The Flight Attendant
A Short Fiction by Cameron Brtnik
The Flight Attendant
She wore too much makeup; too much red lipstick that gave her a likeness to The Joker, already dry and cracked from the airplane’s dry, recirculated air, and too much foundation, giving her skin the veneer of a vampire. Her faded, slightly dirty blue flight attendant uniform matched her pale visage, and the lipstick smudge on her collar “complimented” her tacky red lips. Her fake smile was very sincere, fooling even the most frequent of flyers, men nodding back at her as they boarded the plane, in the back of their mind their inner voice saying, That smile was just for you, stud. She was probably thinking, Hurry and get the fuck on board fatty, you’re holding up the line.
The non-smoking signs flickered on to remind people there’s no smoking in the cabin. Really?! Are people still lighting up on these flights? Do they still need a reminder after smoking was banned in the 90s? Is this really still a thing! My God humans must be stupid. (The real reason of course was for the Chinese; they would light up a cigarette in the middle of a gas leak at a power plant if there weren’t a million signs everywhere warning of the obvious dangers.) Now on to the familiar, yet forgettable life vest demonstration. You know the one: you’ve seen it a million times, yet haven’t quite committed it to memory. If the plane were to ever actually crash, there would be chaos, calamity, and confusion, people hastily scrambling for the pocket on the back of the seat in front of them, life jacket instruction manuals darting through the air, whipping around the cabin, slapping people’s faces, ironically posing more of a danger than an actual “life-saving” manual. I half paid attention as I pretended to switch off my phone, not quite understanding what all the fuss was about – “Please turn off all electronic equipment before takeoff,” like my runway text message to my Tinder match somehow tampered with the plane’s sensitive instruments, the news captions reading: “Tinder Tragedy as plane lands in nearby field.” After my seatbelt was fastened, seat pushed up, all electronic equipment was “off” and the window blind rolled up (why, to get a good view of the engine during takeoff?) we were up in the air, the initial queasiness slowly fading into an easy calm, a forlorn acceptance that my fate was now in the pilot’s hands, no way to know if he had had a “late nighter” at the rippers the previous night or the line of cocaine he just did in the bathroom was affecting his judgement. We were now a human-filled bird, cutting through clouds, on our way to our destination in Southeast Asia.
The announcement came on that it was okay to unfasten our seatbelts (half the passengers had done so already without the captain’s consent). The red-lipped stewardess – the same one who artificially welcomed us aboard – came by to offer “coffee, tea or wine.” I went with beer; this was going to be a long flight. She opened the can, poured it into a small plastic cup, and flashed her fake smile, a bit of red lipstick smudged on her front teeth giving the comical impression she just ate a Pink Sherbet Crayon for a quick, light snack, and set the tiny cup on my personal plastic table placing the half-empty can next to it. I was thinking You might as well save time and open three more while you’re at it, then mandatorily thanked her and flashed her my own fake smile, lips pursed together, cheeks creased into a Grinch-like grin, hoping it looked genuine enough. I opened my magazine – the one I’d been planning to read since May – to an article entitled “Genghis Khan: New evidence of his twenty-one year reign,” and sank back into my chair, leaning back enough that I was comfortable, but not far enough that my rotund rear neighbor would complain.
The robotic voice of one of the bored airline stewards came over the speakers offering “discounted merchandise” – T-shirts, perfume, and Prada purses (who has enough money to burn that they buy this crap? If they really needed it, wouldn’t they have purchased it on the ground? It was all unnecessary and useless and a waste of money in my poor opinion.) Eventually, the welcome scent of chicken smothered in tomato sauce filled the cabin with its delectable aroma. Our deceitful stewardess came by to offer the airline meal: chicken or lasagna. Most people complained about airline meals but I actually enjoyed them; I went with the lasagna. She smiled that fake smile of hers and leaned over the isle seat, the first passenger getting the full blast of her fake Chanel No. 5 perfume, the remaining aroma wafting up our nostrils like freshly baked perfume pie. Her siren red nail polish clashed with the bland colors of the yellow and orange lasagna. As she placed the lasagna on my tiny tray, I felt something strange – I think it was the way she looked at me – but it was also something more, just a feeling I had as she hovered above me, balancing our glorified Hungry-man meals over our heads. I could almost swear she had some kind of intentions, however silly that sounds. She finished serving our cuisine, attempted to say, “Enjoy,” and moved on to the other famished passengers (it had, after all, been at least an hour since they gobbled down that fried chicken at the airport KFC). That odd feeling quickly dissipated and I enjoyed my clammy lasagna (don’t people always complain about the food being too dry?) and asked for my neighbor’s bread roll when he didn’t eat his. I was satisfied – I guess my only complaint was that you can never get full from an airplane meal – and washed it all down with a glass of red wine I had ordered with the meal; I was already ready for another.
I was into my second glass of wine, and 20 pages into my new Michael Crichton book, but I couldn’t stop thinking of the Janus-faced stewardess and that weird feeling she had given me. I watched her as she served the other passengers, and they all smiled back at her seemingly fine with her “friendly” service. Was it just me who was feeling this way? Maybe I was just tired, or the notes of fake jasmine from her perfume were rubbing me the wrong way. I decided to drop the thought and went back to my book, something about the “airplane engine having malfunctions” (I know, probably a poor choice for flying.) I liked Crichton’s books because they always seemed so realistic, like they could really happen with just enough science and bad luck. I must’ve dozed off because I woke up feeling like my head just hit a brick wall. I made it to page 39 and a half. I guessed it was evening because everyone was dozing off, watching movies, or already dead to the world. I decided to check the in-flight movies available on the personal screen in front of my seat. Coincidentally, they had the movie adaptation of Turbulence, the book I was reading. I decided I would wait to watch it, wanting to finish the book first (besides, the books were always better than the movies, with a few exceptions where the movie was as good as the book). I decided to go with ID4 2 – it was on my list – even though I knew it’d be terrible. I suppose that’s why they kept making terrible movies; because studios know we keep shelling out our hard-earned money to see them! If I see another mindless Transformers movie trailer, I might forgo movies altogether.
At some point nature was calling, so I got up to go to the bathroom. I hated the arduous process of getting up to go to the bathroom: asking your neighbor to move his legs and awkwardly shuffling between his knees and the adjacent seat, making a scene of it, almost like holding a sign saying, “Look at me, I have to pee!” But when nature calls, answer you must (they really should design a tube that drops from the ceiling like an oxygen mask for emergency bladder-emptying). I strolled down the carpeted isle toward the back of the plane and waited behind the large gentleman in front of me. I glanced back into the staff area of the plane, mainly where they kept all the hot food and coffee, and suddenly locked eyes with the red-lipped stewardess. I could feel my heart actually stop for a moment – why? – but I returned her fake smile with one of my own, minus the uneven lipstick. The obese guy in front of me – American – went into the tiny cubicle and I was left open and vulnerable to her somewhat psychotic stare. “Where are you from, sugar?”, she suddenly asked. “Um, here, Canada,” I managed but left out the city for some reason. “Ooh, that’s great! Where are ya headed, hun?” “Uh, Vietnam?” (Wasn’t everyone headed to Vietnam?) I suppose this was typical attendant-passenger small talk. But her trying to be nice to me was making me feel uneasy. I hoped that lard ass would finish up in there. “You know, I had a son, he’d be about your age by now…” Did she just say had a son? I wasn’t sure how to respond, so I just nodded and smiled, adopting her fake technique to a tee. “But he disappeared some years back…never found out what happened to him.” Probably ran away from his psycho mother, I thought to myself. Finally what seemed like hours later, the fatty opened the cryogenically sealed bathroom door and squeezed by me back to his seat. I nodded and escaped into the bathroom.
The bright lights inside gave a feeling of sterility, like waiting inside a doctor’s office. I felt a sense of freedom inside, from the other passengers, from the rest of the world, a momentary blue-white bliss… A moment later I heard a knock at the door – can’t the stupid idiot see it’s occupied! – so I knocked back, alerting them to the occupant inside since they so clearly missed the red “occupied” sign above the door handle. As I was washing my face, repeatedly pressing down the tap handle and quickly gathering as much water in my cupped hands as I could before it shut off again, I heard a knock at the door again. I guessed whoever it was really had to go, so I said, “Just a minute,” and suddenly heard the lock unlatching… I saw five siren red nails come through the opening like each finger could see, slithering and guiding their way inside… I recoiled and froze, not sure what was happening or what the Hell I should do about it. Maybe she was just refilling the soap, was the first thought I had. “Hey sugar, do you need any help in there?” “No, I’m fine,” I nervously replied. She was now halfway inside… “I’ll just be a moment,” I convinced her. I could see something in her hand, glinting in the bright fluorescent light..scissors? A kni– Suddenly I could see her hand with whatever was inside swoop down…I moved out of the way just in time. I had to think fast. I kicked up and knocked the sharp object out of her hand; the fingers attached to her arm withdrew fast. I slammed the door shut and locked it again, trying to catch my breath… What the Hell just happened? Was she trying to kill me? Maybe I was just being paranoid, frightened of her fiery red nails, imagining they had a life of their own… Maybe she was just refilling the tissue dispenser. I composed myself as best I could, and slowly unlocked and opened the door… There was a little old lady waiting to use the bathroom, and she looked pissed. I looked around, but Freddy Fingernails was nowhere to be seen. I calmly walked back to my seat, having to wake up my dozing neighbor, a look of annoyance escaping his face as he shifted his legs to let me through again. I plopped back into my seat and took a few deep breaths…
For much of the rest of the flight, I didn’t see the maniacal flight attendant – maybe she was seeking shelter from the breaking dawn shimmering in through the cabin windows – and I was glad. We had a friendly Asian male attendant serve us. When I asked him about our previous attendant, he said he wasn’t sure whom I was referring to. I shrugged, and fell into a deep sleep…and awoke to terrible turbulence. The captain’s reassuring voice came over the PA system: “Ladies and gentlemen, please fasten your seatbelts and remain seated as we’re going through an area of turbulence. Ah, thank you–.” Then, I couldn’t be certain, but I was sure I heard a lady’s voice..it almost sounded like a moan. No one else seemed to notice. The turbulence rocked and jerked us, up and down, side to side like an old rickety wooden coaster. Everyone had woken up, and their faces were tense now, the pallor of the vampire attendant’s makeup. No matter how many times you experience turbulence, it always feels like the plane just blew out an engine and is going down…Malaysian Airlines all over again. I always calmed myself by watching a comedy; I found The Simpsons on the selection screen and put it on. But even Homer’s antics couldn’t ease the queasiness I felt in the pit of my stomach. It wasn’t so much the turbulence – I had felt turbulence lots of times and knew it was par for the course when flying over the Pacific – as the voice I thought I heard at the end of the captain’s announcement. Why would there be a woman in the cockpit? I mean, unless she was the copilot, but even then why was she moaning?
I reached up and pressed the service button. A minute later our friendly Asian steward walked shakily toward our seats. “I’m sorry sir, at this time there’s no service.” I nodded, and then added, “Is there a lady in the cockpit?” He gave me a weird look, then turned to go back to his seat. Ten minutes of intense jumping and churning went by.. then the plane felt like it was in free fall… I instinctively reached out to grab the armrests on either side of me – my neighbors had beaten me to it, and I awkwardly clung to their arms. I could hear audible screams coming from the other passengers. My heart was in my throat..then just as suddenly, the plane evened out. An inaudible sigh of relief could be felt like a wave through the cabin. I heard a crackle over the PA system, then the clear sound of the captain screaming…then deafening silence. Then, surprisingly, a pleasantly fake, female’s voice: “Would the passenger seated in J22 kindly make your way to the..cockpit. I have a message for him.” My heart suddenly sank…and my mouth instantly went dry. That was my seat. I looked around awkwardly; everybody nearby was staring. I dutifully unbuckled my seatbelt and slowly got up, aware of a hundred pairs of piercing eyes boring a hole through me. I ignored them, focused on my martyrly mission, and the hell-colored nails awaiting me in the cockpit…
I slowly marched to the front of the plane, everyone looking expectant, placing the entire air pressure of the cabin on my shoulders. I had no idea what to expect… Did she kill the captain? But the plane was still in control. Was the captain in on it? What did she want with me? To kill me? To rape me! I was frightened, but what choice did I have? The jeopardy of the entire plane was in my hands… I made it all the way, through Business class, past First class (damn First class and their private pods and champagne flutes) to the cockpit. I remembered when I was a child I was allowed into the cockpit to meet the captain, watch him fly the plane, and even take the wheel..I felt so powerful; 416 passengers at my mercy (although now I realize it must’ve been in autopilot), everyone’s life in my tiny hands.. This was pre-9/11 of course. I looked at the airline attendants for help, but they all looked in shock. I decided just to knock on the cockpit door… “Who is it?”, I could faintly hear from inside. “Um, it’s me, you called me..to come…to the, uh, cockpit.”There was a momentary silence, then I could hear the heavy lock unlatch from the inside (it could only be opened from the inside, apres-9/11)…I peered in. I had a momentary feeling of relief as I saw the captain at the wheel. I couldn’t see her. I stepped inside, and the door quickly slammed shut behind me. (Why didn’t the other attendants force their way in? Useless!) “Hey sugar,” I heard her say in her falsetto voice. I didn’t want to look, afraid what I might find. “Don’t be shy, it’s comfy up here,” she said with feigned friendliness. I slowly turned my head toward the disembodied voice…all I could see was red. Not red from her lipstick or fingernails – there were stains of red across her uniform, dark red on light blue, red droplets splashed across her face, and the copilot looked like he was sleeping… Although I knew he wasn’t sleeping; he was dead. She had killed him with her sharp, deadly fingernails. But why? I had all these questions hitting me at once – mainly, what was she going to do to me? I started thinking of way out – but we were on a plane – there was no way out. “What did you do to the copilot?”, was all that escaped. “Ooh, don’t worry about him sugar, he wasn’t really that helpful, right cap’?” I waited for the captain to respond…but he said nothing, kept his eyes straight ahead. Thank God. (Why did God always come up in life-threatening situations? I hadn’t used God’s name since, I couldn’t remember..) “Why don’t ya come sit up here with me?”, she patted the seat next to her. I hesitantly obliged, not seeing any other way out of this. She pulled the limp copilot’s body off the chair and let it slump to the floor, and pat the seat for me. I sat down, the tension in the cockpit excruciating.. I glanced over at the captain, who looked extremely uncomfortable, sweat stains pooling in his blue shirt, eyes focused ahead, doing his job, flying the plane…
The red woman put her hand on my lap. Normally that would be an exciting prospect, but in this circumstance, it was not. “How are you enjoying your flight?,” she demanded. “Did you enjoy the nuts?” As she said this she squeezed down hard on my crotch… “What do you want!”, I blurted out. She leaned in closer…”You remind me of my son,” and she planted her big, red lips onto mine, giving me an unexpected and unwelcome kiss. “Maybe if he didn’t treat me so poorly, I wouldn’t have had to kill him.” Those words hung in the air like an acrid smell…”I’m, uh, sorry that happened,” I feebly managed. “You see,” she continued, “I was in flight school. My dream was to fly a plane one day…not be a stupid flight attendant. But then he came along. I didn’t have the time to finish flight school, I had to take care of him. So I dropped out… His deadbeat father left, and I had to take care of him, me, me!” I didn’t know where she was going with this rant, but I had to take advantage of her stalling… “And he took care of his stupid twenty-one year old bimbo of a girlfriend, probably ex-girlfriend by now, probably thinks he left her for a younger woman…” Then she let out a laugh, more like a shrill, and I had to cringe as I couldn’t cover my ears. Thankfully she continued, “So I had to make do with being a flight attendant. Nobody respects a flight attendant! Flight in, flight out I have to smile at these idiots and their disgusting children, ‘Welcome aboard Cardinal Airlines,’ ‘Please take your seat,’ ‘Please put your carry-on luggage in the overhead storage,’ ‘Please buckle up your fuckin’ seatbelt!’ These morons need to be treated like children to understand anything! I hate my job, I fuckin’ ha–” I quickly grabbed her and put her in a chokehold. I was scared, but I couldn’t just sit there and listen to her pitiful whining. The captain didn’t budge; I guess he witnessed what she did to his comrade. I shouted, “It’s okay, you’re gonna come with me, out of the cockpit, and sit still till we can land this plane. You’ll be escorted by security once we land..” She was flailing now, trying to loosen my grip on her neck, when suddenly I felt a pain in the left side of my abdomen; I looked down to see a shiny object protruding out of it: her silver Cardinal Airlines pen. I felt my grip loosen… “I’m sorry sugar, I didn’t want to have to do that.” I was on the floor now, backing up, in extreme pain. Out of the corner of my eye I could see the lever to open the cockpit door..I quickly reached up to grab it, and used all my body weight to pull it down..and the door hissed open. I winced and fell back to the floor. Nobody in the cabin moved, and she quickly pulled the door closed again, pushed the lever back up, closing off my only escape… As she did this, I could see movement coming from the captain’s direction. He threw something to me, and I quickly shoved it under my head; the psychopath didn’t notice. She came back over and straddled me. “Now that wasn’t very nice,” she said, and started unbuckling my pants. “Somebody’s gonna have to learn their lesson…” She yanked my pants down below my knees, and hiked her uniform’s skirt up. “You’ve been a bad boy, just like my son was a bad..bad..boy.” She hopped onto my groin and reached down…just as I threw the life jacket – the one the captain tossed me – over her head and tugged the strings on both sides. The jacket inflated quickly, catching her by surprise. I squeezed both sides together, cutting off her air supply… The captain then made a bold move: he sharply veered the plane to the left – effectively knocking her to the floor – and probably giving every passenger on board a heart attack. I jumped on top of her, adrenalin surpassing the pain I felt in my side. I kept squeezing the life jacket, ironically using it to end her life. She slowly stopped grappling, her lifeless red fingernails falling to the floor like extinguished flames, a moribund menorah.
Finally, the flight attendant with the blood red lipstick, firetruck fingernails, and bloody uniform lay sprawled out on the cockpit floor. I was breathing heavily, feeling like I might pass out… The captain finally asked, “Is she dead?” “I think so,” I said in a tireless breath. “Sorry I couldn’t help, she disabled the autopilot.” After a moment I asked, “Who is she?” “My ex-wife,” he calmly replied, and steered the plane towards our destination, first stopping for an emergency landing in Taiwan. “She was always a real bitch.”
Cameron is a fiction author living Taiwan, and is not part of the mile high club…yet cbrtnk.com