Back at the plane, Gabe stops at the tail-end and looks at the slope at the rear, staring at the rectangular indentation on the side that outlines the opening to the cargo.
“Here we go again.”
He walks over to the crevasse between plane and wall and begins making his way to the door, stepping onto the slope, hands pressed to the wall and back against the plane. A couple minutes of sidling later and he arrives at the cargo hatch. It takes a few tries to disengage the lever, and he has to flip around to pull. His hand slips off once and the back of his head knocks against the wall, a film of slime outlining the impact. The oblong metal panel opens outward just enough for Gabe to squeeze into the plane. Inside the cargo hold is dark and belies the room it would take to hold all the passengers’ necessities. Gabe pulls himself in, an arm on either side of the opening. Shadowy lumps populate the interior and Gabe squints in the dark as he attempts to wend his way through them, hunching over as he progresses.
“Never thought I’d be thankful for lazy luggage handlers.”
He whispers to himself as his eyes catch a crumpled bundle of black material in the corner. He reaches under the edge of the tarp and pulls it up over his shoulder, dragging it, the black canvas crinkling as it slides. Getting it out of the plane is a hassle, the tarp sticking at the bottom where floor meets plane. Once he’s out, he spreads it out flat on the moist ground, the material crinkling as it spreads. It is a square, the sides of which are only a few feet wider than if he holds his arms out on either side of himself.
“Not quite parachute material but it’ll have to do. Now I just need to find a knife, some rope, and probably some duct tape if I’m playing this safe.”
He looks at the opening in the side of the plane.
“In we go.”
A half hour passes. The cargo hold is strewn with items, the majority being clothes with the occasional hair drier or plastic bag of toiletries. Open luggage containers litter the already cramped space, cloth hanging over the edge of the discarded suitcases. Gabe kneels in the middle of this, pulling garments from a rectangular rolling suitcase, his face a scrunched up reflection of the crumpled cloth he throws behind. All of a sudden there is a tapping noise, like rain on glass, and Gabe halts his rummaging to listen. The noise does not repeat, and he continues, tossing the unhelpful luggage to the side and starting on the next bag. Then there are five taps all in a row as he continues to gut the next polyester victim. He stops again and so do the noises. But as soon as he reaches back into the bag there is a loud thump. That sounds as though it came from the roof. More thumps and Gabe becomes frenzied, moving onto the next bag as scraping noises come from either side.
“Shit. Shit. Shit!”
He curses as he finds nothing with which to finish his makeshift parachute. And then he spots a case covered in name tags, sometimes more than one on the same zipper, the bag itself bulging at the seams. Opening it up there is what appears to be another backpack–
“Who the hell brings an actual–” he shakes his head, “– why the hell am I complaining. Should be thanking God for this paranoid bastard.”
He pulls the parachute from the bag and runs to the exit, strapping it to his back as the scrapes reach screeching volume. As he jumps out the exit he feels a snag at his right sleeve but pulls away, his rolled up sleeve falling down. He keeps moving, stumbling on the slippery slope, and falls as he passes the tail end of the plane, landing on his hands and scrambling back to his feet. As he starts to run he looks over his shoulder. The glance reveals in a flash that six or so of what were previously passengers have dropped from the ceiling, each with the same thorny protrusions from their eyes as Justin had. Their extended hands have bloody fingertips, the nails either chipped, sticking up, or in some cases gone entirely. Each step they take is a stomp, as though they are relearning how to walk, and their pace quickens with each passing moment.
“Why are you leaving? There’s so much more to seeee!”
“Isn’t the captain supposed to die with the shiiiiip?”
They call after him, their voices gurgling as though they just nearly drowned. Gabe does not look back again. As he reaches the narrower part of the tunnel he reaches back and fumblingly grasps the release cord for the parachute, his breathing quick. The light patch of night sky approaches up ahead and he gulps but does not slow down. He reaches the opening and leaps.
He falls through the rain and down towards the clouds, away from the floating mass. The curve of it extends overhead, a dark grey outcrop shrouded in mist. He is immediately drenched. One of the pursuing things is pushed out of the hole as well and falls. A long tentacle, like a three foot round strand of stone barbwire, snakes out from the mass and snatches the falling creature out of midair, dragging it back and then into the grey muck, its mouth open in a silent scream. Another of the same sharp tentacles springs out and flies toward Gabe. There is a ripping sound and there is suddenly no feeling in the hand that was holding the parachute release. He reaches with his other arm and grabs behind him. The last thing he hears before losing consciousness is a muffled whumph and then a feeling of being pulled upward.
He awakens, vision blurry and surroundings dark, the shadows punctuated by periodic red flashes.
“Cut that chute off him! C’mon, let’s go!” And then another unfamiliar voice.
“One, two, three, lift!”
He is lifted off the hard ground and onto a stretcher in one clean motion. In spite of this, his right arm sears with pain and he lets out a small moan. The attendants carry him over to the ambulance and slide him in, one of many vehicles surrounding the area. All he sees as he’s moved is the night sky, drops of water joining the rest of the moisture already covering him, and then the white roof of the vehicle. Outside the paramedics talk to each other.
“Where are the rest of them?”
“Must have been thrown from the plane. God knows how it was split down the middle like that.”
“Doesn’t matter now, we’re paid for medicine, not physics. Get the search crews to spread out.”
Other voices are less distinct, and the pattering of rain is his only company until someone hops up into the ambulance with him, the vehicle rocking a bit with their entry.
“Hey, how are doing in here? Looks like you lost a lot of blood.”
The person stands off to the side, lingering just outside Gabe’s vision. Gabe struggles to look at them, and his words are choked out.
“There’s something up there! It… it ate the plane and the rest of the passengers! It’s up there, a giant floating…” his speech dissolves into coughs, each one sending nails of pain through his arm and legs. He turns his head to look at the condition of it and sees a ragged stump torn through mid-bicep. His breathing quickens, and the person in the van bends closer to Gabe and whispers to him, their eyes bulging from a pallid face as the words leave blue lips.
“It doesn’t matter, anyways. There’s no chance for you.”
Darkness overtakes Gabe’s open eyes.
( ©2016 Sean Dorsey )