The Cessna’s fuel guage was needling on empty. There was still no sign of the coast, of any solid land at all, and the radio crackled uselessly with static.
John sucked in a panicked breath. How could he have been so stupid, to get that disoriented? To let himself walk out the door without filing a proper flight plan, knowing that Jim would let him fill it in after the fact? Dammit, he may have been 71 years old, but John had been piloting for six years and was fully instrument-rated. He should have known better.
The engine sputtered. Just for a moment, but it was clear that there was not much time left. Ditching in the drink was the only option, with a stowed life raft and life vest that had come with the plane, secondhand, and a flare gun still in its wrapping paper from World War II.
John pulled back on the stick, trying to gain altitude he could use in the glide down to land in a gentle patch of sea or on any sliver of land that might present itself. In doing so, he burst through the ceiling of grey clouds that had led him to get so disoriented in the first place.
It was sunset, above the clouds, and the hidden sun was painting them in the boldest and most vivid colors John had ever seen. Orange the color of his old Camaro, purple like his daughter’s hair, flaming red like the three drops of blood Mary-Beth had coughed up with her last breath as the cancer took her. Every shade that had ever meant anything to John was there, gathered for a final farewell: a sight he never would have seen at any other moment, at any other time.
“Thank you,” he said, tears shining behind his glasses.
He nudged the stick forward. Just a few thousand feet to go.