“It’s the safest way to travel”, Frank repeatedly muttered to himself under his breath as he screwed his eyes tight shut like a child. He clutched the armrests with such intensity that he could feel the tips of his fingernails bending and cutting into his fingers. His face perspired as he looked dead ahead, unmoving, unflinching; and almost willing the plane to arrive safely. The young girl next to him took her headphones out, patted his hand and told him it would be okay. He smiled – perhaps unconvincingly – back to her and she went on listening to the tinny hum emanating from her world distractors. The plane rocked from side to side, the way a cradle moves in a strong breeze. A strong vibration with an accompanying low, dull hum seemed to permeate the cabin. Frank slapped at a fly that landed on his white knuckles.
If it wasn’t for the birth of his first grandchild, he wouldn’t be anywhere near this steel coffin. He cursed his daughter for putting him through this. He hadn’t stepped foot on a plane in years – decades, even. Not since…
“Could the Cabin Crew member in charge come to the flight deck immediately,” the Captain crooned in his smooth tone as the lights brightened. At this last word, Frank’s eyes widened. He detected the slightest hint of urgency, no, panic in the Captain’s seemingly rehearsed tranquillity. The passengers around him continued to chat and browse through the in-flight magazines. The child behind him continued to kick his chair. The baby three rows in front continued to bawl its wince-inducing scream. Had he imagined the announcement? Nobody else seemed phased by it. Hell, no one even seemed to notice it. Then he saw her.
Frank looked over to the flight attendant, the one with a little too much concealer, attempting to hide the sleep deprived skin, the one that had served him a whiskey short not long after take-off. She sat, strapped in to the jump seat, with a calm and reassuring smile seemingly painted on to her face. Yet everything about her contradicted the smile. Her eyes were wide, almost bulging and unblinking, and her nostrils flared. She was staring at another flight attendant who seemed to mirror her tense, rigid posture. Their bodies were communicating to each other and Frank could only read one word that was silently bellowing from the two of them. Terror. Something was wrong and they knew it. They weren’t doing a very good job at hiding it, either. Just looking upon this display of amateur dramatics made Frank’s pulse begin to rise and the hair on the nape of his neck begin to lift through the gooseflesh.
The mechanical orchestra in the plane’s underbelly that once played barely noticeable background noise, began to rise in a chilling crescendo that now saturated the cabin. The mild vibration rose to a shudder that convulsed the plane. Now people began to pay attention. The realisation that something was wrong swept through the fuselage like a wave of dread; ignorant comfort morphed into panic. For Frank, his face now glistening with sweat, time seemed to slow down. His mind raced through possible scenarios: the what-ifs and what-could-be. The plane careered downwards and to the right. His eyes darted around the cabin and absorbed the scene as pandemonium reared its ugly head.
It wasn’t just the baby screaming now, there was an abrupt bustle of noise; a cacophony of panicked shouts, crying and confusion. Sobbing parents embraced and consoled their frightened children. The young girl with the headphones began to pray, making the sign of the cross and rapidly spluttering a hasty beg to God, her saviour, to spare her life. Frank felt like the walls were closing in on him. He wanted to get up, to run, to flee. But there was nowhere to go. There was no way he could control it and he felt utterly powerless. Everything around him trembled. It was like an earthquake on board a rapidly descending coffin. Like a God had swiped them out of the air, the way he swatted the fly. There was a deafening bang towards the rear of the plane, followed by a high pitched, ear piercing whistle.
The last thing Frank saw before the lights went out was the whiskey server kissing a crucifix that she kept around her neck; her eyes shut tight. And that’s when he knew he was fucked. They all were.
Frank heard the sound of the luggage falling from the overhead compartments and hitting people with dull thuds. He smelt a mixture of burning metal, melting plastic and urine from the crying man sat to his left. Outside the window, he could see the serenity of the pale moonlight juxtaposed with the crackling glow and black swirling smoke of a fire from somewhere on the plane. The orchestra’s crescendo played to the last second, an ever rising, and ever lifting, brain melting note. Frank felt that the sound would stay with him long after he was dead. It was the sound that would be repeated back to him eternally in the deepest depths of hell. A sound sure to drive him insane. The sound of impending doom.
The deafening noise seemed to come to a head and Frank braced himself for what was surely impact. Be it water, land or death, he would be ready to meet it. He instinctively ducked his head between his legs and crossed his arms, gripping his ankles. A little voice in the back of his head told him that this wouldn’t save him. That the brace position was merely to preserve his dental records so that his body could be identified after the crash. Nevertheless, a will to survive had engulfed his body and this is what it told him to do. A funny thing instinct, it was like a learned behaviour from a habit he had never practised before. Like the explosion of a bomb, he heard the cosmic crack of the plane’s nose contacting the earth at a velocity that petrified him. He felt the fierce heat of a blaze rush over him and then… nothing. Darkness.
All was silent on the island. Almost. The crickets sang their toneless tunes and the waves lapped leisurely against the beach. The wind rustled through the leaves and nature itself was unprepared for what was about to happen.
The plane ferociously ripped a scar into the landscape below. From the beach, through the undergrowth and deep into the jungle of the island. Trees felled as the wings chopped, desperately trying to slow the vehicle down. After what seemed like an age, the mechanical behemoth came to rest deep into the foliage.
Groggily, Frank came to and hazily gazed upon the devastation before him. The breath was stolen from his lungs as he looked around. The headphone girl, the one that reassured him everything would be okay, lay eerily still in her seat beside him. Her eyes, like that of a doll’s, gazed forwards into nothingness. The moonlight filled them like flood water in an empty chasm. Blood trickled from the side of her mouth. Horrified, Frank fumbled for his seatbelt. His head throbbed and black spots clouded his vision. He had to get out. He didn’t know how long he had been out but he assured himself that help would be on its way.
He made his way through the cabin, stumbling past row after row of corpses that were still warm in the light of the moon. What scared him the most was the silence about the place. After the last half hour of chaos, of screaming people and malfunctioning engines, the slow crackle of fire that permeated the night more than unnerved him. He reached what could only be described as a blast hole, by a young man that whispered for his mother. Frank’s trembling hand held the side of the burning plane and stumbled out, into the carnage and into the night.
He cursed the God to whom he had devoted his life. What had he done to deserve this? What had any of them done? He ripped off his collar and let it fall to the ground. For the first time in many years, he felt truly alone. Abandoned. Before long, he himself fell to the ground and he drifted in and out of consciousness.
How long later, he did not know, but he heard their footsteps. He heard the pleading of fellow survivors and tried to gasp for help. He heard the foreign tongue of his rescuers and then he saw.
As his eyes blinked into focus, he saw the people coming closer. He saw their silhouettes against the moonlight. He saw one of them come closer to him and he eased into the ignorant bliss of a man in safe hands. That was until he saw the necklace of rotting human teeth around the throat of his ‘saviour’. His scream would never be heard.