Short story – Fraser Bryant

Fraser Bryant is based in London. He is a regular writer and reader for the Bovine Cemetery fiction evenings held in Brighton, and is currently working on his first fantasy novel in addition to his short stories.

Flight 103

It’s a Boeing 737, first crash – summer 1972. Hijacked, aircraft not at fault. December five months on, airspeed deteriorates and jet plummets into residential area killing one in seven. Crew blamed for accident, aircraft not at fault.

I hold in my hand written confirmation from Terminal Management, Airline Customer Services, and the National Aviation Authority that all pre-flight checks will meet international standards, having been executed and triple-checked by ‘competent and highly experienced employees’ (three identical quotes, three unique sources). Employees who are not permitted, under any circumstances, the consumption of drugs or alcohol within 24 hours prior to work. This fails to account for narcotic effects extending beyond this period, but three court cases fronted by myself have thus far proved unsuccessful.

I’m located in seat A, aisle 20, an exclusively reserved position at the tail of the plane. To my left, a young couple carelessly flick through the airline’s magazine, occasionally giggling excessively over how expensive an item of purchase is. I consider reporting their distracting behaviour to the stewardess, but restrain myself on this occasion. To my right the aisle presents the fastest route to one of three emergency exits, the optimal located at the rear of the aircraft. A flamboyant woman with immaculate posture runs through the safety procedures up ahead. I retrieve my notebook and accompanying fountain pen, scribbling her instructions to observe any inconsistencies with standard regulations.

Suddenly the aircraft roars to life, and both palms slam instinctively against my ears. Sweat gushes from my temples flooding beads of salty liquid down my shirt. We’re trapped. I rip off my seatbelt and stand, then sit, then stand once again. We’re moving, it’s gradual but we’re moving. My insides turn in sequence with every revolution of the engine. There’s still time to back out, time to escape and relax at home on that beautifully solid, sturdy ground. Oh how I miss your surface, binding me firmly to the world. I look around to find the seat remote and grasp it, hammering the help button as rapidly as I can. The girl of the adjacent couple asks me sweetly if everything’s alright. I yell at her.

We approach the final turning before take-off when the stewardess finally arrives.

“Sir please, you must calm down, we’ll be in the air very shortly.” She places her hand on my shoulder and I flinch in reaction.

“Let me off! Just let me off! You can stop this! I can’t explain but you have to stop this now!”

“I understand sir,” she restrains from touching this time, “but for your safety you must be seated immediately.” She takes the seat belt and secures it around my waist. “Everything will be ok, don’t you worry.” The plane halts abruptly and the engines explode into overdrive. Mechanical screams fill the cabin as we shoot down the runway, building and building and shattering this chassis to pieces.

“The vibrations!” I scream, standing once again, “they’re not supposed to be this loud!”

Heads all over the cabin turn to face my direction, and my knees give way as the titanic vessel of metal and flesh somehow lifts itself from the ground. Somehow. In clear defiance of all common judgement we ascend into the air – and I lose consciousness.

I awake to find us flying at full altitude. It’s darker, and the cabin lights are dimmed to impose a subdued ambience. Around me, three airline staff look on with great concern.

“Are you alright sir? Very few passengers show the levels of stress you’re showing.”

I make to speak but both gums are dry to the bone. I gesture for water, and one air hostess fetches me a plastic glass.

“What is it that’s troubling you sir? Perhaps we can help! Shall I close the window blind for you?”

I swallow the water in one rushed gulp.

“No! Please don’t do that.” I stutter, “I need to see outside, I need to know how fast we’re moving.” The staff all look at one another, and consider me once again.

“Why not imagine we’re in a car sir? We’re whizzing past the world outside, but we’re safe and comfortable in here.”

“This isn’t a car,” I spit, “this is a claustrophobic tube with no view of the trajectory we’re taking. I can’t see what’s ahead of us. We’re in excess of 800 kilometres per hour and I have no idea what we might collide with at any time!” My teeth chatter as my body shakes violently throughout.

The flight crew, clearly panicked, quietly exchange dialogue at the rear of the plane. One of them reaches for the cabin phone to speak. It’s several minutes before they finally return.

“Sir, can you hear me? We have an idea to help your suffering.” He tenses his brow, as if to feign intelligence. “If you could look in front of the plane, up in the cockpit, to see everything in front of you, do you think this would help you relax?”

I nod, still shaking, and slowly we make our way down the aisle. As we near the pilot door the cabin rocks under turbulence and I drop to my knees.

“My notes! I must have my notebook to feel safe.” One stewardess smiles reassuringly and runs off to collect my belongings. Inside the cockpit I’m greeted by the Captain and co-pilot, who even lets me try out his seat whilst he uses the bathroom.

“You can sit back and enjoy the view! Just don’t touch any buttons,” he winks, “none of them do anything anyway!”

I climb into the seat and stare at the night’s sky before us: that lovely clear space, our majestically fluid forward motion. I open my notebook and begin writing the exciting turmoil of events I’ve witnessed today, crafting each word elegantly. Next to me the Captain smiles his toothy grin, apparently relieved to see me relaxed.

“First time flying?”

“Not quite.”

In one swift clean motion I grip the fountain pen and drive it accurately into the Captain’s throat. The metallic tip pierces the victim’s soft tissue with ease, ending his struggle in seconds. I walk to the door and smoothly slide the lock in place, before flicking the microphone switch.

“Good evening ladies and gentlemen. Due to unexpected circumstances we regret to announce a necessary diversion for this evening’s flight. Your patience is appreciated as we look to provide you with more information shortly. Please sit back and relax, we will not be landing in Rome tonight.”

*All work is the property of the author and is distributed with their permission.

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