He could feel his stomach almost twist as the aircraft started its long ascent into the sky. He was already holding onto his seat, yet now he couldn’t help but tighten his grip even more. How long had it been since he’d last been on a plane? A good fifteen to twenty years, perhaps? Probably that much. Reflecting on this question distracted him from the reality he had to confront; from the fact that he was now soaring high above the clouds – and that was something he could definitely live with.
“John? Honey, are you feeling alright? You look so pale.”
A voice caused him to snap out of his thoughts. Leaning over him was his wife, Ann.
“No, I just haven’t eaten much today, that’s all,” he replied.
Damn it, why did he have to get the window seat? At first, before boarding the plane, he had tried to offer it to Ann, making it seem like a sacrifice on his part:
“Say, Ann, I’m willing to offer you my seat by the window, so just tell me if you want it. My wife deserves the best.” He smiled, but his smile soon turned to a forced one, as he heard Ann tell him that she didn’t really want to deprive him of his benefit because, frankly, she didn’t really find sitting by the window all that special.
“Besides, there’s a good chance of me getting nauseous from the view. So, I’ll have to pass,” she added.
He had never told her about his fear of flying. A fear rooted deep within him since his childhood. The heights weren’t the source of his fear, though. No, it was something far more sinister. He shuddered at the thought of even trying to recall the incident that had scarred him for life.
The seatbelt icon was now switched off. A flight attendant carrying a little basket was distributing hard candies. It wasn’t long before she reached the couple’s row. “May I interest you in some candy for your clogged ears?” she asked politely. Ann was already sucking hers, but he was reluctant. “It’s on the house, sir. Offered by us, to you, completely free of charge.” The flight attendant had a puzzled look on her face. John knew that she had to move on to the rest of the passengers, so he had to hurry up and not make the situation more awkward than it already was. He heard Ann scold him.
“John Calver, for God’s sake, she’s talking to you!” She then proceeded to turn to the woman standing above them, basket in hands. “Please excuse him, I don’t know what’s gotten into him today.” When she referred to him using his full name, like his mother used to do back when he was younger, she was usually pretty annoyed by what he had done.
But it wasn’t that John thought the candy wasn’t free and that caused him to have second thoughts about taking it, as the stewardess had assumed. He just felt that something was off. Not something about the whole candy thing per se, but something was certainly bugging him. He extended his arm and grabbed one. The woman rushed to the remaining rows to provide the other passengers with candy as well, some of which were eyeing John suspiciously.
“What was that all about?” asked Ann, angrily.
Great. All he needed now was a fight with her. As if his stomach getting even tighter wasn’t enough.
“Sorry. I’m just not feeling very well. I’d better get some sleep.”
Ann backed off a bit, seeming a little worried.
“Are you sure that’s all there is to it? Did anything happen to you while I was looking away?” Her interest was genuine, and that fact alone moved John, but cold sweat had already started dripping down his back, and rational thinking wasn’t an option for him. Neither was sentiment.
“Yes. Just… just leave me alone, will you?!”
That was all he could bring himself to mutter. In hindsight, his reply seemed way more hostile than he had intended it to be. And Ann was clearly picking up the vibe as well.
“Ugh. Fine. I never should’ve bothered to check on you in the first place.”
Awesome. Now she wouldn’t talk to him for the rest of the flight for sure. But that was the least of his worries.
Why couldn’t he bring himself to tell her how he felt? Tell her about his absurd fear of airplanes, about how he was nervous but couldn’t quite pinpoint the reason behind that feeling? No, he couldn’t do that. He was a man with pride in him, and he couldn’t simply let himself come across as weak, especially to Ann, whose dominant behavior often caught him by surprise.
He turned to the side, trying to find a more comfortable position to sleep, hoping that the window being there wouldn’t unnerve him as much as he thought it would. It was stormy outside, and the occasional lightning bolts jolting through the clouds, almost as if they were racing each other, illuminated the dark clouds around them. He tried not to think much about his circumstances. Not that he didn’t know that he’d wind up all nervous like this prior to the trip, but at least he’d hoped for his fear to have grown smaller over the years – though this apparently wasn’t the case. But he had promised Ann this trip to New York, and he couldn’t back out of it now, could he?
As he started dozing off, he caught a glimpse of something big on the other side of the window. He felt his heart skip a beat. Reluctantly, he peeked outside. It was just the aircraft’s wing. “Ugh. Get it together, Calver, you coward!” His seat next to the wing was surprisingly comfy, so it didn’t take him long to fall fast asleep.
He woke up in an airplane, but not the one he was in before. It seemed older, and significantly less roomy. Above him was a woman dressed in a dark blue uniform, an ascot tied around her neck. “Would you like to come over, little one?” she said in a charming voice, her eyes fixated on John. Little one? He wasn’t even that short! He was about to give her a piece of his mind, when he heard a familiar voice next to him.
“Come on, John, answer to the nice lady.”
He turned around. “M…mother?” His long-gone mother, in the flesh, was sitting there, next to him? What was going on? He tried to say something, but his voice wouldn’t come out. It was as if he had no control over his actions, save for changing his visual perspective. And then he looked at his arms. His small and child-like arms, to be precise, the right one sporting a Disney-themed band-aid near his elbow. And then he realized what was going on.
It couldn’t be. All these years had gone by, and all that had remained in his head from that fateful night was his irrational fear. But the scene in front of him was so vividly re-enacted, that he doubted whether his adult life was only a fabrication constructed in his head, and that this was the actual reality. No, it couldn’t be. He kept repeating that phrase in his head. The only logical conclusion was that he was having a dream. Yes, that was all. A dream. A bad dream. A nightmare surfacing from the part of his memory he so desperately tried to seal away.
Indeed, his theory was confirmed when he anticipated that he knew how the events unfolding in front of him would play out. The woman, who he by now had understood was a stewardess, invited him once again to join the pilots in the cockpit of the aircraft, an invitation which his younger self happily accepted, despite his older incarnation trying desperately to stop him. If only, back then, he knew what was to follow…
“Well, this whole cockpit thing must be a practice probably utilized by airlines so as to come across as family-friendly to their clientele,” he thought to himself. What was he even doing, thinking about trivial stuff like this? He had to prevent the nightmare from reaching its conclusion. No! He didn’t want to have to confront “it” again!
He tried to wake himself up – but his efforts were in vain. He could only watch as his tiny feet dragged him all the way to the cockpit’s door. It was as if his body was one with that of the younger John’s, only that it was intangible and unresponsive. The stewardess pulled the door’s handle, and the door gave way, squeaking open.
“I’ve brought a young fan,” he heard the woman say, as she made her way out of the room again. A lot of flashing buttons and equipment, the purpose of which he had no idea, surrounded him. He couldn’t make much out by looking through the windshield, other than that it was pitch black and that it was raining heavily. It was at this instant that he felt a chill run down his spine, but he didn’t have any clue as to why. No, he knew why. He just didn’t want to acknowledge it.
The pilot was the one to speak first. “Hi there, champ! What’s your name?” he asked in a friendly voice.
“J…John,” his younger self replied.
The co-pilot didn’t utter a single -comprehensible- word, however. All he did was mutter some gibberish into a strange device installed on the control panel in front of him. The device would do the same every now and then, and the two seemed to be going along pretty well in terms of things to discuss – albeit in this weird manner. The adult John immediately understood that the man was simply communicating with ground personnel via the radio. Nothing to be alarmed about.
The boy seemed hesitant, but the pilot soon won him over by explaining how everything worked. Heck, he even let him mess around with the plane’s steering wheel – or whatever that thing is called. Naturally, the adult incarnation of John figured that said wheel was probably deactivated beforehand and that the co-pilot had control of the aircraft at the time, which would explain his tendency to only speak to the radio and not him – or, more accurately, the younger him.
John had failed. Failed to contain his dream. And there he was, right at the part where things would take a turn for the worse.
“What’s that?” he heard his young voice say.
“What’s what, John?” the pilot replied.
“That thing crawling on the windshield.”
His voice was trembling.
“I see no such thing. It’s probably just a shadow. Nothing to worry about! Now, where were we? Ah, yes. This blue button here is to be pressed whenever…”
The man was obviously a huge fan of his job and took a liking to talking about it, but John wasn’t paying attention anymore; he was fixated on the “thing”. It looked just as he remembered it. A hairy creature climbing up the front side of the airplane, its hands reaching for the windshield. Pure terror was now the only thing John could feel. Not just the young John. The older one as well. The terror kept seeping in as the distance between the creature and the cockpit grew shorter and shorter.
He wanted to run away. But his young self’s body wouldn’t budge, no matter how hard he tried.
A sudden burst of lightning illuminated his field of view. He could make out two, long, pointy horns protruding from the sides of the creature’s head. Its fur was dark brown, and its limbs were identical to one another, as if there was no distinction between arms and legs.
John was surprised by how sturdily the creature clung onto the aircraft. But then he noticed the sharp claws at the end of each of its limbs, which the creature thrust into the aircraft for stability, creating a loud, screeching sound as it moved, the sort of sound you would get if you scratched a blackboard with a fork. Heck, how could these guys not see or even HEAR this thing?!
Thankfully, at that point, the younger John deemed it appropriate to close his eyes and cover his ears, much to his adult counterpart’s relief. For a while, both remained like this. John couldn’t remember what happened after this part. Not that it mattered, since he would have to re-live it all over again anyway.
The boy opened his eyes just as a blinding light emanated from the glass in front of him. Another jolt of lightning. And just like that, the creature was gone. Absolute silence filled the room. The pilots both seemed to be in a trance now. They kept flying the plane as usual, but it was as if they couldn’t notice their surroundings, save for what was necessary to maintain flight at the correct altitude and course.
John tried poking the pilot, but he wouldn’t move. He just kept staring blankly ahead. John found himself fixating his sight on the dark skies around him as well. It was a sight most mesmerizing, for some reason. He simply couldn’t look away.
Suddenly, a loud cry sent a chill down his spine. In front of him, just outside the windshield, was the creature. Not surprisingly, the pilots weren’t fazed. The creature looked up and straight into the boy’s eyes. A grin was present on its face, which allowed John to glance at the several rows of teeth hidden within its mouth, which the creature proceeded to brush over with its long snake-like tongue. And then he was unlucky enough to glance at its eyes… those red eyes filled with nothing but bloodthirst.
John woke up, surprised by how he didn’t scream in the process. He was covered in sweat, which was only natural, given that he had just re-lived the incident that had scarred him for life as a kid. He remembered how everything returned to normal as soon as he ran out of the cockpit in fear and ran into his mother’s arms, crying. Nobody would believe his story, and the pilots were now behaving normally again, a fact that destroyed any proof he might have had of the incident.
He looked to his right. Ann was asleep. She looked so peaceful. How did he dare treat her with such aggression before? As soon as they landed, he was determined to make it up to her in some way. She deserved it, he thought to himself.
It was at that moment that he felt as if he was falling. Ann must’ve felt it too, since she abruptly woke up. She was about to ask her husband what happened, but she remembered what had transpired a while ago and decided against it, instead opting for ignoring what she just experienced and closing her eyes again.
John felt something was wrong. He tried to peek out of the window, but the storm made it impossible to make out much, even with all the lightning bolts bouncing around the clouds. The window was covered in rain drops, and new ones were constantly bombarding the plane.
And then it hit him. Horrified, he asked the first flight attendant he could see.
“Excuse me, are we reaching our destination?”
His voice was weak.
“No, I’m afraid not, sir, we still have a long way to go. I’d say we’ve covered about half of the distance,” the man replied.
“If it’s the lunch you’re worried about, you did miss it, but I can bring you yours right now, so don’t worry,” he added.
“No, thanks, that’s not why I’m asking,” said John.
The steward walked away shaking his head, as if the content of the dialogue between the two was completely absurd.
John was disturbed by the man’s reply. He had noticed that they weren’t simply flying within the clouds now, but quite a distance below them – odd, seeing as they weren’t even close to their destination. And there was a storm and a lot of rain. And he felt as if he was falling. All this combined with the fact that most airliners fly at the lower parts of the stratosphere to ensure fuel efficiency and avoid bad weather only led him to one conclusion: The plane’s altitude was decreasing. Rapidly. In other words, it was falling. But how come no one had noticed it?
Oh, why, just why did he have to watch that show about aircraft disasters the other day? If he hadn’t, he might have remained oblivious to the situation. To make matters worse, John couldn’t help but be reminded of the eerily similar storm that occurred during the flight when he was a child. It was enough to arouse his curiosity.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please make sure that your seatbelts are fastened. We may experience some turbulence.”
The voice echoing from the speakers only validated his suspicions.
The warning was immediately repeated, only this time it sounded off. It was slightly distorted, and a pitch lower than before. And then it was heard once again, only this time, it was as if someone repeated it via a walkie-talkie with a bad connection:
“Ladies and gentl—n, ple– —– –ure that you—”
And the announcement was cut-off just like that.
Nobody seemed to notice. Was it all in his head? Had he started losing his mind?
No, he was sure he had heard it.
An excessively bright flash interrupted his thoughts. Had the plane been hit by lightning? He couldn’t really tell, but then again, he wasn’t really paying attention to the flash itself, but to something that its light revealed. A creature on the wing of the plane. Trying to make out its characteristics only revealed what John already knew; it was the creature he had grown so afraid of. In that brief moment, it turned around, looked at him, and moved one of its claws across its neck, as if to symbolize its intentions.
After that, John’s field of view was plunged into darkness. In fact, the whole plane had been plunged into darkness. He reached out for his wife, only to find her seat empty. He turned around. As his eyesight adjusted to the low light provided by the storm around him, he was able to see that all the passengers had vanished.
A loud bang startled him. The cockpit’s door had flown open and was now squeaking back and forth. He could now feel the aircraft falling to the ground below. He tried to regain his balance and navigate himself around the back part of the plane. Nobody was there. No matter how loudly he called for help, nobody was there to answer. Just where was everyone?
Suddenly, something louder than his voice could be heard. It was a man’s voice, but not that of a normal man. It was robotic and distorted. John had to move closer to the sound’s source to make out what the voice was saying. He had to move to the cockpit.
He made his way towards it, its door open but angled in a way that it wouldn’t allow him to peek inside. It was as if the room itself was inviting him to enter, but he didn’t need to. He could now make out what the man was saying from where he was standing. And he immediately wished he couldn’t.
“Terrain, pull up. Terrain, pull up.”
It was the navigation system of the aircraft alarming him of his impending doom.
As much as John didn’t wish to enter the cockpit, he had no other choice but to take the aircraft’s fate into his own hands. He rushed towards the door, a task that proved to be much more strenuous than normal due to the aircraft now spinning out of control.
Complete silence was now prevalent. John couldn’t even hear the storm outside, nor see it through the windshield. All he could make out was a dark void ahead of him. Even the terrain alert, something you wouldn’t expect to suddenly stop working, had ceased to sound.
The pilots were not there. John would have to somehow fly the metallic beast to safety. Even if he didn’t succeed, which would probably be the case, he figured, it would at least be better than not trying at all.
As he made his way towards the pilot’s seat, he was stopped in his tracks by the sight in front of him. He could see his wife’s beautiful brown hair extending from the back of the chair. She must have been in deep sleep, since she didn’t move when he entered the room, even though he made a lot of sound in his attempts to reach the door. And, quite frankly, he hoped she was asleep, because if she wasn’t… “Not now, Calver, there’s no time for this,” he whipped his mind back to shape, quickly dismissing the macabre and unpleasant thought. After all, he couldn’t tell yet, since he hadn’t seen her from the front. And the thought that there was still hope for her, filled him with hope as well.
“Honey? Honey, are you alright?” he whispered. No response.
“Ann?” he exclaimed in a worried voice.
It was then that he heard the same robotic voice from before, emanating from a nearby speaker.
“Cockpit security lockdown initiated,” it said.
The cockpit’s door slammed shut before he could react.
The hair from the chair was now withdrawn, as if the one sitting there had moved. He saw a hairy limb grab the chair’s arm, thrusting its long claws into the leather. A head slowly protruded from the side of the chair, with a huge mouth baring several rows of teeth inside, grinning. And then John was unlucky enough to glance at the eyes on that head… those red eyes filled with nothing but bloodthirst.
He heard the creature say: