I’m not sure exactly what had happened, but I found myself wandering dazed in a field of smoldering airline wreckage, surrounded by wailing passengers and the stench of jet fuel mingled with anguish.
I think our plane had gone down but it was hard to think at all in my condition. I felt fuzzy, and kind of like I was walking on air, not sure if I had pain, but maybe, and the sound of all that crying taking on a deep, hollow tone as if it all were happening in a huge metal room, but we were out in the wide open.
I think we had hit something, or something hit us because I remember asking a flight attendant named Allison a question when the whole plane suddenly veered to the right and a crashing sound proceeded a horrific whine as the engines went into *weird mode,* which is the best way a layman like me can describe it.
Allison went flying through a gash torn in the side of the plane and I gripped my seat in white-knuckled terror as we plummeted, spinning toward the ground, my seat-belt keeping me from being sucked out right behind the unfortunate Allison. In the midst of it, I had trouble breathing, and I last remember gasping for air but the wind and the swirling conspired to keep me from getting any, no matter how hard I tried.
I guess I had blacked out, and apparently, I survived. I’d been wandering for a few minutes now but my knees buckled under me and I collapsed into a muddy puddle, which felt surprisingly good under the circumstances because the mud was soft and cool, and… damn… I think I had actually been on fire.
My hands looked blistered, reddened and scarred as if they’d been engulfed in flames a bit earlier. I wondered how my face had fared, but there wasn’t a mirror around and I couldn’t tell the airplane’s lavatory from the cockpit in the smoldering mess spread out around me.
A young woman approached me. I found it odd that she was wearing the uniform of a fast-food worker, and she appeared neat and tidy. She was gazing at me with concern, and her lips were moving in such a way that she seemed to be talking to me, but I couldn’t hear her, the screams of fellow passengers were growing to a deafening pitch now and drowning her out.
I laid in the mud puddle and looked up at her. She was pretty but not gorgeous, and she was young, maybe even as young as 17 or 18. Her hair was pulled back in a bun in that way fast-food workers do, and I figured we must have gone down right next to a burger joint and she obviously had run over to see if she could help.
Her name-tag said “Allison,” just like the flight attendant who had worn a name-tag that had her name, spelled the same way.
I found it odd that this girl had the same name as the Allison who was sucked out through a crack in the airplane a few minutes earlier, but I guess it’s a common enough name that I shouldn’t feel too mystified.
This particular Allison girl was adamantly saying something to me, but I couldn’t quite make it out. She was staring intently at my face, looking like she might be horrified at my appearance but she was trying to hide it so as not to startle me. Damn, something must have happened. If I only had a mirror…
Maybe it was worse than my hands, which I now examined and found that most of my fingers were missing just past each knuckle. This was worrisome because they had been there moments ago before I noticed Allison the burger girl, but come to think of it, they HAD been on fire.
I remember that now. It didn’t hurt, oddly enough, but I remember flames licking my body all over and an odd smell that wasn’t unlike what you get if you forget to set your oven timer and the roast burns, but magnify it by a thousand roasts and add lots of people writhing in torture, then you’ll understand.
I finally started to hear the voice of a young woman piercing through the veil of liquid screams, and I assigned the voice to Allison. Her lips were moving in sync with what I was hearing, which was beginning to sound like, “Brrr! Are you a gay? Dewan flies?
I stared at her pretty-ish face, fully realizing now that I must not be so pretty myself anymore, given how she was looking at me and forcing a pained smile.
I was thoroughly puzzled as to why she was asking me if I was gay, and what about flies? Do they have a fly problem at the burger place and was she asking me on a date? It didn’t make a lick of sense.
Another thing that didn’t make sense was the cash register she was carrying. It was right there in front of her, in her arms. I was standing on the other side of it, which frightened me a great deal because I had literally just been lying in mud but now I was standing straight up and looking awkwardly at Allison, and I didn’t remember standing up at all.
She repeated her two-part question; “Sir, are you okay? Do you want fries too? …hello?”
Of course it was pretty weird for a young woman to be carrying a cash register around, asking people if they’d like some fries, especially as she poked around a horrific scene like the one that had engulfed me at the moment. But, after a moment or two, she set it down on the counter between us.
WAIT, dammit… where the hell did this counter come from?
The dining room of the burger place had somehow formed all around me and the screaming passengers of the airliner had risen up, cleaned up, stopped screaming and had now become fellow customers standing around me, staring as awkwardly as Allison, probably wondering why I just stood where I was, staring back at her and not answering her question.
I stammered, “I, uh… I will have that, yeth… sorry… and, uh…”
I glanced down at a shiny chrome napkin holder on the counter and saw what was left of my face. A part of the warping was caused by the curved surface of the napkin holder but a great deal of it was scarring that had grown tight, contorting my features into a grotesque mask of muddled flesh.
I didn’t appear to have much of a nose, just some nostrils that looked like a thin red film had been wrapped over my skull. I looked back at Allison as she croaked out, “That will be eight dollars and sixy-two cents, uh… sir…”
She glanced away on the word “sir,” and I saw a glint of water on her eyes, pooling up and causing her to blink. She was literally blinking back tears.
I dug into my pocket and pulled out my wallet with stubby fingers that ended at the knuckles. I pulled a ten-dollar bill out with the stubs of what had been my forefinger and thumb and handed it to her. She was shaking as she took it.
“Allithon, is it?” I asked her. I found that I couldn’t pronounce the letter “s.” AlliTHON… ALLITHON… my malformed mouth couldn’t say her name correctly. She was digging my change out of the change drawer and she handed it over carefully. “Yes, that’s my name… sir.” I took my change and in my pocket it went.
“I’m very thorry I faded out on you a bit there. It happenth a lot.” She looked away again, trying not to seem too uncomfortable but she was really having a hard time not letting it show.
I had been remembering. It all came back to me, as it does, about three or four times a month when the right trigger hits me.
“Allithon, do you remember when that airliner collided with a private plane and went down near Midland about five yearth ago? I think you would have been a kid, but you muth have heard about it?”
She nodded and grunted softly, seemingly unsure if she wanted to hear what I had to say.
“I’m just really thorry. I was a thurvivor, and I have… well, epithodeth, where it all kind of cometh back to me and I check-out for a bit. I didn’t mean to thcare you, I’m fine.”
She then looked right into my eyes for the first time. Before this, she had seen the horror, but now she seemed to be finding the real me within that mess that I had for a face.
“It’s… it’s okay sir, you just didn’t answer me for about a minute and we were kind of worried about you. I’m sorry that happened to you, and yes, I remember it. I’m so sorry. Here’s your number, it’s 86, and they’ll call it out in a few minutes when your order comes up.”
“Thank you, Allithon.” I knew better than to try and smile, it hurt too much.
I took the slip of paper with the number 86 on it and laughed inside myself at the irony that the ill-fated flight I had almost perished on had been flight 85.
The guy who ordered his meal in front of me had been given the number 85 just before I stepped up to order, and it was Allison who told him, ” Here’s your number sir, it’s 85, and they’ll call it out in a few minutes when your order comes up.”
These are my triggers. The name Allison and the number 85, either one of which can send me into a spiral so I try to avoid them as much as possible these days, but this was the first time I’d encountered that combination together, and I spent a minute or two reliving the whole damned nightmare.
My therapist is going to have a field day with this one tomorrow.
Featured airliner photo at top by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com