So, I'm on the La Quinta Connexion.
50-passenger commuter airline. We're taxiing. Tall, lilac bramble on either side of the plane, close enough to brush the wings. Heather? Lavender? I think I see mountains. What is this? West coast? Palm Spring area, perhaps?
We've made one emergency landing already -- here -- and are trying to determine whether to stay grounded for the night, or risk staying on schedule. I'm in first class behind the captain, with a family of four opposite me -- two girls. The mood is surprisingly chatty for an emergency landing, but the air above is, well, tense. Literally.
There are storms between where we are now and our destination; they seem to be over Washington state. We're going north. So, this is following logically that I'm somewhere in, apparently, the Riverside County area. It's cold. There's a foggy dampness to the way the air hangs heavily over the trees and lilac brush. Blue hour. It's going to be night very, very soon. By my calculations, we've got at least 3-4 hours in the air, if not more.
How the hell did I get here?
I've never actually flown a commuter airline before; I'm not sure if the arrangement of these seats is typical or not. Four to a row, and first class is surprisingly roomy. Feels more like a bus, and, well, the fact we're not actually in the air is even more confusing. Why the hell aren't we?
Oh. It hits me. Takes a bit for it to do that, but it always does. Eventually. Never know how, either, just -- snap -- there it is. Like a memory that was already vague and I'd nearly forgotten; it just returns in pieces. Fragments.
I consider the fact I have only my purse -- something tells me it's different from my usual one, which I carry ... 'where I'm from', for lack of better -- but my medication is in a bag that isn't with me. It's already at my destination, in a hotel. Okay. I'm returning somewhere from a short jaunt, and things have gotten out of hand in the meanwhile.
Wait, why am I taking medication?
I think it's an SSRI, on top of that. Hmmmm.
I'd recently declined such a prescription. But this ... no. This is not home. Still, I think I can skip a dose without everything going completely pear-shaped. Unless I've already missed a few. Have ... I? Can't tell.
Hang on ... we're deciding what to do now. The flight attendant murmurs with the captain. Their hushed voices either carry with astonishing ease, or I'm supposed to hear them. But what they say to us directly differs from what's been whispered among them.
Oh. That's not very good.
So, my vote is we stay grounded. Crash at the hotel. ( ... poor choice.) Hit the skies bright and early. The rest of the passengers -- at least the dozen or so immediately within earshot of me -- agree. Unfortunately, the captain does not. The two flight attendants hanging out just in view are explaining that we're already off-schedule, and we can't risk losing any more time.
And then it hits me.
I realise what's happening. Where I am. And what I think I have to do.
I turn to the attendant nearest me.
'Okay, no. Look. I'll bet you money he's going to climb to avoid those storms. It's nighttime. What if -- and I'm not saying it would, but, what if something goes awry with the instrumentation and he loses his way? Storms plus climbing to avoid them plus nighttime equalling stalling and death. Okay?'
Nobody is buying this. In fact, they're just looking at me. Horrified.
'Air France 447! Come on!'
Blank stares. This is getting me nowhere. But like hell I'm going to be on such a flight, or not do everything in my power to prevent such a flight from occurring.
'That's what happened to Air France! They climbed to avoid the storms, it was a night flight, their instruments failed -- I promised myself I would never, ever be on such a flight. And I've done a damned good job preventing it so far.'
More blank stares.
The husband of the wife of the family of four says, 'what's Air France?'
And then it hits me. (Noticing a pattern yet? It's always this way.)
What the hell is La Quinta Connexion? What is this place?
My God, where the hell am I?
Ooookay. Steady now.
I sit back in my seat. We're still taxiing, but I'm calm now. I have confirmation that what I thought might be happening is, and I just have to understand my role. That's all.
Unfortunately, that's easier said than done.
I state, 'Air France is a major airline which offers international service to most major European cities. Its hub is in France, hence, the name.' Dear God, I sound like a bloody advert. Stop that.
Worse, I can tell from their continued blank expressions that Air France does not exist. Meaning, Air France 447 has never existed, and such a flight never saw a tragic end. That's the good part. Well, perhaps a flight of its kind has, but I don't know of it, nor is anyone supplying that information.
I buckle back my belt and muse to myself. Quietly. But, it would seem, not quietly enough.
'Huh. I'll be damned. What am I doing on a doomed flight? Am I supposed to prevent this? Go through it? What am I doing here?'
But the little girl says, 'why do you say our flight is doomed?' Ohhhh, boy. Two things; I really, really ought to work on my internal monologue, and -- I completely forgot about the eight-year-old seated next to me. Or even why she's seated here rather than with her family. But I think we had been talking.
Her eyes are so innocent. Her voice is so soft. She's trying her best to hide it, but she's so, so scared.
Yeah. Okay. That's it.
Click goes my belt, and up I am again. The other passengers are now sighing.
Ohhhh. I've done this before, haven't I?
Divalproex sodium? Oh, is that what I'm on? Wonderful. Well, can't bother with it now. Already in this. Committed. ( ... really, really poor choice.)
'Okay, listen up. Captain? Something like this has happened before. Suffice it to say, everything started failing quickly; domino effect, one right after the other. The consequences were tragic. We're on the ground, and I'd love it if we stayed there and avoided the storm altogether. But, if we must go, now, then my advice is we don't climb to try and clear it, because the likelihood of stalling in these conditions is ... high. You'll be flying at max and then -- bam! -- you're pitch-up, and recovery is NOT easy.'
And it all comes out in one jumble of words. Of course it does. He's either listening or humouring me. Am I important? God, I hope so. First class. So, possibly. That or completely insane. Hoping for the former. And he seems to be hearing me, so ... this is hopeful.
'Stalling?' someone asks.
Oh, for God's -- I can't explain the in's and out's of aviation and aeronautics now. I raise my hand, politely, towards them.
'The captain knows.'
Yes. Yes, he does, thankfully. The look upon his face is thoughtful. Considering. Stalling. Ohhh, yes. Pitch-up. Maximum altitude. Storms. Very bad things. Worse in combination. Best avoided.
Now, I've no idea what he'll do, and, in all likelihood, I won't be here much longer -- if I did what it is I was intended to. Sometimes I don't quite ... know. It's guesswork. Trial and error.
I sit back down, buckle back up, oddly satisfied. The young girl turns to me.
'You think we're gonna die?'
That's ... when it hits me.
See, I won't be here. But she will. They all will.
I take a long look around the cabin. Their faces; their oblivious, wonderful faces. I hate this. I never signed up for this. I'm a writer. I work in Hollywood. I would like to, as the rest of the human population does, merely sleep to dream. Instead, I end up here. Night after night at times. Weeks on end. Here. Wherever that is.
I know that I won't die. At the moment which I could, or might, I can pull the plug. Hit the eject. Dump out. Awaken safe in my bed, likely in the dark, my cat curled up next to me. I'll go to the fridge, grab something with electrolytes, and drink it in the quiet darkness of my kitchen, at 3 AM or something similar, and try not to let my mind wander to those innocent eyes, and that soft voice, and those faces.
Try not to hear their screaming.
Sometimes I stay. I do. I die with them. Over and over again. Planes. Trains. Automobiles. Spaceships. Other worlds, and this one. Dimensions. Across time.
But I'm just a writer. Dear God, I swear it. I'm just a writer.
Her eyes beg the questions to which I won't give answers. I can't. She has to know everything's going to be all right, and ... I can't promise that. I won't. I can't lie. Don't you hate it when they do that? Lie? I do. 'Oh, yes, it's going to be fine.' Like they've got it well in hand. Well, they don't. Unless they're being penned by some omniscient being with an imagination far from their manufactured world. Then they do. They always do.
But this is not that. It's something else. I have no control over it. Just me. And I've not figured what I am yet. A hero? A coward? A spectator? Do I follow the Prime Directive? Am I safely tucked away in a TARDIS? I have no idea.
And then it hits me.
They're going to die. Aren't they?
She's waiting. I place my arm around her, bringing her into my shoulder. I rest my chin atop her head; hardening skin meets soft strands of medium blonde hair. I remember the scent from my childhood. She still uses 'No More Tears'. Baby shampoo.
I grin. 'Nahhh.'
Because it's best, right? That's why they do it. In every plot. Every show. Every damned time. The hero says, 'nahhh,' and then saves the day. Does that make me the hero then?
What if I don't save the day?I'm making a call now, at a public phone in an airport. It's a bit of a jolt. I was there, now I'm here. Blink of an eye. Now it's occurring to me ... no mobile phones. No hand-held anything, really. Just books and conversation. Their clothing didn't betray residence in any particular era, and there's no one here now. It would seem. Nor is there any such commuter, or even regional, airline as this in my present history -- that much I know. So. I made the right call.
Now I'm making a literal one. I've no idea who. They've already disconnected. It was 4 AM, and thus I apologised for waking them. But she and her husband were staying in a hotel. Roach infestation at their home. I know their home; I've been there, as images of it flash in my mind. I think I know them -- here, too. Huh. Well, they are engaged to be married. Here. Now. That is.
Strange. It all feels so ... displaced.
I don't see the family of four, nor have I any idea of their fate. They feel safe to me, though. I can't tell if we took off or stayed. I have no clue what time it is.
My baggage is in my hotel room ... which is where I'm going. So, either we flew and arrived safely, (well done) or ... we stayed, and ... we're planning to head out tomorrow. Or ...
I've never even left. And my flight is upcoming.
I check the boards. They're blank. Dead. Broadcasting nothing. Giving up no secrets tonight. Or this morning. Whatever it is; it's dark.
Maybe I bungled something. I do that sometimes. Who was it I just called? Does it matter? Where is that family?
My hotel room is in my mind's eye. Shades of orange and goldenrod -- warm tones which would regularly be an eyesore, but are a welcome distraction tonight. Erm, today. Whatever.
I hate this.
I'll take the next few hours, or several, depending, to contemplate my actions; what could've been done differently, what I might've failed to do -- or, possibly -- what I did right.
And a paper. I'll need a paper.
Wait, they deliver papers?
They do. It isn't like I can check my iPhone. And suddenly I long for the ease and convenience of the technology I curse on a near daily basis for being 'inconvenient' and 'difficult'. Ahhh, we only appreciate it when it's gone, eh?
And the news. I'll need the news. Regional news; morning broadcast. An emergency landing -- that qualifies, right? I'll get up early so as to catch it. Appointment television. It's almost in obsolescence now; one day, it will be a total relic.
It'll be reported. It'll have to be.
If it happened. Yet.
I grab my purse -- it's a clunky, overly large, beige thing. I've never had one like it. Would I? ... I hope not. I slide from it a small, round, compact mirror. Pop it open.
Yep. I'm me. Just checking. I have to do that sometimes. Just in case. As a teenager, I was, but then in my twenties, I wasn't. But since my thirties -- it's just me. Me, me, me. Strange, bizarre, boring and absolutely un-extraordinary, while undeniably eccentric -- me.
A woman. And a ginger. Hah! (Well, mostly, I am. Auburn, at least. It's very, very close.)
I begin the longish walk back to my hotel -- or, perhaps, to it. All in all, the best -- or perhaps, worst -- is yet to come.
I never know which, and I try to be as prepared as I'm able. I'll figure it out eventually -- I always do. And I'll do what must be done -- I always do. And, when the time is right (whatever that is) I'll jump or slip or slide out of the whole thing, and wake up. I always do.
It's all in a night's work.