2. Titus Alone

1.3K 125 891

For a moment, everyone shut up, together with the engines. I liked silence, but this was all wrong—a plane should not be silent while cruising the atmosphere at an altitude of 35,000 feet.

The aircraft lurched and my stomach with it.

"Fuck," said an obese man across the aisle.

Not now, I was tempted to answer. But I bit my lips—joking would not make things better. Then I bit them some more to stop the scream raging in my lungs.

Someone shrieked in economy. A second voice joined.

The flight attendant pushed past her trolley, nearly tilting the thing onto my lap. An open water bottle sitting on top of it tottered and then fell, sprinkling me and my neighbor in the process.

The flight attendant ran forward and disappeared behind the curtains.

I uprighted the bottle to stop it from bleeding Perrier over us. My hands were shaking as I put it back on the trolley.

My neighbor looked out of the window. I followed his gaze. We were still well above the clouds, but it felt as if the plane's attitude had changed, just by a tiny angle. We had to be heading towards Mother Earth.

Stretching my neck, I tried to get a glance at the airplane's wing and at one of the big, fat engines hanging there. It still did—hang there—its gentle curve glistening in the sun. No smoke, no fire.

"What's happening?" I asked.

My neighbor shrugged. "I don't know more than you do. It seems—"

A chime in the loudspeaker above us stopped him.

"This is your captain speaking. Please remain seated. We need maintenance and are heading for an unscheduled landing at Guam airport. Again, please remain seated. Make sure your seat belts are secured and keep calm."

Another chime, followed by a tide of voices.

I shook my head. "He's not telling the truth, is he?"

"I'm not an aviation expert," my neighbor said and closed his book with a clap. Then he looked at me, a smirk on his face. "I understand that planes like this can glide for a quarter of an hour or more. Maybe he's trying to restart the engines or to sail to the next airport." He shrugged. "Whatever it is, I guess now is not the time to read a book."

I glanced at the book's cover—anything but thinking of what might be happening around me. And I couldn't help it, books pulled at me like magnets. Checking them out was automatic for me.

Titus Alone, by Mervin Peake. I knew it well. And it gave me a reason to say something normal. "A good book to go down with, though." I giggled as I squeezed the armrest between us, my palms sweaty.

He nodded, hesitated, then opened it again and looked at me over the top of its cover. His mouth was hidden by the book, but the corners of his eyes wrinkled in what may have been a smile. Then he looked down into the page and began to read.

I was flabbergasted. Our aircraft's engines had gone silent, and that man read from a book. But when I heard the lines, they drew me in, like always.

"To north, south, east, or west," he began, "turning at will, it was not long before his landmarks fled him. Gone was the outline of his mountainous home. Gone that torn world of towers. Gone the gray lichen; gone the black ivy. Gone was the labyrinth that fed his dream—"

I held up a hand to stop him. "Gone ritual, his marrow and his bane. Gone boyhood. Gone."

Anything to ignore the events around me.

The Craving - MaroonedRead this story for FREE!