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“Ugh, why are we not moving!?” Josephine cries out. She fake whines and stomps her foot against the maroon-carpeted floor.
Cold air seeps into the walls of the airplane ramp, making me cross my arms against my chest to keep from maniacal teeth chattering. “I don’t know,” I sigh. The line to board the Air France flight seems never ending from our spot at the very back. People in the middle let out audible groans as they’re packed in the narrow ramp by threes and fours. A woman with a baby stroller a few feet ahead has to almost push people aside to keep them from knocking into the sleeping child wrapped in a multitude of blankets. The only people behind us are a large couple chowing down on Big Macs and French fries. The balding man with stained gray sweatpants lets a large belch erupt from his mouth – which is still full of mushed up McDonald’s. Josephine and I exchange glances of horror. No wonder the French don’t like us.
Josephine’s face lights up then. She loops her arm around mine and lets a wide grin spread across her face. “I guess it’s alright.”
“Well just think about it, Em! In twenty four hours we’ll be eating crêpes in the city of love!” She exclaims happily. I squeeze her arm. Josephine’s right. After four whole summers of lifeguarding and selling tickets at the local baseball games, we had finally made enough to travel to France for three weeks with the school. “And… meet attractive French boys!” She adds, enunciating the word French.
I nod my head in utter agreement. “Now if we could just get out of this line!” I yell out. A woman ahead of us cranes her neck around, giving me a quizzical look. She has a permanent scowl etched on her face that becomes even more prominent as she burrows her eyebrows in confusion and frowns.
As the woman turns back around, I puff my cheeks out and give her a broad, cross-eyed smile. “Shh…shh!” Josephine whisper-giggles. I laugh, and then give her the same demented smile. “Dang, my best friend is such a hotty!” She erupts with laughter and wolf-whistles loud enough for the whole ramp to hear – but luckily no one else turns.
Twenty minutes later the airplane is flooded with on comers shoving stuffed suitcases into overhead compartments and mothers digging into the bottom of oversized bags for tickets to seat their whining children. The lucky ones find isle seats with easy bathroom access and neighbors that are already cozying up to their neck pillow. The unlucky ones pile into the middle section that sits six wide with talkative seatmates that can’t wait to start the eight-hour voyage with the attention of their victim’s ears.
Josephine sits next to me in an isle seat at the back right of the plane. She gasps and yanks her bright pink earphones out of her ears. The magazine clutched in her hands becomes a reference to gossip-filled conversation as she squints at the bikini and swim trunk clad pictures of the Hollywood famous. “Liam Hemsworth is such a babe!” She shudders and shoves the People magazine into my lap. Its true – his six-pack glistens in the sun as he stands knee deep in crystalline ocean water.
“Do you have chapstick?” Josephine asks as I hand the magazine back to her. She rubs her pink-stained lips together to show how dry they are.
“Um yeah, it should be here somewhere,” I push my choppy blonde bangs out of my eyes and lean over to dig through my beat-up messenger bag for Yes to Carrots.
“Miley probably dated him because he’s Australian. Their accents are to die for. Don’t you think?” Josephine asks as she continues to flip through the June-issued magazine. Her iTouch 4 blares You Make Me Feel So… through her earphones so loud that I can follow along to Sabi’s refrain.
“Yeah, sure,” I push aside Pride and Prejudice and The Hunger Games and a tangled disarray of chargers and headphones. The deck of cards that I had thrown in two minutes before we left had splayed throughout the whole bag. The untaken pills rattle in their case as I shove it and a two of spades into a pile of makeup containers.
“Hey, is this seat taken?” A voice above me asks.
I grab hold of the small chapstick container hidden behind a heap of fruit snacks and lift my head back up to find a classmate’s hand rested against Josephine’s seat. Its Chris from Biology class – not ugly, acne-scared Christopher that picks his nose and leaves it on the bottom of the desk, but tan-skinned, piercing blue eyes Chris. He looks at me with recognition and instantly begins to back away.
Before I can say anything, Josephine looks up at him with annoyance scribbled across her face. “Excuse me?” she asks. Chris only continues to look at me though.
“Oh… Em. Hey,” he says slowly, running his hand through his sandy blonde hair. “Um, never mind. I think I’m sitting with Gabe,” he turns and walks quickly away.
“Wow,” Josephine says, “It’s like he doesn’t even see me. We have to stay away from guys like that, okay?” She pats my jegging-clad leg and snatches the Yes to Carrots clutched in my hand.
I sigh with a hint of disappointment evident in my voice, but Josephine doesn’t notice. She rubs the chapstick around her lips five times in a row, and then caps it – smearing balm around the edges.
“This is actually pretty good,” she says. I take the chapstick from her outstretched hand, and then rummage in my bag once more for my fourth generation iPod. Josephine wraps her dress-length sweater around her small body, and pushes back against the seat to take position for sleep-mode. I do the same, claiming Josephine’s seat rest, but leaving the other to the old man next to me reading a James Patterson book.
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.
The impact throws my body against the back of the seat. Windows shatter and water bursts through the blown holes. I thrash against the unrelenting salt water as it sprays into my face. I gag on the taste and spit up as much as I can to keep from throwing up. Disgruntled flight attendants and passengers shove against emergency exits throughout the airplane. The one nearest us falls forward and a mountain of screaming people climb over each other to get out of the sinking plane first. I stand in my seat and hold tightly to Josephine’s hand. We had to get out of here. I pull her with me over the seat in front of us, and then squeeze and shove through the throng of desperate people vying for the exit. They trample each other and scream out words of agony and anger as more and more people cram into the exit. And then I feel Josephine’s hand slip out of mine. “Jos!” I turn around frantically, but her heart-shaped face had disappeared into the mass of soaked passengers. “No!” I scream as I’m pushed toward the exit.
At this point the flight attendants don’t attempt to open other exits. Instead, they try to regulate the flow of passengers through the only available exit. Their attempts fail miserably as the crowd grows every second with people filing in from the very front and back rows of the plane. How can one emergency exit possibly fit over two hundred people with how fast the airplane is sinking? The water circulates at my knees and more spews in by the second. But right now, I can’t think of my odds. I have to find Josephine.
“Jos?! Josephine! Where are you?!” But the roar of the water drowns out nearly all sound I utter.
The line for the exit begins to dwindle, and then it’s my turn to jump. But the exit is the last thing I want to see. I need Josephine. She needs me. Outside of the exit, I can’t make out anything. There’s only the sound of sloshing water and the shouts of people crying for help. With one last desperate attempt, I grab the jacket sleeve of the salt-and-pepper haired man behind me. Instead of helping myself, I pull us both into the darkness.
Suddenly I’m underwater, my insides nearly frozen on impact. The water is so cold that I can’t move, much less fight back to the top for air. The water pulls me side to side and pushes me deeper into the darkness. I flail my arms, but barely move from the cold. Just as my breath dwindles to the very last bit, my arms break the surface and I gasp for breath. A white cap crashes into me and pulls me back under. It spins me around and around like I’m on spin cycle in a washing machine, but this time I have an idea of which way is up. I find the surface once more and avoid the white caps that barely miss me each time. A suitcase floats a few feet away, and I grab on to it to keep afloat. The sea tries to tug me out farther from the sinking airplane, but as weak as I am, I won’t let it take me away. Josephine is still on that plane somewhere and I need to find her if that’s the last thing I did. I punch and slice at the water to get back to the fast-sinking plane. People everywhere are stranded in the ocean. They grab onto each other or onto suitcases and life jackets that flight attendants manage to chuck into the ocean. Ahead of me, the man I pulled into the ocean thrashes his arms around his head.
“Help! Help! I-I can’t swim!” he manages to choke out through mouthfuls of salt water. Suddenly a wave crashes over him and he doesn’t come back to the surface. I kick my legs with a new fervor. The water where he disappeared bubbles, and I reach my arm into the middle of it. I find his jacket collar, and this time instead of trying to hold on from falling out of the exit, I pull his jacket to save him from drowning. He gags and coughs up water and holds onto the suitcase to keep from falling back down. But the suitcase can’t hold both of us. I let go and keep swimming toward the airplane, but it’s ten times harder without the suitcase.
I finally reach the gargantuan wall. Flickering light pours out from the string of windows that spans out on both sides. The red and blue Air-France logo is half sunk and people fall from the emergency exit in masses. Stifled screams and whimpers manage to echo out above the sound of waves crashing against the glowing plane.
I grab for the indented frame of the nearest window. Part of it is busted in and cracked with water rushing in. I pound my fist against the window again and again, hoping that enough pieces will break off so I can somehow fit inside and find Josephine. But the window won’t budge. Instead, the jagged cracks scratch my skin, making my knuckles bleed and sting as salt water splashes into them.
“Josephine! Are you in there?!” I scream at the window, praying with all of my being that her face will suddenly appear in the window, or better yet, next to me in this desolate ocean. I keep slamming against the window even though it’s sinking faster than my heart. And then I begin to realize just how numb my legs are. It feels like thousands of little needles are stuck in my skin, and each wave manages to shove those needles even further into my legs. I feel the pain creeping up into my waist and onto my stomach. I try to push it back for fear that it might keep me from finding Josephine.
I move frantically to the next window, which is already half-submerged. Stifled sobs blur my eyes as I pound against the window, but the only thing I manage to do is smear blood on the frame. Suddenly, a gigantic wave rolls into me, shoving my body into the hard exterior with enough force to make me lightheaded. My grip on the window frame slips, and I make a wild grab for it again before the current sucks me away. I move over four or five more windows slowly, while water keeps pushing me against the plane wall and attempting to pull me away.
Now only a fourth of the window sticks out above the black ocean. Inside, a man holds his young son over his shoulders as he moves through chest-deep water.
“Josephine!” I try to shout through the window, but my voice doesn’t reach higher than a whisper. My whole body shakes and any second my jaw will unhinge from my chattering teeth. I try to stretch out my fingers, and move to the next window, but I forget how to move them. No. No, this can’t be happening. I yell at the window and let frustrated tears stream down my cheeks and blend with the seawater. I lean my head against the window and let full blown sobs rake through my chest. My eyes close. The numbness passes over my back and through my arms. Maybe it would be better if I just let the water take me. I wouldn’t have to worry about Josephine anymore…
Inch by inch the ocean takes the window completely under, and soon the only sign of the window’s existence is the faint glow of light emanating from the inside of the plane. I close my eyes and feel my grip on the frame slip little by little. My knees knock into the metal exterior in an almost rhythmic motion with the oncoming waves. I let the ocean tug at my feet, and just as my last finger unlatches from the airplane frame, a hand slams against the window from the inside.
My eyes snap back open. The window keeps slipping farther into the ocean. I hold my breath and dive under. I put my hands against the window and watch as Josephine’s fearful eyes gain a glimmer of hope. Her hair is splayed all around her head, and she’s completely submerged underwater. At the same time, we both swim to the surface for air and dive back down to stare at each other once more. With sad eyes, she puts her hand against the window, and I do the same. Josephine mouths goodbye, but I won’t listen to her. I try to scream at her, but the only thing I do is shoot bubbles out of my mouth. I pound against the window, but it’s no use. Quickly, I swim back to the surface and look for something that will break the window, but I already know I won’t find anything. I dive back down even further as the plane keeps sinking. Josephine begins to close her eyes, and I slam against the window to keep her awake. Desperation takes over as I pound against the window again and again, but Josephine only smiles at me sadly. She shakes her head, but I won’t listen.
And then suddenly, I’m pulled upward. I feel a slight pressure in my arm, but I can’t tell what it is. I lost most feeling long ago. And then I’m at the surface, gagging and sucking in air. Everywhere people scream and cry for help or loved ones. Waves keep crashing against what’s left of the enormous airplane. In front of me, someone keeps a strong grip on my arm and holds onto a bright blow-up life jacket. Other than the plane and the life jacket, everything is black. I squint my eyes and realize that the person in front of me is Chris. His hair is stuck to his head in random places and his brow is creased, like he’s trying to figure out a puzzle. I try to shake him off, but he won’t let go. I shove water at him and kick back down to Josephine, but he doesn’t let me go under. More tears cascade down my cheeks, only to be washed away by oncoming waves.
Chris doesn’t care though – he only watches me sadly and keeps a vice-like grip on my arm. “No, Emily, don’t go back down,” he finally says. I look at him with anger and defiance.
“I have to! She’s my best friend!” I cry back. His brow is creased and I can tell it pains him to tell me the next words.
“No, no she’s not,” He says.
“But she’s going to die!” I yell indignantly. He must understand that I have to save her! She’s the only thing I have!
“You’re a paranoid schizophrenic, Em. She’ll always be there,” he says reluctantly. Chris searches my face for some sort of reaction. As if I didn’t know. I can’t breath steadily enough to reply. A new string of tears pushes against my eyes, and any second I’m going to break apart and fall to pieces.
“No, I can feel it. She’s dead,” I finally whisper after what seems like several minutes. Instead of trying to get away, I fall against Chris’s chest. I can’t take the pain. A wooden stake has been shoved into the very center of my heart, leaving it to bleed and wither. He puts a comforting arm around me and stays silent as I let the tears fall one after the next. A helicopter’s wings blare in the distance, but at this instant, I can’t do anything but cry.