It started with a rattle that grew into a violent shuddering followed quickly by screaming and tumbling and smoke and fire and then absolutely nothing. Sort of like how I imagine it being when a wave crashes over a surfer… except with more smoke and fire. And, of course, the screaming.
I don’t want to underestimate the role of the screaming that went on.
I never surfed, too late for the bucket list now, but I picture a few seconds of complete silence before things start to rush back to you.
Silence and blackness and then I was back in my seat. 13C. An aisle seat.
“Ladies and gentlemen, this is your Captain” came a voice over the speakers, except it was a pretty damn impressive Captain voice. There weren’t horns blasting in the background when he made his announcement but I felt them anyway.
The impressive Captain voice continued; “I regret to inform you, there has been a terrible accident and you’re all deceased.”
This came as a bit of blow to many of the passengers on the Boeing 757-2Q8. As if on cue, there was a ping and the little overhead sign saying that we needed to keep our seatbelt on turned off.
Were we free to move about the cabin? Nobody did.
(I feel it’s important to point out that while I’m writing this I am listening to the Explosions In The Sky album “All Of A Sudden I Miss Everyone.” Why is this important? I’m not sure… it just is. Is it important you listen to it as you read this? Only you can answer that.)
I realized I was still gripping the arm rest like my life depended on it. When I realized that it didn’t I let go and flexed my fingers a bit.
“If you’ll be patient we will have you on your way to your final destination shortly.”
This news was not well received.
We all started to look at each other nervously? Was this some sort of shared hallucination?
“Please tell me this is a bad dream” someone said a few rows behind me. Behind her someone began to weep softly. I realized that I still had an unopened bag of almonds that the flight attendant had given me mid-flight. With all that was going on, I thought it odd that I was thinking about nuts but there you have it.
I watched the man sitting next to the window stare out and say “We really are dead.” I wondered what he was seeing and wished for a second he’d move his big dumb head. Then all of a sudden I wished I hadn’t had a mean thought.
The timing seemed particularly bad.
The door to the cockpit opened and a man walked out. He looked like every pilot that has ever appeared in an American Airlines commercial. Steely blue eyes (that I could somehow see clearly from 13C), a square jaw and surrounded by a warm light. He smiled and I was filled with a strange calm.
“I’m sorry for the inconvenience, I’m sure you all had important places to be, but unfortunately Eric Lloyd Cleese in seat 27B didn’t put his tray table up as instructed.” He then mouthed the word “Boom” and opened both of his hands to mimic an explosion.
Before our most charismatic Captain could continue Jeffery Allen Holmes in 28A burst out “You filthy cocksucker!” and attempted to lean over and rain blows down on Eric Lloyd Cleese. Sally Louise Jefferson in 28C tried to stop Jeffery Allen Holmes from raining blows down on Eric Lloyd Cleese as Mark Joseph Masterson in 28B put his head in his hands.
I finally got a look out the window and saw grainy black and white footage of my life rolling by.
“Please check around your seat for any personal belongings you may have brought on board with you and please use caution when opening the overhead bins, as heavy articles may have shifted around during the flight” our Captain said.
The people up front began to stand and file out.
“A gate agent will meet you as you depart to direct you to your final destination. Please be aware that some of you might have an unscheduled layover of between a few days up to fifty thousand years. On behalf of whatever airline this was and the entire crew, I’d like to thank you for joining us on this trip. Have a nice afterlife.”
I smiled to myself as I watched some people grab their carry-on (with a ‘better safe than sorry’ air) and some people not (was that a devil-may-care attitude I detected?). Behind me Jeffery Allen Holmes must have realized that striking Eric Lloyd Cleese was going to have him sitting in one hell of a layover so he was making the most of every punch.
“How does a tray table being down cause a plane crash” wondered Eric Lloyd Cleese to himself between blows.
I stood up. Those in front of me were moving forward with varying degrees of composure. I reached down and grabbed my nuts. Ahead I could see the exit.
The Captain was nodding to everyone as they passed. When I was standing in front of him I leaned in and said “That was a really shitty landing” and laughed. He put his arm around my shoulder and replied “Why do people who refer to death as passing to the other side always assume that there’s only one other side?”
“Will I be needing these?” I asked, holding up my nuts.
“You might at that.”