The plane had only been off the ground for about fifteen minutes when it hit turbulence. He was shaking; his white knuckled-hands gripped the arm rest, and his stomach tightened as he resisted the urge to vomit. It was only his second time flying. The first time was on his way to Novus Angelus--the place he was now leaving--and that trip didn't go too well. At least he managed to grab an aisle seat--just in case.
"First time flying?" The woman in the seat next to him asked.
"No," he said, "second time." Then he laughed a little bit, nervously. "First time was on the way here."
"Gotcha," she nodded and gave a slight smile to reassure him. "Try not to worry about it too much. Flying is easy. Safest mode of transportation is what they all say."
"And who says that?"
"The airlines, of course," she smiled, again.
"Oh..." He felt his stomach churn, and he kept staring down at his feet, hoping that focusing on his shoes somehow made the flight less real, made the nausea less real; he tasted a little bit of the coffee he drank earlier that morning.
"Relax. I'm kidding--it's not just the airlines. The pilots say it too." They both laughed; she thought the joke was rather funny; he simply didn't know what else to do. And then he looked back up, at her.
He knew her somehow. At first, he wasn't sure why, or how, but he knew he knew her. Her frizzed hair was a soft brown that he imagined might sometimes sport flecks of blond and red in the sunlight; in her hair, she had small, red ribbons. When she talked, he could see the slightest wrinkles form as appropriate consequences for a face that had seen just the right amount of years and had remained passionately animated most of the days of those years. He supposed they were called smile lines; they connected her smile to her button nose, to her tiny freckles, to her hazel eyes. It seemed to him that she was infused with a special kind of energy that she so gracefully kept balanced at the edge of insane spontaneity and quiet wisdom. And then, he looked down at her bag, at her ballet slippers peaking out of one of the pockets, and he knew why he knew her.
"I know you!" He didn't really shout, but they were on a plane, and he was loud enough to still draw attention toward them.
"Shh," she hushed, "please, don't."
"Sorry," he said. "I know you. You're on that show. You're amazing and graceful and beautiful and..and, just, wow! I only saw your audition--on TV--but I saw it, and I said to myself, 'Man, if she doesn't win.' I swear, when you jumped, it was like twenty feet in the air. Practically flying!" And then he looked at her, and there were the faintest tears in the corner of her eyes, and he knew why she was sad, but not before he asked, "why are you on a plane right now? Wasn't opening night for the competition only yesterday?" He had spoken too much. "Damn," he back-pedaled, "people...no respect for the classics...Anyways, I thought you were great!"
She smiled, dabbed at a few tears with the back of her hand. "Thanks," she said. "I wish others thought that. Maybe more would've voted for me then."
He smiled back. "If I hadn't been working last night, I would've voted for you a thousand times." He meant it, and she knew he meant it, and for her, that was enough. He stuck his hand out. "Anyways, my name's Peter--it's really great to meet you."
"What? What's so funny?" Peter asked.
"It's nothing." She tried to hold it in; she even put her hands in front of her mouth, thinking that'd stop all the hilarity. She pursed her lips together as tight as possible, but there was nothing she could do, and she made that sound people often make when they try to resist laughing--like blowing a raspberry--and that was it. The laughter was out, and despite it, she was still trying to talk, still trying to apologize. "I'm sorry," she said. "It's just--" more laughter followed. "It's just, my name's Wendy--" she laughed, again. "My name's Wendy, you're Peter, and you're afraid of flying!"
"Stop it," Peter said. "I'm not afraid to fly! It just makes me sick is all." Then Peter laughed too. "I suppose that isn't any better."
"It's really not," and then she finally stuck her hand out to meet Peter's. "Well, Peter, it's nice to meet you then." Neither of them wanted to let go, but they had to, eventually; and when they finally did, it was only so they could replace their hands of the shaking kind with the--more appropriate--hands of the holding kind. They laced fingers and shared the arm rest, and for the first time since the plane left the ground, Peter felt a little better.
It didn't last long. The plane shook, and bumped, and bounced, and shook again. Peter turned a pale green. Quickly, he let go of Wendy's hand and reached forward, toward the airsick bag normally stowed in the back of each seat. It wasn't there. Peter unbuckled his seat belt, stood up, and dashed for the nearest bathroom at the back of the plane. "Please be vacant," he said under his breath, and it was. Peter walked in.
He dropped to his knees, grabbed the side of the toilet bowl, and stooped over it, rocking back and forth a bit until his stomach decided there was nothing left to heave out, and only then, it heaved a little bit more. Feeling a little better now, Peter stood up and looked in the mirror; his hair was a bit disheveled, so he turned the faucet on and patted down his hair with the cool water. He checked himself again in the mirror. At that moment, he saw the slightest flicker, and it appeared to come from right behind him. He told himself it was nothing. And then it happened again. And again. And again.
It was like someone was on the other end of a sliding glass door, pounding on it--the way the glass might slightly bend and bulge and ripple outward. But there wasn't a sliding glass door behind Peter, in the mirror, nor was there a person on the other end of it; or, at least, that's what Peter thought. And then he saw it. It was rough, and barely noticeable, but it was there: a very slight silhouette, humanoid in shape and figure. Peter wasn't sure if that made it more, or less, terrifying.
And then the 'glass' broke, and the thing was still a silhouette, but no longer pounding, and it continued to move toward Peter until its cold, now-corporeal hands grasped Peter's neck. It didn't strangle him. Its fingers moved up to his chin, feeling around Peter's face until they found his lips and his mouth, and it began to pull them open; then its fingers slowly slid down his tongue, down the back of his throat, and the rest of its body followed until it found a cozy place in Peter's belly. It kicked around for a bit, and Peter felt his gag reflexes return. He coughed, and heaved (again), and spat something into his hand.
It was like a little planet, black and full of dust--maybe it was more like a star, or the opposite of a star, or maybe it was something else. He held it there, in his hand, and he studied it for a moment, cold, calculated, detached. And when Peter finally realized what it was--that little black planet-perhaps-a-star-thing--it was too late, because he now understood that it was no longer Peter who was staring at the little black ball of dust, and that the little black ball of dust was, in fact, whatever still remained of Peter; and only then, Peter felt perhaps the last thing he could possibly feel, alone. It tossed the little dust ball into the toilet and flushed it away.
Peter ceased to exist.
It looked back at the mirror and smiled a few times to test the stretchy-ness of its skin. It wiggled its jaw from side to side, tilted its neck left to right, and wriggled its hips around. "Humans," it said, "are strange things."
Then there was a knock on the door. "Sir, is everything alright? You've been in there a while now. We've hit bad turbulence again and we need everyone back in their seats with their seat belts fastened." It was one of the flight attendants.
It opened the door, ignored the attendant, and walked back to his seat, still a little shaky and uncertain on his new legs.
It didn't say anything. Perhaps it wasn't aware it was being talked to. Perhaps it didn't care.
It saw fingers snapping in front of its eyes. "Hello? Peter? Feeling better?" Wendy asked. "Peter?"
"Huh?" It finally noticed the woman to its right, or finally decided to care to notice the woman to its right. "Oh yes," it said. "Yes. Much, much better."
"Good," said Wendy. She smiled. It was always an infectious smile--or so she was told her whole life. Her mother would often say something like, "my little Wendy's smile, so sweet. Like a little angel. Even the devil itself couldn't resist a smile back." Her mother was right; unfortunately, mothers are often right. Her smile was indeed like a little angel's.
And it smiled back.