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Cruising Altitude

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All the anticipation had built into this one glorious moment. The sun was peeking over the horizon, drizzling sleepy sun rays over the changing leaves. Stephanie slowly slid up from under a thick comforter. Her new husband’s back was rising and falling softly in time to his measured breaths. She smiled, soaking in the first morning as a newlywed couple. In moments, they would shower, change, and get ready for the most important plane ride of their lives.

Stephanie stepped onto the short, scratchy carpet of the hotel room. She and her husband had decided to stay at an inexpensive hotel near the airport before heading to their true vacation destination in Hawaii. She stood in front of the bathroom mirror. The fluorescent lights cast strange colored shadows across her face. She looked different in a way that she could not determine. She tossed her head back and ran her fingers quickly through her hair, casting out any negative thoughts. She would not sully such an important day with any self-doubt or insecurity.

Jared stirred in the other room. The large duvet rustled as he turned from his stomach to his back. Their alarm had not yet sounded, but the absence of his partner was enough to bring him out of his still-drunken slumber. He groaned from the other room, rubbing his hands against the sides of his face. Stephanie laced her fingers and lifted her arms above her head; she let out a small squeak that melted into a heavy sigh as she stretched her tired back and arms. She stepped into the shower and prepared for the plane ride ahead.

Stephanie was a seasoned traveler, but her new husband had never been inside a plane. The creaking metal and faded paint on most planes never reassured him. As she emerged from the steamy shower, she noticed Jared anxiously stuffing his headphones into his backpack and double checking all the pockets were zipped closed. She tip-toed up behind him and draped her still damp body across his back. She kissed his neck softly before letting go and directing him to bed to try and ease some of his tension before their 4 hour ride across the country.

The day could not have been going more smoothly. The weather was bright and sunny, with clouds freckling the light blue sky. The couple had checked out without a hitch and walked with their luggage to the airport. There was something about the atmosphere that planted a seed of unease in Jared and Stephanie. Everyone was in a rush. Cars rushed passed with little regard for pedestrians, families embraced before separating. Babies screamed and the chatter of multiple languages floated through the air. It was a barrage of sights and smells, some familiar and some unknown.

The surrounding stimuli overwhelmed Jared. He was already nervous, and the compounding experiences were only making him feel worse about the impending flight. Stephanie felt uneasy; a pit in her stomach alerted her to the tension in the airport. Jared’s grip on her hand had tightened. She gathered her thoughts and pulled Jared up to the kiosk to print their boarding passes.

The air was swirling around them. Stephanie felt her stomach cramp and a wave of nausea overcame her. As the paper passes spat from the kiosk, she hastily grabbed them and stepped into an empty corner to catch her breath. She had never been this nervous to travel. She reasoned that Jared’s own anxious feelings were bleeding into her consciousness and making her uncomfortable. Jared put his hand on Stephanie’s shoulder, reassuring her as she steadied herself. She looked at him and weakly smiled before continuing on through the massive airport.

The airport felt like a different planet. People from all around the world gathered to travel from one destination to the next. Most were smiling and happily chatting with their companions. Some wore the same nervous expression as the newlywed couple – a palpable tension existed between those excited to fly and the others who were scared of what might happen. Stephanie and Jared settled into line, exchanging nervous kisses and tightly holding each other’s hand.

The security line moved quickly and the pair made their way to their gate to board their plane. Their nervous energy had melted into excited chatter. They relished their time at the gate, giggling and whispering of their honeymoon plans. But as time ticked forward, Jared became more visibly distraught. He did his best to be brave for his new wife, but he could not shake the fear he had of riding in an airplane.

The other passengers started to gather at the gate. They huddled in a mass near the desk, waiting to be called to board. A woman was holding her infant, tightly swaddled in a light green blanket. Stephanie and the woman looked at each other, and the woman smiled at her. Heavy bags hung under her eyes as she gently bounced her child on her hip. She stood out among the business men and elderly couples who made up the majority of the passengers, and Stephanie saw her future self in the young mother.

The group was called to board the plane. Stephanie stood up, but Jared pulled her back down into her seat. He gave her one more kiss before letting out a heavy sigh and standing up to board. He put his arm around her waist and held her close to his side as they walked up to the flight attendant scanning the boarding passes.

They shuffled behind the line of people in the dark tunnel leading up to the plan. The floor buckled under the weight of the people in line. The flimsy metal sides shook as people made their way up to the plane. Jared and Stephanie stepped over the threshold into the tiny compartment of the plane, easing their way into the back cabin behind the slow moving line of people. Men and women were forcing luggage into the overhead bins. A small child ran between the aisles of the back of the plan, before a stern father gripped their arm and pulled them into their row of seats.

Jared and Stephanie settled into their seats. Jared had only let go of Stephanie long enough to stow their carry-on bags. After clipping their belts into place, he hastily grabbed Stephanie’s hand. There was a noticeable lull in the plane. All the excitement that had been bubbling in the airport was all but vacant. The lights dimmed as the seatbelt light lit up and chimed – alerting the passengers to buckle their belts. On the overhead screens a safety reel played. Few if any paid attention as the actors on screen highlighted where flotation devices were located and what would happen if the oxygen masks dropped down. Sweat dotted Jared’s forehead as he watched the animated plane burp out large inflatable sides from the emergency exits. Cartoon people with fat life jackets slid down the yellow plastic into water and bobbed around.

The screens slowly lifted and the lights extinguished in the cabin. The plane began to pick up speed as it raced down the runway and tilted up into the air. The plane torpedoed upwards with exponential speed. As they arrived at flying altitude, the plan evened out and began to slow. Jared sucked in a shaky breath as he felt the plane lurch. His stomach dropped to his knees and he looked painfully towards his wife. Stephanie gave him a knowing glance and assured him they were cruising now; the worst part of takeoff was over.

The seatbelt lights flicked off with a happy chime. Immediately a hoard of people unclipped their belts. A few stood and stretched, and one or two made their way to the bathroom in the back of the plane. The child from earlier had wriggled out of the row and was playfully laughing with their family. The mother from earlier was standing at the front of the plan, bouncing her baby. The stress of traveling with the infant was nearly engraved on her face. She nervously hushed it as it squirmed in the blanket and whimpered.

Jared had his head on the back of the headrest with his eyes shut. His face wrinkled around his eyes as he held them closed with force. Stephanie lightly caressed his arm and his features eased. He opened one eye slightly to find his wife lovingly glancing at him. She smiled to let him know they were safe. She opened her mouth to speak, but was jutted forward, and her head smacked into the hard plastic tray table on the back of the seat in front of her.

Turbulence bounced the plane – it seemed as if it was mocking the soothing motions of the mother from the front of the plane. The mother had fallen backward into her seat as the plane violently hiccupped in the air. The metal siding shook and the seats were squealing under the weight of the passengers. The seatbelt light chimed and people clamored to make their ways back to their seats and buckle their belts.

The baby wailed from the font of the plane, and the child who had moments before been laughing with their parents, followed suit. Ear piercing screams shattered the silence that hung in the recycled air. People glanced at one another, then outside the plane, then back to the cabin. The plane continued to shake with increasing speed and ferocity.

Commotion began to blossom; the oxygen masks dropped down from the ceiling and for the first time the group realized that they were in trouble. People clamored for their masks and quickly put them over their noses and mouths. The mother on the front of the plane gingerly put the mask over her infant. Tears streamed from her tired eyes. The bright yellow mask contrasted barely sat over the baby’s face, pulling at her heartstrings and causing her to choke back a sorrowful sob.

Jared was holding back vomit and the beady sweat had transformed his face into a slippery mess. Stephanie’s long brown hair was sticking to his wet face and he hurriedly brushed it away as he struggled to breath. A muffled wail from the baby erupted from the front of the plane. Passengers grabbed their phones and swiped at their screens in a flurry to let their loved ones know there was a problem with their flight.

The plane sputtered and from the back left window smoke began to billow. It tilted heavily, and the overhead compartments unlatched. Heavy bags and luggage crashed down into the aisles. Stephanie was pelted by a backpack and slumped down into her seat. Jared anxiously shook his wife, holding her shoulders tightly and trying to wake her.

The aircraft went dark. A crackling coughed out from the speakers. The pilot could be heard speaking, but the words were too broken over the intercom to interpret. Jared felt alone in the sea of fear and confusion. He desperately looked at his wife, now unconscious beside him. The only person who could reassure him was effectively gone. He sucked in a hot and labored breath from the oxygen mask. He began to sob as he watched the others around him hold onto their loved ones or anxiously dial people on the ground.

The noise around him was muffled. His ears were splitting and he felt a sudden drop in his stomach, similar to the feeling he had when taking off. He removed his mask before emptying the contents of his stomach all over the floor in front of him. Stephanie’s body flopped unnaturally beside him. He reached out for her hand and held on tightly as his stomach continued to drop. He silently prayed for her to wake and reassure him as she had done before. Her tongue lolled from her mouth and her head bobbed in time to the shaking plane. He was completely alone and helpless.

From the window beside him he watched as colors blurred together. The lights of the plane were flickering and disorienting Jared. The oxygen mask around his face reeked of his rank vomit. He felt trapped inside his worst nightmare. Behind his popping ears the screams of the others became clearer. Below them was nothing but a dark curtain of ocean. As they continued to plummet, Jared thought back to the happy cartoon passenger, donned in their bright orange life vest sliding down the mustard yellow inflated plastic into the ocean.

Immediately he bent down to grab the life vest under his seat. He struggled to get his arms through and fought with Stephanie’s limp body to get her in a vest. He braced himself as the plane careened into the water, the force crumpling the front of the plane like an aluminum can. The force of impact sent people flying, and the overhead lights haphazardly chimed and blinked, adding to the confusion. The sides of the plane shook violently as the plastic pane windows began to crack. People fell in all directions, and blood and bodily fluids splashed the walls of the plane. The lights flashed and began to spark with the intruding water from the ocean. Small flames licked at the sides of the plane, threatening to flash into a raging inferno at any moment. Screaming evolved into a symphony of heart-wrenching prayers and pleas for safety. The chaos slowly melted into hopelessness. As the momentum slowed, a hush fell around the cabin, before erupting into chaos.

Jared watched as people who were still mobile climbed over each other, forcing their way to the emergency exits. Yelps and cries from people underfoot rang out as they were trampled. Men who moments before were praying to some godly force above were now knocking down others to make it outside. He looked down to his wife, blood running down the side of her face and her eyes rolled back. He glanced back to the door. People were crowding, shoving and violently kicking at the metal doors. The exit handles were locked tightly into place. No amount of force was budging the doors. Screams took over the aircraft and water began to pool up from the floor.

Despair washed over Jared. As he witnessed the multitude of frantic people maul the door, he realized they were not getting out. He held onto Stephanie’s hand, running his thumb against the inside of her palm. The constant motion of the aircraft sent the plane sinking faster than would be anticipated. He laid his head back on the headrest and felt as water rushed passed his calves. The cries of the others had plateaued in volume. The more the water level rose within the plane, the less people continued to scream.

Collectively the passengers accepted their fate. Some hugged, some prayed, others continued to tearfully call family and friends. Jared just held onto his wife as they sunk slowly to the bottom of the sea.



Written by BlizzardLemon
Content is available under CC BY-NC
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