Moments after Leni clocks in for her afternoon shift at the pharmacy, Daisy taps her on the shoulder.
“So did you see the plane yet?” Daisy says.
“There’s a crashing plane stuck in the woods behind the store,” Amber says from her workstation at the end of the counter, her latex-gloved fingers dancing across her keyboard.
“My God,” Leni says. “Is anyone hurt?”
“It’s just an art project, it’s not real,” Glen says from behind. “Dennis was just in here a few minutes ago picking up his dad’s medication, and he told me his troopers have found these things all over town. At least ten of them. Just before lunch they found a frozen 737 plowed into the ground behind Value King across the street. He said it’s probably just a weird artist trying to do some kind of viral-marketing, Banksy-type thing.”
“I don’t understand what any of you are talking about. Is anyone hurt or not?” Leni says, as she tries, and fails, to log into her workstation. All this talk about crashing planes sends her heart galloping, her fingers trembling, her anxiety churning. When no one answers her question, she closes her eyes, reaches into her pocket, and wraps her fingers around the bottle of Klonopin she keeps with her at all times in case of a panic attack. Feeling the familiar shape of that smooth cylinder resting in the fleshy pocket of skin between her thumb and index finger, her heart starts to slow a bit.
“Banksy is that British artist who makes crazy stuff like this,” Glen says. “He paints fake doors into concrete walls and draws pictures of little girls in gas masks. It’s political commentary. But if that’s what this guy is doing, I don’t get it. I don’t understand what a plane crash behind a CVS is supposed to mean.”
Now Daisy rests a hand on Leni’s shoulder.
“Let’s go take a look,” Daisy says. “Nobody’s hurt, I promise. You’ll feel better if you see it for yourself.”
A computerized voice speaks from the phone next to Glen.
One pharmacy call.
“I’m coming too,” Amber says, snapping off her latex gloves. “I didn’t get to take any pictures last time.”
“Two minutes,” Glen says, picking up his phone and clamping the handset between his ear and shoulder. “If you’re not back in two minutes, I’m going to come out there and drag you back in here myself. Just because we don’t have any customers at the moment doesn’t mean you can all stand around and gawk at that plane. We’ve got scripts to fill and pills to count.”
A minute later Leni steps into the rear parking lot and looks to the woods behind the store. There she sees a jumbo jet frozen in mid-air, its gleaming white nosecone aimed straight at the back wall of the store. The plane is huge, almost as big as the entire building, and it hovers less than thirty feet above the ground. The plane’s left wing has been ripped in half by a giant sugar maple standing at the edge of the woods. The massive engine that was connected to that wing now lays crumpled on the pavement at the far end of the parking lot. Frozen orange flames like glass knives jut from the front and sides of the ruined engine.
Looking at the plane and its frozen wreckage, Leni’s heart starts its heavy thudding once again. Is she really the only one who is scared of this thing?
“Huh,” Daisy says, craning her head to the side. “Wasn’t it farther back in the woods last time we were out here?”
“I didn’t get a chance to take any pictures last time, so I have no idea. Here,” Amber says, handing her phone to Leni, “I want to try that forced perspective thing people do on Instagram where it looks like they’re holding the Washington Monument in the palm of their hand.”
From here Amber and Daisy jog out into the parking lot and hold up their hands under the plane. Once they get the positioning right, they turn to Leni. With her pulse thumping in her ears, Leni zooms out until it looks like the two women are holding the frozen plane in the palms of their hands.
“Okay, that looks good,” Leni says. “Smile.”
An instant before Leni presses the shutter button, a shard of orange flame sprouts from the ruined engine on the ground.
“Did you just—” Leni says, her breath catching in her throat.
The two women jog back to where Leni is standing.
“Did you get it?” Amber says.
Leni hands over the phone and looks at the engine again. It is completely still. Nothing in that area is moving except for the wind-jostled branches of the oaks, the teardrop leaves of the elms. Due to the reality distorting powers of her anxiety, Leni knows she can’t always trust her own senses, but still she can’t look away. Something in her head keeps telling her that plane is dangerous.
“Oh nice,” Amber says, staring down at her phone. Now she shows the picture to Daisy.
“Are you sure that thing is safe?” Leni says, her eyes fixed on the frozen plane.
Daisy looks back at the plane.
“Len, it’s fine. It’s just a sculpture.”
“But I think it just moved.”
“It probably did,” Amber says, slipping her phone into the front pocket of her navy-blue scrubs. “Doesn’t Banksy do all kinds of crazy stuff like that with his art just to screw with people? That’s probably what this guy did, since he’s a copycat.”
Now the store’s back door swings open.
“Time’s up!” Glen says, shouting across the parking lot. “Let’s get a move on, ladies, we’ve got customers!”
“Well, that was fun,” Amber says, as her and Daisy start trotting to the door.
“You have to send that picture to me,” Daisy says to Amber. “My girls will get a kick out of it.”
“Tell Glen I’ll be there in a second,” Leni says, but neither Daisy nor Amber seem to hear her.
Now Leni jogs up to the ruined jet engine and runs her fingertips along an intact section of the mangled sheetmetal. It feels smooth, cool, authentic. From what she can tell it seems to be made out of real metal, not some other material an artist would use to build an imitation. Feeling this, her heart begins to beat faster. To calm herself down she rests her hand on one of the glinting shards of frozen flame. The flame is cold, as smooth as volcanic glass; it gleams as brilliantly as a cut gem; the edges are as sharp as sawblades. But it is still. Everything is still.
With her hand resting on the flame, Leni closes her eyes. Here she tells herself that this is just art, that she is no longer an ER nurse, that no one is going to die because of this. Soon her heart begins to slow. A blue jay chirps overhead. The heat of the afternoon sun warms her cheek. A cool breeze grazes her ears, her nose, the backs of her fingers.
Seconds later she cries out in pain and jerks her hand from the frozen flame. Now she looks down at her palm and sees a shiny pink burn mark forming on her skin. Seeing this, she doesn’t waste another moment. She runs across the parking lot to the back door, the soles of her padded running shoes snapping against the pavement. As she streaks into the store, she prays to God that she can find the words to reach them, to make them finally understand the danger they are in.
Steve Gergley is a writer and runner based in Warwick, New York. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in A-Minor, After the Pause, Barren Magazine, Maudlin House, Pithead Chapel, and others. In addition to writing fiction, he has composed and recorded five albums of original music. You can find him on Twitter here. His website is here.