The other passenger’s name is Elena. She’s younger than me, by a decade, so I should be comforting her, taking charge. But then, there’s just two of us. So we’re more like partners in this thing. I’m using my journal to start documenting. She had the same thought, but she’s going to use her computer and phone. We checked the overhead bins, and no one else’s luggage is there. Just ours.
If the two of us were somehow…asleep? If we were asleep, and the plane crashed into an ocean with green-and-gold water, and we’re now sinking, and the rest of the passengers managed to get out, then how did they all get a chance to take their luggage? And how did they then close the cabin doors again?
It doesn’t feel like we’re sinking. I couldn’t know how it would feel like to be inside a plane that was sinking into the ocean, but I still think it doesn’t feel like we’re in the ocean, or in any kind of liquid. But we’re definitely not in the air. Unless…did we hit a pocket of some new kind of pollution? I should run that by Elena. I think she mentioned studying science in college.
If it’s a dream than it’s a long and vivid one. We both said nothing as we went to bed at the same time last night (it didn’t get dark, but we were going off my watch and the time on our phones). We didn’t want to jinx it. But we both admitted that we were hoping we’d wake up at home, or maybe still on the plane, but in a normal situation, like struggling to find a comfortable sleeping position with our chair’s upright.
But we both woke up stretched out across the seats in the middle rows.
The other strange thing we noticed is that neither of us needed to use the restroom. I thought I felt a little hungry, but maybe that was just the psychological effect of waking up.
I didn’t have sleep breath either.
Truth be told, I don’t know that I really slept. We pulled down all the window shades, and it was dark enough then. It wasn’t warm or cold. But I just tossed and turned.
We found the pantry and they did have some breakfast bars, so I ate one. Well, I ate half of one, and that was all I needed. Some of these breakfast bars these days are so dense.
I’m not going to keep on re-writing this, because I don’t want to run out of space. Being how I just started a new journal, I really, really hope I don’t get anywhere near to running out of space.
Elena and I both noted the unusual sound during take-off. I don’t fly that much, so it was easier for me to dismiss when I glanced around and saw that none of the passengers around me were phased at all by the sound. We’re now wondering whether anyone else even heard it.
Elena flies all the time for her job, so she said that she was definitely going to ask a flight attendant about it when they leveled off and it was safe for people to walk around. She actually did press the call button, and a flight attendant came by to ask if she was okay. Elena mentioned the noise. The flight attendant, not knowing that Elena was a seasoned traveler, assured her that the high-pitched whining was normal for takeoffs. When Elena described what she was hearing, the flight attendant reacted as if she didn’t hear the same thing. It was a weird whooshing and sloshing, like a giant washing machine.
And then, right as the plane began to level off, all sound stopped.
I looked around. I was alone. Then I heard someone calling out and I realized I wasn’t. Elena and I found each other and we scoured the rest of the plane for other people.
When we looked out of the windows, we didn’t see the sky. Not a clear blue sky, or an indigo sky filled with stars, not a cloudy sky, or a stormy sky. All we could see was a greenish-gold color—maybe a fluid, but it was hard to tell. We thought it was fluid because we thought we saw some movement. We couldn’t tell if the plane was moving or if things were moving past the plane, small things, like specks of dirt or tiny bubbles.
We stared and we despaired.
Because the first thing that occurred to us is that we must have crashed. And though both of us could have sworn that we were awake during takeoff, we must have dozed off, or maybe lost consciousness because of cabin pressure changes. If we weren’t seeing sky, then what we were seeing had to be water. That meant we were either floating or sinking. And if we were sinking, we were in trouble. But the cabin wasn’t filling with water, so were we sinking, intact, to the bottom of the ocean, to die slow deaths of suffocation? Would we, could we be rescued? It was unlikely. Planes were lost at sea all the time. Would the pressure of the ocean crush the cabin?
We tried calling for help, but our devices had no signal. We tried to get to the cockpit, but it was locked, just as we expected. But we were confident that there was no there on the other side of that cockpit door. It wasn’t getting any darker. If we were sinking into the ocean, it should have been getting darker, we figured.
But we had to be in water. We weren’t in the sky. At least, we weren’t in any kind of sky either of us had ever seen before.
Elena is sure she saw another plane off the left—port, I think—side. She called me over to see, but I was several rows away. I moved to her side of the plane, but didn’t see anything from the closest window. So I rushed over to where she was. As I did, she cried out in frustration. She said it was disappearing.
By the time I looked out of the same window she’d been looking out of, there was nothing there.
She swore that the other plane was moving, flying. She saw the green-and-gold stuff streaming over the wings.
Elena has been spending most of her days gazing out of different windows. At first, she focused on the windows from where we can see the wings. She said she was sure we were moving. We might be drifting, but we definitely weren’t moving the way that other plane she saw was moving.
I want to believe that she saw another plane. I know she believes it. But maybe what she saw was a reflection of our own plane.
I sensed she was irritated with me for doubting her. I tried to offer her a packet of cookies. She turned to me and frowned. But she wasn’t frowning out of anger. She said that she hadn’t eaten anything since we got in this situation. Twelve days.
Elena was right. I was staring out of the window, while Elena was setting up some made-up card game for us to play. I saw something. But it wasn’t a plane.
It was a bird.
It was still alive. And it was flying. We saw it flap its wings. I banged my fist against the window, as if I thought I could get its attention. It was flying away from us. I was sitting a few windows down from where Elena had been when she saw the plane.
So, if we were in the ocean, we couldn’t be sinking. But maybe we could still be floating. I didn’t know if seabirds dove down into the water and flapped their wings as if they were flying.
It seemed far-fetched.
I asked Elena if what she saw could have been a bird. She shook her head. She furrowed her brow. She stared at the picture she had tried to take on her phone. It only showed the window tinted with that green-and-gold.
The bird faded from sight.
I finally saw one.
Two planes and a bird. All seen from the port side, from the same position. All moving away from us. Elena and I agreed that they seemed to be following some kind of path.
Neither of us have seen anything from the starboard side.
Elena was excited that I’d seen a plane.
But I had started feeling worn out from staring out of the window.
I needed to relieve my bladder for the first time, right when I woke up. After I did, I felt the urge to drink, so I started chugging a bottle of water. But I only got a few sips in before my belly felt full.
Elena and I continued our debate. We had both wondered if we were in another dimension. I think we’re stuck between dimensions. Maybe somehow time is passing for our minds, but not our bodies.
She agreed with my suggestion about our minds being active. But she had a different explanation. She thought we might be guinea pigs in some experiment, that we might be having a joint hallucination.
I don’t know if it’s more disturbing to think that I’m stuck in some margin between dimensions, or if I’m actually still in the real world lying on a cot in some lab, and only my mind is stuck on this plane.
I think I slept for a few days. I can’t keep re-watching the same old movies over and over. Not because it’s boring, but because it reminds me of what life is—should be. At first, it was a necessary escape. Then when I’d watched so often that I started inadvertently memorizing lines, it became bittersweet.
Now it’s just bitter.
So I’ve been lying down, trying to sleep, but daydreaming about what I’d be doing if I was back home, or even at work. I never in my life thought I’d fantasize about drafting a spreadsheet.
Elena’s been keeping better track of the days. I went back and re-read some of my entries. If we ever get back to civilization, I may need to tear out some of these pages. Not because there’s anything scandalous or terrible written on them. But because I
Happy Hundredth Day onboard Flight 66. Thank you for flying Purgatory Airlines!
I don’t want to do this anymore.
She’s been saying—threatening—she would do it since the first week we were stuck here. It’s become one of those unintentional rituals. But she actually did it this time, the little devil. And she did it while I was sleeping.
Elena opened the cabin door.
She called me over. I couldn’t tell if she was in trouble or if she was excited, until I saw the big grin on her face.
The door was wide open. Beyond it was a green-and-gold glow, and it was kind of flowing and undulating, but it didn’t pass the threshold of the door.
Before I could stop her, Elena reached out plunged her hand into the green-and-gold stuff. She said it felt cool, like a cloud. She retracted her hand and we both examined it for signs of any harm, a rash developing, her skin corroding away, stuff like that.
But her hand seemed to be fine. Elena seemed to be fine. I warned her not to turn into a zombie or an alien. I smiled when I said it, but I was only half joking.
Elena grinned, turning her hand over and back. She suggested that she should try going all the way past the doorway, to see if she could breathe in the green-and-gold. But I convinced her that she’d done enough for one day, and that it was wiser to wait a few days, and observe if there were any changes in her hand, before trying out any more experiments.
She agreed, but she was only able to wait 24 hours. I’m just glad she woke me up for her next experiment.
I didn’t trust that I would be able to just pull her back into the cabin. We found some emergency rope early on. We tied it around Elena’s waist. She seemed scared, which gave me hope that she would be careful. But when I actually looked into her eyes, I realized I was mistaken. She was trying to hold back what she felt, probably so she wouldn’t be disappointed. I didn’t know what it would mean if she could leave the cabin and still breathe in that green-and-gold stuff. And maybe Elena didn’t know either. But it would give us another place to go, another option beyond just withering away in the airplane’s cabin.
What I saw gleaming in her eyes was hope.
Elena thinks that we’ve been seeing more planes because we finally dared to venture out into the green-and-gold, as if it were rewarding us. We could float and we could breathe in the green-and-gold, though it felt as if we were breathing slightly chilled air.
She had a plan. I knew what she was thinking before she said it out loud. And it’s not that I don’t want to try something.
And it’s not that I think anyone else is going to come rescue us.
It’s just…it’s hard for me to…I can think of ideas of what to do, but to me they’re just thought experiments. Elena actually wants to do it.
She wants to try and reach one of the planes.
She’d already succeeded in reaching a bird, startling the poor thing, and it vanished before her eyes.
She said she’d brushed one its feathers and it made her feel heavy.
She wanted to get to one of those planes, open the cabin door, and hop inside.
All those other planes, they were brushing against this dimension we were in, or this mental hallucination plane, or whatever kind of plane we were in. But while our plane was stranded—and us with it—those other planes seemed to dip in and dip out.
While a plane was dipping in to the green-and-gold, it would be possible for us to open the cabin door, hop inside, and close the cabin door, all before the plane dipped back out.
Elena wanted to hitch a ride back to reality.
She thought that the heaviness she felt upon touching the bird meant that she was moving back into reality. But if she used a bird to hitch a ride, then she’d end up plummeting to her death.
It had to be a plane. And we had to find our way inside.
So we planned, and we observed the planes. How fast they were going. How quickly they faded from view. What it would take to propel us over fast enough to catch up with one. To catch another flight, as it were.
That’s what led to Elena learning how far and fast she could “swim” in the green-and-gold.
It was fast.
The green-and-gold was the opposite of water when it came to drag and friction. Instead of slowing down, her forward movement seemed to speed up. So we risked a trial where she wasn’t tied to a rope. She would only swim out far enough so that she could see if it was feasible to catch up with one of the moving planes.
When she came back to our plane, she admitted that she went all the way to a passing plane. She was so out of breath, but she started laughing. She laughed so hard that she started to hiccup. Tears were streaming down her face. I thought the green-and-gold had finally affected her, but she leaned over with her hands on her knees and shook her head.
She said she saw people.
She’d gotten close enough to the other plane to see people through the windows. To wonder if any of them would see her if they turned their heads.
She so wanted to get close, but she didn’t want to betray me. So she came back to come get me.
We postponed. Elena has a fever.
Neither of us has gotten sick since being trapped here. I’m scared. Because if she dies
I don’t want either of us to die.
I don’t want to be alone.
I’ve been making her tea, keeping her warm, giving her some cold-and-flu capsules I found in her backpack, and watching for planes.
That’s all I’m going to do until she gets better.
We think Elena must have caught a bug in the wake of the other plane’s air streams, some kind of bacteria or something in the upper atmosphere.
She’s totally fine now.
She said it was weird that she didn’t throw up. She said she always vomits whenever she gets a flu like that.
We wanted to make sure, so we prepared a few more things for our trip.
We cut down the mask part of the oxygen masks to tie around our mouths. We’re wearing extra clothes. We had already both practiced opening the cabin door of our plane from outside. Of course, it didn’t matter if the cabin was pressurized or not in the green-and-gold, so it was fairly easy.
Okay, it wasn’t easy, but I was doable.
We searched our plane for parachutes one more time, but even we’d found any, we didn’t know how to use them.
We would just take a chance, a leap of faith.
We found a plane. We recognized the airline. It was domestic, but we had no idea where it would land.
We kicked off and we swam. And I’d done a few trial runs, but it was still mind-blowing how fast I could swim. I swept my arms to my side and shot forward like a missile. It was effortless. I felt the green-and-cold. It felt cool and misty. Watery but not as dense as water. I heard a sound every time I shot forward, like the whoosh in washing machine.
It must have been less than five minutes before we caught up to that plane. We tried getting a hold of the plane, but we kept bouncing off. We saw people inside. A couple of them were staring out of the windows, right at us. But they didn’t seem to see us. One of them, a man with glasses, frowned and took his glasses off to examine them.
Maybe he had seen me, but I didn’t stick around to find out. I was making my way toward the cabin door.
Elena got there first. We had to get the door open and get inside before the plane got out of the green-and-gold zone, otherwise we’d never get it open and even if we did, we would end up getting blown away, and putting the entire plane in danger. But as long as the plane was in the green-and-gold, we could do it. It would be safe.
We’d get arrested, once we stepped onto the plane out of nowhere, and the plane would probably make an emergency landing, if we were above solid ground, once we returned to our reality.
But we’d sort that part out later.
Maybe we wouldn’t have to. We’d been gone so long. Even if time moved differently in the green-and-gold, we must have been missing for at least a few days, maybe a few weeks, in our reality.
I started feeling a strange pressure in my body when I grabbed onto the plane and managed to hold on. Elena pointed downward.
“It’s descending,” she said.
And I could barely hear her because a wind began to pick up. We had to act fast. We probably only had seconds before that wind got strong enough to rip us right off that plane.
But when I looked down, following Elena’s finger, I saw something below us. Something flat and gray and covered in stripes and numbers.
I wondered if we could swim to the runway. Ending up on solid ground was even better than hitching a ride with a plane, especially if we couldn’t get into the cabin.
The winds were loud now. I didn’t trust my voice to carry over the two feet between Elena and me. She was trying the cabin door, but I grabbed her elbow and pointed down to the runway.
I can’t be sure if the wind knocked us off, or if we both decided to jump off. Or maybe a little of both. But we let go of the plane.
We didn’t look back at it, just as we hadn’t looked back at our original plane. We had to get on that runway before it started passing back into reality. Even if we were 10 or 15 feet off the ground it’d be enough for us to break some bones at best, or crack our skulls or our spines at worst.
We darted toward the runway, powerful stroke after powerful stroke. I was a meteor streaking toward the earth. But unlike a meteor, I needed to slow down before I landed.
I spread out my arms, stopped fluttering my feet, and I started sweeping backwards to slow myself down.
Elena did the same. I heard her curse as we zoomed toward the hard gray surface much too fast.
I started feeling panic when I started feeling heavy.
I remember some advice from somewhere about balling up and protecting the head, so I rolled myself into an embryo pose and the next thing I knew, I was tumbling onto the ground.
I unrolled and ended up lying flat on my back. Elena landed next to me with a huff and a cry.
I couldn’t tell if it was a cry of pain or a cry of victory.
Until I felt a shadow over me and I realized I still had my eyes closed.
I opened them.
I saw Elena standing over me, offering me her hand.
I took it and she pulled me up.
We pulled off our masks. We checked ourselves and each other for injuries. We gazed up at a cloud-filled sky with blue peeking through the gaps in the thick clouds. It was foggy on the runway. Elena said that we were actually on the taxiway. I didn’t know and didn’t care. I just wanted to get off before we got run over by a plane. I didn’t hear or see any, but I wasn’t about to wait around.
We saw a fence and ran toward it. I winced at how heavy and clunky and disjointed I felt.
We had no idea where we were. What airport. What city.
But we hoped that if we followed the fence it might lead us to the outside of a terminal or somewhere where we could make some calls and get some help. I checked the zippered pocket of my jacket. I’d put my driver’s license and the one credit card I took when I traveled in that pocket. They were still there.
So depending on where we were—and when we were—we would be able to get some food and find a place to stay.
I told Elena. She nodded, but she didn’t look relieved.
She looked the way I felt.
We walked along in the fog and I’m not sure how it happened, but we were suddenly walking in one of the terminals inside the airport. There were people everywhere. I gasped and grabbed Elena. No one else was acting as if Elena and I had just appeared out of thin air.
Elena commented that the fog had looked a little greenish.
My stomach growled. Startled, I put my hand on it.
We looked around at the display of arriving and departing flights, at a nearby gift shop, at a digital clock showing times in several different time zones. We confirmed the date and time. We confirmed just how much time had passed in the real world for the hundred plus days we had spent in the green-and-gold world.
No time had passed.
Negative time had passed.
Because the flight that we were originally on would not be arriving for another few hours.
And it wouldn’t be arriving at the airport where we were.
So assuming we really were back in the real world, that world had never known we were missing.
Elena shook her head at all the people in the bustling terminal. She turned her gaze to me, and suddenly, the urge to grasp her hand overcame me. I reached over and wrapped my hand over her wrist and palm as I met her gaze. I gulped. She pressed her lips together. We stayed that way while people swept by with their rolling carry-ons, ran past with sacks of fast food, dozed in nearby chairs, and waited for what they thought was far too long for their flight to board.
If only they knew how long Elena and I had waited.
Copyright © 2020 Nila L. Patel