By Imane Chafi
Sulfur. Potassium. The air was as foul as morning breath. She turned her head lightly to the blinking light outside. Yellow. Amber. Ochre. The light kept blinking and blinking, silently filling her head with spinning dreams of nightmares. She felt cramped, squeezed like a fish in a conserve box, ready to be served. ”Fresh from the sea”, her seal would read. The foul air did not fade. How could it, 20 000ft in the air? In a gigantically conscripting piece of metal, next to 35 individuals she never met, never wants to meet. Not with that smell lurking around the shadows.
The wings of the plane shifted lightly to the right, sending more sounds of glee from the children above. The pale yellow light-bulb ahead doing little to dampen the atmosphere. The smell of dread was filling the air, the airplane. They all know where they were. International airs, they call it. International, because no one can claim the time by which the plane glides through the continents.
They had tried. They failed. Time cannot be held, only consumed, like the treading of cotton when making a winter scarf. She felt sick. Memories kept creeping around her eyes as blank spots filled her vision. She needed air. And she needed it now. She had the wicked idea of simply running to the front of the plane, holding the emergency exit open and letting the cold hands of the atmosphere take her to new adventures. That seemed like a more honorable death. That seemed like the greatest option yet.
Dark, Sudden panic. Night. The plane lights had gone off, filling the enclosed space with an eerie silence. In the split seconds that the plane finally decided it was time to make the atmosphere even more bleak, sounds, smells and emotions all came to a stop. Everyone on board was holding their breaths, as though a divine command had been issued to simply stop. Stop living, stop dying. Just stop. To let time take a break. Then, the second was over, the blissful second that tucked everyone in a blanket like a protective mother was over. And the screams started.
Like glass breaking on a ceramic floor, screams of agony could be heard from the back of the plane. Not again, thought Shelsea. Not again. As they fly to their inevitable doom, this was bound to happen. Some people were bound to take what little control they had left of their lives and simply end it. Then and there. 3,2,1. The numbers kept ticking in her head, like an infinite alarm clock, waiting for her turn.
3 people in 3 hours. 3 people had taken their lives as quickly as the blinking light of the outside wings goes off. Soundless, until someone discovers the body and the poison left behind. It had all been poison, as of now. People seemed to think that ending their lives with poison would probably make the pain more bearable, make their Ascension more honorable. It didn’t. We all end up the same way, a lifeless blank sheet, with even the scars of our well-lived lives losing their meanings as the soul leaves the body. Nothing is left, really, when they go. Shelsea always wondered why they did it. A blessing, at least, was to breath in and out, even when you go to your end. So she gives a small prayer and goes back to reading her hands.
She was able to smuggle a black ink pen in her clothing before they hauled the lot of them in this iron-garbage cage. In this gravity-less box that slid through the midnight sky. But, as unprepared as she always was for the inevitable, Shelsea didn’t think of bringing a piece of paper. Only a stupid pen. So she started to list the things that she knew, the things that were certain, on her hands. First, her name. Shelsea, with an S, and she had no idea why she remembered the peculiar detail of the S. S like a snake, like a sniffling sentinel striding slowly through the sand. It had to be important, to remember such a small detail, so she wrote it on her hand.
Second, she has 2 sisters, they were not with her on the plane, but she remembered the screams they wailed before she was thrown in the plane. She didn’t remember their names, simply that she had them, that she had a family that would miss her. I guess this fact gives a bit of comfort, she thought to herself as she bites her nails. At least, as I fly off to an uncertain place to find an uncertain end, some people will miss me. Already miss me. Hopefully. She let out a shaking breath as she finished writing the second line : “I have 2 sisters”.
Third. The third and final memory she has is the most disturbing one, and the one that every person on the plane seems to share, as though the people who abducted them and threw them on this hell plane gave them the memory on purpose. Let them keep this cruel reminder : “They are all going to their end”. The last word echoed loudly in Shelsea’s ears, a male rake voice whispering the sentence over and over again with a clarity that borders on reality.
Those were the only 3 things that Shelsea remembers, and she bets that everyone else on this plane kept an array of similar memories. The last memory was a test, of course. To let the weaker ones die off by their own fears.
There were 4 attendants on the plane, if she can even call them attendants. One with a voice as sweet as honey tea on a snowy day, and hair as dark as the crumpled leaves of an autumn afternoon. She is almost sure its a woman, but with the flickering lights of the overhead, she cannot be entirely sure of anything, really. Shelsea decided to call her Lila, because her voice reminded her of roses and lilies.
Then, there was the Grumpy One. He must have been the one to haul the people on board, because his build was as strong as an ox, and his footing as heavy as a pounding headache. When he walks, Shelsea always hopes that he might just make a hole through the plane floor and doom them all before they arrive. Wherever they need to arrive. She had never actually heard the Grumpy One speak, so she assumed that he’s either shy (which would be very unlikely) or that he just lost his tongue. Maybe the man with the rake voice from her memories took it away. She doesn’t really want to know. But she still imagines it, lettings her thoughts wander around before she succumbs to her own insanity.
There’s also the Poisoner. She gave him (or her) this affectionate name because he (she) is the one to administer the poisons to those who request it. The Poisoner walks with the grace of a panther. You can hardly tell he’s passed by with the swift cold breeze that he leaves behind, like a blanket of ice. There were 2 buttons stuck to the seat in front of every passenger. One with a toilet drawing, and one with a skull crossed with 2 bones like an X. If you decide to click on the skull, the Poisoner arrives soundlessly to give you the poison. Maybe he administers it himself, or he lets you do it. Shelsea doesn’t really know, as her immediate entourage of passengers were still alive. However, she had heard enough screams of those who discovered while waking from a nap that their neighbour stopped breathing to know how many people the Poisoner killed as of now. Because yes, the Poisoner is a murderer.
You might think that these people chose themselves to click on the button, but Shelsea knows better. The circumstances led these people to press the button, not the people themselves. By being on the ready, the Poisoner doesn’t even let the people ponder on their choices, he simply lays out the arms. Butcher and Executioner, the Poisoner is a murderer. Shelsea knows to never look him in the eyes, underneath those shining translucent rounded glasses. If he even has eyes. The light always reflects on his glasses, but you can always feel his stare as intensely as though he was looking straight at your soul.
Shelsea likes to think that the attendants are monsters, demons that descended upon them and lead them to their doom. With their winged backs and their eye-less sockets, their outstretched hands only bring death and ”something to drink”. Always ”something to drink”. She only had 2 pieces of bread in the last 4 days or so she thinks its been 4 days. The plane keeps riding, with the sun following its every move. Time doesn’t really flow normally on the plane, but she tries to keep an indicator of how long she had been on this indecisive travel to hell. The attendants must have information about how much time has passed since they boarded the plane, to give them a meal or 2 per day to keep them alive until they arrive. So she deducted that at most 4 days have passed, if they only give them a meal per day.
There was also one last attendant, which she still has difficulty to decipher. Shelsea named him Cam. He was like a walking camera with a blinking red light at the side of his face, dancing around every time he moved. Oddly enough, he sometimes spoke to the passengers. She overheard one of the conversations he had with an elderly man sitting right in front of her. The passenger’s old, withered voice answered with tales of glory from his past to Cam’s single question : ”Who are you?”. Shelsea went into a deep sound sleep, dozing off to the old man’s monotonous voice. When she woke up, the old man was gone, and so was Cam. She never saw the old man again. She was too tired to remember anything the old man said, but at least she learned one thing. When she sees that blinking red light walking through the plane corridor, she needed to pretend that she was asleep. She didn’t want to know what would happen to her if she ever had to answer one of Cam’s questions. ♦