Teamwork at 20,000 Feet

“There! On the wing!” He points
and she starts to say she doesn’t see
but then she does, and the wing jumper
like a man stumbles before it leaps
away. “Look out the window,” she shouts
at the passengers on the other side
of the plane. “Do you see anything…”
“A man,” a woman cries out. “A man
on the wing!” Others cry out their
own surprise at the sight. As quickly
as community, Mister Wilson calms down.
Word flies up and down the plane
aisles while the stewardess notifies
the plane’s pilots. More passengers
join in the seeing, begin telling
each other where it has landed
next. It returns to the wing
on Mister Wilson’s side clearly
frustrated with being observed
by others. It has stopped prying
at pieces. “If we keep looking,” he
says, happy to share this burden,
“If we on both sides keep finding
wherever it chooses to be, then it will have
no reason to tear apart
the plane.” The pilot
who returns with the stewardess
agrees. “We’re found a safe place
to land. We’ve notified ahead
for support. Be diligent! Pin it down!”
Mister Wilson observes while
everyone watches that the creature
(never was it a man) must not be capable
of hanging below the plane
despite its otherworldly ability
to leap or hold as if the plane
were not slick with wind and element
or was not moving at all. And it does
not seem fond of the top of the plane,
where it cannot seem to stay very long
before it has arrived again on one
or the other wing. Once seen by all
it cannot help but to be kept in sight,
against its will. Mister Wilson
imagines the passengers are playing
a strange game of tennis. Despite each
side not looking at each other, they
toss the monster back and forth
between them. “We’re landing,”
a pilot announces. “Stay in your seats
with your seat belts firmly fastened,
but keep watch! Watch us all the way
to the ground!” They do. They keep
it pinned to the skin and when
the plane comes to a halt, police
with guns are aimed at the beast
that roars and rears and gets several
bullets before it finally falls
off the plane to the concrete, dead.
The passengers clap. Mister Wilson
is relieved. He hasn’t had to pull
out his own gun from his briefcase.
In the hotel, he sleeps without dreams.

#NaPoWriMo 2017 Day 9


Basically me ruining Richard Matheson’s famous short story “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet,” the one adapted twice for the original Twilight Zone television series and the 1983 film.

The original horror story and adaptions suggest poor Mister Wilson might just be hallucinating the man on the wing due to stress in his personal and professional lives and his fear of flying, but I imagined how things would be different if there really was a creature out there, spotted eventually by the put-upon stewardess, and then the rest of the passengers and personnel on the plane, too. How relieved Mister Wilson would be! How differently the story would turn out.

Though in the original story, Mister Wilson also sleeps without dreams.

I used and reworked a tiny bit of the language from the story, but I would probably use and rework more in a rewrite. I would also try to find another layer to layer on top, additional observations and meaning that pivots the story and tells us something new about this strange incident.

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Richard Leis

Richard Leis is a writer and poet living in Tucson, Arizona. His poetry has been published in Impossible Archetype. His essays about fairy tales and technology have been published on Tiny Donkey and Fairy Tale Review’s “Fairy-Tale Files“.