“Mike! Michael! Where are you? Mike!” Bianca tripped and almost fell on an outcrop, managing to prop herself on her hands at the last moment. Her breaths came in short sharp bursts of air. “Michael,” she panted as she got back on her feet.
The bare surroundings of the lake were dark. They were also barer than usual. The plane – her plane – was gone. So was everyone who had been on it, including Michael. Bianca had woken in the middle of the night in their mossy spot behind the rock to find it empty and when she had got dressed and gone out in search of him, she had seen the plane had disappeared.
It had to be a bad dream, a nightmare. It couldn’t be anything else.
“It makes no sense,” she mumbled and walked on. Michael was hardly likely to be hiding, so there really wasn’t a point in her search other than to give her the sense she was doing something. “No sense whatsoever!”
She reached the shore and walked on until the water lapped at her shoes. Bianca drew a step back. The surface of the water was almost completely still, like a mirror turned up to the skies to reflect who knew what. Not any god’s work, that was for sure.
Bianca sat on the pebbles and took her head in her hands. She had to think. There had to be something she could do. They had ditched into the lake. Then she had pulled the plane out, with her mind. The plane had been heavy but it had been easy. She had blacked out afterwards. Exertion. Michael had been worried. Then they’d started flying again, to plane crashes, to harvest the souls of the casualties and help them move on. They’d become a crew of Charons. And now the crew was gone and she was on her own.
“What the hell am I supposed to do alone? I’ve got no plane, no crew, nothing. Michael’s gone. How am I supposed to do my job then?” she asked the air above the lake. The air didn’t answer. Bianca lowered her head and propped it on her knees.
She had to wake up. That was it. She was having an exceptionally vivid dream but that was all it was. A dream. And she had to wake up.
“Wake up,” she whispered, squeezing her eyes shot tightly. “Wake up, you stupid idiot before you really lose your mind because then there will be nothing to wake up to. Wake up, Bianca. Wake up and go find Michael. Wake up. Wake up! Wake up now!”
The wind picked up and Bianca shivered. It was never cold here but now it was, and getting colder. Bianca opened her eyes willing everyone to be back, the plane to be back so she could go home, but the shore was empty and somehow even darker than it had been a minute ago. The moon had disappeared, covered by clouds, that was it. The night had turned moonless. Bianca rubbed her arms. It took a while for her brain to register she was rubbing bare skin rather than the shirt sleeves that had to be there.
She let her hands drop and forced her eyes down. She was wearing a night gown. A short, satin, spaghetti-strapped night gown. This was not real. None of this was real. This place did not exist. She was in a place that didn’t exist and couldn’t get out of there. Bianca balled her hands into fists and let her dread and frustration out in a long scream.
“Captain? Captain, can you hear me? Bianca?”
Bianca slapped away the hand that was tapping her face gently and turned on her side. A second later her eyes flew open and she sat up to see Samantha leaning over her, ready to slap her harder.
“Right here,” Michael groaned from somewhere nearby. Bianca straightened up from the seats where she’d been deposited. Michael was half-lying, half-sitting in the opposite row. “You okay, Beanie?”
He didn’t look particularly well himself. He looked like someone had put him through a wringer, literally. There were wrinkles on his face that hadn’t been there before and an exhausted droop in his eyes. Bianca got up and looked around. A smile she couldn’t suppress stretched her face.
“We jumped dimensions, didn’t we?” she said as she glanced at the dozen or so people huddled in the back of the plane. Her plane. “It was some sort of a tear and we went through it. And I got lost.”
Michael smiled weakly.
“You weren’t the only one who got lost.”
“This was the scariest thing I’ve seen in my life and I’ve seen every horror classic ever made,” Rob declared. “You were talking to yourselves, both of you, as if you were somewhere else, doing ordinary stuff. And it wasn’t funny at all.”
“I thought you might need an exorcism,” Marcello, who sat on one of the front rows said. Then he smiled. “I’m glad it didn’t come to that. I’ve never done an exorcism.”
Bianca chuckled. Then she laughed more loudly. In seconds she was doubled over, laughing until tears started running down her cheeks, unable to stop now that she was home with her crew and her husband. They were all laughing, including Marcello, and including Gary, still pale from the shock of seeing passenger after passenger disappear.
“Right, did we lose the Malaysia pilots?” Bianca said when the laugher, fueled by the most enormous and complete relief she had ever felt in her life, drained out and she sat next to Michael.
“Um no,” Samantha said. “They’re in the cockpit.”
“They’re flying my plane?”
“Easy,” Michael said, tightening his arm around her suddenly tense body.
“You were both out cold,” Gabrielle said, raising her eyebrows for emphasis. “We were lucky we had other pilots on board. Everyone else disappeared except those at the back. We have no idea why but it is a relief the pilots stayed.”
“How did it happen?” Bianca asked.
Everyone in her field of vision looked at each other awkwardly.
“What is it?”
“Well,” Samantha began.
“We saw bright white light,” Gary said. His smile was as pale and weak as his face but it was a smile.
Gabrielle snorted laughter. Rob grinned. Samantha shrugged. When Bianca turned to look at Michael, he shrugged, too.
“White light and inter-dimensional travel isn’t that bad for an afterlife. It could have been a lot worse.”
Bianca remembered the world where she and Michael were just colleagues and nothing more. The dark world at the lake. It could have been a lot worse.
“Let’s go reclaim our cockpit,” she said. “It makes me nervous to have strangers there.”
“Where are we heading, captain?” Rob said.
Bianca turned and smiled. She waved at the group of new additions when one of them looked up.
“We’re going home. Time to get some rest before our next job.”
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