“Sir, could I interest you in some champagne?”
“No, definitely not, my dear! Maybe a bit of sparkling water… What do you say, hmm?” A lady who is, to put it mildly, corpulent nudges the little chap sitting next to her, almost making him fall off his seat. What a weed he is, nose buried in a book and clearly dissociating.
“Do you see that? Always reading and reading… We are on our honeymoon, you see, we’re planning to do some charity work. And he doesn’t care! Louie! Stop reading for once! Oh well, what can you do… Give me some of that champers, though!”
“Most certainly, madam.” The stewardess leaves hastily. In the aisle, she runs into a pilot who doesn’t even try to conceal his thirsty looks. He messes about drunkenly and not even a solid slap in the face is enough to take him out of his stupor.
“Last ticket control before we take off!” He shouts during a moment of clarity. All the passengers start digging through their bags. A couple of seconds later, a shriek quite literally shakes the aeroplane: “Louie, Louie! Wake up, come ooon… Flight tickets!” The little man flinches, blinks and pulls out three flight tickets from his breast pocket with a shaking hand. The pilot manages to waddle all the way to their row.
“Cool, the gentleman has 33 and the lady? Hmmm, right, 34 and 35. Nice, let’s go!” He toots like a steam engine, perhaps to give his words more weight, and attempts to dramatically turn around. It would likely work out, if he were sober, but since he isn’t, he just trips and knocks a handbag off a shelf. Handkerchiefs spill on the ground, an eyeglass case rolls away and, thanks to the chaos that ensues, nobody notices that the pilot’s pocket, which was empty before, is now full.
The other passengers are laughing at the expense of the “two-seat lady” and when the plane takes off, everything seems to be A-OK. The machine, with the help of both pilots, is making its way to the sky. From time to time, someone ecstatically announces that they can see clouds. Suddenly, the cockpit door opens, and the other pilot comes out. His uniform is too big for him, he is about as skinny as the weed Louie. He’s holding a screwdriver; his face is stone-cold, and a sort of backpack is bouncing on his back.
He approaches a passenger. “Sir?” The passenger is a woman, by the way.
“Can you keep a secret?” The woman nods. The pilot obviously wants her to stay quiet after all.
“Can you use a screwdriver?” She nods again.
“Okay…” He smiles briefly and steps aside.
“Dear people!” he cries out, “God has given us life so we could live. Do you live or merely survive?” he asks and continues right away. Both the crew and passengers exchange confused looks. He points out that it was a rhetorical question. “He’s also given us legs so we could walk. He’s given fins to fish so they could swim, and wings to birds so they could fly. And what have we done? Walking doesn’t do it for us anymore. We have invented ships and submarines — we can float. And right now, we are on a plane. We are flying!”
“Unfortunately…” mutters a boy and his face turns green. The pilot stares him down and continues.
“We are getting too presumptuous! Oh, how close we are to Him… Can you feel His anger too? Yes, I know. Your guilt is weighing you down. You need to apologize. Worry not, though, for I am here! I have been dubbed the messenger of God by a sunray, and I will soon tell Him how sorry you are!” he exclaims as he turns to the secret-keeping woman. Even though the plane is as still and quiet as a tomb, he whispers.
“I am now going to remove this window and you will fix it later, okay?” The utterly shocked woman blinks a couple of times which the pilot, unfortunately, takes as a yes. He mumbles a quick prayer, unscrews the window, cries: “Be at peace, brothers and sisters! Ameeeeeen!” And jumps out of the window.
The pressure in the plane starts to drop rapidly but it takes a few seconds before anyone actually moves. The thinning atmosphere is pierced by a scream. “The cabin pressure is dropping! Quick, somebody, do something already! Hey, you, lady! Come on! Yes, you, the lady with a screwdriver! Fix it! Louie, say something!” The champagne woman stands up on her seat and continues yelling, Louie mutters something intelligible and goes back to reading. Others finally come to their senses and, following one of the stewardesses, storm into the cockpit to inform the second pilot. A group of people gather around the open window and nobody dares to suggest that it’s some sort of “damsel in distress” stunt. Everyone is brainstorming and trying to shove various objects into the hole until they realize they have a screwdriver. The main source of danger is contained soon and a group of (up until very recently) complete strangers start chatting and patting each other on the back.
Everyone goes back to their seats, looking forward to an uneventful continuation of the flight. The relaxed atmosphere fills everyone with vigour — even Louie who excitedly starts telling his wife about the book that he’s been engrossed in. Turns out the gargantuan tome tells the story of the Titanic, which is now sinking to the bottom of the ocean.
“You wouldn’t believe it, Barbie! She’s sinking, for real!” He enthusiastically describes the events; however, his wife ignores him the way he usually ignores her. She digs through her handbag, turns her pockets inside out, even snoops through her husband’s backpack. When all she finds are more books, she starts visibly panicking.
“Has anyone seen a tiny vial? Brown, with a white tag?” she asks her fellow-travellers. Before anyone has time to answer, a stewardess runs out of the cockpit. Her expression is that of an antelope being chased by a lion. She barely manages to stop without falling over and when she notices the surprised and horrified faces, she quickly puts on a smile, fake and forced but a smile, nonetheless. She clears her throat and starts speaking shakily.
“There are 170 people on this plane… Statistically speaking, there is one doctor, nurse or another medical professional in a group of seventy adults. Interesting numbers, aren’t they?” She pauses. An unknown young man butts in, staring at his cell phone’s screen.
“Hold up, miss. I’ve just googled it and it says 1 in 75!” He gives her the look of a puppy dog begging for a treat.
“Would you be so kind, young man, and let the flight attendant finish?” growls Mrs Barbie.
“Um, sure, I just…”
“You just? Don’t you have a crumb of respect for others, dear boy?”
“Barbie, they don’t have enough lifeboats. How wild is that?”
“What? Oh… Ehm, sure, honey. And you, sir, just shut up, alright?”
“Barbie, they are sinking!”
“Ma’am, I’m just trying to share accurate information and you…”
“I said SHUT UP! Everyone, shut up!”
“Barbie, my love, I think that…”
“Everyone, please!” The stewardess is on the verge of a total collapse. She’s yelling hysterically and her smile is nowhere to be seen.
“The thing is…” Her utterance is interrupted by the dramatic entrance of another crewmember.
“We’re plummeting! The plane is going to crash! The pilot is dead or something. I don’t know! Somebody, help! Is there a doctor here? Quick, please, oh please, do something!” Everyone goes quiet, the eyes of the cell-phone kid pop out and even Mrs Barbie just gapes at the crewmember in disbelief. A moron at the back of the plane starts laughing and says: “Woah, I had no idea that the hag could shut the hell up…” He is immediately glared down by a couple of outraged co-travellers and everyone else is quietly trying to process the fact that the plane is pilotless. Eventually, a man stands up and announces that he’s a surgeon. People start whispering and a ripple soon grows into a tsunami of hope. Not even Superman would stand a chance in a popularity contest. The crowd is on the verge of breaking into loud cheers.
When the surgeon returns from his inspection in the cockpit, his pale face screams ‘bad news’.
“Dear fellow travellers…” he starts. “The situation is as follows… Our second pilot has died as a result of being poisoned. He has ingested some syrine, a poison. He’s clearly killed himself, I would say… He’s left a note for us.” He’s obviously struggling not to lose his composure. He unfolds a piece of paper with shaking fingers, nervously clears his throat and starts reading.
“I couldn’t breathe the same air as that super-religious weirdo anymore. Thank you, ‘two-seat lady’ for unknowingly helping me end my suffering. As for the rest of you, my condolences. I turned off and disabled the engines. You have about 30 minutes to live.”
Everyone goes quiet, the two-seat lady alone starts shaking in a violent crying fit. She’s trying to explain the presence of the poison between the sobs, her husband filling in the missing parts. Turns out the married couple were planning to go to Australia to help fight the wildfires and Barbie, a koala lover, was going to use the poison, that was so tragically misused, to kill the arsonists, the indifferent government and the allegedly lazy firefighters.
“She’s always been so original, so headstrong, so creative…” says her husband passionately. He is rudely interrupted by a fellow-passenger: “Well, the wildfires suck and all, sure, but we’re kind of plummeting to the ground sooo… What are you going to do about that, huh?”
“Women and children first?” suggests Louie bashfully, mentally still on board of the sinking Titanic.
“I would first try to determine the extent of the damage,” says the surgeon to which several people agree. Soon, two men, both electricians and therefore most knowledgeable about the aeroplane’s inner workings, get up from their seats and disappear into the cockpit. The crew is awkwardly trying to convince the passengers that there’s nothing wrong with the flight but the whole thing seems like a bad community theatre performance. Some passengers decide to play along and pretend everything is fine, others do yoga in the aisle to soothe their nerves; others still are trying to get their hands on a pen and a piece of paper so they can write their wills; yet another bunch just apathetically stare out of the windows. And Louie is reading, of course. His wife has calmed down and is now bravely practicing her downward-facing dog yoga-pose.
When the two electricians come back, they only get the attention of a couple of individuals. Most of the travellers have come to terms with their impending demise and they are trying to enjoy their final moments. Despite the fact that the plane is being shaken by strong gusts of wind, nobody really seems to care anymore.
Furthermore, turns out there is a priest on board so the cockpit turns into a makeshift confessional. The pilot’s corpse is taken to the very back of the plane and is seated on one of the vacant seats because everyone has voted that the pilot has the right to “re-die” as a legitimate passenger. Despite the dark fate that awaits them, everybody radiates optimism.
From time to time, someone checks the time and announces the remaining minutes with a sigh.
The plane shakes more and more.
The cabin speakers crackle but nobody seems to really notice.
The atmosphere thickens. The speakers are now hissing with static.
Some are weeping quietly, some are praying, everyone is shaking.
The speakers are still hissing but suddenly… A clear sound.
“Ladies and gentlemen…”
A wave of unbelieving whispers travels through the plane.
“Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Candid Camera Capers! This has been a simulation.”