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.
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.