{ the sweetest bee makes the thickest honey. }


Familiar shades of humiliation and paranoia, reinvigorated by the conventions of the aeronautical disaster genre, according to which violent thrills and sexual titillations alternate with minutely researched technical descriptions and crippling psychological introspection.
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No Survivor
by Sebastian Ischer


The airplane suddenly plunges at twenty-five thousand feet, pulling us out of our seats, then pushing us back like a malicious, teasing lover.  The woman travelers gasp or shriek while their husbands grunt in stoic terror.  A baby wails desperately in first class, its primal expression articulating a deep, shameful feeling of helplessness in all of us. Before I can suppress it, a groan escapes from the center of my body, surging up through my chest like a sharp, sour, carbonated burp, then tearing out of my throat:  “Ohhh no.”


The pilot’s oily, masculine voice comes on over the loudspeaker, drawling through the white-noise hum of cabin pressurization like a whiff of cooling after-shave.

“Folks, it looks like we’re encountering a little bit of unexpected chop here.  I’ll have to ask you to return to your assigned seats and buckle yourselves in for me.  Please believe it when I say that as soon as safety permits, I will turn off this seatbelt sign and let you roam freely through the aircraft, although we do request that you stay in your seat for as much of the flight as possible, and appreciate your cooperation and docility throughout our time together.”

“We’re going down, kid,” I say to the little boy seated next to me, eight or nine years old with a full head of tousled hair.  He is old enough to be my son, if I had met someone special right after college, and decided to just Go For It and keep the baby, as a symbol of our love and innocence, and because we’re young and happy, and that will be enough for a while, if I didn’t care what anyone else says, including my own cowardly common sense.

“Little boy, I will do anything in my power to save you.  But once a plane starts to crash, anyone on board is powerless, and in that situation all we can do is face the reality of our situation and try to maintain our human decency.  If you want to cry, that’s all right.  I can hold you, too, if you show me how.”

A look of serious concern crosses his face.  “The movie isn’t finished.  If we crash the plane I’m not going to find out how it ends.”

“Don’t worry, it’s a disappointment.  They all end the same way: He realizes he’s been in love with her all along, and all the flaws he’s been observing in her are just materializations of his own fear of being happy.  She realizes it was her fear of being hurt that made her want to preemptively manipulate and control him, and that she can never find true happiness until she learns to risk having her heart broken.”

“So what happens, on the plot level?”

“He gets on a motorcycle and chases her through rush-hour traffic as she’s taking a cab to the airport. Suddenly she catches a glimpse of him gesturing to her in the rear mirror.  She rolls down the window, and he shouts that he’s in love with her over the roaring wind and automobile noises.  Meanwhile he isn’t focused on his driving, and another driver suddenly, carelessly changes lanes, side-swiping him.  The bike wipes out and he rolls onto the median.  She sees him go down, stops the cab, jumps out and runs to him through oncoming traffic, in slo-mo.  They embrace and kiss, even though he’s in considerable pain.  Beautiful music plays as the camera ascends towards the sky on a giant crane.  There’s a coda with some light humor, and then we realize they’re getting happily married.”

“Did you see it in the theaters when it first came out?”

“Well, I was on a date.  There was nothing else playing, and the girl I was with really likes the male lead, so I went along with it.  I was bored out of my mind, but my date was so pretty, and she seemed to really enjoy the movie, so I didn’t mind.  I also saw it again on my flight over, when I couldn’t sleep.”

“What was her name?”

“Daisy.  The prettiest girl I’ve ever talked to.  And she seemed to like me, too.”

“What happened after the movie?”

“We went out for drinks.  Then we went back to her apartment and kissed. She put my hand under her shirt, which I thought was really cool.”

“You touched her breasts?”

“ They were very nice.  Perfectly round and firm, and the skin was very smooth. Large nipples that stirred to my touch.”

“I’ll never get to touch anyone’s breasts.  Except for my mom’s.  And I’m never going to have sex, either.”

“Don’t feel bad.  It’s the kind of thing that you have to teach yourself to really enjoy, and then it makes you unhappy most of the time anyway.  Like drugs.  It’s better to be innocent and pure, and never have to obsess over that stuff.”

The plane buckles, and my prostate contracts violently.  The resulting sensation is equally painful and pleasurable, causing a brief moment of disorientation, then relief when it recedes.


“Folks, this is your captain speaking.  I’m going to be really blunt with you, because I feel like you deserve it, and if things were reversed and the shoe was on the other foot, I’d want you to be blunt with me too, so here goes: we’re having some engine trouble, nothing we can’t manage, but it does mean that we have to adjust our flight plan a little bit and head towards the closest airport for an emergency stop-over.  I know some of you will feel inconvenienced by this, but we’ll have customer reaction personnel meeting us at the gate to let you voice your complaints.”

And acrid smell fills the stale air, probably caused by melted wiring.  One of the engines must be on fire.


“I’m getting really hungry,” the little boy says.  He’s remarkably calm and composed for a child his age, and I’m momentarily filled with vicarious paternal pride, a heartbreakingly sincere and grown-up feeling that quickly segues into disappointment because I will never be allowed to have children myself, and then into a sense of bitterness over the fact that the little boy himself will never grow up to experience the bond of vicarious fatherhood towards a boy his current age.  “Sometimes life seems really unfair,” I exclaim through a rising tightness in my throat.  “You just want good things to happen to everyone so we can all share in happiness, but instead, some people get to be happy and fulfilled, and others have nothing at all.  Except misery, fear and pain.”

“You shouldn’t think about it like that, young man,” says an old woman in the aisle across from me.

“Happiness is always relative.  And so is pain.  But things could be much worse.  You might have been born without an arm, or a leg, or brain damaged.”

“How could that possibly be worse?  We’re in a plane that’s experiencing engine failure, falling towards the ocean like a bomb made of human bodies, and this little boy is going to die thousands of miles away from his parents, sitting next to a complete stranger.  If you can come up with a more tragic scenario, I would very much like to hear it now.”  Bitter tears start to stream from face as the truth of my words dawns upon me.

The old lady reaches across the aisle and touches my arm in a way that is patronizing and comforting at the same time.  “Everyone dies, young man.  We all have that in common, and once your body is destroyed, your soul is free to ascend to Heaven, where you can rest in God’s grace.”

“Don’t believe her, kid,” I protectively turn towards the little boy.  “That’s a load of bullshit right there.  Once you die, there will be nothing waiting for you but the cold black void.  And that’s after you’ve gone through the incredible physical and emotional pain of being killed.”

“God’s love will fill the void,” the kindly old woman crows.  “He will hold you in his arms and keep you safe from harm.”  Her hands flutter above her head like tethered birds, and a rapturous looks spreads across her wrinkled features.

“You need to shut up and face reality,” I explode, “and stop spreading these wish-fulfillment fantasies that are too good to be true.”  I become aware of the other passengers staring at me.  “Because what you’re doing now just seems like denial to me,” I add archly, making a show of composing myself.


After a long uncomfortable silence I doze off.  I wake when the meal cart snaps against my foot, bending it unnaturally away from the ankle. “Would you like the chicken strip dinner or do you want me to shit on a biscuit for you?” the stewardess asks. “Excuse me,” I cry out.  “What did you just say?”

“For today’s in-flight meal, we have a choice of  a chicken strip dinner, or a hot biscuit smothered in gravy.”

“I think I heard you mention that you wanted to shit on the biscuit.”

“That’s entirely ridiculous and inappropriate, sir, and if you continue with that type of language use I will have to alert the captain.”

“I’m sorry, I must have been in the midst of a lucid dream.  I think I’ll have the chicken strip with macaroni, please.”

“Oh no, I’m so sorry for the misunderstanding, but we are out of the chicken strip.  However, I can still offer you the biscuit smothered in our delicious special gravy.”

“I’m actually not that hungry.  Maybe I’ll just sleep through dinner.”

“That’s your decision to make sir.  And what would you like, little boy, the biscuit with my delicious gravy, or a hunger nap?”

“I heard it too,” the little boy says, a worry-crease winding across his egg-shaped forehead.  “I don’t want her to shit on my biscuit.” For the first time in our shared journey, he seems genuinely upset.

“Oh, it’s perfectly fine – our special gravy is flash-frozen, and then heated to body temperature in a microwave oven.   Plus it tastes like Thai Peanut Sauce.”

“I don’t want to eat anything with pooh!”

Wary of another embarrassing scene, I try to assume the role of the peacemaker.  “Look kid, you have to eat something, or you’ll be cranky later.  We’ll have two biscuits with the special gravy, please.”

“That’s a great choice, sir.  Don’t worry, little boy.  After traveling at ten thousand feet for forty hours, our sauce is completely odorless.”

We eat our biscuits in silence, gagging occasionally.  An inconsistently textured brown substance is smeared across the warm flaky dough.  “I tastes like gravy, with some peanut oil thrown in to balance the flavors,” I proclaim.  “I think you are in denial,” the boy responds.


“This is your captain speaking,” a voice materializes from the overhead luggage compartments, “we are re-routing the aircraft and have found a new target destination.   Once we get there, we’re going to be involved in a low-probability, high-impact aeronautical experience that some of you may find frightening and disruptive.  I’d like you to please save all your concerns until we are on the ground, and then address them directly to the specially trained trauma counseling team.  Our main goal is your safety and satisfaction, and any tangential issues should not be allowed to distract us from that.  Let’s make the most of a difficult situation.”

“Do you miss your mom and dad?” I ask the little boy.  “Are you worried that they’re worried about you right now?”

He shrugs noncommitantly.  “I guess.”  “Don’t worry.  They’re grown-ups.  They can handle it.  It’s much worse for us, knowing that they have to deal with the guilt of being survivors.  The shame that they’re going to feel at being able to move on with their lives after we’ve died will be terrible and lasting.  And they don’t even know it yet.  They’re just living their stupid, carefree lives - buying a gallon of milk from the convenience store, meanwhile their loved ones are about to be torn from them forever in a senseless plane crash.  I pity them.”

“Do you have any loved ones?” the little boy asks.  I find his sensitivity and compassion for others almost unbearably moving.

“What do you mean,” I respond, suddenly unsure of this line of questioning. “Is there somebody who will miss you when you’re dead?”

“Why, of course.  There’s a whole group of people.  First and foremost my parents, and my brother Carl.  We’re very close, even though we don’t communicate that much anymore.  We’re very different people, you see, but mutually respectful.  On some level he’ll probably be a little bit relieved that I’m gone; I’ve always felt that he was jealous of my tortured artistic ambition.  Maybe he’ll finally win the love of my parents, after all these years, by comforting them over my death.  I don’t begrudge him the chance.  'You were always our inferior son, but at least you’re alive to reciprocate our love and affection.'  Actually, my dad was never a very loving person.  Maybe my death will allow him to open up a little, shed some tears.  When we were growing up, he’d never let us see him cry.  Better to fake a coughing fit, or pretend he was mocking us by caricaturing our emotions than to admit weakness.  In some ways, I feel like every significant development of my character has been a reaction against him and his psychotic behavior.  Of course mom never had the guts to speak out against his tyranny.  She indulged our every whim, using her unconditional love for us as a weapon against him.  That sort of passive-aggressive warfare does not make for a healthy environment in which to raise children; nor did their relentless displays of sexual attraction to each other.  I used to dread our camping trips, knowing that they’d be rutting like animals in the tent next to ours every night, without even bothering to wait until we pretended to be asleep.  Sometimes I had to hit Carl.  It was the only thing that calmed me enough so I could sleep, and he bore it without complaint, God bless him.”

“My parents are nice,” the little boy responds thoughtfully.  “They read me books and my dad carries me on his back when we’re moving through treacherous territory.”

“You’re luckier than the majority of kids.  Most parents scar their children’s psyche in a way that takes years of intensive introspection to recover from.”

“They also take me to movies that are rated PG-13.  Afterwards we talk about things that were upsetting, and also cool, and whether the performances were believable.”

“That’s really great.  I’m sure they’ll miss you very much.”

Driven by spontaneous compassion, I reach out and take his tiny hand in mine.  It feels hot and clammy, and once I’m holding it I wish I could let go.  But I feel that I need to keep holding it for a significant amount of time, or else the gesture will ring false.  We awkwardly sit, both of our hands getting hotter and sweatier, until he finally pulls away.

“Do you have a girlfriend?”

“What makes you ask that, little boy?”

“Just the way you were holding my hand. Do you, though?”

“I have a girl that I love very much, who is very beautiful, but unfortunately she’s not my girlfriend.  She’s a slut, and she makes bad decisions about her body involving alcohol, drugs, and unprotected sex.”

“What do you mean by that?”

“I mean she’s got bipolar personality disorder and she likes to party with bike messengers and bass players.  And as long as I take care of her when she’s down, she keeps me around.  But the moment I start talking about my feelings, and my needs, she gets bored.  And of course I indulge the whole cycle of abuse because I think I can save her, and finally win her love.  Which is a joke, because she doesn’t give a shit.”

“I bet she cares about you some of the time.”

“Even if that’s true, kid, and you’re no licensed psychotherapist so I wouldn’t put too much stock in your analysis, it doesn’t make it okay that she picks up guys in front of me, and then questions my masculinity by suggesting that I watch her have sex with them.  As if I’m some kind of impotent voyeur who wants to see another dude jackhammering the love of his life.”

“What’s jackhammering?”

“It’s when a hairy, sweaty guy is pumping your girlfriend, porn-star style, and their damp flesh slaps together due to his vigorous thrusting, which results in a rhythmic slapping sound that can be deeply haunting.  Of course, once the cocaine runs out she’s back with me, and then there’s another chance for a new beginning, and tears, and reconciliation, and take-out, and spooning.”

“I have to go to the bathroom.”

“That’s perfectly alright.  Let me get up for you.”

“Maybe you should call Daisy, and tell her what’s happening.  Then she’ll probably feel bad about the fact that she never loved you enough to keep from doing it with those guys.”

“Thanks little boy, that’s a really nice idea.  Do you need me to walk you to the bathroom?”

“No, that’s fine.”

“Are you sure?  If you’re scared, or nervous, just let me know, and we can talk about it.”

“No, I’m fine, I just have to pee.”


After the little angel has left, I pull a blanket over my head, then surreptitiously pull my cell-phone out of my carry-on tote.  I whisper her name into the auto-dial.  “Daisy.”

“Daisy?”

“…”

“Hey, it’s me.  Listen, is this a good time to talk?  Or are you in the middle of something?”

“…”

“Yeah?  How did the meeting go?  Did you get to make your presentation to the boss?”

“…”

“Oh, man, what as asshole.  No, listen, you don’t have to deal with that.  Because you’re a professional, you love your job, and you’re good at it.  They’re lucky to have you.  You could be making twice the money somewhere else.”

“…”

 “Just start sending out your resume.  Leave it in the fax machine, so they’ll know.”

“…”

“Of course I’ll help you.  First thing Saturday.”

“…”

“No, the trip’s going fine.  I’m in the air right now.  That’s why the reception’s so buzzy.  I’m above the ocean.  Listen, I wanted to tell you.  I met this really cool kid.”

“…”

“No, like eight or nine.  He’s really cute, and smart.  He’s been making me think, a lot.  Kids are so cool.  They’re these perfectly developed little beings, but without all the hang-ups and baggage.  I really think I want that in my life.”

“…”

“No, as a father.  Having my own kid, my own flesh-and-blood.  With you.  I really think we should try.”

“…”

“No, listen, Daisy, I think it could really help us with a lot of our problems.  It would be like a second chance, something that we could both do, together.”

“…”

“No, let’s not be realistic, for once.  If we really make an effort, we could do this.  I could quit my job, and just take care of the baby, and maybe finally do some writing, while the baby’s asleep.”

“…”

“No, I know, but it would bring us closer together.  All that stuff will seem so frivolous, when you’re holding a tiny, living being in your arms, a little creature that’s carrying part of your genetic code.  Our genetic code.”

“…”

“I know that you want to have a mixed-race baby, but we can adopt one, once we have our own.  That’ll be a much more effective statement, from a socio-political globalist perspective.  I mean there are babies in Africa, just dying.  Because no one adopts.”

“…”

“Please, just think about it, okay?  Just say that you’ll think about it, and you’ll consider it.  We can talk about it later.”

“…”

“I’m not trying to do anything, I’m just telling you that my biological clock is ticking.  And I’d rather do it now, while I’m a young, hip dad, and not in ten years, where by the time he’s a teenager, I’m enfeebled and set in my ways.”

“…”

“No, you’re being crazy, for denying the only thing that could ever make you truly happy and take you out of your narcissistic self-centeredness.”

“…”

“Well, at least I want to give the gift of life.”

“…”

“That’s fine, that’s your opinion of me, and you’re entitled to it.  Let’s just agree to disagree.”

“…”

“No, actually I’m not.  And there is one other thing I thought you might like to know: I’m in an airplane that’s about to crash, due to systemic engine failure.  The captain just announced it: we’re going down and there’s nothing left to do but pray and call your loved ones.  That’s why he lifted the ban on using electronic devices in flight.  So this whole argument is moot, anyway, since I’m about to die, and you’ll never have to see me again, or listen to my whiny voice, or deal with my constant need for reassurance, or read my boring film criticism, or have sex with my repulsive, unfit body.  I really hope you’re happy.”

“…”

“Daisy?  Are you still there?”

“…“

“I think we’re losing signal.  Hello?  Hello?  I just wanted to say one more thing.”



“I love you.  Please don’t leave me.”



“Hello?  Hello?”



“Did you get to talk to her?” The little boy eases into his seat, refreshed from his stroll down the aisle.

“I tried, but the reception was really bad.  We couldn’t communicate at all.”

“Maybe you can try again later when we get closer to land.”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea.”


We sit in silence, the little boy kicking the back of the seat in front of him in a detached, listless way.  Suddenly it strikes me: we need an activity, something to take both of our minds off the crushing weight of our circumstances.

“Do you ever drink alcohol?  Like, maybe your parents let you have a sip of wine from their glass at dinner, or one of your buddies brings a flask to class?”

“I’m pretty sure I’m too young to drink.”

“That’s ridiculous.  During the depression, kids as young as ten were getting drunk by noon every day.”

“I’m only eight.”

“Well, I think we can make an exception, because I really need a drink, and I wouldn’t want you to be missing out on anything.”

I buzz the stewardess.  “Two Scotch and Sodas, please.”

“I’m sorry, sir, but due to airline regulations, I can only serve you one drink at a time.”

“Of course they’re not both for me.  One of the drinks is for my traveling companion here.”

“Sir, I think this little boy is underage, and it would be ethically questionable for me to serve him an intoxicant, not to mention illegal and possibly hazardous to his health.”

“Listen, there’s no reason to be concerned, I will be supervising him as he drinks, and I take full responsibility for his actions and mine once we are under the influence.”

She frowns, contorting her tan, fine-pored face into a grimace of internal conflict.  “I don’t think I can let you make that decision for him.  Our rules are meant to ensure the safety of our passengers, especially when they have no regards for their own safety, or the safety of a young child.”

“I think you’re presenting an interesting argument, but I do want to point out that, under the circumstances, all of us are inhabiting a state of heightened existential reality.  If you deny this little boy the last vestige of self-determination left to him, the ability to alter his perceptions through consumption of mind-altering poisons, you’re denying his independent human consciousness for the sake of your rigid authoritarian framework.  And once you’re into that scene, you’ve turned us all into dumb animals, helplessly awaiting our slaughter, sitting sullenly in the soul-deadening stench of our fear-sweat.    So please, give me a break, and just serve us the fucking drinks.  Please.”


“This tastes really bad,” the little boy says, sipping through pursed lips.

“Just drink through it.  Force yourself to like it, and eventually you will.”

I knock back my drink in two large gulps, and order another one before the stewardess has a chance to leave.  “I’ll take two more, actually, for myself.  Light on the soda, no ice.”  She leaves, throwing a look of withering disapproval back at me, which I’m too pleasantly disconnected to feel the effects of.

“That’s better right?  Can you feel the fear receding, as your face gets numb and warm?”

“I guess so,” the little boy slurs, from under droopy eyelids.  “I guess it feels alright.”

His head tilts to the side, his mouth slightly opened, the jaw moving, like a fish when it’s out of water and wants back in.

“That’s good, right?  It hits harder at high altitudes. What a nice buzz, don’t you think?”

“I think I’m going to throw up on myself.  I feel really dizzy.”

“No, that’s not happening.  Just take a little rest and compose yourself.”

“I’m spinning around,” the boy says, a note of panic in his voice.

“Close your eyes, you’ll be fine.  Everything’s fine.”

I hum into his ear, a simple improvised lullaby that goes, “Everything will be fine, relax, somebody got your back, gonna keep you safe from harm, if not there’ll be payback.”

He drifts off, groaning quietly from time to time.


The stewardess passes by, distributing bottles of water and pressure-packed peanuts.  As she bends over to reach a row of passengers near me, her toned buttocks swell against the tight polyester fabric of her uniform-skirt.  Her full, luscious arms strain in surprising definition against the snug arm-hole of her short-sleeved blouse as she hands several bottles of water to a woman with two young children.

“Thank you,” I say when she administers her refreshments to my row.  “I really appreciate your courteous service on this trip.  You’ve made things a lot easier for us to bear.”

“You are absolutely welcome,” she flashes an even, radiant smile that touches me in the core of my being, searing away stratified layers of sexual pessimism.

“It’s been a pleasure serving you.”

“Wow.  I’m glad.  Listen, I was wondering if I could ask you something…”

“Anything at all, sir.”

“I’m wondering if there’s any chance, since we’re literally going down, of any kind of sexual encounters between passengers and the crew.”

“I’m not sure I follow your intentions.”

“I’m just thinking that it might be mutually worthwhile to give ourselves over to physical pleasure, and just generate some intimacy together, in the limited amount of time that remains.”

“I don’t know if I can interpret your words correctly, sir, since it seems that you’re using effusive language.”

“Maybe we could lock ourselves into one of the bathrooms, and expose parts of our bodies to each other, with possible reciprocal touching.”

“Wait, do you mean sex?” she giggles uncontrollably, “is that what you mean?”

“Well, that, or something of an approximate nature.”

“I thought you did, but I wasn’t sure.”

“That’s alright, maybe I wasn’t being transparent.  Do you think you could, though?  Get into it, I mean?”

“Sir I’m really flattered, but I’d be in clear violation, personally, and also in complete disregard of my professional duties.  Plus it would be very inconsiderate towards other passengers who might be expecting the use of the facilities for their physical expulsion needs.”

“You’re sure there’s no way to make two wrongs into a right on this one, and create a little wiggle room?”

“I’m definitely sure, sir.”

“It just seems sad to not have that, in our last moments in-air, before we reach the earth: the comfort of our bodies’ capacity for pleasure.”

“I feel very compassionately towards you, sir, and I’m sorry I can’t help out, but what I can do is make an announcement over the loudspeaker that you’re requesting a sex partner.  There must be someone else onboard that would be interested in that sort of thing.”

“That’s not necessary at all.  I just thought I’d bring it up with you, personally, but I can definitely do without, so let’s not bother.”

“Don’t be embarrassed, we all have human needs, and it’s our lot in life to learn to express them in a healthy and fulfilling manner.  Do you have any specific preferences?  Women only, or would men do as well?”

“Just a woman please.  Someone slender and attractive, if possible.  And open-minded in a non-judgmental way.  But you don’t need to announce it.  I can just stroll through the cabin and introduce myself.”

“Don’t worry, sir, it’s much easier this way.”


Before I can respond, she turns and heads to the middle of the cabin.  I slouch into my seat, vacillating between hopeful expectation and a sense of certain doom.

“Ladies and gentlemen, the gentleman in seat 38D, that is an aisle seat, is looking for a female person with whom to release his primal urges.  If you have any interest in obliging him, please raise your hand.  He has a personal preference for thin, beautiful, open-minded women, but may be willing to accommodate other types.  Is anyone interested at all?”  Silence descends upon the cabin for twenty seconds or so.

“What does he look like?” a woman at the center of the aircraft shouts out, unable to constrain her curiosity.

“Sir, could you please stand and make yourself visible to the other passengers.”

“No, that’s alright,” I respond in a high-pitched voice, “I think we can abandon the whole thing.”

“Sir, stand up so that the women onboard can see you.”

I duck deeper into the seat.

“Sir, you’re acting extremely childish.  Please stop wasting everyone’s time and stand up.”

I slowly and sullenly get to my feet.  The bemused, puzzled looks of several female passengers impart in me a brutal awareness of my physical inadequacies: bad posture, receding hairline, flabby mid-section, overbite, disproportionate, protrusive nose with large pores, small ape-like hands, an unsymmetrical, bulky head, shaped like a root vegetable, or an unfinished woodcarving.  A deep, shameful blush spreads through my torso and into my face, making me feel light-headed and sleepy.

“Please turn around slowly so that women passengers in all directions can see you from every angle.”

I rotate, stomping my feet in a small circle, grinding my jaw in humiliation, keeping my eyes on the ground.

“And now, to give us a quick impression of your singing voice, please offer your rendition of the national anthem.”

“That’s not pertinent at all,” I shout weakly, looking desperately in the direction of the stewardess who has her back turned to me while she nestles the onboard microphone against her chin.

“On the contrary, studies have shown that women see musical ability as an important sexual characteristic in men, making them desirable even when indicators of physical attractiveness are lacking.”

“This is full-blown humiliation, and I really wish you’d drop it,” I exclaim, finally reconnecting with my sense of indignant outrage.

“Just sing for us, you sex fiend,” an obese woman towards the front screams viciously, “We want to hear your pretty voice.”

“Doesn’t anyone understand what’s happening here,” I plead with the other passengers, “our lives are in danger, and they’re trying to distract you by turning me into some kind of scapegoat.”

“In my opinion, we’re in danger of being molested by an exhibitionist sex pervert,” a self-satisfied grandmother of three remarks.

“No, that’s not it at all.  The engine’s failing, and we’re running out of time.  We’re not going to make it to land.”

“Please refrain from trying to cause a panic as a means of redirecting the other travelers’ attention away from your sexual shortcomings,” the stewardess’ disembodied voice sternly admonishes.

“No, let’s admit the truth, for once, instead of desperately clinging to our ignorance: The plane is going to crash!”

A disconcerted murmur spreads through the cabin.

“Sir, if you don’t sit down at once and cease speaking for the duration of the flight, you will be constrained and tranquilized.”

“That’s it!  They’re threatening me, because they can’t allow the truth to get out.  It’s too late!  Everyone knows!”

“I’m afraid,” a large bearded man admits, and the concord of the other passengers spreads through the cabin, row by row.  “What’s going to happen to us?”

“Let us all pray,” the old woman in the aisle seat across from me shouts, joyously clapping her hands together.

“No, no, no!  Let’s face our despair, and admit that we’re alone, and that no one’s going to help us,” I retort in exasperation, just as a stabbing pain in the back of my neck alerts me that I’ve been shot with a tranquilizing dart.

“Take it easy, buddy.  Have a seat.” The pilot’s voice reverberates sickeningly across space and time.


I wake in my seat, drenched in sweat.  The lights in the cabin have been dimmed, and most passengers are sleeping under thin synthetic blankets or enjoying a repeat viewing of the in-flight feature presentation.  My hands are tied against the seat arms with duct tape.

A howl of impotent rage rises out of my stomach, and up into my throat, from where I swallow it back down and lock my jaw against it.  I turn to the little boy in the seat next to me.  He is slumped over, a pointy shoulder stabbing into his cheek.

“Hey, wake up,” I whisper with controlled urgency.

He stirs and shrugs, then smacks his lips against the terrible dryness in his mouth.

“No more sleepy-time, little boy.  I need your help.”  I rhythmically rock my body back and forth, jostling him.

A flicker of consciousness twitches across his face, then the slackness contracts into a grimace of annoyance, then it finally congeals into an approximation of wakefulness.

“I think I peed my pants while I was asleep.”  He points at a dark spot in

his lap.

“You were probably just sweating.”

“It smells like urine.”

“A lot of drunks piss themselves. I used to do it all the time when I was partying, back in college.  Nothing to feel bad about.”

“Thanks.  I was feeling pretty embarrassed.”

“No problem.  Do you mind chewing through this duct tape?”


“Are you okay?” the little boy asks.  A look of bleary-eyed disconnect and a slight smudge of dried saliva on his cheek are the only remaining signs of recent drunken unconsciousness on his person.

“I’m sore all over.  The other passengers must have given me a beating while I was unconscious. And now they’re acting like nothing happened.  Those hypocrites.”

“I’d like to call my parents.”

“OK, let’s use my cell phone.”

“I’ve got my own.”


“Hey mom and dad, it’s your son, Timmy.  Please pick up.  I’m in serious trouble.  The engine is burned out, and we might not make it to land.  So I’m pretty scared right now.  But I know you’re probably out at dinner together, and if I don’t talk to you within the next hour, or ever again, I want you to know that I love you, and I hope you won’t feel too bad when I’m gone, in case we don’t make it.  I know it seems horrible to have your only child die, and you’ll miss me very much, but just imagine what it would be like if I got very old and sick, and then died in a hospital somewhere, all alone and unloved.  This is much better, because I know that you’re both okay, and I don’t ever have to find out what’s it’s like to be old and lonely.  And maybe you can adopt another kid, from Africa or another disadvantaged continent, and he or she could live in my room, since those kids have no opportunities in life.  You could give one a really great break, almost as good as winning the lottery.  Also, even though I’m scared of what’s about to happen, I’m not afraid of death, since it’s inevitable, and my consciousness and memory will be wiped out when it happens, which means that all my suffering, and all the suffering in the world, will cease to exist, once I’m dead.  Also, there’s a nice man sitting next to me on the plane who is going to hang out with me during the crash, so I’ll have some company.   Anyway, call me back when you get this.  I hope you had a fun dinner, I love you, Timmy.”

“You don’t have to say that part about me, unless you want to,” I add.

“I don’t know how I’m going to remember all that,” he says.

“Don’t worry, I’ll give you cues.”


“Hey mom and dad, it’s Tim.  I’m on the airplane.  Call me back please, I’d really like to talk to you.  I love you.  And tell grandma I love her.  And Carl, too.  I’m sorry I haven’t called in a while.  Bye.”


“Why are you traveling by yourself, anyway?”

“I don’t know.”

“Doesn’t it seem strange that a little kid is traveling by himself?”

“I’m eight.  You can travel by yourself when you’re eight.  I’ve done it before.”

“Where are you going?”

“I don’t know.”

“How could you not know where you’re going?”

“I forgot.”

“Okay, you’re trying to be clever.  Whatever.  I don’t care where the fuck you’re going.  Because you’re not going to get there anyway.”


I get up and walk away from my seat, angry at the boy and his innocent, carefree ignorance, so angry my hands are shaking, and I have to tuck them under my armpits to keep from accidentally punching people.


The pretty, blonde stewardess gives me a look of alarm.

“Don’t worry, Cindy,” I say, “I’m not going to cause any problems.  I just want to know what’s going on.”

“Everything’s fine, sir.  Please just go back to your seat for me and fasten your seatbelt.”

“You can tell the truth.  I can handle it.”

“Just go back to your seat, sir.”

“I refuse!”

She looks frightened.

“Just kidding.”  I try to push past her, towards the front of the plane.

“I’m just going to go talk to the captain.  It’s kind of important, so I’d appreciate it if you don’t obstruct me in any way.”

“Sir, you cannot disturb the captain!  I need you to return to your seat now!”

“I need you to get out of the fucking way and leave me alone!”

We circle each other like cage match fighters.  I feint, then hurl myself forward, throwing her to the ground.  For a moment I’m on top of her, grunting and thrusting as she slashes at my eyes with her fingernails, which are bitten and worried down to the half-moon circles on her nail beds.  I lean into her, smelling the classy duty-free perfume, with a hint of peanut salt and hand sanitizer, then I resurface, find my focus, and charge down the aisle, towards the cockpit, dodging hands and feet the first-class travelers have extended to snare me, as well as pieces of luggage they’ve torn from the overhead compartment to use as missiles.

“I will not be impeded,” I scream with the desperate abandon of someone who has nothing to lose but his only purpose, and then I’ve reached the cockpit door and am pummeling it with my ineffective, tender fists.

‘Captain, I need to talk to you.”

“Step away from the door, buddy,” the charismatic voice rings easily from within the cockpit, but it’s too late, I’ve grabbed a beverage cart and am using it as a battering ram, relentlessly slamming it against the door until the hinges give and I’m inside.  The cockpit is empty, and I stagger into its center, blinking through the windshield at the mass of mountainous, brown terrain below, and at the status lights, steadily blinking in unconcerned greens.

“That’s enough, buddy,” the captain snarls as he fires a tranquilizer dart at close range, while at the exact same moment I senselessly stumble forward, so that the dart misses me and embeds itself in the neck of the co-pilot, who sinks to the floor with a sigh, vigorously smacking his head against the console on the way down.

“I think you need to return to your seat right now,” the captain continues, throwing a right-handed punch that glances off my forehead, immediately followed by a powerfully executed left elbow to my nose.

“I just need to know what’s happening with the engines,” I try to ask through a mouthful of blood, but the only sound that comes out is a wail of pain and rage.

“You will not take control of my aircraft!  Not on my watch!” the captain responds.

A barrage of punches connects with my face, causing me to slump backwards against the throttle in resignation.  The engine emits as low whine as the plane shudders and tilts forward.

“I will kill you with my bare hands if that’s what it takes to restore order,” he explains as his hands close around my throat. As the oxygen leaves my brain, my hands flap uselessly over the floorboards, until one comes to rest on the face of the copilot, which is surprisingly cool and wet.  My vision contracts into a tiny prism surrounded by the walls of a deep, black well, filled with heavy black water that I long to sink into so that all my troubles can be washed away.  How pleasant, I think to myself, to be able to let go so completely.  But before I’m extinguished entirely, the thoughtful, hesitant voice of the little boy floats down into the well.

“I thought you said you’d hang out with me later.”


I grip the tranquilizer dart embedded in the copilot’s neck and propel my hand upward in an expulsion of all the muscle and willpower I have left.  The dart ascends towards the captain’s face, which softens into a look of sullen dismay.  It penetrates his right eye with a moist popping sound, then bores upward into his brain.  Blood gushes out across his cracked aviator glasses and into his bushy moustache.  The pilot collapses, kissing me lightly on the check with a last exhalation of damp breath.  I retreat into unconsciousness, then momentarily wake myself, compelled by a lingering sense of responsibility. 

As I painfully raise myself off the floor, insignificant details come into focus through the cockpit window.  Tiny blue swimming pools materialize in the backyards of flat, square houses laid out like intricate tiles, with tiny cars trickling between them.  I can make out lean women joggers pushing babies in strollers along the wide sidewalks, and shuffling old people crouching to pick up their pets’ excrement, teenage boys smoking and throwing things, men lying underneath cars and climbing on top of them, people swarming around buildings, moving objects around, changing them, touching each other and moving apart.  The whole organic mass of humanity is an unstoppable and indifferent organism, pouring itself into continuously increasing forms of complexity and pointlessness at dizzying speed until I start to gag and am forced to look away.


I stumble up the aisle, pulling myself from one seatback to the next against the incline of the plane, waving calmly to the passengers who stare uncomprehendingly at my bloodied, swollen face.

“Don’t worry, everything’s fine, we’re going to make it.”  I give them the thumbs up.  They smile back in anxious relief.

I reach 38D and carefully ease myself in next to the little boy.

“Hey little boy, how are you doing?”

“Good, I took a little nap.”  He pauses.  “My parents didn’t call back.”

“Well, they’re at the airport, waiting for you, and there’s no reception at the gate.  But don’t worry.  I just talked to the captain, and everything’s fine.  We’re going to land soon, and everyone’s going to meet us.”

“Your parents too?”

“Yeah, my parents, and Daisy, my lovely wife and the mother of my children.”

“We’ll all be together and have a party.”

“That’s right.”  I put my arm around him, and he nestles against me.  I can feel the happiness coursing through his little body, and it courses into mine, too, so I start singing, and soon he’s singing along, and then the other passengers pick up the tune and join in, an overweight black woman breaks into a beautiful gospel-tinged harmony, and we’re one big heavenly choir together:  “Everything will be fine, cause somebody got your back, keep you safe from harm, if not there’ll be payback, for sure.”

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