June 15, 12:40 pm
Twenty minutes later Morgan and her cameraman were in the news van, heading toward the Grand America Hotel, downtown. Despite the strangeness of what they had heard on the television, they spoke very little. Stan just drove and kept his eyes on the road. Morgan kept trying to get a cell phone signal, but no matter how many times she dialed, no calls were going through.
They were on I-215 north (commonly called the Belt Route) nearing the junction of 201, and they could already see the smoke from the fire at the hotel. But what was more frightening was that it wasn’t the only plume they saw. Smaller fires were burning in a dozen other spots across the city, and Morgan’s eyes kept darting from one to the other.
The traffic on the freeway was surprisingly normal for a Monday afternoon. The mix of pleasure vehicles, delivery vans, and long-haul trucks was no different from any other day, and the juxtaposition of the smoke curling over the city and the typical traffic made the scene even more surreal.
In a passing SUV, Morgan could see a mother with a half dozen kids. Likely all her own, she thought. Typical big Mormon family. The kids were pressed to the windows, pointing at the plumes of smoke. But one little girl with a rag doll was pressed against the rear driver’s side window, and her eyes caught Morgan’s as the news van passed. The little girl looked scared, but still, she raised her hand and gave Morgan a little wave. Morgan put on her best smile and waved back.
She was so intent on the little girl that she barely heard Stan.
“Oh my God,” the cameraman whispered, pointing over the steering wheel. “There’s something you don’t see every day.”
The Salt Lake International Airport lay directly west of the city, and because of its proximity, the constant parade of planes over downtown was normally no more remarkable than the passage of the clouds. The planes usually climbed quickly out of Salt Lake, both to spare the city the sound of their passing, and also because any eastbound flight had to clear the towering Wasatch mountains that stood like a wall around the city’s eastern edge.
What Morgan saw through the windshield alarmed her instantly, because the plane was clearly below any normal flight path.
“That looks like a 757,” Morgan said, as the plane approached to their left. “They’re way too low!”
The airport was four miles away. By this time, the plane should have been far over their heads, like a soaring, silent bird. But this one was so close to the ground that she could make out the tail markings without even leaning forward.
“I’m not sure it has any power at all,” Stan said, as he rapidly slowed the van and stopped on the shoulder. “It looks to be on a glide path.” As they both stared, the plane passed over the freeway just a hundred yards ahead of them, low enough to rattle their van, and close enough for Morgan to read the airline logo on the side. But the fact that they could hear the engines roaring gave her some hope.
“Jesus Christ, pull up! Pull up!” she yelled, jumping out of the van and standing on the overpass. Cars roared by under her in both directions, as if nobody down there had noticed anything out of the ordinary. But she saw now that they weren’t the only vehicles on I-215 that had pulled over as the plane roared past.
Shielding her eyes from the sun’s glare, she could see the plane, now speeding away from them to the east. Stan had grabbed a hand-held camera, and he was now standing in the open doorway of the van. His forearms leaned on the roof to steady him as he filmed.
“Damn,” he said. “I’m zooming in, but it’s moving away from us fast. I don’t know if I’ll be able to get a good shot of it.” But even with her naked eyes, Morgan could still see the plane in the distance, now passing over the towering buildings of Salt Lake City.
For a moment, it appeared to be gaining altitude, but then it faltered, and Morgan gasped. She saw the nose dip, and the plane dropped a third of the way to the ground before righting itself, and climbing again. Several other cars were stopped now, and a dozen people were out on the shoulder, filming the plane with their cell phones. Others were just watching through their passenger side windows. Morgan could feel all their eyes on the struggling plane as her knees went weak. She couldn’t help but picture the plane smashing into downtown. Its path was taking it directly over the city. But to her relief, it climbed once again, and for a moment she thought everything would be okay.
“If they don’t turn south, they’re going to be in trouble,” Stan said, his eye still pressed to the viewfinder. And she knew he was right. The plane was barely visible now, probably six or eight miles away. But it was silhouetted against the towering spires of the Wasatch, which wasn’t good.
For a few brief moments, the plane didn’t turn, but it looked like the pilot was trying to gain altitude, still hoping to get over the mountains.
Morgan imagined a struggle on the plane. She had been too young to remember 9/11, but she imagined this was the kind of terror everyone had experienced, as they watched that second plane heading for the World Trade Center.
Aren’t the reinforced cockpit doors supposed to prevent terrorists from being able to do this sort of thing? What could be happening in there? The thought of the concentrated terror and chaos on that plane, silent now in the afternoon sun, stole her breath.
At the last moment, it looked like the pilot had once again gained control of the plane and realized that they didn’t have any chance of getting over the mountains. The plane tried to make a desperate bank to the south, and Morgan’s heart was pounding in her ears.
It’s too late, she thought.
As Morgan and Stan watched in horror, the plane slammed into the side of Mount Olympus in a huge fireball that was so bright, even at over ten miles, that she had to look away. Someone who was standing next to their car further down the bridge screamed, and Morgan had to grasp the safety railing to stop herself from pitching over.
It took almost a minute for the sound of the explosion to reach them, in the dry summer air, and when it did the fiery crash on the rock face of the mountains was still blazing, like a red stain on the mountainside. The smoke was billowing into the sky, curling angrily over and over itself. The sound of the crash drifted away in the summer sky, like thunder dissipating in the sunlight.
Other than the few cars that had also stopped, the traffic was still whizzing along behind them. Apparently few of those on the freeway had seen what had happened. She looked up at Stan, who finally took the camera down from his face. He turned to her and stared wordlessly. His face was as white as snow.
Seconds later, they both jumped when they heard another explosion behind them. Morgan hadn’t been looking that direction, but she knew instinctively it was another plane, this one to the west. It appeared to have gone down somewhere near the Kennecott copper mine, and although there was no sign of the plane itself, a fireball was roiling slowly into the sky.
The first plane had been a shock. But like on 9/11, two planes meant something far darker, far more sinister, than a normal aviation disaster. And it was at that moment that Morgan Jensen truly felt fear overtaking her.
Scanning the sky, she saw only two other planes, both on a landing approach to the runway from the south. As she watched, both planes suddenly veered upward and climbed. She saw them both turn sharply away from Salt Lake City, heading east.
“Denver,” she said to Stan, who was now trying to capture the fireball of the second plane.
“What?” he asked, without taking his eye off the viewfinder.
“Stan, they’ve closed the airport. They’re re-routing planes to Denver,” Morgan said.
Finally, Stan put down the camera and turned to her with glassy eyes. His jaw was clenching as he tried to find words.
“The shelter, the fires, and now this… Morgan, something horrible is happening. This can’t all be a coincidence…”
“No,” she said, shivering despite the warm summer sun. “No, it can’t be.”
The two planes were receding now, leaving a sky that would soon be totally empty, and Morgan again thought of the aftermath of 9/11. Her family was in LA at the time, and although she was too young to understand why everyone seemed so upset, she did have one clear memory. She remembered how strange it was that day, to see the sky totally empty of airplanes, not a single contrail shimmering in the perfect blue of the sky.
The Last Handful of Clover is a supernatural thriller by Wess Mongo Jolley. Thanks for reading! If you are enjoying this story, please consider supporting the author on Patreon.
For more information (including maps of the story’s world and a contact form) visit the author’s website.
To read previous chapters of this book, go to the Table of Contents page.
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Copyright 2021, Wess Mongo Jolley. All rights reserved.