by M.R. Tapia
The blow to the head is what brought me back from the dead, not the guttural shrills. Not the men shrieking as women. Not the women grunting from deep within as men. Boys as girls. Girls as boys. Cries coming from infants and toddlers all mesh into the same red-faced terrified scream. Nope. It’s the blow from the pancake-cushioned airplane seat with the silver-lined elderly woman strapped in that gave me my return to life. To my surprise, I am not screaming. I have become a delusional pantomime stuck in a wind tunnel vacuum. I am amidst the clouds in the sky. No parachute. No bungee cord. No safety anything.
Higher and higher, the seat that revived me becomes smaller as it rises above me. Bodies coming in and out of the trailing smoke which fills the sky. My body free-falls, spinning out of control. The term for this is ‘spin out.’ My ears continuously suck in air to the point of small popping. Popping in reverse, like sucking in a burp. Reverse. The cold brutal wind drags at tears near my cheekbone, bringing them back across to my sandpapered eyes.
The troposphere that I free-fall in takes my breath, any breathing comes in drowning spurts. More of a free-rise rather than a free-fall as I see the farm acreage below distance themselves, when they come into sight with every rotation. The wind coming from above me as I rise with the sounds. Screams everywhere. The elderly. The middle-aged. Juveniles. Toddlers and babies. Some rise faster than I do. Others, slower. Every human figure below me appearing as broken matchstick figures. At the depth of my fear, a small object comes from whatever direction north is, giggling as it passes by me. An infant, as oblivious as I am of our common plight.
The other bodies, they spin as I do, a quarter of them adorning yellow oxygen masks. The smoke, it comes from all angles, free rising. It pops as it passes by me, receding into the heavens. Popping as the ball of flame shoots by. Popping as random bodies materialize from blazing smoke plumes. Smoke streamers everywhere, receding back into the sky, rising faster than anyone else. Seats and embers sucked upwards. Sheet metal and big mechanical chunks follow. All of the objects rising to a bigger explosion above us all. As if an oversized pipe bomb is exploding. Only it’s not: it’s imploding. Getting assembled with the fizzling flames, taking the shape of the front end of an airship. The front half that is. Maybe the front two thirds. Who’s to say?
The tailless carcass grows larger with every rotation, approaching hastily. Every reversed explosion and flame slowing its own spin to a toddler’s pace. I peek towards the distancing earth, watching smoke streamers dissipate into the rising flaming balls. Are we under attack? Are they shooting missiles from below?
None of this matters as I watch two bodies collide, blood drawn in from thin air like an immaculate blood transfusion. A projectile soars in between us, swallowing soot on its way to the sun-blinded stars. As far as I can see, everywhere, there are smoke-tails nullified by rising flames. It’s as if the sky is full of the opposite of falling stars. Rising stars burning everything. Tearing the airplane back together. Humans too. Reverse demolition.
The constellational gods control this punishment, calling their fallen stars to return. Stars sent out of pure fury. The constellations furious with humankind. Once worshipped by every aboriginal civilization on the planet Earth, now drowned out by advanced civilization’s city lights.
Orion and Hercules smiting our planet, stars shattered loose with their maces to cascade upon human kind.
My left arm flails next to me, threaded together by exposed tendons and ligaments and muscles. Trapped in confusion, the agony of the trauma is negated by bewilderment as I witness my shoulder wound suck blood back in from midair. A whistling piece of sheet-metal comes in from the left flailing as my arm does. Just before it reaches me, I feel the head of my humerus crunch itself back into its glenohumeral socket. As the sheet-metal shard rips across my shoulder, the wound closes itself perfectly. No longer flailing. No longer bleeding. Even my sweatshirt is intact. The sheet-metal has brought me from my spin out.
Littered throughout the sky are random articles of clothing and toiletries, all being sucked back into flaming suitcases, posing less of a threat than the rising stars. A dog flies by yelping viciously in its feces- and urine-doused crate. A shotgun slug of tampons pelt my face. Some guy’s wedding ring that he must have forgotten in his pocket after his business trip pegs my forehead, removing the welt that lined my right eyebrow. Morning-after pills pepper my face, crimson pockmarks erased. All of it headed skyward towards the airliner’s shell from different angles. The cabin is only growing larger. A portion of one of the wings reattaching itself with an implosion of a rising star. The bodies above mine flutter back into the cabin as sloppy paratroopers. Screaming.
I shield myself as I bounce off an inflated life raft also on its return to the airliner. This puts me back into a spin out. With every spin, the aircraft’s husk becomes slightly more complete. Every revolution bringing me closer and closer to the plane. What smells like fuel rains upward with a cabernet chaser. Or blood. I watch as an enflamed engine ascends with high speed and slams into the right wing, re-anchoring itself. Its spin has decreased to a rickety soar, even with the flaming engine. Landing gear seized in a celestial blaze takes its place mercilessly in the bottom of the fuselage, converting the marred airframe into a damaged airplane.
Astraea, reigning justice, tipping Libra’s scales and spilling her law upon human kind.
My lungs fill with the airbus’ trailing smoke as I swoop through en route to the cabin. A door raft dangles out of the emergency exit, taunting me with its tongue sticking out. I enter feet first, noticing a seat trailing me in a somersault. It comes into my chest with a thud, my arms wrapping around the backrest. A woman ricochets into me before wrapping her arms around her husband who hangs from a seat. After a round of Demolition Bodies, my seat and I land towards the cabin’s midsection with a metallic scrape, my seat refastening itself to the floor. My legs dangling in midair behind me as the plane’s contents are sucked back in, seats, humans, drink carts and all.
Peering over my shoulder, I watch as another seat bounces from floor to human to cabin ceiling, in my direction. As it reattaches a trio of oxygen masks to the ceiling, it flips perfectly, kicking my legs down and my derriere to its cushion as it also refastens itself. I fall back into the Recommended Brace Position the flight attendant demonstrated before our initial takeoff, my seatbelt stitching itself together. Every person who’s made the return embraces the brace position, head between knees. Children or fussy teens, their parents shoving them just the same.
A deafening implosion rivets fuselage fragments back together outside my window and towards the back of the cabin. Still, the opening which invalidates any other emergency exit thrusts passengers back in from the smoke behind us. An emergency entry. Seats next to me, seats in front and behind, they all forcefully resume their original positions, with or without their passengers. Those missing quickly tumbling back into their seat. Some being hit with a random laptop or cell phone as they reenter.
Perseus, allowing the Gorgon Medusa’s severed head to rain her blood upon human kind.
Outside the window, the rising stars are unforgiving as they ruthlessly replace parts of the airliner. The screams surrounding me, doubling. Tripling. The recently reinstated engine has ceased smoking. The turbulence brutal, passengers inhaling vomit from midair. Half the screams are now cries of incomprehensive gibberish and jargon. All of it, exorcism rants. Random seats and bodies reestablish themselves with thuds and metallic grinds.
Panicked words become articulate and distinct, though in random order. Backwards. Taking too much effort and time to create coherent phrases. A flight attendant kicks and screams while plummeting forward through the aisle, “Me help! Me help, please!”
Another passenger tumbles back into the lavatory, “Shit! Please God, us save, Jesus Lord!” A smoke detector trailing him in just as the narrow door slams shut. It clearly states in the safety pamphlet that tampering with the lavatory smoke detector is a Federal Offense that even God can’t help him with.
Soda cans and plastic drink tumblers and peanuts all smacking heads on their return to their respective trays. An explosion turns everyone’s sight to the rear, all of us witnessing bodies come into being with the remaining tail. Random crashes throughout the cabin patch the last of the random blowouts. Windows. Emergency exits. Small flames popping as they rise from holes in the floor. Screams fizzle out with the flames in the carpet, the celestial flares popping as they exit out through the holes in the ceiling, leaving them repaired. All of the passengers accounted for. Animals. Flight attendants. Pilots. All safely inside once again. Lights flashing wistfully outside the aircraft.
Draco and Hydra, both of them panting death upon human kind.
The blasts outside my window replace a large portion of the wing. The rising stars smaller, still swallowing smoke. All of the hanging oxygen masks being yanked off of spouses and children before everyone yanks them off from themselves. The attendants walking backward up the aisle assisting in the yanking of masks. “Others help then, first on mask your place,” they say. The seats next to mine are empty, and I can’t reach across the aisle from my window seat to help the man across the aisle, though. What I can do is see the wet stain on his crotch diminishing, fading away behind his zipper. I yank my own off. Hands all drop to their laps as the masks sway side to side just before being yanked into the compartments overhead, the trap door closing behind them.
The stars have dwindled into rising pea-gravel-sized sparks, showering the top of the passenger jet like a hailstorm. A series of bubble-wrap popping as the wing tip recedes flames, completing the wing with its winglet. Random pylons burned into place. Spoilers and edge flaps battered onto the wing. Screams and panic ensue as the sound of seatbelt clicks overpower worry, for the moment. “Please, seatbelts your fasten,” the attendants calmly shout as the turbulence fizzles to bumps from crossing railroad tracks.
Panic dissipates with every heavy breath. People shouting less and less, “Happening what’s, God oh?”
“Calm remain, please,” the attendants say.
The illuminated signs hold the only sensible phrase, ‘Fasten Seatbelt While Seated’ and ‘No Smoking’. These signs feel foreign amidst all the gibberish spoken at the moment. All of these signs turn off. Except the No Smoking. That’s a no-no. The pilot reminds of this after announcing that “turbulence of bit a experiencing we’re.”
“Turbulence to used gets never one,” one passenger notes to another.
“Fastened seatbelts your keep,” the pilot says.
“Smoking no, always as,” the pilot mentions, as vague smoke tails trail up from the clouds outside our airbus. I notice them. Everyone else has calmed to a quizzical panic.
“On going is what?” They ask.
As the smoke-tails dilute into the high noon clouds, a woman shrieks. Startled, I forget about her shriek. Forget about the dying turbulence and rising stars. The book I’ve been reading jumps from my feet and into my hands. I flip back a page lazily, fighting my sleep.
The cabin has calmed with the restless jetliner’s humming, some thirty-odd thousand feet in the air. Headphones take their place once again. Infants fall asleep. Teenagers take up their phones. My eyes begin to outweigh my efforts. My head drops back to the headrest. That’s when I awaken abruptly once again.
It was the woman’s shriek that brought me out from a nap, not the ensuing panic. Not the random yelps: elderly, adult, youth, animals. Not the falling stars. Not the turbulence. As an alarm clock, it’s not the turbulent vibration that brings you back to reality, it’s the blaring shriek.
M. R. Tapia has had his short stories “The Midnight Hush”, published in Bandwagon Magazine and “Matchstick Figures” published in Schlock Webzine. He writes out of Northern Colorado where he lives with his family.