It happened somewhere over the Himalayas.
Habana Joe, a reformed bootlegger, and I, a former airmail pilot, were flying from Xinjiang Province to Kunlun Mountains in Tibet. That is, I was flying the biplane over the swirling vapors of the night sky, while he slept, muttering something about Nicholas Roerich and powerful stones.
Only a month ago, we had been following a tribe of nomads through the sacred spots of Mongolia, freezing at night and cursing old scriptures at dawn. Two months ago, we had been trudging over alpine meadows of Altai Republic in Siberia, looking for portals amidst mushroom-like rock formations. And a month before that, we were studying cult rocks and artificial stone pyramids in Karelia, Russia.
Tomorrow we would probably be hiking up snowcapped mountains and bowing to lamas who meditated in their temples. And all this in search of a fairytale that was, in most likelihood, conjured up to make children behave at night. Of course that was not what Joe believed but Joe’s opinion didn’t concern me as much as his wallet did. As long as he paid me, I was there to pilot him anywhere his naïve heart desired.
Or that’s what I thought, until the craft in which I had battled villainous dragons of mountain peaks and crowned crests of blue lightning clouds, seized to function. Of course, the motor of my aircraft wasn’t new, neither was my aircraft. It had been my father’s before he passed away but it was a sturdy thing, made of metal. It wasn’t supposed to stop functioning.
I tightened my harness and radioed the nearest airport, all the while knowing that it wouldn’t matter. The radio transmitted nothing but silence as the plane fell into a black chasm. There was nothing outside of the windows. No moon, no clouds, no stars. It felt like crossing over into a different reality from which there was no return. Just eternal oblivion.
Joe snored. My heart lurched. I didn’t know if it would be kinder to wake him up to live out the last moments of his life or not taint him with this poisonous fear. But that choice was made for me when the plane stopped freefalling and began to be hurled around the sky by the winds of a rising tempest. It felt like the world was being torn apart and we were being torn apart with it.
“What the hell’s going on, Mae?” Joe bellowed, gasping awake. Something crackled in the air like gunpowder.
“Nothing to worry about,” I said, trying to shout over the deafening noise. This newfound chaos shook me out of my stupor and I tried to get the craft under control again. “A little drift, that’s all.”
But it wasn’t a little drift.
Maybe a minute, maybe an eternity later, we were still being thrown around the swirling columns of black. There was still no sky or ground to speak of, my sense of direction was as good as dead, and the only thing I was certain of were the jagged teeth of the mountains lying in wait for us, eager to spell out our doom.
Hello friends, I hope you liked this story. It is the first part of five to come, so I hope you stick it out with me. While you wait, here is a cover I made and a little synopsis of the whole story (which you can actually find on Sweek, if waiting is not your thing).
Mae has only one job and that is to fly Habana Joe around the world in search of a place that doesn’t exist. But after a mysterious tempest causes them to crash, Mae wakes up in a world too strange to understand. As she explores the city’s mysterious reaches, Mae faces monsters and meets a striking stranger, who may be hiding more than he says.
Does Shambhala really exist or is it just a figment of her imagination?
Image credit: JPC Van Heijst