Rob had taken off his T-shirt and was wringing it without any sign of discomfort despite the fact the temperature of the air couldn’t be more than 10 degrees, according to Bianca’s internal thermometer. Gabrielle was trying to do the same with her shirt without taking it off, wringing off its lower part and squeezing the sleeves to reduce their water content.
Gary stood on the rocky shore of the lake, looking around with wide eyes, oblivious to the state of his clothes. Michael was watching Bianca and Bianca was ticking off survivors in her head. All seven were here and unharmed. This had to be a first in history. And they couldn’t tell anybody about it because all communications systems had gone under with the plane. As she watched the calm waters lapping at the stony shore, a tingle of excitement saluted Bianca from the inside. She could still feel the plane. She knew exactly where on the bottom it was, how it was positioned – straight, as if on a runway – and that it was intact, Another miracle.
“Do you see anything interesting? A boat with a radio, maybe?” Michael said. He’d walked up to her side, dripping water but otherwise fine, and had followed her gaze.
“I can still feel the plane,” she said. “I don’t know how this is possible but it’s true.”
“I do,” he said and started unbuttoning his shirt.
“What are you doing?”
“I’m trying to get a little bit drier.”
She half turned away while he took off the shirt, wrung it out and put it back on.
“You can look now,” he said. “I won’t try to dry my trousers.”
The flush won and Bianca looked away to the lake again.
“It’s right there, about a hundred meters from the shore, facing east,” she said. “How could I possibly know this?”
Michael smoothed back his hair, plastering it to his skull. His forehead shone like a beacon in the sun. He took a step closer, glancing at the others behind them. Bianca resisted the urge to take a step away. Michael leaned in even closer.
“Do you know how long you stayed under water?”
“Probably a couple of minutes, why?” Michael was too close, he was breathing into her face and his breath fogged her mind. She shook her head to remove the fog.
“You stayed at least five minutes,” he said. His eyes were fixed on hers, hard and unblinking.
“So? I suppose it could happen under pressure. I did need air when I finally came up, if you’re trying to push that dead argument again.”
“No, you don’t,” he said with a sigh. “None of us needs air.”
Bianca rolled her eyes.
“Look, I understand all this is very unusual and very confusing, and you’re trying to find—”
“So what now?” Gabrielle interrupted her. Bianca turned. “It’s just rocks upon rocks here. Do we know which way to go to return to civilization?”
“I guess we’ll just see if there’s a path or something that goes down and follow that,” Samantha said, taking in their surroundings, which indeed consisted of rocks, with some soil visible here and there, covered in patchy rust-colored grass.
“I’m not sure we can go anywhere,” Gary said.
“Oh, thank God!” Michael said and pointed at the boy. “See?” he asked Bianca. “It’s not just me.”
“What do you mean, Gary?” Gabrielle asked. Her glasses were gone and she squinted at the boy.
“I mean that I’m not breathing. I haven’t breathed since the plane crashed.” The boy spoke calmly, glaring at each of the others as he did, daring them to call him a silly boy or laugh at him. Nobody laughed. Gabrielle’s arm crawled around Rob’s waist. He hugged her back.
“What?” Samantha said.
“We’re dead,” Michael said slowly. “None of us feels cold as far as I can see, Gary is not breathing, and I believe none of us needs to breathe. Besides, Bianca can still feel the plane.”
“This has nothing to do with anything,” Bianca snapped, interrupting Samantha before she could speak. The flight attendant was staring at the captain, blinking. “And I, for one, am breathing.”
“But you don’t need to.”
“Wait a second,” Samantha said raising both her hands. “What’s this about feeling the plane?”
“Yeah, what’s that?” Rob said.
Bianca took a moment to glare at Michael before she addressed what was left of her passengers. Michael shrugged.
“I controlled the plane with my mind. We would never have landed so easily with invisible controls. But somehow I had a connection to the machine. I still feel this connection. The end.” Her wet clothes stuck to her body and her hair was all over the place but Bianca faced her audience the way she always did, with her head held high, her back straight, exuding confidence, even if she didn’t feel all of it.
“Wow, I think we really might be dead,” Rob said and held Gabrielle closer.
“But I feel alive,” his wife said. “I don’t feel dead.”
“Maybe dead people don’t feel dead, hon,” Rob said.
“Fine,” Bianca said. “We’re dead. Congratulation to all who believed there was life – oh, excuse the word – existence, after death. What now? Where are those pearly gates you mentioned a while ago, Michael?”
“I don’t know,” Michael said quietly. “I’m sorry, Beanie.” He opened his arms to embrace her. Bianca pinched his arm, just above the elbow.
“Hey!” He jerked his arm back. “What are you doing?”
Bianca cocked an eyebrow.
“Checking how alive you are. Apparently, we could still feel pain after death.”
Michael shot her a hurt look and crossed his arms.
“I don’t feel dead, either” Samantha said. She touched her cheeks, her neck, put a hand on her chest, and moved it down to her belly. “I feel as substantial as I was when we took off.”
“Yeah, same here.” Rob was engaged in a similar self-examination. “I feel the same.” He kissed Gabrielle.
“All as usual,” she said with a smile that softened her whole face even if her lips trembled s bit.
Michael shook his head and sat on the pebbles facing the water.
Gary went to sit next to him.
“You’ll see,” he told Bianca as he passed by her. She was watching the passengers check themselves for signs of life or death. She herself could clearly feel the beating of her heart.
“I’ll see what?”
“Everything,” the boy said.