Flight 707 crosses the country ever day between dinnertime in the East and dinnertime in the West, or used to, at least. I was on it twice a week, which is two days out of seven, or about twenty-eight and a half percent -- not bad odds altogether. Westward to soothe the aches of the gentry of Hollywood and the sports world, Eastward again to lecture to hollow-eyed students in the hope that perhaps one out of a class of a hundred and twenty would be able to regurgitate the names of the tissues that collectively form what is commonly called the rotator cuff a mere forty-eight hours after I so lovingly described them. One out of one hundred and twenty is zero-point-eight-three-repeating percent, which means I had a roughly thirty-four-fold chance of witnessing the beginning of the end of civilization than I had of finding a student who would give a damn.
Flight 707 cruised at 31,500 feet, sometimes more, sometimes less, but the mean was 31,500 and the standard deviation was very low. It was something I used to like to jot down every time I flew. 31,500 feet is about nine and three-quarters miles. From that altitude the view was always the same -- tiny cities below that looked like circuit boards, twisting ribbons of river, a patchwork quilt of farm fields barely visible through the haze. Four years of window seats and the scenery had never changed, save for the occasional thunderstorm or another passing jetliner. Four years of staring out the window and peering at the ground from 31,500 feet until I could memorize every field and every bend of every river, right up until the day that Flight 707 passed within a few thousand feet of The Wall.
That was the name that the Media chose to use. I did not like it, myself, but I'll be damned if I am going to make a fuss about it. Things are more or less quiet now and I like it that way. The last thing we need is people squealing and scrambling around like a bunch of ants whose nest has been disturbed. No matter that such is exactly what they are, myself included. I want to enjoy the peace as long as I can. Panic gives me a headache.
I was in Seat 3-A which, if you recall, is one of the best seats on an Airbus 321 because the window is so perfectly aligned that one can look out at the passing monotony without having to recline so far as to touch off a bunch of pathetic bitching from the fellow behind you. I always liked to try to get 3-A, and since I flew so regularly the airline was usually happy to oblige me. The flight attendant joked that I should have my name engraved on the seat. She was such a sweet little girl, about twenty-five I suppose. I very much hope that the agents have allowed her to see the fiance that she so often told me about. It is hardly her fault that she was on the flight where we witnessed The Wall, the same flight that I was on, that twenty-eight-and-a-half percent chance, or about one in three.
Let me clarify. When I talk about "The Wall" I am referring to what most of the people on the left side of the aircraft described once we landed and the government men swarmed over us. It was quite odd just how quiet the airplane was. I think I should have expected to hear some excited jabbering and squealing and pointing and "Oh-my-god-what-the-hell?" but as I recall there was not a single word spoken. I remember some studies that demonstrated that when faced with stimuli so unexpected human beings tend to enter a passive observational mode, a supposed throwback to the earliest days of evolution when we would face a brand-new predator and would react by going rigid and soundless, our minds racing to determine whether we should run to the left or run to the right or jump up or dig down. Those who chose properly lived to reproduce and passed on that wait-and-see trait to their unimaginable progeny who learned eventually to walk on two legs and to build flying machines.
But I digress.
The aircraft, as I mentioned, was happily floating along at 31,500 feet, or so the captain told us. The landscape below was as I always remembered it -- I never did figure out what the name of the river was with the big oxbow in it. That oxbow always followed a series of big circular farm fields that went green-brown-green-green-brown, but that day I took particular note because the fields went green-brown-green...and then black. It was a curious sight indeed, I must say, enough for me to put on my glasses for a better look. The landscape below was utterly black, as though some tormented, attention-starved artist had taken a charcoal to the entire vista. Black, black, black, great billows of black. I thought, "Is this a thunderstorm?" which of course was idiotic. Thunderstorms rise in towers some 50,000 feet high due to their characteristic updrafts, and I must say that to have even briefly thought that at only 31,5000 feet we were flying over one is a terrible embarrassment to me.
I noticed then that many people were crowding to the left (my) side of the cabin; it was their stunned silence that caught my attention more than anything. I realized then that the blackness below was not the only thing odd that afternoon. Rising from it was what I could only describe at that moment as a wall, although to think that anyone could build a wall that would reach up to the cruising altitude of an Airbus 321 is nothing short of ludicrous. I hope then that the reader will forgive me if I continue to describe this "Wall" for want of a better explanation, at least at this point in my survey of the scene.
I remember that I had been given a very lovely serving of white wine in a plastic cup, a fine Riesling if I recall properly, since the airline was running a special that month, and that the cup slipped from my hand and fell to the floor of the cabin with a noise much akin to "Splakt."
Let me describe this "Wall." It rose from the blackness below as high as the aircraft's wing and beyond; when I ducked down and tried to look upward it simply melded with the intense blue of the sky above and became indistinct. It had nearly that same hue, you see, deep royal purplish-blue, much easier to see against the distant clouds than against the Stratosphere. I think that "Wall" came to everyone's mind because it resembled more than anything a construction of brick or some similar building block. Each individual unit had an oblong shape, tapered at the bottom and rounded at the top, like a Medieval shield, and they were laying upon one another in a regular pattern like a coat of mail.
It was no more than a mile away from us, I figure. I could see the sunlight reflecting off of each individual facet and split into a hundred thousand magnificent rainbows. The scintillation traveled from one side of the wall to the other in such a fashion that indicated to me that the surface was not flat, but rather curved, and not only curved, but curved in a fashion that was gracefully familiar. It took us the better part of a minute to pass from one end to the other and in that minute I was able to commit every detail to memory. Once we had passed my fellow passengers at last began the expected yammering and a few even began to try to make cel phone calls despite the pilot's very stern warning that such behavior was quite unacceptable while in flight.
It is interesting, and clearly demonstrates the difference between a trained observer and a lay person who is more accustomed to second-guessing baseball umpires than in cataloging the world around him, that I noted far more detail than my fellow passengers. They continued to refer to the phenomenon as "the Wall," even though it was painfully obvious that it was far from wall-like in that it was not flat, but rather curved as I have previously stated, and they seemed fixated only on the portion that they could see most clearly from the windows of the aircraft without acknowledging that there was more than just the single "Wall" that they described. I recognized it in short order, perhaps six to nine seconds after the initial realization that something was far out of the ordinary. I should not fault those who lack advanced training in anatomy for failing to notice what to me was explosively obvious, but still, the failure in others to perform even the most basic of observations gives me gas. I alone noticed that what others referred to as a "Wall" bore the precise contours, beautifully so I might add, of quadriceps, and that my examination upward as we passed led me to the unmistakable conclusion that I was observing the curve of a massive gluteus maximus in the proximity of the aircraft, while the haze partially obscured a distant twin, and a vast bulk that lay between which I can only presume to be a caudal appendage that stretched toward the horizon and was lost in the haze. I venture that had I been able to pierce the black pall below I might well have seen the swell of calf muscles.
That was...what is it now, six days? Or seven? At this point I should hardly think it matters. Upon our arrival we were set upon first by news crews and then by government employees so stereotypical that I would have thought we had landed on a bad Washington sitcom set. "Can you tell us what you saw?" they said. "Describe this Wall. What were the scales like? Did it move? Can you tell us if it was alive?"
"I can't help you," I told them. "I was asleep the whole time. I saw nothing. What are you talking about?"
That alone is why I am here and my fellow passengers have yet to be freed. It puzzles me why the government feels it necessary to keep them. What could it possibly gain? It is not as though the nationwide media has not been reporting all week long on the horrific loss of life. "Chicago Demolished!" the New York Times screamed, along with the now-famous photo that was wired from the Loop just minutes before all communication with the city ended forever. Like all such images it is grainy and poorly focused, but with an open mind one can see that striking bluish-purple hue filling the sky, and it only takes a little bit of imagination to draw the outline of an immense shape that looks for all the world like a saurian foot.
Isn't that a fascinating explanation for the thousands of dead and missing in the Midwest? Can you come up with another reason why there are so many areas of devastation, and haven't you noticed that the distance between each is within six percent of thirty-seven thousand feet? Meteor showers and industrial accidents happen, I'll grant, but to me it is a bit of a stretch to use those to explain a repeating pattern of destruction that goes on for a thousand miles and just so happens to coincide with the stride-length of something fourteen miles tall.
Believe who you will: the government, the media, the clergy, Aunt Nancy down the hill. None of it really matters in the end, which quite frankly is exactly what I believe we are facing. First the Midwest, then the Balkans, and now this morning's reports from Australia. I know it's hard to grasp, but sit with me a moment and try to separate your mind from the terror that grips it. Here, have a sip of my mojito and imagine with me for a moment: an ant. Not one of those big black macho ants, but one of the wee tiny ones that you can barely see. Imagine that little ant and all her little ant-friends walking through a world which they think that they completely understand, until their travels take them onto a busy sidewalk in downtown New York City. They cannot hope to comprehend what is passing them by: beings so utterly enormous that they defy the ant's very perception of reality, beings who exist in a world so huge that mere dimensions do not begin to describe it.
Now imagine that our Earth is the sidewalk and that we are the ants, sailing through space in blissful ignorance until we happen upon something passing by that our puny minds cannot even begin to appreciate. For us, for the ants, it is the end of the world, even though to those others it is simply a journey from Point A to Point B, and what is in between, what is too small even to see, is beneath their notice.
It's a bit easier to take when considered in those terms, isn't it? Come now, sit with me. You can finish the mojito. I have a whole pitcher here. Let's watch the sky together. I don't know how much longer it will be before the end comes, but I can tell you that it will be the most gorgeous shade of bluish purple that you have ever seen.
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