The wind howls and the bitter cold bites hard. Slivers of ice stab my cheeks as I make my way to the back of the taxi to gather our luggage from the trunk. Inside the airport I hold tight to my ten-year old brother’s hand as we wait to board our flight. Squinting to see the snow flying beyond the darkened airport windows, I’m obsessed with Mother Nature’s merciless wrath on this wild moonless October night.
Once on board the Boeing 737-500, I try to unchain myself from endless months of stress; all that non-stop rushing around, pushing through uncertainty, and madly forging ahead adrenaline pumping through my arteries. I switch gears and allow the bliss that we are finally here and the coziness of the plane to envelope me like a hug from a loved one. Though I have mixed feelings, I’m pretty sure I’m grateful they decided not to cancel this flight.
Seated comfortably by the window, I feel the slow burn of the white wine first make its way into my bloodstream and then into my head and, when I turn to smile at Aiden where he’s sitting next to me intrigued by his iPad, I feel the heat of it bloom across my cheeks.
This is when she will come to me, her memory resurrected in my mind once again. I must hang on to her even if it’s not really her but just her spirit floating on the fringes of my life. Not tangible, no, it’s not like I can hug her or kiss her forehead or squeeze her hand anymore. None of those opportunities will ever present themselves to me again. But holding her in my heart… well… at least it’s better than nothing.
Please Mom, I think to myself, be pain-free and happy in Heaven, or wherever you wanted to end up after the cancer chewed you up and spit you out.
If I were being honest, I would have to admit that even though it was expected, somehow our mom’s passing, when she eventually succumbed to the disease, the villainous stage four leukemia, still came as a shock. Maybe it was because during her suffering my dad began to snap at us more, yell at us more, and then stay away from us more, until one day he was just… gone for good. It was mine and Aiden’s love, and my mom’s deep commitment to her faith that enabled the three of us to get through it without him. It was that same love that empowered the remaining two of us to keep going afterwards. Boarding this flight was meant to prove that.
But now I’m starting to question why I chose this date, this Halloween night, an evening with violent weather raging across the desolate Saskatchewan prairies to fly to Seattle. That’s where Aiden and I are going to start our brand-new life far away from where the ghosts of both our parents may or may not remain. Saskatoon holds an abundance of heartbreaking memories now and though my dad is still a living breathing human being, he’s essentially become nothing but a mere whisper of the past to us. As for my mom, other than loving her always, even in death, we are in a way bringing her with us to start a new resting-in-peace-chapter for her. Just the thought of carrying her ashes across so many miles to sprinkle them along the bluffs of Puget Sound, a place she had always loved as a child, has new beginnings written all over it. So, fierce weather and Halloween or not, I realize it’s no use second guessing myself, that ship has already sailed, or rather, that plane has already taken off.
As the jet soars through the ether at ten past eleven on a Friday night filled with ordinary people like us, I sip my wine and talk to Aiden like he’s ten going on nineteen, my age, because in a lot of ways he is. Wise beyond his years and so easy-going I sometimes must remind myself that he’s not just my best friend but also a kid who I will raise on my own from this point forward.
I’m just about to tell him this when an abrupt buzzing sound rips through my ears. Like a thousand killer bees swarming inside my skull, it’s so loud and painful that I can’t help but press my hands to my ears and shake my head to make it stop. When I look around the plane, I’m stunned to see everyone else is doing the same thing.
Amid that torment, the lights on the plane start flashing neon silver, like a strobe pulsing around the dance floor of a nightclub. Then they go out.
The entire cabin is plunged into an eerie darkness, something I’ve never, in all my years of constant travelling, experienced before.
People begin to scream. From the direction of the cockpit, I spot the silhouette of a person waving their arms around and yelling that the pilot is dead.
“He’s bloody and not moving,” the steward, I presume, breaks down in sobs and then grabs his head again as the buzzing continues.
Instinctively, I wrap my fingers around the small crucifix hanging on a chain from my neck, it used to be my mom’s ruby-studded gold cross, and I pray like I’ve never prayed before. That’s when the buzzing stops and the plane begins to jostle like a building on land in the middle of an earthquake. Except we are not on land, we are still high above the clouds and seemingly gaining altitude. Inside the pit of my stomach, it feels like an elevator car shooting upwards at full throttle to the top of a high rise. The shrieks grow louder and both Aiden and I begin to weep openly as we grab each other’s hands. All I can think is that what goes up must come down.
Everyone shouts at once.
“Who’s flying the plane?”
“Oh, don’t let the co-pilot be dead too. There is a co-pilot, right?”
“Are we all gonna die on this bird?”
“Is this because it’s Friday and we boarded out of gate thirteen and it’s Halloween?”
“If any of you survive this and I die, please tell my wife Stephanie that I love her. My name’s Sean.”
“Is this someone’s idea of a Halloween joke to scare us? It’s not funny, there are young children on this flight.”
“It must be a Halloween stunt, everyone relax. They’re messing with us; this can’t be real.”
“Don’t be ridiculous, the airline would not do something this dangerous and despicable to any passenger, never mind little kids. It is real, we’re all gonna crash to our deaths.”
A few more minutes of that, voices over top of other voices, exclamations, declarations and a few very colorful expletives and it becomes background noise to me as I try to tune it out and bring my face close to Aiden’s. I cup his smooth-skinned baby cheeks in my hands and kiss them with three or four loud smooches. Then I take hold of his hands and look into his tear-filled hazel eyes. I tell him that I love him and that what’s important right now is we have each other. I ask him with my own flooded eyes spilling over if he understands that. He nods though his lips quiver with fear.
As I drain the rest of my glass, the apple flavored notes of the wine sliding down my throat, the loud chorus of voices around Aiden and me abruptly… stops. It’s so quiet the silence truly is deafening. My ears have a hard time adjusting to it because it seems so unnatural all the sudden and makes no sense whatsoever. But then again, none of this does.
A second later the lights slowly come on. Strange, dim illuminations glow like candlelight, I swear I can see the flickering flames reflected in the glass of the unshuttered windowpanes. In fact, as I squint at all the windows along the rows of seats on each side of the plane, I see shimmers of tangerine and scarlet-red dancing on the end of an invisible wick. This is the only source of faint and shadowy light we have been granted.
Still, it’s enough for Aiden and me to see that the plane is now completely empty. At least in the vicinity of where my brother and I are sitting. All the passengers that were in front of us, behind us, to the side of us are longer there. Only things left behind on some of their seats remain: a deep plum-colored silk shawl, a Mickey Mouse sippy cup, a copy of The Hunger Games, and many, many cell phones.
Everyone has disappeared, and if this is as real as it is surreal, I’m beginning to feel the dread in the form of a physical pain in my chest, like pressure in the lungs from running too fast. Somehow this kicks my reflexes into survival mode.
“We’ve got to find out who, if anyone, is flying this thing Aiden. We have to be brave and go into that cockpit and make sure there is a co-pilot or someone trained who is actually behind the controls of this plane and that we are not just on autopilot because I don’t even really know how safe that is, and, oh God, please let there be a live person there, I don’t know the first thing about flying a plane.”
I talk fast, breathlessly spewing out a million words without pausing, trying to make him understand as I undo our seatbelts, then grab his hand and pull him towards the cockpit.
As our boots clop down the narrow isle, I feel something crunch beneath my left heal and look down to see shards of broken clay pottery everywhere. Unique Indigo blue Talavera pottery, there’s no mistaking it’s the urn housing my mother’s ashes. When I look up, I gasp and jump back, my pulse racing.
There, right in front of me, swims an iridescent vision of my mom’s delicate facial features partially concealed under a lacy white wedding veil, framed by her once long honey-hued lustrous locks of hair. The entity or my mom or whatever it is, lunges at me and seeps into my skin, I can feel it burn like acid, and then jumps right back out again dissolving into the door of the cockpit. Like the proverbial ripping off the bandage, I throw open the door to the cockpit where the pilot is supposedly lying exposed in a gory death. Which he is. So, I don’t look too much lest I puke up the wine that tasted so good and went down so well only mere moments ago. But there’s someone else in the cockpit too. The co-pilot, his back turned to us, sitting calmly and without a care in the world munching on pretzels and washing them down with a coke and… flying the plane. Flying the plane.
It’s much too soon to be relieved though, of course it is. Before I can totally let go of the panic, a frostiness, complete with sparkling ice crystals, fills the air and both Aiden and I see our breath plume from our mouths. I touch the co-pilot’s shoulder and he swivels his chair around to face me. Suddenly, everything begins tilting sideways and I feel nauseous and dizzy like a wave of motion sickness just hit me. I sense I’m about to faint though somehow, I force myself not to.
It’s a gory sight that accosts me. The cockpit is flooded with fluorescent lighting making it easy to see the distortion of his features, his bulging skull, his face void of skin in some areas and peeling flesh in others. Grotesquely disproportionate eye sockets are huge and charcoal black with fresh blood oozing from them. Blood splatter is everywhere, huge globs of it on the instrument panel, seats, windscreen, and all over his head, his hair is matted with it. The metallic smell of it makes me gag. Sharp fangs fill his mouth dripping with brown saliva. Opening that mouth, he says “darling, I’m here to help you”, in the exact voice of my dead mother.
With a spine-tingling shiver I haven’t felt so intensely since the violinist at the funeral played the first notes of Amazing Grace, I back away from the ghastly apparition. My heart thwacks in my chest and amidst the lightheadedness, I realize that I’m on the verge of losing consciousness once again, this time almost falling to my knees which I know I can’t afford to do. If there’s any one person on this plane that I must save, it’s my brother.
Gathering my wits about me, pushing aside the terror of this haunting, I confront the thing my mother has turned into, head on.
Everything about her now is wrong, everything she has become feels wrong; this is not the person I loved from infancy. My mother was always a sweet, kind, gentle soul, the type of lady who brought home stray cats and dogs on a regular basis. And even though she may have unleashed a demon that’s hungry for flesh and bone, somewhere past the evil, I think the real her can still be reached.
“Mom. Are you in there?” I call as loud as I can trying to connect with her soul where it’s buried underneath the carnage.
I hear a crack of thunder and see a flash of lightning bolt across the sky through the front window. Immediately the nose of the plane points downwards sending us into a spiral as we descend at breakneck speed. Both Aiden and I grab hold of the first thing we can while the bouncing plane continues to fall. A rattling noise like a giant washing machine stuck on the spin cycle clangs through the air, as the earth surely rises to meet us.
Aiden starts sobbing loud hiccupping cries of anguish and only slightly stifles his moans when the ghost growls at me.
“You will not hand that precious child over to him. You will not. You must fight. If you don’t make me a solemn promise that you won’t let him go, I will not cross over and I will not leave you be. Don’t let him take my son, my precious child away from my other precious child. Don’t give him away, Taylor, please.”
“Who, mom? Who’s coming to take Aiden away? I don’t understand.”
“There is something wicked there inside of that man,” the pointed teeth mimicking my mom’s voice sputter, spit glistening in the harsh light.
“He’s full of a fiery greed and a cruel cold-heartedness,” she continues. “You will both be doomed. Don’t do it or you’ll regret it for the rest of your life. And I will never stop the haunting if you do.”
“Mom,” I cry, “the plane is going to crash and kill us. Stop the plane from falling, Mom, please, hurry. Aiden and I will both die if you don’t do something. You must stop it from crashing. Whatever man is coming, I won’t give him Aiden, I promise. I will always look after my brother. He and I will be a family together. We’re going to Puget Sound, mom. We are taking you there too. We will all be together, and you can cross over into the light now. God is there waiting to take your hand. Please, mom, please stop possessing everyone on this plane"– my voice cracks and breaks off as the teardrops snake silently down my face and I make the sign of the cross, shifting my eyes upwards, praying incessantly to the dear Lord above.
And that’s when it all comes to a halt.
I’m back in my seat with Aiden next to me and I’ve got perfectly chilled white wine on my tray. All the passengers are there and safe and everything is as normal as it was when we first settled in. Aiden is laughing at some silly video, multicolored cartoon images dancing flamboyantly across the screen of his iPad, and there is the low murmur of sleepy voices and soft snores all around the cabin.
It will be months from now when my dad will appear out of the blue and offer me money, lots of money, to take Aiden off my hands. He will beg and plead for me to accept his offer, he will want to take him to move to Mexico with his new wife and infant daughter. A daughter conceived while my mom was still in the hospital battling her illness so bravely, without any compassion or help from him.
But I am firm with my answer, as is Aiden. No. My dad had his chance to be part of our lives when we were young, and our hearts were tender, and we needed him so much. But he chose not to be there for any of us.
No amount of money in this world will tear Aiden and me apart.
Thanks mom, but I had it covered all along.