The departure lounge was almost full. Paul Young sat in the centre of the room, sipping his coffee nervously. It was a clear night, and outside on the floodlit concourse he could see the baggage handlers loading a mountain of luggage into the holding bay of the aircraft.
The airplane began to taxi towards the runway whilst the head stewardess ran through the safety demonstration. Meanwhile other members of the cabin crew wandered up and down the aisle checking that seatbelts were secured and overhead luggage compartments correctly closed over. Paul read his emergency procedures information card and tucked it back into the netted compartment that was attached to the seat in front of him at knee height.
Paul gripped onto the armrest and puffed out his cheeks in anticipation of takeoff.
“Hey buddy,” said the man sitting next to him in business attire, “don’t worry about it. I fly all the time.”
Paul gave a trembling smile. “Ignore me. I’m just a little nervous. I’ll be fine when we get up there.”
The lights on the aircraft momentarily dipped as the engines revved up to full power. Then the plane was hurtling forward, willing itself into the air. The steep gradient caused Paul Young to whimper slightly. He waited for the beeping sound that would signal when it was safe to unfasten your seatbelt.
When the signal came, Paul excused himself past the businessman and made his way into the toilet.
Paul finished up and flushed the toilet before turning to the sink to wash his hands. Only boiling hot water came from the tap. He tested the temperature with his fingertips before changing his mind. Personal hygiene could wait until they were back on the ground.
“Yes, I’ll have a cup of cold water please,” the businessman said to the stewardess running the trolley. He turned to Paul with a friendly smile. “You want somethin’ for your nerves, buddy? I’ll buy you a rum if you want?”
Paul shook his head. “Thanks, but I’m fine now.”
The turbulence had been going on for nearly thirty seconds before Paul started to feel real panic. The businessman next to him seemed oblivious to the bumping and grinding of the aircraft. He was busy reading his broadsheet newspaper.
“If I’m not very much mistaken,” said the businessman without looking up from the sports section, “I do believe that the end is very near indeed,” and then he turned towards Paul, grinning, while bugs crawled out of his empty eye sockets.
“Yes, I’ll have a cup of cold water please,” the businessman said to the stewardess running the trolley. He turned to Paul with a friendly smile. “You awake, buddy? Looks like you drifted off for a moment there. I’ll buy you a whisky if you want?”
Paul shook his head. “Thanks, I just had a bad dream. I’m fine now.”
Paul Young found himself in the departure lounge. Outside, a red glow lit up the concourse. The sky was on fire. Next to him sat a man he had never seen before in business attire.
“You look nervous, buddy,” said the businessman.
Paul didn’t reply.
“Mind you,” the businessman went on, “I fly all the time, so I’ve forgotten what its like to be nervous. Still, I’ll be damned if I’m going to sit here and watch a fellow passenger go through hell on account of a silly fear of flying without offering up my best advice to them.”
The businessman leaned in towards Paul and put his arm around his shoulder.
“Now you’ll correct me if I’m wrong, but I do believe that a certain someone is having a nightmare. No matter, Paul – it’s Paul, right, Paul Young? – because you’ll be waking up any moment now. Oh that’s right, Paulie, buddy, you’ll be waking up soon. It’s just the sudden change of pressure as the aircraft plummets that’s brought on your funny turn.”
Paul jolted awake. He was in his seat onboard the aircraft. The cabin was almost entirely empty aside from the businessman who sat next to him with bugs crawling around his eyeballs. The skin on his face had been eaten off.
“Pressure change!” cried the businessman’s skull, “Pressure! Pressure! Pressure!”
And the cabin exploded.
Paul suddenly jolted upright in his seat onboard the aircraft, causing the businessman and the stewardess running the trolley to jump nervously.
“Are you okay, Sir?” asked the stewardess.
Paul scanned himself and his surroundings. Everything was normal. He allowed himself a nervous laugh. “Fine, thank you. I just had a bad dream. I’m not a very good flyer!”
The stewardess nodded and turned her attention to the businessman sitting next to him.
“I’ll just have a cup of cold water please,” the businessman said. He turned to Paul with a friendly smile. “You sure you’re okay there, buddy? I’ll buy you a stiff drink if you want?”
Paul shook his head. “Thanks, but really, I just had a bad dream, a horrible dream, but I’m fine now.”
The businessman studied Paul’s face for a few moments with obvious concern. “Are you sure? It looks like you’ve been sweating an awful lot.”
“Yeah, I’m sure.”
The aircraft touched down fifteen minutes early thanks to a useful tailwind. This head start was lost during the long wait for the luggage to arrive. Paul grabbed his case off the conveyer belt and made his way out of the airport to catch a taxi from the stand.
“Where are we going to then?” asked the taxi driver.
Paul gave his home address and settled into the back seat of the car. The locks on the doors clicked shut as the taxi pulled away from the rank.
“You look a little shaken. Rough flight?” enquired the driver.
“The worst,” Paul said with a relieved smile. “All over now though!”
“Yeah, absolutely,” the taxi driver replied sympathetically. “See me, I fly all the time.” The driver’s head began to spin impossibly, completing a full 180 degree twist to reveal a bony face covered with bugs.
“All the time … buddy.”
And the taxi melted away.
Paul awoke with a jolt.
“Paul, you okay?” asked a kind voice in the dark. It belonged to his wife, Lucy.
“Where am I?”
“You’re in bed, Paulie. I think you had a bad dream.”
“It was awful. So many dreams within dreams. So many.”
“Well, try and get some sleep. Tomorrow is going to be a long day. Have you set your alarm?”
“Yeah, it’s set from six thirty.”
“Good. We wouldn’t want you to miss your flight now, would we?”