The pilot has abruptly and completely forgotten how to fly, and is desperate to figure out what’s happening to him before anyone else on board notices. “Get me a coffee while you’re stretching your legs, will you, Jim?” he bellows tonelessly as his copilot unbuckles himself. His hands tremble as he stretches them over the sickeningly alien panel of flashing lights and impenetrable signals. Nothing, he thinks to himself. I remember nothing. And with this he must ferry 200 souls across a sterile and unfriendly sky? I’m going to be sick, he thinks to himself, as his stomach becomes a fist. It’s all gone. All of it. Just a stupid, helpless clutch of limbs and heartbeat in a white shirt with buttons on it. He closes his eyes.
Flying has stopped working. All of it. “My God,” navigations experts announce to one another over their whizzing, beeping consoles, “of course flying doesn’t work. Lift, propulsion, “aerodynamics”…What absurd fictions. None of it makes any sense. None of it. A machine, heavier than air, carrying people – carrying cargo – taking to the air just because it rushes along very quickly and we strapped wings to it? How could we ever have been so blind?” The delusion collapses instantly.
The computers aren’t down and the plane wasn’t scheduled for maintenance. You’re a fool, stumbling off of the ground that bore and nurtures you, flying sightless and sick and alone. You have nothing. You are nothing. What separates you from the earth? Nothing. The sky wants nothing to do with you. It will not hold you up when you fall.
The flight attendants refused to board in the first leg of the flight. “You want us,” they said in carefully controlled voices, “to walk into a plastic cylinder and check bags and serve drinks in the sky? With nothing strapped to us if something goes wrong? To leave behind our homes and loved ones, suspended in a single-aisled shuttle? For what? A little money? A little money?”
Something shuddered during the last bout of turbulence, and it was important, and it shouldn’t have shuddered. They’re trying to fix it, but they’re also tired and at the end of a long shift and prone to human error, and they can’t promise you it won’t shudder again.
The plane is just gone. Maybe it never was, maybe it disappeared, but whatever it was then, it’s certainly gone now. The gate attendants are polite but vague. “It happens sometimes,” they offer, without clarifying what “it” means, exactly. “You’ll have to make alternate arrangements.”
It crashed, but no one will admit it. No reason, either. Just fell right out of the sky, a hollow, pitching room filled with screams, and then it hit the ground. They won’t tell you, but it happened. They’ll try to trick you into getting on another plane, saying it’s the same as the old one, but you’ll know the difference.
Mallory is an Editor of The Toast.