cove surrounded by shrubs and low-lying trees. A bench sat facing the ocean, positioned in full sun. It was not a particularly comfortable seat, but it was delightfully situated and had withstood the test of time. John brushed his hand against the bench’s weather-worn surface as he strolled towards the sand. The velvety grass made way for equally soft sand and soon John was standing in the water: first ankle deep, then knee deep, then waist deep. The water was calm. John realised he should have come to the beach later in the day, when the water was deeper and the waves choppier. Oh well, water was water, John shrugged. He only needed enough to drown.
John hesitated and looked back at the bench as memories of romantic getaways invaded his train of thought. He recalled the first weekend he and Suzie had camped on this cove. After pitching their tent, they spent most of their time there either swimming or relaxing on the beach. Suzie had packed a huge picnic lunch for them to share, then in the evening they cooked their dinner over a small campfire. They had enjoyed their outing so much that they returned to the cove as often as their combined work schedules allowed. After they married, they ensured they visited the cove every year for their wedding anniversary.
When their children were younger, going to the cove during school holidays was a family tradition. Their two sons were grown up now, both married with children of their own, and both ended up getting jobs in the city. They regularly kept in touch each week, but John preferred to interact with them face-to-face rather than via a telephone or the internet however visits to home nowadays were few and far between. Neither son knew that John had travelled to the cove today; and they certainly were unaware of his plans.
Parked just behind the bench was John’s station wagon. It was the only vehicle in the vicinity. There was no one standing on the shoreline to bid him farewell or to try to prevent him from wading to his watery grave. The love of his life, his wife, Suzie, had passed away exactly twelve months earlier, and life without her was unbearable. Instead of romance the now lonely-looking bench reinforced the emptiness John felt in his heart. It seemed fitting somehow that he would end his life on the anniversary of his wife’s death.
He could hear Suzie’s voice in his head: “Don’t forget to buy some milk, John.”
It was a silly line as far as final words went, but that was what the couple were discussing seconds before the accident that stole her away from him. John survived, if you could call it that, but the more time that passed the harder life seemed to be. Their sons had tried valiantly to console him, but they could not stay with him forever, nor did he expect them to do so. Counselling had also been offered whilst John recovered from his injuries, but he never really was into that sort of thing. The only person he wanted to talk to was to his wife, Suzie.
Suddenly there was a thunderously loud roar. John covered his ears. He cringed as a plane flew dangerously low overhead. It tilted abruptly from side to side as its pilot struggled for control. The plane hit the surface of the water, striking it as violently as though it had landed on concrete. The propellers on its wings shattered on impact. Debris was scattered across the sea.
Once the turbulent waters settled John could see the logo on the side of the plane. It was owned and operated by a small company that provided flights to and from the nearby islands. Surely the authorities would have received a mayday and be on their way however this beach was located at least twenty minutes’ drive from the nearest town – fifteen minutes if you drove faster at risk of losing control as you navigated the winding country roads.
John realised he was the only person capable of reaching the plane before it completely sank into the sea. However, the shock of witnessing the accident left him dumbfounded, freezing him on the spot. Then John saw them: the passengers inside the plane as they struggled to get out. It was a miracle anyone had survived such a violent crash-landing, but it soon became apparent that their lives were still in danger. Although not too deep, there was more than enough depth to fully submerge the entire aircraft and in doing so, ending the lives of everyone trapped on board.
“Help them John,” Suzie whispered in his ear. John glanced to either side. He was still standing alone in the water. “Help them John,” Suzie repeated. She did not need to tell him a third time. John swam to the plane.
On closer inspection, the plane had remained miraculously intact. Apart from the smashed wings and distorted tail the main body was still secure, however, the door, its only means of escape, was sealed shut. Water pressure prevented the door from opening without assistance from the outside.
John could see several wounded and panic-stricken passengers banging against the small circular windows. Even if they could break the glass only a small child would be able to squeeze through. The door was their only option. As two of the stronger passengers pushed on the door from the inside, John pulled from the outside; his fingers clung to the tiniest of gaps. Eventually the gap began to widen. John was able to get a better grip but at the same time water flooded into the plane at a faster rate.
Finally, the door was opened. There were five passengers in total. But John could not see the pilot. John let the others swim to the shore as he instead headed towards the cockpit. The pilot was unconscious, his breathing was shallow. He was slumped forward, still strapped in firmly. A chunk of metal protruded from the floor. It had slashed his leg severely but thankfully did not impale him. Meanwhile, blood oozed from a deep gash on the side of his head. There was most likely internal bleeding as well. His chances of survival were slim. John unbuckled the pilot’s harness, lifted the other man into his arms and half carried, half swam towards the exit.
Once free from the plane a couple of the passengers helped John. Together they led the pilot to the shore; the other passengers took care of him from then on. However, the exertion proved to be too much for John. The rasp of his breath abruptly mutated into a sharp pain across his chest. John clutched at his heart before collapsing onto the sand. His eyelids fluttered closed as the other people rushed to his side.
News reports that evening on the television and in the papers the next day told the story of a man in his mid-sixties who happened to be in the right place at the right time. Of a man who died a hero – having a heart attack immediately after saving the lives of the pilot and five passengers of a crash-landed twin-propeller charter plane. Both sons were interviewed, providing heartfelt reflections of a hard-working, loving father who will be sorely missed.
Several days later, from up in heaven, John watched the fuss made during his funeral.
“A hero – fancy that!” he chuckled at the irony of life.
“John,” a woman spoke as she approached him. “You forgot the milk…” she teased with a playful grin. Her voice was like music to his ears.
“Sorry, love,” John replied with a wide smile as he held the hand of his beloved wife, Suzie. They were together again at last.