Buffered by grassland, the collision is strangely quiet. Dirt sprays as the small plane scrapes away the top layer of Montana soil, coming to an abrupt halt in the middle of our field. Black smoke billows as fire leaps to life on the front end of the mangled plane. Standing for a moment in shock, I leave my sister, Anna, eating cold peach supp at the table and run out the open back door. The corners of my mouth stretch as I scream for Jabil, who is down the lane, working beneath the pavilion. I cannot see him, and I doubt he will be able to hear me. But over the din of the devouring flames, I do not hear anything. Not the whine of the saw blades that sometimes soothes my sister’s tantrums. Not the fierce roar as Jabil and his crew power-wash bark from the once-standing dead trees that will soon become the walls of another log house. On the back porch, I grab a piece of firewood left over from winter and leap down the steps. I cross through the gate and wade into the meadow and see that, around the plane, a diameter of grass is seared by the heat of the fire.
I scream for Jabil again, and then I scream for my younger brother, Seth, who is working down at Field to Table at the end of the lane.
I run up to the plane and stare into the cockpit. The windshield is shattered. The pilot is slumped over the control panel. Blood trails down half his face like a port-wine stain. For a moment, I think he is already dead. Then I see his fingers twitch near the throttle.
“Can you hear me?” I yell. The man groans and tries to look at me without turning his head. I use the butt of the log to hit the door handle, because the handle itself is too far off the ground for me to reach. When it won’t budge, I try to break the side window, thinking it’d be better for the pilot to be cut by the glass than burned to death. But the glass is too thick and the window, same as the handle, is too far off the ground for me to put any leverage behind my swing. “You have to help! I don’t know how to get you out!”
The pilot says nothing. His deep-set eyes close as he loses consciousness, his jaw slackening beneath a tangled beard. I hear a sound over the crackling flames and turn to see Jabil and his logging crew charging down the lane. Some of the men are still wearing hard hats or protective goggles, and the sawdust from their work sifts from their bodies like reddish sand. Their uniform steel-toe boots stamp the meadow as they surge toward us—about ten of them—and create a circle around the wreckage. Jabil is carrying a crowbar; his brother Malachi carries a shovel; Christian, a fire extinguisher; and the Englischer, Sean, a bolt cutter.
They did not need me to scream for help because, of course, they would have seen the plane crash on their own. The entire community must have seen it. I keep holding my worthless piece of firewood to my chest and watch the crew extinguish the fire and pry open the cockpit door; then Jabil tries to lift the pilot out by his arms. The man falls toward him, but his feet remain lodged under the crumpled floorboard. Jabil uses the crowbar to work the pilot’s feet free. Christian tugs on the pilot’s shoulders, and he slides out into the waiting loggers’ arms. The plane’s metal ticks and acrid smoke from the charred engine burns my throat and eyes. I back up from the plane in case it catches on fire again.
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Jolina Petersheim is the bestselling author of The Outcast, which Library Journal gave a starred review and named one of the best books of 2013. That book also became an ECPA, CBA, and Amazon bestseller. Upon the release of her second book, The Midwife, Romantic Times declared, “Petersheim is an amazing new author.” Jolinaand her husband share the same unique Amish and Mennonite heritage that originated in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, but they recently relocated from the mountains of Tennessee to the Driftless Region of Wisconsin, where they live with their two young daughters.