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Sudden ImpactAirQuest Adventures
By Jerry B. Jenkins
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2013 Jerry B. Jenkins
All right reserved.
Chapter OneMisery in Mukluk
Chad Michaels bounded out of Mukluk Middle School in northern Alaska. He ran as fast as he could despite his huge boots, down-filled snow pants, mittens, and hooded parka.
At noon, he and the other sixth-grade guys usually engaged in daily snowball fights against the seventh graders. Chad hated these fights; he would have skipped them if it weren't for the name-calling he'd have to endure. Today's snowball fight couldn't ruin his day though. He had two special things to look forward to that afternoon, and that's what he thought about as he ran out into the snow.
The winter sun set early in Mukluk, so the whole school was let out for recess before lunch every day. That meant there were just too many kids to watch at once, and the boys could get away with breaking the no-snowball rule. Besides, these guys had been snowball fighting for so long, they knew where to play without getting caught. Chad glanced over his shoulder. The other sixth graders were right behind him.
Chad hadn't even had time to stop and scoop up a ball of his own when he saw Rusty Testor, his least favorite seventh grader, standing a few feet away, a huge snowball in his palm. The icy wind stung Chad's exposed cheeks as he sprinted for all he was worth, but the bigger, older Testor had the angle on him and was closing fast.
Rusty had a gap-toothed, freckle-faced grin that gave Chad nightmares. I'd love to pop him, just once, Chad thought. He imagined himself rushing Testor, driving his head into the bigger boy's stomach, and knocking the wind right out of him. That's what his friends would do.
But not me, Chad thought as he ran. Rusty's right. I'm a wimp.
Chad headed for the highest, deepest drift he could find, planning to hurtle over it and fight back from the other side. But from the corner of his eye he saw Testor draw back his throwing arm. Chad mistimed his leap over the snowdrift and left the ground too early. He spread his arms and legs, but instead of lying over the top to safety, he lopped face-first into the side of the drift.
As he called to his friends for help, Rusty's snowball smacked his cheekbone and drove ice and water into his ear and eye. It burned, and he wanted to cry, but he would never do that. It was bad enough he was a klutz; he wasn't going to be a baby too. At least he wouldn't show it if he was.
Chad turned and saw Rusty scooping more ammo from about ten feet away. Several other seventh graders joined in, grinning just like Rusty. Chad squatted, covering his face with his arms and drawing up his knees to protect himself as the fusillade pummeled him.
Here was the perfect opportunity for his friends to charge the seventh graders from the rear, while they were all occupied with him. But where were they? Was he sacrificing himself for no purpose? He peeked through his hands in disbelief. They just stood outside the circle of older kids, looking at him in disgust.
"You're too easy," Rusty said. "Go hide somewhere."
Chad wanted to charge him, to throw ice balls at him, but not if his so-called friends wouldn't help. He was tired of being a sitting duck. He stood, shoulders sagging, hands at his sides, as the seventh graders turned their attention to the other sixth graders. They would put up a better fight, which was more fun for the seventh graders than terrorizing Chad.
When they trudged back into school for lunch, one of Chad's friends caught up with him. "What's the deal, Michaels? Every day it's the same thing! You're big enough, you're strong enough, you're fast enough. You're as good at basketball as anybody in the class. But outside you're like a pansy."
Chad just shook his head as he peeled off his snow gear. Maybe he was a wimp, but he wouldn't let anything ruin this special day, even if he wasn't the rugged outdoorsman that most of the boys at Mukluk Middle School seemed to be. They fished and hunted, camped and hiked. He had nothing against that, and his father had taught him a lot about the outdoors. The truth was, he just wasn't good at all that stuff.
Chad would rather sit at his computer, surfing the Internet or maintaining his files on his favorite pro and college sports teams in the lower forty-eight states. He loved downloading scores and statistics in the morning before school; because of the time difference, all the results from the night before were already listed on the news and wire ser vices. No one in the school knew as much as he did about sports.
After lunch Chad's teacher, Mrs. Wright, called the class to attention. "For the third straight time, I'm happy to announce that Chad Michaels is our student of the month." She added, "Congratulations, Chad," as most of the boys shook their heads and grimaced, while several of the girls turned and smiled at him. Chad's dad said the guys were just jealous, but there were days when he wished he were an average student. He didn't need something else to be ridiculed about.
"And," Mrs. Wright said, "Chad has two things to share with the class, don't you, Chad?"
Chad felt the heat creeping up his neck. "Uh, no, not really."
"Oh, come on," Mrs. Wright said. "Come on up here and tell us what will be happening this afternoon."
Chad shot her a pleading glance, but he could see it would do no good. He shuffled to the front and turned, feeling as if he were facing a firing squad.
One boy groaned. "Is this where we get to hear about his dad the hero again? Does he still call you Spitfire, Michaels?"
Mrs. Wright shushed them. Chad stared at the floor. "Well, first, my sister, Kate, is speaking to our class in about half an hour."
"A fifth grader?" someone said, snorting.
"Kate will tell us when she comes in," Mrs. Wright said. "But what else—"
"Radios, of course," one of the girls said. "She knows everything there is to know about radios."
Chad nodded. "She knows even more'n my dad about radios."
"I knew he would come up," a boy said.
"Now that's enough," Mrs. Wright said. "Chad, tell us what's so special about today. "
They don't care! But there was no getting out of this. "Well, uh, Kate and I will leave school early today to go with Mom to the airport. The peacekeeping mission is over in the Middle East, and my dad landed near Washington, D.C., several hours ago. He should be in Anchorage soon, and then he'll fly here."
"Did he kill anybody over there?" someone shouted.
"I don't know," Chad said. "He could have. He lies—"
"Fighter planes; yeah, we know."
Face burning, Chad sat back down, more sure than ever that the other kids were jealous. None of their fathers did anything as exciting as his dad did. Even when he wasn't being called into duty by the Air Force, he flew charter lights all over Alaska, Canada, the northeastern United States, and even the Pacific. Dad owned his own company —he called it Yukon Do It—which included ten planes and employed several pilots.
The other kids could mutter all they wanted and make fun of him, but Chad knew they wished their dads were as daring as his. The school assemblies that Bruce Michaels spoke at each year were always the most popular and talked about. And when Chad's class took a field trip to his dad's hangar, and the kids got to take rides in one of the small charter planes, Chad lived for days on the attention. For a while, some of the kids even called Chad Spitfire like his dad did. Mr. Michaels had told him a Spitfire was a World War II plane that could be quick and deadly. "And that's you," his dad often said. Chad secretly liked it when his dad called him Spitfire, but he asked his dad not to do that in front of his friends anymore.
An hour later, Chad was again amazed at what his sister could do. She didn't even seem nervous when she arrived with her radios and oscillators and gave her little demonstration. A bit shorter and thinner than Chad, she had his blond hair and green eyes, and it wasn't unusual for people to ask if they were twins.
After a few interruptions from the class clowns, Kate quickly won them over with her knowledge of the history of the discovery of radio waves, and her explanation of how quickly the technology had grown, even in just the last five years. "You know," she said, "that television signals are really just high-frequency radio waves. Some day we'll be wearing TV phones on our wrists and looking at each other while we talk."
She also told about her recent trip with her father to an Asian radio-manufacturing plant, and all she had seen and done there. When she finished she received loud applause and cheering. "I have to get going now," she said, smiling, "because in about half an hour, my mom—"
"We know, we know!" some boys hollered. "We've heard all about it!"
Kate blushed as she packed up her things.
Chad and Kate squabbled as much as any other brother and sister, but now he sat beaming. He was proud of her, and while he might not admit that to her, it felt good. He was glad she was his sister.
Chad found it hard to concentrate on anything during the next half hour. He had his stuff arranged and was ready to go. His dad had been gone six weeks now. It had been longer the time before, and he had shot down an enemy plane that time.
Chad's mother was good about not showing her worry. They prayed for Dad every night, of course, but she didn't cry or talk about the danger all the time. She said there was just as much danger when he flew his charter lights, and they weren't going to waste their lives away worrying about things that may never happen.
Chad stared at his watch, trying to make the time go faster. The seconds seemed to tick like minutes. At two o'clock he was to go by Kate's classroom and walk with her to the office where his mother would meet them, sign them out, and then they'd head for the airstrip, forty-five minutes away.
Finally his watch showed two o'clock sharp. With a nod from Mrs. Wright, Chad quietly left the room. "Say 'hi' to your dad for us," someone whispered. He nodded. He could even put up with Rusty Testor on a day like this.
"So, how'd I do, Chad?" Kate said as they made their way to the office.
"It was all right," Chad said.
"Just all right?" she said. "Really? Just all right?"
"You were great, of course," Chad said. Why couldn't he ever tell her how he really felt? What would be wrong with that?
"You sound like you'd be happier if I'd made a fool of myself," she said.
"Nah," he said. "You did good."
"Well, you mean."
"Yeah, you did well."
Chad was surprised his mother was not already at the office. He and Kate peeked outside at the parking lot to watch for her while the receptionist took a call. "Kids," she said then, "your mother's been delayed. It'll be a little while."
Chad squinted and said, "Was that her on the phone?"
"Um, no. But they told me she's been detained."
"Detained?" Kate said. "Who told you that?"
The receptionist looked nervous. "I didn't catch his name."
"Listen," Chad said, "my dad will touch down in an hour, and we're supposed to be there waiting for him. He'll worry if we're not—"
"It won't be long," the receptionist said, "before we'll know something definite."
"About what?" Chad frowned. Why wouldn't the receptionist look him in the eye? "Who was on the phone?"
"I just take the messages, kids. I don't explain them. Your mother has been delayed, so you might just as well take a seat."
"For how long?" Kate said.
"I honestly don't know, honey," she said, turning back to her work. "You know as much as I do."
Chad and Kate looked at each other, and Chad shrugged. He guessed there was nothing to worry about, like Mom always said. But it would have been easier not to worry if it were his mother on the phone. She would have asked to speak to him.
Chad and Kate sat fidgeting while they watched for their mother out the window. Eventually, a police car stopped at the entrance, and the uniformed cop glanced at them as he hurried in. What was going on? He bent to whisper to the receptionist, who immediately went and knocked on the principal's office door. She and the officer went in then and shut the door.
A minute later the principal and the receptionist came out. The receptionist went back to her desk without looking at the kids. The principal, a grandmotherly woman with white hair, came and bent before Chad and Kate. "Would you join Officer Flanagan and me in my office, please?"
Chad wanted to ask what it was all about, but deep in his stomach he was afraid he knew. After he and Kate entered the principal's office, the principal shut the door. Officer Flanagan sat at a small table and pointed to two chairs. The kids sat.
The officer was not smiling. "Chad and Kate, is it?" he said.
"Chad, I need to get some information from you. What time is your father expected?"
"In an hour. Why?"
"And you and your sister and your mom were going to meet him?"
"What happened to him?" Chad said.
"I'm afraid I have some bad news for you," Officer Flanagan said. "But it's not about your father."
"I wish there was another way to tell you," Officer Flanagan told Chad and Kate, "and I wish I could wait until your dad was here with you. But there would be no keeping it from you. Your mother was in an accident on the way here. It wasn't her fault. The other driver ran a red light and hit her car broadside."
Chad noticed Kate trying to speak, but it seemed she couldn't make a sound. So Chad spoke for both of them. "How bad was she hurt?"
"I'm sorry, kids," Officer Flanagan said. "Your mother was killed."
Kate's eyes grew wide, and she began to shake and then cry. Chad wished he could cry. He wanted to reach over and hold Kate, but he couldn't move. This had to be a bad dream. He would wake up soon and start the day over.
The principal put her arms around Kate, and Officer Flanagan kept an eye on Chad. Chad didn't know what the officer expected him to do, but there was no need to worry. Chad felt himself growing cold. He couldn't even seem to move his eyes. He stared at the officer's face, but everything else seemed to turn dark.
His mind whirred. What would happen next? How would they tell Dad? What would they do without Mom? A happy day that couldn't even be ruined by a seventh-grade bully had suddenly become the worst day of Chad's whole life. The policeman asked Chad if there was a relative or a family friend he would like to have with them.
"No," Chad managed. "Our closest relatives are a couple of hours away, and I want to see my dad as soon as he gets off the plane."
"I can understand that. Anyone you'd like to have ride along with us? Your pastor? A teacher? A neighbor?"
Chad shook his head. He could probably think of someone if he tried. But he just wanted to get to his dad as soon as possible. "Are you going to take us?" Chad said. "Because we'd better get going."
All the way to the airport, Chad and Kate huddled together in the backseat. Kate cried and cried, but different emotions welled up in Chad. He was angry. How could this have happened? Who ran a red light and killed his mom? He had worried about his dad getting back. Nothing had better happen to him! He was all they had left.
Usually when Chad was in trouble or bad things happened, he prayed. Now he couldn't pray. What would he say? "Take my mom to heaven"? He knew that was already answered. "Send her back"? That wasn't going to happen. "Where were you when this happened?" That sounded disrespectful, but it was what he was thinking.
How could God have let this happen? Chad knew that being a Christian didn't mean your life was perfect, but how did this fit in with the faith of their family? They had prayed for each other, that God would "bless Mom and Dad and Kate and Chad," for as long as he could remember. Didn't "bless" include "protect"?
He didn't feel like much of a Christian right now, but it didn't seem like his fault. How was he supposed to feel? He was scared and he was mad. Worst of all, he knew this ugly news would stay with him forever. All he wanted now was to see his dad.
When they arrived at the small airport, about thirty miles north of Mukluk, Officer Flanagan took the kids into the waiting area. "Your dad's gonna see me and size this up pretty quick," he said. "I need you to give me a minute with him, okay? I need to make sure he hears it right, then you can have him all to yourselves."
As Chad and Kate sat in the molded plastic chairs, scanning the sky for their father's small plane, Chad felt a tightness in his chest that made him want to shout. He wanted to break something, to throw something, to hit someone. But who would he hit? This sure wasn't Officer Flanagan's fault. Or Kate's. Or his dad's. He hated this feeling. The news was so terrible he didn't want to think about it, but he wondered if he would ever be able to think about anything else.
His dad would look for their welcoming smiles, but there would be none. If anything was worse than hearing that your mom was dead, it was thinking about how your dad would feel when he found out.
Kate was the first to spot the black speck in the cloudy sky. The day was already growing dark, though it was only mid-afternoon. They stood and watched as the small plane touched down and then taxied back to let off its only passenger. Bruce Michaels appeared on the steps of the small craft, stretching and running a hand through his sandy brown hair. He was stocky and muscular, and Chad noticed he had already changed out of his uniform into khaki pants and leather jacket.
Dad peered toward the little terminal, then helped the pilot unload his bags from the underbelly of the plane. As they carried the stuff in, Bruce Michaels was clearly looking for three familiar faces. Chad and Kate hung back as Officer Flanagan stood by the door.
Excerpted from Sudden Impact by Jerry B. Jenkins Copyright © 2013 by Jerry B. Jenkins . Excerpted by permission of ZONDERVAN. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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