Echoes – Alice Reeds

We are going to die. That was the first thought that shot through my mind. Maybe it’s just a dream was my second, but then the plane dipped down again, shaking and rattling. I gripped the armrests like my life depended on it. Maybe it did. Movement to my left told me Miles was awake, too. His eyes were wide, like mine. Normally, I’d have delighted in seeing him shook for once. But thinking you’re about to die has a weird way of bringing people together. “What the hell is going on?” he said. “I don’t know…turbulence?” At the front of the plane, the door to the cockpit was open. The pilot looked back at us, his expression tense. He yelled, “You kids, hold on—” The plane plummeted, and my stomach shot into my chest. A scream got stuck in my throat. Air punched out of my lungs.

The ceiling screeched and tore and buckled and peeled away, exposing the sky— Darkness. Am I alive? Dead? My mind swam toward the surface of an endless black ocean. When I opened my eyes, a blinding light stung my vision. The feeling of falling was gone. We’d stopped. Blinking against the pain, the first thing I could make out was the shattered TV screen dangling from the back of the seat in front of me. The same TV I’d watched only a few hours ago. Was it hours ago? A minute? A day? I had no idea. I touched my face and head—no blood, at least. How is that possible? Beyond the broken TV, where a wall and cockpit door had once been, was nothing but a hole with frayed metal edges digging into the ground.

Where was the front of the plane? Outside, where the wing used to be, were shrubs and broken trees, dirt and sand. And out past the sand, endless water. The ocean. Holy hell. Panic tightened my throat and my hands shook. We crashed. I had to calm down. Deep breaths in and out. Own the moment, own your fear. Don’t let it own you.

That was my mantra in moments like this, thanks to years of kickboxing, and it worked. A little. My hands weren’t trembling anymore. I was okay. I’d survived. Which meant anyone else on the plane— Oh no. Miles. When I looked from the window to my other side, I was sure there would be a bloody corpse. But no. No blood on his white button-down shirt that I could see.

But there had to be some injuries below the surface. And he wasn’t moving. “Miles?” I croaked, my throat raw, as if I hadn’t spoken in days. No answer. “Miles?” I tried again, louder this time. Still nothing. I pushed up and out of the seat, my legs unsteady. I willed them to walk the few steps toward him while I held on to the backrests of my seat and the one opposite him. I might not have liked him, not even the smallest bit, but I didn’t want him dead. He was spoiled.

The personification of everything I grew up hating. Arrogant, rich, and egocentric, all of it bundled up into a single person. Hell, my family could probably pay rent and buy a month’s worth of food using the money he spent on a jacket or shoes. But wishing him dead? I wouldn’t go that far. His eyes were closed. And his chest… If it was moving, I couldn’t tell. “Miles,” I said firmly. Still no sound or movement. My heart constricted, and my throat closed. It was too quiet.

Just the awful sound of waves crashing against the beach. I put my ear to his chest. Okay, he was breathing. But unconscious. “Miles!” I shouted. Nothing. Now what? Standing in front of him, I raised my hand then smacked him across the cheek, the loud crack breaking the staticy sounding repetition of waves slapping against sand. My palm stung, yet still no movement from him. Dammit. I raised my hand to hit him again— His light brown eyes flew open, locking on to me.

In another second, they flitted with recognition. “Oh, thank God,” I breathed. “Did you just hit me?” His forehead wrinkled, and his fists clenched white. Whatever. At least he wasn’t dead. “What is wrong with you, Fiona?” “Nothing.” I backed away, glad to give him space. “And we have bigger problems than—” He stood up, swaying, a challenging glare in his eyes. “Than what?” he snapped. “Teaching you to keep your hands to yourself?” Still alive and still an asshole.

“I’m sorry for making sure you were alive. Next time, I’ll just leave you to die and take care of myself.” No, I wouldn’t. But let him think it. He grunted, took a step away, and almost fell over. Quickly, I reached out and grabbed his arm, held it just long enough to keep him from falling. He scowled at me, but then he looked around, and something else flashed behind his eyes. Like the reality of our situation was settling in. He swayed again and leaned against the back of a seat. “You okay?” It was out of my mouth before I could stop it.

“I’m super. Just fantastic.” Was his speech a little slurred, or was my brain jumbled from the crash? Pull yourself together. I watched him for a moment longer, made sure he remained standing and wouldn’t fall over, and then headed to the exit door in the back. Summoning all those countless hours at the gym, I shoved it open. The metal swung aside, and the stairs unfolded and buried themselves in the sand. “Can you walk?” I asked. He didn’t answer, and instead tried to take a step on his own. But he swayed again like he was drunk. I held out my hand, but he growled and waved me off.

Using the seats to hold himself up, he walked the few steps toward the exit. Twenty-four hours ago, I’d have pushed him and then beat myself up for stooping to his level. Now, I had to force myself not to help. Somehow, he managed to get down the stairs without landing face first in the sand. As I came out and got my first look at the plane from the outside, my legs turned to jelly. My heart beat as hard as a jackhammer, and my entire body trembled. The plane, if one could even still call it that, had crashed with the front half of the tail section slightly digging into the ground, trees, and shrubs. Half of the windows were broken. Cracks ran all over them like spider webs, and some were completely shattered. And the gaping hole in the side of the plane where the wing used to be… So screwed.

Backing away a little farther, closer toward the ocean, I could just make out a column of smoke rising from the jungle. Was that where the rest of our plane was? How far away was that? A mile? It had to be at least that, and I couldn’t see anything between us and the smoke but trees. We were isolated. Alone. Except we hadn’t been the only people on the plane. “We have to find the pilot,” I said. “He’ll know what to do.” “Assuming the pilot is even alive.” Shit. “But he’s got to be.

We’re okay.” “Maybe we were just lucky,” he said. “What we really need is the plane’s computer. It’s got an SOS signal. It’s how anyone will be able to find us.” Someone could be dying, and he was thinking about an SOS? Only thinking about us. But on our own, we wouldn’t be able to use the plane’s computer. “We need that pilot, need to make sure he’s okay, if we want to survive.” “Survival won’t mean shit if we don’t get off the island.” “Getting off the island won’t mean shit if we’re dead.

” He took a deep breath. “Listen. It doesn’t matter. The computer was in the cockpit. So, we find the pilot, we find the computer. Okay?” “Okay,” I said. “Let’s go.” He stood up and started toward the jungle, but he was still shaky on his feet. Another second and he’d probably fall over. I took his arm and lowered him to sit on the sand.

“Easy.” “Must have hit my head,” he murmured. “You’ll have to go alone.” “What? No.” Going together, that I could do, but on my own? Not happening. “Forget about it.” “You have to,” Miles argued. “Please? I can’t…”He looked pale and sick, and were it anyone else, I would’ve felt bad for him, maybe even asked if there was anything I could do to help him feel better, but he wasn’t anyone else. He was the person I liked least out of our entire class and had the misfortune of being sent on this trip with. “What if you get worse? Who’ll help you?” I had exactly zero medical knowledge beyond what to do when you get punched a little too hard during a fight or training, so it wasn’t like I was in any way useful, but pretending I cared about his well-being was easier than having to admit that I didn’t want to go into that jungle alone.

For all I knew there could be wild animals or other kinds of predators hiding in there, just waiting to pounce. “The smoke is right there, I can see it,” he said, his speech wobbly. “Just follow it and voila.” “That easy, huh?” In theory, I knew it was nothing more than that. We’d survived a plane crash without much harm compared to what could’ve happened, and I wasn’t willing to get myself killed in a jungle five minutes later. Even if there wasn’t anything evil in there, I could still get lost, and then what? “Come on, you’re the one with the bad-girl reputation, this amazing and brave fighter you supposedly are, something title here and something trophy there—or was all of that just made up?” I resisted the urge to kick him. Who did he think he was? I’d fought for those awards, very much literally, and I surely wasn’t going to let some rich, snobby asshole question my achievements. “One more word and I’ll throw you in the ocean,” I threatened, my voice the closest thing to cold I could muster. “You’re awfully stubborn. Has anyone ever told you that?” I smirked.

“Says the donkey.” Even as I argued, I knew I’d lost. He wasn’t in any shape to do anything. He probably couldn’t even make it to the edge of the jungle, even if he crawled, let alone wander through it for possibly hours. Hours of wandering alone… But what choice did I have? “Fine,” I conceded. “I’ll go, and you get in the fuselage. Stay out of the sun.” I tried to help him, but he shrugged me off. To his credit, he got to his feet and made it to our broken half of the plane with me just following. Good, he wasn’t totally helpless.

Once he was sitting inside, I turned toward the jungle. Cracked my neck. Quietly sighed. I so didn’t sign up for any of this. “Just do it,” he said. “The quicker you go, the sooner you’ll find the pilot, radio for help, and we’ll be out of here. I’ll be fine.” Groan. “Just get it done.” Gut punch.

He sounded straight up like my father—the sort of person who never really cared about fears or why something frightened me. No. According to him, I was simply supposed to do it and that would teach me that there was no reason for me to be afraid, because obviously that was a much better way to go about these things than taking two minutes to talk to me and tell me that it would be okay. No, that was Mom’s job. Dad pushed me. Mom consoled me. Push. Pull. Rinse. Repeat.

Miles was right, though. I had to go in there. I had to pull myself together. It was just trees. Walls of giant plants, hot and dank and teeming with danger and death and horrors I didn’t want to imagine. I shivered. I needed a distraction. Something to focus on. Something. Anything else.

Normally, I’d focus on my opponent, whoever was in front of me in the ring. But here? Miles. I could focus on how much I hated him. How much I hated that he was right. Yeah, that was better. I clenched my fists—my palms were unusually dry for how anxious I was— and took a deep breath. All I could hear was the rush and yawn of the ocean behind me. Within a minute, I was focused. Calm. Serene.

“Fiona,” Miles pressed. “Sometime today, please? Before it gets dark.” I exhaled sharply. “Try not to piss anything off while I’m gone.” Before he could snap a retort, I headed for the jungle. CHAPTER TWO 17 HOURS EARLIER This couldn’t be the right terminal. Our school must’ve made a mistake. Star Aviation Support MIA didn’t look big enough for international flights. Not that I would know for sure—I’d never been on an international flight—but those planes have to be huge. As my cab came to a halt, I paid the driver, grabbed my black wheelie bag from the trunk—it was the same one I always took with me to kickboxing competitions, the sheer number of stickers on it making it unmistakably mine—and made my way to the terminal.

The air was cool with a note of pine and bleach, and…white marble flooring at an airport? It was spotless. The floors. The windows. Even the pretty red-haired woman behind the ticket counter with her toothpaste-commercial–worthy smile. “Am I in the right place?” I asked, handing over my ticket, passport, and luggage. After checking the paperwork, she said, “Yes, Ms. Wolf. Down the hallway to your left.” As I stepped between the metal detectors, the TSA agent eyed me like he was confused. Or maybe suspicious.

I’d gone with a simple outfit today, nothing flashy or extravagant. Light blue ripped jeans, Chuck Taylor’s in black, a cut-out sleeveless black Royal Blood shirt with an unbuttoned light gray flannel over it, and a dark gray hoodie. Considering that and my blue hair, well, he wasn’t the first person to give me that kind of look. But also, seeing as we were the only people here, maybe he was just doing his job. The lounge was lined with windows and a swarm of modern-art-looking armchairs. I never realized a room could try so hard. The mouth-watering scent of freshly brewed coffee and pastries filled the air. This was way nicer than other airports I’d been to, with their cheap plastic seating, screaming children, and the dingy smell of McDonald’s. I’d never left the U.S.

before. I never would’ve even dreamed about going to Germany, seeing a place like Berlin, somewhere I’d only heard about during history classes or seen in movies. I’d been so excited last night that I’d struggled to fall asleep, even after my father chased me through what felt like a million drills during training. For a moment, I just looked around…and then I spotted him. Miles Echo, his body lazily sprawled over an armchair, his legs hanging off of one of the armrests like he owned this place. He was tall, but I was pretty sure he could’ve sat normally if he weren’t so damn extra. His head was a wild mess of raven hair. A pair of Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses hid his eyes. His clothes—black jeans, some pretentious white button-down shirt, and a black jacket—were probably worth more than a small country. His skin had a naturally sun-kissed tone.

I bet he never got sunburn. Lucky jerk. “It’s impolite to stare,” he said. “So is being an ass.” I sat in the seat farthest from him. He pulled his sunglasses down and looked me over. Was he…checking me out? No. He wouldn’t. I wasn’t his type, and vice versa. Miles was hot, no question.

And when I first met him, I’d thought what if. But then he’d opened his mouth. It was pure luck that we’d been thrown into this thing together. The pharmaceutical internship had picked us out of thousands of candidates after evaluating us through personal essays and aptitude tests. Our grades and school performance were meaningless, they’d said. The tests showed our aptitude for pharmaceutical chemistry made us the most promising of the students who’d applied. How exactly that was true, I wasn’t sure, since my best grade in chemistry last year had been a C, though I could understand why they picked Miles. Straight As across the board and a handsome face. Too bad he was a dick hiding behind expensive clothes, but Briola Bio Tech didn’t know that. As if to prove my point, he started taking selfies.

On a next-year’s iPhone. He scrolled through them quickly before choosing one to post on Instagram. “Really, Miles? Would it hurt you to post something other than your own face for once?” “Not my fault I have almost two hundred and seventy thousand followers who love my face,” he said without taking his eyes off his phone. “You, on the other hand…” If he had even an ounce of humility, his popularity might have been attractive. Or if he posted something more than selfies with captions stupid enough to decrease my IQ just from reading them. I only had about forty thousand followers, steadily built over a period of years rather than instant fame, but they had more to say than heart-eyes emojis. Some of the best kickboxing and martial arts discussions happened in the comments of my competition pics. I’d take that over a brainless feed any day. “Mr. Echo, Ms.

Wolf.” A woman in a blue, white, and yellow uniform, topped off with a tiny striped hat and matching neckerchief, approached us. “I’m Stephany,” she said. “And I’ll be your flight attendant. If you’ll follow me, please, your plane is ready.” My palms were sweating again. There were literally no other passengers around. Just Miles and me. Something about the situation felt really off. I caught up to the attendant, with Miles somewhere behind me.

Stephany led us through a set of sliding glass doors. Outside, we were met by a blast of suffocating heat—even by Miami standards— and blinding sunlight. No wonder Miles had left his sunglasses on. And was that…? Holy crap. A private jet. It looked like the one I’d seen Adam Lambert fly in during his tour with Queen. A set of stairs opened up in front of us, leading inside. It didn’t make any sense. Sure, our school—the Academy for Fine Education, what preposterous and pompous nonsense—was full of rich kids like Miles. They looked at me the same way he did.

Oh, she’s here on a scholarship. I was sure they could have flown everyone out in their own jets, but why Briola Bio Tech would treat two interns with such style was baffling. “Stephany, are you sure this is our flight?” “Yes,” she assured me, the smile on her face kind, understanding. “Everything is correct. Your luggage is already stowed away, and the pilot merely waiting for you to settle in.” I was flying to Germany. In a private jet with flat-screen TVs. And internet. This was a once-in-alifetime luxury. As I found a seat, Miles flopped down across the aisle from me.

The plane could fit up to eight passengers, but it was just the two of us. I set my luggage on the next seat over, buckled up, and pulled my book out. Anne of Green Gables. One of my best friends was an old homeless guy named Joe. Calling him “out there” was a bit of an understatement. Conspiracy theories are legit. Microwaves cause cancer. The government is watching everyone. The Mandela effect is totally a thing. Sometimes, I saw him playing chess at the park—sometimes alone and other times with whoever felt up to the challenge of playing against him—and it took him ten minutes just to make his move and notice I was standing behind him.

But then he’d smile, and we’d talk about books until it was time for him to make his next move on the chess board. Every week, I bought a new book at the used bookstore. He was even poorer than me, though, so I always gave it to him when I was done. I’d mentioned to him that I would be gone for three weeks during the summer. It wouldn’t have bothered me if he hadn’t remembered, because he wasn’t always with it. Sometimes I thought I was just a welcome distraction for him. But he’d surprised me with this book about Anne, and a bracelet he’d made himself. Nothing extravagant, yet so special. He owned next to nothing, but still, he’d found a way to give me something. “Anne’s a fighter,” he’d said.

“Just like you.” Joe could be strange at times—weren’t we all—but he genuinely cared. This book was proof. I’d barely gotten through a page when the plane rolled to the runway. Stephany moved my bag into the overhead compartment then eyed my book but didn’t take it. Miles had made himself comfortable, stretching his legs across a seat opposite him. “You don’t happen to have some Aquadeco on board?” he asked, and I wondered if he made that up. But the flight attendant nodded and went to retrieve what was likely just tap water in a fancy bottle. This luxe was standard for him. I wouldn’t be surprised if Daddy Dearest always let him fly in private jets.

Who decided it was fair to hand out that much privilege to only a chosen few? Takeoff was smoother than any other I remembered. I could be privileged, too, even if only for this flight. So there. I leaned against the cubby window and watched as Miami grew smaller and smaller until it was nothing but ocean and clouds. Once I plugged my headphones into my armrest, I turned on the touchscreen TV—more like an oversized iPad, really—in front of me. It welcomed me with a map that showed our location, time, date, and how much time was left until we reached Berlin. The movies available weren’t even remotely interesting, though, so I turned the TV off and picked up my book again. A few more chapters in, I felt my eyes growing heavy. With a ten-hour flight ahead of us, crossing the Atlantic and into Europe, I might as well sleep. … The engine erupts into flames.

Oxygen masks drop from above. The plane dips and takes my heart with it. Falling. Falling. Falling— “Wake up,” Miles said. “Fiona, we’re—” My eyes flew open, heart racing. Pounding so hard my chest ached. “What happened?” I looked out the window. Sunrise. Clouds.

Airplane wing intact. “What’s”— my throat caught—“what’s wrong?” The front half of the plane breaks of . Open air. The ocean. And coming closer, too fast, we’re going to crash, an island— “It’s the pilot,” Miles said, eyes wide. He swallowed and clutched his armrests. “He—he says we’re…oh God.” My stomach jumped hot into my throat. Then a smile spread across his stupid chiseled face as his body relaxed. “He says we’re landing in five.

Just thought you’d want to know.” Jerk. “Not funny.” I wiped my sweaty palms on my pant legs and tried to banish the remaining flashes of my nightmare. Unfortunately, the same technique wouldn’t get rid of Miles. “What would it take for you to never speak to me again?” “A billion bucks.” Asshole. I turned away from him. When we dipped beneath the clouds, I looked out the window and saw a sea of light: Berlin. The sky was slowly transforming from night to day.

It was around five a.m. Germany time. When the plane began its descent, I felt that earlier sense of darkness, of plummeting to the ground, the strange dream of a crash, a dead pilot, panic and dread… But touchdown was smooth and standard. We taxied and then stopped a little way from a building. I’d slept during the better part of the flight but didn’t feel rested. My nervousness over the day ahead of us crept up on me. Was this jet lag? I took my bag from the compartment, getting my feet used to solid ground again, trying not to sway. Outside, the air was different from the humidity back home in Florida. This air was dry.

Crackling. Charged. Stephany led us to the small building. The inside of this airport wasn’t as fancy as the one we left in Miami, a single open space instead of a couple of rooms and sections, but it had similar glass doors with STAR AVİATİON SUPPORT TXL written on them. The walls and stone flooring were white with a deep burgundy carpet running through the middle like a runway. The employees took forever checking our passports then finally handed over our luggage. As I zipped up my hoodie, Miles primped, pulling and smoothing his clothes back into position. He checked his hair in a window reflection. Even more unsettling than his ridiculous vanity was the fact we were alone. “Isn’t someone supposed to come around and get us? One of the emails said a Briola rep would take us to our hotel… I thought.

” Miles shrugged. Guess we’d have to wait a little more. Annoying, but it gave me time to text my parents that we’d landed—Mom worried herself sick about me whenever I was away from home. When I’d first told my parents about the trip, about how I’d been chosen for this Berlinternship, my father had been less than impressed. Not unusual. If it wasn’t a gold kickboxing medal, what did it matter? Dear old Dad. With a stone-faced expression, he’d complained how going would mean me missing three weeks of practice, how I needed that time if I wanted to succeed at Nationals. But in the end, with a bit of talking to Mom, he caved. At least Mom was on my side. My biggest cheerleader. I pulled out my phone and took it off airplane mode. Getting a reply from them any time soon, considering it was almost midnight back home, was unlikely. Once I was done, I closed my message app then scrolled through Instagram and liked a selfie my best friend, Melany, had posted. It was of her and her internship partner at LAX. They were pretending to drink out of a water-cooler spigot in what looked like a break room. Cute. Just as I was about to put my phone away, I saw it. The little red bubble. Ding. A voicemail? My parents never called me without texting first. Who…? I looked up. Miles was typing away on his own phone, absorbed by his different universe from mine. The Briola representative was still nowhere to be seen. So I hit play and raised the phone to my ear. A familiar male voice floated out from the speaker. My homeless, chess-playing friend. “Fiona, it’s Joe.” There was a pause so long I thought the voicemail had ended, then he said, “There’s something you have to know. They’re watching you. They’re behind this.” Another pause. “Trust no one.”

.

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