A Thousand Miles From Home - Part 01

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Day one of National Novel Writing Month is complete, and I think I've made a good start.

Two thousand, two hundred, and sixty-nine words. Not a bad start at all.

I'm trying really hard to stop myself from going back and 'fixing' things. I know that this story won't be perfect when I get it done, but I just can't help but go back and tweak things.

Well, anywhere, here's what I wrote today.


Donald Parker hated flying. In fact, he hated being in any type of moving vehicle in which he had no control. It gave him a sense of helplessness that he just wasn’t a big fan of. He needed to be the master of his own destiny. He didn’t trust anyone with his personal safety, even if it was a highly trained flight crew. All Don could think of during his flight from Kansas City, Missouri to Winston-Salem, North Carolina were all of the statistics he’s read, over and over, about how most accidents involving passenger jets happened during takeoff, or landing.

And so Don sat, his seat belt buckled securely, his tray table up, his seat back in an upright position, sweat pouring from his brow like water from the leaves in a rain forest during monsoon season, and his hands gripping the arm rests so hard that his knuckles were white.

“Take it easy,” said his seat neighbor. “Nothing’s going to happen."

Don had a window seat, which he always insisted on. If he couldn’t have control of his fate, at least he could look out the window and see his death coming. Next to him, was Oliver Jordan, head of IT at Global Service Centers in Lawrence, Kansas, or as they knew it, GSC. Oliver was a coworker, travel partner, friend, and all around pain in Don’s terrified ass.

“If something is going to happen, this is when it’s gonna do it,” Don said, never taking his eyes from the window.

Donald Parker was thirty-seven years old. In November, he would celebrate eleven years with GSC. He’d started out like everyone else, as a Customer Service Representative, taking calls all day long. He wasn’t even considered a full time employee, though he worked forty hours a week. No, all entry level positions at GSC are categorized as ‘Temporary-Full Time’. That way the company didn’t have to pay you any benefits and could let you go whenever the mood struck. But Don was a quick learner and had what his managers called ‘excellent skills in customer service’ and so it wasn’t long before he was able to bid on a full time position, with benefits, and he got it.

And there Don stayed for eight years. Staying right where he was in the Government Services department. Eight years answering questions about Federal Student Aid. Eight years until he was allowed to move up that old corporate ladder.

The first step was a what the industry called a Lead position. This meant that he still took the same types of calls he’d always taken before, but with the promotion he took the same types of calls that Supervisors took as well. Such calls were from entry level operators with questions they couldn’t answer themselves, as well as calls from customers who were angry with the information they received, or lack thereof, and wanted to take a solid twenty minutes to really yell and scream at someone. And Don was always lucky enough to be that someone. But it came with a bump in pay, so Don didn’t complain. Much.

Then, just ten months ago, a Trainer position came open. And if there was one thing Don had, it was training experience. Training new employees was really just part of the job. Each year the company had what they called the annual hiring season. This was the time, just a few months before the new school year, where students and parents began the act of filing out an application for Federal Student aid. Most of these students and parents found that they had a tough time figuring out just what was needed on the application, so they flooded the GSC phone lines, and GSC had to make sure that there were plenty of bodies available to field those calls. So great herds of people were brought in each year, just to see them go again a few months later. And Don was one of the few, the lucky few, chosen to get these folks trained and on the phones as quickly as possible.

So training experience wasn’t an issue. But this wasn’t a position to train new employees. The company decided to finally upgrade their outdated computer system that was used to house and view the hundreds of thousands of applications that arrived each year, and they decided that they needed a team of people whose sole purpose was this new system, which was named Columbus. And one of these team members would be responsible for making sure that everyone understood how to use the new system. And they gave that job to Don.

And so the team consisted of Don and the head of IT, Oliver Jordan. Once Ollie had the new system up and running on a test server, the next step was to train all of the employees, which is where Don came in. GSC had branches all across the US, however, and so Don and Ollie had spent the last two months, away from home, traveling the country. Ollie getting each local IT department certified and Don training everyone at the various branches on the procedures of how to look up applications and find information. All in all, for Don, it was a great bit of fun, apart from the flying. Don liked being away from home. Seeing the sights. Meeting new people. It was quite the adventure, as far as he was concerned. Ollie, on the other hand, was deeply homesick.

“Don, if something was going to happen, which it won’t, there’s not really a damn thing you can do about it,” said Ollie, who was calmly munching away at a bag of homemade Chex mix, which was probably something his wife made for him. How he’s managed to make it last this long was a mystery. “So just chill, dude.”

Don ignored Ollie as he felt the plane descend for landing.

Don and Ollie went back a long ways. Back to grade school where the two became the best of friends. But as they grew, they grew apart. Ollie read comics and made good grades, Don got into sports and girls. By the time they were in high school, the two had drifted apart. Not finding each other again until meeting back up in the forest of cubicles that was GSC.

Don heard a quick electronic tone sound throughout the cabin. The tone meant that the pilot had just turned on the indicator light that shone above each row of seats. This light indicated that it was time to fasten your seatbelts and pretty much stop moving about the cabin. But just in case you weren’t aware of what the tone or the light signified, it was quickly followed up by one of the flight attendants on the cabin’s PA system informing the passengers that the pilot did, in fact, turn on that light. She reminded everyone to fasten their seat belts, to push up their seat trays, and to move their seat backs into the upright position. Basically everything that Don had already done. He knew too that another flight attendant was walking the aisle, making sure that all the passengers were following directions. Don knew this was happening all around him, but he didn’t pay much attention. He was a little too busy watching the North Carolina soil rush towards him as images of fire, pain, and death raced through his vision.

“Come on, dude,” Ollie was saying in the background. “Just keep it together. We’re almost there.”

Don didn’t turn. He just continued to stare out the window. Landing was only second to takeoff when it came to Don’s most hated and feared areas of flying. During takeoff, you get a certain sinking feeling in your stomach as you defy the laws of gravity and rise into the air in a giant steel tube with wings. A huge and complicated piece of machinery being manned by a computer, and a couple of guys who probably stopped off at the airport bar for a few dozen drinks as a few other guys, exhausted as they came to the end of a long shift, refueled and prepped the plane for the next flight. But there was something about that feeling that settled into Don as the plain gained altitude. It was a feeling of inevitability. What comes up, must come down. And there wasn’t any rule that said it had to come down gently. It could just as easily crash to the ground in a burning heap of twisted metal.

Don began to tremble as the ground rose up to meet them. Sweat was practically gushing from his pores as he felt and heard the landing gear go down. That meant they were close. This was the magic moment, the moment when all would be decided. Would they land happily and taxi to the nearest gate? Or would they all die in a flash of pressure and heat as the entire cabin around them exploded?

Then they were down and Don was thrown forward slightly as they began their rapid reduction of speed.

“See,” Ollie said as they rolled up to the gate. “We made it, and we’re alive.”

Don smiled as he unbuckled, turning to Ollie and saying, “We still have the trip home. There’s plenty of chances to die.”

“You’re a real ray of sunshine, Donny. A freaking ray.”

The two rose, gathered their carry-on bags, and started shuffling out of the plane and into the airport. Don checked his watch. It was 9:36 on Sunday evening.

Don and Ollie stood in the concourse of the Piedmont Triad International Airport in Greensboro, North Carolina. The airport was still busy as a river of people flowed by them. Ollie was playing with his smart phone.

“Okay, so we need to determine where the car rental desk is,” Ollie was saying while engrossed with whatever was coming across the screen of his phone.

“No, we need to find the smoker’s lounge,” Don said. “Then we can get our car.”

“Come on, dude,” Ollie whined, still deeply engaged with his phone. “What am I supposed to do while you smoke?”

“Come in with me, for once. Sit. Chill. Read a comic. Relax and stuff.”

“Nope, ain’t following you into the smokey place.” Ollie then switches to a dead on impersonation of Dana Carvey’s George Bush, “Not gonna do it. Wouldn’t be prudent at this juncture.”

“Whatever,” Don smiles. “But if I don’t get some nicotine soon, I’m going to kill everyone in this airport.”

“Whoa!” Ollie said, finally looking up from his phone. “That kinda talk is going to get us put in a little room somewhere deep within the bowels of this airport, talking to the kind of men who have every right to perform a body cavity search on us if they feel it's necessary. So okay, you smoke. I’ll call Susan, then we can both be happy and no one has to die Cool?”


It took them less than ten minutes to find the smoking lounge and soon Don was kicked back in a plush-back seat, puffing away at a mentholated cigarette, enjoying the quiet as his fellow smokers sat around and passed over social interaction for a nicotine induced state of relative relaxation.

Don reflected for a moment on his choice of cigarettes. He had his first cigarette at the tender age of eleven. It was summer, and Ollie had filched a pack from his dad. The two sat in the dugout at one of the local baseball fields and smoked away. It wasn’t until later that they found out that you were supposed to inhale, but at the time they felt like men. Men enjoying a well deserved smoke after a hard day of work.

It wasn’t until high school that Don seriously began the act of buying, smoking, and inhaling cigarettes. His brand at the time were Winston Reds, which was funny now that he thought about it, considering where he was now. After high school, he moved in with a couple of guys who were always trying to quit the whole cigarette thing. And that pretty much meant that they just didn’t buy their own, and instead bummed cigarettes off of Don. Once Don found out that the two couldn’t stand menthol, he switched right away and has never looked back.

After three cigarettes and a decent nicotine buzz, Don found Ollie at the airport McDonalds.

“Did you get a hold of Susan?” Don asked as he sat.

“Yeah, she was still up.”

“How’s she doing?”

“She misses me just as much as I miss her, but she’s hanging in there. One more week and we are back home.”

“How’re the kids?”

“They were asleep, which sucks. I was hoping to hear their voices tonight.”

Ollie has been married for nine years. The two met in college. Ollie was there to study computers, Susan was there because that’s what kids did after high school. They fell in love, got married, and nine years later had two little girls. Ruthie, who was a very rambunctious six, and Sally, a quiet and self reflective eight.

“You’ll talk to them tomorrow,” Don said, taking a few fries from Ollie’s tray. “And besides, you’ll get to see them and hug and them kiss them and all that family-type stuff in a week. That is if we don’t die on the return trip.”

“There’s that ray of sunshine.”

“Let’s go get the car.”

To be continued . . .

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I'm hoping for another two thousand words tomorrow. But I'm already exhausted over the entire process. I hope I can make it.


  1. This is a great build up for your NaNoWriMo project. I hope you kept writing and are working on making this a first draft novel.

    1. Sadly, I haven't touched the story since the end of November last year.

      I need to get back to it.

  2. I appreciate the little details you have added here. You really bring Don to life. Even something like knowing his first brand of cigarettes makes him feel like a real person. Someone you could meet.

    Thanks for sharing with the storydam community.