The powerful drone and smooth vibration of the Cessna’s engine drowns out all other sound and sensation. Having reached the mouth of Tampa Bay from the small airfield in St. Pete, the little two-seater starts a long slow descent in order to pick up speed.

“Lift off”, was all Taylor’s dad says from the pilot seat as he pulls the wheel back toward him. The small single-engine plane rounded its path into a sharp climb. Taylor put his head back against his seat as the wheel in front of him mimics the pilot’s controls. In that moment he grabbed a thought that came racing across his mind, “maybe it’s better to just relax into this ride; its going to happen anyway.” Taylor is six.

He looks to the right and out of his window catches a glance of Fort Desoto quickly shrinking beneath him. The Sunshine Skyway Bridge, so massive and long, looks like a toy as it gets smaller and farther away.

Gravity is pulling Taylor toward the open ocean below, but his seat keeps him pinned in place. The plane is pushing him toward the fat clouds that are getting bigger and bigger in the windshield. This physics tug-of-war makes it hard to swallow or even breathe deeply. Taylor looks over at his dad, who is intent on his plan to get the little plane as high as possible as fast as possible. With his dad buried in the world of controlling their climb, Taylor sells himself on the “just relax” notion.

The sound and vibration start to decrease. Taylor’s ears are popping. His dad takes a brief satisfied look at Taylor and says, “Ready?”

Before he can respond, Taylor watches his father push the engine controls forward and cut the engine. The propeller, just a few feet in front of their faces, flutters briefly. The engine goes silent and the prop makes a couple last “vuff-vuff” sounds at it comes to rest. Everything stands still. For a brief instant, everything seems perfect and perfectly balanced.

Not climbing, not falling, just being, Taylor is making his first visit to the alter of high-risk joy; the road to enlightenment paved with endorphins.

There is no sound. Eternity sighs and Taylor fills his lungs with the relief of the innocent.

And then gravity reclaims the plane and all who dream within.

The clouds start backing away, their wispy details washing together again. Taylor’s stomach gets uneasy. The pack of Marlboros and the Ray Bans case his dad left on the seat are starting to float.

His pop looks out the window at the ocean below and then adjusts a couple of controls on the dash panel. Taylor watches as this man feels the forces that manipulate the plane. Gravity regains it’s advantage and the plane gently drops straight back toward its tail.

He looked over at his father with the grin of a lamb unaware of the smell of slaughter.

“You know we have to go back down now. Put your hands on the wheel and feel what I do.” Taylor lays his hands on the co-pilot wheel, afraid to influence its movement but daring to feel the secrets of his dad’s touch. With that, his father gently pulls the wheel back toward him and gracefully guides the plane to the left.

The plane starts rolling over backwards and then tipping to the left.

Horizon all around and the smooth flat ocean below, shoreline, the old fort and the long thin bridge all in the picture, sideways and upside down.

The engine starts up and hums back to life as the propeller quickly resumes its signature circular blur. Taylor all of a sudden is working very hard to trust the belts strapping him to his seat.

Flat and soothing as the ocean looks and sugar sweet as the slender beaches seem from so far up, bone-chilling terror is just seconds away.

As soon as the horizon was pushed out of Taylor’s field of vision by the approaching earth, the contours of the rough sea became terrifying. The water all of a sudden appears hard and the contours sharp. It looks too big and strong to tangle with. In the span of a couple of breaths, Taylor is hurled from floating euphoria to a bullet ride of death by straight at the ocean.

“Ease up your grip, son.”

Without realizing it, Taylor started gripping the wheel and pulling.

With barely a breath out of place, Taylor’s father increased the speed of the engine, increasing the rate of their dive. Before Taylor’s panic could form a scream, which was in the making, a gentle arc traces the little plane’s dive toward the shark-jungle beneath them up to face the horizon all over again.

His dad looked over and grinned.

“Again” was all Taylor could manage to think or say.

Michael Sean McCardell Anderson