By J. H. Bográn
Published in e-book and trade paperback by Rebel e-Publishers.
Release date: Sept/15/2013
An air pocket forced the 747 into a short plunge. A male voice filled the air through the P.A. “This is an emergency. All passengers, please return to your seats and fasten your seatbelts.”
Sebastian Martin grabbed the armrests so hard his knuckles turned white before his left hand reached for his seat belt and found it already buckled. He never took it off except for nature calls or after landing. A seasoned fire fighter with the FDNY, he had seen crash sites and never felt comfortable inside planes.
He looked across the aisle at his wife, Kelly, and son, Joshua. He had to get a grip and not infect the eight-year-old with his fear. He checked his watch, not long to go.
The lights went out. A rumble grew louder and louder. He heard frightened screams from other passengers. A knot in the pit of his stomach told him they were about to plummet, then the force of gravity plastered him to the back of his seat. The oxygen masks dropped down from the bulkhead as dim emergency lights came on. With his mask in place, he turned to his right. Kelly had her mask on already and he watched as she helped Joshua. She pulled the white plastic strap, and then held their son’s hand. After nine years of marriage, Sebastian and Kelly could communicate their thoughts with a single look: They didn’t know if they’d make it out of there alive.
A flight attendant ran the length of the plane from the back. Even in the dim light, he recognized the fear in her eyes. She made sure everybody was buckled in. She had to shout above the deafening roar.
The plane rocked from side to side. A few of the overhead bins opened and luggage pieces bombarded the cabin. He deflected a duffle bag with his forearm. One of the bag’s metal buckles nicked him and blood trickled down from the stinging scratch.
The noise increased. A massive tremor shook the plane and Sebastian feared the worst: the fuselage would collapse. The sound of ripping metal filled the cabin, overwhelming any scream.
He turned to his wife and saw her moving away. That’s impossible, he thought. A tiny ray of daylight from above illuminated her. He heard a screeching sound as metal wrenched from metal, as the light increased and a section beside the wing broke away from the airliner.
With a sense of surreal lingering, an adagio that defied reality, he watched Kelly and Joshua as they were sucked out and away into the emptiness. They hung, suspended, in time, motion and the raw air.
His gaze locked on Kelly’s face, her eyes wide with fear. All sound faded away. Through the clear plastic mask, he saw her mouth open. He couldn’t hear her scream, but her voice was crystal clear in his ear. Clouds took their place as the plane raced to earth and left them to follow. Through the gap, air rushed in, creating mayhem and devilry in its onslaught. Luggage, backpacks, shoes, cans, cups, the sick bags, and safety cards from the seat pockets, newspapers and magazines swirled, dipped and dived and danced, like a ticker tape parade, leaving Sebastian gasping from the icy air and smelling the fear all around him.
He ripped off the gas mask and cried out to the space where his family had been seconds before. His right hand stretched out to grasp them, his reflexes refusing to accept they were no longer there. He blinked hard. This had to be a nightmare. He felt a trickle on his cheek before he tasted the saltiness of tears mixed with his sweat.
His stomach contracted with the plane’s rushed descent. He caught the foul stench of urine and excreta, mingling with the acrid smell of terror. They were going down; he’d join Kelly and Joshua very soon. He turned to the space they had vacated, begging for them to be there. Instead, he saw the hole across the aisle. He distinguished buildings. And water. Lots of water. The ocean.
His heart pumped so hard, he thought it would burst through his chest, like the creature in Alien, trying to break free. He had walked in and out of flaming structures of all kinds, houses, apartment buildings, office buildings, but this ungodly dread was new to him.
The aircraft leveled as it approached the ground. He talked himself through the instructions for an emergency landing. Like a black hole in space, anything not tied down continued to dance through the gap. Amidst the pandemonium in the main cabin, the pilot issued a muffled announcement. It surprised Sebastian that the P.A. system still worked. And yet, he could have been underwater for all the sense he could make of what he heard.
A couple to his left screamed in despair. He willed his hand to let go of the armrest and reach for them. He tugged the lady’s arm and she faced him. He bent over, protecting his head with his arms while keeping an eye on the woman. She nodded, understanding, before she turned to her husband and they both bent over. He intended to start a ripple effect with other passengers noticing and following suit, like a Mexican wave in a stadium.
A glance to his right, through the hole, showed him the black asphalt of a runway. They had reached an airport! People pointed at the oncoming ground and screamed at the earth rushing toward them. Air whooshed through the hole. The plane bumped, announcing it had touched ground. Black smoke spiraled through the hole.
A new noise filled the air. The landing gear was not working. Friction alone slowed the aircraft. Another bump and the plane tilted to the left. An explosion shook the plane. Through the hole on his right he watched sparks spray from underneath. Another explosion and the flight came to an abrupt, jolting, end, bouncing Sebastian’s head off the seat in front, his stomach taking strain from the seatbelt.
The emergency lights faded. More sweat broke from his forehead reminding him of something familiar. The temperature was rising. The firefighter in him took over. He unbuckled fast, took a deep breath before removing the mask, and looked around the plane.
One of the emergency exits was two rows behind him. He took another furtive look at the gap where his family had disappeared and saw grass not too far away.
He crossed to the exit door. On the seat next to it, a man wearing a business suit remained hunched over, as if frozen with fear, in the crash position.
“Sir, we need to open that door.”
The man did not move. Sebastian tapped him on the back but the man did not respond. With no time to waste on pleasantries, Sebastian grabbed him by the collar to pull him up and realized the man had fainted. He clambered over the man, moved the lever, pulled inward and slid it to the side. Above the screams of men, women and children filling the air, Sebastian heard a hiss as an inflatable slide rolled out and reached the ground.
Turning back to the unconscious man, Sebastian unlocked the seat belt and carried him out to an empty seat in another row. The man slumped to one side. Sebastian cursed at the delay.
The smoke made vision difficult and he blinked again and again to clear his blurring vision and the tears. Every time he closed his eyes, he saw Kelly with her hand outstretched. He forced the image aside. He needed to concentrate on the other people on the plane; the ones with a chance to escape.
Alarms went off, the flight attendants screamed instructions to passengers frantic to exit the plane, who didn’t give a shit about the order or anyone else. They became an acephalic mob.
“Hey, the exit’s over here!” he bellowed.
The authority he commanded was enough for a few doubtful heads to turn. He stood illuminated by the sunlight coming through the large hole. The couple who had been sitting to his left was the first to stand and follow his instructions.
“There is grass below, it’ll be okay. Just slide, now!” he ordered. “Take off your shoes!”
The woman was about to jump when he held her arm.
“You go down first.” He pointed at the mid-forties husband. “Then you catch her.” The man nodded, pushed past his wife and went out.
As instructed, once down, the man turned with open arms to receive his wife. She took the step. After the couple, others rushed toward him, elbowing whoever was in their path and screaming for help. They almost toppled over Sebastian in their desperation to be next.
He raised his hands and yelled, “We need to calm down, people. Everyone will get out but in order.”
His shouts shocked people into obedience, still terrified, but grateful they’d found a leader. His commanding height of over six feet, his booming voice, and his stance always made him perfect for that role.
“Women and children nearest here will go first.” He thought of Kelly and Joshua—his woman and child—they had been the first to exit. He tried to swallow but his mouth had gone dry.
A thin woman wearing a silk dress stepped forward. He helped her to the edge. She looked at the couple on the ground as if calculating her next step. She sighed and then turned around. He thought she had changed her mind but then she bent down and removed her stiletto-heeled shoes. She gave him an apologetic smile and faced the edge again. This time she took a deep breath, sat on the slide and slid out.
Next in line was a plump, elderly lady. Her faced showed horror at the prospect of jumping off. Thinking on his feet, he pulled a broad-shouldered man forward and placed him beside the woman. They slid down together. When she tried to get up, the woman’s knees collapsed and she rolled to the ground, but the man rushed to help her.
Sebastian coughed from the black smoke filling the cabin. He worried one exit would not be enough to evacuate the entire plane in time. Standing on the edge, Sebastian looked to the front of the airplane and saw with relief another exit slide, with passengers already moving out.
He went back and strived to move the line of people faster. Some were injured; a man had fashioned a sling out of his own shirt, another held a bloody rag to his forehead, a woman’s nose, red and bulging, so he deduced it must be broken.
His spirits rose a bit when he heard the familiar fire truck siren. It had always amazed him how people would greet firemen arriving at an emergency call with relief plain on their faces, some even embracing total strangers. This was the first time he’d been on the other side and now he understood. Firemen in full gear rushed out of the moving trucks to help the people already out of the plane.
His mind hurtled back to Joshua and Kelly. Kelly’s silenced scream, her eyes. Always a man of action in time of danger, he’d failed when the time came to save his own family. The plane had still been flying over water when he last saw them. He thought of what hitting the water with such velocity, and from that altitude, would have done to their bodies. Like rag dolls hitting a concrete wall. He had seen the aftermath of such cases.
“Sir, can you help me?”
A woman carrying a baby tugged at Sebastian’s arm. He pushed the vivid images out of his mind. He had a job to do here and now. He cleared his eyes with the back of his hand, making them sting even more. He blinked fast for a second, then focused on the woman and child.
Without a word, he took the baby. Sensing a stranger, the baby emitted a piercing cry. The woman sat down on the edge of the slide and stretched her arms, demanding her treasure back. The moment the baby felt the mother, warm again, the crying stopped. She cooed for an instant. Sebastian gave her a gentle push and they slid down.
The line continued to move until only a female flight attendant remained in line.
“Sir, you need to go now,” she said.
He shook his head. “People still in the front?”
“Other crew members are seeing to them. We need to leave now.”
“Hold on.” He found the man he had carried away from the emergency door slumped where he had left him, still unconscious. He carried him toward the exit and lay him down on the edge of the slide.
“You need to go with him,” he told the attendant.
“I can’t. You have to go with him.”
Of course, she would say that, trained to act responsibly in case of an emergency. Sebastian could not leave the aircraft yet; something forced him to stay. A gut feeling that sliding off the plane would seal the fate of his family. He shook his head.
“Not yet.” He held the attendant up, placed her near the door. Then a gentle push was enough for her to lose balance and slide down.
Now he was the only one at the door. But he wasn’t sure he was alone onboard. He looked again through the door and saw people still going out through the front exit.
He looked around the cabin one last time and walked toward the front exit. He passed by the gap and now he realized three full rows were missing. He hadn’t noticed anyone else being pulled out of the plane. He closed his eyes and the images of crushed bodies, his family, returned. He lost track of time as he stood rooted on the spot.
“Kelly, Joshua,” he whispered and let the tears fall, unable to contain them any longer. He sat on his seat, the spot was important to him: it was the place where he had last seen them. He stretched out his hand toward the hole. He saw beyond the charred grass and fire fighters busy with the flames, beyond the passengers being evacuated, beyond the clouds and the sky and all the way to where he saw nothing but the faces of Kelly and Joshua. Without them, he had no reason to continue living. He had trouble breathing. He didn’t care if it were due to the smoke. He only knew he felt a crushing, intense, physical, pressure on his chest. He welcomed it. He wanted to join his family.
The plane shook a little and brought him back to reality. He felt somebody tugging at his sleeve and turned to see another flight attendant prompting him to move.
Like an automaton, he followed her to the front exit.
“It’s your turn now, sir,” said the man wearing a white shirt with the captain’s insignia.
Looking at the captain’s swollen hands resurrected the fireman in him. He grabbed the stewardess by the arms and almost threw her out.
“Need help jumping off?” he motioned toward the captain’s hands.
“I’m all right. Go, I’ll follow,” he said.
“Come on, it’s not time to sink with the ship,” Sebastian pointed out and the captain acknowledged him with half a smile.
As if on cue, both men jumped out from the flaming aircraft.
END OF EXCERPT
Author Bio and links:
J. H. Bográn, born and raised in Honduras, is the son of a journalist. He ironically prefers to write fiction rather than fact. José’s genre of choice is thrillers, but he likes to throw in a twist of romance into the mix. His works include novels and short stories in both English and Spanish. He’s a member of the Short Fiction Writers Guild and the International Thriller Writers where he also serves as the Thriller Roundtable Coordinator and contributor editor their official e-zine The Big Thrill.
Website at: www.jhbogran.com
Amazon author page: https://www.amazon.com/author/jhbogran