As The Clock Struck Zero

Submitted for Contest #44 in response to: Write a story that starts with two characters saying goodbye.... view prompt

50 comments

Jun 04, 2020

General

An artless merlot. Vigilant in its nature as it stained the sterile carpet with child-like innocence while panic seethed into the air, besmirching the lungs of many aboard. It wasn't the violent jolts nor the abrupt descents that frightened her, but rather the frenzied roars of horrified men and women who pushed and shoved along the slender aisle towards their supposed saviour. 


Fear plagued her thoughts as she sank into the stiff seat. Her daughter squirmed against her strong grasp, babbling along to a nursery rhyme that drowned beneath the lingering weight of dread. She giggled in delight when her mother unclasped the limp seatbelt and embraced her warmly.


"Goodbye, darling."


Two words merely whispered into her child's shoulder as if truly saying them would seal their unfortunate reality. But the revelation burned her soul, it scorched the walls of her throat - a flame that poisoned to swallow back down. Tears stung behind brave eyes as her daughter replied with an endearing laugh, unaware of the chaos around them.


"Bye-bye, Mommy!" she exclaimed in joy, flashing a toothless smile then returning her attention to her toys.


With trembling hands, she pulled down an oxygen mask and secured it around the naive girl, unsettled by the sense of false hope it granted as if mocking their sheer chance of survival. Her instincts took control as wailing cries filled her ears when a blur of black forcefully brushed past the aisle, knocking her daughter's baby pink watch to the ground. Immediately, she began rocking her back and forth, muttering a string of shushes in an attempt to calm her. But, a stolen glimpse at the broken plastic decimated all her hope as its tattered dials declared the arrival of pandemonium.


Terror clawed its way into his lungs, pressing against the luscious folds of cashmere wrapped around him. He stormed through the mayhem - a vice-like grip on the leather briefcase - wincing at the sudden outburst of an annoying child. The aisle was wrecked. Oxygen masks trickled from their hearths, luggage tumbled like hail and the flight attendants disguised their despair when alerting passengers - their expressions adorned by plastic smiles.


A chorus of alarmed screams erupted from the front as the floor beneath his feet dipped forward. His vision clouded, glitching like an old television screen as he inched towards the middle with trembling legs, grabbing onto anything and everything to maintain balance - a trail of wine-tinted footprints shadowing him. Suddenly, a shoulder forced him to the ground - a middle-aged woman, clad with all her carry-ons mowed her way to the emergency exit. 


"I am a first-class passenger!" he shouted over the crowd. Yet no one paid attention, all gathered around two flight attendants grappling against the jammed metal door.


An elder man offered his hand with a smile, unnerved by the commotion around him. His eyes carried kindness for the helpless man.


"Get out of my fucking way!" yelled the man with the briefcase who rose to his feet, immediately dusting off his clothes.


The elder man shifted in his seat, a tranquil expression washed over features as he gazed out the window, mesmerised by the sea of twinkling lights below. 


--- TWO HOURS EARLIER ---


"Welcome to Aether Airlines."


"Yeah, hi. I would like a glass of wine at my seat." He said before returning to his Bluetooth call.


"Sir, we don't - " 


"I'm in first-class." Impatience laced within his words.


"Yes, of course. Please take a seat, we'll be right with you."


Pleased with her resignation, he walked along the illuminated aisle, a sigh escaping as he reclined into the cushion. A quick swipe with his fingers unbuttoned the suit's jacket, he draped it over the side, sweeping off the small pieces of lint across the fabric. The curtain separating both compartments brushed against the side of his arm, he raised an eyebrow at the teenager entering the first-class lavatory - the boy disappeared behind the screen in a heartbeat.


A little girl jumped through the doorway, laughing at the blast of cool air that caressed her body as she walked inside, several toys in her hands. Her mother was struggling to ease her excitement, anxious as the girl left her grasp. They passed a loud businessman, meeting his annoyed glare as her daughter tripped over his briefcase. She ushered her past the curtain, squinting at the jarring change in lighting.


"Mommy, where are we going?"


"I already told you, honey. We're going someplace better." She said, scooting past small clusters of people stowing their luggage, tightening her hold around her daughter's hand and the other hauling an over-filled suitcase.


"Is it very far?"


"Yes." She assured before muttering to herself, "Far and safe."


Many passengers began to acknowledge the businessman's loud conversation, informing the flight attendants - though none of them dared to approach the man. He simply sipped his wine without a care, the scarlet liquid swirling around the glass as he placed it back down a little too close to the desk's edge.


"Excuse me?" he said, signalling the air hostess, "I don't understand why we aren't flying yet."


She recoiled at the magnitude of his voice, explaining they were expecting a last-minute passenger. He clenched his jaw in frustration, returning to the myriad of official documents sprawled across the make-shift table. 


A final greeting announced the arrival of the last passenger. His steps tentative while his eyes were sharp, wide-open as he focused on the air hostess' lips. He signed back to her, watching a wave of realisation settle over on face. She nodded apologetically, slowing down and overly enunciating her words.


"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome on board." Another air host began, his announcement resounding within the speakers. He gestured dramatically at the emergency exits then demonstrated the proper method to wear a life-jacket. Although, only a handful were truly listening, the rest scrolling in their phones, some flicking through the magazines and the first-timers intently memorising the safety manual.


"Thank you for choosing Aether Airlines. We hope you enjoy your flight."


And with that, the plane rumbled awake, fiercely shaking as it glided on the runway. Eager children pressed their faces against the glass windows, oblivious of the nightmare awaiting ahead.

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50 comments

נιмму 🤎
06:07 Jul 10, 2020

Very well written. I can tell you put time and effort into this. I love the detail and the way you explain things. You have a way with words, and very clearly have great potential! Keep it up :D

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Arya Preston
06:08 Jul 10, 2020

Thank you very much, Celeste! It means a lot :)

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Asianzu Victoria
07:41 Jun 07, 2020

I wouldn't mind reading more about what happened. I loved it and the way it was flowing, I would read it till the end. A beautiful piece of work.

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Arya Preston
08:19 Jun 07, 2020

Thank you for reading!! :D

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Matt Render
05:19 Jun 07, 2020

Great use of descriptive language. I could definitely see this being made into a longer story with even more back story for the characters here and maybe even others too. I love the before and after set up.

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Arya Preston
05:21 Jun 07, 2020

Thank you so much, Matt! It means a lot :)

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Ray Van Horn
17:26 Jun 04, 2020

Great description, and Twilight Zone-ish at the end.

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Arya Preston
17:29 Jun 04, 2020

Thank you so much, Ray! :)

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Rhondalise Mitza
13:56 Jun 04, 2020

Wonderful job~ :)

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Arya Preston
13:57 Jun 04, 2020

Thank you very much!

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Pragya Rathore
12:54 Jun 04, 2020

You really have a gift for descriptive writing, Arya. Brilliant story. Keep it up! Please check out my stories too... :)

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Arya Preston
12:57 Jun 04, 2020

Wow, thank you so much! I'll definitely read your works :)

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Pragya Rathore
13:48 Jun 04, 2020

That would be extremely kind of you Arya :p

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Batool Hussain
14:42 Jun 21, 2020

Hey Arya! Great story:) Mind checking my recent story out? Thanks.

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Arya Preston
15:30 Jun 21, 2020

Thank you! And sure.

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Kathleen March
15:28 Jun 19, 2020

Skilled shape-shifting in the narrative style. It shows you have been an attentive reader of the literature in your life.

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Arya Preston
15:34 Jun 19, 2020

Thank you very much, Kathleen! That's really nice of you to say :)

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21:15 Jun 12, 2020

Well written! I love the contrast between the first and second half, and it works really well that you start with the ending.

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Arya Preston
04:24 Jun 13, 2020

Thank so much, Marte! Glad you liked it :)

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Harken Void
19:35 Jun 12, 2020

I really liked the before and after setting, very well done! I also agree with others, that it would be nice to see more of what happens to the characters and what brought them on that misfortunate flight. One thing I noticed, is that you switch between different character POV a few times. I think that is cool and it adds depth to your story, but it can backfire and confuse the reader if not done properly. I'd suggest you make it a bit more clear when the shift in POV comes, for example by adding *** or leaving extra space between the parag...

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Arya Preston
08:34 Jun 13, 2020

Thank you very much! I guess I was picturing an imaginary camera panning to the different characters rather than specifically changing perspectives, but I'll definitely take your advice into account for the future! Thank you again :D

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Harken Void
09:02 Jun 13, 2020

No problem :) If you enjoy that kind of storytelling, where you jump from one character to another, you might want to check into 'third person omniscient' POV. I think that one might be more suited for this type of narration.

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Arya Preston
11:13 Jun 13, 2020

Great, I'll check it out! Thank you :)

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Evelyn ⭐️
21:53 Jun 11, 2020

Omg!!! I woke up early today and read this, then I watched some tv, then I read this again, then I went outside, and then I read this again!!! I loved this story SO much! You are so talented!

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Arya Preston
04:15 Jun 12, 2020

Wow, thank you for reading (so many times!), I really appreciate it!! :D

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Corey Melin
00:26 Jun 10, 2020

Well written, running smoothly along as you clench the armrest. Bravo!

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Arya Preston
04:10 Jun 10, 2020

Thank you, Corey!

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Daryl Gravesande
11:40 Jun 08, 2020

Wow, thank you, Arya! Also, you're getting some likes, I see.

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Arya Preston
12:40 Jun 08, 2020

Thank you, Daryl! I'm glad at least some people like my writing :)

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Daryl Gravesande
00:40 Jun 09, 2020

C'mon, you deserve ALL of my followers. My stories aren't even that good, in my opinion.

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Arya Preston
05:32 Jun 09, 2020

What! Based on what I've read, I'm sure your stories are great! You're a very talented writer! And thank you lol, that's really kind of you to say :D

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Daryl Gravesande
10:33 Jun 09, 2020

Thanks, I mean it! And I just started writing FOR REAL in, like, May so I'm not really experienced. I just got lucky, I think.

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Ruth Porritt
00:56 Jun 08, 2020

Hello Arya, I just read this story, and it was extremely gripping. I agree with Ray Van horn-this story very much reminded me of the Twilight Zone. (in a great way) The description and pacing kept me on the edge of my seat. I also agree with Matt Render; I wanted to see more back story about the characters. (Particular questions I had were: Why did the mother and child have to flee their home? Was Mom running from an abusive partner? Had the first class passenger done particularly awful things in his life? Last, but not least, what was...

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Arya Preston
04:51 Jun 08, 2020

Hi Ruth! First, thank you so much for reading. I'm glad you enjoyed it! And second, to answer your questions, the reason I didn't explain the backstory about the characters was to emphasise their current situation regardless of who they are. I'm sure you noticed that the whole thing takes place inside an airplane and essentially, they're all strangers - they only "know" each other based on what they see or hear and that forms their identity. We follow three perspectives and in times of life and death, they all have different priorities. The ...

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Daryl Gravesande
12:07 Jun 07, 2020

JESUS! Great descriptions of, well, everything! I loved this story, very great at helping me picture a lot of the things going on. My only problem is that it SHOULD'VE BEEN LONGER!!!!! Lol, keep on writing! You're great!

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Arya Preston
12:56 Jun 07, 2020

Wow, this is really sweet! Thank you so much, Daryl! I wish I could write more but I find it challenging to write something really descriptive for that long :D

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Daryl Gravesande
13:09 Jun 07, 2020

I get it, lol. That's okay. I enjoyed this story anyway!

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Daryl Gravesande
13:10 Jun 07, 2020

Also, I hate to self-promote, but could you spread the word on this story? I really want this story to blow up. It's okay if you can't.

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Arya Preston
13:42 Jun 07, 2020

Do you mean your story or mine? I don't know if I'm just really tired because my brain didn't understand that lol

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Daryl Gravesande
14:14 Jun 07, 2020

Sorry, lol. I meant mine. If your tired, you don't have to. Just asking. I get it, though. My mind kinda shuts off like that sometimes too, lol. Also, if you want, I can promote yours!

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Arya Preston
15:27 Jun 07, 2020

I'd love to! I haven't read it yet but I will soon enough and I'm sure it'll be amazing! And I would be extremely grateful if you could promote mine too :)

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Zoe S
08:26 Jun 07, 2020

The starting line itself is so mysterious! Great story, Arya

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Arya Preston
08:36 Jun 07, 2020

Thank you very much, Zoe! Glad you liked it!

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Roshna Rusiniya
13:45 Jun 04, 2020

Very well written. Great descriptions too. Great job Arya.

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Arya Preston
13:54 Jun 04, 2020

Thank you, Roshna! I really appreciate it :)

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Jonathan Blaauw
07:57 Aug 12, 2020

While awaiting a new story from you I thought I’d check out the last one of yours that I haven’t read yet. I was expecting a twist… But this is as good as your others. The opening paragraph alone is worth it for me – you combine words beautifully to create images and hammer the reader with emotion (see? I just tried it there… didn’t quite work). That’s why I’m awaiting a new one from you, I learn so much by reading your stories. The way you told this is also brilliant. It’s counter-intuitive, but starting with the horror then ending with th...

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Arya Preston
03:49 Aug 13, 2020

Thank you so much, Jonathan, that's really kind of you to say! Personally, I'm not too fond of this story, though I'm quite amazed that you discover things by reading mine - I think it's the other way round! Unfortunately, don't think there'll be a new one this week. But I'll definitely be reading your stories soon :)

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16:22 Jul 09, 2020

Loved the story! You used a great choice of words too! I like how you brought it back to before the beginning happened, it makes the story better!

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Arya Preston
17:29 Jul 09, 2020

Thank you very much, Angelina! Glad you enjoyed reading it :)

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