Rob was the first to reach it, followed by Bianca and Michael, Samantha trailing them. The newcomer group stayed back.
“It’s a jet bridge,” Rob announced as he peeked into it.
“Do you see any flames?” one of the men called and chuckled nervously. The blond woman, who’d stopped next to him, snorted with indignation.
“All clear and bright,” Rob said with a grin. He let go of the side he was holding and tried to go into the bridge. He made one step before he hit an invisible barrier. “Um.”
“What’s wrong?” Gabrielle said. She had turned her back on the newcomers and had joined the group at the back.
“I can’t go in,” Rob said. “I guess you guys should give it a try.”
The teenage boy took his sister by the hand and started towards the back of the plane. The girl tried to pull back and the boy stopped.
“It can’t be bad,” he said. “You’ll see.”
“And what if it is?” she asked, pulling her hand out of his. “What if it’s some kind of hell out there?”
“How much worse can it get, Jade? We’re dead.”
The girl sighed.
“Exactly. What if hell is real?”
The boy cocked an eyebrow.
“Seriously? Hell? How about Heaven, then?”
The girl rolled her eyes, a faint blush rising in her cheeks.
“Fine. Let’s see what’s there.”
“You can always come back,” Rob said when they passed by him. Bianca doubted that but didn’t speak. The two stood at the entrance of the bridge. Jade peeked in.
“Looks like an ordinary bridge,” she said.
“Yep,” her brother said and took her hand again. “So let’s go see what’s on the other side, shall we?”
“Bye,” Jade said over her shoulder to no one in particular.
“Goodbye,” Bianca said. Her chest tightened in worry. Or maybe it was anticipation. She didn’t know the two teenagers. But she did want to see if they could go in and what would happen to them when they did.
The two children disappeared into the bridge. Bianca’s chest relaxed. Of course they would. The jet bridge had appeared after they’d taken on the victims of the decompression on the DC-10.
“I knew it,” Rob said under his breath. “I knew it was just us.”
“What?” Samantha said.
“We can’t pass,” Rob said. “Beats me why but I hit a wall and those two didn’t.”
“Can you see them?” called one of the men in the newcomer group, the one who’d made the joke about the flames.
Rob shook his head.
“I think I’ll go next,” the woman at the front said. Everyone on the aisle made way for her. She reached the mouth of the bridge and stopped.
“Well, there’s white light. That should be all right,” she said. Without looking back, she stepped into the tunnel.
Bianca turned to the rest of the group. Charles had an arm around the shoulders of the young woman. She had stopped crying but her eyes were still sad. The two men hung back behind her.
“Everything will be okay,” Charles told the girl. “I promise.”
She looked at him and nodded.
“Goodbye,” she said and started down the aisle. She stopped a few feet from the opening of the bridge. Bianca stepped out of the row of seat and extended her hand to her.
“Let’s go. There’s a whole new world waiting for you,” she said. The words came out of some reserve of compassion Bianca didn’t know she had. She meant them, too. With a smile, she reached out to the girl. The girl took her hand and followed her to the bridge.
“Is there really a new world out there?” she said when Bianca stopped at the mouth and stepped aside.
“Oh, yes,” Bianca said and nodded encouragingly. There had to be something if they were all still there and capable of entering the bridge. If there was nothing, they would have simply disappeared. It made perfect sense.
The girl hesitated a while longer and then finally she stepped into the bright light.
An elderly woman who had hung out at the back of the group, tiny and shriveled, quiet, almost invisible, had now inched her way closer to the bridge and the two men had followed. Bianca nodded at the woman and gestured to the bridge. Rob and Gabrielle stepped back.
“You said there was a whole new world there?” the woman said. The men behind her pricked their ears.
“Maybe there’s even more than one,” Bianca said, leaning in closer to the woman as if she was telling her a secret. Anything was possible. If dying and not disappearing was possible, then a lot of other things had to be possible, too.
“Let’s hope they’re better than this one,” the woman said and marched into the bridge. The men followed in a rush before they changed their minds. They bumped into each other as they tried to go inside at once. The older one turned sideways to make way for the younger one. A second later they were all gone.
“There’s a whole new world?” Gabrielle said, eyebrows arched. “Really?”
“I’m the captain. I need to make my passengers comfortable in any way I can.”
“So, there isn’t really…” Samantha said.
“Who knows?” Charles said as he joined them. “Anything is possible.”
“Exactly,” Bianca said.
Michael slipped out from the row of seats where he had stood and watched events, and approached the mouth of the bridge.
“Is this going to just stay here?” he said and leaned in to peek inside when the bridge vanished with a soft pop right in his face. “Right. That answers my question.”
“Something funny, captain?” he said with a grin, glancing over his shoulder at her.
“You,” she said.
“So,” Rob said, crossing his arms on his chest. “We can’t go in but random people can. Are we like that guy, what’s his name, who ferried the souls of the dead across that river? Greek mythology. Help me here, Gab.”
Gabrielle slapped him on the back of the head.
“Charon and Styx.”
“The ferryman is Charon and the river is Styx,” his wife said. “And they didn’t pay us. The dead ones are supposed to pay the ferryman.”
Everyone’s eyes turned to her.
“Oh, come on, it was a joke,” she said and rolled her own eyes.
“We’re the Flying Dutchman,” Gary said from the seat he had sat in the whole time. “We’re the fucking crew of Davy Jones.”
Bianca and Michael exchanged a confused look.
“What on earth…” Samantha started but Rob interrupted.
“Yes! Exactly!” He laughed. “You nailed it, man. That’s exactly what we are. At least that’s what it looks like,” he said after a pause with flushed cheeks.
“Would anyone enlighten the rest of us, please?” Bianca said.
“Pirates of the Caribbean,” Michael said. “Remember? The second film.”
“Oh.” She frowned. They’d watched the Pirates of the Caribbean movies together on their silly-movie nights, years ago. And now the memories came flooding back. They had laughed at Captain Jack Sparrow’s misfortunes and they’d sympathized with Davy Jones’ drama although Bianca had commented it had been a little overblown.
What she hadn’t said was that once you became a captain, responsible for so many lives, you couldn’t afford to be sentimental, not for a second. Davy Jones had allowed himself to be sentimental and that had been his undoing. Besides sentimental, however, Jones had been a Disney-reimagined Charon, the ferryman.
“Of course,” Bianca said. “Well remembered, Gary. Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me,” the boy said, sinking deeper into the seat, propping his knees on the one in the front. “It’s fucked up, all of this. We’re stuck on a fucking plane and we can’t leave it and I really don’t think we’ll be allowed to make port in ten years.”