Friday, October 23, 2009

Friday Flash: All Expenses Paid

Twitter has a great community of writers. On Fridays, many of us post "flash fiction," or stories of one thousand words or less. You can read others by searching the #fridayflash tag on Twitter.

All Expenses Paid

“Now pay attention, y’all.” The flight attendant held up the demo seatbelt and buckle. “We’re going near the Bermuda triangle. There’s no telling what’ll happen.”

Eric shifted his attention from the view outside his window – gray, heavy storm clouds that threatened a thunderstorm at any minute – to the flight attendant, who met his gaze more often than was coincidental.

“Not a bad piece of ass, eh?” Eric’s seat mate elbowed him. The man already sweated underneath his salt-and-pepper curls in spite of the open air vent pointed right at him. The ice in his glass had melted and turned the dark soda a caramel color.

“She’s all right.” Eric blotted at the sloshed martini on his arm with a napkin.

“So, d’you know who that is up in 1A?”


“That’s Harley Quinn, the CEO of this operation! I guess he’s taking a well-deserved vacation.”

Eric noted that Quinn, a distinguished older gentleman with silver hair, didn’t look relaxed. His skin had an ashen tint under his tan, and he, too, seemed intent on ignoring his seat mate, a swarthy man in a dark suit who spoke in a low undertone.

“Who’s the dude next to him?” Eric asked.

“That’s Olen Scratch, the chief consultant who advised Quinn during the bankruptcy period.”

Eric watched the ground fall away during take-off. He’d heard that the most dangerous times on a plane were when leaving the ground and meeting it again. There was probably something profound in that, but his thoughts were again interrupted.

“You headed on vacation?”

“Yep.” Eric hoped the guy would get the hint: short answers mean leave me alone.

“I'm here for a little business, some pleasure.” The man’s smile disturbed Eric. “I find things that people have lost.”

“You’re a detective?”

“You wouldn’t believe the number of husbands who fake their own deaths and skip out with the family finances to set up on a tropical island.”

“Oh. A lawyer.”

“Is everything all right?” The deep voice belonged to Quinn, whose aristocratic features had relaxed into polite inquiry. He stood beside their row.

“It’s great, but a little warm,” said Eric. He noted the hysterical edge to Quinn's laugh.

“You may as well get used to it, gentlemen. Where you’re headed is a lot warmer than this!”

“True.” Eric looked out the window, and his heart beat in his throat. Why couldn’t he relax? Everything had gone smoothly since he won this trip.

“The captain has started the final descent.” The flight attendant’s voice sounded tinny and distant as she gave the landing preparation instructions.

She winked at Eric when she came through to collect remaining service items. "Find me later," she said.

Eric’s seat mate looked at him with new respect. “That one’ll take care of you,” he said. “Stick with her.”

“You know her?”

“We’ve worked together before.”

Before Eric could ask for clarification, he saw a flash, and the plane's nose turned downward. The passengers screamed.

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re having some trouble with our descent. Please assume the emergency landing positions.” Another bolt of lightning hit the plane, and the lights faded to the red glow of the emergency power system. The plane shuddered as though it would fall apart, and Eric closed his eyes, bracing for impact. He prayed to the God he’d grown up with for mercy on his soul and that his mother would never find the porn on his laptop. He even prayed for forgiveness for the impure thoughts he’d been having about the flight attendant.

Then there was quiet, the complete silence that Eric had imagined would happen with death. He raised his head. The emergency lights flickered and cast strange shadows over the other passengers, who lay strewn about like broken mannequins in vacation clothing. Eric saw Quinn stand along with Scratch.

“Is this price sufficient for you?” asked Quinn.

“Oh, aye,” Olen Scratch said, and Eric saw a gleam in his eyes. “Only one sincerely repented. The others spent their last moments justifying their moral crimes.”

“Take your price and go.”

Eric’s seat mate stood. “I have a pick-up to make, sir.”

Quinn’s jaw dropped. “You said you weren’t going to conduct any other business on this flight, Mr. Scratch.”

“Bubba here was already scheduled for it. Go get 'em, Bub. I’ll see you in Bermuda.”

Eric ducked his head as the two men disappeared, and his seat mate – Bub? A name flickered through his mind: Beelzebub? – walked toward the back of the plane.

The flight attendant appeared. “I knew you would do the right thing,” she said and held her hand out to him.

When he touched her, the carnage around them faded. They stood on a beach, the smoldering wreck of the plane barely visible in the ocean. He looked down and saw his clothes were torn and burned. Her uniform, however, was pristine.

“You escaped. How?”

“It’s my job to keep an eye on things.”

“What are you?”

She grinned, and the dimples in her cheeks showed. “Some call me an angel.”

“What was all this?”

“A tragedy.” Her blue eyes reflected the plume of steam and smoke in the distance. “The airline’s situation was desperate, so Harley Quinn made a deal with the devil himself. A plane full of guilty souls in exchange for getting out of bankruptcy. They staged the contest with customers who had gone to other airlines anyway. Everyone on that plane was a winner who lost.”

“What about me?”

She turned to him and squeezed his hand. “Enjoy your trip, Eric. By the way,” she whispered and leaned closer, “it’s not uncommon for survivors of tragedies such as this to have trouble remembering what happened. Consider this your one free lie.”

She kissed him on the cheek and disappeared. The sun and wind burned his face except for the cool cupid’s-bow imprint where her lips had touched his skin.


Laura Eno said...

*shudder* Planes and the bermuda triangle and thunderstorms - my kind of combination. :)

Linda said...

Dealing with the devil, eh? Scary little story. Loved that last line. Peace, Linda

Marisa Birns said...

I need a glass of wine! For the nerves, you know.

“You may as well get used to it, gentlemen. Where you’re headed is a lot warmer than this!” LOLs

Yes, I found a funny amid the scary.

And was happy with the ending.

Clive Martyn said...

Hmmm better than another government bailout? Not sure :-)

mazzz_in_Leeds said...

I'm glad I don't have a flight to catch in the near future (I'm not the repenting type!)

I liked the last line too

Cecilia Dominic said...

Thanks, y'all! This one was originally written as a regular-length short story (~3k words), so I had to shorten it, which was a good exercise.

Thanks for the feedback, and I'm glad the last line works. I was wondering how it would go with the tone of the rest of the piece. I laughed at the government bailout comment. Will catch up with others' stories when I get more time at my computer later this weekend.

Deanna Schrayer said...

Love that first paragraph! The whole story actually. Quite inventive.

shannon esposito said...

Okay, I probably shouldn't have read this one, considering I'm already scared of planes. :-)
I don't think he deserved to be on that plane in the first place, though...poor guy. Oh, and nice imagery with the crash site reflecting in her eyes! Two thumbs up.

Laurita said...

I'm getting on a plane next week. Perhaps I should have skipped this one. Glad I didn't though. I enjoyed the ride.

The Writer said...

This was terrific! Loved the twist and the resolution. Thanks for sharing this.

Anonymous said...

Ha, I really liked this. :-) Scary and funny. Very nice work!

Anonymous said...

As a frequent flier, I found this a little too scary, but I enjoyed it a lot. Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Nicely done. I loved all the little phrases that meant so much more before the end.