Short story: 'Off Route'

Posted on Saturday, January 10th, 2015

High above even the thinnest clouds, too far up to be seen by eyes peering up from the ground, the airplane passenger had a passing thought: we are flying much higher, I think, than normal flights do.

However, this thought came and went as a silly flash of paranoia; reason suggested that the pilots, certified and trustworthy, knew very well at what altitude the aircraft was steadily flying. And this reason was justified by the silence of the cockpit radio, the calm and mellifluous murmur of conversation among the other occupants, and the comforting consistency of the hum of the engine, which the passenger had long become accustomed to.

Still, as thoughts often do not simply cease, particularly on long journeys such as this one, going from Chicago to San Jose with a stop in Las Vegas, the passenger could not help but again wonder might not the pilots have made a mistake in the angle of their wheel, or that perhaps the instruments were incorrectly calibrated. For in looking out the window, the passenger could not only see the clouds as if the craft were just 38,000 feet from the ground, but really it seemed to be 38,000 feet from the clouds themselves. And, in tilting the gaze further skyward, a faint smattering of tiny dots of light, which could only reasonably be called stars, if they had to be called anything at all, could surely be seen. And, as it was just past sundown, the horizon was less a fading soft gradient of orangey-pink hues like those seen in postcards, and more a very distinct and peculiar glowing curve-- as though the land itself had been lit on fire and forced to bend like a soft metal being shaped into a perfectly formed arc.

There was no doubt in the passenger's mind that the plane was bound for space. Yet, everyone else aboard seemed genuinely oblivious to this fact. Higher and higher the plane climbed, seeming to be able to penetrate the Earth's atmosphere somehow, without the struggle often witnessed in televised shuttle launches or science fiction movies.

Aside from this curious ascent, the plane and crew operated as normal. The drinks were being served, a call button occasionally rang some other passenger's needs.

But looking again out the window after glancing away for an incredulous moment to see if, indeed, no one had noticed the grossly unscheduled change in trajectory, the passenger suddenly stopped worrying. A sense of adventure and excitement overtook the heart that quickened its beat, even more from anticipation than from its former anxiety, at the prospect of what would happen next. The pilots knew, clearly, what they were doing. Perhaps this was a brand new technology that offered a better method of travel from Point A to Point B (after all, how else but through advanced technology could we have so easily burst through the atmosphere of our planet!); perhaps Point B was in reality some exotic place in our galaxy and the passenger had inadvertently gotten on the wrong plane?

The passenger again looked around, this time with a giddy glee that could hardly be contained, and in fact revealed itself in a clownish smile that had a couple of the other passengers giving looks askance. By this time, the passenger was sure the window would yield a view of at least half if not the whole of planet Earth, gradually being left behind for more unfamiliar territory.

However, instead, the horizon was straightening itself out, and the clouds lazily sauntered back into sight, forming the floor of this Earthly post-sunset scene with its normal hues of orangey-pink. The glass had transformed itself into something more normal, more expected.

The radio came on: "Sorry folks. This is the pilot speaking. Touchdown to Las Vegas is going to be delayed about an hour from the scheduled itinerary, as will San Jose. There was a glitch in one of our navigation systems and we went a little off course, but we're back en route now. Thanks for your understanding. For those 21 and older, we offer one complimentary alcoholic drink to help with the extra wait. Thank you again."