This story is by Ken Carriere and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Deep from the other end of the airplane, a woman screamed for her life. It happened just as Michael slid back the latch on the washroom door, as he prepared to step back into the main cabin. He paused, in shock, his hand still holding the latch. Had he really heard a scream? As if in answer, someone else screamed, and then someone else. Men and women. Children. Anger, fear, screams, shouts, yells.
“Shut up!” boomed a voice, a command swiftly followed by others words, rendered unintelligible to Michael by the door.
Just then, the airplane bounced, forcing Michael to brace himself against a wall. The plane lurched back and forth, almost sending him crashing to the floor, and requiring all his strength to stay upright.
The plane steadied, and Michael stood in darkness — unlocking the door of an airplane washroom always switched off the light inside. Save for the strip of faint emergency lighting running along one edge of the floor, there was nothing to help Michael see. His heart pounded. His breathing slowed.
From somewhere in the cabin, nearer this time, came a shout, then the sounds of a struggle, then more shouts, then silence, and all that reached Michael’s ears was the constant dull hum of the airplane’s engines.
Michael’s mind raced. What was going on? A hijacking, obviously — but how many hijackers? Were they armed? Had they invaded the cockpit, and seized control of the plane?
Had they killed anyone?
Would they kill him?
Michael’s hands started to shake. He swallowed hard, forcing himself to calm down.
There was only one chance. He’d have to find a way out of this.
Throughout his life, no matter how dire the situation, Michael had always prided himself on his quick-thinking resourcefulness. To save his life, he’d need that skill more than ever before.
At that moment, Michael heard footsteps outside the washroom, most likely belonging to one of the hijackers. The door was unlocked, Michael having slid the latch to the open position, but this ironically served as an advantage. It meant the exterior “occupied” light was therefore off — the hijacker could not suspect his presence inside. All that separated them was the thin, unlocked door.
Michael held his breath. The slightest sound could cost him his life. In the thin light, he watched the hinges on the door for any movement.
From outside, more screams, more shouts, more sudden, deathly silence. He heard whoever had been on the other side of the door run towards the commotion.
Michael had no way of knowing the events outside his tiny, darkened washroom. It was his whole world now. Had the hijackers warned the passengers not to fight back, promising their safety in exchange for an easy takeover of the plane? After 9/11, everyone knew that to be a lie. What were the hijackers’ intentions?
Michael thought it through. Maybe the plane would land safely, and he was best to stay hidden in this washroom, causing no trouble. After all, he was perfectly safe here.
Or, maybe the hijackers planned to crash the plane, and Michael’s best course of action was to fling open the door and attack the first person he saw, take them by surprise, thereby inspiring other passengers to fight back?
He had seconds to decide his entire life. Perhaps he was safe where he was, or perhaps he was seconds from death. No way to tell. What if he stayed hidden, and lost the chance to save the plane? Or, what if he fought back, got himself killed, only for the plane to land safely after all? And even if he fought, what if the hijackers easily overpowered him? How could he tip the odds in his favor?
There was one chance. A weapon. He’d need to find a weapon in an airplane washroom.
Desperate not to make a noise, he started feeling around the washroom. His mind focused, straining to remember details which a few moments earlier had been too unimportant for his attention, and now his life might rest on one of them. Think! What was here which would serve as a weapon? The mirror! Break it, take a shard, wield it against the hijackers. In the darkness, his fingers ran along the edges, grasping for a way to slip it from the wall. His hopes faded as dimly as the lights had. It became quickly apparent that the mirror would be no help. It was fixed firmly to the wall, and also felt too soft, almost bendable, surely made of plastic, not glass, which made sense. After all, airlines would not install glass mirrors for the precise reason that they didn’t want passengers shattering them into knives.
Forget the mirror. Think of something else.
What other secrets lay in an airplane washroom? It would by its nature be empty of anything dangerous — most people would give up, but Michael was not most people.
The garbage? Used, dirty paper towels would be the majority of its contents, but you never know what another passenger might have discarded earlier. A little glass liquor bottle, maybe? That’s be handy. Quickly, now. Any second the plane might crash, or a hijacker might fling open the door.
Wincing, Michael reached deeper and deeper in the garbage and began stirring it around, and as he did so, his ears popped a little. The plane was descending. It quickened his pulse.
Ugh, how revolting. His fingers probed up and down, side to side, in every corner, searching for anything even remotely usable. Dampness from the paper towels ran on to his fingers and forearm — many of his fellow passengers had evidently been blowing their noses. Nevertheless if he chanced upon something, anything, all the disgust would be worth it.
Alas, the search came up empty. Disappointed, Michael withdrew his arm, and wiped it gently with a fresh paper towel taken quietly from the dispenser.
Nothing in here could help him save his life. Okay then.
There was still one chance. His bare hands.
He balled his right fist, and thought back years, to his last real fight, back in high school. It was a fight no one had expected him to win, and he almost hadn’t, but in the end he had overcome a bigger boy by never giving up. Never, ever giving up. He’d need that same determination today.
There was always one chance. No matter what. There was always one more chance.
His muscles tightened. His nerves tightened more.
This was it. Time to act.
Jump out, attack whoever he saw. Attack first, attack hard, attack forever, attack for the rest of your life.
Michael grasped the door handle. His heart raced.
Just as he began to slide the door open, the airplane shook, and lunged side to side, and bounced up and down. Unprepared for the turmoil, Michael flew around the washroom. The right side of his head bashed against one wall, then a second later the left side of his head bashed against the edge of the toilet. He flew straight up, and slammed face-first into the ceiling. Everything went black.
Minutes or maybe hours later, Michael awoke in thick darkness, with not even a sliver of light. He had been knocked into a half-sitting position. His right arm, badly broken, seared with pain, and his right leg was trapped under… something. Under some heavy part of the plane which hadn’t been in the washroom before. Efforts with his left arm to shift it even slightly failed miserably. His head pounded and a warm liquid which could only be his own blood covered his face. Something jutted into his back, probably the toilet. That, at least, gave him his bearings. Fighting through the pain, Michael felt in the direction of the washroom door, stretching his arm to its limit until at last he grasped the handle. With all his strength he pulled and pulled, but the door refused to budge. It felt bent and twisted. Whatever the details of the crash, it had transformed the door into another wall.
“Help!” Michael yelled, but no one replied. In fact, he realized, there was no sound at all from outside. No voices, no engine, no nothing. Utter silence, sunk in utter darkness, and consequently, utter despair.
Strange – the floor felt wet. With horror Michael realized an inch of water covered the floor, and it was getting deeper. The plane, wherever it was, and whatever had happened to it, was sinking.
“Help! Help!” he shrieked again, kicking and pounding everything around him, desperate to discover a miraculous escape, but no such miracle appeared.
He stopped, and thought.
There was one chance, he told himself. There was one chance.
The water reached his chest, and then his neck.
No, he told himself for the first time in his life, actually there wasn’t.
There wasn’t one chance.
There was no chance.
There was no chance at all.