The first breath I took when I awoke was stale; as if the air was composed completely of cobwebs. I awoke disoriented and my eyes had to adjust to the harsh light. I was sitting, strapped to a chair by one strip of material across my torso. My arms were free to move as they wished so I felt my surroundings eyes still squinting. To my right was an unoccupied armrest with a small cup holder attached to it. I felt to my left, but there was something already resting there. It was long and slender and at the end, it widened slightly. There were ridges along the end and one short nub on the inside. I looked down at the object and used my right hand to shield my eyes from the light coming from what I assumed to be the ceiling. It was an arm, and attached to the arm was a hand. The very hand I had spent the past few moments fondling with my own. I quickly retracted my hand and blushed. I could feel my face fill with immense heat. I bowed my head and apologized.
When there was no response I followed the arm with my eyes up to the shoulders. On top of the shoulders sat a plastic head; completely free from expression. She was a mannequin. There was a faint smell of paint remover coming from the mannequin that occupied the seat next to me, and a trace of paint residue that was left behind on her face. It seemed that someone had tried to remove all of her facial features using nail polish remover, but hadn’t completely succeeded.
When my eyes had finally adjusted to the light I was able to look closer at the synthetic female who sat next to me. She was wearing a floral patterned sun dress. It struck me as odd that someone had placed her next to me and bothered to dress her.
I felt the presence of another figure sitting in the seat next to me. I felt slightly embarrassed. They had probably seen me fondling the hand of the mannequin and are probably thinking I’m some sort of kook with a mannequin fetish. I turned to them with my head slightly bowed again and for the second time in a short period of time, I humbly apologized for my silly actions due to my boyish curiosity. When they hadn’t responded I lifted my head to meet their potential gaze. I was shocked to see that the gentleman, as well, was a mannequin. His head was tilted downward looking at the watch attached to his plastic wrist. He had no expression on his face either. The same smell came from him that came from the lady, but he was dressed in a more business-like attire. He had a brown tweed suit on that matched his leather strap on his watch. He seemed as if he were in a hurry to get to a business meeting. That is if mannequins have business meetings. I felt as if whoever put these two mannequins here must have been in collaboration with the airline as some practical joke. Nevertheless, I was still embarrassed.
I lifted my head above the seats in front of me to see if anyone had seen my embarrassing display of curiosity. No one else had seemed to notice. But then I realized it wouldn’t be the people in front of me I should be worried about; it would be the passengers behind me. There was a crack between the seats of Mr. Mannequin and myself. I peered through the crack to look back at the lovely couple occupying the seats behind me. His hand was placed over hers. She was wearing a ring. I then realized I was staring so I checked to see if they had caught me. No faces. They were both mannequins as well.
I unbuckled my seatbelt and jumped to my feet to look behind me. They were both made completely from plastic. The man next to them with his legs crossed was plastic. I looked to my left; plastic. My right; plastic. I walked out into the aisle on my right. Every seat was occupied by a mannequin. Their bodies were posed in different ways as if mimic actual people. Some were couples who looked longingly into the eyes of their beloved. Some were resting on their hands or sleeping all together in their reclined seats. Some were occupied by newspapers or magazines. And then it hit me.
“Where am I?”
It was obvious I was on a plane. The setup of chairs and the décor throughout the plane. The small televisions resting on the back of the seats were all turned off. The windows were blacked out as if they were painted over with black spray paint. The doors to the plane were bolted shut to keep anyone from leaving. At least, to keep me from leaving.
That’s when I first noticed it. A song was being played over the plane’s PA system. It was something old like jazz you would hear in a flapper lounge circa 1950. It was being played on a loop so every four or so minutes it would stop momentarily and then restart.
I looked around at my surroundings once more. Every mannequin was lifeless, just as they ought to be, but something wasn’t right. The smell of paint remover was overwhelming now and I began to become light headed. The room started to spin so I grabbed the shoulder of the artificial man sitting closest to me to steady myself. I just needed to breathe.
I had no idea where I was; other than the obvious. I had no idea how I had come to be here in this place. And I definitely had no idea why I was here. Maybe it was a test of some kind. Maybe I just need to escape and I’ll pass. Maybe I was kidnapped, and I am currently being held for ransom. But if that were the case, why such an elaborate scheme? Why all of these mannequins? Why go through the trouble of removing the paint from their faces?
My head started to pound from a mixture of the chemicals in the air and the all-too-many unanswered questions. I made my way back to my chair and sat down. I knew I couldn’t panic in a situation like this. I just had to think. The song continued to play in the background. It had looped three or four times before it had clicked. The PA system works. There must be someone up there controlling the music.
I stood up and made my way to the front of the plane. The door to the cockpit was locked. I tried ramming my shoulder into the door a few times, but it didn’t even budge. I looked around for a spare key thinking there might be one on a hook outside of the door. I felt along the top of the door frame. I checked my own pockets to see if there may have been one slipped in there while I was asleep. Nothing.
I stood with my back against the door and slumped down to the floor. I had given up. I was defeated. And then, I saw it.
Directly opposite of me in the back of the plane was a small red-lighted sign that read “In case of emergency, break glass.” Inside the small metal box was a fire extinguished. The hammer for the glass had been removed. I took the shirt off of the nearest mannequin, awkwardly knocking his limbs to the floor and exposing his bare plastic chest. I wrapped my hand thoroughly with the shirt and proceeded to punch through the glass. I didn’t know how much force I would need so I punched as hard as I could. The glass was paper thin so ended up crushing my hand against the fire extinguisher in the process. The shirt protected my hand from glass but not from the crushing blow I had dealt to the extinguisher.
After a moment of silently cursing the fire extinguisher, I took it out of its case and headed back to the cockpit door. I had seen stuff like this done in movies plenty of times. The door would be locked and a heavy object would be conveniently placed nearby for them to use in order bash the door handle to pieces enabling them to enter the room. I thought my amount of knowledge on the subject was adequate, and so I reared back with the fire extinguisher in hand and slammed the butt of the extinguisher into the door handle. Nothing. I reared back again and this time put more force into the blow. The impact on the handle sent a frenzy of pain shooting through my hands. I threw the fire extinguisher at the door and violently protested with a fury of kicking and yelling. Mainly towards the door.
I soon fell short of breath and slumped down next to the door once more. I looked at the hand that had punched the glass and made contact with the fire extinguisher. It was red and starting to swell. My knuckles were slightly bruised as well. I turned my hand over to inspect my palm when a glimmer of light flickered between my fingers. I peered past my hand and spotted a small metal bolt on the ground. I shuffled to my knees and stuck my nose close to the bolt. I threw a glance over my shoulder up to the cockpit door’s hinge. I picked up the small bolt with my finger, stood to my feet, and examined the tiny hollow compartment that seemed too had held the bolt.
I quickly examined the other bolts. They weren’t loose, but they weren’t completely screwed in. I gripped the second bolt with my fingertips and started attempting to turn it. I had to use my non-dominant hand, my left hand because my right hand was decommissioned for the time being. After an excruciatingly long process, and many breaks because my hand cramped up and began to ache, I was able to remove 2 bolts from the door. That means I had 5 more to go, and I wasn’t sure how much longer I could keep this up. Then it occurred to me that I didn’t need to remove the entire bolts, just the heads. I picked up the fire extinguisher and reared back once more. To my surprise, the first bolts head snapped off with a single blow. I quickly knocked off the next 4 and stepped back. I stared with amazement at my handy work. But I was shocked out how quickly I was able to solve this problem. Had I don’t this before? I wrote this assumption off as a case of déjà vu.
Something else surprised me. When I had knocked the last bolt head off the lock on the door disengaged. I wondered if that was truly the way to unlock the door or if whoever was watching me decided to be courteous. I snapped out of my confusion and quickly opened the door to the cockpit. I quickly surveyed the room. Two more mannequins sat the pilot’s and co-pilot’s chairs. The windshield in front of them was completely blacked out. By this point, I had realized that the airplane wasn’t actually in flight. It was all a part of my captor’s elaborate scheme. The last thing I noticed, which should have been the first, was the record player in the middle of the room. Taped to it was a walkie-talkie hooked up to the PA system. On the record player was a 45” of an old classic; “only you” by the platters. Something about it was familiar, but of course, I had only heard it 20 or so times by now.
I checked all of the drawers and cabinets. Almost all of them were glued shut. All but one. Nearly the last one I checked was the only one that wasn’t glued. I tugged hard expecting the door not to budge, but instead, it flew open abruptly. Behind the door was a vent that leads to a ventilation shaft. I died a little internally thinking of the screws that held the panel in place. But when I examined the corners there were no screws; only holes. I sighed with relief. With only a little hesitation I grabbed the grate and removed it.
The air duct was just wide enough for me to fit into. I surveyed the cockpit one last time but nothing had changed or revealed itself. I ignored my claustrophobia and crawled in. The further I crawled into the ductwork the darker it got and the more heavily I started to breathe. The music from the plane started to echo eerily throughout the duct. I almost considered turning back when I bumped my head on the wall of the duct in front of me. I reached up to rub my head when I noticed the duct extended to my right. I only knew this because within the pitch black nothingness that is the ducts there was a small light emanating from the floor. When I recovered from my abrupt stop I squeezed my body around the tight corner feeling more claustrophobic than before and headed towards the small light. The closer I got the more the light grew.
The light was coming from another grate just like in the movies. Through the grate I could see a room; completely white with nothing in it. I saw no exit but I still felt compelled to go inside. This grate was also free so I lifted it and set it aside. I tried to climb down holding myself up from the ducts with my hands to prevent myself from falling too abruptly. I had forgotten about my crushed hand and was not able to support my weight with my left so I collapsed onto the floor. Damn hand. I cursed it under my breath. Once I collected myself I surveyed the room. Nothing. Absolutely nothing. No doors or windows. The only aperture was the one 6 feet above my head and there was no way for me to get back up there.
Suddenly the faint music came to a stop mid-lyric. Then there was a moment of silence broken by loud feedback coming from unknown speakers within the room. Voices started to speak but not to me directly.
“How did he do this time?” one of the voices said.
“Just under 2 hours, sir.” Replied the voice of a woman.
A sigh from the first voice, “Well that’s just not good enough.”
“Do you want me to start the re-initiation phase?” The woman again.
“Yes go ahead.” He said disappointedly. “Mr. O’niel, we cannot keep running these tests until you meet your goal, do you understand?” He was talking to me this time. I was too dumbfounded to speak.
Test? I thought. What kind of test is this?
Before I could answer a slot appeared like magic in one of the four white walls. A small canister was tossed through the crevice followed by the crevice immediately closing afterward.
“Your test will be again shortly.” was the last thing I heard before the canister burst open and the room filled with gas. I slowly felt myself fading in and out of consciousness. The last thing I remembered was collapsing onto the floor as consciousness slipped away.
The first breath I took when I awoke was stale; as if the air was composed completely of cobwebs.