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This chapter begins with Brian staring out the window of a Cessna 406, a small airplane carrying him north from New York to the tundra of Canada to live with his father for the summer. He is thirteen years old and the only passenger on this plane, piloted by an older man named either Jim or Jake, a name Brian cannot remember. He has never flown in such a small plane, but that doesnít concern him as he thinks about the events that had led to his taking this flight. His parents have just divorced, and all the solid things in his life have shattered. Furthermore, he is overwhelmed with what he calls the Secret, something he knows about his mother that makes him weep every time he thinks about it. He is so involved with his thoughts that even the pilot doesnít seem real, rather a mechanical part of the plane itself.
To make conversation and pass time, the pilot shows Brian how to handle the controls, including the rudder pedals. The boy turns the plane and brings her right and left. The pilot notes that flying is just like every thing else: it just takes learning. Brian goes then back to his thoughts of the Secret, which led to his mother wanting a divorce that left his father totally confused. His custody was placed with his mother except for the summers when he would live with his father who was a mechanical engineer working in the northern oil fields. To Brian, it is all talk and words.
Suddenly the plane lurches to the right, and Brian
sees the pilot rubbing his shoulder and smells the gas the pilot has emitted.
Brian remembers then the fabric bag in the rear of the plane which is a survival
pack containing emergency supplies in case they had to land suddenly. The pilot
seems to have no control over the gas he passes, and he continues to rub his arm
and shoulder and wince with pain.
In between his concern for the pilot, Brian remembers the ride to the airport with his mother and how she tried to talk to him about what had happened. He couldnít bring himself to tell her what he knew about her. So she changes the subject and gives him a present she has bought him for the trip. It is a hatchet with a steel handle and rubber handgrip. It is held within a leather case with a brass-riveted belt loop. She insisted he try it on and he would have refused, but he couldnít bring himself to hear how thin her voice would be if he didnít. She thinks he looks like ďher little scoutĒ and speaks tenderly like she used to do when he was sick. It made him want to cry again and he had turned away from her once more. However, the hatchet still hangs from his belt.
The pilot had now become worse and tells Brian that he has never felt anything like this pain before. He is suddenly jolted backward in the seat and tells Brian that he thinks his chest is coming apart. Brian knows now that that man is having a heart attack. Then, the pilotís eyes roll back into his head, and the smell becomes even worse. Now Brian knows he is totally alone in a plane with no pilot and the horror that thought brings utterly stops him.
This chapter lays down the two greatest problems that Brian is facing: his parentsí divorce and being alone in a pilotless plane. It also presents several examples of foreshadowing. First, the fact that the information about his mother is capitalized into the word Secret indicates how devastating this information is for him. Second, the pilot teaching him how to control the plane prepares us for him landing the plane himself. Third, the pilotís sudden concern with a pain in his shoulder and arm foreshadows his death of a heart attack. Finally, the fact that his mother gave him a hatchet as a going away gift prepares the reader for Brianís need for a basic tool to survive in the woods.