WRITTEN BY Henry Thompson
The seats in coach are often likened to Sardine Cans… But Sardine cans are much bigger in this case. Or so it seems to Robert Harris as he tries his best to get comfortable, but between his best friend Jonathan, and the wall – Robert is pressed in around a foot and a half of space. A non-movable, chunky, hard armrest stuck in each side. Not to mention Jonathan’s arm laid across the armrest to his left, forcing Robert to keep his hands stuck squarely in his lap. Maybe he’d feel better if he could just stretch his feet, but he can’t – so typical of his luck there is a large metal box wedged under the seat in front. Robert kicks it in frustration. The seat in front is so close; as Robert breathes he actually fogs up the little LCD touch screen in the seat back. He lifts his beefy arm to the small circular vent in the ceiling, turns it slowly, opening the valve to allow some cool airflow. With a slight whistle, air spills out onto him like a hot kiss. The air isn’t cooled at all – it’s even warm! He closes the vent and sighs. Robert slowly makes a note to himself: ‘Robbie,’ he thinks. ‘Never, ever, fly America west again.’ Jonathan starts to snore and make weeping noises, Robert rolls his eyes. No tape player, CD, MP3, Mini-Disk, nothing. Not even in-flight entertainment – the system is down or something they said. Robert moans and loosens his tie. You’d think a trip from just Los Angeles to Scottsdale would be fairly painless… After all it’s less than 500 miles or something like that. Robert has no idea of the actual distance of anything from anything. Jon snores loudly and wheezes. Coughs. Robert elbows him, making him quiet down. No more snoring. No more sound. Maybe now Robert can get some peace. Robert idly plays with the small LCD touch screen inches from his face. A virtual map and icon displaying the planes location blinks. Robert wipes condensation from the screen. They are half way to Arizona. Flying over southern Nevada. He can’t believe they’ve been in the air around an hour and haven’t gotten there yet. He wouldn’t mind if the seats weren’t so horrendous. He turns his attention out the window. The blue afternoon sky dotted with a few fluffy clouds over the desert below. Robert is surprised at just how short his attention span is – already he’s bored again! Maybe a walk around will quell his antsy nature. “Jon.” He says, turning to his friend. “Jon get up I wanna hit the bathroom.” Jonathan just lies there, silent. “Hey man, want me to piss on yah? Get up!” Robert leans in and gets close, gives him a nudge. Jon gently slides onto Robert’s shoulder. “This ain’t even funny.” Robert smirks as he presses his hand to Jon’s chin and pushes him back upright. He holds it there a second as he looks Jon in the face. “Hello, hello, sleeping beauty, I ain’t climbing over you.” It takes Robert a moment to notice that Jon’s breath isn’t tickling the hairs on the back of his hand. In fact… Robert doesn’t feel any breath at all. He puts his hand right under Jon’s nose. Waits… Nothing. He takes his sun glasses from his shirt pocket and presses them to Jon’s upper lip… Waits… They don’t fog up. He waits. Minutes pass. Jon is dead.
Robert jumps back in his seat, dropping his glasses in the middle of the walkway between the seats. He bangs his elbow on the hard seat dividers and barely notices the pain. His friend is dead – right here –
right in front of him! He reaches up and presses the call button repeatedly, trying to yell – but only amassing a small cry; “Stewardess!” He hyperventilates with a wheeze. One of the blue smocked stewardesses comes over almost in a run, and quickly pulls his hand from the call button, pressing it to his chest. “Yes, sir?” She asks in a harsh tone, pushing some blonde hair back over her ear. Robert opens and closes his mouth; mouthing the words that won’t come. “What?” She asks, leaning over Jon. Some of her hair slides over her shoulder, across Jon’s still face. “Oh, sorry sir.” She says, still staring Robert down. She pulls the hair back over her ear and comes to a realization as she looks into Robert’s shocked eyes. “We aren’t offering a beverage cart on this flight, sir, sorry.” Robert shakes his head and presses a hand to his face, exhales loudly, catching his breath. The flight attendant looks down to Jon. Then back to Robert. “Sir?” “He’s dead!” Robert finally manages to say. “What? Are you sure?” She asks. “People sometimes deep sleep on flights.” “What?” He takes his hand from his mouth and looks at her slack jawed. “He’s not breathing!” “Are you sure?” “Does he have to get up and tell you he’s dead? Look at him!” “Sir,” She says in a very calm and uncaring tone. “Please calm down. Don’t make a scene.” “Make a scene? My best friend just died in his sleep!” “Please, sir, it happens all the time.” “What?” “Sure. Heart attacks, strokes, all kinds of crap.” Robert just looks to her and back to Jon. His eyes closed… He looks like he’s sleeping. Well, in a way you could say he is. “But sir,” she continues. “Do not make a scene, please. We can’t land just cause someone croaked – uh – passed on. And it doesn’t help to cause a panic amongst the passengers.” Robert just stands, cocking his head to the side in the short space. He pulls his way out, pressing on the backs of the seats in front, to get into the main aisle. The flight attendant steps back to let him through. Half the plane is full, leaving patches of empty seats. Probably around fifty or sixty on board this hundred and change seater. Robert looks over the faces in front and back of him. Half the people are sound asleep. No idea who Robert is. Or his friend Jon. Or that Jon has just died, in the middle of flight 102 to Scottsdale. They just go on sleeping, unaware. The other half just sit there bored or listening to walkmans or whatever. Only three overhead lights being used to read that Robert can see. He doesn’t bother looking past the stewardess galley to the front cabins and first class. He turns and heads to the rear. To the ‘lavatories.’ How strangely his mind is working, he wonders why they still call them lavatories… Sure it’s a real word and term and all, but how often do you hear it anywhere else? Why not just call them washrooms or restrooms or something? Anything to occupy his thoughts.
Robert splashes water over his face. He heard somewhere once that the water on this model plane was actually recycled water that was previously used in the toilets… After someone urinated or whatever, that water was filtered and then used in the sink reserve… Robert needs the reassurance of feeling water splash his face. That instant wake up call of cold water across your eyelids and cheeks… He couldn’t care if it had a little waste in it once… Modern technology makes these things pretty safe… He guesses… And there are worse things in life… Robert stares at himself in the small mirror. He looks tired, and feels it very suddenly. He exhausted his heart; he can feel it pounding in his chest. He’s not a particularly unhealthy guy, but he is over two hundred pounds and a little wheezy. He closes his eyes and takes a deep breath. He wont cry for Jon. They weren’t that close. But he was still Jon’s best friend and they had known each other for the last four years solid. Robert opens his eyes. God he looks so old. Much older than thirty-eight. He splashes a little more water on his cheeks and drains the sink, wiping his features with a few tissues from the slot in the wall. Jon is… Was… Younger than Robert. Only thirty two. They met a few years back when Jon joined up where Robert worked. Cubicle city in a telemarketing company. Work along side someone all day, everyday, for a few years and you tend to make conversation. They got on fairly well and started seeing each other more often than just hitting the bar after work. They Played basketball together, worked out, all that stuff guys do to hang out without getting too close. Robert would moan about his ex-wife… Jon would laugh about his newest girlfriend. They did have fun together. Robert wonders how long until they land back in Arizona. Even though he’ll probably have to make all the appropriate calls – Jon’s mom and dad, sister, girlfriends and such – he just wants to be back in his house. Maybe call Jen. Just to say hi. Make sure she is ok… He hasn’t spoken to her in weeks. Jon is always telling him to call… Jesus, Jonathan is actually dead. Robert and him were friends for four years and now he’s dead, just sitting there. Robert is still trying to let it sink it. Death can be hard to accept – and when it happens so suddenly… They only flew to LA to check out the new consumer electronics show for the company – Not the big one in Vegas – this was just some little showcase of new telemarketing equipment. Like antitelemarketing protection devices. Simple… One night there and fly back. They stayed in the same room on two single beds. Watching TV, as guys do, talking trash about life, women, love, lust, loss, burgers, and all manner of things. All was fine. Jon wasn’t sick or unhealthy at all, and then… He just fell asleep. Fell asleep and never woke up.
Some light turbulence rocks Robert as he steps from the bathroom – lavatory – and makes his way back to his seat. He walks back to his seat as the plane rocks again softly… Must be passing through some clouds or something. The fasten seat belt sign isn’t lit up so it can’t be that bad. Robert looks down to Jon. The flight attendant covered his whole head with a sheet. Trying to make him look like he’s just sleeping. Robert can’t picture sitting next to his friend’s corpse for the rest of the flight. It would just plain freak him out and upset him. Already he feels sweat forming on the palms of his hands just standing beside the body. He looks away and walks forward up the aisle. An empty seat. Maybe a few clumped together, out of sight of Jon. It just goes to show how boring this flight is, most everyone is asleep now. On a midday flight. Even some of the people with overheads on have dosed off. One guy even passed out with his pen still pressed to his crossword puzzle. Robert spots a few empty seats in the middle of one of the higher rows. Just before the little stewardess galley between coach and first class. Robert holds the back of the empty seat in front as he passes over a man on the edge of the aisle. “Excuse me.” He says, even though this guy is passed out asleep too. As Robert climbs over him, the seat in front caves back, sending him crashing onto the man, full force. Robert quickly pushes the seat forward and scrambles to get up. “I’m so sorry, jesus, I’m so sorry!” He franticly apologizes, as he pushes up, his arms between the man’s head, forcing the other seat up with his backside. “I’m so… sorry.” Robert slows himself. His face inches from the man’s head… You’d think a large guy like Robert falling on anyone would wake them immediately… But… A loud crash from behind… Robert twists in the aisle, facing the sound. Turning from the still unconscious man. He hears the clatter of a tin can fall across the floor and out from the stewardess galley to the main aisle. He sees it. A foldgers max coffee can. It rolls across the floor to the wall and stops. “Hello?” All Robert can hear is the hum of the engines. “Ma’am?” he slowly gets off the man and stands up in the aisle way. “Stewardess?” He leans out and presses against the other seats. There is something else on the floor. A hand.
Robert runs forward, into the little galley way. The snappy little blonde thing is spread across the floor. On her back. Eyes closed. Her arm above her head, the other across her stomach. Her legs crossed on each other. Robert crouches beside her quickly. “Hey… Hey! Wake up man!” He starts to panic. He taps her cheek. She wont wake up. “Some one help me?” he yells… No answer. He slaps her as hard as he can. A red hand almost instantly flashes across her cheek. Her eyes don’t open… She’s dead.
Robert presses his back to the galley wall. Looking at her. She was so alive a moment ago… She was a bitch, but she was alive… So was Jon… Jesus, what’s happening here? The plane rocks softly again. Robert stands up and walks out to the side of the galley. He slumps against the wall and puts his weight on his side. He sighs. Everyone is asleep. “Hello?” He calls out loudly. Everyone is dead.
Robert slowly slumps to the floor again. What the hell is going on? He can’t help but cry – ‘Like a little girl with a skinned knee’ as Jon would have said. Everyone’s dead. Quietly and suddenly. What could do this? Why isn’t Robert dead? Is he dying but don’t realize? What in the hell caused this? Claustrophobia and anxiety grip him with both hands. He’s in a floating tin can, thirty five thousand feet above the ground, flying along at around five hundred miles an hour and to top it all – to put a cherry on the sundae – Everyone is dead. Why? Just what the hell is going on here? Thoughts fill his head. Maybe crazy thoughts. Maybe not crazy enough. With the wars and the threat of fire from Korea, and the terrorists always claiming fear targets… Maybe that’s it… Maybe it’s a civilian target. Show America its not safe, that kind of crap. Maybe it’s a Biological weapon. A silent killer… Like a gas or something. But if that’s right, why is Robert ok? Immunity? Maybe just being a larger guy it takes longer to work on him. You’d think there would be at least one other beefy guy on the plane. News is always saying how America is so fat and obese. Who knows? He doesn’t feel different. Aside from the sheer mounting anxiety of flying in a plane filled with death. Maybe it’s a government test. Testing something new. Like heart attack gas, that kind of thing. Or a viral. Maybe it’s air born… The ventilation system was pumping out warm air… Maybe it’s hidden in something… Maybe in the peanuts. Contamination maybe. Robert is allergic to nuts so he skipped them. Maybe that’s it. No, can’t be. Someone else would have surely skipped the nuts too. On a flight of more than fifty you’d think at least two would leave their nuts alone! (No pun intended.) Or maybe its – The foldgers can starts moving. It slowly turns on itself and begins to roll forward. Slowly rolling toward the front of the plane. The pilots!
The cockpit door is unmarked – but can’t really be anywhere but the front of the plane. It’s locked. Some, if not all, of the flight attendants must have a key. Robert spins a quick one eighty in place, over seeing the rows of death. The stillness among the seats. The foldgers can comes to rest against his shoe and he lets his body go limp – he falls back against the cockpit door quickly… The plane is going down. Robert rushes the door like a quarter back on super bowl Sunday – and goes through it and right over the back of the pilots seat. He twists over the seat and meets face to face with the pilot. His eyes are closed but Robert just assumes he’s not sleeping… As Robert’s breath hits the pilots face, swaying his little mustache with each exhale, Robert doesn’t feel any returned on his. He pulls back off the chair. A pilot and a co-pilot… Or navigator… Whatever, they’re both dead. The plane is going down, as he stands, Robert can feel the decline; he has to arch back to stand straight… All he can see is the ground below. No sky. Robert knows nothing about planes. All he knows is buzz words he’s seen on movies… Altimeter… Throttle… Flaps… He’s so out of his depth… He sees what he only thinks to call an “Artificial” Horizon (Thank you Steven Wright in So I married an Axe Murderer) The little plane logo is about an inch under the gray and black horizon line… That’s not good. Two seats in front of the consoles. Hundreds of little tickling lights and switches, blink at him, as he looks over the controls… Robert is in way over his head. He pulls on the pilot, gripping his shirt and tugging hard. The man doesn’t move. Robert realizes – seat belt! He unlatches the pilot and pulls him to the floor. The body does without any fighting – it feels like a sack of potatoes. Heavy and lifeless. Robert slides into the pilots seat and latches himself in with the seat belt. Pedals at his feet, handles in front of him, levers, buttons, switches, controls, sticks and slides, and all manner of lights and gauges all around him. He thinks for a moment. He presses forward on the handle in front and the plane banks down more. He quickly pulls back, and over compensates… Taking a second of trail and error to level the plane out – until the little plane icon is in the center between the black and gray lines of the horizon gauge. Robert looks forward into the bright orange sky. The sun is setting behind him. It’s a cloudless and otherwise beautiful sunset… But he can’t take time to appreciate it. The plane is level… He doesn’t dare let off the controls. Robert looks around, searching. Radio. Not some kind of headset like he expected, Robert finds a small receiver, like a CB radio, the handset connected via a spiraling black cord to an overhead box with a few switches and dials. Robert turns the dials left and right as he presses the handset down. “Hello?” Robert keeps playing with the box. “Can anyone here me? Hello?” He waits. As he lets off the button, turns the far right dial clockwise, a crisp static comes across the box. Echoing through the small cockpit – the static is unchanging, unfaltering, ominous, and eerie. A dead sound. Robert thinks quickly. What do they say in movies? He presses down the talker, bringing silence to the speakers. “Mayday, mayday, mayday.” He releases the switch, to no answer, just static. “This is flight…” Oh crap. What was it again? “Some flight, America West, flying…” Um… He looks around for one of those little digital screens that show the Global Positioning system. None in the cockpit – that’s not good. “Somewhere over… Arizona I think, maybe Nevada.” He lets off the talker… Static. Nothing but static. “Hello?” Nothing but the droning, dead noise.
There are supposedly five stages to accepting death, and Robert can’t help feeling this is his final flight. He’s as helpless as a baby in the middle of a highway. He can’t fly a plane. There isn’t some handy “how to” book sitting around. There aren’t ‘post its’ over the main controls. He’s in the dark up here, all alone. But suddenly he feels calmer. None of this is a big deal. It’s going to be ok. He feels serene. He is in denial. ‘This isn’t happening. This is all some kind of joke… Someone’s gonna come on the radio, there ain’t nothing going on… They’re not even dead, they’re all asleep or something,’ and so on. Maybe he’s not even awake. This is probably all a dream. Soon Jon will wake him and they’ll land nice and safe in Arizona and he’ll go back to Cubicle Country, pay his taxes, and watch Monday night football. Everything is OK. He wonders up and down the aisles. Passing traveler after traveler. Each peacefully past on. Making sure to step over the snappy little blonde Stewardess in the middle of the galley. He pauses, and steps in the galley. Checks the little silver drawers. Robert lines his pocket with mini Jack Daniels bottles and continues the aisles. Leisurely sipping bottle after bottle. He stops by Jonathan. The sheets across his body fallen, as things sometimes do during turbulence. He just looks asleep. Robert feels any second he’s going to open his eyes and start talking about Sarah, or Sophie or what ever his current girlfriends name is, and then ask Robert when he’s gonna get back in touch with his ex-wife. Huh. Robert swipes one of his three credit cards across the slit in the side of the phone and dials for his ex wife. If it could be his last chance to talk to her, he better take it, even though all his cards are teetering on the edge of their limits. The phone rings twice but then just clicks and goes dead. Robert hangs up, waits, and tries again. The phone rings twice, clicks and goes dead. He hangs up again. Waits, and tries calling his dad. Same thing. He hangs up the phone again. Wipes his face and picks the receiver up again. Dials for his office. The boss sleeps there since his break up with his mistress. But that’s irrelevant, because they should be open at this hour anyway. The phone rings twice, but then stops. Another click and dial tone send Robert instantly slams into another stage: Anger. Technically, temper tantrum would be a better description. The phone slams against the wall in a clatter of plastic. Scraping his palm, he doesn’t even notice, just rages on. Robert slams the phone again, breaking it apart and throwing the pieces down. Small drops of blood litter the wall. He doesn’t care. Robert runs though the little Stewardess galley, wrecking the shelves, pushing everything off them. Coffee, cans, cups, plastic trays and forks and knives all clatter and click on the floor around the blonde girl’s body. Bouncing loudly around her. Robert runs out into the aisles. Bouncing off the walls, wheezing with a sudden overwhelming panic. His adrenaline racing, like it’s just caught up with him. His breath erratic, heart pounding in his ears. He screams. Robert drops to his knees in front of the cockpit door and screams, louder than he ever has before, totally unheard. Desperately expelling his rage in angry frustration. Devastating helplessness overtakes him and he falls down on his hands. He cries. He cries like a baby. Robert puts his head in his hands and sobs hard into his palms. Losing himself on the floor of the plane. So alone and lost. Depression takes over. Robert rolls over onto his side. Crying so hard he almost chokes on his tears as his breath comes in jagged, exasperated gasps. His eyes closed so tight, tears streaming down his face like a cartoon character. “Mommy!” He calls out to no one. She isn’t there. She can’t hear him. And he still has to call for her. Even at his age. He needs her. He needs the maternal comfort she’d give him. The comfort that would make this go down painlessly. Make this end easier at least. Even his ex-wife would make this easier. And she’s a hateful shrew. Robert rolls over slowly, shuddering with each wrenching gasp for breath between sobs. He opens his weepy eyes to the cabin. Blurred and distorted out of all proportions by his tears. Like the world seen through a fun house mirror. He closes his eyes again. He doesn’t care. Sadness and self-pity rampantly fill his head. He can’t help but blaming Jon for this. Totally insignificant, but it relieves his mind alittle at least not being to blame for picking this flight. This flying tomb. Jon wanted to go back a few hours earlier than their regular flight – to see his girl. Of course it didn’t seem like a big deal then. Robert rolls onto his back and stares at the ceiling with runny eyes. The little lights and vents, call buttons, ‘fasten seatbelt’ and ‘no smoking’ signs in their respective panels over each set of seats. The Vents! Maybe it was some air born virus. The vents could have been a carrier maybe… Aw, but what does it matter? Robert’s still alive. In a manner of speaking. Still breathing but clinically dead. Flat on his back, sobbing like a little babe. He rubs his eyes again. Leaving his vision in his right eye a dark red, and stinging. He sits up and rubs his face with the cuffs of his shirt. His hand is bleeding. His face is probably covered in blood. Robert looks down and sees for the first time there are small pools of blood all over the floor. Smears and stains across his jeans and shirt. His hand a dark red, dripping menace. As soon as he realizes how much he’s bled, he feels the pain. Instant throbbing ensues and he feels he could pass out. Maybe from blood loss. Maybe from shock. It jars him enough to stand, weakly, leaning on the seats. He scans around. His vision still blurry and distorted. Tinted red. Robert’s blood loosely splattered across the floor. A few drops and splashes on the walls. It seems like its everywhere. He can’t believe he didn’t pass out – but he’s feeling it now. Woozy. Dizzy. Knees going weak, his head, spinning. Reality giving way to darkness. Darkness.
Slowly. Robert grips a seat back and pulls himself up onto the front seats in First class. Next to one of the other passengers. One of the bodies. How much time passed? The cuts on his hand have stopped bleeding and the blood on his pants and shirt and the floor has turned a sickly brown. A bottle of Jack Daniels in his pocket must have cracked. His left leg is drenched in sour smelling whiskey. He pulls the bottle out of his pocket slowly. It is cracked, but not broken. He throws it on the floor by the cockpit where it breaks into pieces. Robert shakes his head. Exhales deeply. He cocks his head to the side… Night has fallen outside. Blackness shimmers like satin sheets beyond the little porthole windows. He stands shakily and walks over, sits in the window seat and gazes out. It looks so sweet and peaceful. Light blue highlights shining across waves of darkness in the sky. The occasional twinkle of a star or two. The ground below, a navy blue, broken up by a few city lights in the dark. It’s beautiful. Even at a time like this. The world can still look so stunning. So worth living for… Robert feels a second torrent of emotion flow through him. Robert kneels to the floor in front of the seat and points his face up to the sky, eyes closed tight, sore from crying. He pulls through Depression – into Bargaining. “Please god.” He says, his voice quivering. “I know I haven’t been the best…” Wait a minute… He thinks. What am I again? Uh… “Christian…” He says, hoping. “Yeah, but please. I promise. If you just get me out of this… Make it alittle easier, anything. I promise. I swear to you, my god, that I will live a better life. That I will stop everything bad I do. I’ll go to church and all that every Sunday, I promise… Please… Please god… Show me a sign it’s going to be alright!” Wait. What’s that? Some beeping noise. The lights go out. The engines die. Darkness.
Robert scrambles through the darkness into the cockpit. Accidentally pressing his hand in the shards of the Jack Daniels bottle. Getting a few little pricks and cuts, but not feeling them in his panic. He pulls himself up on the pilot’s chair and feels for the supports. Finds them and straps himself into the seat, holding his left hand to his shirt. Feeling the blood seep through to his chest. Ignoring it. With his right hand he scans the invisible instruments in front of him. The whole cock pit, panels, everything coated in darkness. Outside the midnight sky looks a pale blue with sharp contrasted stars in relation to the shadowed cabin. All of the lights, switches, levers and dials, all dim and silent. The engines are dead as well. Silence holds in place of their magnetic hum. The only noise in the cabin coming from Robert’s choppy breath. Almost hyperventilating with fright. He invents a whole new stage: Desperation. He pulls on the stick. The plane pivots up gently and balances back out. At least he can still control it. It’s gliding. But still falling fast. It’s too big to glide for long. Robert sits as high in the seat as he can, peering over the panels to the ground below. Steady banks of housing estates in their spiraling designs, apartment complexes, office buildings, hospitals, schools, gas stations, super markets and shopping arcades, baseball diamonds, football fields, fire and police stations and so on, spotted with trees, and laid in a maze of highway and black top. All punctuated by hundreds of orange glowing Streetlights. Just a typical Western Arizona town, everything in
its place, but there is something troubling Robert. No cars. No sets of movie white lights over the lanes of black top. Robert is still over ten thousand feet high and can see miles and miles of this cityscape. There are no cars. It can’t even be later than midnight. But no cars. Robert feels the hairs on the back of his neck stand to attention as chills slide up and down over his spine. What if this is bigger than he thought? The plane isn’t a testing ground. It’s just carrying whatever virus is out there. Maybe it’s a war. Maybe this was the first wave of chemical attacks. Maybe that’s what shorted the electronics out on the plane. If that’s why the instruments went down. Maybe its just out of gas. There are too many damn maybes. Robert wipes his forehead. The air conditioning died with the lights. It’s hot as hell in the cabin. Robert’s mind races, thousands of maybes to why he’s here. Why they’re all dead. Why there are no cars. But the plane is still dropping. It’s going down faster and faster. Robert has to keep pulling the stick back to try and keep it mostly level. He has to forget about the why’s and focus on the what’s and how’s. What’s he going to do and how’s he going to do it? He doesn’t know how to get the power back up. He’s falling fast. No radio. He’s gotta land this. Robert scans the horizon for an airport. He can see the city limits to the left and right. Like most Arizona towns, its laid out like a square grid of life etched on top of rock and sand, with the occasional road sprawling out of it to connect it to the next grid of people. Robert presses the pedals at his feet and pulls the sick back and to the right gently. Softly turning and keeping level. As he grips the stick in both hands, he can feel there is still some glass in his left palm, it burns like fire across his sticky palm, as he squeezes the controls hard. Robert can’t help but smile as he sees the airport to the south. That uniform array of guiding lights, crisscrossed and color-coded on top of each other, signaling the runways. Robert lays of the controls for a moment to tie his hand in his shirt as he gets the plane on course with the airfield. The strings of lights directly in front of him, he gently yokes back on the stick to keep it level – but it’s still dropping fast. He’s only a few thousand feet above the ground now. He can see clearly there are no other planes at the airport. No cars. No guys with flash lights. No anything. Just the runways and terminal, only the static structures. He doesn’t care. Robert feels lightheaded and wavers on the controls. Rocking the plane. He closes his eyes for a moment and puts his head back. Gulping air in, trying to slow his breathing. He’s going to pass out from hyperventilation. The sound of his beating heart echoes through his head like Timpani drums. Deafening, the sound making his blood race faster. Robert can’t control his anxiety and panic anymore. His cup is overflowing. He opens his eyes. The airport is so close. Any minute now he’ll be down on it. Robert licks his lips and shakes his head. Closing his eyes. Mentally trying to lower his heart beat. “It’s almost over… Calm down, it’s almost over.” He says to himself aloud, almost unheard over the frantic pounding of his heart. He opens his eyes. And feels his heart sink into his stomach… He’s not going to make the airfield. He’s falling short. The plane is going to land over the highway before the runway. About a hundred feet left. Robert sighs and wipes the sweat from his face. Jesus it’s hot in here! It’s almost over. Soon. A few more feet and it’s – Wait. Landing gears!
It lands with a horrific crash, shaking the plane at its core, Robert let’s go of the controls and holds himself in the seat. His breathing and heart get lost in the deafening sound of metal scraping and groaning as the belly of the plane rips away across the tarmac. Robert’s seat shakes and he screams as loud as his lungs let him in the frantic pace of the crash. A heavy chain link fence crashes against the nose of the plane, shattering one of the windshield panels, coating Robert in a spray of shaved glass. Just as he sees the hundreds of cross-linked lights of the runway alignment explode across the front of the plane as it plows through. The sound of glass crashing against metal and the millions of shards and pieces flying over the windows is unreal. A symphony of
destruction. Fire blows across the windows, as sparks dance and drip through the hole in the windshield. Bouncing off Robert, as he shields his eyes, screaming and crying in a collage of emotions. One of the sparks falls to his jeans – Catching the Patch of Jack Daniels against his thigh – Igniting it in a quick fireball, engulfing his leg. Robert’s screams penetrate the sick grinding of metal as the plane’s hull rides the concrete slabs at the base of the lighting array. The plane is rotating onto its side. Robert hits his leg, beating it with his bloody hands, feeling his flesh burn under his boxers, the Jack Daniel’s soaked skin, blistered and burned under his denim. The seat belt splits in half, the charred ends falling to either side of the chair, the shoulder strap goes limp and rips over his shoulder, snapping back to its holster. Robert falls out of the Pilot’s seat and rolls across the cockpit to the door, across the shards of glass – Pulling himself up quickly and holding against the wall. His seared leg aching as tears roll down his face. The wing hits the ground, dragging then ripping – igniting the fuel tanks. A hot white explosion burns through the side of the plane, sending a deafening shock wave and heat blast across the cabin, jolting the plane onto its side – Robert is thrown to the wall. He stares in disbelief at the flashing cabin, illuminated by the bright orange showers of sparks and flame, behind the other passengers. As the plane goes over on it’s side, some of the passengers – the bodies – are thrown from their seats like stiff rag dolls, shattering across the wall, violently crashing against the paneling. No Screams. Just sickening thuds, barely audible over the grinding and groaning of metal, the crackle of the flames as they consume the hull. The other wing. Another explosion rips through the cabin, this one pulling the plane in two – it spins out of control – the front half rolling across runway – the bodies flailing around, bouncing from wall to ceiling to floor to wall, crashing against the seats, splattering dark coagulated blood across the cabin. Robert looses all track of the world. Nothing has reason anymore. He slams against everything. Flames lick over him as he falls across the seats. Blackness.
The plane comes to rest on its back. The fire burning out of control. Half the plane gone. Upside down. Robert opens his beaten, swelled eyes. He’s on his back, on the ceiling. He can’t move. Bodies are strewn across the ceiling. Some passengers still buckled in hang from the floor. Their arms dangling down to him, swaying from the updraft of flames, like demonic wind chimes. The smell of burning flesh wrenching his stomach. The cabin is being consumed. He can’t even hear the crackle of the flames. Just silence. Nothing but silence. Not his breath. Not his heart beat. Just silence. Unable to move, even if he wanted to, as he watches the flames engulf each seat. Getting closer. Consuming the cabin. He knows he’s mangled. But there is no pain. He drifts to the final stage.
Robert draws in one last long breath.
Robert exhales loudly. “Hey, man, we’re gonna be landing soon. You want a drink? Hey, man.” Jon leans in and gets close, gives him a nudge. Robert gently slides onto Jon’s shoulder. “This ain’t even funny.” Jon smirks as he presses his hand to Robert’s chin and pushes him back upright. He holds it there a second as he looks Robert in the face. “Hello, hello, sleepy head, do you want anything before we land?” It takes Jon a few moments to notice that Robert’s breath isn’t blowing over the back of his hand. He puts his hand right under Robert’s nose. Waits… Nothing. He takes Robert’s sunglasses from his shirt pocket and presses them to Rob’s upper lip…
Waits… They don’t fog up. Minutes pass. Robert is dead.
Jonathan jumps back in his chair. Dropping the glasses in the middle walkway between the seats. He bangs his elbow on the seat divider and doesn’t even acknowledge the pain. His friend is dead – right here – in front of him! “Sir?” The Stewardess asks, hunching over him. “Does you’re friend want anything before we land?” Jon can barely get above a whisper. “He’s dead.” “Are you sure?” She asks. Jon can only nod, his hand over his mouth. Tears already welling in his eyes from shock and horror. The stewardess reaches across and checks his pulse. Waits. “Oh… I’m so sorry, sir.” She pulls back, looking Jon in the face. “But please don’t make a scene. We’ll be landing soon, no need to cause a panic before we get on the ground. There’s nothing anyone can do for him.” Jon puts his face in his hands. “I’m so sorry, sir.” She says again and looks across the cabin. Jon nods and stands. Pulling on the back of the seat in front, and steps out into the little aisle. “Are you going to be ok?” The stewardess whispers to him. He nods again. The flight attendant steps back to let him through. Half the plane is full, leaving patches of empty seats. Probably around fifty or sixty on board this hundred and or so seater. Jon looks over the faces in front and back of him. Half the people are sound asleep. No idea who Jon is. Or his friend Robert. Or the fact that Robert has just died, in the middle of flight 102 to Scottsdale. They just go on sleeping. Unaware.