It was a week long business trip coming to an end. Neither successful nor failure; it was just “necessary”. He had a week’s laundry in his checked baggage. Wifey would be thrilled to see that. In the overhead, he had his briefcase and laptop. All loaded with the supposedly precious results. He’d “written” his trip report; actually tapped it out waiting for the plane. And, did his expenses; actually spreadsheeted them out on the company’s mandated sheet. All that was left was to email them at the next appearance of a wifi. Now, putting his seat back and tray table into the upright and locked position, he was readying for the final sprint. Baggage claim, limo, and home at last. His ears popped as the place made its “final” descent.
It was just as it began to touch down, that he saw a flash simultaneous in all the windows. That was a close bolt of lightening. Did the plane blunder into it? The lights went out and the emergency lights didn’t illuminate. Strange? The plane was “dark”. It was just dusk so there was still light coming in from the outside. The plane dropped the final feet to the tarmac. The jolt scared him along with everyone else. As a frequent flyer, he KNEW something was wrong. The engines were silent. A body in motion tends to stay in motion until acted upon by an outside source. It was “his” home airport. He knew that they would soon turn on to the taxi way and slowly roll to a gentle stop at the gate. Except in this case, there was no turn. Just rolling and rolling. Behind them, they all heard a long loud crash. Or was it multiples. They just rolled along. Rumble strips. A bump onto the grass. More rolling. Then a fence stopped them and the plane tilted nose first. Junk flowed down the cabin. There were no announcements. The crew was up and “climbing” to the emergency doors. Popped, chutes deployed, and people began exiting. He was in the window seat. He sat quietly organizing his thoughts. Survival is awareness.
He looked out the window. Interesting, no lights. He didn’t know which way they landed. But either way, he should see the city lights or the terminal lights. There were none. He had to figure out what he should do. Getting out right now wouldn’t be quick. The people were crowded around the door. Those, that just released the seat belt, fell “forward” until the hit something. He thought about the best strategy to do this. His “seat mates” had demonstrated the folly of just unbuckling. Hope they survived the fall. It was dark enough that he could not see where they landed or who they landed on. He began formulating a plan. He’d hold on his neighbor’s belt so he could release his and kneel on the seat back in front of him. He then get his stuff from the overhead and exit out. His attache case had his “hotel room” kit. He wanted the flash light. It was getting darker. He could see that the movement at the bottom was essentially stopped. Time to get going.
He was a fat old guy. Not an acrobat by any means. But, it wasn’t too difficult to link the two vacant seatbelts to create two handholds. He wedged his legs on the back of the seat in front of him. Looped one arm around the spare belts. Then release his belt. He didn’t plunge forward. He was wedged. Using his handhold, he was able to mount the backs of the row in front of him. Still using the spare belt, in case he slipped, he opened the overhead. His stuff was easily reachable. The computer case yielded a cell phone. It was dead. Maybe the charge ran down during the flight. The attache case gave up a flash light. Dead! That was strange. Pocket radio. Dead! Keys with light fob. Dead. He put the keys in his pocket. Someone’s knapsack fell past him to the front. On a hunch, he opened the computer case. Flipped open the computer. Dead! He was sensing a pattern here. Everything electronic was dead. This was not looking good.
He returned the computer to its case. And, using the strap looped the attache case and computer case, he put it on his neck. Holding the looped seat belt, he slid to the next aisle. Swapping his free hand to a belt, he released his “death grip” on the row now above him. He was in row 36. It took a while to “descend” to the “lower reaches”. He didn’t have to go all the way to the bottom. Along around row 6, he felt “fresh air”. He crawled out through the galley on to the deployed chute. And, slid down. He was mildly surprised there was no one around. Some dead bodies. But no live people. No lights. No sounds.
He was afraid. Was he in a Ron Sterling Twilight Zone? He figured he was going to have to walk home. He scrambled back up the slide. It was hard but he was motivated. He was in the galley. He carefully unclipped one of those carts and it came crashing down. Garbage. He did another one. It was drinks. He grabbed a knapsack. Was it the same one? Dumped it out and filled it up with water and juice. He unsnapped another cart. Crash. It had extra meals. He collected all the candy and few bags of stuff. Back to the slide. And, out on the tarmac.
Now he had to make choices. The expressway might have people. He really didn’t want to be around people. The city streets went through some very bad neighborhoods. Maybe there was a combination. He went down the runway. A burning plane was smoldering at the other end. Why? Beyond him. He just wanted to be home with his wife and kids. At the end of the runway, there was a grass infield. And, tall security fence. Beyond his physical abilities. Scanning the ground line of the fence, he spotted a drainpipe.
Investigating, he saw a lighter shade of dark at the other end. In he went. Sloppy. Muddy. He was now outside the fence. Seem stupid to him but he just wanted home! The expressway was there so he followed the edge for awhile. Dead cars abounded. Some dead people. No live one. Maybe he’d revise his strategy.
It was a thirty minute drive home. He was in no shape. And, it was getting darker. Would the moon come out? In the distance he could see fires at various locations. He was concerned about making a profile. He walked carefully trying to blend in. A mile. Then two. till no live people. It didn’t make sense.
He approached the vicinity of a fire. It was off the expressway. But close enough. There was a fence between him and one of the “bad neighborhoods”. He could hear screaming. A woman. And, men laughing. Shots! He tried to dig a hole. All he accomplished was to get dirtier. They obviously couldn’t see him. And, he was quiet. Passing the light. As quickly as he could.
At each fire, he’d crawl. No other noises. No live people. Just dead ones. No noise. No light. No nothing.
Thirty minutes translated to what felt like twelve dark hours. Dawn was beginning to break. He was walking as fast as an exhausted man could. He was on his block. He turned the corner. His house was a burned shell. His wife was tied over the hood of her car. His children were dead on the doorstep. It wasn’t pretty. He heard screams a block over.
He felt so tired. His heart was broken. His heart was aching. The pain was the worst he’d ever felt. Then it was over.
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