Flying on Ambien
Something is wrong with Brad's flight
Brad rolled the Ambien between his thumb and forefinger. He glanced at his watch, then the Ambien, then his watch again. He rolled the pill several more times, took one last look at his gold Rolex Submariner, said, “It’s time,” and downed the Ambien with the remaining Samuel Adams.
Boarding in thirty minutes, he thought. The drug takes about an hour to take effect, perfect timing. Brad counted on his fingers to confirm the mental math. I’ll be entering slumberland just as the flight takes off. He made another quick calculation. Five and a half hours from LAX to Kennedy. He’d be waking up from his drugged sleep when they landed.
Brad patted himself on the back. Figuring the timing for a somnolescent flight was never easy. Pop the Ambien too early, and you might fall asleep and miss the flight. Take it too late, and you’ll be a zombie when you land, which invariably results in leaving a phone, laptop, glasses, or wallet behind.
The public address system interrupted Brad’s thoughts. Delta flight 23 LAX to JFK is delayed for an hour. Passengers should remain in the departure area.
Brad glared at the gate agent, hurtling unspoken swear words her way. Are you kidding me? Now what do I do?
He considered sticking his finger down his throat to expel the drug. If he was going to upchuck the Ambien, he would have to do it now. Finding a bathroom would take too long; the Ambien would have fallen too far into his digestive system. Brad ran his hand along his Brioni suit. He processed the pluses and minuses as fast as his brain would allow. He couldn’t chance ruining such a beautiful suit. Besides, vomiting in the waiting area would probably get him kicked off the flight.
He winked at the two already-empty beer bottles. “In for a penny, in for a pound,” he told them. Brad dashed to the nearby T.G.I. Fridays and ordered a beer to go. Good things come in threes.
“Stupid, penny-pinching firm made me fly coach,” Brad muttered as he pressed the recline button. His seat wouldn’t budge. The idiot airline stuck me in the last row, where the seats are locked in an upright position. Brad shoved his feet against the floor and forced his one hundred and eighty pounds back as hard as possible.
He was not going to fly for five and a half hours in a seat that didn’t recline. Not!
He’d start with a smile, but if the flight attendant couldn’t accommodate his reasonable request to move to a seat that reclined, well, peace was always better than war, but you never got anything unless you were willing to fight.
Brad pressed the call button, but after sixty seconds nobody came. He rang once every minute for the next ten minutes, but either the flight attendants were sleeping, or they were ignoring passenger calls from the bowels of coach.
My back’s not going to survive much longer.
It was now 2:11 a.m. according to his watch, which was set to California time. He scratched his head. The delayed flight had departed at 1:15 p.m. and should be landing at 6:45 p.m. No way it's 2:11 in the morning. Brad raised his arm to scrutinize his Rolex. It had stopped. The date displayed “1,” as in June 1, but today was still May 31. I must have forgotten to wind my watch, though that doesn’t explain why the date reads a day ahead.
Did I get on the wrong flight? Brad vaguely recalled reading stories about people who’d boarded the wrong aircraft. Brad tried to summon images from the boarding, but the Ambien had zeroed out his memory. Brad stabbed the call button a dozen more times. No response.
At least he wasn’t in the middle seat. Small solace, given that his back hurt like somebody had injected molten cement into it. The two other people in his row, a forties woman in a gray suit and shiny shoes, evidently on a business trip, too, and the overweight man in his sixties, wearing a Hawaiian shirt, loafers with tassels and no socks, were asleep. Brad peered past the pair, casting his gaze outside the window. Two red and white ribbons paralleled the plane, clouds catching the sun’s long rays.
Brad hoisted himself up from 41A to scout for empty seats, a difficult process because the person in front of him had reclined their seat to nearly forty-five degrees, well beyond the normal limit. On his first attempt, Brad tumbled back into his seat before even raising himself an inch. He punched the back of 40A, but there was no reaction. Whoever was sitting in 40A was either the soundest sleeper in the world or was being deliberately obstinate.
If I’m going to be uncomfortable, so are they. Brad slammed alternating fists into the seatback even harder, punching to the tune of “Eye of the Tiger.” He then opened and closed his tray a dozen times.
Brad bopped the person in the seat in front of him on the head. Three tries later, he stood, stomped, and gave 40A a vigorous shake to ensure she (Brad now saw it was a woman in her twenties) got the message: Don’t be a reclineass. She didn’t stir. Her eyes didn’t wobble underneath their lids, signaling a deep sleep. Her arms, neatly folded across her lap, were frozen in place.
Brad surveyed the plane. Nobody was reading, chatting, watching a movie, or chilling with a glass of wine. Everyone was asleep.
The dim emergency lighting below and the pale yellow lights overhead made Brad feel like he was in a cave, filling him with claustrophobia.
No music leaked out of headphones, no air whooshed through the vents, no engines roared. Since when is a plane silent?
Brad marched up the aisle, swiveling his head from side to side, scanning for a vacant seat. There wasn’t a single, empty seat. He continued to the front, his fury and frustration rising with each step.
Where are the flight attendants?
He knocked hard against the cockpit door. It flew open.
“What the—?” His jaw dropped. Where are the pilots? The instruments were aglow in blue and red, dials and gauges oscillating, the pilot and copilot yokes turning on their own. The cockpit air tasted metallic. The pilot’s seat felt cool against his hand, from which Brad surmised that the pilot wasn't in the bathroom but had been gone a while. But the copilot wouldn’t have left the cockpit at the same time. Would he?
Brad’s back begged him to sit in the plush pilot’s seat. Why not? He was already in the cockpit. He released a long sigh as the leather seat relieved his pain.
Brad searched the instruments for a clue to the jet’s location. He looked out the cockpit window, hoping to spot a revealing landmark like the Statue of Liberty or Empire State Building.
The aircraft's shadow traversed a fast-moving river whose angry white caps churned the water. Two-headed snakes bit the plane’s shadow, causing it to shatter into countless ebon pieces, which the serpents swallowed. An old man with leathery, scaled skin that was more reptile than human and long, gray hair paddled a wooden boat filled with about fifty passengers across the river, keeping pace with the plane. He looked up as Brad passed overhead.
The full moon darted in and out of broken clouds.
Water poured into the boat, blown by dozens of statues of dogs with human arms and legs that lined the river’s banks. Several times, the turbulent water threatened to capsize the crowded craft. Some passengers gripped the boat’s sides, while others wrapped their arms tight around their bellies. A few wore tired expressions of resignation.
Brad looked at the copilot’s seat again. A laminated sheet laid on it—had it been there before?—which read, “Styx Flight 23.”
I’m on the wrong flight.
If you enjoyed Flying on Ambien, I think you’ll like my story, The Train to Nowhere, about which readers have said, "An imaginative mix of worlds," "That was wordfully wonderful,” and "I find myself reading your stories more than once."
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