by Philip Wendt
I can tell you everything about the plane and the passengers, except for their names. We were never formally introduced and never will be, but I know them. I can describe them all right down to the color of their socks. I know their seat numbers, what they were drinking, and what movies were playing on their phones. Again and again, I fall with them. I can describe their personalities. No, it is deeper than personality. I have seen into these people’s hearts. I know their convictions. I have seen through them to their raw, naked soul. As it was once said, the true measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort, but where he stands in times of challenge and controversy. Amongst them, I see cowards, and I see the courageous. I see the faithful, and I see the damned. I see selfishness, and I see selflessness. I have stood beside each of the one hundred and forty- six passengers aboard flight 121 during the three minutes and forty -five seconds it took the plane to fall to its final destination, nose first into a Nebraska cornfield.
Having watched each individual passenger and crew member, I learned what they were made of. And for the most part, I was highly disappointed. Time eludes me now or, time doesn’t exist at all here. Either way, it leaves me bewildered. Weeks, months, years, decades? On repeat, I am aboard flight 121 in its final minutes. And me? The measure of this man? I was calm, cool, collected. I immediately and instinctively made peace with my maker as soon as my eye caught the first streamers of smoke from the engine outside my window. This is where it begins, right after my prayer.
Initially, I closed my eyes and continued to pray all the way to the ground. I desperately tried drowning out the madness around me in seat B3, but I failed. It is impossible to ignore the unbuckled passengers, some children, being tossed about and slammed into the cabin, the floor, and other passengers. The bright yellow oxygen masks hanging above us and slapping us in the face as the plane rolls, teasing us. And the alarms, they scream at us and strobe a dull red out into the dark cabin. The captain in a whimper repeats himself
“Brace for impact” he says.
He is all but silenced by the screams, the prayers, the chaos. I smell vomit and shit. An unconscious child is thrown into me and knocks the wind out of me. Before I can catch my breath, I am consumed by fire, and then I am praying, at 30,000 feet. I can only hope that maybe just once something will change. Maybe I see a coward stand proud instead. Perhaps I witness a faithless one finding their God. Or, the pilot makes one minor adjustment that ends in a proper emergency landing.
But no, it’s always the same. I am the lone survivor in a way. I survived to live in a tiny sliver of time. I exist within a certain three minutes and forty-five seconds. My home now is a plummeting passenger jet, seat B53. My family are these one hundred and forty-six souls in the last minutes of their lives. Over and over, and over, and…
I am a proud native of the republic of Texas. I have been writing short fiction from the age of eight, always of the horror genre. Now, at the age of thirty five, my first submission “Watercolors” was recently published in the anthology titled “American Cult” by Madness Heart Press, released July 2019