This story was told in passing to me. It is a true story, however I’ve taken some liberties with the storytelling and how the events unfolded. The individual who told me the story knows this and knows that it’s a fictional story based on a non-fictional event. With that being said, I hope you enjoy…….
When you tell someone that you’re a pilot they always have a certain idea of what your life is like. Immediately they tell you how jealous they are, how they wish they had a cool job and how it’s their dream to travel the world like I do. By the time they’re done gushing over my job I’m left with a decision, let them continue to believe in this fantasy lifestyle of mine or break their heart and tell them what I actually do.
Oh I’m a pilot alright, but I’m not a commercial pilot. I don’t get to fly planes filled with hundreds of people all over the world. I don’t have a co-pilot navigating for me and I certainly don’t have flight attendants bringing me coffee every hour. Rather I have a banged up coffee mug I bring from home, no co-pilot and my flight list usually involves one or two passengers. The plane I fly is beat up and small, hardly something you would be proud to fly.
You may be asking yourself “so what kind of pilot is he then?” and I’ll tell you. I’m a pilot in Northern Canada, and it’s my job to fly people in and out of the towns where roads don’t exist. When you come this far north you’re cut off from the world. Anything that’s not your house, or the local general store is basically non-existent up here. Hospitals, Airports and basically anything you need to survive is hundreds of kilometers away.
This is where I come in. I’m responsible for flying in medicine, food supplies, mechanical parts and sometimes residents. Anything that I can’t bring in, I have to fly people to. When the town doctor tells someone they need to go see a specialist, I can expect a call.
I’m a glorified taxi driver, only my taxi has wings and took me infinitely more time to learn how to operate.
It’s not the most glorious of jobs, and for a pilot it’s not entirely high on the list of prestigious positions. But it helps me make a good living and if you’re a smalltown kind of guy like me, then you’re happy with the connection you make with the communities.
Over the years I’ve flown through blizzards, ice storms and high winds. Each experience left me shaken but never broken. The harder the flight, the more my confidence grows. Over the years it became almost impossible for a flight to leave me nervous. That was until this winter when I received what I thought was a standard call.
The agency that employed me called me early in the morning. The weather was unpredictable this far north this time of year so the calls always came early in the morning. This way I was left with enough time to prepare for the worst case scenario if the weather decided to unexpectedly turn on me. Any requests for air transfers that weren’t immediate emergencies that came later in the day usually got bumped to the next day.
I wasn’t too disappointed when they told me all I had for today was a pickup for one of the residents who was going to a nearby connecting airport. The flight from the private airstrip to their connecting airport was about 30 minutes by air, which was a relatively long amount of time for the distance we were covering but the past few days the wind had been violent. The resident I was transporting was a middle-aged woman who from what I understood had asked how much luggage she could bring. This question always meant that the individual was the type would over packed and brought two or three suitcases for trips of any length.
I killed the rest of the day, planning out the route and drinking mug after mug of tea. I could tell it was going to be a cold night and I wanted to make myself as warm as possible.
When I arrived at the airstrip I found the tiny plane I was going to have to fly against the violent winter winds and sighed heavily. I looked all around the airstrip hoping that the client had arrived early. I wanted to get out of here before the winds really turned. Alas there was no one here, the only sound was the flapping of the flag that hung outside the airstrips miniature building/lobby. The building was staffed by two people, and was empty the majority of the day since most of the pickups they arranged were by phone. No one ever travelled outside their homes up here if they didn’t need to, frost bite happened far too quickly.
I stepped inside and nodded to both staff members. I had no idea what their names are, I should I’ve seen them hundreds of times. But usually my business here is walk in, find a client, leave, return plane and drive home. It doesn’t provide me much opportunity to banter with the staff. I smiled politely at them and began wandering the little lobby aimlessly. I checked my watch impatiently and decided to pop my head back outside, hoping I’d at least see the car approaching.
The strip looked abandoned and the growing black clouds made me feel all the more uneasy. I sighed and went to turn back into the building when I noticed the door to my plane was slightly ajar. Worried that this would turn the inside of the plane into a functional freezer I ran over to shut it and make sure no snow had managed to seep in through the crack and freeze any instruments.
As I hung in the doorway checking over the interior of the plane I had an uneasy feeling that this door wasn’t open when I first pulled up to the strip. I would have noticed it immediately as I always looked over to see which plane they had me flying and yet I was sure that moments before the door to this particular plane had been shut.
I saw that nothing was out of sorts inside the plane, so I ignored my previous feelings of unease and hopped down from the plane. I looked up and was taken aback as I saw the passenger with her bags standing at the end of the airstrip. I had been in the airplane for a minute and was sure that it wasn’t enough time for a car to come, drop someone off, and leave down the road without my seeing it.
I ignored this thought and called to her. She stood motionless beside her luggage and her hair was whipping around her as the wind refused to die down. Her hands were stuffed in her armpits and you could see she was squeezing herself as tight as she could, trying to preserve whatever warmth she had.
I called as loud as I could at her. The howling of the wind drowned out my voice and even I could barely hear myself. I began waving my arms, motioning her to come aboard the plane. She was staring straight at me and yet did not acknowledge my presence. I cupped my hands over my mouth and calling as loud as I could, positive that my impatience was coming through my tone.
Finally I was fed up and walked back to the small air strip lobby. Once inside I approached the two staff who looked half asleep. I couldn’t hide the frustration in my voice when I spoke with them.
“Hey! What’s the deal with that woman! She’s just standing out there and won’t come on the plane. I’ve been calling her for minutes now and she won’t board. Does she need an interpreter or something?”
The two staff members looked at each other puzzled. Neither of them spoke.
“What is it?” I asked, more annoyed than curious.
“Your passenger called us a minute ago, she said that her cab got stuck in the snow and that she was going to be late” the male staff member said.
“What? No, she’s right outside. When did she call?”
“I literally got off the phone with her a minute before you came inside”
I could feel my face growing hot and red. I was terrible at hiding my frustration. I told them to follow me and look outside, I had no time for games and wanted to prove that I wasn’t making this up. We walked outside and looked across the airstrip.
There was no one there. They ran back inside to the warmth of the lobby and looked at each other without turning back to me. As if there was an unspoken secret they weren’t telling me.
“I swear she was out there a minute ago” I said to them.
“We believe you.” The male staff member said unsarcastically.
“Then why are you two making those faces at each other”.
“Because that wasn’t your passenger. And you’re not the first person who saw her” They pointed to the far wall and told me to take a look on the wall. I glanced over and saw that the wall was covered in photos of when the town and airstrip were first built. My eyes were drawn to a picture of a young pilot climbing into his antique plane.
It wasn’t the pilot that caught my attention originally, rather it his wife. It was the same woman on the airstrip that I had seen only minutes earlier. I turned back to the counter where the staff members had been staring at me. Before I even had a chance to ask any questions the male staff member began talking.
“The story goes he never came back. They searched all over the region for his plane but they could never find it. She waited for him every day, each day growing more desperate for him to return. Every day she returned and wept as she waited for him. One day the staff noticed that she had stopped crying and stopped speaking. She would just appear at the airstrip and would wait for him in silence. Finally someone went to go check on her at home, and when they arrived they found lying motionless in bed. She had passed away days before, but the staff swore that they saw her at the airstrip that morning. Ever since then, people report seeing here there. Waiting for him to return.”
I felt a chill run up my spine, and realized that my hands were shaking. I didn’t speak another word to the staff that night and when my passenger arrived I flew us out of there as fast as I could.
The next morning I put in a call to my supervisor and made a special request.
That I never have to make a night time flight from that airstrip ever again.