This plane was a 737, a brand new shiny one with Emirates printed on its side. And it was falling fast.
“I just hope it’s not full,” Michael said as Bianca directed their plane straight into the side of the other Boeing.
“Me too,” she said through gritted teeth and they dived into a sea of screams and sobs.
But the plane was full and everyone on it knew they wouldn’t survive. Most were screaming, holding on to their seats for dear life even though part of them probably knew this could not save them. Some were praying, their eyes squeezed shut as if they were trying to change reality by refusing to see it. A man in one of the front rows suddenly started groping at his throat, gasping for air. A few seconds later his eyes rolled back into his head and his head fell on his now unmoving chest. The Skyhigh crew stood in the aisle, unseen for now, and waited.
“What are we going to do?” Samantha asked, wide-eyed, tears pooling in her eyes. “There are so many people here.”
“We’ll just do what we did with the others,” Charles said. He was stroking his shaggy beard, watching the passengers. “We comfort them as much as we can and let them move on.”
“There’s more than a hundred people here,” Gabrielle gestured to the front of the plane. “More than two hundred. How do you comfort more than two hundred people?”
“We’ll just have to see, won’t we?” Bianca said and started down the aisle to the cockpit. The plane crashed a second later in a deafening explosion of light and sound. The cabin flickered and became the cabin of flight 311. Bianca pushed the door to the cockpit open.
The screams and sobs did not stop. They grew louder for a few seconds and then they weakened, became hesitant. Some of those determined not to look death in the face dared open their eyes. A few people started touching themselves in disbelief.
“Calm down,” Samantha said to the nearest passengers. “Please, calm down. It’s okay. You’re not falling anymore.”
“Quiet!” Charles bellowed, startling the crew. The remaining screams and sobs weakened and soon stopped save for the occasional sob.
“This is your captain speaking,” Bianca’s voice said through the communication system. Michael grinned from the middle of the plane where he stood ready for any trouble from the passengers. “Welcome to flight 311 that will be taking you on your way to the future. Try to relax and enjoy the journey. Our crew will try to help with any inquiries you might have.”
“Future?” someone said from one of the back rows. “What future?”
Michael spun around and smiled at the terrified faces.
“Whatever you choose it to be,” he said.
“Where is the bridge?” Samantha whispered in his ear.
“I’ve no idea,” Michael said moving his lips as little as possible. “I’ll go see if Bianca has any further plans. You take it from here.”
For a second Samantha looked like she would burst into questions but she only nodded.
“Please remain seated,” she said raising her hands for emphasis. Behind her, Charles was studying the faces of the new passengers and a couple of feet down the aisle Rob and Gabrielle stood and waited.
“What for? We’re dead, aren’t we?” a young man called. “Why should we remain seated?”
“Because this is a plane and it’s made for sitting in, not playing golf,” Gabrielle told the man with a smile as sweet as it was menacing. He shrunk back in his seat. Gabrielle scanned the cabin and Samantha nodded at her when their eyes met.
“Do you have any questions for us?” Sam said and unleashed an avalanche.
“Are we really dead?”
“What’s this place?”
“Who are you?”
Where are you taking us?”
“I want to get off.”
“Are we being compensated?”
“Is this Hell?”
“That’s some sick experiment, isn’t it?”
Samantha raised her hands.
“Can we eat?”
She turned to the last voice that had spoken. It belonged to a skinny girl in a middle row who looked down for a second before regaining her courage.
“Are you hungry?” Samantha said and moved closer to that row.
“Starving,” the girl said. “I had the stomach flu and I couldn’t eat anything for, like, two days. And then the plane started falling just when they were serving the snacks and…”
“I’ll get you the trolley right away,” Samantha said. “Anyone else hungry?”
Several voices indicated that might be the case while others insisted on getting answers for their questions. Samantha walked down the aisle to the kitchen tapping Gabrielle on the shoulder as she passed her and Rob. Gabrielle nodded and Rob retreated further back, his eyes darting every couple of seconds to the exit where the bridge had appeared the first time.
Gabrielle walked to the middle of the plane and turned to face the rows that stretched to the tail. On cue, Charles took up a position at the front, facing the other half of the passengers. Gary stood behind him watching everyone.
“I’m afraid you are all dead,” Gabrielle said and raised a hand quickly to stop the next avalanche. “As you can see, you’re not in Hell or Purgatory or, for that matter, Heaven but you’re still you and you’re still somewhere. On this plane.” She paused. Two hundred people stared at her, many in horror, some with interest. Samantha’s return with the trolley passed almost unnoticed except by those who were hungry or just wanted to see if they could really eat.
“This is not your final resting place,” Charles said. “You will be going other places shortly. As soon as you calm down enough to accept your new circumstances, really. We don’t know where these other places are, in case you’re wondering. What we do know is that death is not the ultimate end. Imagine what atheists would have to say about that.”
Several giggles popped like bubbles.
“I’m an atheist,” a woman in one of the front rows said. Charles dipped his head in a little bow.
“Good for you, madam. So am I.”
More giggle bubbles popped and here and there conversations broke out. Charles and Gabrielle exchanged a look and a smile.
Michael went into the cockpit and closed the door. He stood behind Bianca’s seat, put his hands on her shoulders and kissed the top of her head.
“No riots?” she said without looking up.
“No riots.” He sat in his seat and reached out for Bianca. She took his hand over the central console. “This was genius.”
“Oh, it was nothing. Just business as usual,” she said with a smile. “Is everyone okay?”
“I left them with Samantha and the others. She’ll calm them down.”
“Something’s bothering you.”
Michael squinted through the windscreen.
“Where are we?” There was nothing but clear blue sky ahead and all around them. Not a single cloud.
“We’re on our way to Heaven. What is it, Mike?”
He bit his lip.
“There’s a woman with a baby.” He winced. “I saw a couple of teens. A girl Gary’s age or thereabouts.”
Bianca gave his hand a gentle squeeze, which he returned.
“Yeah, no, I’ll be fine, it’s okay. It’s just at first it’s a little… disturbing.”
Bianca got up and stepped around to where he sat.
“What are you doing?”
She sat in Michael’s lap, shifted until she was sitting in relative comfort and put her arms around his neck. She had seen the mother with the baby, too, and the children. It was one thing to know that life was not fair but know it in the comfort of thousands of miles from the nearest famine. It was another to have the unfairness of life thrown into your face. The warmth of Michael’s body soothed some of the pain. And he needed comfort, too, which Bianca was glad to give now she no longer tried to restrain herself. It had been like going home after years of wandering in the wilderness.
“It’s good to stay human, Mike. You don’t have to make it sound like it’s not a big deal. It is.”
Michael hid his face in her chest and she hugged him closer as his own chest hitched. She held him as he sobbed his grief away. After a while the sobs thinned out and eventually died. Michael stayed with his face pressed to Bianca’s body and she stroked his head.
“It’s okay,” she whispered.
“Me crying my eyes out over strangers is okay?” His voice was muffled by her shirt.
He looked up. The rims of his eyes were red and so was his nose. Bianca kissed him on the forehead.
“Since we died and I realised nobody could or had to be strong all the time.”
“Well, that’s a surprise,” he said and ran a hand through his hair. “A wonderful one.”
“I know, right?” Bianca said wagging her eyebrows. Michael laughed and hugged her closer. She rested her head on his shoulder and he pressed his cheek to hers. They stayed like this until a knock on the door made them look up.
“The bridge is here,” Gary said. “You don’t have to come but some of the people are asking for the captain. Rob’s on face control duty.”
Michael and Bianca stared. Gary looked at his feet.
“I’m fine,” he said. “I just…”
Bianca stood up and hugged the boy. He hugged her back.