HOME, SWEET HEAVEN INSTALLMENT #8

Chapter Eight

“Aw, no,” Earl mumbled to himself. The sound of his voice woke Joyce out of a fitful, shallow, and thoroughly unsatisfactory sleep.

“What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Look outside the windscreen,” he replied.

She looked, rubbed her eyes and looked again. “I don’t see anything,” she said.

“Precisely,” he confirmed. “Fog. We’re blanketed in the stuff. I have to fly on instruments.”

“Well, you did say that you had an instrument rating.”

“For people like me with ten thumbs, it takes constant practice to be any good at it. And my mind doesn’t work as fast as it should.”

“You seem to be doing okay. I don’t hear the rushing of wind telling us that gravity is hurling us to our doom. In fact, it’s almost peaceful.”

“I’m coping. Barely. But we’ve got less than a quarter of our fuel left. If this fog doesn’t ease up before we need to land, we’re in some deep do-do.”

“Earl. We both need to get with it. Remember our condition when Wisdom scraped us off the pavement? We could crash into a tree and I doubt if we’d look more like roadkill than we did then. By rights we should already be dead.”

“But we aren’t.”

“Bingo. So we won’t be. At least until we accomplish something on God’s agenda. I don’t think just riding around in an airplane does much for any agenda.”

“Point taken. Why don’t you read me something to stiffen up my spine?”

“Good idea.” She reached into Earl’s backback and rummaged through it, searching for the Bible. “Huh,” she said, frowning.

He barely heard her over the noise of the plane. “What’s wrong?”

“The Bible’s not in here. As a matter of fact, I don’t remember seeing one in the RV. I’ll just have to wing it. How about the story of the twelve spies?”

“Yeah. That’s a good one. Go for it.”

“They were two years into their wilderness journey, on the border of the Promised Land. Moses told them to assemble twelve spies, one representative for each of the twelve tribes of Israel. They were to do a recon of that land, to assess its produce and its people, and come back with a report. They came back forty days later, as I recall, laden with an abundance of fruit, saying that the land was rich in milk and honey.”

“Didn’t they return bearing on poles a burden of huge grapes?”

“I think so. Anyway, after telling the people how good the land was, they told them there were giants that lived there, making the spies seem like grasshoppers in comparison. Ten of the twelve spies whined about it and convinced the people that it would be too risky to go into the land. The people wept at the news. I remember them saying that familiar phrase: ‘Would God that we had died in the land of Egypt!’ But two of the spies refused to wimp out. They trusted God, that He’d see them through the battles ahead. One of these brave ones was Joshua, of the tribe of Ephraim, one of the two sons of Joseph. The other was Caleb, of the tribe of Judah. The people wanted to return to Egypt, and were punished for their lack of faith by remaining in the wilderness for another thirty-eight years, time enough for that entire generation to die off.”

“Except for the two courageous spies.”

“Except for them. Remember that Moses wasn’t allowed to cross the Jordan River into the Promised Land when they finally did go in. The honor of leading the people into the land and conquering it was given to Joshua for his faith under fire. Then, when they got to Hebron, Caleb reminded Joshua that his own reward for his faith was the city of Hebron. He was eighty years old at the time and yet he fought for the city with his troops and prevailed. Hebron became his as God had promised him.”

“A very important place.”

“Very. It was the burial place of all three Patriarchs and their primary wives: Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob and Leah. Jacob preferred Rachel over Leah, but it was Leah who gave birth to Judah and whose blood down through the centuries culminated in Jesus through Mary.”

“It also was the place where King David reigned over Judah and Benjamin for seven years, before he moved to Jerusalem to reign over the entire twelve tribes of Israel for the remaining thirty-three years of his kingship. Amazing how the world forgets that, or maybe just doesn’t care.”

“But God certainly does. Even more than than the rewards they were given, they were beloved of God. Can you imagine their joy in the spiritual realm?”

“Good story. A real spine-stiffener.”

“There’s plenty more where that came from. How about David and Goliath, since we’re on the topic of faith and courage?”

“I’m okay now, thanks. I appreciate your having knocked the fog – the gorilla out the windscreen – down to manageable size.”

“Question, Earl. About David’s encounter with the giant Goliath. I don’t get why David picked out five stones. There was just Goliath, and David had just one chance to get it right.”

“Goliath had four brothers. He had to be ready to take them on, too.”

“Amazing!” she said. “The accuracy of the Bible in even the smallest detail straightens my back.”

After several minutes of silence, Earl was comfortable enough in the situation to take a stab at finding out where they were. He grabbed the sectional chart and scanned it intermittently along with the instruments, settling on a particular VOR transmitter that he estimated to be the closest. He re-tuned the receiver to the frequency of that transmitter and was gratified to note that he had acquired the signal. The indicator showed him ten degrees off the transmitter’s centerline. He corrected the offset and set the directional gyro to agree with the receiver heading. Glancing at the sectional, he saw that the nearest city of consequence was Tyler, Texas. Scanning the fuel gauge next, he thought they had a good chance of making Tyler before the fuel ran out. He made a quick prayer of thanksgiving to God that the owner had topped off the fuel.

“Look at this chart,” he said to Joyce, handing her the sectional. Locate Tyler on it and fold the chart around that town.” When she complied, he took the chart back and focused on Tyler, searching for an airfield symbol. The fog lifted as they approached the city and he directed the plane for a straight-in approach to the field as he set up for the descent. It was a Unicom field, which meant that it wasn’t equipped with a control tower. Pilots going into Unicom fields called in their intent to land by radio. He glanced at his watch. At eleven-thirty in the evening, there wasn’t much likelihood of other traffic.

He executed a surprisingly smooth landing, impressing Joyce no end, and himself as well. “Well, at least we made it here,” he said to Joyce as he taxied to the fuel island. “Now all we have to do is get some fuel without paying for it, and after that take off again without being collared by the police. Otherwise, be prepared to run for your life.”

“All things are possible with God,” Joyce reminded him.

The field had a Fixed-Base Operator (FBO) in a nearby building. A man came out of it and headed toward the plane as Earl broke out into a sweat of anxiety and Joyce quivered nervously inside the plane.

“Hi, there,” the man said. “You Jack Garrett’s new pilot?” he asked, supplying Earl with all the information he needed to survive the ordeal.

“Sure am,” Earl told him with a confidence he didn’t feel. “Arnold’s my name,” he said, extending his hand. “Heading east into Louisiana on an errand for Jack. I’ll take a fill-up.”

“I’m Bart,” the man offered, shaking the hand. Sure thing,” he added, mounting a ladder with a hose and going about the task of fueling the plane through the receptacle in the wing.

“Put it on the tab?” Bart asked when the task was completed.

“Sure, of course,” Earl replied, offering another fervent thanksgiving to God.

“Well, take care,” Bart said. Say hello to Jack for me.”

“Will do, Bart. Thanks for the help.”

Earl climbed back into the cabin and started the engine. “All things are possible with God,” they said in unison, laughing. They took off again, heading east. When the airfield was off in the distance, Earl made a sharp bank to the left and corrected course to a northerly heading. More confident now, he dialed up another VOR transmitter and set their sights toward Paris, Texas and beyond into Oklahoma, close to the Oklahoma-Arkansas border.

The flight north was uneventful all the way up to the end. The sky remained crystal-clear and Joyce imagined herself and Earl alone in a cocoon halfway to heaven. As the journey progressed, she drifted off into a deep sleep, as comfortable as if she’d been in her own bed.

They ran out of luck just north of the Oklahoma-Kansas border, on the outskirts of the little town of Coffeyville, Kansas. When the fuel-starved engine died at four-ten in the morning Earl dropped the flaps to a full forty degrees and set down on a dirt road that bordered a field. The landing was bumpy, but not so bad that the plane was damaged. It took Joyce a few minutes to recover from her terror, but then she put her arms around his neck and congratulated him for the dead-stick landing. She called it heroic, but he was just happy to be on the ground with both of them intact. Then he started to worry about what they’d do next.

They stepped out of the plane into a wet, pre-dawn chill. “We need to get out of here right away before they find the plane and then track us down,” Earl said.

“Fine with me,” Joyce replied. “It’s too cold to sleep anyway.”

They crossed two fields before chancing upon a road. Earl looked up to the sky to acquire his bearings and, determining roughly the direction of north, started walking in the direction of the road that approximated their desired heading. “I need to rest,” Joyce said to him an hour later. “Just because I have no feet doesn’t mean they don’t hurt.”

“Just a bit more,” Earl coaxed. “Ten minutes and then we’ll stop and rest.”

“All right,” she grumbled, “but not a step further.”

Four minutes later they came to a railroad crossing. “Just what I’ve been hoping for!” he exclaimed. “Look!” he shouted as he saw the tracks gleaming in the dawn light. “We’re really in luck! This is a well-traveled line!”

“Lucky?” she countered. “All things are possible with God!” they exclaimed in unison, laughing.

They slept fitfully by the side of the tracks until around seven in the morning, when they were awakened by the deep rumbling of a slow-moving diesel. Earl caught a boxcar with an open door and, forcing the stump of his right arm against the side, pulled Joyce up with his left.

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