We are about six hours into a twelve hour flight. The attendants have already dimmed the lights, and as I look around most of my fellow travellers have settled into their seats and appear to be sleeping. I was advised by my doctor to make sure I get up and move around every few hours, so I lean over to the window and kiss my sleeping wife before unbuckling my seatbelt. My body creaks and groans in protest as I stretch my arms high above my head. I walk through the curtain separating business class from coach and walk down the aisle in an attempt to wake my muscles up.
The plane is eerily dark, small yellow bulbs running along the ground of the aisle and the occasional passengers lamp above them the only lights on in the cavernous cabin. Most people have their window shades drawn, and for those that don’t are treated to a view of a black abyss, the lights on the wing barely penetrating the smothering darkness. As I walk towards the back of the cabin, the only sounds around me are the occasional whispered discussion and the steady humming of the engine, a constant reminder that we are hurdling through the air at a prodigious rate of speed. I am almost at the back of the plane when I catch the tail end of two passengers conversation, a cacophony of hushed words passed between them.
“anddidyouhearthatIsawsomeonewhenIwasintheairportthat I thinkyou should strangle your wifedid not belong there”
I reach the back of the plane before I stop, my brain finally processing what was said. I turn around and my breath catches in my throat. The entire tail section of passengers have sat up and are staring back at me with a blank, dead expression. Everything is suffocatingly silent around me; I can’t even hear the humming of the engines anymore. I am too stunned to move, a cold fear trickling up my legs and freezing them in place. I am about to say something when all the passengers turn around in unison and resume their sleeping positions. The engine sound returns. If I did not still feel a paralyzing dread, I would be convinced the event never even happened.
I take one step forward when a shrill scream cuts through the air. The business class section, my section, plunges into absolute darkness and then there are more screams, men and women wailing as though their skin is being peeled from their bodies. The passengers around me begin to wake up, wondering what is happening. A flight attendant sprints up the aisle across from mine, panic crawling all over her face. She disappears through the curtain and another piercing scream follows. People around me are beginning to panic, squirming in their seats, reaching for their phones. I pull mine out to try, but it’s useless: our phones won’t work up here. I want to run up there, check to see if my wife is okay, but what I’m hearing from business class has driven into me a fear I’ve not known, a horrific dread that consumes my entire body. The screaming turns into a chorus of wet, crunching sounds, reminding me of when my wife and I used to play tug of war with the wishbone of the leftover Thanksgiving turkey. We would pull and pull, gobs of turkey fat falling off and dropping onto the table, and then a sickening crack would be followed by the splitting of the bone, a winner finally proclaimed. Nobody on the plane can see what is going on in business class, but all I can think of are bones being pulled apart, guts spilling out like turkey stuffing.
And then, as quickly as it began, everything stops. A hush falls over the plane, and nobody moves. Nobody dares.
I wipe sweat off my forehead, try and slow my heart rate down. Deep breaths. In and out.
In and out.
My hands are throbbing, fingers sore. I have been clenching them against my palms, fingernails digging into the skin and drawing blood.
I take a tentative step forward. The other passengers sense what I’m doing, and they try and talk me down.
“Don’t go in there!”
“You don’t want to see what happened!”
“Please, you can’t, you won’t be able to handle it!”
I ignore them, and as I draw the curtain back and see what’s left of the passengers in my section, what’s left of my wife, I scream.
I wake up in my seat. Everything is as it was. The plane is quietly humming, passengers are dozing in and out of dreams. I take a breath, soaking in the calmness of it all. I turn my head; my wife is beside me, face etched in worry. I look at her, take her all in. I love this woman.
“I had the worst nightmare. You were taken away from me by a monster.”
She takes my hand, caresses my face.
“Yah, you were thrashing in your seat. I tried to wake you up, but you wouldn’t stop screaming.”
“I am just so happy you’re here. Alive.”
“I would never leave you. Everything is going to be okay. See?” She points towards the cockpit.
At first I can’t understand what she is talking about, and then I see him. He is standing in front of the cockpit door. I can see his face, but I can’t. His features shift and swim, revealed in the light but bathed in shadow. I turn towards my wife.
“Who is that?”
“Don’t you know?”
I turn back towards the man. He brings his finger up to his mouth.
“Darling, what’s going on?”
“Just watch,” she says.
I look as the man opens the cockpit door, something that should be impossible. I see the co-pilot turn his head back, mouth open, twisted and contorted.
Then the door closes.
Only a moment passes before the plane bucks, drops down like a roller coaster that’s descending at 300 miles an hour. My stomach tumbles. People around me start to scream. I am perched on my seat, waiting for the gas masks to drop down, waiting for the pilot or the attendants to speak through the intercom and tell us everything is going to be okay.
I am still waiting when the plane drops again so violently that those who aren’t buckled in are thrown into the ceiling. Heads are caved in, skulls are split open. There’s a sickly wet crunch as their bodies tumble back to the floor. Overhead compartments burst open, tossing heavy suitcases onto unsuspecting passengers. The plane is descending so quickly that our faces press against the seat in front of us. I fight against the pressure and turn my head, try to see if my wife is okay. My eyes meet hers, which are bulging out of her skull. Her face is red, veins popping out of her forehead. At first I think the air pressure in the cabin is making her unable to breath. I frantically try to punch the overhead compartment, practically willing the gas mask to fall down. But I can’t. My hands are wrapped around her throat.
I can’t let go.
She struggles against me, clawing at my arms, but I refuse to budge. No matter what I do, I can’t stop from killing her.
And as her last breath escapes her, a raging inferno bursts forth from the front of the plane and engulfs us, boiling my skin until it bubbles and bursts.
My eyes open, and I’m first aware of a hand on my arm. It’s my wife, grabbing me and asking me something.
“Honey, are you okay? You’re holding everyone up.”
I turn around, see a line of people behind me, impatient looks on their faces as they await to board the plane. The plane that I was just on.
Or was I?
I look at my wife, beautiful as ever.
“Honey, you’re sweating. Are you sure you’re okay? We don’t have to go anywhere.”
I look towards the plane, attendants patiently waiting with drawn on smiles.
“Yes, yes I am okay. Sorry, I must have dozed off.”
My wife laughs, an infectious sound, one of a million reasons why I love her.
“I’m not surprised, we’ve both had a really long journey. Just a few more steps, and everything will be okay.”
I smile, comforted by her strength, by her confidence. I step into the plane and give one of the flight attendants my ticket so she can point me towards my seat. She scans it, and for a second a flicker of confusion falls over her face. Then her eyes meet mine and she spreads her mouth wide open in a smile I’m sure she’s practiced in front of a mirror a thousand times.
“Welcome sir, you’re in seat SS. Enjoy your kill.”
My wife is pushing me to my seat before I’m able to talk to the attendant. Did she really say that?
“Did you hear what she said? That attendant?”
“Just sit down Sis, we are about to take off.”
What did she call me? That’s not my name. I sit down in my seat, but I can’t push away this gnawing fear that everything is wrong. The pilot’s voice comes over the speakers.
“Welcome aboard folks. My name is Suez, and I’ll be flying this old rock today. My co-pilot’s name is Sedah, and we couldn’t be happier to take you to your destination on this fine day. Please enjoy all the comforts provided by our very capable crew.”
I can’t stop sweating. It’s dripping from my forehead, pouring into my eyes. I turn towards my wife. She’s looking out the window when she says “Don’t worry honey. We’ll be there soon.”
Then she turns to face me.
All of her skin is missing, revealing a hideous mask of blood and muscle. I can see her whole jaw, all of her teeth. She looks at me with lidless eyes. Her jaw moves up and down.
“What’s wrong honey?”
I wake up in a seat, the distant sound of rumbling plane engines swirling around me. I’m in the airport, waiting to board. I’m breathing heavily and my heart is racing. I can’t understand what’s going on. Are these premonitions, something or someone trying to tell me not to go on the plane? I look around for my wife, but I can’t find her anywhere.
My hands are sore. There are claw marks on my arms. Something heavy is on my back.
A woman’s voice comes over the intercom:
“Passengers flying on Air Tartarus, please be advised this is your final boarding call.”
I look out the window and see my plane. There’s a face in one of the windows, and I could swear it’s staring straight at me. Then it draws a long boney finger up to it’s lips.