On the Wings of the Sun

Chapter 71

The Lady of Uluru

February, 1977

Otto studied the man across the table from him. David Patterson looked like a typical Aussie, with sun burned, sharp features, and that peculiar way of talking that they were known for. They were meeting to assign Otto’s people to different areas of the country so they could best be used to help improve things.

“As you requested, we’ve ten airports for you and your people to look into and make recommendations and suggestions. All in all, it should take two weeks of hard work.” Patterson looked over at Otto, who nodded.

“That’s what we were told, so let’s call the rest in and give them their assignments.”

“That’s what I like about you Yanks,” Patterson smiled. “Short on talk and ready to get to work.”

Otto shrugged. “That only makes sense.”

Patterson got up and opened the door to the room. “Come in,” he called, and Otto’s party trooped in. “Please sit down at the table. Your places are marked.” Patterson then stepped to a large map of the country which had red markers pushed in where the airports they were to visit lay. “You’ll fan out to these locations as marked. All you need to know is in the folders at your places. Please look through them and let me know if there are any questions, or if you have any suggestions.” He looked around expectantly, but no one said anything. After a few minutes he said, “Very well. Your aircraft and pilots are waiting outside. Be careful and good luck.”

The group filed out, but Otto remained behind. He would be going with Patterson to all the sites so they could help anyone who needed it. “I have a question for you.”

“Yes? What is it?”

“Are we going anywhere near Ayers Rock?”

“As a matter of fact, we’ll fly right over it. I can drop down and circle it so you can have a good look.”

“That would be great.”

“It’s really quite something. Just for your information, the aborigines call it ‘Uluru.’”

“I see.”

“There’s also a mysterious apparition associated with it.”

“What’s that?”

“It’s said that a lady dressed in a white robe appears at certain times to travelers near there.”

Otto felt a chill. “Are there reports that she says anything to the travelers?”

“Well, again, these stories are not proven, but supposedly she encourages them.”

“I might have seen her, but it was in a vision or a dream.”

“Was her face hidden?”

“Yes.”

“That was the one. You must be a special person. I’ve only heard about her appearing to others I know. So, are you ready?”

“Yes.”

“Let’s go, then.”

They picked up their travel bags and cases with their paperwork and walked out to the aircraft waiting outside. They got in and took off on the first leg of their journey.

***

“There it is!” David pointed straight ahead. Otto leaned forward and saw the massive bulk of Ayers Rock shimmering in the heat.

“Wow!” exclaimed Otto. “It’s bigger than it looks in the pictures.”

David nodded. “That’s what most people say.”

Otto studied the rock as it came closer. “Say, is there any possibility we could land there and have a closer look?”

David hesitated. “Well, that would be an unauthorized change in our flight plan, but all right. I have friends in high places.” He put the aircraft over into a bank and came down to the desert floor. “Ready-made field,” he explained.

Otto nodded. “Yes. This is like our White Sands at home.”

Patterson nodded. “I’ve read about that. A lot of testing went on there.”

“Right.”

They rolled out and Patterson brought the airplane to a stop and switched off the engine.
“All ashore that’ s going ashore!” he called.

“Is this a dry lake bed?” Otto asked.

Patterson nodded. “I believe it is.” They got out of the airplane and walked over to the rock, joining some others who were standing there. Otto reached out and touched the rock.

The scene before him faded away, and he was back in the desert he had seen while on the flight. Once again the woman in white came walking toward him, stopping when she was about three feet away. Again, he sensed rather than heard her words.

“You have come to the source of my power. My message to you is the same. Believe in it. Believe…believe…believe…”

The desert of his vision faded and he was back standing at the rock.

“Are you all right?” Patterson asked. “You were out of it for a few seconds.”

“Yes, I’m fine. I had another vision of the woman I was telling you about.”

“I see. Anything new?”

“No. She keeps repeating the same message. She must want me to listen to it.”

“Hmmm. I don’t know. I’ve been around some odd things in my time, but this is one of the oddest.”

“It is that. I’ve looked around enough. Let’s get going.” And I don’t know if I’m relieved or glad about that, Otto thought. I wonder what else I’m going to find out on this trip.

 

 

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On the Wings of the Sun

Chapter 70

Heading Down Under

January, 1977

Otto leaned back in the first-class seat of the American Airlines 747 to Los Angles. Once they got there, they’d have a layover and then take a Quantas jumbo all the way to Sydney. That was about 22 hours flight time, but Otto wasn’t flying and the lunch he had just finished was superb, and he was in the company of friends. The food had filled his stomach and he realized how much they had done before they left, and he felt himself nodding off. His head lowered, and his breathing slowed and then he knew nothing.

***

Otto came to on another flat, treeless plain, but it wasn’t cold like the last time—in fact, if was quite the opposite, with an enormous sun baking everything in sight. Without water or shade, he wouldn’t last long. As he scanned the horizon looking for either one, he saw a distant figure appear, shimmering in the convection currents, making it appear like a mirage, but as the being—if that’s what it was—came closer, he thought it looked like a woman in a long white robe or gown. He couldn’t tell which. As she neared, he saw that it was robe, with a hood covering her head. She’s certainly dressed for conditions, he thought. She must be a native. But then he thought, what native would run around alone with no sign of any supplies or means of transportation other than her feet? That all made no sense.

The woman came close enough that Otto could not see her face because of the hood, but he heard her voice inside his head. “Welcome to this land,” she told him. “To your eyes, it seems like a wasteland, but to those with the Gift, it is a beautiful garden. One day, you, too will have this sight, but not for many long years. This is a reminder to continue what you are doing and to remember the Giver who makes it all possible. Farewell for now.”

With that, she faded from view, and Otto found himself in his familiar fall. Again, as he was about to hit something, his sight dimmed, and he could see no more.

***

“Otto! Otto! Wake up!” He felt a hand shaking his shoulder and glanced over to see Mata looking at him. “You were having a dream or nightmare, or was it one of you visions?”

He struggled to focus. “Yes, it was a vision, but different from all the others.”

“How so?”

“I was in what looked like a desert, with nothing in sight, when the figure of a woman in a white robe came toward me from a long distance. When she was close enough, I heard her voice in my head telling me that the place we were was a garden and looked like a desert only tome. She said to keep on doing what we’re doing, and then she vanished.”

“Huh. I wonder what it means?”

“I think it meant the same thing as the other visions—our time is not now, but it will be some day and keep up the good work and so forth. I think it was meant to encourage us.”

“Are you encouraged?”

“I suppose so.”

“What do you mean, ‘suppose so’?”

“I mean I don’t know why I keep having these. I usually don’t feel particularly discouraged when I have one, so why do I have them?”

“I have no idea. It’s a mystery to me, too.”

“All right. How long was I out?

“About three hours. We’ll land in a few minutes.”

“Wow! To me, it seemed more like 15 minutes.”

“Maybe time is different there.”

“So it would seem.”

The pilot’s voice came on the pa. “Ladies and gentlemen, we’ll be landing at Los Angeles International Airport, where the weather is fair with a temperature of 75 degrees. Please prepare for landing by returning to your seat, fastening your seat belt, Making sure your tray table is up and locked, and checking to see that all items are stowed under your seat or in one of the overhead bins. It has been our pleasure serving you today and, once again, thank you for flying American Airlines’ 747 service from Minneapolis. Have a pleasant day.”

All around them, passengers followed the pilot’s directions and soon the cabin was set for landing. Otto felt the big jetliner settle onto the runway, slow, and come to a near crawl. Then the pilot took the aircraft over to the terminal, pulling up to Gate 35B. He turned off the seat belt sign, and passengers started taking their effects out of the overhead bins and trying to move into the aisles so they could get off more quickly. Otto and his group sat still and relaxed. Those people who are in such a hurry are not going to save much time, he thought. There are only so many ways out of here, and the number of passengers make it impossible to speed the process up.

After about ten minutes, the aisles had thinned out, and Otto and those traveling with him stood up and retrieved their carry-ons. They took their time moving down the aisles, and soon reach the doorway. A flight attendant stood  there to tell them good-bye. “Have a great onward flight, and thanks for flying with us,” the woman said.”

“Thank you for your excellent service,” Otto returned.

She smiled. “I could tell you were experienced fliers since you waited for the aisles to clear you.

“I guess you could say that,” Otto replied. “I’ve been flying for 31 years.”

“Wow. You must have been in the war.”

“Three, actually—World War II, the Korean War, and Viet Nam.”

“Thank you for your service. Which branch were you with?”

“During World War II, the Army Air Force, and the Air Force with the other two.”

“Amazing.”

“Thank you, and take care.”

“You, too, sir.”

The whole group deplaned and scattered to investigate the terminal, promising to be back in time to board the flight to Sydney. Otto and Betty sat down near the gate and watched the people do by. I hope our flight to Sydney goes as well as this one, he thought. That would be good.

 

 

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On the Wings of the Sun

Chapter 69

Calm and Bright

December, 1977

On Christmas afternoon, Otto stepped outside after they had opened presents and eaten their holiday meal. It was gratifying to have everyone come on Christmas day since they weren’t able to the previous year. They had all gone to a very warm and gratifying Christmas Eve service the night before, and Otto was pleased to see that the church was packed, with extra chairs in place in the aisles and at the back.

The day was unseasonably warm and bright, and he enjoyed feeling the warmth of the sun on his skin. It was almost time for a new year, and he wondered what this one would bring. A baby for D and Samantha, perhaps, and another expansion of the airport, with balloons added to the air show.  He was amazed about how good he felt about it all, even after all they had gone through the previous year.

Charlie’s investigation had showed that the businessman had bribed the pilot into taking him up, so there were no charges to be made against the airport. The FAA likewise acquitted them of wrong doing since no regulations were violated. They called it an “accident,” but Otto thought there was nothing accidental about the man’s behavior. He was purposeful and determined, and that’s what got him and the pilot killed.

Otto stayed outside a while longer, enjoying the beauty of the day, and then he went back inside. He found Betty in the kitchen. “Where’d you go?” she asked. “I looked around and you were there.”

“Oh, I just went outside to enjoy the day for a few minutes. It’s really beautiful out.”

“I’ll have to go out after I finish cleaning up. Mata is playing with Hans and the girls are talking.”

“What about D and Samantha?”

“I don’t know where they went to. People keep disappearing around here.”

“I’m sure they’re here some place. I’ll help you put things back.”

“Thanks. That will be a help.” As they worked together, Otto thought, I’m glad we were able to be together. This was a good end to a difficult year, and I hope this good ending will be a good beginning to the new year.

***

The next day was a holiday since Christmas fell on a Sunday, so Otto didn’t see Mata until he went to work on that Tuesday. She hadn’t arrived by the time he got there, so he unlocked the door, went in, and started the coffee. She showed up a few minutes later.

“Good morning sister! Is this late arrival a sign of things to come?”

“And a good morning to you. I wouldn’t call three minutes being very late at all.”

“Anything wrong?”

“Yes, Pete wasn’t feeling well, and he didn’t want me to leave.”

“That’s hard. Is your sitter with the kids?”

“No, she went to see her sister in Minneapolis, but Tom has the week off, so he’s staying with them.”

“That’s good. What do you have for us to work on?”

“We were going to get started on the weekly aviation camp.”

“That’s right. Have you had any more thoughts on that?”

Mata shook her head. “I think what we talked about will work—classes and demonstrations in the morning, lunch and then hands-on stuff in the afternoon.”

“Sounds like a winner. Let’s get to it.”

Each of them worked in his or her office for about half an hour when the phone rang. Mata answered it. “Hello. Yes. Yes, Charlie, he’s here. I’ll have him pick up.”

Mata came to Otto’s door. “It’s Charlie.”

“Thanks,” Otto said as he picked up the phone. “Charlie? What’s going on?”

The lawman sounded serious as he said, “There was more to that balloon accident than we thought.”

“Oh?”

“Yes, I thought it odd that a balloon like that would explode so easily. I know it had gas tanks, but if they did ignite, they wouldn’t have generated the kind of force you saw in the explosion.”

“So what are you saying?”

“The businessman took some sort of bomb on board the balloon with the intent to drop it on one of the hangars, start a fire and possibly torch the other hangars as well. He and his co-conspirator would make their escape by balloon. Unfortunately for them, the bomb ignited prematurely, and, well, you saw the results.”

“Wow. That’s really something. I never heard of anything like that before.”

“Neither have I, and I would bet anyone around here wouldn’t have, either.”

“That’s really something.”

“So, we know what happened, and it wasn’t a problem with the balloon. There’s no reason you can’t go ahead and add them to the air show.”

“That’s good news, Charlie.”

“It is that Otto. I’ll see you around.”

“Excuse me if I say that I hope it won’t be for something like what we just went through.”

“Me, too. I’m looked forward to a nice social occasion.”

“I am, too. Take care, Charlie.”

“You, too Otto. Good-bye.”

Mata had stood at the door while Otto talked to Charlie, and apparently heard enough of the conversation on both sides to make sense of it. “I wonder what his motivation was.”

“Hard to tell. There are several groups who would like to destroy what we have here.”

“That’s not a comforting thought.”

“No, it’s not, but what can you do, besides watching out from threats from every quarter.”

“Unfortunately, that’s so.”

Mata went back to her desk and started opening her mail. “Will you look at this?”

“Look at what?”

She brought a large envelope in and removed its contents, reading rapidly. She finished and held it out to Otto. “No, just tell me what it says.”

“Forgotten how to read?”

“No, it’s just faster for you to tell me.”

“I forgot you’re a slow reader.”

“I am not.”

“Then read it yourself. You could have saved a lot of time if you’d done that in the first place.”

“Hah! Something like 15 seconds,” Otto said as he took the letter and read it. “This is unbelievable!”

“What? That the Australian Civil Aviation Safety Authority wants us to come down there and work with their pilots and airports to improve their safety and operations? Who’s better qualified to do that?”

“A lot of people a lot closer to them.”

“Apparently they don’t think so, because they’re offering to fly up to ten of our ‘experts,’ as they call them to Sydney and there send us to all parts of the country in teams to two.”

“I didn’t know we were that widely known.”

“My dear Otto, you don’t read the magazines that I do, and we are known the world over.”

“Still hard to believe.”

“Believe it. They want us down there the end of February, so we’d better get going on it.”

“You mean you’d  better get going on it. That’s not my area.”

“True.”

“OK, we’ll want the best so that would include Luiz, D, Bob, Tom and Polly.”

“Polly?”

“Yes, she knows more about air operations than you’d think.”

“How’d she learn that?”

“Just by being around. She’s very quick.”

“What about a couple of guys from the control tower?”

“Of course. Stuart and Ronald would be good.”

“All right, that bring us to nine, including you and me.”

“One more, then. Any ideas?”

“What about the fellow that was chief pilot with Northwest when you tried to join them? I can’t remember his name.”

“I can’t either, but he might be too old.”

“I’ll track him down and find out. If he can’t do it, we’ll have to think of someone else, plus a couple of substitutes if we need them.”

“We might. What about the wives?”

“I think they should go, but they wouldn’t be paid for.”

“We can afford that, and I hate to think of what would happen if we went and they didn’t.”

“You’re absolutely right. All right, does that give you enough to get started?”

“We just did.”

“Smarty pants!”

“You know it. I’m all over it.” Mata went back into her office to start her work. Otto watched her go, thinking, we never know what opportunities present themselves. We’ll have to see how this one works out. I certainly hope there are no problems this time.

 

 

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On the Wings of the Sun

Chapter 68

Storm in the Night

November, 1977

Otto and Mata were working late one evening, trying to put together a master plan for expansion of the airport during the next year. It had taken then hours to gather the data they needed, but they were finally ready to put it into some sort of format anyone might understand. It was near midnight when they finished, and as they prepared to leave, Mata stopped. “Did you hear that?”

“Hear what?”

“A kind of roaring sound, some distance off. It almost sounds like a fire.”

“Oh, no! If that’s what it is, we certainly don’t need that.”

“No, we don’t!”

They ran outside. “It’s coming from the direction of the balloon shed!” Otto shouted. “Call the fire department!” Mata had signed an agreement with the balloon club adding them to the air show for the next year, but that was months away. Someone was doing something to their storage area which they had built themselves, including room for the balloons and equipment, a small kitchen and dining room and an assembly area. Otto was amazed but not surprised by their versalitity. These guys who were good at something connected to aviation had other talents. He had seen that starting in the AFF during the war.

Mata went back into the office to make the call, while Otto ran down the line of the hangars. He still heard the roaring sound, but couldn’t see any sign of a large fire. Maybe it’s a small one and we caught it in time, he thought. As he was about to turn the corner and see what was happening, a huge bulk loomed above the hangar. It was an inflated balloon! What in the world would anyone want to steal a balloon? It made no sense.

Mata caught up with him then, shouting, “I called the fire department! They’re on their way!” Otto pointed at the balloon. “Look at that!”

“Oh, my, it’s a balloon!”

“Yes, and I don’t know what anyone would be doing with it!”

They came around the corner and saw the balloon with a pilot and the pushy businessman in the basket. They stopped. It was the pilot’s club’s balloon, after all, so he had a right to use it. With the weather conditions, it was a terribly dangerous thing to do, but people did all kinds of dangerous and perfectly legal sorts of things. Otto and Mata watched, silently as the balloon rose higher and higher. The businessman shouted, “I got my ride! I told you have to go after what you want, and I did it!” He cackled in such a way that Otto wondered if he were, indeed, insane. It was looking more and more like that.

“Call the fire department and cancel them out. There’s nothing for them to do here.”

“All right.”

Otto watched the balloon rise straight up until it looked like a tiny red pinprick in the night. That sight stirred his memory, and he realized it came from his vision, but that vision only went so far. He wondered what would happen next.

Mata came back. “Still up there?”

“Yes. And what I see reminds me of my vision.”

“I wonder what will happen next?”

“That’s exactly what I said.”

“Spooky.”

“I’d say.”

As they watched some more, they saw the pinprick mover rapidly to one side. “Uh-oh,” Otto said. “They’ve hit a wind shear up there. I was afraid of this after I had listened to the weather forecasts. They had no business being up there.”

The tiny light that was the balloon moved toward the north, and then the sky turned red from an enormous explosion.

“Oh!” shouted Mata. “Oh, no!”

They saw the gas bag falling in flames, with the basket still attached. Otto couldn’t imagine what was going through the minds of the two passengers. Shock, fear, perhaps regret at having done what they had done. The bag and basket impacted the ground with a tremendous WHUMPH, and the fire went out.

“Go call the rescue squad,” Otto told Mata. “There won’t be much for them to do other than pick up the pieces. And they’ll have to take the remains to the hospital to have them declared, as obvious as it will be that they didn’t survive.”

“I will. I wonder why a pilot who should have known better took that man up.”

“The businessman was awfully persuasive. Or he might have bribed him to forced him to try the flight. Someone will have heard something so we’ll know which it was. Charlie is every good at finding out about these things.”

“Won’t the FAA being involved?”

“Yes, but this was a matter beyond our control. They won’t do a thing to us.”

“Still, as pushy as that fellow was, I feel sorry for him and his family. And the pilot and his family.”

“Yes, well, that’s why there are guidelines for flying one of those things. You ignore them at your own risk, as we’ve see here tonight.”

“That’s true. I’ll go make the call.”

“I’ll walk over and see what I can see. I’ll see you back in the office.”

“All right.”

As Otto walked toward the wreckage, he thought what had happened was a terrible thing for the two involved, but he couldn’t keep from wondering how this would affect the air show. Balloons were new to it, and this might keep people away. Still, they could explain what had happened and emphasize their commitment to safety. That should do the trick, all right.

 

 

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On the Wings of the Sun

Chapter 67

Rising

October, 1977

A couple of weeks after the balloons made their appearance at the airfield, Otto say in his office and thought about how it had gone. Since these craft were relatively new in the area, the event drew large crowds who all seemed to want to fly in one of them. They also patronized the snack bar to such an extent that Mata had to send out for more food and supplies. She pitched in behind that counter, and that was where Otto found her as lunch wound down.

“How’d we do?” he asked.

“I don’t believe how we did!”

“Good or bad?”

“Otto, look around at these mobs and tell me how you think we did.”

“Uh, good, I guess.”

“Not good—more like ‘fantastic’ or ‘unbelievable’ or ‘incredible’.”

“I get the picture.”

“Yes, we’re really making out on this. I had to go get more food and supplies, and there was the rental fee for the balloon club, and people have been wandering into the pilot shop and coming out with piles of stuff and others are asking about flight lessons, so, yes, it’s an amazing day!”

“That’s good!”

“You said that once. It’s beyond good.”

“OK, OK, I know. Who would have thought that something that can’t even be steered could have done this?”

“Maybe the appeal is that it can’t be directed. Gives it a sense of adventure that people find appealing.”

“Hmm…I guess.”

“Well, I know. If we don’t include these balloons in the air show, we don’t deserve to have one.”

“You’ve convinced me.”

“Good. And I do mean good that time.”

Otto went back outside to greet the people as they were leaving. A man came up to him. “I haven’t enjoyed anything as much in a long time. Thank you for bringing them out here. Do you plan to have them back?”

“Right now, we plan to have them back next May when the airshow reopens.”

“Aw, come on, son, I’m a businessman, and I know a good thing when I see it. If you don’t have them back next week, you’d be a fool!”

“That would depend on the weather. We’ll be getting into some bad storms here soon, and balloons can’t fly under those conditions.”

“Well, you know what I always say about that?”

“Actually, no, I don’t.”

“I say, ‘Take a risk, make a buck.’ How do you like that?”

“Fine, I suppose.”

“Well, do it! Do it for yourself and all these other people.”

“All right, sir. I’ll take it under advisement.”

“Were you listening? Just do it, son! You won’t regret it.”

As the man walked away, Otto thought that he would have a nervous breakdown or a heart attack if he worked for him. He simply wouldn’t take no for an answer. I wonder what kind of business he’s in, he thought. Even better, maybe he’d like to do promotion for them. They’d have to expand the airport again. He’d bet that Mata had records of everyone who came, and they could find him from that. That would work.

Mata walked up and saw the expression on his face. “What’s wrong?” she asked.

“Oh, this super businessman type wants us to have another balloon show next week.”

“Isn’t that rather soon? This one took a while to arrange.”

“It is, and the weather’s likely not to be suitable  until next spring. We were lucky to get it in today.”

“Yes. Do you think he might do anything about it?”

“I don’t think he can. We have to negotiate the contract, and the balloon club is not going to listen to someone who’s not involved in aviation. I think we’re safe.”

“But you never can tell. These pushy guys are used to getting their way.”

“I know, but he won’t this time.” And I’m going to make sure of that, Otto thought.

***

That evening, Otto went to bed, but he tossed and turned and couldn’t sleep. For some reason, the force and insistence of the man bothered him and he didn’t know why. Finally he got up, being careful not to disturb Betty, and went into the living room to lie on the couch. There, his mind gradually settled and he fell into a dark grayness.

***

He came to standing on a wide plain with no one around. This is different, he thought. Where is everyone? And where am I? And what’s going on? If this was a vision, it was missing almost everything. What did it mean?

He looked around him and just saw featureless plain. Over him, the sky was a light gray color, and he could see nothing at the zenith at first, but then he saw, far, far above him, a tiny red pinprick. What in the world can that be? he thought. As he watched, the dot seemed to drift with the wing, although nothing else in the sky moved. The pinprick came back to a position right above him and stayed, seeming to drift down and grow larger. Then he became aware of a soft roaring sound that grew in volume and intensity as the thing, whatever it was, descended. It dropped down and down and roared louder and louder until he thought it might land on him or burst his eardrums. Just as he thought it would strike and when the could not stand the noise any more, the apparition vanished, leaving him alone once more.

What was that? he thought. I’ve never experienced anything like it. What in the world could it mean?

Then he felt the familiar sense of falling as he seemed to melt into the plain, buoyed up by the soft whitish material he remembered from other visions. He fell faster and faster, and just when it seemed he might smash into something, his speed slowed and he was deposited gently on his couch in his living room.

He lay there for a moment, and then got up and went back into the bedroom. The experience, real or not, had exhausted him, and he soon fell into a deep sleep.

***

The next morning at breakfast, Otto told Betty what had happened to him the night before. She listened carefully and said, “Do you think it might have to do with the man who insisting on our having another balloon display?”

Otto mulled that over for a minute. “You know, that makes a lot of sense. I’ve never had that kind of dream before. I wonder if it’s prophetic?”

“You’re not getting into crazy stuff, are you, Otto. Next thing you’ll be wearing sackcloth and ashes and carrying a sign that proclaims, ‘THE END IS NEAR—REPENT!’”

He chuckled at that. “It wasn’t that sort of vision, and my other visions have been useful to me. They’ve kept me going during hard times, so I don’t see why this one would be any different.”

“I guess we’ll have to find out.”

“Yes, we will.” They ate the rest of their meal in silence, thinking, and then Otto went to work.

He came through the door to find Mata at her place as usual. “You know, one day you’re not going to be sitting there, and I’ll fall over.”

“Well, have you ever not found me sitting here?”

“A couple of times, yes.”

“Did you fall over?”

“No, but I knew you weren’t going to be there.”

“Oh, you’re talking about a surprise absence, like I was abducted by aliens or something.”

“Now who’s talking strange stuff?”

“You started it.”

“Speaking of strange, I have to tell you about a vision I had last night.”

“The same kind?”

“No, this one was totally different.” Otto then recounted what he had “seen” the night before.

Mata sat silently for a moment, and then said, “And Betty thinks this might have something to do with the balloon man?”

“Yes, she does. And your calling him that reminds me of that e. e. cummings poem about the ‘goat-footed balloon man.’ That poem always did give me the creeps.”

“Me, too.”

“Do you think our balloon man is creepy?”

“I think he’s up to something, and my vision would indicate that it’s nothing good.”

“I agree. I guess we’ll have to see what happens.”

“Yes, now back to work,” Otto said, and thought, also back to wondering.

 

 

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On the Wings of the Sun

Chapter 66

Lighter than Air

September 1977

Mata came into Otto’s office the day before the last air show of the year. “Here’s something different,” she said.

“What is it?”

“It’s from a hot air ballooning club. They want to know if they can use the sailplane field to launch their balloons.”

“I didn’t know there was such a club.”

“Yeah. It’s based in Madison, and I think it’s relatively new, which would be why you hadn’t heard of it.”

“So, what do you think?”

“We added sailplanes, so I think going lighter-than-air is a natural next step.”

“I agree. Let them know they can come. When do they want the field?”

“Two weeks from tomorrow.”

“Whew. Not much time to do publicity.”

“Tomorrow’s in good shape, so I’ll get right on it.”

“Good.”

“And they’re offering us free rides as part of the deal.”

“I think I’ll pass on that. I like to be able to steer whatever I’m in when I’m up in the air. Makes for fewer problems that way.”

“Chicken.”

“Just a chicken who wants to go where he wants to go.”

Otto went back to his desk. This certainly has the potential to expand our air show, he thought. We’ll have to ask them if they want to be a part of it when they come in a couple of weeks. Just as long as they don’t want me to ride in one of those things. And we might have to expand the air show to Sundays. We’ll just have to see how to do that, but I think it could be done. He called Mata into his office.

“Mata! What do you think, if it all works out in a couple of weeks, of asking the balloon club to join the air show next year? We might have to go to Sundays to accommodate everything we would have.”

Mata looked thoughtful. “Sounds like a good idea. I’ll talk to them when they come.” She went out, leaving Otto to ponder how, when something wasn’t working out, something else came in to take its place.

 

 

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On the Wings of the Sun

Chapter 65

Up Where I Belong

August, 1977

Otto looked around the table at his family—D, Samantha, Betty, Tom and Mata—gathered at Samantha and D’s invitation to share a meal. D told Otto when he called that they had a very exciting announcement, and Betty said she was sure what it was. Still, she couldn’t be totally sure, so they all showed up at 6 PM on a Wednesday in early August. Samantha had fixed roast beef, and the other household brought side dishes, with Mata also contributing a cake from the coffee shop for dessert.

They enjoyed the food, and Samantha stood up. “I’m going to try something different this time, and that is to let the guys serve dessert. It’s time the women in this family had some special treatment.”

“We treat you specially,” Otto said. “We let you take care of us.”

Samantha eyed him. “One more crack like that from you, Buster, and no chocolate cake.”

“Okay, okay, I’ll be good.” Samantha obviously knew about Otto’s love of anything chocolate.

Samantha did supervise the cutting of the cake and putting the slices on plates. Tom busied himself with making coffee—he said he had resisted learning since he was afraid Mata would put him to work at the coffee shop, but she said she didn’t want to take the time and trouble to show him how to make specialty coffees, so he was off the hook on that.

When all was ready, Otto and Tom served Betty, Samantha and Mata, while D brought out the sugar and cream. Then they all sat and enjoyed the cake and coffee with some more conversation.

Otto finished his cake and pushed the plate back. “That was wonderful!” he exclaimed. “Almost enough chocolate on that cake!”

“We could never put enough chocolate on anything for you, brother.” Mata eyed him.

“Hey, it’s good for you!” he exclaimed.

“Sure it is.”

“May I have your attention, please?” D looked around the table. “Samantha and I have an important announcement, as I told you.” He went over and stood by Samantha, putting his arm around her shoulders.

“Yes,” Samantha said. “I’m happy to tell you that we’ve decided to try to have another baby!”

Congratulations came from all parts of the table, and they all took turns hugging Samantha and shaking D’s hand. When they had finished and settled back into their seats, Mata asked, “What changed your mind? You were so sad we thought you’d never come out of it.”

“Well,” Samantha said with a smile, “as odd as it might seem, flying in a sailplane was what changed my mind.”

Mata frowned. “How would that change your mind about something that you felt so deeply.”

Samantha looked around the table. “If you’ve never flown in a glider, you might not understand, but when I’m up there with just the birds and the air slipping by, I feel closer to heaven and to the baby I lost. And it’s really funny, but when D and I were up last week, it was if I heard a voice that I took to be that of my baby, but grown up, and he said, ‘Don’t be afraid. I’m all right, and I want to be well, and have another child.”

The table sat silent for a moment, and Samantha looked anxious. “Does that sound crazy? It really happened to me. I hope you’ll believe me.”

Mata was the first to speak. “Of course we believe you. We in this family have had similar experiences, and there’s no reason you should have had something similar. I’m just glad for you and glad for us.”

“Thank you,” Samantha said, smiling with relief.

“This calls for more celebration!” Otto exclaimed. “Is there any more cake left?”

They all laughed, and this time, the women with the exception of Samantha fixed the cake. Otto leaned back in his chair and thought, I’m so glad this has happened. And who would have thought that a sailplane would have figured so prominently in Samantha’s changing her mind.

 

 

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