Henry taps the altimeter with an old-school cell phone and then shrugs. “Fucker says we’re 10,000 feet underground. Piece of shit”
“What do you expect? The plane’s been sitting in a barn for thirty years.”
I’m stirring Phenobarbital into milk that I’ve flavoured with vanilla. It’s for Souta who’s asleep in the back of the plane.
Henry picks up the bottle, reads the label and shakes his head.
“Some poor dog somewhere isn’t going to get his epilepsy medicine. What did Pluto ever do to you?”
“He knows what he did. What’s with the phone?”
“I like choices.”
Before I get a chance to ask him what he means, Souta snorts himself awake and looks up at us.
“Hey buddy, how are you going?”
He frowns and squints, his mouth working up and down like he’s chewing cud. Finally some brain cells get themselves in order.
“We’re on a plane.”
“Yeah. I’m James and he’s Henry. You’re Souta.”
He narrows his eyes to slits. He’s Japanese so they practically disappear.
“I know my damn name.”
He looks out the window and thumps his cane on the floor.
“Always a fucking pleasure Souta.” Henry turns back to the plane readings although we’re on autopilot and there’s nothing for him to do.
“Do you remember why you let yourself get past fifty?” I ask him.
He moves his lips but nothing else. He doesn’t remember.
“Got your drink for you. Here it is.”
I hand him the drink and he downs it in two gulps and then wipes his mouth as to show me he isn’t 1) Old and decrepit 2) losing his memory and 3) Fuck you.
“We’re going to meet in Melbourne, Australia. On the steps of Flinders Street Station. Lunchtime. Don’t forget.”
“I won’t forget,” he says and then looks out the window again with the accompanying thump of his cane.
I turn back to Henry who is looking out down at the ocean below us. It’s a deep green with light patches where coral has risen up.
“Twenty minutes of fuel. If that’s right.” He taps the fuel gauge with the phone and the needle trembles down into the bottom quarter.
Souta takes that moment to snore and drop his cane. Old age and the phenobarbital has kicked in. He’ll stop breathing in about a half hour.
“I don’t know why he lets himself get that way.”
“Dude needs a reminder service. We should set that up. Every twenty years we sent some guy to his furniture store and blow his brains out.”
I nod and look out the window at nothing in particular. We all have our patterns. Souta gets into the furniture business at some point. I plant a lemon tree. Henry gets some girl’s name tattooed on him.
Just then the engines cough and die and now we’re gliding in silence.
Henry taps the fuel gauge but it stays stuck at a quarter.
“Fucking piece of shit.”
“We’re crashing at high speed right?”
Henry wiggles the phone in front of my face and does his eyebrows at the same time.
“That’s option one. Option two is I dial and we blow ourselves into a million pieces.”
“So that’s why we had a hard time getting up.”
“Yeah, there’s a few pounds of C4.”
I look down at the ocean below. Dark, green and wet. I fucking hate drowning and even going top speed in a full dive is no guarantee. I feel my stomach start to churn with nerves. No matter how many times, I still get like this. Before my mouth starts to water (symptom number two) I tell Henry to dial the fucking bomb.
“See you in a month motherfuckers,” he says and dials.
Dirt and dark and something is sticking in my back and it’s fucking hot.
I try to roll over and I hit my shoulder on some wood a few inches above me. I’m under a house in the dirt. I grab some rungs above me to pull myself along towards the light, scratching the hell out of my back. I get to the edge but the wood paneling of the house comes down so far it only leaves a few inches gap. I look around but I can’t see any access. The wood is firmly in place but a few good kicks should get it free.
I turn around and am about to give it my best when I hear a door slam and then footsteps. I wait until the footsteps disappear down the road. Heels on concrete. Businesswoman going to work. Once I can’t hear the heels clacking I start kicking. Three good kicks and I smash the panelling.
I go out feet first and crush a bunch of flowers with my back. I roll over and get up. The crushed flowers are white and now have splotches of blood all over them. I’m in some suburban backyard. I look around but nothing gives me a clue as to location.
I bend over to get a closer look at the plants and this is when a small Japanese woman steps around the corner holding a baseball bat.
“Get out of here!”
She waves the bat but doesn’t move.
I cover up my dick and balls but I already know this doesn’t look good. I’m covered in dirt and I’m bleeding and it’s pretty clear I was under her house. I try the old lie anyway.
“I was attacked by a group of thugs. Please can you-”
She cuts me off with a swipe of the bat.
“Get the fuck out of here junkie!”
She starts walking towards me and swinging.
She’s small but she’s swinging that bat like she knows how to use it. I turn, take two steps and then jump the white picket fence.
“I’m calling the cops!”
Inside she goes and that’s my cue to get the fuck out of there. I head off at a steady jog down the road.
Three streets away I see a house with clothes drying on the porch. I bolt up and take a pair of men’s pants and a Hawaiian shirt with a dolphin on the front of it. The house looks empty but I don’t take my chances breaking in. The cops will be cruising this area soon.
Now that I’m dressed I’m starting to feel better. First clothes then shoes then money then some food and then I’ll work out where the fuck I am and what date it is and-
“Police. Stop right there. Put your hands behind your head.”
Holy fuck they were quiet. Did they turn the engine off and glide up the street? Electric car maybe?
I put my hands behind my head and turn around. By the accents I know I’m in America somewhere and that’s bad news when it comes to law enforcement. Into custody, so many questions, computer databases, photographs … oh fuck me.
My stomach starts to churn and my mouth starts to water. I put my hands by my sides and begin to walk towards the cops. Walking towards drawn guns. I hate this nearly as much as drowning.
Henry and Souta and going to have to wait it out for me.
“I have a bomb strapped to my body. Kill me!”
I march towards them as they start to shout instructions. There is a young cop and an old cop. I head towards him. Hopefully he’s killed someone before and I don’t want to fuck up some guy just in the force.
I start yelling a bunch of ridiculous religion.
The old cop starts to squint as he aims.
Snow and cold and wind and fuck me I’m on a ledge on some mountain somewhere. I look up and there’s nowhere to go. I look down and it’s a sheer cliff face. Even if I was fully equipped with a team of Sherpas and a helicopter I’d never get down or up from here. I don’t feel like falling to my death or landing with two broken bones and then dying of thirst over a few days.
My teeth are chattering by the time I lay back down in the snow.
I try to work out how late I’m going to be to Melbourne when I go past cold and start feeling warm. Hypothermia. The warm embrace.
I relax and try to monitor the moment but like trying to catch the instant you slip into sleep it eludes me.
On the edge of darkness I think about Emily and wonder where she is right now. Probably running some coffee bar. That’s her pattern.
I’m thinking about hot coffee and delicious biscuits when I slip away.
Heat and dry and then a bucket of water splashing on my face.
“Get the fuck out of my yard.”
I scramble to my feet to find an angry old man in front of me with an empty red bucket in his hands.
“Batchelor party,” I mumble, covering myself up and trying to look like a drunken groomsman or possible drunken fiancé.
“Where are your fucking clothes?”
I finally get the accent – Australian. So long as he doesn’t shoot me (or some deadly snake, spider, falling bear kills me) then this is a sign my luck has finally turned.
“My friends stripped me off. I was wasted mate.”
He stares at me for a moment and I wonder if I went too far with the mate. They’re tricky the Australians. Their friends they call cunts and their enemies they call mate – unless they’re in a different mood and then it swaps around.
“Come inside and I’ll get you some clothes. Just don’t throw up and cover up that cock. Don’t want the wife getting any ideas.”
He’s talking flat and dry but then I see his lips twitch and I get it that he’s taking the piss. That’s another thing the Australian’s do. They take the piss – stir shit – pull your leg.
“Thanks,” I say and follow him back into the house.
Novel fragment. I’ve written many versions of this story trying to work out how to bring in tension and terror if the main character just comes back to life a month later…