Back after a couple weeks off, with another challenge (read the other entries here). I'd meant to write about Lord Simcoe, who named lots of places in Ontario. But driving back from our holiday, in the very edge of the former Hurricane Irene, we saw the weirdest clouds... Thanks to Ed for research help.
"I wouldn't even know what to call those," Amelia said to her trusty plane. Much like the Eskimos and snow, she had something like 56 different words for clouds. Nothing from stratus to cumulonimbus quite described these log-shaped formations scudding below the smooth silver overcast.
"Multiple layers of cumulus," the Electra said. Her navigator, Fred Noonan, couldn't hear, because in 1937 no one used intra-cockpit voice-activated communications systems.
As they had entered this strange region of sky, they had dropped altitude -- 6500 feet, 6000, 5500, and now they were at 2000 feet with no place to land. Fuel was a concern. Going up, through the cloud bank, was not an option, though everything was telling Amelia she was going to be pressed relentlessly into the sea. Neither led to the sort of death Amelia Earhart wanted to be known for. In fact, she didn't want to be known for any death at all.
The wind was with them at least. Electra's frame creaked as she rolled like a raft in white water.
But there was nowhere to land, just endless sea. The storm was helping them make good time, but it was not helping Fred with the charts.
At least he only used one voice when he was muttering to himself. When she had the conversations with Electra, the plane spoke in a feminine yet vaguely German accent.
"I do not like the look of those clouds," said Electra now, softly enough that Fred couldn't hear. He'd just see Amelia moving her lips. He hadn't learned the trick of reading them yet, or if he had, he hadn't let on.
Talking to the plane was always more satisfying. They could always hear one another, and if they misunderstood, it was on purpose.
Amelia took her eyes off the instruments for just a minute. The clouds lolled like a school of whales. She could see six. What was beyond them was anyone's guess.
The plane dropped suddenly, and her stomach went up.
"Amelia, get your hands back on the wheel," said Electra, while Fred shouted the same thing.
"All right, all right," Amelia said to them both. As she took the yoke up again, the plane from took a spectacular dive. The recovery shifted their trajectory a bit to the left, putting one of the weird tubular clouds right in their path.
"You did that on purpose," Amelia said, much more softly, to the plane.
"Aren't you curious?" Electra asked.
"Sure," said Amelia. "But I'm not suicidal."
"Neither am I," said Electra.
"Back on course, please," Fred shouted. "We need to find a place to land."
The drop had forced them another 500 feet lower. Seagulls and albatross circled, completely visible, below.
But now they hurtled towards one of those profiterole clouds. Tendrils of smoke came off its back end.
"Pull up," said Fred. "I'd really like not to hit that."
"It's small," said Amelia. "we'd just pop out the other side." Still, she did pull back, and compensated a bit for the wind.
At the top of the little cloud, turbulence hit. Electra slipped sideways and hit the cloud wingtip first.
There was a jolt. A map flew from Fred's hand to paper the windshield.
"You okay, Electra?" Amelia asked, and this time she didn't care if Fred heard her.
"No," said Electra.
Amelia looked across Fred out the right window. A chunk of the wing had torn off. The flap hung loose. The plane would be a whole lot harder to control.
"Shit," she said. "Sorry."
"Shut up and fly," Fred said, and tried to take the controls.
Fortunately, they worked together well, and they both tried to do the same things. But still, the plane went into a spin.
"I don't want to die," said Electra. It wasn't just the plane spinning. The cloud seemed to be losing altitude, too.
"Yeah, me either," said Amelia. "What just happened here?" She was trying to get the controls going the same direction as the plane so they could get things back together.
"We hit the cloud, and it broke our wing," said Fred. They jolted, a soft jolt like hitting emergency foam, or a water landing.
"Does that seem right to you?" said Amelia. "Aren't clouds usually soft?" Soft wasn't really the right word. They looked soft. They felt wet, but without the surface tension of the ocean -- moist, damp, not hard.
"Stop looking around and try to save yourself," said Fred. He rifled through emergency gear. The engine had stopped, but they yelled anyway, because of the wind, and because they were used to it.
"I'm no meteorologist, but there's something odd about the way this cloud is moving." said Amelia.
They hit the top of it, and now they kept hitting, bouncing off it as it descended. The wing tip was caught somehow. The landing gear hit and the plane rolled in the air, then the nose, and Amelia would swear the cloud was hemorrhaging from its side. They had dropped another 400 feet by the altimeter, and the cloud seemed solider still.
Amelia looked up; the other clouds seemed to be watching, One had a giant eye trained on them.
"Whatever it was, I think I've killed it," said Electra.
They were maybe 500 feet above the water. The milky, translucent beast seemed to be shrinking as it pressurized, still as long as before, now like a rubber tube with plants growing out the end, a giant calamari. It was trapped with them. Both propellers had stopped, embedded in the beast's flesh, and they spiraled towards the sea. There was a mighty splash.
"Who knew?" Amelia said, as the cockpit filled with water. "Giant flying sky squid."