Red curtains swing open to reveal the single ballerina in the middle of the stage. She wears a fitted leotard and skin-colored tights that cover her muscular legs. She doesn’t smile or wave. Her sharp features frown at the audience as they applaud for her. Maybe she’s so unhappy because of how tightly slicked back her hair is.
The ballerina lifts her arms and touches her fingers above her head, creating a wide circle. Then she pulls her arms down and thrusts them forward. She begins to spin. She swings her leg out as she twirls again and again until I become dizzy just watching her. And then the ballerina pulls her leg in and spins even faster. Just as her body begins to slow, the ballerina looses balance and falls over. Her leg makes a sickening crunch as she lands on the wooden floor. The thud echoes throughout the large auditorium. She cries out in agony and the audience gasps. No one runs onstage to help her. She cries out again, but still, nothing. She searches the audience, looking for comfort or just a word of reassurance.
And then her tear-stricken gaze finds me, in the middle of the appalled audience. She whispers my name softly at first. Her voice sounds scared and frightened. All she wants is my help. But then her voice slowly becomes louder, more powerful, angrier than before. The ballerina’s stern face turns a putrid shade of red as her desperate whispers turn into banshee cries. She pushes against the ground and stands back up, as if nothing had ever happened. The ballerina smiles wickedly and laughs aloud at me. She repeats my name over and over and points her finger at me. Her fingernail is long and sharpened to a point. She starts to giggle uncontrollably. My breath catches in my throat and my hands turn clammy. When the audience finds the ballerina’s gaze fixed on me, they begin to chant my name too. I stand up from my auditorium chair and almost double over as my knees shake uncontrollably. I shove my way through the crowd of people in suits and dresses as they whisper my name and sweep their pale hands over my skin. I push down the vomit welling up in my throat and frantically search for a bright red exit sign or any way of escape from the evil ballerina and her growing audience.
My heart races even faster as the audience circles around me in the middle of the isle. “No!” I cry, but no sound comes out. They pull at my hair and claw at my arms. Their monotone voices soon rise to shrill yells like the ballerina’s. I scream pleading but inaudible words. The crowd keeps pushing against me, trapping me in a mob of vicious minions. I find the ballerina’s face once more. It’s still a vicious red and her eyes turn entirely black as if her pupils had drowned everything out. Her pointed teeth glint in the spotlight as she gives one last evil smile. And then I close my eyes as several pairs of arms haul me to the floor.
“EMILY!” My eyes fly open. Josephine’s tear-stricken face is inches from mine, her fingernails dug into the side of my arm so that they leave white crescent-moon marks.
“Jos!” I yell, pushing off of my seat to hug her. There’s no evil ballerina in sight and the only person saying my name is Josephine. But why is she crying? And her body is trembling as if she’d fallen through a sheet of thin ice. “What…?” I start to ask, but then the wheels begin to turn as I survey my surroundings.
Puke-yellow oxygen masks hang from the ceiling. A baby in front of us bawls so loud I have to cover my ears as its mother whispers to it shakily. She murmurs comforting words like “it’s going to be alright” and “Mama’s here,” but the rest of the airplane is in no mood for soothing phrases. People everywhere stand yelling at each other. Flight attendants rush from seat to seat, trying to shout over the panicking crow for everyone to remain seated and buckled. Some stay grief-stricken in their seat, white as a bed sheet as they clasp their hands together and murmur unsteady prayers. A red-haired woman in a business suit diagonal from Josephine cries into her phone. Through uncontrollable sobs, she manages to say, “I love you, John. Take care of the kids, okay?” She hangs up and rests her head against the seat in front of her.
“Em, the plane’s going down,” Josephine whispers. Her face is completely bloodless and black mascara trails down her cheeks. Dark circles protrude under her light brown eyes as her brow creases and her mouth turns into a desperate frown.
“No-no, it can’t,” I utter, completely horrified. Suddenly my stomach feels like it’s kicked off the Empire State Building and plummeting to the sidewalk. A flight attendant six rows ahead is picked up from the floor and thrown to the ceiling as the airplane drives into a complete noise dive. She falls back to the floor and doesn’t move. Pleas and yells from frightened passengers turn into shrieks of terror. Even the silent ones begin to yell out as the airplane drops farther and farther.
I reach for Josephine’s hand, grasping on so hard that my knuckles turn white. Whimpers of fear escape from her throat as we’re shaken from left to right.
“Are you crazy?! Put your mask on!” The old man next to me shouts. He grabs for the rattling oxygen mask above my head and I help him unclasp it from the ceiling. I strap it around my head and try my hardest to breathe steadily. It’s hard though as Josephine’s whimpers quickly turn into desperate cries.
“Oh, God,” I say faintly. Where the window four seats over had once held a picturesque Minnesota now foreshadows our inevitable death. A wide expanse of ocean below us churns with heavy black water. Each wave becomes clearer and clearer as we drop farther toward the sea. I make out individual whitecaps that have the potential to swallow an Air France plane whole – along with its two hundred passengers.
“J-Jos, it’s going to be alright,” I hold tightly to her hand and close my eyes, hoping and praying for a quick death. High-pitched screams and cries for help manage to fade as I focus on deep breath after deep breath and Josephine’s sweaty hand clasped in mine.
Suddenly, my head smashes painfully into the seat in front of me as the plane swoops upward to fly parallel with the incoming sea. I sit back up, yanking off the crushed oxygen mask and cupping my throbbing forehead. People everywhere cry out in relief and unclamp gritted teeth. The old man next to me doesn’t release his vice-like grip on Tick Tock though. He’s thinking the exact same question I am: Are we really saved? The waves in the window don’t appear to be coming closer. I turn to Josephine, whose face is as white as the sheet ghost she dressed up for on Halloween in third grade. She doesn’t look too convinced that the plight is already over either.
Then a voice says calmly over the intercom, “F-folks-s, w-we ar-re g-go-ing d-down.” The message is so cracked that I don’t realize what he says at first. But then it starts to click as a girl with short greasy hair and wire framed glasses jumps up from her window seat ahead of us and shoves and steps over people to get to the isle. She runs past us with a green and nauseous face screaming, “I don’t want to die!” Once she reaches the very back of the plane she swings open the bathroom door and slams it shut. The airplane turns so silent at that moment that nearly everyone can hear the lock bolted tight. As if that will give her more cover.
The flight attendant thrown to the ceiling during the nosedive slowly rises from the floor with her dark brown bun in complete disarray. She holds onto a seat for balance as the airplane trembles, then tucks her white blouse back into her navy blue pencil skirt. Nearly all eyes are on her, waiting for assurance that the voice over the intercom had lied.
“Now everyone just calm down!” She yells shakily, but everyone is already silent. She keeps her arm on the seat and opens her mouth to speak, but before she can utter any words, she’s thrown several rows forward onto the floor.