The Birds

The Birds by David Macfie


My day started very well. I went for a flight in my glider and it was awesome…. At first. But something happened that I didn’t understand. I got caught up in some sort of freak storm. It just grabbed my plane and took it up, up and away to somewhere totally different. I thought I was going to die. The airframe squeaked and groaned as the weather pummeled the wings and the fuselage. It became pitch black outside and the wind twisted and turned the glider as it was dragged or sucked higher and higher. I lost my radio communications quite early on and felt that I was trapped in a bubble with only the elements to talk to.

It was surreal and extremely scary. When I reached rarified air, I had to put on my oxygen mask, and still the frail plane went up and up. The glider was just not designed for this punishment. In truth, I couldn’t believe that it had lasted this long but the battering and twisting went on and on and the plane survived. I felt deaf and tortured by noise at the same time. And the worst of all was that I was completely helpless. Nothing worked, not the radio, not the rudder and not the ailerons. I was simply a passenger in a maelstrom. I had to just sit tight, and hope. The darkness was all encompassing so it was like being blind and deaf at the same time. I nearly died of terror and had to resort to yoga breathing exercises to calm down.

In the end I became fatalistic. If I was going to die, I might as well get as much from the experience as possible. Once that decision was made, I calmed and my heart-rate returned to normal. I checked what I could check and found that my glider was holding up perfectly. I could find no evidence of damage anywhere. I calmed still further. It seemed that my equipment was doing me proud. But the pummeling continued and my altimeter had also given up with the needle jammed to the max. And still I felt sure we were climbing. Whatever was happening, it was completely unnatural. There was no weather condition that I knew of that behaved this way. I could think of no cause of such conditions and still we seemed to climb.

Gradually, the rate of climb felt as if it slackened a little. Then the outside noise began to drop off. Now my ears heard less and less until there was no sound. At the same time the wind dropped and the weather calmed until the plane seemed to be floating. I started talking to myself just to know that I wasn’t deaf. It was still pitch black outside so I felt blind and with the deafening silence, I was experiencing sensory deprivation. I started to panic once more, and reverted quickly to my deep breathing exercises. Slowly, slowly I got back under control but this stillness was just as unnatural as the tumult had been before. Again I was completely baffled as to the cause or causes of my situation.

I looked through the canopy and saw inky blackness with no hint of color or light. And it was so still. I thought this must be what suspended animation must be like. But that didn’t help. I tried my radio and got nothing, not even static. The lights were on but there was nobody home. I tried the controls and they seemed to function but they didn’t work – no up or down or side to side. It was like I was floating in a vacuum. I was getting creeped out. Was I dead and heading for the after-life? I honestly didn’t know. I felt alive. My heart was still pumping and I was still breathing, but there was no external stimulus to prove that I was alive. I could now understand how sensory deprivation could be used as a method of torture. The feelings of panic were hard to control and I knew that it would be too easy to lose it altogether. I couldn’t understand what had happened. I couldn’t understand how I had managed to come to this place, wherever it was. And, what was worse, I had no idea how to get out of it again. The feeling of helplessness was overpowering and numbing and paralyzing.

Just when I thought I couldn’t stay sane under these conditions, I sensed a thinning of the blackness outside. Was it my imagination? I strained my eyes trying to verify my sensation. Yes, it was definitely getting lighter. It was happening extremely slowly but it was definitely happening. I tried my controls but still there was nothing and my radio was still dead. But now just a little light. It was like a spray of water on an over-heated athlete. The relief was immense.

Suddenly, with no warning, whatsoever, the glider flew into bright sunshine. I was blinded by the instant change in intensity of light. But, I felt my controls come to life in the same moment. My radio buzzed and crackled with static. As my eyes adjusted, I gazed through the canopy.

I was stunned by what I saw. I was flying over a choppy sea. I had taken off from a field near Johannesburg and the nearest sea is more than seven hundred kilometers away. This is impossible. My glider was caught in an updraft and swished over the edge of a high escarpment to skim over a plateau of grassland very like the Highveld but also startlingly different. The vegetation was more blue-green than yellow-green and the trees just weren’t the same. I searched for signs of life and was relieved to see a formation of planes approaching. But as they came closer, my fright was almost heart-stopping. They weren’t planes, they were birds – enormous birds. They came closer and I could see that they had arms and hands as well as wings. They looked like pictures of angels that I had seen as a child.

I realized that I was in a different world.