When Jason awoke he had no idea where he was. This gave way to a feeling of relief that he was still alive as memory slowly returned. He thought for a moment that he was blind and then realized that it was pitch dark. There was sharp pain in his left ankle and when he tried to move it a yelp escaped, sounding odd and hollow, as if it came from something else besides his own voice. Feeling around himself with his hands, Jason realized that he was not in his plane anymore, but lying on rocky ground. Taking stock, he found that other than a lot of scratches and bruises, he was relatively unhurt. Except for the ankle, which was wet with blood and almost certainly broken. He pulled himself unsteadily to his feet, or tried to. Numb with shock, he fell to the ground and rolled as if pushed. The gravity of the situation was beginning to sink in. Jason had no idea where his plane was either, or where the nearest help was. His first aid kit and flashlight were in the plane. Visibility was almost none, although he was beginning to be able to make out his surroundings faintly, as ghostly outlines of grey on grey.

Flying solo had become almost second nature to Jason Mallory and the first part of this trip had not been particularly challenging. He was experienced enough at IFR flying that the low visibility didn't alarm him. Actually there was always a little uneasiness traveling at around 300 mph without being able to see anything ahead but the gray wisps of the cloud cover as it rolled around the Cessna like a viscous fog. His mind wandered back to the first time he had soloed on instruments. The most unnerving part had been the need to ignore what his senses told him. It was so hard to depend on the instruments when every fiber of your being told you that you had no control. But that was precisely the feeling that had to be overcome in order to have any control of the machine's, and your own, path.

Sheena was stalking a pack rat when she first heard the strange buzz of the flying creature. At first she paid little attention since they usually just passed over her lair and faded away. There had been one, though, that had made thunder in the forest and yielded one of the tastiest meals Sheena and her cubs had ever eaten. It had taken her a long time to drag the meat to her offspring but it had been worth it. Her mouth watered at the thought and she licked her whiskers.

Jason found himself wondering if this was what it had been like when his uncle Clem crashed. Clem had been on a solo flight over some of the same terrain. Probably Clem had died instantly, but a thorough search of the burned wreckage hadn't turned up any remains. It hadn't been Clem's first crash either; he had barely survived a bad crash in these mountains five years earlier and sported a metal plate in his head as a result.

When Jason had left Springfield that overcast morning, he had been fighting an unusual feeling. That same feeling had continued through the entire flight. A sort of dread or panic kept creeping into his awareness from somewhere beneath it. He knew that he couldn't give in to it, but it didn't help the overall sense of no control. The voice radio had been acting up again. He should have been able to reach the Mena airport by now. As if that weren't enough, he knew that he was approaching the most challenging part of his flight plan. The Ouachita Mountains were well known, infamous even, for their windshear potential. Sundown was approaching, not that it would make much difference in the visibility. And the wind was shifting, first one way, then another, as if undecided. Several times on the early part of the flight he had allowed himself the luxury of dropping to an elevation just below the cloud ceiling, but soon that would no longer be an option. The ridges of the Ouachitas ahead were higher than the clouds' base. Another wave of the panicky crap hit him and he distracted himself by thinking of his family waiting at home. He hadn't seen Judy or the boys in a little over two weeks and was looking forward to the reunion. He knew that they were too; they always missed him on these jaunts, even the ones that were just long weekends. At least the final approach at the Mena airport would be VFR.

It was cold, and so quiet that the sound of his ragged breathing seemed intrusive. Jason forced himself to breathe more quietly in order to listen. The silence was deafening. Even the wind, which had plagued his plane, was now ironically calm; no more than a slight rustling of leaves from time to time. Lying still, Jason scanned slowly with his eyes to try and see some hint of an outline of the airplane, or whatever was left of it. A movement caught his eye. Or it could just be a denser patch of this accursed cloud. No, there it was again, a darker outline of black near the limit of his very limited vision. Cold dread gripped him as he realized how utterly helpless he was. The shadowy figure, about the size of a large man on all fours, moved slowly and with stealth, catlike. It was circling him. And another sound encroached on Jason's hearing; the sound of his own pounding heart. Searching for something to use as a weapon, he groped around him on the rocky ground and found a rock that was small enough to handle, yet large enough to do some harm. The object was oddly smooth and much lighter than Jason expected it would be. Turning the "weapon" in his hands, Jason used his fingers to "see" it. Smooth on one side but clearly hollow, with two large openings. Part of it moved on hinges like — a human skull! The realization almost caused him to drop it and he did a little "juggle and catch" that under different circumstances might have been comical.

Jason scanned the instrument panel again, for the ten thousandth time, or so it seemed, and fought the urge to drop below the cloud cover. He was too close to the higher elevation ridges for that.

Then the bottom had dropped out. It felt like the way your stomach feels when an elevator starts down and he was keenly aware that the plane's wings had lost lift. Jason had been in windshears before, but this one was the worst. Two things were certain, he was closer to those ridges than he had thought, and the plane was dropping like a stone. He revved the Cessna's engines as much as he dared and fought to climb, but it was too late. There it was, just off the left wing. A tree caught the wing and spun the plane wildly counterclockwise; instantly the only sounds were ripping metal and shattering glass, drowning the final sounds of the twin engines.

With all the skill of an experienced hunter Sheena maintained distance and circled, moving in ever so slowly. She would wait for exactly the right moment to make her move. Timing was everything and this one didn't look like it was going anywhere.

Jason remembered that he had one of those little LED lights on his keychain and fished it out of his pocket. Not much, but it was better than nothing. Keeping one eye out for the cat, he indulged his curiosity and took a closer look at the area that had become his world. Sure enough, there were other human skeletal remains here. Jason tried unsuccessfully to suppress a shudder. Turning his attention to the skull, he was startled to find a portion of the cranium was metal plate! A glint of metal caught Jason's eye as the red light of the LED reflected off of something. Jason groped and caught hold of a chain with a medal. Looking closely, he recognized the Saint Christopher medal that he had played with as it hung from Clem's neck. That was one of Jason's earliest memories and it was almost his last. As the powerful jaws closed on the back of his neck, he thought, "So, I finally found Uncle Clem".

Disclaimer: The above is a work of fiction and any resemblance to any person or wildlife species, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

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