Michael reached out and put his hand on her shoulder. They flew in silence for a few minutes and then the sky was no longer pristine. Bianca tried to turn the yoke to the left but it refused to move. She pushed against it with all her strength but it didn’t budge even a millimeter. The plane that was coming towards them grew bigger and bigger by the second.
“Stop,” Michael said.
“We can’t crash into it.” Bianca panted. “But the plane is not responding.”
“Exactly. I think we need to crash into that plane.”
Bianca looked up and opened her mouth to say this was the most ridiculous thing she had ever heard but then she caught up with her body. The itch was subsiding. The ants were no longer gnawing at her with their tiny sharp pincers. They were sleepy now, hardly moving at all.
She stopped pushing and sat back. Then she flipped on the communications button and took the mic.
“Everyone, there’s a plane ahead and we need to crash into it. You’re probably feeling better already but Michael and I believe that plane is where we need to go.”
Michael glanced back at the door.
“Did you really have to use the word crash?” he said. “They’ll be coming for an explanation any minute now.”
“They’re dead,” Bianca said, squinting at the plane ahead. “I can’t see what plane this is. It’s bigger than ours but…” The plane made a soft turn exposing the right side of its fuselage to them along with the words American Airlines. “It’s a DC-10,” she whispered. “This can’t be right.”
Michael leaned forward mirroring her move, closer to the windscreen.
“Didn’t they ground them a few years ago?”
“Yeah,” Bianca said. “And AA grounded them a lot earlier.”
“And we’re flying right into it”.
“That’s what it looks like.”
As they watched, a plate on the fuselage skin peeled off followed by a quiet burst out as if someone had speared the plane and it was now bleeding air.
“Decompression.” Bianca muttered. She was holding the yoke so tightly her hands hurt. As they approached the hole in the fuselage grew larger and rougher, spitting bags, a body, and a snacks trolley.
“Oh, God,” Michael whispered when their 737 met the DC-10.
There was no sound but a few muffled cries from the cabin. Everything was muffled and Bianca had to strain her ears to hear anything. Michael was saying something but she couldn’t make it out. It could wait because they had a more pressing problem. Their plane was gone. They were standing, all of them, in the aisle of the DC-10, surrounded by screaming, crying, fainting people, grasping for their oxygen masks. The plane took a dive but the crew of the 737 did not lose their balance. They stood on the air where the floor had been a second ago. Charles grabbed Gary by the shoulder nevertheless, and Rob held Gabrielle, who was shouting something.
“What are we supposed to do?” Samantha yelled loudly enough for Bianca to hear. She shook her head, as mesmerized by what was happening as everyone else, and as she did, she saw the tear between two rows of seats. The seats were occupied. She dived for the nearest one and tried to unclasp the person’s – a woman – belt but her hands went through the belt exactly like in a ghost movie.
“Fuck!” Bianca yelled. “Fuck!” She tried again but the belt was as insubstantial as the air. The row creaked, the screams became louder and by the time Michael joined Bianca in her attempts to free the passengers, the seats were out through the hole in the fuselage and flying away. All noise ceased. Bianca turned to Michael. Behind him, in the aisle, the rest of the 737 crew stood wide-eyed, their attention fixed on the seats, now in free fall.
They all turned. A small group of people stood in the aisle in the now empty plane. And it wasn’t just an empty plane, it was their empty plane. Bianca slowly raised her hand and placed it on the side of her forehead. She blinked. They were all standing in the 737.
“Hello?” Samantha said. Her voice sounded the way Bianca felt, shaky and uncertain about a lot of things including whether any of what was happening was real or a dream. “How did you…” She stopped and looked around. “This is our plane.”
“Yes,” Bianca said and let her hand drop. “And these are the people in the seats that tore off.”
“We were on a plane.” The woman whose seat belt she’d tried to unbuckle made a reluctant step forward. “There was an explosion and… We somehow ended up here. How?”
Bianca looked at her crew. They were silent.
“I’ll do it,” Charles said just as Gabrielle said “Okay, I’ll tell them.”
Bianca and Michael stepped aside into a row of seats to make way for them. Gabrielle led the way, Charles following on her heels.
“Hello, everyone,” Gabrielle said to the group of six people Bianca could now count, all huddled together, all scared and confused. “You’re on our plane and the reason for this is that you’re, well, like us.” She had clasped her hands in front of her chest like a tourist guide who was passionate about her job.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Charles chimed in raising a conciliatoryhand.
“What are you?” a teenage boy asked over the woman’s shoulder.
“Well,” Charles started.
“We’re dead,” Gabrielle said. “I’m sorry. We were in a crash and we didn’t make it. I’m afraid neither did you.”
“The seats tore off,” a young woman further back said. She held her face in her hands. “The seats tore off and we fell.”
The young woman sobbed.
“Excuse me,” Charles said and gently moved the woman at the front of the group out of his way. She stepped into a row of seats and so did the teenager. Charles reached the young woman and took her in his arms. She clutched him tightly and cried while he tapped her back and whispered incomprehensible words of consolation.
“What happens now?” the woman at the front of the new group asked. She was short but imposing, perhaps because of her girth and the mass of permed blonde hair that surrounded her head like a halo. The shoulder-padded dress with a bright floral pattern made her all the more visible and the cascade of gold bracelets on her right wrist made her all the more easy to hear. Bianca frowned as she took in her clothes and hair. Then she turned her attention to the others.
Gabrielle spread her arms.
“We don’t really know.”
“I’m not afraid. Why am I not afraid?” a thin girl who stood in a row of seats across the teenager said. She had long bangs and thick eyeliner. She also had a black T-shirt that said Siouxie and the Banshees on it and a short-sleeved grey jacket over it. “If we’re dead we should be in shock, shouldn’t we? Like that lady there.”
The lady in question had huddled in Charles’ embrace and her shoulders were shaking.
“Her husband remained on the plane,” Charles said quietly. “Were you traveling alone?”
“No, she was with me,” the teenager said. “She’s my sister.”
His outfit was less declarative than his sister’s – a plain navy blue T-shirt and khakis. Bianca almost smiled. An outfit good for any age. The clothes of the rest of the people told a story and it was a story she had heard before. A story about a DC-10 that had suddenly decompressed mid-air, hurling half a dozen of its passengers out before the captain managed to lower it to a safer height. It had happened in 1985.
“Yeah but I wouldn’t cry if you’d stayed behind,” the girl said matter-of-factly. The boy scoffed. “All right, I would probably be upset. But still. We’re dead. And I feel nothing.”
Bianca and Michael looked at each other.
“Was that why we flew into that plane?” he whispered.
“I think so,” she said. The itch was gone, completely, along with the urge to be somewhere.
“And what do we do now? Do they stay?”
Bianca shook her head.
“It could be delayed shock,” Gabrielle suggested to the girl. “Do you feel numb?”
“Yeah, kind of,” the girl said, relief smoothing her anxious face. “That’s probably it. Delayed shock.”
Bianca watched her examine herself with an expression of utter concentration. Then she looked at her brother across the aisle. He shook his head.
“I don’t feel a thing,” the girl murmured but Bianca heard her clearly.
“Excuse me? Are you the captain?” the woman who she had tried to save called. The rest of the group – the teenage boy, the girl, and two men who just stood further back in the aisle all looked up. The girl sobbing in Charles’ arms raised her head from his shoulder and brushed her eyes. He stroked her hair and told her something to which she nodded.
“I am,” Bianca said.
“What do we do now?” the woman asked, her bracelets jangling as she raised her hand to brush her hair back.
“We’re not—” Bianca began but a flash of light interrupted her. The flash turned out to be an open emergency exit at the back of the plane.