Junhua P.

Fear of Falling

“Attention all passengers. Flight AA744, bound for Tokyo, is now boarding from Gate 27. Attention all passengers…”

“That’s our flight. Come on, Aveline.”

The girl glanced outside at the gathering dusk. “It looks awfully cloudy, mom.”

“Hmm?” Her mother was checking the contents of her purse. “Oh. Well, the weather report said it was going to be cloudy tonight.”

Aveline followed slowly with her small backpack. “But it looks like a storm.”

“Don’t be silly. If there’s a storm, the flight would have been delayed or canceled.”

“What if there’s a storm?”

The woman gave her daughter an annoyed look. “Stop being such a worrywart, Aveline.”

Aveline quieted as they moved forward slowly in the line of passengers. She watched the darkening sky while her mother took care of the boarding passes. Then they were getting on the airplane, finding their seats, stowing bags away. Aveline took the aisle seat and left the window to her mother.

The plane gradually filled with passengers, who gradually settled down. To Aveline, it all passed in the blink of an eye. The safety card appeared like a blur as her eyes glazed over the information. In case of an emergency.

And suddenly, they were lifting off. She could feel her stomach twisting as the ground fell away, and then there was air, only thin air, between her and the inevitable pull of unforgiving earth.
100 feet…

Aveline reminded herself to take deep breaths as the plane ascended.

500 feet…

She had to remember to stay calm. Just stay calm.

1,000 feet… 2,000 feet…

There was nothing to worry about, really, if she could just forget about the fact that she was trapped in a metal contraption thousands of feet above the earth, with the wind buffeting the vehicle from all sides.

3,000 feet… 5,000 feet…

And still the plane rose higher.

8,000 feet…

Finally, they reached cruising altitude, and the fasten seatbelt sign blinked off.

Aveline forced her fists to unclench themselves. The ascent was more dangerous than the actual flight, or so she had been told. It was all right, for now. She could relax, a little. Her mother was reading the magazine she had picked up at the airport, completely at home in an Economy class seat. Aveline glanced down at the backpack tucked beneath the seat in front of her. Maybe she should read, too. That might calm her a bit.

She had just bent over to reach for the bag when the first tremors hit the plane. Her mother had kept the window blind up, and now, rather than the soft half-light of early evening, darkness poured in. The plane shivered. Though none of the other passengers paid any attention to the light turbulence, Aveline froze in her seat.

Then suddenly, the plane shuddered, seemed to be suspended for a moment, then took a sharp plunge. Overhead compartments rattled, and a child’s scream accompanied the bangs as several of them crashed open. The lights flickered. All was dark, then light again. Outside, the shapes of angry clouds howled alongside the flimsy airborne vehicle. Winds shrieked and pounded at the metal walls.

Aveline forgot to breathe. She couldn’t think. She didn’t know what to think.

For as long as Aveline could remember, she had been petrified at the very thought of flying. What was there to keep the plane from a fall? How could anyone defy the undeniable force of gravity? It was dangerous. It was insensible. It was madness to climb to such a great height. The risks… She could never forget the risks. The terrors. The terrible possibilities.

She could only clutch at the book in her hands, eyes tightly shut, heart palpitating in wild rhythms. The plane was going to crash…the plane was going to crash…the plane…

She would fall - and keep falling until gravity claimed her at last, bringing her down.

Heights. Flying. Falling. All her nightmares, accumulated over the years. She could achieve nothing because she would not strain for that height. She bound herself to earth for fear of earth’s retribution should she attempt to defy its gravity. If she could achieve no greatness, no heights, then so be it.

No heights were worth the fall.

“…line. Aveline!”

Aveline recognized her mother’s voice, cutting through the maelstrom of screaming thoughts. She opened her eyes carefully and realized that there were tears staining her cheeks.

The turbulence had stopped.

“…thought that patch of bad weather was way to our left. So sorry about that, folks…”

The intercom faded to a low buzz in her ears.

“Are you all right?” her mother asked, voice low and worried, noticing how her daughter was trembling. “Did that scare you?”

Aveline didn’t reply.

The turbulence was past, but in her mind, she was still falling. Her heart still resounded with panic. She could still feel it, that sensation. There was only empty air, giving away so easily, and nothing to hold onto. Nothing to keep her from falling, falling, falling…

Minutes later, another bout of turbulence made Aveline’s teeth rattle. The other passengers appeared unfazed by this light wind, but Aveline felt her heart skip a beat. The fear had an almost tangible taste, bitter and dry in her mouth.

And so it was for the remainder of the fourteen hour flight to Tokyo. Each time the plane shivered through a patch of restless air, Aveline froze, heart leaping to her throat; and each time, as if in reply to her fear, a baby girl screamed. It seemed that neither she nor Aveline could forget those terrible moments when they had flown through that storm, just above Chicago, now thousands of miles away.

Every passing minute was an eternity as Aveline sat in her seat, perfectly still, perfectly terrified and helpless. She held onto her book but never opened it, as if afraid that any movement she made would cause the plane to fall. Fear held her and bound her in a near motionless state. She could not escape her fear, because she could not ignore the ceaseless pull of gravity.


Copyright 2002-2007 Student Publishing Program (SPP). Poetry and prose 2002-2007 by individual authors. Reprinted with permission. SPP developed and designed by Strong Bat Productions.