A simple, fictional short story, written for the HSC ‘Discovery’ creative writing section.
I sit in the right hand seat, as always. Captain Reilly, known to us as ‘The Air Lord’, is the airline’s chief pilot, and after 45 years of flying, dominates the left seat with an overpowering, and overwhelming stance. The evening flight to Singapore is always a breeze. Light load, clear skies and a chance to sleep during the flight. But I just had to be rostered with the goddamn Air Lord.
Just before boarding, we continue the pre-flight checks. The procedure with the Air Lord is to sit quietly, let him do his own checks and just pray that he doesn’t miss anything. Whilst it’s totally against our company policy, I don’t assist with the checks, because my help is, “Not needed and a waste of time”.
“Welcome back, Sir! Allow me to show you to your seat”
Ahh the blissfully familiar words. My wife and I follow the steward to our plush leather thrones, nestled comfortably in the nose of the aircraft. He’s quick to bring over my favourite champagne, and hot, fragrant towelette. I lay back, the beautiful warmth and aroma rejuvenating my face after the walk from the airport spa to the aircraft. I feel the fizzy, vintage champagne glide down my throat, and the blissful effects are instant.
I haven’t spoken to my wife for about a week now. There are always arguments. On the yacht, in the Rolls, at the airline lounge. Apparently I “work too much” and “don’t respect her”. Yeah right, I mean, who else is going to give her a first class life?
Yet another dreary flight, with hundreds of animals to feed, clean after and put to sleep. See, I hate my job. Standing at the door at atrociously ungodly hours with a ‘smile’ on my face…”Welcome onboard, Madame. Good evening, Sir. Hello there…” Then there’s the checks, the morons who can’t figure out that their carry on wont fit overhead, the smelly travellers, screaming babies, and I have to look after them all.
Just after the doors close, it begins. I’m already pulled and poked and asked for 32 “apple juices with water”. There’s a middle aged business traveller yapping away on his phone, and so I have to do the dreaded. But I’m already exhausted, worn out and sick of everyone, and we haven’t even departed. I walk up to him quickly and fiercely yell, “Sir! Get the phone away, now, before I tell the Captain!” He looks at me with disbelief, as do his neighbouring animals, but obliges. Oh, they’re all such a pain.
At last, we’re at cruising altitude. The sun is setting, forming a beautiful orange glow in the distance. The Air Lord is messily shovelling down his First Class meal (also against policy), while I reluctantly pick at my crew meal.
Without warning, there’s a patch of rough turbulence, and the Air Lord’s wine flies all over his white shirt (although, it was already stained). He groans like a beast and yells for the cabin crew.
The turbulence continues to worsen until the point where I begin to feel worried. Suddenly I’m hyper-focused. Seat belt sign – on; crew – seated; speed – checked. The Air Lord has taken control away from the autopilot (again, against policy) and is mercilessly fighting the plane, albeit with a face contorted with genuine fear. But this is too far. Whilst I may regret it, I yell, “Sir! You need to fix your attitude! Maybe then you’ll change how you live! Put the autopilot BACK ON!”
He’s awestruck, and surprisingly follows. Back in control, I look over the instruments and realise our issue. The attitude indicator, which measures heading and direction, was not set during the pre-flight checks. With that out, we’d flown straight into a storm, and were sure to go down if I didn’t resolve the issue soon. As I reset the indicator and fly out of the clouds, Captain Reilly just stares into the forward abyss, contemplating. His ways are changed.
As the cabin slowly dims, I finish off the divine and flavoursome lobster, laid out on heavy designer plates, on white designer linen. The inflight entertainment screen ahead shows a scene of a couple dining together at some cheap bistro, enveloped in some ‘deep’ conversation. Fools.
And yet, I begin to feel a little alone. Sure, I have the cabin crew tending to my every need, but, perhaps, would it be nice to dine with the one I love in the sky?
My thoughts are violently interrupted by jolt that sends the heavy plates flying and crashing into the ceiling above. The red wine glass smashes and drenches the fine, white linen. And it doesn’t stop. People scream, food flies and terror morphs the faces of passengers. I fly often, and hit turbulence often, but this is something unlike anything ever before. It’s then that I look a few rows down to my wife, who looks back as well. Enveloped in each other’s gaze, with a deep sense of desperation, we contemplate the possible final moments. Whilst the rioting continues, and the horror increases, I feel a changed attitude. Nothing else is of importance or of decadence. Luxurious items and experiences don’t matter or even exist. All that’s needed for survival, is her.
At long last, the meal service is done, and the animals are resting. I finally get to relax with the crew in the galley, and hope for no more demands. But, obviously, that’s no more than a hope. There’s a “DING” and I tentatively walk down the aisle to see what the creature desires. I reach the business man who I yelled at before take-off, and he asks for a drink. But he goes on to say to me “You know, you’re here to keep us safe and to be polite, so maybe think about how you speak to your passengers.”
I’m just about to give him a blasting, when the floor falls from beneath my feet. The ceiling approaches fast, and I brace for an impact sure to leave some lasting damage. But it doesn’t come. I notice my arm, held firmly by the business man. As the floor quickly comes back up to meet me, he unbuckles his seat belt and dives in to the aisle so as to catch me. The rollercoaster continues, worsening, falling and shaking.
I look to the man, and use all my effort to prevent my face from twisting with fear. “Thank you, kindly, Sir, and i sincerely apologise.” With a fight against physics, I assist him back into his seat and manage to murmur “We’re here for your safety!”. With a renewed attitude, I begin to use all my will to do my job, and to do it well, for these final moments, or forever.