by Brian Johnpeer
read by Denton Hillen
At the Sacramento International Airport David checked in a half hour before his flight’s departure, and ordered a hot chocolate at a Java City hoping that the milk would help calm his nerves. Milk had always calmed his nerves. Every person who strolled by David reeked of sorrow, anxiety, or fear. For a moment he thought it may be his own aroma he had been inhaling, but after lifting his hands to cup his face and drawing in a deep breath, was convinced otherwise. Can one even reek of their feelings? He thought.
“No, of course they can’t,” as he answered his own thoughts out loud, and became aware of, through peripheral vision, that the old lady sitting next to him had taken notice in his one-sided conversation.
But dogs can smell fear, he thought.
“No, dogs sense fear. The smelling part is an old wives’ tale.”
You smell the nosy, old bitch next to you, don’t ya?
“Sure I smell her. The air is thick and stagnant. Though her body is frail, she consumes the energy from our space with trepidation, leaving small amounts of oxygen to breathe. Of course I smell her!” David looked at the old woman and she quickly adjusted her gaze to the plane ticket in hand.
If you don’t get something to drink…
“I don’t need a goddam drink, now quit harassing me!”
The old woman gathered her carry-on bag and moved across the room. David sneered behind the woman’s back.
Fear. I told ya.
On the plane the passengers were instructed how to use the oxygen if something unfortunate should happen. Ya, that’s the first thing I’ll reach for when the plane has a gaping hole in its hull and the suction is pulling passengers out one-by-one, or the pilot is forced to make an emergency landing on the Rocky fuckin’ Mountains.
“Are you fuckin’ serious?” David asked.
The young lady giving instructions stopped and looked in the same direction of everyone else, specifically at David.
“Excuse me?” the woman said.
“If the goddam plane is going to crash, do you really think that we are going to reach for oxygen? Do you think the passengers had their oxygen masks on before slamming into the Trade Centers? And if so, did it do them any good?”
“He’s right. What good is a little oxygen going to do us?” the old woman who briefly sat beside him in the terminal concurred.
A middle-aged flight attendant realized what was going on and relieved the younger woman from her demonstration. She spoke loud, clear, and authoritatively, so the thought of interrupting her was the furthest thing from David’s mind as he fiddled with his cell phone.
“And sir,” she concluded, staring at David, “no cell phones during the flight. Turn it off!”
David did, and as the 747 thrust to cruising altitude, the milk worked as it had so many times before, and he closed his eyes.
A magnificent orange light flashed through David’s eyelids, and extreme heat tanned his face. He blinked his eyes open, as his head was cocked upward at the sun, and realized he and the other passengers were no longer in the stuffy fuselage of the 747. The seating arrangement was the same as it had been. The passengers were all sitting on the same airliner chairs, still squished together like tomatoes in a can despite the vast meadow and green grass. The front row, three chairs in the middle, two on the left, and two on the right, faced a brilliant green forest of towering redwoods.
Though the commuters were confused at their sudden whereabouts, and looked to one another for answers, David heard nothing. The world was as mute as if his eardrums had been surgically plucked from his head. The air held a stench of burning meat, and the sun was hotter that day than David could remember in all his thirty-five years.
The ground shook, dislodging forty-five seats from the ground and they began to levitate. David, bewildered, stood up and walked between the stationary rows of seats. The people in the seats who were rising became euphoric and the three hundred still on the ground were becoming confused and dismayed. Some even tried to lift their seat from the grass but they were held fast. One man leaped desperately into the air trying to grab his crying wife’s outstretched arm as she drifted skyward, but failed. The chairs and their occupants rose up toward the sun until they were out of sight. David paced up and down the aisles and though he couldn’t hear the screaming and angst of the remaining people, he could see the trepidation on their faces, and he could indeed smell their fear.
‘Crunch…crunch, snap,’ Suddenly David could hear again, and he spun to the trees beyond the first row. The horror of the crowd was but background noise to the echoing footfalls in the forest.
A tall, slender figure emerged from the center of two, thick-barked-trunks and wandered into the light. He was but a carcass of a man minus all bones beneath his dangling right kneecap, and using a walking stick to compensate his imbalance. His strut was rather animated until he came to rest before the front row. Then looking about the travelers with a meticulous, bulging eye, he seemed to pick people, one-by-one, in a mental, chronological footnote of an order. His head faced one person, then snapped randomly to another. The audience appeared dissatisfied with the skeleton’s selections, shaking one’s head after he or she had been chosen.
Without warning, the grassy knoll beside the first row of chairs slowly opened, forming a hole that was no more than three feet in diameter. The earth relieved itself with a thick, audible, gasp of dirty steam. David’s eyes were wide and unblinking as he heard the cries of the dead pleading for their souls to be relinquished unto the light; then deep laughter echoed from deep within the hole as if something took great pleasure in the suffering mortals.
Oddly, passengers paid no mind to the screams echoing from the pit. They were more concerned with the loosely-fleshed corpse, and his malevolent intent.
David continued to wander between the rows of seats, and despite noticing the carcass making frequent eye contact, it never chose him.
The people sat in the chairs as if patiently awaiting a matinee, until the skeleton raised his black cane, held it in the air as his face twisted into an evil grin, then slammed the earth with it. Immediately a small dark animal with no fur clawed its way from what David was now convinced to be the gateway to hell, and ran swiftly to the first lady the carcass had laid his eye upon, and latched teeth and claws into her bare leg just below the hemline. The woman shrieked in pain as the blood flew. The small minion tugged and yanked and ripped side-to-side until the lady slid from her chair landing hard on the grass. Though the demon was no taller than a tabletop, his strength was ten times his size and his determination beyond reproach. The woman kicked and screamed as her skirt hemline was now at her breast and her red, thong underwear was for anyone to see. But nobody looked. They all sat calmly as if still waiting for the movie to begin. Her foot, then leg, was the first down the hole, and though struggling like a cat trying to avoid a bath, she slid down the chute with an elongated scream.
The carcass raised his cane again, held it, then slammed it down against the earth again. This time he summoned a minion with the oily body of a beautiful woman except with animalistic facial features. She strolled across the grass to a handsome man in a business suit and reached for his hand. When the succubus made contact, the businessman melted into an exotic state of wellbeing, stood, and followed his midnight visitor willingly to the gateway and waited. She jumped in as if to leave him behind, but five shiny black hands quickly emerged from the hole, clawing what they could (ankle, pants, shoe, and calf) and pulled the now struggling businessman down the hole in a violent rush.
The skeleton raised his cane and smiled maliciously at David before striking it down a third time. The next minion crawled from its pit, stood, and briefly locked eyes with David before continuing to gather the next soul. The skeleton hobbled to David and once face to face stared deep into his eyes.
“What do you want with me?” David whispered.
The skeleton-like man picked a dead piece of skin from his skull, admired it, and then offered it to David. Confused at the morbid gesture, David merely shook his head. The carcass opened his mouth and placed the dead, hairy skin onto a tongue that looked like salted jerky and chewed; his bulging eye looking upward for the moment. A man screamed in the background and tried ferociously to fight back, but his efforts were in vain. The corpse swallowed.
“Why, your soul, of course.” The skeleton’s voice was squeaky and high-pitched. He lifted his cane and slammed it upon the earth again.
Moments later David saw an obese woman who, with a head of picture perfect hair, hurled her bible at one of the two imps that were trying desperately to wriggle the mass of woman from her chair. The Bible struck the shiny black demon between the ears sending it staggering for a moment, then it charged at her meaty ankle, locking its sharp teeth deep behind her Achilles heel. The woman cried out in a yelp and she appeared to bounce as her large ass hit the grass. The jolt sent her brown wig tumbling from her head. All that was remained was short salt and pepper hair with several bobby pins holding it fast. She grabbed the chair with her sausage-like fingers but failed to grasp it solidly, and instead grabbed handful after handful of grass until her thick, swollen legs were at the mouth of the gateway. The two small minions leaped into the hole, as the large woman tried to stand, but her damaged ankle, which was spewing a huge amount of blood in a circular red puddle on the grass, denied her that simple privilege and she was floundering aside the hole again.
Several black arms lurched from the hole and grabbed what hands could clasp of the fat old woman, including feet, toes, and flower-print dress. One claw gripped her gaping wound, sending her into a pain-shrieking frenzy. They worked as a team, pulling her mass down until her midsection became jammed, and the screaming stopped from lack of air. The relentless demons heaved repeatedly, shoving her boobs closer to her double chin with each pull. David watched as her blood vessels exploded in various parts of her face, spilling blood from her nose and ears, and a fog of red cover her left eye, giving her face a departed look, and then her right clouded over. Her thick arms stretched high above her head, and her big tits were pushed tight against her chin. Then her body yielded to the earth, and a red flame briefly escaped the hole.
The skeleton smiled at David and slammed his cane upon the earth again.
This time the meadow’s earth shook, and was instantly overrun with hundreds of black demons spilling from the small hole like ants from a flooded nest.
Screeching demons were drowned out by hundreds of people’s cries while being dragged one by one, to the center of the earth…hell.
David fell to his knees, cupping his ears from the blaring shrieks as the skeleton watched rubbing his meatless boney fingers together with anticipation. David knew he was next. He committed sins daily, and had never been remorseful of them until now; affairs with his coworker, the drug abuse, the fucking cursing for Christ’s sake, not to mention using the Lord’s name in vain. David knew he was next, no doubt, but the skeleton only remained close, and David didn’t understand.
He’s probably going to pull me down the goddam rabbit hole himself, David thought, as he heard sirens.
The skeleton’s bulging eye remained fast on David, and with all chairs empty and all demons descended to the abyss of their lair with their human trophies, the skeleton was still hopeful for his own. He raised the cane again, the sirens becoming louder by the second, and swung it, fiercely striking David across his head. He hit the ground hard, with blood gushing from his wound.
The sirens grew louder, and the skeleton became more restless as the hole in the ground began to contract.
David never lost consciousness, though the skeleton beat him over his back and head repeatedly with its cane before giving up and returning to the trees from which he emerged.
“WE HAVE A SURVIVOR OVER HERE!” a man screamed.
“Don’t move, mister. Help is on the way,” the man said. “Can you talk?”
David rolled his aching head to look around. The pain made him think that he may have already been pulled down the hole, but he saw the fuselage in two massive pieces. He lay in a grassy meadow surrounded by hundreds of corpses and body parts spangled about the vast area. It looks like an old Civil War painting, David thought.
David noticed the hole in the ground only five feet from him and hysterically began pushing away from it with all his might.
“Calm down, calm down, man,” the fireman said, “You need to try to relax.”
“Get me away from that goddam hole,” David yelled.
The fireman looked over his shoulder at the hole and then back at David shaking his head. “It’s just an old abandoned well.”
David looked at the hole and began to calm, realizing that what he had experienced had to have been a nightmare. He laid his head back on the grass and smiled.
“It was a dream,” he whispered to the fireman. “It was all a dream.”
The firefighter smiled back at David, happy that he was about his wits.
David’s heart fluttered in his chest, and cramped severely. The pain was the worst he’d ever experienced in all his years and efforts to gain a lungful of air were in vain.
“Are you okay?” the firefighter asked.
David’s body began to convulse and his blood-spangled face turned sheet-white.
“He’s going into cardiac arrest! I need the defibrillator! Hurry!” the firefighter removed his hat in anticipation of beginning CPR.
David looked at the hole in the ground behind the firefighter as he felt his heart snap within his chest. A small demon popped his shiny black head halfway above the hole to watch David slip away.
The firefighter pumped on David’s chest until the defibrillator arrived then charged the pads and shocked him once, then twice. David felt his bowels give as the firefighter threw his helmet across the wreckage and walked away cussing.
The demon crawled out of the hole looked into David’s lifeless wide eyes, then bit deep into his arm, and pulled.