by A.A. GARRISON
The Laugher was in the front of the fuselage, dominating the fracas. The Screamer came from further back, playing counterpoint. There was a beating sound, too, like a boxer at a punching bag. Adrian, seated in the middle of it all, couldn't hear himself talking.
"I stole a candy bar once, Snickers, king-size," he confessed. His voice was uncannily even, given the circumstances. "I thought about my pretty cousin a couple times. Maybe a few."
The woman Adrian was speaking to, a mousy blonde in a pants suit, stared at him wordlessly, her eyes stupid with fear. She looked like someone who hadn't studied for a test, Adrian thought. He didn't know if she comprehended what he was saying, and she sure as hell wasn't a priest, but she'd have to do.
"I lied to get out of school, a few times," Adrian went on, shakily. "I looked up some dresses. Wore one once."
Before Adrian could say more, The Groper interrupted, storming the row of seats Adrian shared with the blonde.
The pervert wasted no time with the woman's chest, wearing a dazed smile that fell short of sinister. She jumped at first, but ultimately just let the freak do his thing, lank in her seat like a crash-test dummy. Adrian swung out, but The Groper was already down the aisle, his flabby body moving in a weird, complex gait, like a skier in wedeln.
The Laugher continued his bizarre chant: "Ha-ha-hee ... ha-HEE ... HA! Ha, ha ... HA!" More terrified screams came in answer, but not from The Screamer; it seemed another was vying for the title.
Adrian stuttered, "I ... um ...", but he'd lost his rhythm. Damn.
After more mumbling, he at last confessed a love triangle involving his best friend's girl, which had culminated with the loss of his virginity, as it were. He had to abbreviate the story for reasons obvious, but it was off his chest, even if his audience was a makeshift priestess -- in coach, no less.
The woman showed no response but for a trembling bottom lip. A single, bulbous tear spilled down her left cheek. It clung to her jaw, and then dropped to the floor.
"A-may-zi-ing grace, how suh-weet thuh sound ...!"
The verse, sung in a high G and surprisingly in-key, cut through the din, relegating The Laugher and the Screamers to a byplay. Adrian couldn't tell where the hymn originated, or the sex of its source.
He periscoped his head from the seats, taking a cautious sweep of the cabin. It was total bedlam: baggage everywhere; people strewn about like their carryon; a forest of oxygen masks hanging like lynched men. The in-seat video screens played on, showing a laughing young girl. A balding man in an oxford shirt was attacking the next seat up, his face streaming crazy tears -- the beating noise Adrian had been hearing. Up the aisle, a heavy black woman in a sundress stood aloofly, arms hung at her sides, her candy-coloured lips in a crumpled figure-eight. She wailed in controlled bursts, somehow betraying the grotesque configuration of her mouth. She was one of the Screamers; challenger or incumbent, Adrian knew not which.
It was profound, how fast the place had been trashed. The announcement had come, what, thirty seconds ago?
"Good God," Adrian huffed, and then dropped back down.
He had thought up more sins to confess, when he was once more interrupted, this time by an insistent vibration tearing through the length of the plane. It silenced everyone for one heartbeat moment, much like a concert crowd hearing the first played note. Then it passed and all hell resumed breaking loose.
The Laugher, with Screamers One and Two, promptly returned to work, now joined by a Screamer Three, who sounded to be female and in first class. The Singer was a little slow on the uptake, but they eventually came around, jumping back in at ‘saved a wretch like me’.
Adrian ducked deep in his seat, feeling to be in a pinball machine. He somehow found it to keep talking. "There was this boy I knew, when I was a kid," he said almost casually, to the blonde woman. "Johnny Strassup, his name was. Nicest kid, just --"
Adrian hunched defensively as The Groper made another sudden pass, announced by the fwip of his jeans. With a morbidly cheeky expression, the man felt up women with remarkable dignity, as though he had every right to do so. He ignored the blonde, however, and Adrian picked up where he'd left off:
"So, Johnny Strassup, nicest kid, just kind of a loser, I guess." He waved away sweat. "But, some kids were making fun of him once, and --"
Adrian cut out again, now responding to a shock of activity in the aisle. Without prelude, the bald man who'd been beating the seat bolted up and tackled The Groper in one purposeful, electrified movement bespeaking rehearsal. Perhaps he'd become bored with the poor piece of furniture, perhaps he wanted to dispense some vigilante justice as his last fleshly act. Regardless, he wrestled the man to the floor and struck out, knocking The Groper a good one in the jaw. The Groper appeared utterly surprised, going from insouciant to outraged, as if he hadn't been squeezing every breast in sight. Watching the melee, Adrian thought it some absurd action movie.
But this wasn't a movie. Dear God, it wasn't.
Now desperate to get it all out in time, Adrian twirled back to the shell-shocked woman and resumed his tale of hapless Johnny Strassup, now in fast-forward: "So, Johnny was a loser, and they were making fun of him and I saw it, and instead of doing anything, I joined them and made fun of him too and I've-felt-horrible-about-it-ever-since-please-forgive-me-God -- !"
The fuselage canted forward, forebodingly, and Adrian's bowels churned, which he compared to the first incline of a roller coaster. Baggage avalanched through the aisles. Frantic noises erupted in chorus. The oxygen masks listed lazily, like dangled tentacles. The blonde moaned from her chest, that of an unhappy cat. Grasping for comfort, Adrian took her hand and kneaded it brutally in his own, probably more painful than soothing. The woman only closed her eyes, squeezing out tears.
As Adrian sat worrying the woman's hand, he caught a confused, flailing movement in his peripheral vision, what might've been a seizure in progress. He turned guardedly to his left, and there sat a Beast With Two Backs, its constituents a grimacing brunette stewardess and a heavyset blonde man with grapefruit-pink skin. The two coupled candidly from across the aisle, in some delinquent form of intercourse, both almost fully clothed, neither making the slightest attempt at pleasantries. The stewardess's trolley was overturned nearby, bleeding shrink-wrapped meals and tiny bottles of booze.
‘Won't be any phone call after that tryst’, Adrian had time to think, and he found himself biting back a laugh. It passed quickly.
The Laugher, however, made up for Adrian's abstinence, as if on cue: "HEE-HEE-HAW! HA-ho-ho-HA-ha-ha ... HA-HA-HA ...!"
Weeping. Interesting screams. A groan of commotion that could be anything. The Singer had at some point gone quiet, perhaps yielding to the other hysterical passengers, while the Screamers had now recruited the gist of the cabin.
Adrian was doing his best to tune out the calamity, when the sinking feeling returned, grew. Time was short, he knew, in the way you know a red light is about to change, or that she isn't just late. Sensing this, he wrapped up his confession, now unloading The Big One:
"I told my ex I hated her, last year," he said, crying softly, shamelessly, like it was the most natural thing in the world. "Threw my ring down the toilet, tore up her pictures, said I never wanted to see her again." He looked due forward as he spoke, not really talking to the blonde, but not not talking to her, just talking to anyone. To the cabin at large. To the headrest in front of him. To the laughing girl on the in-flight movie. "I'm sorry, Beth. So, so sorry ..."
He continued playing with the mousy woman's hand, squeezing, squeezing, squeezing, and he ignored The Laugher, the Screamers, the sparring men on the floor, the screwing couple at his flank and everything else. For now, it was only him and the hand.
He started to say more, then realized there was no more, he'd confessed it all and that felt good. He consigned himself to the seat and closed his eyes; keeping at the woman's dead hand, squeezing and ratcheting and teasing like they were lovers, and that was good, that was okay. The demented noises continued from everywhere, but that was okay, too, even beautiful -- all okay, let 'em scream, amazing grace, how sweet the sound.
Then the plane hit and the people went silent forever.
A.A. Garrison is a twenty-nine-year-old man living in the mountains of North Carolina, USA. His short fiction has appeared in dozens of zines and anthologies, as well as the Pseudopod webcast. His horror novel, The End of Jack Cruz, is available from Montag Press. He blogs at synchroshock.blogspot.com. A.A.’s micro, “Confession”, appears in the June, 2013 issue of HelloHorror.
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