High in the mountains, gaunt and confident, the jet fighter slips into the capsule of his plane. The cold air beneath the plane’s wings stains the undersides with frost, but the engines come on: a red coal burns in each exhaust port as the plane rolls and takes off.
The jet plane rips past my face sideways. The tip of one wing points at the sky while the other wingtip follows a line on the ground. Passing, a spot of light flies over the cockpit and darts over the wings. The thick crackling of split air hits my ears. I watch the twin embers in the exhaust ports dissolve in the blue.
I allow my eye to wander from peak to peak after the crackling of the engines dissolve. April snow still clings to the lonely summits. My heart yearns to follow the mountain road from summit to summit, to see the snowy fields beneath me, but I have no water to drink and the thin air causes my heart to pound against my chest.
From distant blue air the white speck of the airplane grows. It rips past my face, changes sides, then curves up and away. The black spore print of its exhaust drifts over the mountain range. I watch the plane bank and turn around. Once more it approaches me, only this time it rises higher and higher into the air. As the plane disappears I trace its ascent by the molten white cloud spreading behind it. Now the cloud banks downwards and a black grain shoots up through my field of vision. I watch the entire plane slam into the mountainside, fire forming an orange shell around the wreck, snow and rock.
The fighter pilot stood beside me again.
—To the pagoda?
A flow of conversation passed between us. But in my mind’s eye I kept watching as the plane struck the mountain. This vision repeated as we walked: the plane dropping like a stone again and again into the mountainside, its wings annihilated in the rising plume of fire, smoke, and ash.
I was alone on the mountain, sitting on a rock stained by rusty lichen. Below me two travelers walked on the mountain road. And in the sky white contrails followed a fast silver plane.