“Ladies and gentleman the Captain has turned on the seatbelt sign at this time, please take your seats.”
The cabin was still set to ‘night mode’ as I made my way back to seat 13C. Bracing myself against the over head bins, lurking calmly a long the illuminated aisle. I slammed down in my seat, and put on my belt.
“Thanks for waking me, really appreciate it,” she said, rolling her eyes at me.
“Sorry, turbulence and all, plus I’m exhausted.” I replied.
“Long haul and a connecting flight?” she asked.
“Yea, 10 hours here than connecting to…”
The aircraft began skipping through the sky like a stone on a lake. The woman forcefully grabbed my arm. This little woman produced a death grip. Like a python on prey.
Peering out the window, our calm skies now looked as if we were in the middle of a hurricane. A hurricane? At 40,000 feet?
The craft shook us up like a soda can, and was about to burst. We couldn’t take much more of this.
“Don’t worry, the chances of these things going down are about 1 in …”
“BRACE BRACE BRACE! HEAD DOWN – STAY DOWN!” came blaring over the intercom, fear and panic radiating from her voice.
“BRACE BRACE BRACE! HEAD DOWN – STAY DOWN!”
“BRACE BRACE BRACE! HEAD DOWN – STAY DOWN!”
I began to hear bolts being ripped from the fuselage. A series of pings and pops were heard from my immediate right. I glanced over to see an older gentlemen, staring right at me. His eyes filled with water, about to seep over onto his cheek.
“Oh God…” the man said softly.
Like peel being torn from a piece of fruit, the right wing gave way in a hellish firestorm. Bodies were sucked out into the vacuum of high altitude flight. We were falling from the sky, spinning wildly out of control. The G forces growing ever stronger, I began to lose my vision. A vignette border crept into my line of sight.
The mystery woman and I were now locked into a hard embrace. I was never scared of death, but going like this was terrifying.
The smell of jet fuel and pain shot me awake. Gasping for air like I was drowning. I was on top of bodies, and bodies were on top of me. I seemed relatively uninjured, but it could have been the adrenaline.
The fuselage was in pieces. I was jammed between seats, bodies, and twisted debris. The small portion of the craft that was intact created a make-shift roof over my head. Protecting me from ash and what felt like acid rain.
There was no respectable way I could move these people off of me. I had to get out, and fast, it was about survival. I pushed, pulled, and ripped on limbs until I was free. If you think seeing a dead body is bad, try moving corpses from one pile to another. Sunken eyes and mouths agape. Stuff of nightmares.
I picked up a busted seat, and threw it as far as I could out of frustration. I wasn’t happy to be alive, I was livid this whole thing even happened.
Stumbling into the icy bitterness of night, I took a mental inventory. Head, arms, torso, legs – everything checks out. Not a scratch. With myself seemingly uninjured, I began to look for survivors. The rain hitting my skin burned, I needed a blanket. It was jet fuel dripping from the trees. Everything was on fire. Everything.
“Help! Help!” A hand, poking from some wreckage.
“Hang on, I’m coming!” I said.
“Help, please help,” the voice whispered.
It was the woman whom I held close. I couldn’t believe it. She ended up almost 100 meters from where I was, and was gravely injured. I used my horribly expired, basic first aid knowledge to assist her, and waited for emergency crews. Hopefully they would arrive soon. I imagine an airliner going off grid would yield a quick response time.
There was nothing more I could do but try to keep us warm, sit, and wait.
“I don’t recall help arriving, do you?” I asked Rose.
“No idea, I lapsed into a coma. You were beyond exhausted, and shook up. It’s hard to believe all of that was 60 years ago, hey sweetheart?” Rose said.
Staring at her with astonishment, “60 years was a long time ago indeed, but it constantly feels fresh,” I replied. “We both had to undergo a lot of grief counselling. As the only two survivors of a 437 soul flight.”
“I think the only way we got through the grief of it all, was that we had each other. If I was sitting alone in my house some years later, I think the guilt would have been too much.” Rose said
Rose and I raised a large family. We had the white picket fence, immaculate grass, stone walkways and the classic chocolate labrador – it was something out of a movie.
We had a full life, and were now old together. We saw our children have children, graduations and Christmases, first dates and first kisses, it was everything one could hope for – a long, prosperous life.
A long prosperous life… a long prosp… prosp… a long prosp… life… life…li… prosp…
My head was bobbing up and down while being pushed through a warehouse of wall to wall cabling. My neck was feeble, elastic. My body was so heavy, but I managed to open my eyes, if only for a brief moment.
Fifty to 60 white capsules, as big as a school bus, were gyrating back and forth, side to side on 2 massive hydraulic arms. Looked like something out of a manufacturing facility. These black hands seemed to rise from the ground, holding the tanker-sized capsules in place. Where am I?
All I had on was a gown, and it was exceedingly cold.
“This is Jacobs, ID 473632-D,” the orderly said.
“Great, thanks Terry. Okay Mr. Jacobs, sorry we lost the connection at the end there,” the man said.
“Would you say this experience was less real, or more real than the last?”
“What? My name is Michael Christiansen, I was in a plane crash over 60 years ago, I have a wife, her name is Rose…”
“Sir, your name is Mark Jacobs and you were in our cognitive reality machine for 4 hours.”
“I… my name is Michael and I am 80 years old! I remember being in kindergarten at age 5! I had parents, family, a fucking dog! My wife’s name is Rose! Where is she!?”
“Look at your hands sir, do you look 80? – This one is delusional, sedate him and put him back in the tank until his neuronic fluid has stabilized. The last thing we need is the board walking through again, and seeing another loon.”
From the author: I wrote this piece at 40,000ft over the Atlantic. I thought of the ending before the beginning, and ended up working the story backwards. Never wrote like that before, it was an interesting experiment. Perhaps it was the 40 hours with no sleep.
This story revolved around a man, Mark Jacobs, who signed up for a virtual reality vacation. What was suppose to last mere hours, was him actually living an entire 80 year life span believing he was another man, Michael Christiansen.