3. The Beep

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The only thing I heard was the beep. A continuous, pure tone ringing in my ears.

It was a noise that didn't fit the scene unfolding before me—the scene of a cabin in chaos, of disaster happening.

The flight attendant fell as if in slow motion, blown backwards through the curtain behind her. She clasped it, and the runners came loose, one by one. She and the curtain disappeared into the gloom of the fore galley.

The man in the row in front of me got up and looked back, still wearing his inflated life jacket. His eyes widened, his mouth opened. He grasped his headrest and contracted his shoulders as if uttering a desperate cry. His lips pulled back, exposing age-stained teeth.

All I heard was my ears' ringing.

A violent jerk went through the craft. The cabin tilted sideways. The man in the next row lost his balance, gesticulated as he fell, and disappeared from my view.

Flaps opened along the ceiling, birthing white-yellow bags. They fell a stretch in perfect choreography. Then they swayed wildly to the ringing in my ears.

Tendrils of smoke wafted forward, bringing along the acrid stench of burning plastics.

There had been an explosion, but this didn't make sense. The engines had stopped, why should there be an explosion, too? One disaster was enough.

The plane leveled out again.

Outside the window, there was still that steel-gray, rain-swept expanse of water under a lid of clouds. Farid clasped the sides of the seat in front of him.

The sea lay flat below us, moving aft with increasing speed.

Farid looked through the window, then back at me. He reached out towards me and put a hand behind my head, pushing me forward, surprising me with the gesture.

What did he want?

He let me go, curled up, placed his head on his knees, and covered it with his hands.

Brace for impact.

I followed his example, turning myself into a human bundle. Just me, the beep in my ears, and the raging fear in my heart.

The smoke was worse now, irritating my nostrils and bringing tears to my eyes.

A tremor rang through the hull.

This was the moment where I should bring up some cherished memories to hold on to, to carry me over the threshold.

Sam, my husband. Bleeding on the pavement, after the accident. The essence of his life a pool of red—glistening blood on black, cracked tarmac. Dissipating into the cracks, taking my heart, my passion, and my craving with it.

Not the image to take with me.

I looked to my right. Farid's position was unchanged—fingers webbed over the back of his head.

A buzz penetrated the beep in my ears. A voice, metallic and urgent, vying for my attention.

"Brace for emergency landing," it buzzed. "Brace. Brace."

I did brace. I was braced.

"Brace for—"

Impact.


~~~


The ringing in my ears was still there. Weaker though. Weak enough to let me hear the cries, the shouting, the splashing.

My head hurt. Had I passed out?

I opened my eyes. I was still bent forward in the brace position. Red lights were flashing, on and off. A glowing, blue stripe ran along the aisle, making a haze above it glow.

I sat up. The pain at the top of my head was hot and fierce.

The seat beside me was empty. Farid must have left. Had he fled, leaving me unconscious here? Or had he tried to save that red-haired friend of his?

It didn't matter.

I fumbled with my seatbelt and unbuckled it.

Forward was uphill now. I looked back at a scene in emergency illumination. Smoke pulsed with red, flashing lights. Flames gnawed at ceiling panels. A window had burst, and water poured in, feeding a pool that had already swallowed most of the economy section. A man strapped to his seat, head against the wall beside him as if asleep. 

My glasses were gone, and dark liquid blurred my view. I wiped my face and stepped into the aisle. There was water in it.

A man ran into me, jostled by, hurrying uphill.

Were we under water?

I had to get out. Up.

My hands were slick as I grasped the seats along the aisle and pulled myself forward, upward towards the galley. My legs were jelly and a searing pain sat in my scalp.

I kept my gaze straight, unwilling to look at the hell to the left or right of me. 

Water pushed against my calves, urging me forward. It tried to topple me, and I struggled for balance.

I passed the front row and reached the galley as the floor tilted. The fuselage groaned. A rush of water washed through my legs from behind.

More water entered from the left, from an open cabin door. And there was light from that way, too, the pale light of a shrouded sky.

"Help, I'm—"

The voice came from the right, from the galley. It was a jumble of trolleys, cabinets, and metal appliances, jumbled under haphazard angles. The ocean following me from the passenger cabin was flooding in, eager to fill it.

It had reached my hips.

An arm waved at me from the debris.

It was a woman. She was mostly submerged, wearing a uniform, struggling to hold her bloodied face above the water level—a face that was contorted with pain, teeth exposed—bleached teeth.

She was our flight attendant, Adriana.

I took her hand and pulled.

"My legs are stuck," she said and sputtered as the water reached her lips.

Her lower body was clamped between the floor and a large metal cabinet that had toppled over, maybe torn from the wall it had been riveted to.

"Help—"

The water closed over Adriana's head. She stared up at me, her submerged brown eyes wide open, her lips moving.

I reached into the water and under her arms, trying to pull her above the surface. She clasped my arm, digging her nails into my flesh.

I couldn't budge her.

A figure appeared by my side, stepped forward, and pushed against the cabinet. Metal creaked. "It's jammed." He had dark, short hair and dark skin—Farid.

Adriana's grasp on me tightened.

Farid took hold of Adriana's other arm. We both pulled. Something gave, Adriana's eyes clenched shut for a moment, but she did not surface.

I still held her hand, clasping it in both of mine. It twitched.

"There's nothing we can do for her," he said. "Come, we have to get out, the plane is sinking." He let go of Adriana's arm, and it fell into the water.

The woman's eyes were staring at me through the water's surface. Wide open, begging silently.

A bubble of air escaped her lips.

The ground below us shuddered again, and more water rushed into the galley.

"Get out now!"

Fingers as hard as steel grasped my arm and pulled me away. I lost hold of the flight attendant's hand.

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