"Welcome to Night Vale Airlines!" the intercom crackled from unseen locations throughout the plane. A pretty stewardess in a navy blue uniform, towards the front of the plane, stood tall – her head almost grazing the ceiling – both hands outstretched, palms up, in preparation for the impending safety announcement.
This was the first flight out of Night Vale's brand new, invisible airport, and it was crammed to the brim with folks of all stripes and backgrounds. To name a few, starting just beside the stewardess, a large-nosed man had already reclined his seat as far back as it would go, right into the face of the unfortunate elderly woman behind him. No one appeared bothered, least of all the elderly woman, who reacted more like a corpse.
Nearer the middle of the plane, at least three passengers had taken off their shoes, and their foot odor wafted horrendously into the cabin air. A group of nuns just behind and across the aisle from this scene glowered and gripped tight fists over their noses. One of the nuns grew particularly red-faced and clutched her leather-bound Bible to her chest, probably hoping to ward off a string of curse words she was dying to fling out at the shoeless hooligans.
A series of infants and young children, checkered throughout the cabin's seating seemingly at random (some missing parents, others missing faces) screamed and wailed at the mere idea of being aboard an airplane. Apparently, even when parked, planes were the place to cry.
All in all, a tolerable collection of passengers for a maiden voyage.
A man named Oskar sat at the very back of the plane and surveyed this chaos from his chair, pressed right up against the lavatory door in an unfortunate seating mishap. As he unfolded his complimentary newspaper/blanket and settled in for a hopefully cozy flight, the intercoms raised in volume a couple notches, to be heard over the clamor.
“A quick reminder, passengers, to please refrain from using the in-flight entertainment systems embedded in the seats in front you, as they are illegal, yet impossible to remove from the aircraft without serious repercussions. Please do, however, enjoy our wide selection of mirrors and other vanity-based products. Remember: If you look good when you land, your destination might be that much more welcoming to you!”
Oskar looked up from a square of his newspaper/blanket that had caught his attention – an intriguing article about how koalas are the only real bears and grizzlies had been fooling us all along – to scowl at the entertainment screen in the back of the seat before him. It really got to him how these things still managed to find their way onto planes despite all the exterminators hired and contracts signed and whatnot, all working so hard to keep them at bay.
The stewardess at the front of the plane suddenly caught Oskar's eye and he realized that she was demonstrating how to properly buckle the seven different, mandatory safety belts found in each seat. She was already on the fifth and, given the demonic red glow in her eyes, didn't seem likely to go back over them, so Oskar hastened to catch up, hoping he connected all the right ends.
The din of the cabin was still managing to drown out a majority of the intercom's announcement (as it hadn't stopped since the first words it spoke), so Oskar turned to his headphone set and plugged the jack into the receptacle in his armrest. Suddenly, his ears were filled with the deep, informing voice of the pilot, who was reading off safety procedures separate from what the stewardess demonstrated up front. It was an unorthodox way to ensure passengers were caught up on safety measures, but it had to be efficient if they were covering twice the number of topics at once, Oskar figured. He could only commend the airline on their impressive work.
“During the flight,” the pilot was saying, “we ask that all religious texts be stowed and forgotten, so as not to cause any one religion's deity to smite us all out of the sky for somebody else carrying another deity's words on our journey. You may return to your regularly programmed religious observations upon landing, but as soon as we take off, God is off-limits.”
Oskar noticed the pack of nuns up ahead – also wearing their airline headphones – begrudgingly stowing their Bibles under their robes. They still clung to their noses as if they'd fall off, despite the shoeless passengers having since been convinced to put their shoes back on.
A number of other passengers put away books of religious significance, some clearly uncomfortable with the request and others far too eager to please, before the broadcast from the cockpit continued.
“Alien abduction is also likely,” a new voice chimed in. The co-pilot, perhaps, as the main pilot steered the plane down its runway. “But, while scary at first, abduction is an exciting prospect that you should really consider having some more optimism about! Don't worry so much. Think of all the worlds you might experience beyond our meek stratosphere! Certainly better views than Frenso or Houston or wherever else this flight is headed. Milwaukee? What's there to see in Milwaukee?”
“That's right, Craig,” the pilot's voice shouted as the sudden, deafening roar of the engines filled the aircraft.
The plane then lurched, pushing passengers back in their seats, before racing down the runway. The safety belt stewardess, now long-finished with her silent demonstrations, was occupied with trying to get the large-nosed man to set his seat up again, but he was either fast asleep or simply ignoring her. The elderly woman behind him remained deathly still, but now had her own headphones on.
“One last thing!” the co-pilot's voice cried, barely audible over the roar of the aircraft. “In the case of lost cabin pressure, we ask that you flail your arms and panic accordingly. Have a nice flight, and thank you for choosing Night Vale Airlines!”
With that, the intercoms shut off and the chaos of the passenger cabin subsided-- or was at least drowned out by the engines.
Oskar hadn't been on many planes before, and had this been his first flight he might have been nervous over the lack of safety procedures mentioned in the announcement. But he knew better, and as his few pilots friends said was customary, a majority of the in-flight safety announcement would be saved for the end of the trip, just before landing. After all, why put everyone through all the stress of what might go wrong? They should be able to enjoy their flight without thoughts of some horrible, potential emergency clouding their minds.
This was usually followed by a threat that they should be worried about what would go wrong, but he usually zoned out by then.
As the crescendo of the engines reached a climax, the plane lifted off the tarmac, and before long Night Vale Airlines Flight No. 1 was well on its way into the heavens. Oskar's stomach churned with an abrupt wave of turbulence as they breached the wispy Wednesday clouds, but he managed to recover before he needed to grab for a waste bag. Lucky, too, as he found there were no waste bags on this flight.
The plane climbed higher and higher, silver wings reaching for either horizon as the city of Night Vale shrunk away beneath them, enveloped in a swirling golden desert. Dusty old roads spider-webbed out from the city and could be seen sprawling out into the sands. They flew on until they passed over Desert Bluffs (many Night Vale passengers tried to spit at this sight, only to be left with soggy windows and annoyed glares from the stewardesses), and were then carried further, to distances no one from either city had ever gone before.
The day moved on until the bright blue sky melted away to an orange-pink glow as the sun began to set, and stewardesses milling up and down the aisle asked passengers to kindly shut their window blinds. Few listened, and would regret it when beverages were to be offered later.
The aircraft shuddered harshly as Oskar reached over to pull down his own blind, and he cast one final glance out the window to take in the world below. As he did so, he caught sight of a slim silhouette standing on the tip of the plane's right wing. He tried to focus on it, to figure out what it could be, but it sprinted down the length of the wing too quickly for his eyes to catch it, and scrambled into the turbofan engine.
Oskar blinked at the wing again before turning to inform a stewardess about what he'd just seen. Before he could speak, though, the shuddering worsened. He turned back to the window just in time to see the engine catch fire, the fan stop spinning, and the right wing of the plane begin to drop.
Then they were tilting sharply and the intercoms buzzed back on, ringing clearly in the general silence that had fallen since departure.
“Ladies and gentlemen, we've lost one of our engines. Thank you for choosing Night Vale Airlines, and we hope to see you again.”