Home in Time for Carson

Johnny Carson & Murray Lender - Photo from Carl Lender

by Aaron Jensen

There should have been pain. Gene knew that; he also knew that the lack of that pain meant that he was probably going to die. The only thing left to ponder was how long it would take this mangled and motionless husk—which had been a fit and active body only hours before—to concede its defeat and release him.

I’ll be home in time for Carson.

That late?

It’s a long flight, Peg. We’ll have to touch down in Memphis to refuel.

But I thought you said this one had a bigger tank?

The one we‘re designing does, but it’s still just a drawing. You can’t build a plane in two weeks. Not yet, at least.


He wondered if Ed McMahon was introducing Carnac the Magnificent yet, whether Peg was watching, irritated that her husband had broken yet another promise (seems I’ve broken more than that, sweetheart) or if she sat on the stool in the kitchen with the telephone receiver already pressed to her soft pale cheek as she demanded answers from the Company. Gene hoped she had opted for late-night escape, one last handful of laughs before grasping the horrible truth.

Let her pick up that burden in the morning.

His head lay unmoving on his chest, like when he fell asleep in his office chair, and Gene was forced to stare at the abattoir that used to be his legs. The plane, a sleek model 401 that was only a couple of years old, had pancaked flat into the unforgiving earth, leaving most of the fuselage intact while sending a tremendously forceful shockwave through his and his colleagues’ bodies, cracking them like china dolls. An explosion would have been more merciful.

The faint glow of moonlight stole through shattered circular windows, revealing bloody bones jutting from his thighs. She’d kill me if she saw what I’ve done to these trousers.

If there had been hope for survival, all of this might have horrified him.

Gene held his breath, listening for signs of life from his five fellow passengers. But there was only the wind and whispers of some unharvested crop against cracked circular glass. His friends were all dead, and tomorrow an unlucky farmer would have a bear of a day. Gene wondered how long it would take the wives to start calling each other, how quickly they would realize that something was wrong. He wondered a lot of things.

I hold in my hand the envelopes.

“A child of four can plainly see,” he said to the silence, his tongue heavy with death.

No one knows the contents of these envelopes. But you, in your divine and borderline mystical way…

“Will ascertain the answers.”

A paper rectangle stood superimposed upon an obnoxious turban in Gene’s dying mind. Carnac—seer, soothsayer, and sage—pondered and prophesied the answers to the mysterious question contained in the envelope, which had been secured in a jar on Funk and Wagnall’s porch since noon that day.

Tears. Abandonment. Regret.

An imagined Ed McMahon laughed thunderously, followed by the sound of tearing paper and a gust of breath. Gene spoke the corresponding question to an audience of dead men. “Things avoided by refueling in Memphis.”

And everybody laughed.

Category: Fiction, Short Story