Screams erupted in the cabin and Bianca clutched Gary tighter before releasing him and rushing out of the cockpit.
The bridge had opened at the emergency exit on the right wing but there was no bright light coming from it. The bridge was full of darkness and the nearest passengers were screaming their heads off. Rob stood by the bridge like the first time, feet planted firmly on the ground, arms crossed on his chest in the best movie bouncer traditions.
“Hey!” Bianca yelled. The screams stopped.
“What the hell is this?” a young man across the aisle from the bridge asked pointing at the black depths.
“Rob,” Bianca said with a nod.
“This is a jet bridge,” Rob said and chuckled, flushing. “I mean, it’s obviously a jet bridge. You are supposed to go in for the next leg of your journey.” He glanced at Bianca as he said it and she nodded. “It’s not as scary as it looks,” he added. “I promise.”
“Yeah, right,” the young man said. “I’m not going into this thing.”
Variations on his statement came from everywhere. The crew all looked at their captain.
“Listen,” Bianca began but an elderly lady interrupted her. She stood up and raised her hand.
“I’ll go. Darkness doesn’t scare me. And my family will be waiting for me there.”
It took Rob a second to react.
“Yes, exactly,” he said and gestured to the mouth of the bridge like a particularly well trained valet. “Right through there.”
The whole plane was silent while the elderly lady walked the few feet from her seat in one of the back rows to the bridge. It was so dark inside the tunnel the light around its mouth looked paler, too, as if the bridge was sucking it in. The lady paid no attention. She glanced at Rob and peeked into the tunnel.
“Happy trails,” Rob said.
“To you too,” the lady said and stepped into the bridge amid gasps and whimpers of terror.
For a while the plane seemed full of extremely lifelike wax statues of people straining their ears in anticipation of a dramatically important message. After a few minutes, when the bridge remained as dark and menacing as it had been but there were no screams of horror or noises that could only be made by monsters, the statues gradually came back to life. Whispers and louder conversations broke out, even a few arguments for and against going into the dark tunnel.
“Why is it dark?” Gabrielle hissed at Rob as she sidled up to him glancing suspiciously at the passengers.
“I’ve no idea,” he hissed back.
“It’s weird. Some of them will never go in,” she said.
“But something tells me we need to get them in there to free up space for the next load.”
“What do you want me to do?” Rob gaped.
“I don’t know. You’re the… bridge guardian or whatever. The St. Peter guy.”
Rob’s last incredulous exclamation attracted attention. He cleared his throat.
“Excuse me. Could I have your attention for a minute, please?” Samantha said from the back of the plane. Heads began turning. “Wait,” she said and walked quickly down to the front of the plane. She winked at Gabrielle when she passed them and nodded to Charles on the way.
“Okay,” she said and clapped her hands. Bianca and Michael flanked her. “Here is what you need to know. Whether you like it or not, you need to leave this plane. There are other people out there who need our help and we may have to provide it urgently. So I need to ask you to use the bridge and find out what comes next. I assure you we have never had anything horrible happen to any of the passengers we have sent along.”
“What help?” a woman’s voice said from a row on the middle. “You just gave some of us some snacks. Aren’t we supposed to get some sort of orientation?”
“Orientation, right,” Michael said and stepped forward. “Excuse me. You’re absolutely right, of course. The orientation should be to your right, then turn back, walk two feet, and enter the tunnel.”
Bianca snorted laughter. Samantha kept her professional expression unchanged.
“How dare you?” the woman said, bristling. “Do you know who I am?”
“Do you really want me to answer this question?” Michael said and smiled.
The woman, halfway up from her seat in indignation, now sunk back.
“Does anyone else have any questions we can answer?” Samantha asked.
“What are you?” a young man from one of the front rows asked. “Angels?”
“We’re just like you,” Samantha said. “Only we can’t go into the bridge.”
“Why?” a woman from the back asked.
“So we can stay here and help people like you,” Bianca said, overtaking Samantha by half a second. “As to the sort of help we provide, consider this: would you rather fall into a dark void or be settled into a plane so much like the one you were recently on, have a snack and an explanation? Yes, I know,” she said raising a hand to silence the bubbling questions. “It’s not much of an explanation but at least you know one thing for certain. You are dead. There is no going back. But there is going forward. And the forward is through that bridge over there.”
A man and a woman stood up. The woman had a baby in her hands and a small girl was peerng up between her and the man. Bianca’s face convulsed into a wince but halfway through she turned it into a smile.
“We’ll go,” the man said. “We’re together and we’re not scared.”
“Right this way,” Rob said.
Once again the plane fell silent as they watched the family enter the tunnel and disappear into the darkness. Once again the frozen, eager anticipation of screams or other scary noises died unfed. More people began to get up from their seats. Gabrielle took up position on the other side of the mouth of the tunnel.
“I’m sure you’re heading somewhere nice,” she told the man who stepped forward.
“Have a great eternity,” she said with a smile to the next two people in the long line that had formed up and down the aisle. Now people seemed eager to go into the bridge.
“I’d rather it be boring,” the woman on the right told her. Gabrielle laughed and wished her a nice trip.
“Who knew we would be so good at crowd control?” Michael whispered to Bianca.
“I did,” she said.