previous: Charmanderchar ch12
The taxi stopped, and the door opened all on its own. The act felt strange; was I meant to just leave? I nervously scratched my ear, playing with a lock of my fire-red hair. Catching my reflection in the rearview mirror. I looked the part of a polished, poised flight attendant. “What do I owe you?”
The man laughed but didn’t look at me. “You just started with the airline?”
“Do they pay for taxis?” I asked. I guess that seemed correct. “Is there something I need to sign or did you just copy my employee number from somewhere?”
The driver reached into his glove compartment, producing a neon yellow laminated sheet. “Here, take a look.”
“What’s this?” It was a list of codes for every airline.
“We get a new one every year,” he explained, all us taxi drivers have to do is report the fare to your chain of command.”
“But doesn’t that mean you could charge any fare to any airline you wanted?” I could picture people leaving the cab without paying, and all he would have to do is bill the airlines. Then again, the airlines were billion-dollar companies, so who cares, right?
I quickly left with my bag, crossing the threshold of the sliding doors. The world felt quiet, cold. The check-in area was pretty empty, save for a few passengers unloading an entire house’s worth of luggage. The strangest thing of all was the lack of ambient sound; no talking, no music, not even footsteps. ‘How is this possible?’
In the corner, by a seat of benches, I could see a man wearing a janitor’s uniform. He was tall, strong, with familiar dark grey hair. “Henry?” No, he was dead. Or in a computer, or possessing a millionaire crime boss. Still, I took a step towards him, the sound of my awkwardly high five-inch heels making a noticeable sound.
The man lifted his head. His eyes seemed so familiar. He lifted his hand, reaching out to me. “You shouldn’t be alone.” The sound of his voice came from everywhere and nowhere as he was speaking directly into my mind.
I wanted to stay with him; it would have been so easy to take his invitation, all I had to do was stop walking. I lifted my hand, extending my fingers, but my body refused to lean forward. I was a mannequin trapped in a bubble.
The janitor lowered his hand. He nodded solemnly. “You have to go.”
“I don’t want to die.” Why did I think that? I’d flown before, I wasn’t afraid.
“That is never a choice offered to us.”
“Yeah, I know.” I looked down at my feet, breaking eye contact for just a moment. In that time, he vanished, leaving behind an empty space on the textured metal of the seat. “Oh, well.”
I continued my walk, heading to the employee entrance of the TSA checkpoint. It really wasn’t necessary since there were only a few passengers inline, but I needed to play my role. I handed my bag to the TSA screener. The kind-looking older woman quickly waved me through the metal detector. “Thank you, have a nice flight.”
I smiled and nodded while keeping my pace. There was soft, static-laced music playing over the PA system. The lyrics seemed to be Matchbox20 or maybe Train; one of the male led groups of the first decade of the new millennium. Suddenly the sound was interrupted by a loud ping.
“Will Mr. Valter Pine please report to Gate 34.”
More lyrics followed, but I was unable to pinpoint the song. ‘If the bright lights don’t receive you, you can turn yourself around and come on home.’
I walked down the food court section of the terminal. The smell of fresh overpriced breakfast food filled the air. ‘Is that a Cinnabon?’ I hadn’t seen one of those in ages (since the downfall of malls and shopping centers.)
I quickly learned I was not the only one drawn in by the intoxicating scent of warm cinnamon, frosting and pure joy. Before I could get my breakfast, a group of two school-age children jumped the line marker. The boy and girl were both small enough to be cute while big enough to brutally drag their mother. At least I assumed that was their mother.
The young woman looked like she had been to hell and back. Her hair was frazzled, pulled back in a loose ponytail. There were bruises on her hands and face. (Probably other places as well, but her oversized Florida University sweatshirt kept the majority of her body concealed.)
“Come on, Mom!” the boy shouted. His voice was deeper than I expected, like something akin to the roar of a lion.
“Give me a second,” the woman pleaded. She appeared to be searching for her wallet. When she located it, she was desperately trying to see if she even had the funds to treat her darling children to a cinnamon sweet treat.
“You’re taking too long!” With one quick motion, the boy ripped the woman’s arm out of her shoulder, causing a fountain of blood.
The little girl, instead of looking horrified, seemed equally as pissed off. “I hate you mommy!” The girl kicked the woman in the leg, over and over. “I hate you! I hate you!” She soon started screaming, tearing at her own long, brown hair.
It was then I noticed, the woman was desperately trying to maintain her grip on an opaque black stroller. Was there a third child? Why did I need to know? Why did I care?
Something was drawing me to the baby carriage. I had a daughter, or at least I did in a previous reality. Maybe part of me expected to see her.
I took a step in their direction, immediately freezing in place. My loud shoes had made just enough of a click to draw the attention of the children.
The two went quiet, pausing in their attack. They turned to me with empty eyes. Literally; both the boy and the girl looked to have clawed out their own eyeballs, resulting in gory pits of horror. A single blood-red tear flowed down the mother’s face.
I blinked my eyes and all was back to normal. The two kids were still staring at me, but they looked human (even a little cute.) In this comforting new reality, I heard the sound of a crying baby, and suddenly I felt sick to my stomach. ‘She’s not your baby; not your daughter, just keep walking.’ How did I know it wasn’t my baby? What if she needed to be rescued?
No, that was insane. I turned and continued my walk. I was hungry, but I could always eat on the plane. ‘This is fine, everything is fine.’ And then I passed the restrooms.
The format was familiar; two open halls leading to a split path; one to the men’s side and one to the women’s side. I could hear the sounds of screaming. A male and a female were fighting. Yet for the life of me I could not figure out which path to take.
I was starting to feel like a videogame character, about to face a final boss. Except there were no save points to allow me to give myself a way out. Or were there?
I took a step towards the women’s side, looking around for clues in the seemingly empty stalls. “Which side?” I asked out loud. I was expecting to see a glowing sign; a dropped toy, maybe a passport. I’d even settle for graffiti. I would receive no clues; in the end it was my choice.
Henry, still dressed as a janitor, was standing around the corner, looking at something in the farthest stall. His eyes narrowed. “You should probably just move along.”
“I don’t think I can.”
Henry sighed. “Well, I’ll be here.”
There were three sets of legs under the stall. I could hear a man’s cries of pain and soon a pool of blood began to form.
I was frozen in place, watching the direction of the fluid. Once the liquid touched the pointed toe of my shoe, I instinctively took a step back.
The sound caused to attackers to pause. “What was that?” asked a female voice. The girl was loudly chewing gum as she turned and fired a single bullet through the door. But it didn’t hit me, or anything. It simply opened the door.
The two women were attacking a man who was collapsed over the toilet. The girl who spoke looked like the stereotype of a social media influencer; blonde hair, expensive looking clothes, and immaculate makeup. She was joined by a larger, less glamorous brunette woman who could have been her bodyguard.
This woman was armed with a kitchen knife covered in blood and gore. “Do we have a problem?” she asked in a deep British (possibly Australian) accent. Before I could answer she pulled a piece of flesh from the knife and ate it. “Yummy.”
The influencer laughed. “Oh my God, Kelly, look at her face!” She waved her weapon around like a fashion accessory.
The girl wiped blood from her lips. “Little miss flight attendant never answered my question.”
“No, no problems here.” I forced my best customer service laugh. “I just needed to take a piss before my flight.”
“Then piss,” the influencer licked the side of her gun, grinning at me with a look of sadistic brutality.
“I’m good. I’m actually running late.” I took a step backwards, one after another, until I was standing in the terminal, then from there I ran for my gate. ‘That was a dream, a hallucination.’
‘And if it wasn’t?’ For a moment I considered screaming, vomiting, anything to purge myself of what I’d just seen. If the scene was real, then it’s something that someone else could report, not me.
When my gate was in sight, I took a breath and regained my composure. I needed to walk like a flight attendant; someone in control. As I approached, the windows seemed to be bathing the gate in a reddish orange light. This was strange, even early in the morning. Some might say it looked like a beautiful sunrise, but I saw it for what it was; this flight was heading straight to the mouth of hell. With as much poise as I could muster, I approached the gate agent. “Good morning.” I discreetly moved my eyes to capture a glance at her name tag, “Carolina?”
“It’s just Carol.” The exhausted woman seemed in need of a coffee break.
“I’m Charlotte, or Charli.”
The woman looked up briefly, rolling her eyes. “Welcome to Wisconsin.” She returned her focus to her work on the computer, typing a few more lines before hitting print. “Sorry, that was rude of me. I’ve just been checking in all the drunk football fans who got kicked off of last night’s flight.”
“That explains why it’s so quiet.” I looked at the seating area there were at least a hundred people sleeping on the ground; on chairs, using jackets and backpacks as pillows. If I had to guess, they all were kicked off their previous flights due to violent behavior, and then were refused hotel accommodations. “Need me for anything?”
“Sign in, put your bags up and prepare for boarding.”
“Ok, right.” Since she was at the computer, I assumed I would be scanning tickets. “Can I get you a coffee or something from the flight kitchen?”
That got a laugh. “You’re a sweet little thing.” She turned to the window catching a glimpse of the strange sunlight. “You know what? If you come back alive, I’ll buy you a Starbucks.”
“Sure, thanks.” I went aboard the plane, looking for the lockers meant for flight crew. The aircraft was the size of a small classroom. I put my bag down, next to the one that looked similar. There was at least one other aircrew member present (unless that was the gate agent’s luggage.)
“Can I help you?” asked a male voice.
I turned to see a man in a suit. “Hello, I’m Charli, you must be the captain?”
“Purser,” he replied. Clearly, he had been through this conversation with other co-workers.
“Oh, I’m sorry,” I laughed awkwardly.
“I mean, I’m not sorry you’re the purser.” I knew what that word meant; he was the lead flight attendant, which implied there was a team. “How many crew are on this flight?”
“You’re new, aren’t you?” he said with a noticeable chuckle. “Let me guess; you’re a wannabe actress, or maybe a model?”
“I’m actually a youtuber,” I said through gritted teeth. “I do mostly true crime stuff with some arts and crafts mixed in.”
“Oh, an influencer. I’ve met quite a few of your kind.” He looked too young to be so condescending, but perhaps he was a boomer who kept to a good skincare routine.
“You didn’t answer my question.”
“Well, miss Charli, I assume you can do basic math,” he picked up a clipboard, “The maximum occupancy of this plane is less than a hundred passengers.”
“So, it’s just us?” The idea made me nauseous.
“You are a smart one.”
“Anyway, I should get back to the gate, I think I’m supposed to be scanning tickets.”
The man held out his hand. “I’m Jacques, but you can call me Jack.”
I stared at his hand, unsure if I even wanted to touch him.
“I didn’t mean to be rude.” He was still holding out his hand.
I shook it, just to get the interaction over with. “I look forward to flying with you.”
I walked back to the gate, looking for the scanner. I stood, waiting for the gate agent to begin boarding. I took another look at the crowd. There seemed to be more then a hundred people waiting to board.
“Welcome aboard! All passengers are free to line up at this time,” the gate agent said, not looking up from her screen. “Please have your boarding pass ready and available for my good friend Charli to scan.” This caused a massive crowd of people to rush the doorway.
“Yup, this makes perfect sense,” I muttered as people darted by in all directions. I scanned maybe three percent of the tickets that flew by. ‘Stay calm, just stay calm.’ The plane was too small to have assigned seating. ‘Right?’
The rush seemed to last forever. I was getting battered and bruised. My head was pounding as I tried to look in all directions at once. Just when I felt like I was going to pass out, the line just stopped. There was no one left in the terminal. I turned to the gate agent. “Are we actually done?”
“What does your read out say?” she asked calmly, not even looking in my direction. She had to know what just happened.
“My read out?” I looked around. “Oh yeah, my read out.” On the ground was a glowing iPad, plugged into the wall. It was a list of over a hundred passengers and they all appeared to have been checked in. “Looks good.” My hands were shaking in terror. There wasn’t even enough room for that many people.
“Then you better get onboard.” The gate agent pointed at the door. It would be my job to actually close the plane; my job to set this reality in motion, but was it my choice?
“Right, the door.” My legs were frozen. Forcing them to move seemed to result in me rolling my ankle. “Shit, I think I broke my heel.”
Carol sighed. She pulled out her large pink logo tote bag from under the desk. “Here, have these.”
“I don’t think we’re the same size.” She was a much smaller woman, with the body of a gymnast (or figure skater,) while I was more of a sasquatch.
“It’s either this or we delay the flight until you can buy a pair of shoes. Given the time of day you’d be hard-pressed to find a store that’s open.”
I knew she was correct. I took her dark blue, metallic ballet flats that seemed to fit more like house shoes. “Are these made of elastic?”
“Yup,” she said as she returned to her work on the computer. “One size fits all.”
I kicked off my heels, and slipped on the strange foot covers. They didn’t feel like normal shoes but rather some kind of hazmat protection. I flexed my foot, examining the fit. “Nicer than my heels.”
“They should be,” she muttered. “They’re designer Doc’ce Westerns.”
I had no idea what that meant. She appeared to have combined multiple high-end brands to create a gibberish word. “Well thank you. I’ll be sure to get them back to you.”
“Just get your newbie ass on the plane.”
“Sure.” I walked in my new, quieter shoes. The empty corridor was eerily silent. Usually, one could hear the sound of the engines, or perhaps people talking. That would have been normal. I walked inside the plane and attempted to shut the door behind me. The massive lock refused to engage, causing me to slam the door over and over. The metal sound reverberated throughout the plane. “Oh, crap.” Now everyone’s looking at me, I just know it.
Jack glanced at me and shook his head. He turned away, standing facing the blank white wall as he spoke into a headset. “Welcome aboard, our flight time is one hour,” his voice started to flicker in and out. Was he speaking unclearly or was it the microphone?
“All passengers and flight crew please take your seats and prepare for departure,” The voice over the PA was clearly Henry. He was in the cockpit. Was he the captain?
I felt a rush of calm. ‘Ok, this has to be a dream.’ I would wake up in my own bed, with my daughter in my arms. I lowered my butt into the flight crew jump seat. I couldn’t help but laugh as I leaned back, putting on my harness and seatbelt. ‘Where was Jack?’
He was still standing up, looking at the blank wall. Should I tell him to sit down? I was already strapped in and he seemed to be comfortable where he was. That, and there was the fact I was a newbie and he was the team lead; if he wanted to stand around like a mannequin, who was I to say anything?
I took a deep breath, closing my eyes. Wait a second, this place was silent again. Only when I looked at the passengers, did I hear the voices of men, women and children. ‘Did they all deserve to die?’
I needed to get into the cockpit. Henry had all the answers. Or so I hoped. I felt the roar of the engine, the sensation of the plane taking to the sky always reminded me of a carnival ride. There was the anticipation but instead of a life altering drop, the world would settle into a state of tranquility that felt as if we were standing still.
“This is your captain speaking, we have reached cruising altitude. Feel free to move about the cabin. Our crew will be by shortly to deliver drinks coffee, tea, and a variety of sodas and juices. Please refer to the inflight menu on the back page of your seat.”
Would I have to do drink service? I needed to speak to Henry before that. I got up and discreetly made my way to the cockpit. The door was of course locked. I then remembered something I’d seen in a movie; there was usually a hidden phone, a direct line to the captain. On a single-level plane like this, there was only a few places where it could be.
“Charli?” Jack poked my shoulder. “Look alive.”
“Oh sorry.” I blinked my eyes looking around for the location of the drink cart. Instead of being near the kitchen, it was all the way in the back, near the restrooms. “So how does this work? Do I push the cart and you collect trash?”
“No, you push the cart, serve the passengers, and I communicate with the captain.”
“Right.” I made my way to the back, walking like a supermodel while I avoided knees, fallen toys and other obstacles that littered my path. ‘Pushing a drink cart down this clusterfuck is going to be fun.’ When I reached the back, a bright red emergency phone situated near the supply closet started to ring. For whatever reason, it was at knee level, so I bent over to pick up the receiver. “Hello?”
“When you make it to the front, knock three times and I’ll let you in.” The line went dead, giving me no option of replying. I started at the back, asking the usual question. Some people wanted coffee, a few wanted just ice water. And then I came to row five, face to face with a familiar family.
“I want a soda!” the boy shouted.
“What kind of soda?” I looked at his mother, she was sitting in the middle seat, wearing a baby carrier on her chest.
She placed her hand over the baby’s head, protecting the child from the little girl who had snagged the window seat. “We’ll be fine.”
Both children started to scream bloody murder. The girl took off her seatbelt and crawled over their mother, while the boy attempted to body slam my cart. Thankfully he was not coordinated enough to accomplish such a task. He fell on his face, getting stuck upside-down. I knew I was supposed to try to help, after all he could be seriously injured. His mother didn’t seem to be all that concerned. So, under the guise of needing to move on to the next customer, I left the demon right where he was.
Then I got to row three, and there was the influencer, sitting with her girlfriend. “Is there any booze on this flight?” she asked, already holding out her credit card.
“Would you like a coffee or soda?”
“Do I look like I drink coffee or soda?”
I finished the drink service, making it to the cockpit door. I knocked three times. “Captain? Would you like anything?”
The door opened. It was not Henry. The man flying the plane was a Caucasian blond. But he was sitting in the chair; he wasn’t the one who opened the door.
Henry was standing in the corner, still wearing the uniform of a janitor. I leaned back, pretending like I’d lost my balance. My hand went straight through his chest. ‘Fuck.’
Henry looked at me. “Do you honestly believe this to be a dream?”
In the end it was all on me. I looked at the controls, desperate to find the radar; something horrible was going to happen, but I needed proof.
“You need to put this plane down! People are going to die.”
The captain chuckled. “I know you’re a newbie but this is really unprofessional.”
I attempted to look out the window. Were we over Canada? All I could see was snow. Would I even know if another plane was about to run into us?
“Where’s the copilot?” I asked.
“There’s no copilot on this flight.”
That was just weird. “I thought all flights had at least two people in the cockpit at all times? What if you need to go to the bathroom?”
“I assure you I can hold it for the duration of the flight.” He turned to me, his face was one I had seen before. he was the man from the bathroom stall.
My life, my reality, it all flashed before my eyes. Did I have a family? Did I have parents? Was any of this even real?
The captain stood up, running his fingers through his hair, revealing streaks of blood. Somehow the door closed on its own.
I tackled him to the ground. As I looked out the front window, I could see the other planes coming, over and over, wave after wave. They were crashing all around us, knocking our plane like a sock in a washing machine.
I pinned the captain down, pressing my knee to his neck.
They deserved their vengeance.