The Strange Flight
“Too late,” said Daphne, the woman from the airline at the departure gate. “You’ve missed it.”
“What? No!” pleaded Dad, “But, I can see the plane through the door. It’s waiting just outside on the runway,” he panted.
“The rules, are the rules,” she replied, looking at the clock. “You were 25 seconds late. This gate is closed, Sir.” She began to pick up her ipad and glasses off the desk and place them in her bag.
“Daaaaad, I told you to get moving when we were in Duty-Free,” complained Savannah, his 14-year-old daughter.
“Well, when’s the next flight?” asked Dad.
“Same time tomorrow. The rebooking fee – for each ticket – is £175.”
“Outrageous!” Exclaimed Dad! “700 quid for printing four tickets off a machine?”
“Well I hope you picked up a bargain in Duty Free,” said Daphne glancing up from her desk with a little smile. Past Dad’s shoulder, she noticed the face of the woman standing behind him. She examined her features for a moment. A little smile appeared around her lips. Then she said,
“Say, weren’t you in that series … what’s it called? Me mam loves it, she still watches the repeats every afternoon on Channel 98, er… you know, it’s caller, er”
“Love Will Strike You Dead.”
“That’s the one. You were the daughter, surely? Well it was made a long time ago I suppose.”
“Yes, I was younger then.”
“Weren’t we all? Well Mrs. um,” she glanced at the name on the passport, and then at the date of birth: “Mrs Petrovski, oh my, it’s your birthday. Congratulations! You were born on Halloween! That must mean you’re a real sweety!”
“Or a witch,” said Mum, with a wink.
“I’ll call the captain and let him know we have four late arrivals. One moment please.”
Mum smiled graciously. She hadn’t acted for TV in over 16 years, but it was helpful that traces of her celebrity lingered on and could still win her favours from fans of old soaps.
“They don’t make shows like that these days,” said Daphne, the airline woman, still smiling. “Here’s your tickets. I’ll just escort you to the steps. No need to run, but we had better get a move on ..”
They soon received a much warmer reception. The air stewardess who greeted them at the top of the aircraft’s stairs smiled with perfect pearly white teeth and bright red lipstick. She was wearing a pair of red devil’s horns. Well it was Halloween, after all.
“Hello! Welcome aboard, I do hope you enjoy your flight.”
“Trick or Treat!” called out Gabriel, who was Savannah’s nine year old brother. She was ready for that, and handed him a basket of sweets. He took a handful.
“Thanks. I like this airline,” he said.
But the best was yet to come. The interior of the aircraft was like no other the family had flown on before. Instead of hundreds of seats squished together in rows, there was a long corridor with doors off to the sides.
An air steward, who was dressed in a pristine white sailor suit, said, “Your cabin is number 24. Let me take your bag madam.”
He followed them along the corridor, and when they reached cabin 24, he showed them in. There were four comfy looking seats, not at all squished together, but arranged around a little mahogany table. Their suitcases were waiting for them on two leather racks. A short flight of stairs led up to the sleeping compartment, on the upper deck, with four real beds made up with luxurious sheets and pillows.
And naturally they had their own washroom and lavatory en suite.
“Is this an aircraft or a ship?” asked Mum, somewhat baffled
“We like to think of it as a luxury cruise liner with wings,” answered the steward.
“Wow,” squealed Gabriel, who was looking out of the window. “The wings are huge and they’ve got propellers!”
“Let me see,” butted in Savannah, pushing her brother aside. “Gosh, it’s big alright, but extremely old fashioned – like out of a black and white movie. Are you sure this contraption can fly, Dad?”
Dad shrugged his shoulders. “I really wasn’t expecting this,” he said.
Mum put her arm around him, “Well it’s a gorgeous surprise darling,” she told him. “Even if it doesn’t fly, I don’t mind staying here for the whole holiday. Smell these roses … Hmmm. And there’s a bottle of bubbly on ice. This is going to be a luxury.”
“If you are ready, I’ll show you the rest of the aircraft,” said the steward.
They wandered further down the corridor to a part of the plane that opened up into a dining room for about 30 people. It was illuminated by a large crystal chandelier and pumpkin Jack o’Lanterns on each table.
“Dinner will be served once we are on our way,” said the steward. “I can book your sitting now if you like. Would 8.30 suit you?”
Savannah by now assumed that they were really staying in a hotel that looked like a plane. This talk of going anywhere was a kind of fiction, but there was no way the whole thing could take off the ground, in her view.
They continued on their tour of the long tube.
“And this area,”said the steward, showing them a bar and comfy sofas, “Is the cocktail lounge. Drinks will be served at any time other than take off and landing.”
And finally, when they had passed through the cocktail lounge, they came to a cinema with seats. “Later on, we will be showing a cartoon followed by a movie entitled, ‘The Invasion of the body Snatchers.’ I’m told that it’s not for the faint-hearted, but it is Halloween after all.”
They returned to their cabin and sat down in the deep chairs
“Well this is the strangest hotel ever,” said Gabriel.
“It’s quite a surprise,” said Mum, “And it’s all very nice, but I haven’t seen a bathtub or a shower yet.”
“Who ever heard of an airplane with a bathtub?” asked Dad with a smile.
Savannah thought he must be kidding them. He had promised the family a trip to New York for Mum’s 40th birthday, but instead he had booked them into this weird hotel that looked like an aeroplane.
“Dad you cheapskate!” she said, “Were the plane tickets too expensive?’
“No, honestly,” said Dad, throwing up his hands. “I booked us flights to New York. I wasn’t expecting anything like this. I’m as curious to see what happens next as you are.”
A smooth voice came over the loudspeaker. “Good evening ladies and gentlemen. I’m your pilot, Captain James Cook, and I’d like to welcome you aboard this magnificent Bristol Brabazon. We’re just waiting for clearance from the Control Tower, and I expect we shall be taking off from London Airport in approximately 15 minutes. Our flight to New York will take just over 14 hours and we hope you will enjoy every moment. . And may I take this opportunity to wish you all a very Happy Halloween.”
“Ooh, it is exciting,” said Mum. “A birthday mystery just for me. But I don’t think this thing can fly. If there was such a thing as a flying hotel, I think we would have heard of it, don’t you?”
“It’s like the Titanic, only with wings.” said Gabriel. “We’ve been learning about it at school. It was a huge ship that people said could never sink, even though it was really really heavy, and then it went and hit an iceberg.”
“Oh do shut up,” muttered Savannah.
A waiter came in and poured champagne for Mum and Dad, and fruit cocktails for the kids. “Would you care for caviar?” he asked.
“Rather,” said Dad.
Soon the waiter brought a silver plate of little pancakes called Blini and another silver bowl containing little shiny black eggs of Beluga Caviar.
“ERRRRR!” exclaimed Gabriel. “This is yuk!”
“All the more for us then!” replied Mum greedily, while wiping a little piece of caviar from her lip using a starched white napkin.
The steward knocked on the door: “Sorry to bother you,” he said softly, “But the captain is requesting that everyone fasten their seatbelts as we shall soon be taking off.”
“Thank you so much!” said Mum, glancing down to find the seat belt which she had not noticed before.
“And by the way, the life jackets, which of course we hope we won’t be needing, are in the bottom of the cupboard with the mirror,” said the steward. “That’s all I have to tell you about safety, enjoy your flight, and just ring the bell anytime you need anything.”
When he had gone, Gabriel asked, “Is he joking or are we really going to fly?”
“We’ll soon find out,” said Dad.
Another ten minutes passed before the propellers spluttered into action and the aircraft taxied along the runway.
“Wow!” said Savannah. “It feels like we are really moving.” She had to raise her voice because the engines were rather loud.
“Hey look!!” said Gabriel. “All the other planes at this airport are kind of weird.”
“Isn’t that one a Spitfire?” asked Dad.
Mum was looking blankly ahead of her. She wasn’t a good flyer at the best of times. Dad held her hand. She said quietly to him, “Tell me this isn’t real?”
“Honestly,” said Dad, “I’ve no idea.”
The enormous plane paused at the top of the main runway for a moment, before moving off and starting to pick up speed. The walls of their cabin began to shake and the glass in the cupboards jangled.
Savannah gripped the arms of her chair. She thought: “This game is VERY realistic. But there’s no way this huge hulking tin can can take off, is there?”
But it did. A few moments later, there was a tremendous judder as the wheels left the tarmac. Savannah felt like she had left her stomach on the ground. She closed her eyes.
“We’re gonna die,” she thought. She felt the aircraft tilt sideways as it changed course in the sky above London.
“And all because Dad was too stingy to buy a ticket on a real airline. Even BargainJet wasn’t cheap enough for him.”
She knew that her thoughts made little sense, but it didn’t matter, she just wanted to blame her dad for scaring the living daylights out of her.
It wasn’t long before the steward’s voice came over the loudspeaker and said,
“Ladies and gentlemen, now we are safely on our way, Captain Cook has advised that you can loosen your seatbelts. Our first sitting for dinner will be starting shortly, and the cocktail lounge is now serving drinks. Our program of movies will be commencing in the cinema in approximately 15 minutes.”
“Let’s go and see the cartoon,” said Gabriel.
“Savannah, can you take him?” said Mum. “I’m feeling a bit queasy. This simulation is very convincing.”
Savannah thought a cartoon might take her mind of her nervous thoughts. She and Gabriel went back along the corridor towards the Dining Hall. There were half a dozen other passengers heading the same way.
“Wow!” they are really dressed up!” said Savannah.
A lady in a shimmering green evening gown was walking arm-in-arm with a gentleman in a dark suit. Some had the most elaborate hairstyles, full of thick curls.
When they reached the Dining Hall, they saw that the other passengers were no less elegant. Halloween masks had been placed beside every plate, and the passengers were trying them on. The waiters and waitresses were dressed in black capes with a scarlet lining, and some of them had ghoulish make-up to make them look like zombies or witch’s cats.
“We had better go back and warn Mum and Dad,” said Savannah. “She’ll die of shame if she wears her jeans to dinner.”
They ran back to the cabin and told Mum and Dad what they had seen.
“Well thank goodness they gave us our luggage!” said Mum. Dad had warned her that they would be going to a fancy restaurant to celebrate her birthday in New York, so thankfully she had packed her little black dress.
The family went to dinner dressed smartly, but not as smart as the other guests who were “up to the nines” as Mum called it. They took the place round the table which was laid out with silver cutlery, pristine cloth, and starched napkins. A waitress brought over a basket of hot bread rolls and Dad studied the wine menu, his eyes somewhat agog.
Mum was staring at the crystal chandelier hanging from the ceiling. The menu was overwhelming, with offerings of pumpkin brain soup, severed-finger saucisson casserole, foie gras, devilled eggs, sirloin blood steak, witch’s escargots, coquilles St Jacques, and eye-ball pasta.
“Can I just have chips?” asked Gabriel, who was baffled by what most of these dishes actually were.
The waiters and waitresses were busy coming back and forth with dishes and hotplates on wheels.
“What a frightfully delicious birthday treat!” squealed Mum in delight!
Their table was next to a window, and Gabriel spent a good bit of time looking out at the wheeling propellers and the fluffy clouds below.
Mum said to her husband, “Thank you darling for a lovely birthday treat, even if it is somewhat strange.”
“You mean spooky,” said Savannah. And then she leaned over to her mother: “Have you noticed the waitresses? They all have the same faces. Just different hair and eyes and makeup. It’s like they are cyborgs or something.”
Mum looked around: “You’re right. They do look alike. The waiters too. There are about two or three different types, but that’s it.”
“Proof that it is all a simulation,” said Dad.
“You knew all along, didn’t you?” said Gabriel.
“No, I promise,” said Dad.
Just then the lights flickered off. The plane shook and the chandeliers clattered. They were in near darkness, except for the light coming in through the windows and … the eyes. The eyes of everyone else in the room, waiters and diners, glowed like cats’ eyes. Then a few moments later the lights came back on and everything continued as normal.
“That’s it. I want to go home,” cried Savannah. “Dad you booked the worst holiday ever for Mum’s birthday. You were too mean to take us to New York. This is nuts. I feel like I’m going mad! I might never get over your stupid idea of a joke.”
“Honestly Sav, I know nothing about it,” pleaded Dad.
“Well I’m quitting this bad dream,” said his daughter standing up. “Where’s the exit?” she asked the waiter rudely.
“The way back to the cabins is this way,” said the waiter pointing back down the corridor.
“I mean, how do I get out of this flying bin?”
“We have emergency parachutes, but I do not advise that you try one, Madam, because it is rather cold outside, and only sea down below” said the waiter.
Savannah felt somewhat helpless. When she got back to the cabin she climbed up the stairs and got into one of the beds on the upper deck. She left the light on because she was too afraid to lie in the dark.
She missed the biggest treat of all at dinner. The waiter wheeled in a deathly white chocolate cake in the shape of a skull and crossbones. A green, mint-scented mist was wafting out of the eye sockets. You could see that it was lined with red on the inside.
“Yummie!” said Gabriel, who was still hungry even after two plates of chips and ketchup.
“Just one moment,” said the waiter, as he lit a taper. Maybe it was supposed to be some sort of flaming Flambé, but something went wrong because the whole skull exploded like a bomb sending fragments of chocolate and orange sauce in all directions.
There were gasps of horror from every corner of the dining area. Waiters rushed over to apologise and offered napkins to wipe the orange flavoured lava off the diners’ faces and clothes.
Gabriel was laughing his head off and asked the waiter, “Can you do that again?”
They returned to the cabin and at first could not find Savanna,until eventually, Mum discovered her asleep upstairs. “Aw she looks like little Goldilocks in the story,” she sighed with relief. It was time for Gabriel to brush his teeth.
He was supposed to spend two minutes brushing, but he hardly managed 30 seconds before he came rushing back into the cabin.
“You look like you just saw a ghost,” said Mum.
“I didn’t see a ghost. I heard one. The.. there was a voice coming out of the toilet like this, “GABBBBRIEL, Gabriel!” I’m not going back in there, even if I pee in my pants.”
Fortunately, the beds were extremely comfy and the drone of the engines was strangely comforting. But it was such a long flight that even after nine hours of sleep there was plenty of time to stretch their legs and take breakfast in the dining room where freshly flipped pancakes with all sorts of delicious fillings were on offer. While they were finishing up, the captain asked everyone to return to their seats and fasten their seat belts as he was expecting a spot of bad weather on the way into New York.
“I think this simulation is going to end with a bump,” said Dad. And almost as soon as he had spoken, the plane went over an air bump.
“What was that?” asked Gabriel, his eyes open with surprise.
“Nothing to worry about, just a touch of turbulence. It’s routine,” said Dad. “But keep your seatbelt fastened just in case.”
Thud! They hit another mid-air lump of turbulence causing the plane to jerk. Savannah gripped the arms of her chair just as they hit another one.
“This is worse than Thames Ditton!” she complained. Thames Ditton was a small town they moaned about every time they drove though because it was full of bumps and potholes.
Now they were gently descending, through dark clouds.
“Look!” exclaimed Gabriel, “There are goblins flying on broomsticks!”
“There are?” asked Dad, “then this must be a simulation. I was starting to think that this thing was for real.”
“I can’t see any,” said Savannah. A moment later, a sheet of lightning caught the tip of the wing and there was a brief blaze of light.
“Aha!” she screamed.
“It’s Ok, don’t worry, we’re still flying,” said Dad, soothingly.
Savannah couldn’t speak. She was shaking too much because her little brother had been right, there were weird creatures flying alongside the plane – not one, but lots of them -ugly green goblins on broomsticks.
Horrified at what she’d just witnessed, Savannah quickly drew the blinds. In shock, she said to herself, “Did I honestly just see that?” And closed her eyes.
After some more terrifying jolts and flashes of light, that seemed to go on for eternity, they broke cloud cover and were flying over a stormy sea, and not long after that Gabriel called out:
“There she is, the Statue of Liberty!”
“Oh, thank goodness,” replied Mum.
They cruised through the rain over the illuminated skyscrapers of New York and gently descended until:
The wheels bounced off the tarmac. And then, with a less violent contact, they managed to connect to the ground.
“Are we alive?” asked Gabriel when they eventually came to a halt.
“I think so,” replied Mum.
“I can’t wait to get home,” said Savannah.
“This has been the worst night of my life. Thanks for nothing Dad.”
Dad was used to being blamed for everything. He was more worried about what Mum thought and squeezed her hand.
“Well thank you, darling,” she said. “My 40th birthday has been, er, interesting to say the least. And now I’m looking forward to a nice cup of tea.”
The captain’s voice came over the loudspeaker.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please remain in your seats or just a couple more minutes. We are taxiing into our birth here at LaGuardia Airport on this wet and stormy morning in New York. I do hope that you have enjoyed your flight with us and we look forward to seeing you again soon.”
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” said Savannah, somewhat predictably.
The steward popped his head around the door, after knocking, and invited them to leave. “Your luggage will be brought round into the arrivals hall for you,” he told them
When they left the plane it’s fair to say that the family, even Dad who had booked the tickets, expected to find themselves still in London. It had been the strangest flight they had ever experienced or heard of.
And so when they showed their passports to an official who had a definite New York accent, they were not sure if it was all part of the game.
The taxis in the rank were decidedly yellow – not the black cabs they were used to at home and as they drove into the hubbub of Manhattan and through the canyons between the skyscrapers, they all agreed that after this Halloween, reality would never be quite so real.
And in case you are wondering, they had a lovely week in New York, despite the rain, and flew back to London on a totally normal airline with a tiny bit of legroom, video screens in the backs of the chairs, and food that tasted like rubber.
~ The End ~
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