Wednesday, September 28, 2011


The final image of this story was crystal-clear in my mind and the last half of it went by in a writing blur. That may have been the fastest writing I did over the 60 stories.


            “Can you help me?” The air hostess’ words barely masked fear.
            The pilot and co-pilot exchanged quizzical looks. A 777 pretty much flies itself, but the regs make it clear that the cockpit is sacrosanct. “What’s going on?” asked the co-pilot, whose shirt bore an embroidered Lewis above the pocket.
            The hostess swallowed hard. “We have a situation with a passenger. He’s—he’s acting strange.”
            Lewis looked at the pilot, whose shirt read McKinnon. “Doug, it’s your call. I can go now.”
            McKinnon swiveled in his seat. “Nancy, what’s happening? Is the guy armed?”
            She shook her head. “No. I don’t think so. And he isn’t threatening the passengers. But he says…” She wrung her hands and swallowed hard again. “He says that he’s going to cause everybody on the plane to die.”
            The two men were agog. “A terrorist?”
            Nancy almost moaned. “No! I don’t think he’s a terrorist. But he’s back there, in 22B, sweating a lot and saying something about some change coming too early.” She twisted her face into an anguished grimace.
            “Lew, check him out. I’m notifying Logan and have them patch us through to the FBI.” As Lewis nodded, McKinnon added “Keep it as quiet as possible. And be careful.”
            “Roger.” Lewis unclipped his headset and followed Nancy through the quiet plane back to coach, where 22B was. It was almost midnight and most of the sixty-seven passengers were asleep or plugged into some device.
            The man in 22B looked like he’d finished a strenuous workout. His face was horribly flushed and sheened with sweat. The man’s eyes were open wide and he was gulping breaths. His hands clutched the armrests as if to anchor himself against a storm. His eyes darted up at Lewis and Nancy, but he made no gesture or effort to speak with them.
            Lewis squatted near the man. “Hi. I’m Commander Phil Lewis. Are you feeling ill, sir?”
            The man shook his head tightly. “No! Please. Land this plane now! I don’t want anyone to die because of me!”
            Lewis was about to assure the man everything was okay when suddenly, the man…faded. Like a movie scene where an actor becomes opaque and you can see through him to the background… Nancy gasped and Lewis sensed her fear. “Steady,” he said to her. And to himself.
            The man leaned forward slowly, groaning, as if a severe pain were wracking his innards. His hands never left the armrests, white-knuckled claws about to snap. “Do you need medical attention?” Lewis heard his voice tighten and the hair on his neck begin to rise.
            “No! I just need… to get out… of here. Now!” The man raised his head. His eyes…were blank. Gone. Two holes of blackness that quickly filled with glimpses of a beyond no one could imagine. Nancy stifled a scream a second too late.
            Lewis stood up and grabbed Nancy by the shoulders. “Tell Mason we need to land now! Get Lorena to help you calm the passengers. Get them calmed down! Go!” He gave her a brisk push towards the cockpit. She almost ran in her desire to get away from them.
            A wretched groan made Lewis turn and what he saw almost made him scream. The man was no longer in his seat. He had—somehow—become stuck passing through the floor, his arms clutching at the seats around him while his legs were…somewhere unseen. The man’s chest was trapped by the floor and he could barely speak. “It’s about to happen! Hurry! Oh god, please hurry!” The man’s voice was raw with fear.
            Just before the plane was destroyed, Lewis saw over there, the place seen only through the man’s eyes, the world where orange and gray violence melded, where brown was the color of death and where a nightmarish length of limb and claw grabbed a man and tore this world completely apart.

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