From the Inside Flap
-washed airspace between the cornfields of Illinois and blue infinity, a man puts his faith in the propeller of his biplane. For disillusioned writer and itinerant barnstormer Richard Bach, belief is as real as a full tank of gas and sparks firing in the cylinders…until he meets Donald Shimoda–former mechanic and self-described messiah who can make wrenches fly and Richard’s imagination soar….
In Illusions, the unforgettable follow-up to his phenomenal bestseller Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach takes to the air to discover the ageless truths that give our souls wings: that people don’t need airplanes to soar…that even the darkest clouds have meaning once we lift ourselves above them… and that messiahs can be found in the unlikeliest places–like hay fields, one-traffic-light midwestern towns, and most of all, deep within ourselves.
About the Author
Richard Bach is the author of Stranger to the Ground, Biplane, Nothing by Chance, Jonathan Livingston Seagull, A Gift of Wings, Illusions, There’s No Such Place as Far Away, The Bridge Across Forever, One, and Running from Safety.
Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.
It was toward the middle of the summer that I met Donald Shimoda. In four years’ flying, I had never found another pilot in the line of work I do: flying with the wind from town to town, selling rides in an old biplane, three dollars for ten minutes in the air.
But one day just north of Ferris, Illinois, I looked down from the cockpit of my Fleet and there was an old Travel Air 4000, gold and white, landed pretty as you please in the lemon-emerald hay.
Mine’s a free life, but it does get lonely, sometimes. I saw the biplane there, thought about it for a few seconds, and decided it would be no harm to drop in. Throttle back to idle, a full-rudder slip, and the Fleet and I fell sideways toward the ground. Wind in the flying wires, that gentle good sound, the slow pok-pok of the old engine loafing its propeller around. Goggles up to better watch the landing. Cornstalks a green-leaf jungle swishing close below, flicker of a fence and then just-cut hay as far as I could see. Stick and rudder out of the slip, a nice little round-out above the land, hay brushing the tires, then the familiar calm crashing rattle of hard ground under-wheel, slowing, slowing and now a quick burst of noise and power to taxi beside the other plane and stop. Throttle back, switch off, the soft clack-clack of the propeller spinning down to stop in the total quiet of July.
The pilot of the Travel Air sat in the hay, his back against the left wheel of his airplane, and he watched me.
For half a minute I watched him, too, looking at the mystery of his calm. I wouldn’t have been so cool just to sit there and watch another plane land in a field with me and park ten yards away. I nodded, liking him without knowing why.
“You looked lonely,” I said across the distance between us.
“So did you.”
“Don’t mean to bother you. If I’m one too many, I’ll be on my way.”
“No. I’ve been waiting for you.”
I smiled at that. “Sorry I’m late.”
“That’s all right.”
I pulled off my helmet and goggles, climbed out of the cockpit and stepped to the ground. This feels good, when you’ve been a couple hours in the Fleet.
“Hope you don’t mind ham and cheese,” he said. “Ham and cheese and maybe an ant.” No handshake, no introduction of any kind.
He was not a large man. Hair to his shoulders, blacker than the rubber of the tire he leaned against. Eyes dark as hawk’s eyes, the kind I like in a friend, and in anyone else make me uncomfortable indeed. He could have been a karate master on his way to some quietly violent demonstration.
I accepted the sandwich and a thermos cup of water. “Who are you, anyway?” I said. “Years, I’ve been hopping rides, never seen another barnstormer out in the fields.”
“Not much else I’m fit to do,” he said, happily enough. “A little mechanicking, welding, roughneck a bit, skinning Cats; I stay in one place too long, I get problems. So I made the airplane and now I’m in the barnstorming business.”
“What kind of Cat?” I’ve been mad for diesel tractors since I was a kid.
“D-Eights, D-Nines. Just for a little while, in Ohio.”
“D-Nines! Big as a house! Double compound low gear, can they really push a mountain?”
“There are better ways of moving mountains,” he said with a smile that lasted for maybe a tenth of a second.
I leaned for a minute against the lower wing of his plane, watching him. A trick of the light … it was hard to look at the man closely. As if there were a light around his head, fading the background a faint, misty silver.
“Something wrong?” he asked.
“What kind of problems did you have?”
“Oh, nothing much. I just like to keep moving these days, same as you.”
I took my sandwich and walked around his plane. It was a 1928 or 1929 machine, and it was completely unscratched. Factories don’t make airplanes as new as his was, parked there in the hay. Twenty coats of hand-rubbed butyrate dope, at least, paint like a mirror pulled tight over the wooden ribs of the thing. Don, in old-English gold leaf under the rim of his cockpit, and the registration on the map case said, D. W. Shimoda. The instruments were new out of the box, original 1928 flight instruments. Varnished-oak control stick and rudder-bar; throttle, mixture, spark advance at the left. You never see spark advances anymore, even on the best-restored antiques. No scratch anywhere, not a patch on the fabric, not a single streak of engine oil from the cowling. Not a blade of straw on the floor of the cockpit, as though his machine hadn’t flown at all, but instead had materialized on the spot through some time-warp across half a century. I felt an odd creepy cold on my neck.
“How long you been hopping passengers?” I called across the plane to him.
“About a month, now, five weeks.”
He was lying. Five weeks in the fields and I don’t care who you are, you’ve got dirt and oil on the plane and there’s straw on the cockpit floor, no matter what. But this machine … no oil on the windshield, no flying-hay stains on the leading edges of wings and tail, no bugs smashed on the propeller. That is not possible for an airplane flying through an Illinois summer. I studied the Travel Air another five minutes, and then I went back and sat down in the hay under the wing, facing the pilot. I wasn’t afraid, I still liked the guy, but something was wrong.
“Why are you not telling me the truth?”
“I have told you the truth, Richard,” he said. The name is painted on my airplane, too.
“A person does not hop passengers for a month in a Travel Air without getting a little oil on the plane, my friend, a little dust? One patch in the fabric? Hay, for God’s sake, on the floor?”
He smiled calmly at me. “There are some things you do not know.”
In that moment he was a strange other-planet person. I believed what he said, but I had no way of explaining his jewel airplane parked out in the summer hayfield.
“This is true. But some day I’ll know them all. And then you can have my airplane, Donald, because I won’t need it to fly.”
He looked at me with interest, and raised his black eyebrows. “Oh? Tell me.”
I was delighted. Someone wanted to hear my theory!
“People couldn’t fly for a long time, I don’t think, because they didn’t think it was possible, so of course they didn’t learn the first little principle of aerodynamics. I want to believe that there’s another principle somewhere: we don’t need airplanes to fly, or move through walls, or get to planets. We can learn how to do that without machines anywhere. If we want to.”
He half-smiled, seriously, and nodded his head one time. “And you think that you will learn what you wish to learn by hopping three-dollar rides out of hayfields.”
“The only learning that’s mattered is what I got on my own, doing what I want to do. There isn’t, but if there were a soul on earth who could teach me more of what I want to know than my airplane can, and the sky, I’d be off right now to find him. Or her.”
The dark eyes looked at me level. “Don’t you believe you’re guided, if you really want to learn this thing?”
“I’m guided, yes. Isn’t everyone? I’ve always felt something kind of watching over me, sort of.”
“And you think you’ll be led to a teacher who can help you.”
“If the teacher doesn’t happen to be me, yes.”
“Maybe that’s the way it happens,” he said.