Noah no longer lifted weights to become stronger. Although he did not lift as a religion, he lifted religiously. As he neared forty years old, maintaining rather than gaining strength and increasing endurance had become his mantra. His friends called him obsessive. He’d reply, “I simply like to argue with gravity.” That’s how he defended his daily hour of squats, presses, pulls, crunches — and his daily run, which he hated. But he ran. If he couldn’t become stronger, he could always endure.
Noah was five feet, nine inches tall. A modest height, but Noah impressed people by being as wide as most doorways. He had stopped growing upward in the tenth grade. Like so many gangling, awkward teens, he turned to the levitation of iron to produce, through sweat and the discipline of thousands of repetitions, what nature would not. He left high school for Colorado State as a squat, 240-pound fullback who had no need for outside speed in setting WAC rushing records. Now he weighed 210. He had let go the thirty pounds that had made the difference between being tackled by a cornerback and scoring a touchdown. While doing his master’s at Colorado School of Mines, he chose to carry thirty pounds of field gear rather than those same thirty around his midsection.
He yawned. He put down the two dumbbells he’d been using for curls. He was tired. He hadn’t slept well. He had dreamed, and he rarely dreamed. He thought about it, sitting on a cottonwood stump next to his outdoor gym. It sat outside a decade-old, thirty-two-foot travel trailer that had only traveled from a used car lot to his land west of state Route 24. The gym sat behind a post-and-beam hangar covered with corrugated aluminum. He built it for his stable of ultralight aircraft and the parts of several more. He made a modest living, though he didn’t need to, as the owner-operator of a charter air service housed at Green River Municipal Airport. He preferred his ultralights to his Cessnas, a Skylane and a twin-engine Skymaster, when flying in the backcountry. Low and slow. That’s how he liked it. The big birds just ferried people and things from Point A to Point B. Where’s the fun in that?
This morning, he’d flown back from Moab in his Skymaster after ferrying two lawyers from Price to a court date there. He’d followed Route 191 north. He had plenty of altitude. The rare calm air made the flight uneventful. He’d banked west where 191 ended at I-70 at Thompson Springs. On a whim — he’d thought it was a whim until he began having that damned dream — he had flown west past Green River. At 5,000 feet above ground level, he’d seen a line of thunderstorms looming well beyond the Swell but headed for the Fishlake National Forest. Lightning stitched the earth in the distance as if targeting its strikes. He’d turned, landed, and trundled home in his decades-old Land Cruiser, an FJ55, the long-bodied wagon. He had a premonition that something was wrong somewhere for someone. He’d gone to his gym. There he could think.
He hoisted the dumbbells for another set with his eyes closed. That kept the sweat out of his eyes. As he lifted the dumbbells, the slow, rhythmic extension and contraction of his muscles produced the meditative experience that had counseled and consoled him for more than 25 years. But as he curled the 55 pounds in each hand, lightning lashed through the darkness behind his closed eyes. He’d seen lightning many times in the field work of his previous life. Once it had struck mere yards from him. Such strikes were the random acts of a higher power he respected but did not fear. Yet the flashes he saw earlier had seemed thrown with malevolence, as if a hunter had been toying with a wounded prey. And for the third night, he had the dream again. A shadowy, weeping figure ran through darkness, illuminated by the strobe-like flashes. He couldn’t make out the frightened, frantic face. That’s what woke him. That anonymous face. An open mouth, filled with silent screams.
He walked to his trailer, disgusted that a chance thought born of an odd dream had disrupted his ritual. Inside, he showered and donned khaki cargo shorts and a black sleeveless T-shirt. He’d never admit that a remnant of collegiate ego about rippling biceps remained tethered to his self-image. His mirror reflected an ordinary face, skin leathery from the sun, with a nose more pedestrian than patrician thanks to an elbow-first hit by a Utah State linebacker. But he considered the architecture of his body as fair compensation. Women had found him physically acceptable. But they never stayed. Nothing endured. He shook his head, recalling breakups, partings, doubts. He’d accepted his fair share of fault. Dark brown eyes looked back at him over a dark brown beard tinged with gray. He focused on work. He had a lesson later. An accountant from Moab had called, wanting to learn to fly an ultralight.
His ultralights sat like awkward, grounded insects in the hangar. He had four, not counting his Buckeye powered parachute. It had been his first, back in an earlier life when he needed access to tight spots in the backcountry. It could land and take off within twenty feet. He smiled. How beautifully these aircraft could fly. He hated selling them, but that’s what he did. He bought semi-wrecked ultralight and sport aircraft that had fallen out of favor, rebuilt or refurbished them, kept the ones he liked, sold the others. He’d flown two dozen different ultralights. But he’d never sell his Buckeye — or his Drifter. Especially the Drifter. He thought about the accountant. He’d want to buy an ultralight with serious balls. His kind always did. He’d have to tell him that he’d need a sport pilot’s license. That would cost time and money. Anything with a Rotax 503, even the single-carb version, or larger engine would probably be over the 254-pound limit for unlicensed operation.
The accountant would be irritated. He’d change his mind and consider other options than the Hartshorn Flight School and Air Charter Service. Noah considered calling the accountant and explaining it. The hell with it, he thought.
He’d bought the Drifter because he’d needed the power of its Rotax 912 to carry his field gear in the second seat. That had saved enormous time, hopping from field site to field site. It had proved to be financially productive. It was his tool of choice for the ultralight lessons with accountants from Moab, bankers from Salt Lake City, and lawyers from Price. But few appreciated the true joy of ultralight flight — low and slow, barely a wingspan above the slickrock. He reveled in that. But that sermon usually fell on agnostic ears.
As he preflighted the Drifter, he glanced at the sky. The deep clear blue was bereft of wind or cloud. That meant an easy lesson. But something skritched at him. Damned if he knew what it was. It wasn’t the dream, but it was connected somehow. In his past life, he’d always solved real mysteries, created by man or nature — and profited. He’d been a scientist, a creature of deductive reasoning. Now a mystery concocted in a dream nagged at him. He pulled out his cell phone. He called the accountant and proffered advice, explanations, and apologies. The accountant thanked him and promised to get back to Noah. He would, perhaps, buy one of Noah’s ultralights after taking lessons. Shaking his head, he pocketed the phone. Misjudged another human being. Shame.