This is not the end.
Liz assumes when her head jerks hard to the left, watching a black duffel bag tumble from the overhead compartment, striking a male passenger’s shoulder. Each shake and shudder of Flight 817 invokes memories of her seven-year-old son’s toothy grin.
On a sunny afternoon in their backyard, he sends a fat red ball sailing across a cerulean sky, cheering Liz on to catch it.
Waiting for the inevitable, the same red oozes from her bottom lip in teeth pierced fear. She grips the armrests with bulging eyes, watching other frightened faces hoping for a savior. Yet, the broken calm of the stewardess strapped in her seat ahead when beverage service became impossible, silent pilots and rapid descent made the chance of survival seem unlikely.
Liz thinks they’ll all burst into flames soon enough.
“No! I have a family.” Liz says, finding her will to live. Another lost voice, among piles of other prayers and tears. “I am not yours to toy with. I will not die!”
Ahead, the cockpit door swings open. Two uniformed pilots sit at the controls cackling. Like they knew an audience watched, they quiet and turn slow, locked on Liz. No one else notices the mouthless, chalk white bald skulls with large pits for eyes.
Clinging to her rosary, she recalls sunlight dancing on her face as she shields her eyes. The other pushes her giggling, three-year-old daughter in a brown bucket swing pleading to touch Heaven.
“A gift… for me?” The skeleton asks Liz, taking the empty middle seat beside her. It twirls the oval black onyx rosary beads around its bony fingers, reining her in close.
“I won’t die,” she growls.
“Oh?” it asks, dropping the grip. Its icy finger slides under Liz’s chin with the sharpness of a dagger. She sniffles and turns, staring at a man one row behind. He’s glued to his seat, staring back at her. His face is helpless, troubled. She turns around. The skeleton reads her eyes, and the turbulence subsides.
After the applause settles, the pilot explains they’re in the clear, putting everyone at ease, and an unforgettable brush with death story to share.
A month later, in the middle of a late night rom-com, Liz’s phone rings—her boss—who never phoned, let alone at 8:17 p.m. Is it the proposal? Maybe it got rejected, she thinks. I spent two weeks working on that. My raise is on the line.
She pauses the movie, contemplating whether to eat defeat before bed.
“Liz? It’s Jay. Sorry to call so late. I, uh, got a bit of bad news… David… ah, David died.” He pauses. Liz clutches the phone, imagining her co-worker’s naked body on a cold, silver slab and slid into a freezer like leftovers. “They found him at his home earlier today; there was a fire, not sure yet…” He pauses, weeping. “I’m sorry. I just… he has two little ones.” Jay pauses again, sniffling. “Um. Don’t worry about coming in tomorrow, office is closed… Um, you may have to take over his accounts. That comes with a salary increase, of course. Ah, I’m getting ahead of myself. So much to do… I’ll keep in touch once I know more.” He exhales sharply. “Gotta go.”
David. Liz remembers him glued to the seat that day on the plane. Brown eyes peeled wide with fear, likely thinking of his family.
His dead body sits on Liz’s couch across from her, seatbelt still fastened and recognizable only by his wrinkled navy slacks and favorite designer cream cardigan he boasted his wife scored from a bargain bin every time he wore it. Now, most of it burned to ruin.
“What happened to me?” he asks. Charred skin falls off his reaching hand. Liz stares at the gold band on his ring finger.
Liz did it. The skeleton’s invisible whisper echoes around her living room. Liz chose.
The phone slides from her grip, dropping on the carpet. She flees to her bedroom, slamming the door shut. Under the door, blazing bony fingers reach, tangled in her rosary, pointing with glee.
You did it… Hehehe.