We were sitting with calculable comfort at about 3,000 feet, our feeble human engineering warping from the relaxed atmosphere of our immediate surrounds, the cabin lights dimmed in a subdued, sleep-aglow sort of way, and the earth rotating beneath us was now not even a memory, but a rumour or a myth.
I think it’s only precise to suggest that we were all succumbing to the mid-flight possibility of unerring bliss when the plane banked left with a sudden sharp logic, and the craft began to shudder, a nauseating momentum. A bear was on the wing, and it was sinking its legend of bladed teeth into the skybus carapace, plunging holes into the cabin through which its thermal-deranged eye roved, bloodshot and foaming, fascinated by the horrified human cargo trembling and yowling within.
I’d seen a bear once, or maybe read about one, but the experience had constituted an apparently unprofound and spurious event, because I knew nothing of merit about such animals, except that they excrete a noxious mixture from a foot-shaped gland, though for what it’s worth that could have been mountain goats. Not possessing an interest in the particulars of zoology, or things of this breed, I did not feel certain about the most effective way to intervene in the turbulent fear of the moment, so I slunk out of my seat into the aisle and grimaced, like a marathon athlete distressed by the lacklustre gloss of his or her performance.
“We should trade with it!” I suggested, as oxygen masks vaulted from the ceiling in a weird clusterfuck of pneumatic pipe and plastic.
Stewardesses were somersaulting like bulbs of forest pollen, their white uniforms brazen and distinct amongst the red abundance of screaming mouths. I felt, for a glee-drunk second, that all these bright, swift, softly-phosphorous women were dashing themselves at my feet because of the image of a gallant hero-bandit which I presently commandeered, but I am not so dispossessed of intelligence to forget that I am fat, short, nervous and equipped with a nose capable of inviting comparisons with a small bowel. For these reasons I merely entertained an obscene fantasy to put me at ease, in which I swam naked with these fleet-pleated females in a lake that bristled with the greenest orbs of floating apples, and within a passage of panicked seconds I felt sufficiently restored in my miraculous purpose to propose another solution.
“I think I watched a documentary once which advises victims of a bear attack to transform into hedgehogs and roll away. Actually, I think it was a school play I was once involved in. Nevermind!”
This, too, did not generate the stutter of generous applause nor the graphic spontaneous nudity that I was striving to catalyse, so I scowled and plundered my pockets for warmth. The bear had sheared a considerable hole in the side of the aircraft at this point, so that we could all collectively observe the rapid articulations of the beast’s paws as they monstered the exterior alloy and thrust talons the size of sunsets through the gap in the metal.
It was a mild, unclouded day outside, and the high-octane whistling of debris and upholstery being set astir by the stratospheric winds reminded me of swallows whistling, though it might have been shrikes warbling.
“I’ve got it!” I yelled, my head frothy and raging with the adrenaline of my conviction. “Why don’t we paint stripes on ourselves to make us resemble zebras? Bears don’t eat zebras, and that’s a simple fact of chemistry!” I was incommunicable with pride at this theoretical injunction, and I probably would’ve been swarmed by in-flight hostesses startled into arousal by the catastrophic theatre of our present dilemma, but the bear chose that moment to lunge at a passenger hoarse with terror, cowering in her seat, and the berserk creature managed to pull her, despite her convulsive kicks, through the gash in the plane’s exposed side.
The woman was accelerating to her murder, and this realisation went down sharp in me, like a slice of lightning pie. I could only glimpse a tangle of visual cues outside the periphery of the nearest convex window, but the thrashing passenger seemed to be grappling with the bear out on the wing, blood fanning rivers of carotid-crimson through the incendiary fire of the daytime sky.
The bear was feasting. I could not abide this, particularly not directly following my brilliant scheme to disguise the entire airborne convoy as economy-class zebras, so I careened down the aisle, artfully darting past the sinewy blooms of the oxygen masks, capering above the glade of golden hair thicketing from the screaming scalps of one hundred sex-fierce flight attendants as they marvelled at my Sisyphean ascent, and soon the planets glided through my legs like a basketball being dribbled to the cosmic net by a Harlem Globetrotter displaying the wings of a condor.
I thundered down the aisle, between fright-blighted faces, a thousand docile drugged-up irises swifting in their sockets to watch me dare the ghosts of adventure, yet I continued harrying up that band of carpet without pause, until I reached the emergency supplies strapped fast to the wall at the nose-end of the plane. I prized the flare-gun from its bracket and without a further regard for self-preservation, or even the expression on my ex-wife’s face when I disturbed her in the throes of orgasm with a census collector, I dove through the hole in the aircraft and hooked onto the ligature of the left wing.
The bear looked up, haunted, a mutilated sneaker dangling like the first fruit of misery from its blood-clovered jaw. It roared at me then, at my compulsion to disrespect its efforts to kill the whimpering, shallow-breathing woman travestied in a splay of wounded limbs on the shark-shaped extremity of the aeroplane.
I grinned, clambering to my knees and triumphantly locating my feet. I waved the gun, an arc of propulsive colour, and narrowed my gaze at the great swollen animal hulking toward me. “You’re smoked, cubby,” I crowed, pulling the trigger, thinking that I should aim for its heart, but wondering whether that applied to bears or tigers. The sky pulsed a stroboscopic red.