I like writing short stories while I’m on long flights, and this time I was feeling directly inspired by one aspect of the experience. I did eat french toast in seat 28A recently.
Arthur was flying. He was in a dream, where with a powerful flap of his arms he could soar up above the clouds and dance with the raptors. His sleeping body was flying even higher, crammed into seat 28A on a flight across the Pacific. These long flights are invariably overnight and across many time zones, so getting some sleep is vital to deter jetlag. So Arthur was content, body and soul, to be sleeping and dreaming of flight. Until his dream turned into a nightmare.
A young child, no more than five years old, screaming her head off in the seat behind him. Impossibly infuriated, Arthur leaped from his seat and crushed the little girl’s head in his palm. As the blood seeped everywhere, the horror of what he had done stabbed at his heart. With that shock, he woke up for real.
Arthur jerked awake, rattling his seat-belt and waking his sleeping fiancée. Becky lifted her head from his lap as she held his shoulders. “What’s wrong?” she asked. She spoke in a soft, caring, voice; Arthur had great trouble hearing her over the very real and very loud child’s screams that were really happening two feet behind his head. “Just a nightmare.”
“Tell me about it.”
“You can guess,” he said. He jerked his head towards the seat behind him, where the screaming child was still arguing with her mother. At least her mother was able to carry on her half of the conversation without screaming.
Becky chuckled. “Some kids are just like that. Go back to sleep.” She clasped his hand tightly as she lay her head back down on his lap. Within a few minutes the child settled down, and a few minutes later Arthur got back to sleep as well.
This time he did not dream of flight, but of fight. He was in an arena of combat, mercilessly decapitating his foes with a heavy sword that he held in both hands. The arena was soon empty of all but gore and sand, so he took off through the main doors out onto the city streets. All had fled, and the streets were deserted, except for a little girl standing in the middle of the road. As he advanced on her, sword held high, she screamed loudly in abject terror.
Arthur was startled awake again. The kid behind him was indeed screaming loudly, although the real life tone was less terrified and more petulant. Becky did not raise her head this time, she just held his hand silently once more until the argument behind them fizzled out and they could get back to sleep.
In this dream, Arthur was king. Knights in gleaming steel plate kneeled before his throne, and in a dignified and stately manner he led them in a procession from the throne room to the great hall. A sumptuous feast had been laid out, with the table covered in platters of fruits and eggs and french toast. One large serving platter remained covered in front of the king’s grand seat. Arthur regally sat down at the head of the table, and removed the cover from the final dish. It was a little girl, tied up on a bed of lettuce, and she started screaming and wailing as soon as he lifted the lid.
Arthur awoke with a start, sweating in terror despite the dry, cold air inside the plane. The screaming was again real, as was the smell of breakfast. Becky was already awake and had placed his food on the tray table in of him. She squeezed his hand, and said “We’re almost there.” He opened the window to see a vibrant dawn. With the light on his face and her voice in his ear, he knew deep down that this long night was nearly over. The smell of french toast in his nose helped too.
The time for sleeping was past, so there were no more nightmares on that flight. There was more screaming though – maybe the little girl had finally gotten comfortable on the plane and didn’t want to leave. Or maybe she just didn’t like being told to clean up, they had landed and were at the point of gathering all personal belongings while they waited for the doors to open.
“I never want to hear the sound of a child again,” muttered Arthur in Becky’s ear. She chided him. “They’re not all bad.”
“Is there something good you can say about the girl behind us?”
“No, but did you notice the girl in front?”
Arthur peered over the seat, and saw another girl of five years still seated in the row in front of them. Throughout the entire flight, he had not noticed her presence. He had been trying to sleep the whole time, not look around, but the other child had made her presence known regardless.
Becky spoke softly into his ear. “When we have children, we’ll raise them to be good.”
“I’ll do my best,” muttered Arthur. He wasn’t a master child wrangler yet. He didn’t even know what to do with the kids on this flight. But as an economics lecturer, Arthur did have one idea to try.
He spoke to the mother in the row ahead of them, loud enough that the mother behind could hear as well. “Ma’am, your daughter was excellently behaved on this flight. I’d like to encourage that.” He pulled $100 from his wallet and handed it to her, as her eyes widened. The mother in the row behind him saw this and began to berate her daughter, who just screamed even louder. Above the din, Arthur continued. “Give it to her when she’s old enough to understand.”