We’ve Been Here Before

This time, this place, this “unprecedentedness.” It was all so familiar to Morton. As though he had felt it–experienced it–before. The thought crossed his mind as the plane, in turn, crossed that strange wormhole of a time portal called the equator. It was his birthday, and he figured if the jurisdictions of the hours were too nebulous while up in the air, it wouldn’t really happen. He wouldn’t actually “turn.” And in so not doing, he reckoned he was the first man to master the art of being a vampire without any bloodshed. Or so he told himself while knocking another glass of scotch back.

His destination, as always, was Wellington. Having successfully pitched yet another project for Weta Digital to the bigwigs in Hollywood, Morton was feeling a rare moment of self-satisfaction that he knew would quickly vanish the instant he touched down. It wasn’t that he didn’t think he or his life’s work were not meaningful, but that life itself was not. And it was a frequent reflection that kept him awake in the small hours. Like the ones he was awake during now. It didn’t matter if all one could really do without going out of their gourd on a plane was sleep. He had already downed two Xanaxes with no results. He wasn’t about to waste a third he could use to dose someone else who might actually enjoy its benefits. He sighed as he stared out into the abyss. Thirty-three, he pondered. But no, still thirty-two, thanks to the traveling loophole of never experiencing the true and actual minute tick off the anniversary of his birth.

***

He couldn’t remember when he dozed off, but it seemed as though hours had passed and they were still hovering over the great nothingness in between the North and South Pacific Ocean. All just one vast blue that could suck a person up at any time if it felt so inclined to take an aircraft sacrifice from the fickle sky gods. He blinked his eyes, trying to remember if the plane was this empty before. Even though it was the “off-season,” he distinctly recalled business class being much fuller than this. At present, there were only a few other people, something about them emanating a sort of “background artist” vibe. A strange wave of panic washed over him. Something wasn’t right and every fiber of his being could sense it. Yet like most of us who need to get through unpleasant or sinister situations, we ignore the very obvious “amissness” that so plainly reveals itself to us.

Doing his best to ignore the shift in body count on the plane, Morton pressed the call button for a flight attendant. When several minutes went by without the appearance of one, Morton took a chance on approaching the front of the plane where their alcove beckoned. A svelte, blonde-haired flight attendant seemed to be frozen in mid-pour, having emptied the entire contents from a carton of orange juice that had spilled all over the counter, leaking onto the floor. Morton tried to wave his hands in front of her eyes, but the trance could not be lifted. When he found himself emboldened enough to grab her by the shoulders and shake her, she turned to dust, falling into a heap on the ground. Her crumpled uniform was the only trace indicating that she might have ever existed. In the end, maybe that’s why people are so obsessed with amassing things; it’s evidence that they were here.

Tremoring in terror over the inexplicable scene he had just borne witness to, Morton cautiously walked back down the aisle, completely taken aback by the sight of an empty plane. Where had they all disappeared to? Was it toward the same combustible fate that had befallen the flight attendant? And surely, at this point, they should have already made their descent into Auckland. A scratchy, deep voice over the intercom that seemed to be reading his thoughts, responded, “We are about to make our descent into madness–oh, excuse me–Auckland. Please fasten your seatbelts as there’s much turbulence ahead.”

Morton turned back around to go to his seat, suddenly seeing that all the original passengers were back in theirs. His stomach fluttered and his heart beat faster as he questioned whether or not he was going insane. To make matters worse, the same blonde-haired flight attendant passed by his seat to wordlessly offer him a newspaper. Morton stared down at the publication, entitled Apocalypse Now. Highlights included, “Brexit Already Leading to Increased Homegrown Terrorism,” “Coronavirus Spreads to South America” and “Kobe Bryant’s Death Ruled Sacrifice to Illuminati.” He shook his head in disbelief. The news had long ago been unabashed about fear-mongering and the fantastical headlines that went with it, but this was a new peak. Yet when he glanced again at it, the text had changed to The New Zealand Herald and offered headlines regarding yet another recent earthquake.

Morton was increasingly certain that he had lost his mind. Or was it the world that had? Either way, the world wasn’t a concrete entity that could be institutionalized (even though it probably ought to be). Was it the Xanax and alcohol combination? Yes, yes. Surely that was the only logical reason for his mind being on the fritz like this. Christ, I should never buy drugs from people in L.A., he rued, realizing that perhaps their tolerance for such things was much higher than his dainty New Zealander’s constitution. When will this fucking flight end? 

The answer came never, as it were. For hours and hours (that could be years and years or eons and eons) would continue to pass with the same “revelations” and reckonings, starting with Morton waking up after a nap and noticing a sudden absence of passengers. At times, different “extras” would materialize in the place of the old ones, and Morton eventually had a difficult time with facial recognition anyway. Everyone becoming one sort of cohesive blur to him, as though he had contracted a strain of Fregoli delusion.

We’ve been here before, Morton keeps ranting to one of his fellow travelers (or are they all the same person?) as he holds a copy of Apocalypse Now. Either no one believes him or no one will listen (often one and the same). In the meantime, the blonde flight attendant has a fresh copy of the newspaper to deliver with headlines more bloodcurdling than the last. There’s even one issue that features his obituary at the back. He can’t remember dying. Then again, he couldn’t remember living. Or any time, at this point, that he had ever existed outside of this plane.

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